Four Continents: Pairs Review

Going into Four Continents, the big questions were: Would Duhamel/Radford continue their dominant march toward Worlds? And would Pang/Tong still be competitive after a year off (and at the age of 35)? The answer to both questions turned out to be yes. Duhamel/Radford won again in Seoul, and Pang/Tong proved they do indeed still have it. Along the way, we saw some great performances by other North American and Asian pairs.

4CCs-podium

4CC-results

Duhamel/Radford

Meagan/Eric have had a dream season this year. They’ve won every event they entered and done so in style.

Another event, another victory  (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Another event, another victory (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

They started the competition here with another great short program. Their level 3 triple twist had nice height and earned +2s and +3s. Their SBS 3 Lutzes were well landed and the SBS spins excellent. Every element earned positive GOE. One thing I noticed: Meagan/Eric really have the pacing of this program down. Everything happens at just the right moment. Nothing feels either slow or rushed; they just look so comfortable. Meagan/Eric earned 75.67, a new season’s best score.

Their Muse long program was a bit more of a struggle. Meagan put her hand down and stumbled on the SBS 3Lz, and Eric’s landing was off, too. This has been such a consistent element for them all season that it was surprising to see this mistake. Next up was the throw 4S; Meagan landed it but with a hand down again. At this point I was worried, but Meagan/Eric dug in and regrouped with great SBS spins and a successful SBS 3T/2T/2T combo. The throw 3Lz toward the end was strong. Their performance level fell off a bit after the early mistakes, though; they didn’t have quite their usual spark and energy. “That was one of the hardest longs . . . .” Meagan said as they came off the ice, and Eric tweeted later that he hadn’t felt well going into the LP.

Even though it wasn’t D/R’s best, it was a still a good program. They scored 143.81 points, several points off their season’s-best mark at the GP Final–but still 10 points ahead of the other 4CCs pairs, and higher than any other pair has scored all season. (Stolbova/Klimov came close with 142.88 at Rostelecom.) So, even though 4CCs wasn’t their best competition, I don’t think it hurt their overall momentum. They will still go into Worlds as the clear favorites.

Peng/Zhang

Cheng Peng and her partner, Hao Zhang, rebounded from a disppointing finish at the GP Final to win the silver medal here.

A wonderful short program  (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Such fascinating programs (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Peng/Zhang’s Arabian Dance SP was gorgeous. They had great speed going into their opening SBS 3T and landed the jumps very well. Their level 3 triple twist was amazing—it just sailed through the air, with tremendous height, getting all +2s and +3s. The thow 3Lp was also terrific. The only error was a slight synchro loss on the SBS spins. Even better than the elements, though, was the perfomance itself. It was hypnotic, intriguing, unique. Basically, everything you want pairs skating to be. I love the mystery and intensity of this program. They scored 69.81, a new season’s-best. I would have liked to see their PCS marks a bit higher, especially in CH and IN. They were 1.5 points behind D/R in PCS.

P/Z’s long program was not quite as strong as their SP. They opened with a level 3 quad twist, which was simply amazing. They earned 10.67 points; it was the highest-scoring element in the whole event. However, Peng then fell on the very next element, the SBS 2A, which broke the spell cast by their incredible opening. She also landed forward on the SBS 3T and singled the 2T. The rest of the program was very good, though. The throw 3Lp and throw 3S were both exceptionally well done, with great height and distance. The lifts were good and earned almost all positive GOE. Peng also had a beautiful position in the level 3 death spiral. It all added up to another season’s-best score of 131.64.

This long program to Shostakovich’s Allegretto hasn’t been universally embraced by skating fans. However, I personally find it fascinating. The music is odd, ominous, and intense, and the choreography matches it perfectly. P/Z have yet to skate the program clean this season, and, as I said in a previous post, the precision and delicacy of the music demands clean skating to have its full impact. If P/Z do manage to go clean with it at Worlds . . . Well, not only will I end the season as a happy pairs skating fan :-), I do believe they can reach the podium (if not the top step).

Pang/Tong

This was Pang/Tong’s first competition since Sochi. No one had expected a comeback, especially since both are now 35.

Still competitive at 35  (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Still competitive at 35 (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Some rust showed in Pang/Tong’s tango short program to Oblivion/A Los Amigos. Tong put both hands down on the opening SBS 3Ts, and their SBS spins were off. The rest of the program went pretty well. Their triple twist was very high and lateral and got great GOE. The footwork was interesting and had flair, although it could have been faster. I enjoyed the tango program; I think it’s a good package for them. We’ve seen a lot of tangos the last few years, and this program doesn’t break any new ground. But it works well on its own terms. They scored 66.87 to place 4th in the short.

