European Championships 2015: Pairs Review

Well, it was an interesting pairs event in Stockholm! Going into Europeans, I think most were expecting the Russian pairs to sweep the podium. And so they did. However, the other Euro pairs put up a stiffer challenge than expected. And things didn’t quite go according to plan for the Russian teams, either. Let’s take a look at what happened.

One of these pairs is not happy

One of these pairs is not happy

Euros-results

Kavaguti/Smirnov

Unexpectedly, Kavaguti/Smirnov triumphed here to win their second European title. After everything they went through last season—Smirnov’s injury, surgery, and missing the Olympics—this victory must be particularly sweet for Yuko and Sasha. “We’re just so happy,” Smirnov said afterward.

A sweet victory (Getty Images)

A sweet victory (Getty Images)

They started the competition with an excellent outing of their Meditation from Thais SP. This lovely program really shows off Yuko’s delicate, floating quality on the ice. They performed it extremely well here. Their SBS 3T, often a problem element, was right on. And their triple twist was the best they’ve done all season. The catch was a bit low still, but it was smoothly completed, and they earned level 3 and mostly +2s for a total of 7.10. They’ve really struggled with their twist this season, often getting negative GOE, so it was nice to see them do it well here. They were in second place after the short.

Yuko & Sasha then took command of the ice with an excellent performance of their Manfred Symphony LP. They opened the program with a great SBS 3T/3T sequence. They were quite slow going into the SBS 2A and I was afraid they might fall, but they didn’t! Next up was the throw quad salchow. And Yuko again landed it very well! So exciting to see. Russian TV showed Tamara Moskvina jumping up and down at the boards—then quickly frowning and pressing her hands down as if to say, “Calm down, you must finish the program!” And K/S did just that, with a nice set of SBS spins right after the quad. Their triple twist was completed with positive GOE, and the triple loop was solid, albeit with a slight turnout after the landing. The only real problem came at the very end. Sasha lost strength in the final lift, and Yuko came down early. That deflated the program a bit, but it was still an excellent performance. Yuko & Sasha earned 137.81 to win the title.

This victory should certainly help Kavaguti/Smirnov’s momentum going into Worlds. They’ve had a very up-and-down season, but have gotten stronger over the last 2 events to once again put themselves in the conversation for a medal at Worlds. However, there is still much to work on. Their LP score, although very good, was well off Duhamel/Radford’s international season’s best mark of 146.22 at the GP Final. K/S need to continue to work on their twist, their consistency, and the quality of their elements. However, this was a great moment for the veteran team.

Stolbova/Klimov

In contrast, this competition did not go so well for Stolbova/Klimov. They came in as the heavy favorites, but in the end placed second.

Not where they wanted to be  (Ivan Sekvetarev/AP)

Not where they wanted to be (Ivan Sekvetarev/AP)

Their Crouching Tiger SP was well done, but not their strongest SP technically. The opening triple twist was a bit low and got only level 2. The SBS 3Ts were excellent. The throw 3Lz was a mixed bag—very fast rotation, but Ksenia two-footed the landing. Nevertheless they still got all positive GOE on it. The SBS spins were terrific. Ksenia appeared to stumble slightly as the footwork sequence started, but they gained speed and finished strongly. It was a good performance, but not their best. They placed first, with a lead of .34 TES and 1.18 PCS. Considering the quality and beauty of Kavaguti/Smirnov’s short program here, I questioned Stolbova/Klimov’s PCS lead in this segment.

In the long program, I thought Ksenia & Fedor looked tight from the start. They went for all the elements but didn’t seem to skate with quite the same expression and freedom as earlier in the season. It looked a bit perfunctory. Ksenia stepped out and two-footed the landing of the throw 3Lz. They lost -1.20 GOE on that element. The SBS 3T/2T/2T combo was very well done, and I thought they might get back on track. However, the following reverse-entry lift looked a bit shaky, with Fedor struggling on the first few turns. Their SBS spins were wonderful, perfectly synchronized and very close together, and the SBS 2A was terrific as usual. Somehow, though, they still looked tight, but I did not expect what happened next: Fedor fell on footwork right at the end of the program, and they couldn’t even attempt the final throw 3S. All they could do was get into their final pose as the music ended. Afterward, Ksenia appeared furious/disgusted and poor Fedor crushed. They skated off the ice rather stunned. The scores kept them in second place but seemed too high, considering what had just happened. They received 69.35 in PCS, which was 7.5 points higher than Tarasova/Morozov, who had skated earlier and put out a nearly clean performance.

