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.
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
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
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
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
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)
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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! 🙂