NHK Trophy 2014 Pairs Review

This week, we saw the Grand Prix series end with NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan. Going into the competition, many were anticipating a big showdown between Duhamel/Radford and Kavaguti/Smirnov, both of whom won their earlier Grand Prix events in convincing fashion. This highly anticipated matchup didn’t turn out quite as expected; both teams skated well below their best in the long program. Duhamel/Radford came out on top with a solid, if not impressive, victory, and both teams qualified easily for the Grand Prix Final. Yu/Jin of China took bronze and claimed the sixth and final GPF slot. Let’s see how the pairs did in Osaka.

nhk-podium

NHK-results

Duhamel/Radford

The team at the top
The team at the top

After a resounding win at Skate Canada, Meagan & Eric were looking to make another strong statement here at NHK.

They started off very well. They skated their Un Peu Plus Haut SP with great confidence and energy throughout. Their twist was only level 2, but well done, with +GOE across the board. Next, they landed an excellent set of SBS 3Lz, followed by a strong throw 3Lz. All of their remaining elements were level 4 and well executed. Their GOE was all positive; not a single negative mark. They scored 72.70 in the SP, exactly matching their SP total at Skate Canada.

Duhamel/Radford’s SBS 3Lz has improved so much this season. This element is becoming a real weapon for them. Not only are they landing it consistently, they’re doing it with great quality. The jumps are high and amazingly well synchronized. So not only do they get the high BV, but also strong GOE. They earned 7.00 points for this element in the SP, making it the highest-scoring set of SBS jumps by any pair in the whole GP series. (The next highest was Stolbova/Klimov’s SBS 3Ts in the Rostelecom SP, which earned 5.70.) The strength of this element is important for Duhamel/Radford, especially in the SP, where other pairs have less opportunity to make up points on other elements. (For example, Peng/Zhang and Sui/Han can add the quad twist in the LP to make up points, but cannot do so in the SP.)

Duhamel/Radford have the highest SP score of the season for pairs, due in part to the SBS 3Lz. Their SP music works well for them, and the overall package is strong. I would favor them to win this segment at the GP Final.

Meagan/Eric followed up their stellar SP with a somewhat disappointing performance in the long program. They opened with a good level 2 twist and, again, excellent SBS 3Lz. However, Meagan then fell on the throw 4S. Unlike their previous attempts, this one wasn’t really close. They recovered with strong SBS spins. But the energy seemed to fall off after that. Meagan doubled the first jump in the 3T/2T/2T combo and stepped out of the landing on the throw 3Lz. The pairs combo spin was a bit labored, and they lost 2 levels (1 point base value) on the final lift. Their final LP score was 127.08, almost 11 points off what they scored at Skate Canada.

D/R’s Muse LP has received generally good reviews, especially compared to last year’s Alice LP. I feel the first section of the program is strong. The fast-paced music complements their big, athletic tricks. However, when the music slows down and the energy drops, the weaknesses in D/R’s skating become very apparent, compared to the top Russian pairs. They just don’t have the same extension, presentation, and general quality in the transitions and choreography. I don’t think this program helps them particularly, but at the same time it’s not getting in their way, either. The PCS they’ve gotten for the long program (66.22 here, 68.11 SC) is not as high as Stolbova/Klimov’s or Kavaguti/Smirnov’s best PCS LP marks this season (71.88 and 70.10 respectively). However, D/R’s PCS is still very good.

Going into the GP Final, I will certainly expect to see D/R on the podium there.

Next: GP Final

Kavaguti/Smirnov

Program of the year
Program of the year

This event was rather disappointing for Kavaguti/Smirnov. Coming off strong performances at Nebelhorn and Skate America, many were expecting this pair to contend for the GP Final, Euro, and World titles. However, their performance here was a setback.

They started off the competition with a good, but not great, short program to Meditation from Thais. Yuko had a scratchy, imperfect landing on the SBS 3T, but held on. The rest of the elements were fine, although they lost a level on their step sequence. There were no other mistakes, and it was a very nice program. However, it seemed to lack a little of the beauty and magic they had at earlier events. It was just a tiny bit lackluster. The program is lyrical and lovely, and I think it works well as a vehicle for them, but perhaps they just need a bit more energy and polish the next time out. Their GOE scores on the elements were lower than at Skate America. The overall score was correspondingly only 64.60, compared to 69.16 at Skate America. Yuko was not pleased in the kiss-n-cry.

Kavaguti/Smirnov followed this skate with an imperfect perfomance of their Manfred Symphony LP. Yuko fell on the second triple in their 3T/3T sequence and had a wide, swingy landing on the SBS 2A. She then fell on the throw 4S. The program got stronger from there, and the throw 3Lp was well done, as were the three lifts. Yuko & Sergei performed the program very well, despite the mistakes. They kept the energy level up and really showed off the lovely, interesting choreography. Their score was 119.00, well off the 140.00 they earned at Skate America.

It was a shame to see K/S struggle with the elements, because this is clearly the long program of the year in pairs. It’s far and away better than anything else in the field, and it’s a joy to watch even when performed less than perfectly. The music is powerful, the choreography is gorgeous, the whole package is just wonderful. If Kavaguti/Smirnov could perform this program cleanly and to its potential, I think they would have a legitimate shot at winning all the major events this year. It’s that good.

But the unfortunate fact is that K/S have always been very inconsistent competitors. Odd, bizarre mistakes tend to keep them not only out of gold, but often out of the medals entirely. They started off this year looking stronger at Nebelhorn and Skate America, but this competition was, unfortunately, a bit of a return to their typical form. Even at their best, they do not have the difficulty of Duhamel/Radford or the stellar execution of Stolbova/Klimov. So they really must skate clean to have a shot at winning.

I’m crossing my fingers that they can put it all together and skate much better in Barcelona.

Next: GP Final

Yu/Jin

Up and coming
Up and coming

This young Chinese team followed up their silver medal at Cup of China with the bronze here at NHK. In doing so, they qualified for their first GP Final, just ahead of Tarasova/Morozov.

Yu/Jin had a great competition here. Their SP was very solid. They landed good SBS 3Ts and did a good triple twist. She two-footed the landing on the throw 3Lp. Their step sequence was only a level 2; I think this is an area where they need to improve. I’d like to see them get into the ice more and skate with deeper edges. They seem to glide lightly over the surface at times and don’t really use the ice as much as they could to generate speed and power. Still, they improved their SP score here from CoC by 3+ points.

Yu/Jin skated very well in the long program. Their SBS jumps were all very good, well landed and well synchronized. They had great height on the triple twist, and the throw 3Lp was excellent, gaining all +2s and +3s in GOE. She landed forward on the throw 3F but held on. They unfortunately ended the program with a random error in the pairs combo spin, which left them chagrined. However, the overall impression was excellent, and they placed second in this segment. Their long program, set to Humility & Love from the Creation soundtrack, is surprisingly effective. The music has a pensive, haunting quality, and the choreography by David Wilson is interesting. Yu/Jin interpreted the program nicely.

One thing I notice about this team–aside from their impressive technical proficiency—is that Xiaoyu Yu lacks the potent charisma and star power of her teammates Cheng Peng, Xuehan Wang, and to a lesser extent Wenjing Sui. Xiaoyu is a very good skater, but she doesn’t shine in the spotlight quite the same way the others do. Her partner Yang Jin stands out only a bit more. How do these two develop their artistry going forward? I’m thinking they will need to focus on developing their chemistry as a team—like Pang/Tong did—rather than putting the focus on either of them individually. This long program is a good initial step in that direction.

Next: Grand Prix Final

Bazarova/Deputat

Getting used to each other
Getting used to each other

Vera & Andrei had a pretty good outing in their second GP event together. I think they’re making progress.

Their My Way short program was pretty good. The opening SBS 3Ts were landed. Their level 3 triple twist was a tad low but nicely done, and gained positive GOE.Their throw 3Lp had good ice coverage. Vera’s position on the death spiral was to die for. Overall it was a good skate for them, and they looked pleased with it. Some people don’t like this program because of the muzak version of My Way, but I personally love it. I find these two so interesting together. Vera is beautiful and delicate; Andrei is strong and elegant. Their SP score was 59.62, almost 3 points higher than they scored at CoC.

Their long program was not quite as strong. Vera fell on the opening jumps, which only counted as SBS 2T. They completed the 2A/1Lp/2S combo, but the 2A was underrotated and got negative GOE. They also had negative GOE on both throws. Perhaps of more concern, their lifts were a bit shaky as well. They had problems with the mount/dismount of the reverse-entry lift. And Vera’s lift positions actually looked a bit weak, surprisingly for her. Some of the positions just need to be held a bit longer and more strongly. I don’t know if this is a matter of timing and comfort within the lifts, or if it’s something else.

(In general, I wonder if Vera would benefit from more off-ice workouts designed to build strength. At times she just looks so fragile, and more strength might help. Maybe she’s already pursuing this.) It wasn’t a great long program for her & Andrei. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the presentation and choreography. There’s just a lot of classiness with this team. And I feel like their connection and transitions and pairs quality are improving.

Their LP score here was 3+ points less than at CoC. So overall, they were pretty much flat from the previous competition. Still, not bad for a new team. They have a lot of work to do, but I like what I’m seeing so far.

Next: Russian Nationals

Vartmann/Van Cleave

A better placement, but still much to improve on
A better placement, but still much to improve on

This was an up-and-down competition for the German pair. Their short program did not go well; Mari fell on both the SBS 3T and throw 3F. She was almost in tears as they left the ice–sad. They rebounded in their Aranjuez LP and landed some elements. However, unfortunately, most of the landings were not clean and received negative GOE. They finished 5th here, much better than their 8th place at Skate Canada. However, their scores were pretty much the same as Skate Canada. Unfortunately, this pair has a lot to work on. Consistency, skating skills, and Aaron’s footwork in the lifts all need major improvement.

Next: German Nationals (I think)

Leng/Shnapir

Simon brings the drama
Simon brings the drama

After a rocky debut at Rostelecom, DeeDee & Simon had a better outing here at NHK. This team still has a long way to go, but this event was a small step in the right direction.

