So, we’re finally down to the big event. The pairs competition at Worlds starts next Wednesday, March 25! I can’t wait. I think it’ll be a great competition, and I expect a lot of season’s-best performances, especially from the Chinese pairs, who will be competing at home.
In looking at the pairs, I wanted to get a solid sense of the numbers. So I took all the scores from the main international events this fall/winter and combined them to generate an average total score for each pair (as well as average BV, GOE, TES, PCS, and deductions scores).
The events that I used for this analysis are: Grand Prix series, Grand Prix Final, Europeans, 4CCs, and Winter Universiade. I did not include Nationals scores due to score inflation (except in one case that I’ll explain later). And I did not include Senior Bs, because score inflation also happens there, plus most senior Bs took place early in the season. After some hesitation, I did include Winter Universiade. Universiade is more like a Senior B than a GP, but it’s also a late-season event and provided an extra reference point for 4 pairs who will be at Worlds.
So based on this analysis, let’s take a look at the field and what to expect.
Going for Gold: The Main Contenders
Duhamel/Radford are heavily favored to win their first World title, following Stolbova/Klimov’s surprise decision to skip Worlds. Paradoxically, I think their job in Shanghai became harder with S/K’s withdrawal. With S/K in, Duhamel/Radford knew what they had to do: Skate 2 flawless programs. Without S/K, it’s less clear. Can D/R afford 1 mistake and still win? 2 mistakes? It’s unknown. In addition, coming into Worlds as the big favorite is a completely new role for D/R. They’ve always been the challengers. Being the favorite puts a lot more pressure on them. I think they’ll be able to handle it, but it probably won’t be easy.
If Duhamel/Radford stay calm, do their job, and skate as well as they have all season, they should walk away with a fairly easy victory. They are undefeated this year. They own the season’s best scores for both SP and LP. Their average base value (BV) lead over the field is 8.64 points. They have the judges’ respect and are getting great PCS. Everything is in their favor. If they skate like they did at the GP Final or even 4CCs, the title should be theirs.
Pang/Tong‘s return was a huge surprise to me. I really did not expect to see this veteran couple competing after Sochi. But they are indeed back, as they proved with their 4CC bronze. And I think they’re actually a much bigger threat at Worlds than many people realize. Among some skating fans, there’s a sense that Pang/Tong are yesterday’s news. But, I think it would be a mistake to write them off.
Let’s start with the obvious. Pang/Tong have, by far, the best resume of any team competing in Shanghai: Olympic silver medalists; 2-time World champions; 3 other World medals. The judges will be thinking of this as they watch Pang/Tong skate. And the judges sent a very clear message at 4CCs that they still consider Pang/Tong a top pair. P/T scored 104.02 in total PCS at that event, higher than any other team at Worlds has all season except D/R. Their long-program PCS (70.80) was higher than any PCS they received last season. Their GOE was very high, too.
The one thing that held P/T back at 4CCs was their base value, and it’s within their power to improve that significantly in Shanghai. They can’t get it up to Duhamel/Radford’s level, or even to Kavaguti/Smirnov’s. However, they can get it fairly close if they land their SBS jumps in the LP, and clean up their 5A lift and pairs combo spin levels. They typically get better GOE than K/S, so even if they’re a little behind in BV, Pang/Tong could still beat K/S technically if they land those SBS jumps. Pang/Tong seldom went clean on their SBSs last year, and if Worlds were anywhere other than China, I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to do so this year. However, with Worlds in Shanghai, I think we will see their best possible performance at this point.
All in all, if Pang/Tong can complete those SBSs and skate to their usual level, I think they will likely win silver over Kavaguti/Smirnov. And, if D/R make mistakes, Pang/Tong could very well take the title again.
Kavaguti/Smirnov are sentimental favorites, with their wonderful programs and their inspiring return from Sasha’s major injury. Many would like to see this pair win, or at least get a medal. Will it happen? I think a medal is fully within reach, but they’re a long shot for the title.
Kavaguti/Smirnov undoubtedly have the best programs of any pair right now (although we’ve yet to see P/T’s new Secret Garden SP). Their programs have been almost universally acclaimed. Despite this, their average PCS is not as high as they’d probably like. It’s very good. But their best total PCS score of 103.56 from Euros was beaten by Pang/Tong’s 104.02 at 4CCs. And Duhamel/Radford have scored as high as 106.37. So, despite their magnificent programs, K/S do not have a PCS advantage. They may get a bit of a boost in Shanghai as Russia #1, but I think it will be balanced out by P/T’s home-country advantage.