Pang/Tong then came out and skated their Ci Saro long program as if they had never been off competitive ice. Pang singled the opening SBS 2A and doubled the SBS 3T. However, they simply moved on as if these mistakes never happened, and the rest of the program was vintage Pang/Tong. The triple twist was again well done. The two throw jumps were excellent, both with great distance. The SBS spins were well synchronized. Everything was up to their usual standard (except for the pairs combo spin–a bit slow). They had positive GOE on every element except the SBS jumps, and their PCS was slightly higher than Duhamel/Radford’s. Their long program is lyrical, romantic, and emotional—very much their typical style. Pang/Tong have done so many programs in this vein that you’d think it would get boring. Yet for me it never does, because they skate with so much conviction and sincerity that it doesn’t feel jaded. Pang/Tong scored 133.12 for second in the LP and third overall.

Why did P/T come out of their (unofficial) retirement? Publicly, all that’s been said is they want to skate one more time for a home audience at Worlds. But I have to wonder if the Chinese federation asked them to come back to stack the odds in favor of a pairs medal at their home Worlds (very likely a matter of national pride for the federation). If so, Pang/Tong demonstrated that the federation’s trust is not misplaced with their bronze here.

Pang/Tong’s return has not been met with universal acclaim, because fans of Yu/Jin are disappointed to see Y/J off the Chinese team in favor of Pang/Tong. However, the scores at Four Continents do tend to validate the federation’s decision. P/T got great PCS, an indication the judges still see them as a top pair. Their TES scores were lower than Peng/Zhang and Sui/Han—but comparable to, or higher than, what Yu/Jin earned on the Grand Prix and at Winter Universiade. As much as some will miss seeing Y/J at Worlds, the results here indicate that P/T are a stronger medal threat in Shanghai.

Sui/Han

At the Grand Prix Final, Sui/Han claimed the bronze over teammates Peng/Zhang. Here, they placed just out of the medals in 4th.

Sui/Han's 'Tano twist  (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Sui/Han’s ‘Tano twist (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Sui/Han’s Stray Cat Strut SP was studded with some absolutely showstopping elements. Their throw 3F was super-high and earned almost 2 points in positive GOE. Then came their level 4 ‘Tano triple twist, again spectacularly high. Their footwork sequence was also very good and effective with the music and gained many +2s. This program is fun without being overly cutesy, and it’s a nice break from the more serious dramatic programs most of the other pairs are doing. (Remember, judges like to be entertained, too!) I actually thought Wenjing and Cong could have performed it with a bit more zing—they looked slightly nervous—but it still was excellent and earned a season’s best 69.19. They were third in the short.

In the long program, Sui/Han fell to 4th mostly because they received no points for their pairs combo spin. The rest of the program was good. They opened with a stunning level 3 quad twist, which earned 10.10 points. Their throw 3F was again amazing, earning almost straight +3s. Wenjing two-footed the landing of the throw 3S, but the lifts and SBS spins were very good. I felt their interpretation of the Francesca da Rimini program was fine, but not quite as expressive as at TEB earlier this season. Their TEB LP score remains their season’s best.

Scimeca/Knierim

This was Alexa & Chris’s first competition as U.S. champions. They delivered two good performances here to place fifth.

Continuing to improve  (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Continuing to improve (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

S/K opened their Tango de Roxanne SP with a very nice level 3 triple twist. The only mistake was Chris doubling the SBS 3S, which cost them a couple points. However, the other elements were very good and earned almost all positive GOE. Their throw 3F was a little tilted in the air, but Alexa still landed it well. They looked strong and secure throughout and earned a season’s-best 63.54.