They started with several mistakes in their SP. Simon turned out of the SBS 3S, and DeeDee fell on the throw 3S. Their SBS spins were well synchronized, though. They were a little hesitant on the entry to the hip press lift, but the lift had good ice coverage. They scored 45.91, about the same as Rostelecom. I enjoy their Carmina Burana SP. Some people feel this music overwhelms them, and I suppose it does, but I still kind of like it. And that ending pose is, well, interesting! 🙂

Their Miss Saigon LP was not bad. They’re only doing a double twist, but at least they’re getting good height on it (unlike Takahashi/Kihara). They landed the SBS 3T/2T, albeit with a turnout again from Simon. DeeDee fell on the SBS 3S, but landed the throw 3S. Overall they scored 92.33 in the LP, nine points better than Rostelecom. So, improvement.

A strong point for this team is lifts. The lifts not beautiful, by any means, but they’re quite technically solid for such a new team. I think Simon is very underrated as a lifter. His footwork really looks quite good, and they get nice ice coverage on the lifts. Now they just need to work on smoothness and improving the positions.

The biggest area that needs improvement, though, is speed. Right now, this pair is very slow on the ice. It seems like both of them individually have power in their skating, but they need to put that together as a team.

The good news is, they seemed comfortable and at ease in the kiss-n-cry after both skates. Some people felt there was tension at Rostelecom, which I myself didn’t see, but enough people commented on it that I wondered. Here, though, they seemed fine and to be getting along well. I kind of like these two as a team. I look forward to seeing them develop in the next year or so.

Next: U.S. Nationals

Takahashi/Kihara

What to say?
What to say?

This team beat Leng/Shnapir at Rostelecom, but fell behind L/S here to finish last at NHK, their home Grand Prix. Not the outcome they were hoping for.

Both programs were, as usual, marred by falls on the SBS jumps from Narumi. None of the throw jumps were cleanly landed, either. Their SBS spins were good in both programs–a bright spot.

Watching this pair, it’s hard to believe Narumi was world bronze medalist just two years ago. She still has lovely positions in the lifts and spins. But she and Kihara just don’t seem to be gelling as a pair. Their lifts look shaky—his footwork isn’t the best, and I’m not sure he really has sufficient arm strength to hold and spin her as he needs to. Worse, they just look very young and juvenile together. Their skating is very “small”; they look like 2 kids out on the ice. I’m not sure exactly what the problem is—their stroking? I guess the good thing is, with absolutely no competition in Japan, they have all the time in the world to improve.

Next: Japanese Nationals

Wrapup

So, that concludes the Grand Prix season. We now have the Grand Prix Final to look forward to!

What will happen in Barcelona? The results of the Grand Prix series suggest the title is likely between Stolbova/Klimov and Duhamel/Radford. I give the edge to Stolbova/Klimov, because they’ve been the most consistent team so far, have the most quality in their skating, and also the biggest reputation. However, we have to remember that Stolbova/Klimov enter the competition at a disadvantage in base value to D/R. Over the GP season, D/R’s average total base value was 93.50, compared to 85.15 for S/K. So, Stolbova/Klimov will need very strong performances to beat Duhamel/Radford.

Kavaguti/Smirnov and Peng/Zhang will have another chance to deliver their sophisticated, lovely programs and do full justice to their superior material. I hope both teams can put it all together!

Sui/Han and Yu/Jin will be looking to prove themselves in this field, maintain their strong technical standard, and make an impression on the judges.

It will be interesting, as always, to see who comes out on top!

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Trophee Eric Bompard, Warsaw Cup, and U.S. Eastern Sectionals: Pairs Review

What a week in pairs!! Not only did we have Trophee Eric Bompard, there was also an interesting pairs event at Warsaw Cup in Poland. And last but not least, U.S. Sectionals happened as well. Altogether, it was an exciting couple of days!

Trophee Eric Bompard

At the French Grand Prix event, Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov followed up their Rostelecom triumph with another convincing victory, easily clinching a spot in the Grand Prix Final. The Chinese pairs also made another strong statement here, winning silver and bronze. Let’s see how the pairs did.

TEB-podium

Pairs-results-TEB

Stolbova/Klimov

Another outstanding performance
Another outstanding performance

With this event coming just a week after Rostelecom, I wondered if we’d see a drop-off in Stolbova/Klimov’s performance level. Not at all.

They picked up right where they left off, with another strong SP. They landed a great set of SBS 3Ts and a very good throw 3F. Their triple twist was a tad low and got only a level 2. They delivered the program very well, with their usual strength and confidence. That said, I feel like there’s something lacking in this Crouching Tiger SP. It’s not fully working for me. The music is interesting, but a bit monotonous. It lacks highlights. The program is impressive, but doesn’t really take you anywhere.

In the long program, Ksenia & Fedor once again skated incredibly well. The program was very clean, and almost every element was performed with great quality. The speed and flow Ksenia gets on their throw landings is amazing. And as Jean-Christophe Berlot noted on IceNetwork, the throws happen so quickly and easily, they almost look like doubles, not triples. Last week, Ksenia & Fedor revealed in a Russian interview that they’re working on a throw quad. Considering the quality of their throw triples, it seems likely they’ll be able to get that element soon.

Their SBS jumps are just as impressive. Last year I was a bit surprised they were able to move up so fast while using a double Axel as one of their SBS jumps (instead of a triple). However, they execute the SBS 2A so consistently and so well that they’re scoring better with it than many pairs with a second triple. For example, in the long program here, S/K had mostly +2s on the SBS 2A.

Stolbova/Klimov’s GOE marks came down to earth a bit this week, with mostly +1s and +2s (as opposed to last week’s +2s and +3s). However, they again had not a single negative GOE mark. And overall in the long program, they gained 12.67 points of GOE over their base value. They were actually 3 points behind Sui/Han in base value, so they needed positive GOE, and got it.

One area of slight concern is the triple twist. Again in the LP, they had only a level 2 on the twist. It’s a comparatively weak element for them, compared to other top pairs. Fortunately they make up for this in other areas.

Aside from the elements, what’s so impressive about Ksenia & Fedor is the way they commit to the choreography and express it with their whole bodies. There is such beautiful stretch and tension and detail in everything they do. Choreography, for them, is much more than just waving an arm around during a musical flourish. Ksenia just throws herself completely into her interpretation, from her fingertips down to her toes. Not a moment is “lost” in their programs; there’s always something happening.

I only wish the Notre Dame long program itself was more worthy of their considerable talents. What I don’t like about this program is it doesn’t really feel like them. It’s dramatic and dark, but that doesn’t necessarily feel like their natural on-ice personalities. They’re not a classically elegant or romantic pair, as has been discussed; their Addams Family LP last year suited them so well because it was different and character-driven and energetic. I want to see them doing innovative, interesting, edgy programs, not a standard dramatic number like Notre Dame.

Nevertheless, it was another terrific competition for Stolbova/Klimov, and they should feel very confident heading into the Grand Prix Final.

Next: Grand Prix Final

Sui/Han

All grown up now
All grown up now

This competition was the best I’ve ever seen Sui/Han. For me, this pair is winning the “Most Improved” award by a mile. In fact, I almost can’t believe how much they’ve improved, just since last season. Something very good is obviously happening in their training.

When this pair first came on the scene back in 2010, they were so young. They looked like two kids, with choreography and costumes to match. The country hoedown SP they skated for a couple years was their defining program–and I hated it. I don’t go for perk, cutesiness, or kiddiness on the ice, so they were just all kinds of bad to me. Wenjing also had a habit of sometimes bouncing her upper body up and down in crossovers. They improved somewhat over the years, but last year’s Kalinka LP was still in the cutesy, juvenile vein.

Now, suddenly, all that seems behind them. They don’t look like kids anymore. They’re adults. And the upper-body bobbing and bouncing is gone. (Huge kudos to the Chinese coaching staff for somehow breaking that habit.) And . . . suddenly, I’m starting to really LIKE this team!

They performed a technically strong short program here to Stray Cat Strut. They did a great level 4 triple twist, with her arm in Tano position. Wow. The throw 3F was excellent, earning all +2s and +3s. Their other elements were all good, with just a slight synchro loss in the SBS spins. They’ve always had great difficulty in their lifts, but are now adding more smoothness in the transitions as well. When I first saw this program, I worried it was again too much on the perky side. But you know, as it grows, it’s actually becoming —dare I say it?–a little sexy! Who would have thought??

Sui/Han didn’t let up in their Francesca da Rimini long program. They started off with a beautiful quad twist. Sui stumbled during the SBS 3T/2T/2T combination, but they quickly moved on and didn’t make a single mistake after that. They had fantastic height on both throws. Their SBS 3S were right on, and the lifts were all good. They also skated with nice speed throughout. Sui/Han definitely get down into their knees more than the younger Chinese pairs and generate a lot of power, which helps them in both TES and PCS.

Their long program was both technically sound and artistically satisfying. The choreography is interesting, and they’re almost achieving actual elegance in some of their spin and transitional elements. I noted in my Skate Canada review that this program is artistically a risk for them, but I think it’s going to pay off hugely. In fact, it’s already paying off. They scored 63.77 in PCS with this long program. Only 4 pairs have gone higher in PCS this season: D/R, K/S, S/K, and P/Z.

Which brings up an interesting question: Does this performance make Sui/Han Chinese #1? Ryan Bradley argued so on Universal Sports. Personally, I don’t think S/H are quite there yet. However, the pressure is on, and P/Z are going to have to perform better if they intend to maintain that #1 spot. The competition between these domestic rivals should be an interesting subtext to the GP Final.

Sui/Han won their second silver medal at this event, qualified for the Final, and improved their scores from Skate Canada. Their long program here scored almost 14 points higher than at SC. They should be feeling pretty pleased right now.

Next: Grand Prix Final

Wang/Wang

A joy to watch
A joy to watch

This young Chinese pair had another set of lovely performances to claim their second bronze medal.

Their Romance short program was very well skated. They had a good level 3 twist and a smooth throw 3Lp. The highlight was their SBS spins, which are among the best in the world. The spins were beautifully synchronized, with good speed and interesting positions. The program is lyrical and soft and suits them perfectly. They are such a well-matched pair—both light, elegant, and lovely to watch. They improved on their SP score from Cup of China by almost 5 points.