Their season-high TES score was 106.77 at Skate America. Meanwhile, D/R’s average TES is 109.68, with a high of 114.46. And unlike Pang/Tong, K/S really don’t have room to increase their base value. The TES they achieved at Skate America was with a nearly maxed-out program. So the only way they can go higher is to perform their elements with better quality, and I just don’t think they can achieve much quality increase in the short time before Worlds.
I don’t think K/S have the scoring firepower to take the title unless D/R make probably 2 major mistakes. Assuming a good performance from Pang/Tong, I see Kavaguti/Smirnov in bronze-medal position. They may have a chance at silver if Pang/Tong don’t skate to expectations.
The Other Medal Contenders: Peng/Zhang and Sui/Han
These two Chinese pairs are so close competitively. Sui/Han won GPF bronze to Peng/Zhang‘s 4th place; P/Z won 4CC silver to S/H’s 4th. They are 2nd/3rd in average GOE; they are 4th/5th in average PCS. Both pairs have skated very well this season but not gone completely clean in any event.
When you compare their average total score, Sui/Han have a clear lead. Their average score is 194.63 to Peng/Zhang’s 192.43. However, I think momentum is on Peng/Zhang’s side. In their most recent meeting at 4CCs, P/Z beat S/H overall by 2.57 points. And while P/Z showed improvement from GPF to 4CCs, S/H’s best performance of the season was actually several months ago at TEB. Since then, S/H have been trending slightly down (and Sui has been looking not that happy). Peng/Zhang’s average PCS is also 1.67 points higher than S/H’s. I see this as an indication that the judges prefer P/Z, all things being equal technically.
The key for Peng/Zhang is the SBS jumps. At 4CCs, they had only mistake on the SBSs and still won silver. If they put out a similar program at Worlds, my feeling is they will take 4th place, with Sui/Han in 5th. If both teams were to compete clean (which hasn’t happened yet), I think Sui/Han might come out on top due to higher BV, home-crowd reaction to their big elements, and consequently higher PCS. It’s just so close between these two pairs.
If Kavaguti/Smirnov falter, which is entirely possible, either Peng/Zhang or Sui/Han will be on the podium. Most likely, Peng/Zhang.
Getting Close to the Top: Scimeca/Knierim and Tarasova/Morozov
The top 5 teams in this event are pretty far ahead of the field. The best of the rest, in my opinion, are Scimeca/Knierim and Tarasova/Morozov.
Scimeca/Knierim have stated their goal is top 6. Can they do it? Yes, I have confidence they can. Alexa/Chris have improved steadily this season and set new season’s bests at 4CCs. All the numbers support that they can place top 6. Across the competitions I looked at, Scimeca/Knierim are 6th in average total score among all pairs competing in Shanghai. They are 7th in PCS; 7th in total TES; 3rd in BV; 9th in GOE. They also have momentum, after their win at Nationals and good scores at 4CCs. In their teleconference this week, they sounded composed and ready. Obviously, they’ll need to skate clean and execute very well to get that 6th place. And they’ll need the quad twist. But I believe they can and will do it. Not to add to the pressure on Alexa/Chris . . . But the fact is, if they take 6th place, the U.S. has a chance at getting 3 spots for our home Worlds next year. Still a very slim chance, but at least a chance.
Tarasova/Morozov are the other team that I think could knock at the door. This pair has it all: Big, high-quality elements, great skating skills, lovely unison and line, great artistic potential. The only thing missing has been confidence and consistency. Their jumps tend to be either terrific or not landed at all. T/M showed what they’re capable of at Russian Nationals, where they won the free skate over both Kavaguti/Smirnov and Stolbova/Klimov (and hit 85.50 in total BV, a high number). If they skate very well at Worlds, they could potentially place top 6 or higher. Their ISU season’s-best score is only 9th among the pairs in Shanghai, but their talent and X-factor is such that I see them higher. Across the competitions I looked at, their average total score was 6th. Their average PCS was also 6th, which means the judges see them as a very good team. They come into Worlds with some momentum after a bronze at Euros. My feeling is the quad twist will keep Scimeca/Knierim ahead of T/M at this event. But it’s only a matter of time before Tarasova/Morozov will be contending for World medals.
The Middle of the Pack
There are about 6 teams I see as “the middle of the pack,” so to speak: Marchei/Hotarek, Seguin/Bilodeau, Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch, Denney/Frazier, Astakhova/Rogonov, and James/Cipres.
