ITL's Favorite Moments of the 18/19 Season

Alena Kostornaia (RUS) at the Short Program of the 2018 Grand Prix Final (   Source: Gabb)

Alena Kostornaia (RUS) at the Short Program of the 2018 Grand Prix Final (Source: Gabb)

The 2018/19 season officially wrapped up just over a month ago, and with that we’ve all had time to reflect on the amazing programs, accomplishments and spectacular feats that happened from last August to April this year.

Here are some of the ITL team's favorite moments from the 18/19 season!

Becs: I spent the lead up to Javier Fernandez’s final competition at the 2019 European Championships torn between fond amusement, anticipation, and concern. Fans, his coaching team, and even Javi at times seemed unsure to as what his programs would be, when he would actually squeeze in training during a very hectic work schedule, and what shape he’d be in etc. But despite the less than reassuring circumstances, he pulled off the victory of his dreams and seized his seventh European title in brilliant fashion. His two performances were grateful love letters to his heritage and supporters, steeped in emotion, and technically mind boggling given his extremely limited prep time and that minor detail of only regaining his quads a handful of days before showing up to Minsk. I’ve been watching Javi compete for over a decade now, growingly in awe of what he has managed to accomplish despite the obstacles in his path. So seeing him able to wrap up his competitive career in the most emotionally satisfying manner, was truly one of those rare surreal moments that perfectly encapsulates everything I love about figure skating. Javi gave us so many charming moments, the taste of impossible dreams realized in a slew of groundbreaking firsts, and set the standard for a culture of warm respect and good sportsmanship within figure skating. I miss him in competition quite fiercely, but I’m inexpressibly grateful for what he gave us and that his last competition ended on such an ideal note.

Clara: For me it has to be Mikhail Kolyada’s Carmen at Finlandia. It wasn’t close to clean, but it was stupidly good for being so early in the season, and such a riveting performance. Everyone came roaring to their feet when he was done. I was sitting next to this jovial, bearded Santa Claus of a man who had been coming to Finlandia since its inception in the ‘90s (and photographing figure skating - on film of course! - for 10 years before that). When the din died down he turned to me and said, slyly, “That was something, wasn’t it?” Scandinavian understatement.

Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin (RUS) performing their “Am I The One” Free Dance at Finlandia Trophy 2018 (   Source: Clara)

Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin (RUS) performing their “Am I The One” Free Dance at Finlandia Trophy 2018 (Source: Clara)

Evie: Ever since Finlandia Trophy in October, Russian Ice Dance team Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin had occupied a special place in my heart. Their chemistry, expressiveness, and programs - especially their “Am I The One” Free Dance - exuded a rare brand of confidence and style that I instantly fell in love with. While they won 3 events in the first half of the season, their disappointing 4th place finish at the Grand Prix Final and their silver at Russian Nationals made me anxious towards what the future of the season could hold for them. Luckily, this feeling did not last for too long, as only a month later I watched them win the silver medal at the European Championships with three Personal Bests, which was hands-down my favorite moment of the 18/19 season. While the end of their season was not as fortunate, I’m still so proud of this team for fighting through every second of those programs and pulling together some of the most memorable performances in Ice Dance in recent memory. May the next season bring you even more happiness, Sasha and Vanya!

Gabb: Watching Junhwan Cha compete in the Grand Prix series was such a highlight despite the amount of stress I felt as we approached the final. Junhwan had been assigned two competitions that were back to back on different continents and, though he had caught a bit of a cold during his second assignment, he still managed to get on the podium. His hard work paid off as he qualified for the final with both bronze medals he had won. He had revealed after qualifying that his goal at the start of the season was to make it to the final so to watch him reach that goal and win another bronze medal in the process made me so proud. Grand Prix Final was a competition laced with so many personal good moments and watching him get onto the podium with a smile on his face was especially memorable that day.