Their My Fair Lady long program was also very enjoyable. Not many skaters can pull off this music without looking stilted and saccharine, but Wang/Wang do it well. Xuehan, in particular, has a wonderful, natural charm to her skating that makes this music perfect for her. Her smile lightens every moment; she is just a delight to watch. I think my only criticism of Wang/Wang is they do need more speed and presence and “bigness” on the ice. But this program works very well on its own terms. Technically, they were stronger here than at Cup of China. Their level 3 twist earned positive GOE. Once again, she had mistakes on the SBS jumps. She two-footed the 3T in the combo, then doubled the SBS 3S. However, both throw jumps were very strong. Their SBS spins were once again excellent, and the lifts are solid. He has good footwork and speed; she has very nice positions in the air. Overall, they improved their LP score over CoC by nearly 4 points.

Next: Chinese Nationals

Scimeca/Knierim

A breakthrough in the LP
A breakthrough in the LP

This was an important competition for Alexa/Chris. Their season started off with a win at the U.S. International Classic. However, their performances at Nebelhorn and Skate America were a bit disappointing, and they’ve been struggling on the SBS jumps since last year. So they came into this event looking for improvement.

They opened their SP with an excellent level 3 triple twist. Alexa then fell on the SBS 3S. I was nervous as to what would happen next. But Alexa & Chris recovered with good SBS spins. They then performed their new lift, which received level 4 and positive GOE. The throw 3F was strong, and overall they finished the program well. I feel their interpretation of El Tango de Roxanne is getting stronger. They performed the program with more confidence and authority than earlier in the season.

Their long program was the performance U.S. pairs fans have been waiting for. Finally, they were able to land both the SBS 3S and SBS 2A cleanly—after struggling with those jumps so much. Alexa did have a slight underrotation and stumble on the 2T following the 2A; however, that was a fairly minor error. Overall, it was just great to see them land those important SBS jumps!! Alexa had a huge smile, and they kept the energy up through the rest of the program. Both of their throw jumps had excellent height and solid landings, and their SBS spins were good. All three lifts were well performed. I enjoy their long program to An American in Paris. It’s gotten somewhat mixed reviews, but I find it charming and sweet, and I think their expresssion is improving.

Alexa has been criticized this year for her lift positions. Some feel they need to be more extended and with better toe point. And it’s true that Alexa’s free leg is not perfectly straight in their new lift. However, the fact is that Scimeca/Knierim score very well with their lifts and, in this competition for example, had almost all positive GOE on the lifts in both segments. Of course, there’s always room for improvement. However, I think some of the criticism has been harsh.

Scimeca/Knierim placed third in the LP and improved on their Skate America LP score by over 12 points. They missed the bronze medal due to the mistake in the SP, but should still be really happy with their performance. They finally got the monkey off their back of not being able to skate a clean program, and hopefully now they can build on this and move forward.

Next: U.S. Nationals

James/Cipres

What happens next?
What happens next?

Earlier this year, James/Cipres moved to Moscow to train with Stas Morozov in Nina Mozer’s group. However, results so far this year were disappointing. James/Cipres announced this week that they have returned to France by mutual agreement of the French federation and Russian authorities. (Apparently, the presence of non-Russians was no longer desired in Mozer’s rink.) Interesting, to say the least. Skating in their home Grand Prix at the same time all this was happening was not ideal.

James/Cipres started with a disappointing SP. The catch on the triple twist was low, and she put her foot down on the exit. She then fell on the SBS 3T. The throw 3F was good. Overall, they need a lot more expression in this La Cumparsita tango program. The score was 54.20, more than 2 points below their Skate Canada SP, and they were not happy in the kiss-n-cry.

The long program was somewhat better, but still not great. The triple twist was again low and got only level 1 in both programs. (That means they’re earning about 2 points less for the triple twist than teams like Scimeca/Knierim and Sui/Han.) They did hit both SBS jump sets nicely. However, both throw jumps were landed very forward and got some negative GOE. They also received some negative GOE on the final two lifts, both of which were landed two-footed (an unusual error). Overall, it was not bad, but it was sloppy. However, they did improve on their Skate Canada LP score by over 8 points.

James/Cipres have a lot to work on at this point. Their twist is weak; their lifts are shaky; they just don’t seem to be in sync at this point. I hope they can get resettled into a better coaching situation soon.

Next: French Nationals (I think)

Della Monica/Guarise

A good competition
A good competition

I like this team. They’re not elegant or refined, but there’s a maturity and attack to their skating that I enjoy. I kind of dig their programs too, especially the Mask of Zorro LP. Their choreography suits them; it’s at the right level for their skills and on-ice personality. Matteo still needs to bend his knees more and get deeper into the ice—when you look at their blades, you can see that Nicole’s getting a deeper edge than him almost all the time—but honestly, I’m pretty impressed with how good he is after only a few years on the ice.

They’ve got the elements; what they need is more quality and speed. And just to clean up the mistakes. They make a lot of minor errors that combine to drag those scores down. Their long program here was much improved from Cup of China, though. And their overall total was 5+ points higher. So, improvement.

Moore-Towers/Marinaro

MTM2

I thought Kirsten & Mike skated better here than at Skate Canada, although their point total was about the same. They had trouble in the short program–she fell on the throw 3Lp, and there were problems in the lift. Kirsten looked very upset afterward and stalked off to the kiss-n-cry with Mike trailing behind. The long program was better. They landed a great SBS 3T/3T sequence and a good throw 3S. The throw 3Lp wasn’t bad either, just a little 2-footed. My biggest concern is still his technique in the lifts.

Ziegler/Kiefer

Just getting started
Just getting started

This young Austrian team, only together for a year, are just getting started. They have a nice look to their skating and can complete some elements. However, they are only doing a double twist, and they are very inconsistent—landing one element, then falling on the next. Also, they’re pretty slow. We’ll have to see what the future holds for them.

Next:  Golden Spin of Zagreb

Warsaw Cup

This Senior B competition featured highly awaited competitive debuts from two new teams, Iliushechkina/Moscovitch and Marchei/Hotarek. Canadian fans, in particular, were waiting with great anticipation to see Dylan Moscovitch with his new partner.

Iliushechkina/Moscovitch

Surprisingly good together
Surprisingly good together

When I first heard Dylan and Lyubov were teaming up, I was excited. Yet, at the same time, I had no idea what to expect. I still remembered Lyubov from Skate Canada 2010, where she shone as a little Russian baby-ballerina type, skating brilliantly with her ex-partner Nodari Maisuradze. Meanwhile, Dylan was known for his comedic, athletic style with KMT. How would these two very different skaters–from different pairs traditions–mesh?

Surprisingly well, is the answer after Warsaw Cup. Lyubov & Dylan put out two solid programs here and won the event by almost 5 points, quite an achievement for a new pair.

Their short program, set to Michael Buble’s Feeling Good, is an optimistic opening statement. As you would expect with a new team, they had a number of small technical errors—she 2-footed the SBS 3S, and there was an issue on the triple twist. But they landed a good throw 3Lz and executed nice SBS spins (with a gorgeous camel position from Lyubov). Most importantly, they looked good together. Their connection and unison were strong for a new team, and they interpreted the program well.

Their long program, set to From Russia With Love, was even more interesting. Watching this program was like seeing a whole new Dylan on the ice! There was a classic, almost elegant quality to his skating that I’ve never seen before. I think Lyubov is having a transformative effect on him–it’s quite exciting to see. Meanwhile, Lyubov still has “it.” You can tell her skating is a bit rusty compared to 2010, but that beautiful posture and carriage are still there, plus a lovely new maturity. She & Dylan match each other so much better than I ever would have expected. Physically they look good together; and there’s an intangible, subtle chemistry that I love.

Technically, their long program here was flawed. Lyubov came out forward on the SBS 3T, didn’t get full rotation on the SBS 3S, two-footed the throw 3Lz, and put a hand down on the throw 3Lp. Plus, they only performed a double twist. Despite all this, you could still see there is a lot of quality with this team. Their lifts and spins are looking good, with some very interesting, unique positions. They won both segments of the competition here (and their overall score topped MT/M2 at TEB). And they were just really enjoyable to watch.

Obviously they’ll want to clean up those jump mistakes, but I think they’re starting from such a strong place. I cannot wait to see more of this team. I think they have an excellent shot at the Canadian World/FCC team this year. It’ll be between them, MT/M2, Grenier/Deschamps, and Purich/Wolfe. And of those 4 teams, I think they’re the strongest, as long as they can land at least half their jump elements. (And do the triple twist.) I really hope their training goes well between now and Canadians.

Anyone interested in Lyubov & Dylan should check out Beverley Smith’s must-read feature on them at https://bevsmithwrites.wordpress.com/.

Next: Canadian Nationals

Fedorova/Miroshkin

Biellmanns!
Biellmanns!

This young Russian team (16/20) is still competing on the junior level internationally, but also entered this senior event. This is the first time I’d seen them. They’re an interesting team and definitely look promising. They placed second in both segments and overall. Technically, they had errors on the SBS and throw jumps. However, they did a level 3 triple twist in both programs, and their lifts were solid. What really stands out is their tremendous flexibility! They do really cool cantilevers into their twist, and both of them do Biellmanns in the SBS spins! (I’ve never seen that before from a pair.) Lina has very nice positions in the lifts. They need to add more power and speed, though. My concern with this team is growth. Right now they have a good size differential, but Lina is absolutely tiny (4’9”) and I’m not sure if she’s had her growth spurt. If she grows much more, it could affect them.

Next: Junior Grand Prix Final

Marchei/Hotarek

In practice
In practice

This new pair came together unexpectedly this fall after Hotarek split with Stefania Berton. No explanation has been provided for that split. To be honest, after this event, I’m still wondering what happened. Marchei/Hotarek had a pretty good debut, but I can’t help feeling that Berton/Hotarek as a pair and Marchei as a singles skater would still have been a better outcome than what we have right now.

In their Malaguena SP, M/H landed the SBS 3S well, but stumbled out of the throw 3Lz. They performed a double twist. Their death spiral was nice, with a very good position from Valentina. They also received strong GOE (almost all +2s) on the step sequence, but finished 4th.

