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! 🙂

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