This event was the third disappointing competition in a row for Stolbova/Klimov. They started the season so strongly and appeared to be the early favorites for Worlds. However, since December they have 1) lost the GP Final to Duhamel/Radford; 2) lost the LP at Russian Nationals to Tarasova/Morozov; 3) lost the LP and title here to Kavaguti/Smirnov. I have to wonder if the wide margin of the GP Final loss has rattled their confidence. Hopefully they can use this downtime before Worlds to regroup. There is still tremendous quality in all of their skating. However, they have made no base value adjustments to the programs, so it’s unclear how they can win Worlds unless D/R make mistakes. That can’t be a good feeling.

Tarasova/Morozov

A beautiful pair

A beautiful pair

Evgenia & Vladimir had a rough start in the short program here. They opened their Sarabande Suite SP with another huge level 4 triple twist. However, things went downhill on the jumps. Evgenia doubled the 3T. The throw 3Lp was big, but Evgenia two-footed the landing and put a hand down. They recovered with a beautiful lift and terrific SBS spins. However, their step sequence was only a level 2 compared to their usual level 4, which cost them roughly 2 points off their typical score. I love this program, and they showed great quality in the successful elements. However, they placed only fifth and looked a bit flattened in the kiss-n-cry.

Tarasova/Morozov came back in the long program and skated very well, just as they had at Russian Nationals. Again, they started with their money element, the level 4 triple twist. They received almost all +3s on this element and it’s so good, it literally sends a chill down my spine! T/M then landed the SBS 3S and SBS 3T/2T nicely. Both throws were big. I thought Evgenia might have put a slight foot down on the throw 3Lp; but if she did, I don’t think the judges saw it, as the GOE was mostly good. The SBS spins were lovely with just a very slight synchro loss at the end. The only real problem came on the final press lift. As they were transitioning from the star to upside-down hold, Vladimir lost his hand placement and Evgenia came down early. It still counted as a group 3 lift, but was only level 1, resulting in a loss of about 2 to 3 points.

Despite the lift problem, I still really enjoyed their performance. Every time I see this team, I fall a little more in love with them. Their basic skating is just so wonderful. Speed, position, carriage—they have everything. Evgenia’s posture is so beautiful, and Vladimir has great turning ability and speed in the lifts. The simplicity of their LP costumes really highlights the pure, classic beauty of their skating. Only the program itself is not up to par.

T/M scored 125.89 in the LP to place third. Their PCS score was 61.81—good. But I would have liked to see higher. I think skating out of the final group was not helpful to their PCS.

T/M are now scheduled to compete at Winter Universiade against domestic rivals Astakhova/Rogonov and Bazarova/Larionov. To my mind, they have certainly done enough to earn a spot on the Russian World team, with bronze at Europeans and silver at Russian Nationals plus 2 GP medals. Let’s hope the RSF sees it the same way! I will be very disappointed if this team isn’t at Worlds.

Marchei/Hotarek

Marchei/Hotarek came close to winning a medal here and were easily the biggest surprise in the event. The first time I saw this new team at Warsaw Cup, I wasn’t too sure about them. Now I’m on board. They are coming together incredibly quickly and are already competitive. It’s really quite amazing considering Valentina only started pairs 5 months ago. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a new pairs lady make such rapid progress.