They pulled up to third in the LP and overall. They opened the LP with strong SBS 3Ts. The throw 3Lz was landed but small. Later, Valentina singled the SBS 3T and and landed forward on the throw 3S. Overall, though, not bad for the jump elements. The lifts varied in quality—the first one was pretty good, but the reverse entry/carry lift was a bit shaky. They’re doing a lot of difficulty in the lifts—I almost wonder if they shouldn’t dial it back a bit until the partnership is more developed. Overall their stroking/footwork seemed slow, but that’s to be expected at this point.

I think Valentina is transitioning to pairs remarkably fast, probably because Ondrej is such an experienced partner. They look pretty good so far. But I’m kind of missing Valentina as a singles lady. With all the pairs elements, she doesn’t really get to shine much yet in this partnership.

Next: Golden Spin of Zagreb

Chernyavskaya/Souza-Kordyeru

At Cup of China
At Cup of China

I was a bit surprised to see this team at Warsaw Cup, just a week before they were scheduled to appear at NHK Trophy. They had disappointing results at their first GP event, Cup of China, where they placed last. Following that, a new rival Russian pair, Astakhova/Rogonov, won the bronze medal at Rostelecom. I had to wonder if C/SK were sent to this event as a test to see if they were ready for NHK.

Unfortunately, it was not a successful event. They placed third in the SP, then dropped to last in the LP and overall. Their programs are pleasant to watch; I feel like they capture the mood of the music well. And they landed quite a few elements. What’s holding them back is their skating skills. Their footwork is slow, with shallow edges. Souza-Kordyeru, in particular, really needs to get down in his knees more. Their PCS in the LP was about 5 points below the rest of the field.

On Monday, it was announced that C/SK are out of NHK due to Chernyavskaya’s high fever. Will Astakhova/Rogonov get their spot?

Next: Russian Nationals (I think)

U.S. Eastern Sectionals

As if there wasn’t enough happening, U.S. Sectionals also took place this week. This was the second competitive event for new team Castelli/Tran. (They debuted earlier this season at Boston Open, a club competition.) Due to the small number of senior teams in the U.S., Castelli/Tran are already through to Nationals and were not required to compete here to qualify. However, they competed anyhow to get more mileage on the programs.

Castelli/Tran

castelli-tran

Unfortunately, Marissa & Mervin did not have quite the showing they were hoping for at this event.

They started off well enough in their Summertime SP. They did a level 1 triple twist and landed the SBS 3S. Then, in the throw 3S, Marissa landed beautifully, but Mervin fell down after launching her! Mervin was chagrined, but they laughed it off in the kiss-n-cry afterward. Their footwork is really the highlight of this SP. They perform it with a lot of power and amplitude (although the unison is not perfect yet).

Alas, their tango LP did not go very well. They opened with just a double twist. Then they both fell on the SBS 3T. The throw 3F turned into a 2F. Their reverse entry lift was a bit labored through the position changes. They performed nice SBS spins, but Marissa stumbled out of the SBS 3S and put a hand down on the throw 3S. Their back outside death spiral also failed midway through. It was such a shame to see them struggle on the elements, because I really enjoy this tango program. It showcases their strength, power, and interpretive ability effectively, and I think it will be a very good program for them when performed more cleanly. Marissa wore a new navy-and-black lace dress, very lovely on her.

I think Marissa & Mervin have by far the strongest basic skating skills out of all the new teams that have come together this year. Watching them is exciting because they both have such deep, firm edges. A lot of the new teams look rather slow on the ice—but not these two. Marissa & Mervin skate with attack and gain speed & power quickly with their stroking. I think the potential for them is really huge, because their skating skills are just so strong. And that’s aside from the fact that both of them also have very good musicality and interpretive ability.

That being said, there are areas where they’re obviously still growing. They both have great knee action; however, it seems not quite fully synchronized yet. I’m sure this is something they’re working on. Their lifts are fine, but need a little smoothing out. I think this is totally to be expected. Their previous partners were quite different in size from the new partnership, so it’s going to take a while to adjust to new timing and balance needs.

Marissa was very upset in the kiss-n-cry after the LP, and Mervin also looked disappointed. Marissa’s former full-time coach, Bobby Martin, joined them to offer support. Nice to see. Obviously this competition is not what they were hoping for, but I think it’s just a bump in the road; growing pains. Hopefully hope they can just put this behind them, move on, and think positively toward Nationals.

At Nationals, they will be wild cards. My expectation would be a top 5 finish, based simply on the quality of their basic skating. But it’s next season where I think we’ll see major progress and improvement from this pair.

Next: U.S. Nationals

Wrapup

This was such an exciting week, with a commanding performance from Stolbova/Klimov, a breakthrough free skate from Scimeca/Knierim, and interesting debuts from so many new teams!

Two things stood out for me.

1. The Chinese pairs at TEB. I was really impressed with how well-prepared the Chinese pairs were. They both skated excellent, rather effortless programs at TEB. They improved on their first Grand Prix assignments, and they were very composed. Most importantly, they didn’t make silly mistakes. Sure, Wang/Wang had some problems with jump landings. But you don’t see the Chinese pairs losing points on footwork or death spirals or combination spins. They are just ready to compete.

2. The new teams need time. Watching all the new teams is so exciting, and some of them show great promise. However, these teams are dealing with a lot of high expectations. Fans, coaches, and the skaters themselves all need to be patient. It takes time for pairs to develop. Maxim Trankov said that this season would be about the teams that stayed together, but starting next season, the new teams might take center stage. I think he’s absolutely right. Let’s enjoy what the new teams can do, but not expect too much just yet.

Next week brings the last Grand Prix event, NHK Trophy. I’m kind of sad that the Grand Prix season is almost over. But I am excited to see who will qualify for the Final! 🙂

Rostelecom Cup: Pairs Review

Last week in pairs, the Chinese swept the podium. This week, the Russian pairs answered with a sweep at Rostelecom Cup. Instead of signaling a renaissance, though, this Russian sweep is merely a reminder of the continuing dominance of Russian pairs. In Sochi, Russian pairs placed 1-2-6. And this fall, new Russian pairs seem to be emerging almost weekly to replace the older pairs who split or are taking time off this season.

At Rostelecom, Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov showed the strength at the top of Russian pairs, while Tarasova/Morozov and Astakhova/Rogonov showed the depth. Let’s take a look at how the pairs did this week!

podum-pairs

Rostelecom-results

Stolbova/Klimov

A couple weeks ago, I noted that Stolbova/Klimov’s success has been based mostly on execution and competence, not artistic innovation or new technical elements. This week, they proved yet again the importance of successful execution. They executed once again and won Rostelecom by over 38 points.

On top of the field
On top of the field

Stolbova/Klimov had a solid, but not stellar, performance of their Crouching Tiger SP. Their SBS 3Ts were excellent, and the throw triple Lutz was good. However, they had shaky position changes in the lift and got only a level 1. Also, the triple twist paled a bit in comparison to Tarasova/Morozov’s and was a level 2. They performed the program well and got a nice response from the home crowd, but it was not their best. Generous PCS scores kept them on top in this segment.

Ksenia/Fedor then came out on fire in the LP! Their Notre Dame program was outstanding. They skated with great energy, speed, and attack throughout, just as they did in Sochi. Every element was clean except for the 3T/2T/2T combination (they skipped the middle jump). In an otherwise error-ridden event, their clean, strongly skated LP was a joy to watch. As Peter Carruthers pointed out on Universal Sports, the basis of their success here was not the difficulty of the elements, but the strength and power of their basic skating skills. The speed they generate in their crossovers was noticeably superior to the other teams, and that speed and power allowed them to execute their elements extremely well.

How much was solid execution worth? Almost 15 points. That’s how much positive GOE they got in their long program. They had not a single negative mark. Almost everything was +2 and +3, with only a smattering of +1s. Amazing. And, with so much +GOE in the program, the PCS marks followed suit. S/K finished with 71.88 in PCS, 13.48 points higher than the next closest team.

So, perhaps Stolbova/Klimov aren’t breaking any new ground in pairs skating. But if they continue performing and executing at this level, they’ll probably continue to win. Let’s add their scores into the season-best table we looked at last week (again, taking the risk of comparing across competitions).

Pairs-table-Rostelecom

We see that S/K’s Rostelecom LP score now leads all pairs this season. It’s pretty close between them and Kavaguti/Smirnov, but let’s not forget S/K also enter every competition this season as Olympic/World silver medalists. This will give them a little extra boost when needed, which Kavaguti/Smirnov and the other leading pairs cannot rely on.

So I think Stolbova/Klimov should be feeling pretty good coming out of this competition. I still don’t like their packaging this season. The programs were well received by the home Russian crowd here, but have not been much praised elsewhere. Ksenia’s Dynasty-era shoulderpad unitard in the SP is a bit of a risky fashion choice, and the dull-green LP costumes are drab.

However, none of this will matter if they keep up the consistency and performance level they showed in the LP here. They now face a quick turnaround to their next competition, later this week at Trophee Bompard. I’m excited to see what they’ll do in France.

Next: Trophee Bompard

Tarasova/Morozov

Stellar in the short program
Stellar in the short program

What a competition for this pair–highs and lows. Their Sarabande Suite SP was simply wonderful. They started the program with an amazing level 4 triple twist, then continued with great SBS 3Ts and a very high throw 3Lp. They had a slight synchro loss on the SBS spins, but that was the only error. Otherwise the program was clean and gorgeous, and the best part came at the end. Their final footwork sequence was fast, powerful, difficult, and literally gave me chills. I didn’t want it to end!

This short program is working so well for Tarasova/Morozov. To me, it’s the best use of vocals so far this season (with Javi’s Black Betty SP a close second). The powerful choral music really heightens the drama. And yet, maybe because it’s choral music and not a solo voice, the vocals stay in the background and don’t distract from the skating.

The bottom line is, I absolutely loved this short program. T/M took second place in this segment, with almost a 9-point lead over the remaining field.

