Pairs: Nationals News & Notes

So, ’tis the season for Nationals! 🙂 Over the last few weeks, we saw Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, and other national championships–with U.S. and Canadian Nationals still to come! Unfortunately, with all this happening at the same time as Christmas, New Year’s, family visits, and my kids’ school vacation, I could barely keep up with watching, much less writing about, the competitions! But here are some brief notes on the different pairs Nationals so far.

Russian Nationals

Due to technical difficulties, I couldn’t watch the ESPN3 coverage of Russians (or videos derived therefrom) and had to rely on the Russian TV coverage on TVTeka. As a result, I missed all the short programs (except for Astakhova/Rogonov) and saw only the long programs.


Russian-results

Stolbova/Klimov

Holding on for the win

Holding on for the win

Stolbova/Klimov had uncharacteristic mistakes in their long program, with Ksenia stumbling out of the throw 3Lz and falling on the throw 3S. The good news: She hit the initial landing on both throws, so they received full credit in base value and were only marked down in GOE. This helped Ksenia/Fedor hang on for the win, although they were second in the LP. The rest of their elements were strong (although they received some lower levels than at GPF, costing them about 2.5 points’ base value). Despite the technical issues, their performance level was very high. They skated with a lot of conviction. And, especially compared to some of the newer Russian pairs, there is so much to admire in Ksenia & Fedor’s basic skating. Everything they do is so precise, polished, and passionate. Every movement is finished off fully, every position is established quickly and beautifully. They just work so well together. Although I think they probably benefited from some PCS reputation judging, at the same time, it’s hard to argue they don’t deserve such high marks. The quality of their basic pairs skating is certainly best-in-field right now.

After the competition, Ksenia revealed in an interview with Tatjana Flade (http://www.goldenskate.com/2015/01/ksenia-stolbova-fedor-klimov-2/) that she had injured her groin slightly prior to Russians, no doubt accounting for the problems on the throws. Let’s hope she’s fully recovered for Europeans. This week, she posted some practice videos of her landing 3T/3T/2T/2T. That certainly looked promising! 🙂

Tarasova/Morozov

Tarasova/Morozov earlier this season

Tarasova/Morozov earlier this season

This was a breakthrough event for Tarasova/Morozov. They had a gorgeous, totally clean skate in the long program to win that segment and the silver medal overall: A great result for them in just their first senior season. They started off their LP with a superb level 4 triple twist. Everything about their twist is textbook—height, catch, speed—and they received almost straight +3s. Next, they landed SBS 3S and SBS 3T/2T. They’ve struggled with their SBS jumps this season, so it was great to see them land both sets well. Their throw 3Lp and throw 3S were also excellent. All three lifts were level 4 and simply beautiful to watch. Evgenia’s lift positions are some of the best in the world, and with Vladimir’s height and ice coverage, the lifts just look huge and gorgeous. This was certainly their best LP so far this season. The only negative is the Lionel Richie Hello muzak. It’s very monotone and subdued, and the program just kind of dies off at the end, rather than building to a high point. Nonetheless, T/M performed it very well.

Following the event, Tarasova/Morozov were named to the Russian team for both Europeans and Winter Universiade. I’m a bit surprised they were assigned to Universiade. They will compete there with teammates Astakhova/Rogonov and Bazarova/Deputat. I am guessing the RSF may use this event as a final audition, of sorts, before naming T/M to the World team.

Kavaguti/Smirnov

Yuko & Sasha at NHK

Yuko & Sasha at NHK

Yuko & Sasha won only the bronze medal here, a bit disappointing. I’m sure they were hoping for silver or possibly gold. However, the performance level of their LP was much stronger than at NHK and GPF. So if I were them, I’d still feel happy with the result. In the long program, they again had problems on both SBS jumping passes. However, they recovered with a great throw 4S. This quad was their best yet this season. The jump is a little smaller than you would expect for a quad, but Yuko landed it beautifully, with runout. It received all positive GOE and was the highest-scoring element in the whole event at 9.43 points. Yuko also landed a good throw 3Lp, and all three lifts were well done, with great impact to the music. They also got through the SBS spins nicely, which has been a problem area the last few events. The only other weak element was, as usual, their triple twist.