S/K started their long program with their big new element: the quad twist. This attempt was not as good as their Nationals quad twist. The catch was a bit low and crashy, and they got some negative GOE. The total score for their level 2 quad twist was 6.89, actually half a point lower than the 7.40 they earned in the SP for their level 3 triple twist. (Nonetheless, I still think going for the quad is worth the risk. Although they lose a bit if they don’t do it well, they stand to gain up to 3 pts if they can excecute it as well as the Chinese teams.) After the quad twist, Chris doubled the SBS 3S again. However, they completed the following SBS 2A/2A sequence, albeit slightly out of sync, and the program got stronger from there. Both throw jumps were very good, with great height and many +2s. Their lifts were also first-rate, with great speed and ice coverage. Chris’s lifting skills are quite underrated, in my opinion. He makes difficult lifts look very easy—just what you want in a male partner. S/K closed the program with a lovely death spiral. I enjoyed their interpretation of An American in Paris; I thought they skated with a little more freedom than at Nationals. Alexa/Chris have such a great look together on the ice: They skate big and really fill out the ice with their movement. They scored a new season’s-best of 124.44 to place 5th in the long and overall.

Alexa/Chris have improved so much this season. They’ve added the quad twist, their throw jump consistency has improved, and they’re getting more confident in their presentation. It is very clear that the international judges really respect their elements and them as a team. Their total score here of 187.98 left them in an interesting place: About 10 points behind the top 4 teams—who were clearly a class above–but over 14 points ahead of all the lower-ranked teams. This indicates they’re making real progress toward that top tier. I think they’re in a great spot heading into Worlds.

Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch

What a moment for Luba Ilyushechkina: Her return to major international competition after 4 long years away. (Frankly, an eternity for a competitive skater.) And what a moment for Dylan Moscovitch, too: His return to international competition with a new partner who is reinvigorating his already accomplished career. It’s an incredible story.

So much promise  (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

So much promise (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Luba/Dylan had a very nice performance in the short program. Luba slightly two-footed the opening SBS 3S, but the GOE damage wasn’t too bad, only about half a point off base value. Their triple twist—their weakest element, currently—was a little higher than usual but a bit crashy on the catch. They recovered with a very fine throw 3Lz, lovely level 4 death spiral, and a strong press lift. Their Feeling Good SP is probably my favorite short program of the season, and they performed it with great ease and conviction. Wonderful to see. Their score was 60.13.

This season, we’ve seen how hard it is for new pairs to make it cleanly through a 4-minute long program. There are just so many different skills and transitions to perform in an LP, at a time when you’re still coming together as a team. Like most of the other new pairs this season, Luba/Dylan are often a bit stronger in the SP than the LP. But I thought they showed great fight, grit, and determination in the LP here. They landed both SBS jump sets cleanly. The triple twist was a struggle, with Luba landing on Dylan’s shoulder, but they had nice speed going in and out. Luba’s landing on the throw 3Lz was scratchy, but she held on.

Despite the technical flaws, I was completely absorbed by their performance, enjoying every moment. There are just so many beautiful and interesting moves and transitions in their long program. I love the intent and the meaningfulness of what they’re putting out there. Their programs feel so organic and true to them. Out of all the programs in this event, it was theirs that I wanted to re-watch again, immediately. Their PCS marks are not as high as they should be—but it’s sort of beside the point, right now. The PCS is not high because they’re new and they have no reputation, but I’m not worried, because I know it will come next season. The quality of what they’re putting out there is undeniable.

And . . . speaking of undeniable. Is there anyone who could fail to appreciate the beauty and fire of Luba Ilyushechkina’s skating? There are certain things she does—simple things—that send chills down my spine. Her position in their camel spins. Her death spiral. The placement of her hands.  At the risk of descending into total uberdom, I’m just going to say it: Watch out, world. Watch out, top pairs. Because this girl wants it. There is a fire in her eyes. You can see it. And her talent is incredible. Who knows what the future will bring, but the future could be very, very bright for this pair. I truly hope it is.

Denney/Frazier

Unfortunately this was a somewhat disappointing event for Denney/Frazier. They had mistakes in both programs to finish 7th.

Not their best event  (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Not their best event (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Their Godfather SP started off well with a very good level 4 triple twist. The throw 3Lp had good distance, although Haven’s landing was a bit stiff. However, Brandon then fell on the SBS 3S and caught an edge slightly going into the SBS spins. The death spiral was also a bit slow. I thought they skated the program with a lot more smoothness and attack than at Nationals, but there were just a few too many mistakes. It’s too bad, because I love the interesting details and choreography of this program. I’d love to see it skated really cleanly; I think it would score well. Haven/Brandon earned 56.98 to place 9th in the short.