The long program did not go nearly as well. Their triple twist was again amazing. T/M earned level 4 and almost all +3s on the twist for a total of 8.20 points, making this the highest-scoring element in the whole competition. However, Morozov then fell badly on both SBS jumps, and Tarasova fell on the throw 3Lp and two-footed the throw 3S. So, the jump elements were basically a disaster. They did perform three level 4 lifts, all of which featured beautiful positions from her. The first two lifts in particular had good speed and ice coverage. Their long program is nice to watch, despite the Lionel Richie muzak. However, it lost impact with the falls. T/M dropped to 5th place in this segment. However, the teams ahead of them in the long program all had quite a few mistakes as well, so their point totals for the LP were not actually much higher than T/M’s. This, plus the 9-point lead from the short, allowed T/M to hold on for silver.

Some felt T/M didn’t deserve silver, considering they had 3 disruptive falls in their long program. Even they themselves looked a bit nonplussed when the scores and placement came up in the kiss-n-cry. I think the blame, if there is any, should be on the scoring system and not on the judges. Their falls in the LP were duly recorded and received the accompanying deductions and negative GOE. And their PCS in this LP was comparable to the competing teams, who all had multiple problems as well, so T/M weren’t really held up there, either. If there’s a problem, it’s that IJS just doesn’t penalize falls enough.

Obviously T/M will want to show a lot of improvement in their next LP. However, their short program here was probably my favorite pairs SP of the season so far. They improved on their short program score from Skate Canada by 3.14 points; however, their LP score was 4.81 points lower. So they didn’t show overall improvement from Skate Canada. However, they should nonetheless be happy with their GP debut season, having earned silver and bronze medals.

They now have a real shot to make the GP Final, and I think their chances are excellent to make the Russian Euro/World team. I can’t wait to see more from them as the season goes on.

Next: GP Final (possible, not yet confirmed) or Russian Nationals

Astakhova/Rogonov

Ambitious and bold
Ambitious and bold

This brand-new Russian team had an unexpectedly successful debut at Rostelecom, winning the bronze medal (albeit by only .01 points). They landed some strong technical elements here, and they skate with a lot of confidence and attack for such a new team.

The jump elements were the best part of their Nine short program. They landed a great set of SBS 3Ts and a strong throw 3F. The other elements were problematic. The triple twist was completed but with a low catch. The death spiral was slow, the lift had a ragged exit, and he caught a toe on the SBS spins. They did have good unison and expression in the footwork, and received strong support from the home crowd to place third in the SP.

Their long program, to The Master and Margarita, had a lot of errors. She singled the opening SBS 3S, and the twist was low and crashy. They rebounded with successful SBS 2As. The throw 3F almost came to a complete stop on the landing. The throw 3Lp was their best element, receiving +1s and +2s. However, there were problems on the lasso lift; he managed to get her overhead, but only after 2 or 3 attempts. They received no points for that element. They again skated with good attack and kept up the energy. I felt their PCS in this segment (58.40) was quite high and due in large part to the home-crowd support. They held on for bronze.

This team definitely shows a lot of potential for the future. They have pretty good connection, unison, and sharpness to their skating. Astakhova showed great confidence, considering she’s only 17 and had never competed on the senior Grand Prix. Another promising sign is their program selection. Both programs are set to rather loud, strident, modern music which most new teams wouldn’t think of tackling in their first season. The programs are not to everyone’s taste, but I give them props for trying something different. And for the most part, the strength of their skating rises to match the level of the music. I think their choice of The Master and Margarita is a smart move. This music, from the TV version of one of Russia’s most famous novels, will probably be recognizable to many Russians and may give them a nice little boost at Russian Nationals, where they’ll be a longshot for the Euro/World team.

Right now, Astakhova/Rogonov do not have a second GP event. (They were a very late addition to Rostelecom.) However, with their bronze medal, it will not be surprising if they are subbed into the NHK Trophy spot held by Chernyavskaya/Souza-Kordyeru, should that team be withdrawn by the RSF become injured.

Next: Russian Nationals

Denney/Frazier

Not their best
Not their best

There’s no way around it: This event was a disappointment for Denney/Frazier. Although they didn’t skate terribly by any means, they did not match their performance at Skate America and missed the bronze here by just .01 points. I can’t imagine they’re too happy about it.

The problems started in their SP. Brandon doubled the SBS 3S, and they again had problems on the death spiral, as happened earlier this season at Autumn Classic. Brandon’s pivot was shaky and Haven’s position not good. The element got level 1, and they earned only 2.40 points (whereas Astakhova/Rogonov, for example, earned 4.80 points on their level 4 DS). Frustrating. They performed the program pretty well and had the third-highest PCS, but placed fourth in this segment.

The long program had some nice moments but, in the end, just too many mistakes. They started off with a very nice level 3 twist and a good throw 3Lp. However, Brandon unfortunately again doubled the SBS 3S. The SBS spins were slow/out of sync. Haven then singled the first 2A and two-footed the second 2A. They finished the program fairly strongly, with a good footwork sequence and two nice level 4 lifts, and they tried to keep the performance level up. But overall, they just seemed to lack some of the speed, energy, and confidence they showed at Skate America. And of course, the crowd support was not there. D/F actually placed second in the free skate here, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough for the bronze.

This event has to be a disappointment for Denney/Frazier on several levels. First, they did not show improvement from Skate America. Their total points here = 164.85, far below the 183.84 from Skate America. More importantly, they came into this event with a real chance to make the GP Final. A second silver medal would have likely clinched a spot; it still might have been possible with bronze. Now, it’s pretty much out of the question.

There’s also the matter of positioning themselves going into U.S. Nationals. At Skate America, Denney/Frazier had the highest GP placement of any American pair since 2008 and also handily beat domestic rivals Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim. In doing so, Denney/Frazier established themselves as the early favorites for the national title. Now however, this performance calls that into question a bit. If Alexa/Chris can perform well at Trophee Bompard next week, they could be quickly back into that favorite position. Of course, everything will depend on how the pairs skate at Nationals. But it never hurts to go in with a bit of momentum.

Although it may seem like I’m being critical here, I’m actually a huge fan of Denney/Frazier and totally wish them the best for the rest of this season. I think they’re making such huge strides artistically and overall this season. They do need to get the death spiral and SBS spins fixed by Nationals, though. Their SBS jumps are not the most consistent, so that means they can’t afford to lose points on the spin elements, too. Time to dig in and work hard until Nationals. And, oh, make sure that Steuer comes to Nationals. Somehow, I kept wondering if his mere presence on the sidelines would have been enough of a little extra rep boost to get that missing .01!!!

Next: U.S. Nationals

Calalang/Sidhu

Much improved from last week
Much improved from last week

Jessica/Zack showed nice improvement at this event, after a disappointing debut at Cup of China.

They started off with a somewhat shaky SP. The SBS 3Ss were underrotated, and he stumbled coming out. They also got negative GOE on the triple twist. They performed the program nicely, but needed more speed.

Their LP was stronger. They again had problems on both SBS jumps and on the twist, which was only level 1. However, they rebounded very well in the second half of the program. Both throws were successful, and they showed some good lifts, too. Jessica has very nice positions in the lifts. Zack’s footwork and speed in the lifts varies—sometimes quite good, other times a bit slow. In the end, they managed to place third in the LP here.

They earned 106.58 for the LP, almost a 14-point improvement over their LP at Cup of China. So, they should be happy with that.

I like this pair, but I feel like they have a lot to work on. As Peter Carruthers pointed out on Universal Sports, they lack speed and power in their crossovers and basic skating. They have the difficulty to compete, as they showed at Rostelecom. However, to really make signficant progress, they need to go all in to improve those basic skating skills and pairs skills. They need more sharpness, precision, definition to their skating. And more distinctive, sophisticated programs. Their current programs and packaging are so bland, I think it really hurts them in comparison to a team like Denney/Frazier. I have to wonder whether they should consider a coaching change. They’ve been together quite a while now and are definitely progressing under Meno/Sand, but I wonder if they could make faster progress under another coach and if they were training with other top-level pairs.

Right now, I look forward to seeing them at Nationals, where I would anticipate a top 5 finish. There’s certainly a possibility they could break into the top 2 spots at Nationals, but I think top 5 and a 4CC assignment is more likely.

Next: U.S. Nationals

Prolss/Blommaert

Too many little mistakes
Too many little mistakes

This was the second GP assignment for Prolss/Blommaert. They had a decent competition and improved on their overall point total from Skate America by nearly 10 points. They placed 6th in both programs and overall, slightly up from their 7th-place finish at Skate America.

They completed most of their elements in both programs and only had one fall. However, there were a lot of minor errors that chipped away at their GOE. In both programs, they lost about 2 points off their base value due to negative GOE. They also need more speed in their transitions and elements.

I’m not sure what the future holds for this team. Individually, they’re both good skaters. Annabelle has a nice straight back and good positions. Ruben has relaxed, easy carriage and good flow. The trouble is, I don’t know if they really work as a pair. They have different strengths. Something about their knee action and general posture doesn’t seem to quite match.

Next: German Nationals (I think)

Takahashi/Kihara

takahashi-kihara

Narumi & Ryuichi had a decent SP here. They landed the SBS 3S (just a slight spinout from her), as well as the throw 3S. However, they’re still doing only a double twist. And the Bossa Nova Baby program (Elvis Presley) just doesn’t suit them. You need personality and spark to carry off Elvis, and these two just don’t have it. Both of them are very reserved and self-contained on the ice, so this number is a total misfire.

Their long program to That’s Entertainment works better stylistically, but they had some technical problems. She turned out of the opening SBS 3S and fell badly on the throw 3Lp. Their basic stroking seems slow and lacking in power, and there’s just no chemistry between them. Their PCS was very low in both programs. As has been discussed, it’s just sad to see, considering Narumi was a World medalist not very long ago.

Next: NHK Trophy

Leng/Shnapir

Too soon to compete?
Too soon to compete?

This was DeeDee & Simon’s first competition as a team. DeeDee had an injury this fall, so they didn’t do any senior Bs.

The programs they put out at this event were pretty much what I had expected. They’re doing only a double twist; they had mistakes on the SBS jumps; they landed some good throws. It’s pretty much what I thought would happen. However, many people seemed to expect a lot more and were very disappointed with their performances. Some also noted tension between Simon and DeeDee. (I myself did not notice any tension.) In general, the reviews have not been good.

