Winter Universiade: Pairs Review

At the risk of providing too much pairs coverage, I wanted to do a quick review of the pairs event at Winter Universiade last weekend. There were only 6 pairs in this competition, but 4 were high-level teams. The event was held in a small but cheerful, brightly lit arena in Granada, Spain. (No doubt a nice place for the skaters to visit this time of year!) Since this is a fairly low-profile event, many of the skaters’ primary coaches did not travel to the competition. Here’s a brief look at what happened.

Universiade-results

Yu/Jin

It was an easy victory in Granada for XiaoyuYu and her partner Yang Jin. They dominated the event, winning by 7 points.

Another great competition for Yu/Jin  (Xinhua/Meng Yongmin)

A nice victory to end their season? (Xinhua/Meng Yongmin)

Their Yulunga Spirit Dance short program was very good. They landed a huge throw 3Lp, a high triple twist, and good SBS 3Ts. Their speed could have been just a tad better, but they skated very well and scored a season’s best 64.75.

Technically, Yu/Jin’s LP was not one of their best. The program started with Xiaoyu falling on the SBS 3T. This surprised me–it was the first time Yu/Jin have fallen on their SBS jumps all season! šŸ˜¦ They recovered with a strong SBS 2A/2A sequence and a solid level 3 triple twist. All three lifts were gorgeous, with fast rotation and beautiful positions by Xiaoyu. There were some flaws in the other elements, however. The throw 3Lp was huge but 2-footed; the throw 3F was landed very low. Also, the pairs combo spin was a bit slow and got some negative GOE. Despite the slight technical errors, however, their Humility and Love LP was still beautiful to watch. I feel like their chemistry and interpretation of this stunning program continues to grow. Artistically, I found them a level above all the other pairs here.

Unfortunately, it looks like this may have been the final event of the season for Yu/Jin. With the recently announced return of Pang/Tong, Y/J are now relegated to the #4 spot in China and are presumably off the World team. šŸ˜¦ The only way I can see this changing is if one of the other Chinese teams has an injury or a complete meltdown at 4CCs. Barring that, we will probably not see Y/J again until next fall. It’s sad to think of this team missing Worlds, especially in their home country, when they’ve been so good this season and even made the GP Final.

Astakhova/Rogonov

Kristina/Alexei continued their impressive debut season by winning silver here with two solid performances.

Strong enough for silver  (Xihua/Fei Maohua)

Strong enough for silver (Xihua/Fei Maohua)

A/R opened their Nine SP with a strong set of SBS 3S. Most of their elements were fine except for the SBS spins, which were a bit out of sync and slow in the camel section. They placed second in the short.

Their Master & Margarita LP started off well with a SBS 3T/2T/2T combo. They also landed another nice set of SBS 3S, well synchronized for such a new team. A/R’s triple twist was level 3 but crashy and low, especially compared to Yu/Jin’s high, smooth twist. The throws were also small in comparison and had landing flaws. As yet, lifts are not a strong point for A/R. Alexei’s footwork is a bit slow, the lifts lack speed, and ice coverage is not the best. Fortunately, Kristina is quite flexible and hits some very nice positions. Her swan position, in particular, is lovely.

Kristina/Alexei are good competitors and complete a lot of elements. However, the quality of the elements is not that high, and their GOE is correspondingly low. Their programs in Granada fell a bit flat, especially in comparison to Yu/Jin’s lightness and flow. A/R looked somewhat heavy and earthbound in comparison. Their programs are ambitious, but perhaps overly busy. They had only the fourth-best PCS in the long program.

James/Cipres

It was another up-and-down event for James/Cipres, but they did win bronze. I think this team is looking better now that they’re back in France with a new coach.

James-Cipres-Uni

On the upswing

The highlight of their Tango de Roxanne SP was a nice set of SBS 3Ts. The other elements were just okay. They were slow going into the throw 3F, and the landing was two-footed. The lift was a bit slow. Their footwork also needed more energy and got only level 2. They placed fourth, and Vanessa shook her head at the scores in the kiss-n-cry.

Vanessa/Morgan started their Angels & Demons LP promisingly, with their best triple twist of the season. Vanessa had good height, Morgan got his arms down for the extra feature, and they earned level 3 on this element for the first time since Nebelhorn. The following SBS 3T/2T/2T combo was also good. However, then things unraveled again. The SBS 3S was underrotated with negative GOE, the death spiral just level 1, and the combo spin slow. Vanessa fell on the throw 3S, costing them another 2 points. Once again, the last two lifts were labored and received negative GOE. It was another disappointing LP.

I hope James/Cipres can get more consistent by Worlds. Their improvement with the triple twist here was encouraging. They also have great charisma and audience appeal.