Junhwan Cha (KOR) performing his “Romeo and Juliet” Free Skate at Finlandia Trophy 2018 ( Source: Clara )

Junhwan Cha (KOR) performing his “Romeo and Juliet” Free Skate at Finlandia Trophy 2018 (Source: Clara)

Gina: I’m indecisive and must pick two. First, Shoma Uno’s Free Skate at Four Continents. It was one of those performances where, as viewers, we really saw how a strong performance and interpretation can elevate a program despite there being flaws. Although it was not a clean performance, due to issues with his quad Sal and flip, Shoma’s keen attention to the music and complete commitment throughout the program made it a special performance that not only had him leaping from 6th to 1st, but also left me rather touched and proud of his fighting spirit, strength and determination to come back after a rocky Short Program. “Moonlight Sonata” was far from my favorite program this season, but Shoma is a skater who has the potential to be incredibly in-tune with his music, expressive and emotive and he released that potential at 4CC.
Another high point for me was Yuzuru Hanyu at GP Helsinki. While his Short Program from Rostelecom may have been the stronger performance, it was a delight to see him perform so well at Helsinki and completely destroy my initial uncertainty about “Otonal.” In the short time between Autumn Classic and Helsinki, Yuzuru had addressed every single tiny issue I had with the Short Program and took it from a program I thought would need to grow on me over time, to a program I was fully onboard with, displaying his speed and skill on the ice as well as his sensitivity and grace as a performer. Helsinki was also where Yuzuru bucked his 8-season long trend of having one significantly weaker program at his first GP hold him back from gold, earning him his first gold medal for the 1st assignment in his senior season. While injury may have held him back later on, Helsinki remains as proof that Yuzuru can come back from such injuries without losing the core elements that make his skating so enchanting to watch.

Janis: I have so many favorite moments, but one that I had the pleasure of witnessing in person was Shoma’s Free Skate at 4CC. Even knowing he was injured, he put out an incredible performance that blew away all my expectations and left me feeling extremely happy for him. It may not have been the perfect performance, but seeing him collapse after the free and getting the WR at that time was definitely a standing ovation moment for me. I am also very impressed with Nathan Chen’s progress this year, especially being a new college student and maintaining his position as one of the top male figure skaters. I’m happy to see him improve his triple axel and be relatively clean for most of the season.

Karly: Zhenya's [Evgenia Medvedeva] performances at Worlds! She's had a tumultuous past year, with the coaching change and change in training and technique, and has had to deal with a lot of pressure to perform well after such a major change and scrutiny of her ability to perform. After not making GPF, changing her Short Program, and having a disappointing Short Program at Russian Nats, she was able to make a strong comeback in the second half of the season and regain confidence in herself. That's really what I loved about her Worlds skates - that she was able to get her confidence back and skate for herself.

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (CHN) practising their “No One Like You” Short Program at Four Continents 2019 (   Source: Kat)

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (CHN) practising their “No One Like You” Short Program at Four Continents 2019 (Source: Kat)

Kat: I know this may come as a surprise to many, but...Wenjing Sui and Cong Han winning their second world title with a perfect Free. It’s been a hard year for these two - a little over a year ago, we found out that Wenjing competed through the Olympics with a stress fracture in her foot and they lost out on the gold medal by 0.43 points. They skipped Worlds and the 2018-19 Grand Prix series in favor of focusing on her recovery, only returning to international competition at Four Continents this year, although in shaky form. I figured that if they had a month to fully prepare for worlds, that a second world title was fully within their grasp although it wouldn’t be easy. But then came the news that Wenjing had suffered from a back injury and was off the ice for 10 days before leaving for Worlds. I was almost completely ready to give up hope, and I figured that only a miracle would allow them to win. But they really did it. They performed two perfectly clean programs in just their second international competition this season. It’s not necessarily that they won that blows me away, but the fact that this competition was so tough, and they could not win unless they skated their absolute best. After a year of hardships and mishaps along the way, this was truly the perfect book end to their season, and a optimistic start to their journey towards the next Olympics.