I think the area they need to work on most is speed. They were pretty slow through both programs. But that may come with time. They both have an athletic style, and they’ll need to find programs to suit that. (I don’t think Miss Saigon is a good fit.) There’s also less of a height difference than with Simon & Marissa, so that helps. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens. Should they have taken a year off to train before they started competing? Not much use debating it now!

Next: NHK Trophy

Onward to Trophee Bompard next week! 🙂

Back on the Ice

So, I got back on the ice today, for the first time in almost 7 months.

First steps
First steps

The last time I skated was April 26. I was in a group lesson when I fell on a spin and broke my wrist. Ouch. It was the first time I’d broken a bone since I was 2. I had surgery on May 5, and I’ve been off the ice since. First I was in a plaster cast, then a soft splint, then I was doing occupational therapy.

For practical reasons, I hadn’t planned on starting back until January. But I missed skating. And then I found out my daughters’ skating class is having a family skate day on Sunday. I didn’t want to do that without having skated beforehand . . . So, I went to the rink today.

Me at the rink
Me at the rink

I was nervous to get back on the ice. Yet at the same time, I couldn’t wait! At first, my body didn’t really want to cooperate. My hamstrings and lower back were saying, “Wait a minute, what are we doing back out here?” But I kept going, and gradually the muscles started to loosen up.

I did forward crossovers and back crossovers and mohawks and three-turns. Even practiced my pivot a little. Toward the end, I got brave and did a hop or two. 🙂 It’s going to be a while before I try any jumps or spins, and I’m nervous about falling. Really nervous.

But you know what? I already can’t wait to go back.

Cup of China: Pairs Review

The big story in pairs this week: The Chinese pairs sweep the podium at Cup of China! Although the field here was depleted by Volosozhar/Trankov’s withdrawal, this result was nonethless a big statement for the Chinese pairs program.

Back in 2010, the Chinese stood atop the pairs world, with their teams placing 1-2-5 at the Vancouver Olympics. This followed a 2-3-4 placement at the 2006 Torino Olympics. Triumph, indeed.

But then, after Vancouver, the Chinese pairs program suffered major losses with the retirement of Shen/Zhao, the unexpected breakup of Zhang/Zhang, and various injuries to Pang/Tong. The quad saw disappointing results: only 1 World medal and no Olympic medals. There was also a leadership change, with 2010 Olympic gold medalist Hongbo Zhao taking over from Yao Bin as leader of the pairs program (although Yao Bin remains actively involved). The biggest issue was the lack of clear successors to the original three pairs (S/Z, P/T, Z/Z) who had carried the program since 2002. Sui/Han emerged, but their results were mixed their first few senior seasons, and many doubted whether the partnership would survive Sui’s growth spurt.

Now, in 2014, it seems clear the Chinese pairs program has reloaded and is starting to build toward another dominant phase. Sui/Han appear to have reached physical maturity with their technical skills intact. And there are the three teams who won medals at COC: Peng/Zhang, Yu/Jin, and Wang/Wang. Altogether, a potentially formidable group.

The future
The future

Meanwhile, China will host the World Figure Skating Championships this year–for the first time ever. What does this mean for the Chinese pairs? My guess is, everything. There is no doubt in my mind that their goal is victory in Shanghai, and that Hongbo Zhao will do everything within his power to make that happen. Of course, winning gold is everyone’s goal . . . But it will certainly be a matter of national pride for the Chinese. The question is: Do they actually have a chance to win gold in Shanghai? Let’s look at the pairs performances from COC and discuss!!

Cup-of-China-results

Peng Cheng/Hao Zhang

Going for World gold?
Going for World gold?

Peng/Zhang recorded their first Grand Prix victory in China. They completely dominated the competition, finishing 21 points ahead of Yu/Jin.

Their Arabian Dance short program was excellent. They hit the SBS 3Ts, and all their other elements were clean. The program was also . . . beautiful. Two things stood out for me. First, my eyes are just irresistibly drawn to Peng. She is like a little diamond, shining brighter all the time. Second, Zhang’s role in this team is also important and underrated. He provides most of the speed and power in their transitional moves and crossovers, allowing his partner to float and shine.

Their Shostakovich long program was very good, but lacked the magic of the SP. They started the program with a stunning quad twist. That earned 9.74 points and was the highest-scoring element in the whole event. However, Peng then stumbled forward out of the SBS 3T and fell on the SBS 2A. That took some of the lustre off the program. They went on to land both throw jumps very nicely, and all their other elements were quite good. However, the program suffered a bit from the earlier mistakes. Nevertheless, they won this segment easily over Yu/Jin.

Overall, Peng/Zhang improved on their performance at Skate America. Their short program here was much better and scored 6+ points higher than at SA. Their long program was technically about the same as SA, but they did skate with a bit more attack and flair in China, and their PCS score was correspondingly higher. Final point totals: 182.43 at SkateAmerica, 194.05 at Cup of China. Although it’s tricky to compare scores across competitions, the score differential here shows clear improvement.

I love, love, love their programs this year. I’m not always a huge fan of Lori Nichol’s choreography, but she must find Peng/Zhang inspiring, because she has created wonderful programs for them last year and this year. What I love about the new programs is the subtleness, sophistication, and daring musical choices. I’ve always loved the “Arabian Dance” from Nutcracker, and the Shostakovich piece is also fascinating. In only their third season together, I think these programs are a stretch artistically for Peng/Zhang; but I love that they’re trying something challenging. The negative aspect? Because the programs are subtle and understated, they will only have their full impact if skated very cleanly. When you’re skating to something like Carmen with big, exciting flourishes, you can sometimes make the audience forget about a fall or stumble. But not so with this music. These programs will require the maximum effort of Peng/Zhang to really shine.

In an interview today, Russian coach Oleg Vasiliev said of Peng/Zhang: “Technically, they are very strong. They lack [the] personality and brilliance of Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao.” It’s certainly true that P/Z are not at S/Z’s level yet. But the question is, how good are they exactly? And can they challenge for gold at Worlds in Shanghai?

Let’s consider Peng/Zhang’s top scores this season versus Kavaguti/Smirnov and Duhamel/Radford. (Again, comparing across competitions is risky . . . but at least gives us some kind of ballpark.)

SB-scores

Peng/Zhang’s short program here was on par with D/R’s and K/S’s season-best short programs. A little below D/R, but not out of the range. The long program is the issue. P/Z’s best score is 15 points off K/S’s season-leading score. Can Peng/Zhang make up the points? I think they can. If they could land both SBS jump sets with decent quality in the LP, they’d pick up about 10 points right there. (In both LPs this season, they’ve earned less than 2 points total for their SBS jumps!) They could get 1 additional point by improving their death spiral, which is only a level 1 or 2 now. The other 4 points would have to come from PCS. And I believe it’s not out of the question they could get that PCS with a very clean, beautifully skated program.

Has Hongbo Zhao sat in his office in Beijing and done this same calculation? You can bet on it.

Next: GP Final is likely, though not yet confirmed

Yu/Jin

Ready for seniors
Ready for seniors

This is Yu/Jin’s first full season as seniors. With them coming in as world junior champions, I was interested to see what they could do. They did not disappoint, putting out two strong performances to finish with the silver medal.

Their short program, set to Yulunga Spirit Dance, was clean except for a fall on the throw 3Lp. Otherwise, it was very well skated. Their long program was even stronger. They hit great SBS 3Ts, then followed up with a SBS 2A/2A sequence. Both throws had excellent height (although the landing on the throw 3F was low). The only real error came on the second lift, which suddenly went down after a rotation or two.

Both of their programs are set to soft, gentle music, which suits their style and does not overwhelm them. They have great elements and seem very sound technically. Going forward, I’d like to see them get a little deeper into the ice and add more speed & power to their skating. However, they skated an excellent competition and show great promise. At ages 18/20, I expect we will see this pair competing for China at least through 2022. It will be interesting to see how far they can go.

Next: NHK Trophy

Wang/Wang

Lovely and talented
Lovely and talented

This team is relatively new by Chinese standards; only together since 2012. Last season, they competed at Cup of China, placed 4th, and caught the eye of many with two very elegant programs. This year, they have 2 GP events, so we’ll see them at least twice. That’s a good thing, because this is a really talented and promising team. They have nice line and presentation, and Xuehan, in particular, is a very engaging performer. She smiles often, which helps draw the audience in, and really is quite delightful to watch.

Wang/Wang skated a lyrical short program that featured beautiful positions in the lifts and death spiral. The program was going very well until he unexpectedly fell out of the SBS spins at the end. Odd. Still, they managed second in the SP. Their long program, set to My Fair Lady, is more lighthearted and charming than most Chinese pairs programs and, again, really shows off Xuehan’s performance ability. They had a few jump errors in the LP and dropped to third in this segment. However, their level 4 SBS spins were some of the best we’ve seen—well-synchronized, fast, with difficult positions. Excellent. All three lifts were also very nice and smooth.

Like Yu/Jin, the Wangs need more speed and power in their skating. Also, their jumps need to get stronger and more consistent. But they’re a very nice team to watch, and I look forward to seeing more of them this season and in the future.

Next: Trophee Bompard

Bazarova/Deputat

So elegant
So elegant

This team’s first appearance on the Grand Prix was awaited with much anticipation. Bazarova/Deputat did not win a medal here, but I think they performed well, considering they’ve only been together 6 months. Although some fans were expecting a medal, I think they discounted the strength of the younger Chinese teams.

Vera & Andrei started their My Way short program with a 3T fall from Vera. However, the program improved from there, with a competent triple twist and nice throw 3F. The highlight of the program was Vera’s beautiful, elegant line and presentation. Now that Vera is skating with Andrei, I feel like we can finally fully appreciate the beauty of her skating. Andrei also has very nice line, and he complements and presents her so well (unlike her previous partner).