It was great to see them land the throw quad so well. Their Manfred Symphony LP is always exciting to watch, and I felt they skated it with a lot of abandon, emotion, and confidence, which made it even better. At NHK and GPF, they appeared cautious and tentative, but not so here. Hopefully they can build on this result and do well at Europeans.

Astakhova/Rogonov

A/R were in sixth place after the SP, after trouble on the throw 3F. They pulled up to 4th in the long program and overall. They started their LP with a good SBS 3T/2T combo. The triple twist was a bit low and crashy and got only level 2. Kristina then doubled the planned SBS 3S. Their throw jumps were both successfully landed, although perhaps a bit small. The other elements were mostly good, except for a slight problem on the second lift.

Their Master and Margarita LP was fairly strong technically, and the choreography/theme are interesting. However, it didn’t really sing, and overall I’m not as excited about this team as many people are. I’d like to see them develop more smoothness in their skating, a more seamless quality. I feel they move somewhat jerkily from element to element. As individual skaters, their styles also seem a bit different. Rogonov’s look is rather refined, whereas Astakhova is a solid skater but somewhat lacking in elegance and grace. Fortuitously (perhaps intentionally?), their programs this year require showiness and high energy, rather than elegance. It will be interesting to see how this team progresses next season. In the meantime, they will compete at Winter Universiade.

Bazarova/Deputat

Vera & Andrei placed 4th in the SP; 5th in the LP and overall. I enjoyed their Adios Nonino LP. Vera two-footed the opening SBS 3T and SBS 2A/1Lp/2S but stayed upright. She also fell on the throw 3F. However, the throw 3Lp was nicely done. The lifts were mostly quite nice, although Vera’s swan position is a little weak (her other positions are fine). I thought the performance was still good, despite the technical flaws. Vera & Andrei have the smoothness and elegance that A/R lack, and they brought nice dramatic flair to the tango. Vera, in particular, really got into the character and sold it effectively. She was committed to the performance–showing, I think, her experience at this level. I thought this was their best LP of the season so far. Bazarova/Deputat have also been assigned to Universiade.

Davankova/Enbert

This team was the surprise of the event for me. The last time I saw them was at Autumn Classic back in October. They looked improved here. Enbert spun out of their opening SBS 3S, but they recovered to land SBS 3T/2T. Both throw jumps were quite well done. Their throws aren’t huge, but Davankova landed them with great speed and flow, similar to Stolbova’s throws. The lifts were all level 4 and smoothly done, considering they are such a new team. They have very nice lines and flow; they just look good together. One thing holding them back is their triple twist; it got only level 1 and negative GOE in both programs. Still, I look forward to seeing more of this team next season. I think their packaging needs improvement. Their programs and costumes this season are attractive but rather bland.

Zabijako/Larionov

Unlike the other teams, Z/L did not compete internationally this season, as they await her release from Estonia. The rust showed in their LP. She spun out of the opening 3T; the landing was off on their triple twist. They had problems on the death spiral and SBS spins, and Zabijako put both hands down on the throw 3S. The lift transitions were shaky, and the final pairs combo spin finished after the music. Overall it was a weak and sloppy performance, and I’m not sure these two are well suited as a pair. Zabijako is willowy with long lines; Larionov is stocky. There’s no chemistry, either; they looked like two strangers skating together. I’ll be a bit surprised if this partnership survives very long.

Altogether, it was an interesting long program event for the Russian pairs. The highlights for me were Tarasova/Morozov’s strong, clean performance and Kavaguti/Smirnov’s passionate LP. The new Russian pairs had ups and downs in their programs, but show progress and promise for the future.

Chinese Nationals

It was announced that Peng/Zhang and Sui/Han withdrew from Chinese Nationals to prepare for 4CCs and Worlds. Yu/Jin presumably locked up the third spot on the 4CC/World team by winning Nationals over Wang/Wang, who were second. I was only able to see video of Yu/Jin’s performances.