D/F’s long program was improved, but still not their best. Their level 4 triple twist was even better than in the SP—very high, very good. Their twist just keeps getting stronger and stronger. (In fact, I’m almost beginning to wonder if they could do the quad twist. Not many teams can even aspire to that, and I’m not sure if it’s in the cards for D/F, but I wonder.) The throw 3Lp was very good, as was the throw 3S. However, unfortunately, Haven fell on the SBS 3S and they both singled the first set of 2As. Really too bad. 😦 The other elements were good, especially the lifts. They scored 110.59 and moved up 2 spots in the LP to place 7th overall. However, it was still well off their season’s-best and they looked quite disappointed afterward.

I think Haven/Brandon just need to stay positive going into Worlds. Just keep working and try not to dwell on the mistakes. They have so much going for them, and such a solid technical base to work from. (Plus, they have Zimmerman & Steuer! :-))

Kayne/O’Shea

Tarah/Danny came in as defending silver medalists at this event, so I’m sure they were disappointed to place only 8th. But of course, the field this year was far, far stronger than last year, and they are still in the process of coming back from Tarah’s injury.

Kayne/O'Shea at U.S. Nationals

Kayne/O’Shea at U.S. Nationals

I really enjoyed their Your Song short program. The sensitive, uplifting music really highlights their strength as performers. Tarah/Danny just have an instinctive musicality, an ability to catch the highlights and emotions of music and make you feel them, too. Technically, their program was fine for the most part. The twist was only level 1 and got some negative GOE. They lacked speed going into the throw 3Lp, and the dismount from the lift could have been steadier. Their GOE was again mostly flat; not many positive marks. But the program was very enjoyable. They earned 57.91 for 8th place.

Tarah/Danny appeared a little tight in their Spartacus LP. They didn’t have quite the same sparkle and animation as at Nationals. Their opening triple twist was not the best; Tarah was almost on the ice by the time Danny caught her. (GOE marks for the element were rather inexplicable, ranging from -3 to +1). They landed both SBS jump sets cleanly—nice to see! However, they looked tentative going into the throw 3Lp, and Tarah fell. The throw 3S was landed but small. They scored 108.76 to place 8th in the LP and overall. They seemed disappointed, but I’m sure next season will be better. I look forward to seeing them on the Grand Prix next year.

Moore-Towers/Marinaro

Kirsten/Mike were coming off a fourth-place finish at Canadian Nationals.

Moore-Towers and Marinaro

Moore-Towers and Marinaro

Their Cell Block Tango SP was entertaining. This program suits Kirsten’s style perfectly, and she really performs it well. They skated with nice attack and energy. Their elements were pretty good except for the triple twist, which was crashy and got negative GOE. They scored 59.30 to place 7th in the short.

Kirsten/Mike’s Chess LP was not as successful. They landed the SBS jumps, but Kirsten fell on the throw 3Lp. The biggest problem was the lifts, however. On the first lasso lift entrance, Kirsten got stuck on Mike’s shoulders, and he had to heave her up from there. They continued with the lift but it received no points, no doubt due to the botched entry. The second lift was slow. The entry to the third lift was also labored, and it got almost all negative GOE. They scored 101.40 and dropped 2 spots to place 9th overall.

I hope lift technique will be a big focus for Kirsten/Mike in the offseason.

Takahashi/Kihara

Narumi/Ryuichi placed last in both segments of this event.

Underscored a bit?  (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Underscored in long program? (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Their Bossa Nova Baby SP was not bad. However, Narumi fell on the opening SBS 3S. They again performed only a double twist.

Narumi/Ryuichi’s LP was one of the better performances I’ve seen from them. Narumi again fell on the SBS 3S, but landed the SBS 2A. She also landed both throw jumps nicely. Ryuichi looked more confident with the lifts here than at Japanese Nationals (where he was recovering from a hand injury). Their SBS spins were good. I thought they performed the program quite well, with a little more smoothness and energy than usual. However, they scored only 87.21. This was a season’s best but still 14+ points behind MT/M. I think their lack of speed, size, and presence on the ice is holding back their PCS scores–perhaps a bit unfairly at times, especially considering they only had one mistake in this program. Ryuichi was not happy with the scores in the kiss-n-cry, and I can’t say I blame him.

Wrapup

I really enjoyed this pairs event at Four Continents! The top pairs all skated really well, and there were some great moments from the lower-ranked pairs, too. Although there were fewer pairs at 4CCs than at Europeans, I thought the overall quality was definitely higher.

So with Four Continents over, there’s only one more event in the season: Worlds! I anticipate a great pairs event in Shanghai and can’t wait until it starts! 🙂

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