Their Adios Nonino LP is an attractive program and works fairly well for them. They stayed vertical on most of the elements, showing progress in this area. Vera did have slight errors on each jump, but only fell on the throw 3Lp. There were some very nice positions in the lifts and spins. They scored 56.58 in PCS, really very good for such a new pair. I think there is great potential with this team. One area to work on is their connection. They are very elegant, but need more intensity and interaction and emotion in their skating. But I felt this was a fairly strong debut. As Vasiliev said afterward, Vera still lacks confidence in her jumps. I think that for them, this season is about getting experience together. My expectation is we will see real improvement and perhaps major progress next season.

Next: NHK Trophy

Della Monica/Guarise

Strong, but too many mistakes
Strong, but too many mistakes

This team surprised me a bit. Although they made a number of mistakes, I like how strong and confident they are on the ice. They work well together on the transitions, have pretty good unison and connection, and seem improved since last season. In their Cinderella SP, she fell on the SBS 3S and stumbled out of the throw 3Lp. However, their footwork sequence and SBS spins were nice, and the triple twist not bad. I think their Mask of Zorro LP is a good choice; the powerful music suits their athletic style. They did, unfortunately, have a number of jump errors in the LP. The biggest concern is the lifts. I noticed in slo-mo that some of the lift position changes and exits looked a bit shaky, and Peter Carruthers said on Universal Sports that Matteo’s footwork on the lifts needs improvement. Despite the errors, though, I did enjoy their programs.

Next: Trophee Bompard

Purich/Wolfe

A good debut
A good debut

This new team from Canada had a very good debut at this competition. I really like their bluesy short program to 3 Hours Past Midnight. This music is great for them, because it’s relaxed and well-paced and doesn’t call for too much precision on their part. They had a very good skate in the SP, hitting all their elements pretty cleanly. Their triple twist does need work, though. The twist is low and got only level 1 in both programs here.

Their long program to The Artist soundtrack was not bad at all. The program is choreographed at a good level for them–not above their abilities, but still with some interesting transitions. Long programs tend to expose the flaws in new teams more than short programs, and they did have a few errors in this segment. The entrance to their throw 3S seemed a bit rushed, and she fell on that element. However, the throw 3Lz was very good. Overall, I like this team. What’s interesting is they bring different strengths to the partnership. He has very good line and a nice straight back. Her line is not quite so good, but she has spark and charisma.

Next: Canadian Nationals (I think)

Calalang/Sidhu

A disappointing competition
A disappointing competition

All the off-season splits in U.S. pairs skating have opened the door for this U.S. pair, who were only 11th at Nationals last year. They earned bronze and silver medals at their Senior B events this fall, which led to 2 Grand Prix invitations.

Unfortunately, this was not a good GP debut for Jessica & Zack. In their SP, both made mistakes on the SBS 3S. Their triple twist has a nice high catch, but needs more flow out on the landing. Their other elements were completed, but not with great quality. The throw 3F was landed, but a bit small. Their footwork lacked power and unison. Overall, not a great SP, but they did manage to get decent PCS in this segment.

Their Romeo & Juliet LP did not go well. The SBS jump elements both had mistakes, and the throw 3S turned into a single and earned 0.20 points. The best elements in the program were their throw 3Lz and the lifts. This pair has nice lifts, but I feel like they need to improve in a lot of areas. They need more speed and better connection. Better programs would help, too. The SP feels dated to me in concept and packaging, and the Romeo & Juliet LP is simply dull. Jessica does have a lot of spark, though, which helps.

Chernyavskaya/Souza-Koryeru

Chernyavskaya-SK

This Russian team is just up from juniors. They landed some elements here, but finished 14 points behind Calalang/Sidhu. I’m not sure how well-matched this team is. He expresses the music well and seems to enjoy performing, but he also skates quite high up in his knees. He needs to bend and get down more and improve his skating skills. She has stronger basic skills, but less expression than him.

Next: NHK Trophy

Onward to Rostelecom Cup!!!

Skate Canada/Russian Cup: Pairs Review

Skate Canada

This was an exciting week in pairs! At Skate Canada, we got to see the Grand Prix debuts of both Duhamel/Radford and Sui/Han. We also saw Stolbova/Klimov skate for the first time this season at a Russian Cup event.

Before recapping this week’s programs, let’s first review the pairs results from Worlds 2014. (Note: I have added Volosozhar/Trankov to this list, even though they didn’t compete at Worlds.)

Worlds-2014-pairs

With all the retirements, splits, injuries, and illnesses the last 6 months, we are left with Stolbova/Klimov, Duhamel/Radford, Peng/Zhang, and Sui/Han as the top 4 currently active pairs coming into this season. Kavaguti/Smirnov, out last season, effectively joined this top group with their outstanding gold-medal performances at Skate America.

At Skate Canada, Duhamel/Radford confirmed their standing with a big victory.  Let’s take a look at each team and how they did.

Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford

An incredible competition
An incredible competition

Duhamel/Radford recorded their first Grand Prix victory in Kelowna and completely dominated the competition. I think this was the best I’ve ever seen them perform on the Grand Prix. Their short program was very strong. They completed all elements cleanly, with their SBS spins being particularly strong. They skated with a lot of speed and just looked tremendously confident out there. Their lyrical SP by Ginette Reno is similar to last season’s soft SP to music by Radford. I don’t think of this pair as lyrical skaters, particularly Meagan. However, both of these short programs have undeniably worked for them and produced good results. In the SP here, they had many 2s for GOE and also scored well in PCS.

Their long program to a Muse medley was also very successful, although not quite as clean as the SP. They again attempted the throw quad Salchow, and Meagan almost hit it, with just a turnout on the landing. Overall a great attempt. I’m really impressed with how they’re upping the technical ante this season with the throw quad Sal. It’s a bold move, and it’s working for them so far. Their other elements were mostly very good, although they had only a level 2 on the twist. GOEs were lower than in the SP.

In both segments, Meagan and Eric had tremendous support from the Canadian crowd and really seemed to take that energy and use it. They look much more comfortable this season than last year. The Muse LP suits them well. I think their decision to go for less difficult transitions this season and concentrate on skating well is a good one. They are not a team who can make difficult transitions look easy, seamless, or interesting, so I think it’s probably best to focus on what they do well, which is the technical side. I am not personally a fan of this team, but they are skating extremely well at this point. I think they are setting themselves up to challenge for that World title, and they may well get it if other teams falter.

One negative, however, is I don’t know how much more room they have to grow in these programs. My feeling is they are skating close to the top of their abilities right now. And they won’t have home-crowd support at other events. Kavaguti/Smirnov, as good as they were at Skate America, can potentially skate their LP much better than they did at SA. K/S are already at a high level but still have a lot of room to grow. I’m not so sure about Meagan/Eric. It will be fascinating to see them match up in Japan in what will likely be a preivew of the GP Final and Worlds.

Next: NHK Trophy

Wenjing Sui/Cong Han

Getting better
Getting better

Sui/Han had some uncharacteristic technical problems at this event. In their SP, their SBS spins were pretty off and they had only a level 2 on the death spiral. Then in the long program, Sui had problems on both SBS jumps. Despite this, they managed 2nd place in both segments of the competition. They performed a successful quad twist in the LP, which earned 9.03 points and was the highest-scoring element in the entire event. Their throws were all successful as well. Their lifts are improving in quality too.

Overall, I think they’re on the right track right now. They are finally, after all these years, starting to look more mature and less juniorish. (Thank goodness.) The Stray Cat Strut SP is one of their typical upbeat programs. But it is less cutesy and more mature than their hoedown or Kalinka programs.

Their long program to Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini is dramatic, classical, and unlike anything they’ve done before. This program is a bit of a gamble, but I think it’s going to pay off. At a certain point, they had to grow up and force the judges to take them seriously, and I think this program is their vehicle. I like the choreography a lot. The program is out of their wheelhouse, deliberately so, and I think if they can grow it and execute it cleanly, it will work. On Universal Sports, Peter Carruthers questioned whether the program is too far from their typical style. But I like it. I think it’s a “developmental” program in the same sense that Meryl & Charlie’s tango FD was in 2011. Both teams were perceived to have certain weaknesses that were holding them back, and both programs went out of the comfort zone to attack and surmount those weaknesses.

In terms of execution, however, Sui/Han were not in their best form yet at this competition, as was also the case with Peng/Zhang last week at Skate America. It makes me wonder if these two pairs should have done a senior B event to help them kickstart their seasons. K/S and D/R both did a senior B, which helps get out those first-competition jitters and offers a chance for feedback. On the other hand, I feel almost no doubt that Sui/Han and Peng/Zhang are both going to be much stronger at GP Final and Worlds. The Chinese are generally excellent at pacing themselves through the season and almost always perform strongly at the big events. So I expect to see continued growth and better execution from Sui/Han throughout the season. Right now, I’m liking them better than I ever have before.

Next: Trophee Bompard

Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov

Just look at her position!
Just look at her position!

This new Russian team, in only their first senior season, skated a strong competition to earn the bronze. As has already been much discussed, this pair shows incredible talent and promise for the future. They may well be the most potentially important pair to appear on the scene since Volosozhar/Trankov in 2011.

They have that classic Russian pairs look that we all love. They are well matched physically; their unison, interaction, and speed on the ice are strong; they have good lines and interpretive ability; and their technical elements–when they hit–are very very good. Right now, their programs are fine but very much first-year-senior. I don’t see them on the World podium this year (unless all the top teams implode). But I think they will start to challenge very soon, even next year possibly.

Here, they followed up their successful Nebelhorn debut with a very strong short program, in which the only significant error was a two-foot landing on the throw 3L. She had lovely positions in the lift and a very nice arch in the death spiral. This “Sarabande” SP is nice and has worked well for them so far. The highlight of their long program was the level 4 triple twist, which was beautifully executed and earned all 2s and 3s in GOE. Their triple twist is, I think, one of the best in the world right now. It is a sight to see. They had some errors in the rest of the LP but overall it was a great competition for them, earning bronze in their first senior Grand Prix.

Next: Rostelecom Cup

Madeline Aaron/Max Settlage

A great debut season
A great debut season

Maddie & Max placed a surprising fourth in Kelowna, in the process beating a top 10 team from Worlds (James/Cipres). They really seized the moment here and performed very well, and this after already posting a strong performance at Skate America last week. I think they should be very proud; they’ve had an excellent debut season on the Grand Prix.