Kite: Alena Kostornaia winning JGPF with a Junior WR in the SP. Alena is truly a rare talent - her musicality, expression, and skating skills are so captivating and incredible in someone so young. She’s that special skater who seems universally beloved, but at the same time, training with the quadsters, she’s often been written out of contention for major titles. In spite of that, she rose to the occasion at JGPF, setting a WR in the SP and skating a near-perfect FS to emerge as champion in what was surely a huge confidence boost for her. I was lucky enough to watch her live at JGPF and she really is as exquisite in person as on TV; you can’t take your eyes off of her when she’s on the ice, whether it be during her programs or while she’s just stroking in practice. Although she had to miss Junior Worlds due to her injury, I can’t wait to see her enter the senior ranks as the reigning JGPF champion.

Lae: Rika Kihira’s NHK Free Skate - her first senior debut Free Skate and on the heels of her mistake in the SP, she showed her mettle and grit by rising to the occasion with incredible composure. I think this was doubly as amazing considering her last international competition prior was her Junior Worlds performance where she visibly struggled after mistakes in her SP and FS and finished a disappointing 8th. Rika’s pulled a bunch of amazing comebacks in other competitions this season but this really set the tone for how much she managed to grow in just one summer. It’s been wonderful to see Rika’s FS evolve as the season’s gone on — and while the media spotlight is rightfully on her triple Axels, not enough is said about how well she managed to land her other jumps even after mistakes with the Axels.

Rika Kihira (JPN) performing her “Beautiful Storm” Free Skate at Internationaux de France 2018 (   Source: Clara   )

Rika Kihira (JPN) performing her “Beautiful Storm” Free Skate at Internationaux de France 2018 (Source: Clara)

Niamh: I don’t think it will come to a surprise to anyone to hear that my highlight of the season was Jason Brown’s Short Program at Worlds 2019. In fact, this Short Program as a whole was a highlight of the season, and my favourite short across all disciplines. It highlighted everything that is Jason - smooth skating, incredible elements and an artistry that isn’t found in many skaters. It was a different take on the ‘love’ theme we’ve seen pop up in many of Jason’s programs over the years, specifically his free programs, but it fit. With the new look, and a difficult change in coaching, the Short Program made perfect sense - it was mature, fresh and new, and everything I think he needed. That program at Worlds 2019 was one of the best performances we’ve seen from him. The elements were nearly flawless, his skating was seamless, and everything just seemed to fit together to create a moment that I will never forget, and for him to win a small silver medal was just the icing on top of the cake. And yes, Worlds in its entirety didn’t go exactly as he probably planned, or wanted; but this certainly was a moment to remember, and confirmation, perhaps, that he made the right choice in making the changes he did.

Taeri: I started this season extremely excited to see Rika Kihira on the senior circuit, and as we all know, she exceeded expectations. My favorite moment of the season was her Free Skate at the Grand Prix Final — it wasn’t a perfect skate (Rika fell on her opening triple Axel), but it was intense and memorable. Rika was in the lead after the Short Program, a rare occurrence for her. Despite winning both of her Grand Prix events, she came into the Free Skate third at GP France and fifth at NHK Trophy, so coming in first after the short at GPF was exciting. What I love most about this specific skate is that it showcased Rika’s tenacity — her grit and her nerves of steel, despite her opening fall. “Beautiful Storm” is probably one of my favorite ladies’ programs this season. The music is hauntingly beautiful, and I love the nuances in Rika’s choreography and how the program builds. I remember watching the whole program literally holding my breath until Rika landed her last jumping pass, the triple Salchow, and her joyous expression (without any kuyashii) made me so so happy.

Yogeeta: I am such a fan of Kaori Sakamoto and for me, her win at Japanese Nationals was definitely the highlight of the season. She’s had an amazing season, but the performances she managed to put out at Japanese Nationals was by far some of the best skating I’ve ever seen from her. In such a packed competition, she rose to the occasion and I was just so proud of her. She has had so much pressure on her shoulders since she was chosen for the Olympic team, and she’s managed to fight past it and grow into an amazing skater, both technically and artistically. Kaori deserved her win at Japanese Nationals, and I am so excited to see what next season brings for her.

What were your favorite moments of the 18/19 season? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!