Yu/Jin

Captivating

Captivating

Yu/Jin opened their Nationals SP with another excellent set of SBS 3Ts. The triple twist, throw 3Lp, and lift were all very good. They had a slight synchro loss on the SBS spins, and her position in the front outside death spiral was a bit weak. Although it was not their best SP, it was still very good.

Judging from the video, there was almost no audience for Chinese Nationals, and therefore no crowd support. It looked more like a practice session than a competition. However, Yu/Jin kept their performance level up. And their Humility and Love LP once again cast a powerful spell, even in an empty arena. I love this program more and more every time I see it. And they performed it very well here. Their opening SBS 3Ts were superb—so close together, so synchronized. The SBS 2A/2A sequence was also good. The triple twist looked terrific; so did the throw 3Lp. They again had slight problems on the SBS spins. Their throw 3F is impressively high, although Yu did slightly two-foot it. Altogether it was another fine performance, and this team is looking very prepared for 4CCs and Worlds.

I think 4CCs is going to be a very interesting pairs event. With Duhamel/Radford, the three Chinese pairs, perhaps Iliushechkina/Moscovitch, another Canadian pair, and the American pairs all in the mix, there’ll be some good skating. It’ll probably be a stronger event top to bottom than Europeans, as none of the Euro pairs can really put up a challenge to the Russians at this point.

Japanese Nationals

From the Japanese Nationals pairs event, I was only able to see video of Takahashi/Kihara’s LP.

Takahashi/Kihara

This was actually one of the better performances I’ve seen from Narumi and Ryuichi. Narumi again had trouble on both SBS jumps. However, their throw jumps were nicely landed, and their SBS spins were very well done. The rest of the elements were pretty clean, too (although they again did only a double twist). Ryuichi appeared a bit uncomfortable getting the lifts up, though. They drew energy from the home crowd and performed the program better than usual. Narumi even smiled quite a bit toward the end! Nice to see.

Afterward, in an interview translated by rosewood on FSU (http://www.fsuniverse.net/forum/index.php?threads/narumi-takahashi-ryuichi-kihara.94497/), they said they were happy with their performance and are hoping to add a triple twist to their programs soon. Their goal at Worlds is to advance to the long program. Ryuichi has had a wrist injury, which probably explains why he looked pained with the lifts. Rumor is that Narumi also has a chronic ankle injury. 😦

Italian Nationals

So far, I’ve only been able to see video of the pairs SP from Italian Nationals. LP videos will hopefully be available soon.

Marchei/Hotarek

Marchei/Hotarek in practice--fierce!

Marchei/Hotarek in practice–fierce!

Perhaps a bit surprisingly, Marchei/Hotarek won Italian Nationals over the more experienced team of Della Monica/Guarise. M/H’s SP was not at a high technical level. Their throw jump was good, but they appeared to do only a double twist, and the SBS spins were quite off. However, the lift was well done, and Valentina had a great position on the death spiral. Perhaps most importantly, they really got into the character of their Malaguena program and performed it with a lot of electricity. They had flair and expression in their footwork; they both just really went for it. The last few years, Valentina has been one of the most artistically interesting performers in ladies, and I think that experience is going to help her project and sell their pairs programs. They skated with surprising confidence for such a new team.

Della Monica/Guarise

Nicole & Matteo’s short program wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t what they needed to beat Marchei/Hotarek. Their triple twist was low, and Nicole fell on the throw 3S. Her landing on the throw 3Lp was a bit low and not well controlled. The rest of the program was fine, but it didn’t sparkle in quite the same way as Marchei/Hotarek.

Wrap-up

So, that’s what’s happened in the Nationals pairs events so far. Now we have Canadian and U.S. Nationals to look forward to! Will there be a live stream of Canadians? Will the pairs schedules overlap? So many questions! I’m just hoping to see as much of both events as possible—and see some great skating. 🙂

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