They put out a good SP here. Their SBS 3S were excellent, and the lift and death spiral featured nice positions from Maddie. There was a foot down on the throw 3L and slight unison problems on the SBS spins but overall a very good performance. In the LP, they had underrotation calls on the SBS jumps but kept up the performance level and scored quite well in PCS.

I personally love their Coppelia and King and I programs. I think they are just right as senior-debut programs. They show off the best aspects of Maddie & Max’s skating (her posture & line and their charming quality on ice) while not being too serious or beyond their abilities. And they’ve really been competing well and fighting for the elements, which impresses me a lot. I definitely see a lot of promise in this pair. I’ve read some criticism that Max is not quite at Maddie’s level in terms of presentation, and that is true, but I think Max also has a nice quality to his skating, and if he continues working hard, he will improve.

More importantly, right now he and Maddie work very well together on the ice, and seem to get along well. They’ve already been together 4 years, which is an aeon in American pairs skating, so I want them to stay together and continue to improve. One area of concern is the triple twist. They had only a level 1 in the SP and level 2 in the LP. That element needs to get stronger.

Next: U.S. Nationals

Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres

Everything okay up there?
Everything okay up there?

This was not a good competition for James/Cipres. They placed 5th in both segments of the competition and overall, which has to be a major disappointment after their top-10 finish at Worlds in March. Prior to this, they also had a disappointing season debut at Nebelhorn, finishing off the podium.

Not much is going right for them at this point. Their triple twist is a problem. The catch is low, and they got only level 2 in both programs here. Their footwork in the SP was very slow. Their SBS and throw jumps are inconsistent. Some of their lifts look scary and also are not getting the levels. Their GOEs are rather low (1s, 0s, or negative for the most part).

Their tango SP is okay, but they need to deliver it with much more speed and energy. They have kept their Angels & Demons LP, which I think is a mistake. The program is heavy and ponderous and doesn’t suit their athletic style. It wasn’t particularly successful last year, so I don’t know why they kept it this year. Overall, I am seeing no improvement following their coaching change to Russia. Two years ago, it seemed like this pair had a lot of promise, but right now they’re treading water. I would expect another coaching change after this season unless things improve significantly.

Next: Trophee Bompard

Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro

What does the future hold?
What does the future hold?

To me, the look on KMT’s face in the kiss-n-cry was: “What have I done?” It was not a promising debut for her and new partner Michael Marinaro. I’m not a KMT fan, but I respect her as a competitor and, although I questioned her decision to split with Dylan, I figured she must know what she was doing. Now I’m wondering. Marinaro seems like a nice guy, but I just don’t know if he’s a good partner for KMT. What worries me most is his lift technique. It just seems very off. I’ve never seen a male skater with the weird standing/carrying position he has in lifts, and they were just all very scary. You can’t be a pairs skater if you can’t do lifts properly. The programs themselves are fine, very much in KMT’s typical style, but they have a long, long way to go as a pair.

Next: Trophee Bompard

Brittany Jones/Joshua Reagan

Skate Canada International 20141101

I see less promise with this team than MT-M 2.0. They were slightly better here than at Autumn Classic, but that’s not saying much. The only good thing about them is their long, lean look. Aside from that, there’s just nothing there. They landed some elements, but their basic skating is not fun to watch. Her lift positions are among the worst I’ve seen (why can’t she straighten her knee when her leg is fully extended?). And his skating is just really sloppy. There’s no stretch, no effort, he’s just going through the motions. Their SS score should be around a 3.0.

Next (I think): Canadian Nationals

Mari Vartmann/Aaron Van Cleave

One of their more elegant moments
One of their more elegant moments

This pair has a Beauty-and-the-Beast thing going on which I find oddly endearing. Aaron always looks like he’s trying hard, at least (unlike Reagan), so I kind of root for him, despite his round shoulders. Alas, they had their usual string of errors here in both programs. Their Petersburg Secrets SP is meant to be winsome & charming, but just seemed long. The LP wasn’t much better.

Next: NHK Trophy

Russian Cup

This week also saw Stolbova/Klimov debut their new programs at a Russian Cup competition. After their Olympic/World silver medals last year, this pair enters the season as the team to beat (unless Volosozhar/Trankov come back this year, which seems doubtful). So, their programs were definitely much anticipated.

Stolbova/Klimov

Last season at Worlds
Last season at Worlds

Surprisingly, Stolbova/Klimova were only second in the short program at the Russian Cup after a few errors. Fedor turned out of the landing on the SBS 3T, and Ksenia put both hands down and nearly fell on the throw 3F. Aside from that, the elements were very good. The new SP is set to music with . . . prominent drums. Just like last year’s SP. The program is fine on its own terms, but it is so similar to last year’s program, it lacks excitement. I found it interesting that they placed second in this segment to Zabijako/Larionov, a brand-new team with no reputation. Would Volosozhar/Trankov have placed second in a similar situation, even with a few errors? I don’t think so.

Stolbova/Klimov went on to take first in the free skate and overall. Their long program was almost perfect, except for a slight problem on a lift exit toward the end. Other than that, it was technically outstanding. And yet somehow, there was no excitement. Their Notre Dame de Paris long program is nice–fine–but it lacks the fun, interesting character of their Addams Family LP. It’s possible the program may improve a lot over the season, especially when skated in front of a big crowd. But as it stands now, it’s a bit paint-by-the-numbers.

Stolbova/Klimov are a team whose recent success is based mostly on execution and competence. They are highly competent; their elements are well done and consistent. And their basic skating skills are really strong, with attack, quality, and decent speed. What they do, they do very well. But they’re not breaking new ground, either technically or artistically. And I’m not sure they have that intangible chemistry/charisma/magic that the great pairs have.

I’ve always felt that skating is all about moving forward. Getting a little better each year. Right now, I don’t really see Stolbova/Klimov moving forward with these new programs. And if they’re not moving forward . . . they may find themselves moving backward this season.

More Ice Theatre Thoughts

Following up on my Ice Theatre review last week, I thought I’d post a few more tidbits/random thoughts from seeing the show.

Ice Dance Ladies

I didn’t get a chance to mention them in my review, but Kim Navarro and Lynne Kriengkrairut both looked great in their appearances in the show.

Great skating skills from Lynne
Great skating skills from Lynne

Lynne impressed with deep edges and beautiful, soft knee action in her skating. And of course, she is as lovely as ever.

Kim was really a standout in all her numbers. She skates with so much exuberance and energy; she really pulls you into the performance. I really enjoyed watching her and am glad she has a chance to showcase her skills in Ice Theatre.

Is Show Lighting A Good Thing?

As I mentioned in my review, the show took place at the SC of Boston training rink. So, there was no show lighting. This felt odd for the first couple minutes. Then I forgot about it, and just enjoyed the skating.

I wonder if more ice shows should actually try performing under full lights. As an audience member, you just see so much more. If the Ice Theatre show had been performed in dark stage lighting, I don’t think I’d have been able to appreciate the edges and finer details of the skating as much. This is particularly important with an ice dancing show.

Too dark?
Too dark?

Perhaps skating should follow the lead of ballet. When I saw the Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker a few years ago, much of that show was performed under quite bright lights. And it was definitely helpful in terms of appreciating the nuances of movement, which mean everything in ballet (and ice dance). I know dark stage lighting is used in some ballets, but I really appreciated the bright lighting for the Nutcracker.

Skating shows seem to be stuck more in the rock concert model, in which the whole arena is mostly dark, except for spotlights. That approach is fine for music acts, but I question how well it works for skating. I’ve also seen many comments from skaters that it’s more difficult to skate under show lights. Brighter lighting for skating shows might improve not only the audience’s vision, but also the level of performance as well, which would be a win/win for everybody. Playing around with lighting conventions might also change up and help modernize the whole “look” of skating shows, which has become rather predictable at this point. There is not much element of surprise there right now.

Music: Familiarity vs. Repetition

There’s been much discussion about the overuse of “warhorse” music in competitive skating—i.e., the greatest classical hits that we’ve heard over and over. Oftentimes, music choices for show skating aren’t much better. For shows, skaters often skate to the latest pop hits from Top 40 radio. Although this might seem like a good idea, the trouble is that the songs are often so overplayed by the time they get to the ice that they’re no longer fun or fresh.

Skaters like to use the same old classical pieces or pop songs because prior experience indicates judges and audiences like those pieces. Therefore, it seems a surefire way to increase the likelihood of a good response to a program. Logically, therefore, it makes sense that skaters want to skate to “Liebestraum” or “Let It Go.”

But Ice Theatre went in a different direction with their music choices, which I liked, and it got me thinking that perhaps skaters could try a similar approach. Ice Theatre performed a lovely classical program called “Reveries,” which was set to Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suite #3 in G Major. The music and program were lyrical and beautiful. The music felt familiar–because it was Tchaikovsky–and yet still fresh, because it was a different Tchaikovsky composition (not the standard Swan Lake or Romeo & Juliet).

Similarly, the “Roots” finale number included a song by Mumford & Sons. You could feel the audience immediately respond to the familiar, fun, and rousing Mumford sound. But–because it wasn’t one of the Mumford hits that we’ve all heard a thousand times—it again felt fresh and enjoyable and interesting. One’s reaction was like, “Hmm, that was a good song!” not, “Oh, ‘I Will Wait’ again.”

It made me feel like skaters should think about using music that sounds familiar, but is not repetitive. Go ahead and use Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov—but try out a piece of theirs that’s different and hasn’t been used a million times. Same for exhibitions. Go ahead and skate to Taylor Swift if you want—but why not choose a song that hasn’t been on the radio yet? Judges and audiences will still recognize and enjoy the familiar sound/feel of Tchaikovsky (or Taylor!), but there will be a level of interest and intrigue with the music, because it will sound new.

My preference is for skaters to really branch out and use unusual, seldom-heard music as much as possible. However, if a skater isn’t comfortable with that, why not at least go for familiarity in your music choice, but avoid repetition?

Somehow, I have a feeling the judges are probably as bored with Carmen, POTO, and Swan Lake as the rest of us. After all, they have to hear this stuff even more often than we do!