Coming together quickly  (La Presse)

Coming together quickly (La Presse)

Valentina & Ondrej skated a very strong SP. As of yet, they are only performing a double twist. However, it was well done, as were most of their elements. They received negative GOE only for the throw 3F. The highlight of their Malaguena SP , by far, is the final footwork sequence. They really shine, performing it with a ton of expression and speed. Valentina in particular really gets into the character and sells it. They received level 4 and several +2s for this step sequence and placed 4th in this segment.

Marchei/Hotarek started their La Strada LP with a bang, landing SBS 3Lz as their opening element. The jumps were well synchronized and earned mostly +2s in GOE. Wow! Their other elements were strong for the most part. The only problem came on the SBS 3S/2T combo, which turned into a SBS 2S/1T. They skate with a lot of speed, really impressive for such a new team, and they have nice, clean, sharp movement on the ice. Valentina hits her lift positions amazingly quickly and cleanly for someone so new to pairs. I think the combination of Ondrej’s pairs experience and Valentina’s long experience performing and selling programs as a single lady is all combining in a very unexpected, exciting way. They scored 117.44 to place 4th in the LP and overall.

In an interview with Jean-Christophe Berlot, Marchei/Hotarek said they hope to add a triple twist into their programs by Worlds. If that happens, it will be very interesting to see how they place in Shanghai.

James/Cipres

When we last saw James/Cipres at Trophee Eric Bompard, they had just gotten back to France after several months of training in Russia. Their results on the Grand Prix were disappointing.

Up and down

Up and down

They arrived in Stockholm with a new coach, Claude Tevenard, and a new short program. Earlier this season they were skating a tango SP to La Cumparsita; now they’re using Tango de Roxanne from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. I think this new program suits them much better. The dramatic music fits their strong, athletic style, and they skated the program with a lot more confidence and energy than they showed earlier in the season. They landed very good SBS 3Ts, with great runout, and a very high throw 3F. Their weak element was the triple twist, which had a low catch and rough landing and got mostly negative GOE. Nonetheless, they scored a season’s best 60.13, improving almost 4 points over their previous best, and placed a surprising third. They were very happy in the kiss-n-cry.

Their Angels & Demons LP did not go as well. They had a lot of small technical errors. The triple twist was higher than usual but had a hitch on the landing. They hit the SBS 3T/2T/2T combo well but Vanessa doubled the SBS 3S. The death spiral and pairs combo spin were both slow; the throw 3S was landed but shaky; and, on the last lift, it took a long moment to establish Vanessa’s position and get rotation started. The biggest problem, however, was the first lift, which didn’t even get off the ground! That cost them roughly 7 points. Altogether it was another sloppy performance. Vanessa & Morgan skate with a lot of power, yet I feel like their basic skills need improvement. A lot of their elements are slow; their lifts still seem insecure; and I wish Vanessa could hold her shoulders up more and straighten her back a little—she is pitched forward a lot of the time. The audience seemed to get into the program, and they got a pretty big ovation at the end. With a score of 107.16, they dropped to 6th in the LP and 5th overall.

Della Monica/Guarise

Moved up 2 spots

Moved up 2 spots

Nicole & Matteo were 8th last year at Europeans and improved to 6th this year. They had a number of mistakes in their Cinderella SP. Nicole fell on the SBS 3S, and then they slipped out of the death spiral, which earned no points. They were quite upset afterward.

Their Mask of Zorro LP went better but still had a number of jump errors. Nicole missed the second jump in the 3S combo, two-footed the throw 3Lp, and landed forward on the throw 3S. Aside from that, the program held together pretty well. The SBS 2A was good, the lifts are improving, and the SBS spin was well synchronized. The program isn’t exactly sophisticated, yet I find it goes by quickly and is pretty entertaining. They scored 107.34 here, just slightly under their season’s best at TEB.

Hopefully the domestic rivalry with Marchei/Hotarek will help push this team to keep improving.

Vartmann/Van Cleave

Vartmann/Van Cleave placed 7th in what may have been their final competition as a team. On Sunday, the German press reported that Vartmann is ending the partnership to team up with Ruben Blommaert. It’s unclear if Vartmann/Van Cleave will compete at Worlds or not.

Their last event?