Bazarova/Deputat

This event was a missed opportunity for Vera/Andrei. They placed third in the SP, had second-best PCS marks in both segments, and were easily within reach of bronze. However, it slipped away when they had to abort the first lift in their LP. Too bad.

Bazarova/Deputat earlier this season at NHK

Bazarova/Deputat earlier this season at NHK

B/D started with a pretty good short program. The highlight was an excellent throw 3Lp, earning several +2s in GOE. The death spiral was also good, with a lovely position from Vera. The SBS spins were off sync and Vera two-footed the SBS 3T, but their My Way SP still left a good impression overall. Vera/Andrei are such an elegant and attractive team on the ice; they are really quite beautiful at times.

Their Adios Nonino LP was rather messy. Both SBS jumps and the throw 3F had slight errors and got negative GOE. On the plus side, they performed a nice level 3 triple twist. The real problems came with the first Axel lasso lift. They lost balance as Vera went up, she came down after just 1 rotation or so, and the lift did not count. This mistake cost them a minimum of 6 points and any chance of bronze. Perhaps rattled by this error, Andrei looked hesitant on the next 2 lifts as well. They scored 104.79 and placed 4th in the LP and overall.

This was likely the final event of the season for Bazarova/Deputat. I think it was a moderately successful season for them, all things considered. They won bronze at Lombardia Trophy and placed 4th here and at their two GP events. They took fifth at Russian Nationals. Arguably, they could have hoped to place one spot higher at some of their events. However, all in all, it was a decent debut season.

The good news is that the judges clearly like their style, programs, and general look on the ice. All season, their PCS has been quite good and not too far off from the medal-winning teams.

The question is: Can they push their technical elements up a notch by next season? Vera is staying vertical on the SBS jumps more often now, but there are still many two-foot landings and stumbles. The throw jumps and the twist are looking not bad. I think lifts should be a key focus during the offseason. This year, they went with a strategy of putting all three lifts in the last minute or so of their LP, and I don’t think it paid off. Their lifts have been okay, but not good enough to make a truly strong final impression with the judges. Plus, I feel that at times, Andrei has struggled physically with doing 3 lifts in a row. I think they should change their lift layout in the LP and work on improving their lift quality to help compensate for their SBS jumps (which will probably never get positive GOE). I really like this team together, so I hope they make good progress over the offseason.

Wang/Zhang

Wang/Zhang have competed the last 2 years at 4CCs and also at Cup of China in 2012. However, they are definitely a tier below the top-ranked Chinese teams.

A tier down from the top Chinese teams  (Newswala.com)

Interesting costume choice for Wang/Zhang (Newswala.com)

They landed some good elements in their SP, especially the throw 3Lp, which was big and received all +2s. Their lift was also good. However, their skating skills seemed weak, the transitions awkward, and the footwork slow. Wenting’s posture needs improvement, and their costumes looked like something out of a bad ’80s sci-fi movie.

W/Z’s long program was pretty much a mess. There were big errors on both SBS jumps and the throw 3F. The throw 3Lp and triple twist were fine. But the modern, avant-garde choreography toward the end of the program was completely beyond their skill level. Also, their final lift did not even get off the ice. For a moment, it seemed like they might actually stop the program. Eventually they did get into their final SBS spins, but finished way behind the music.

I was a little shocked by their performance because I’ve been so impressed with the general preparation level and consistency of the other Chinese pairs this season. Wenting, in particular, seemed lethargic and expressionless during the LP, as if she didn’t want to be there. (Who knows, maybe she didn’t!) There’s also zero chemistry between them. They scored 82.81 in the LP and held onto 5th place, which I found somewhat questionable.

Paliakova/Bochkov

This pair from Belarus was coming off a 14th-place showing at Europeans.

Paliakova/Bochkov at Europeans

Paliakova/Bochkov at Europeans

Their Corpse Bride SP was not bad, but minor errors pulled their score down. Their SBS 3Ts were underrotated, and their step sequence lacked speed and got level 2. Not crazy about Maria’s SP costume. (Am I the only one who finds garter belts iffy for a competitive program?) They scored 49.62 and placed last in the short.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of mistakes in P/B’s Cell Block Tango LP. He turned out of the SBS 3T, she fell on the SBS 3S and throw 3Lp, and the throw 3S was two-footed. However, perhaps the biggest issue is their lifts. Nikita’s footwork is slow, particularly in his nondominant direction. Yet they’re trying 2 change-of-rotation lifts in the LP. Not sure this is a good strategy, as it highlights a weak area for him. P/B lost 6+ points off in negative GOE in the LP–definitely not what you want. They placed sixth.

Wrapup

All in all, Winter Universiade wasn’t the highest-level pairs event, but I loved seeing Yu/Jin compete one last time this season (presumably). And it was also a decent finish to the season for the two Russian teams.

Now, onward to 4CCs!

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