Their last event?

V/V had a relatively good skate here in the SP, improving on their previous season’s best by almost 6 points. Aaron struggled with the SBS 3T, but the other elements were not bad. I actually thought they were a little lowballed in PCS!

They had their usual struggles in the long program. The triple twist was not bad, with a nice catch by Aaron, but they fell on/popped the next 3 jump elements. They recovered with some good lifts and a good throw 3S. Their final score was a season’s best 100.91.

It will be interesting to see how Mari does with Blommaert. I could see their skating styles perhaps meshing better than either of their current/previous teams. I also hope Aaron finds another partner if he wants to continue.

Ziegler/Kiefer

ziegler-kiefer

Ziegler and Keifer (Bild: SN/APA (EPA)/Claudio Bresciani)

This young Austrian pair had a pretty good competition here. Their Zydeko SP is a little too cutesy and juvenile for my taste. But interestingly, they went for SBS 3F as their solo jump, although Miriam singled it. It will be interesting to see if they can make this a consistent element in the future. They’re the first pair I can remember trying 3F as a SBS jump. Z/S scored 43.79 and placed 9th in this segment.

Their POTO LP was really not bad. They hit some good elements, including a SBS 3T/2T/2T combo and a big throw 3S. They have a generally nice, pleasant look on the ice. I’d like to see them get down in their knees more, though, and gain power in their stroking. Right now they sort of glide atop the ice rather than getting into it. However, I definitely see some potential. What I like about this team is they seem to get along well. They’re always happy and supportive of each other in the kiss-n-cry, whether they’ve skated well or not. They scored a season’s best 93.01 to place 8th overall, up from 12th last year.

Yankowskas/Gaman

This was the first time we’ve seen Caitlin in a major international event since 2011 Worlds, which was the last time she competed for the U.S. with John Coughlin. It’s been a long road to get back to this point. After a one-year partnership with Josh Reagan, Caitlin teamed up with Hamish Gaman in May 2013. This was their first big international as a team. Unfortunately, I think it left us with a lot of question marks about their future.

Yankowskas/Gaman at a previous event

Yankowskas/Gaman at a previous event

Everything else aside, it is wonderful for U.S. pairs fans to see Caitlin back on the ice again. For those of us who fell in love with her skating in 2010-2011, nothing has changed. She is still beautiful to watch–her arms, hands, posture, carriage, all wonderful. She has a doll-like, intensely pretty, yet queenly presence on the ice. (Uh, yeah, I’m a fan. :-))

Her partnership with Hamish is a work in progress. They’ve only competed together a few times; they’re still only doing a double twist. Physically, their body types are different, and their knee action is different. Hamish is quite a bit more “up” in his knees than Caitlin; he needs to bend a lot more and get into the ice. Not easy when you’re over 6’3”, I suppose.

Their POTO short program was quite nice and included a lovely, big throw 3S. Their SBS spins were also good. Caitlin peformed the program beautifully, definitely selling it as much as possible, and the overall effect was good. They scored 49.29 to place 7th in the short.

However, their Rachmaninov LP was pretty much a disaster. Hamish had a very bad, full-body-length fall on the SBS 3T/2T, and Caitlin doubled. Next, they had a problem on the death spiral and Caitlin fell in the middle of it. They singled the 2A and Caitlin two-footed the throw 3Lp. More worrying, their lifts were very shaky. Hamish looked close to losing his hold and arm lock in the first two lifts. I felt nervous watching. They were both very upset afterward in the kiss-n-cry, with Caitlin almost in tears. They fell to 14th in the LP and 9th overall. Not sure what the future will hold for this pair.

Wrap-up

All in all, it was a pretty interesting pairs event, and it certainly had a lot of drama! The Russian pairs are obviously the class of the field, but it’s fun to see Marchei/Hotarek and some of the other European pairs challenge them. I’m going to be really interested to see which European pairs progress and start to get to a new level over the next year. Until then, let’s hope they can all rest and recoup over the next 7 weeks until Worlds in Shanghai!

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