These 6 teams are somewhat close in scores, but quite different in their strengths and weaknesses. All will be trying to stay in the top 10.
A problem with assessing this group is that 3 of these pairs (M/H, I/M, A/R) are brand-new and only competed in 1 or 2 of the events I looked at. With their average score based on only 1 event in some cases, it’s hard to know if that score will hold true at Worlds. The case of Seguin/Bilodeau is even more complicated. They competed in only 1 senior event–Canadian Nationals–obviously not an ideal score to work with. With S/B, I wound up using their Nationals scores as their TES number and their Junior Worlds scores as their PCS mark!
I think these 6 teams may be very close in their final placements at Worlds and could end up in several different orders.
Marchei/Hotarek made a big impression at Euros, unexpectedly placing 4th. Their base value was low, but their GOE and PCS were surprisingly high for such a new team. Was this beginner’s luck, or a sign of success to come? What is certain is this pair has charisma, great performance quality, light, smooth lifts, and the SBS 3Lz. Both Valentina and Ondrej have prior experience at Worlds, so that will help in Shanghai. At Euros, they competed with only a double twist; if they add a triple twist for Shanghai, that would raise their BV by at least 2 points.
Seguin/Bilodeau have been executing their jump elements very consistently and have strong skating skills. Their scores from Canadians (TES)/Junior Worlds (PCS) compare well to the other teams in this group. However, my feeling is they will probably drop in PCS in Shanghai, as they are competing against a much larger field of quality contenders than at Junior Worlds. Their programs are good but will not likely stand out in Shanghai the way they did in smaller competitions. Also, lifts are not their best element, and so the addition of a third lift in the senior LP (as opposed to 2 in junior LP) will not be a big plus for them. Their strong jumps may keep them in it if other pairs in this group falter. But, I see S/B placing toward the bottom of this group.
Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch will be competing in their first Worlds together. At 4CCs, they did quite well. Their total base value was a very strong 83.72 (4th average in competitions I looked at). I felt they were underscored in PCS at 4CCs, yet their score would still place them 9th in average PCS. So, I think they’re looking good heading into Worlds. Luba/Dylan’s weak point right now is GOE. At Worlds, they must try to land their elements cleanly and with as much quality as they can manage. But I feel good about their chances. They’re in a great position. With D/R almost guaranteed to place top 2, Luba/Dylan as Canadian #2 need only place 11th or better to retain Canada’s 3 spots. That should be quite manageable. So there’s little pressure, and they can just enjoy the experience and make a good impression.
Astakhova/Rogonov are also in their first Worlds. Unlike M/H and I/M, they come in with neither partner having experience at senior Worlds. However, they have lots of experience competing in the pressure-cooker world of Russian pairs. This pair is popular with fans; people like their consistency and interesting programs. Astakhova/Rogonov’s strong point is base value; they hit their elements pretty reliably. They aren’t getting a lot of positive GOE. However, their technical consistency and the basic good quality of their skating has propelled them to several medals this season. Like I/M, they will face little pressure in Shanghai. With 2 strong Russian pairs in front of them, the Russian team should have no problem retaining 3 spots. A/R’s ISU season’s-best score is 7th among all teams competing at Worlds. However, this score was obtained at a senior B. A/R’s average total score at the competitions I looked at places them 12th. We’ll see which number turns out to be closer.
Denney/Frazier are the #2 American team at Worlds. D/F are so talented, but had a somewhat disappointing 4CCs. They also just announced a switch to Ingo Steuer as their sole coach. I’m hoping Haven/Brandon can regroup and end the season with a strong Worlds. They have great programs, some really good elements, and a lot of quality to their skating. What’s been lacking is confidence, cleanness, and authority. I want them to believe in themselves and really go for it! Unlike I/M and A/R, Haven/Brandon are under a bit of pressure. Their season’s-best ISU score puts them 8th in this field, with Scimeca/Knierim 6th –very close to getting 3 pairs spots for the U.S. next year. However, realistically, D/F earned that season’s-best score back in October and have not come close to it since internationally. Their average total score places them 11th. Of course, I’d love to see them return to their Skate America form at Worlds! If they skated their absolute best in Shanghai, 7th place would be a stretch, but not impossible.
James/Cipres placed 10th at Worlds last year and started this season with hopes of making the Grand Prix Final. Things did not go to plan. Instead of progressing, James/Cipres have, if anything, gone backward. The only bright spot was their small medal in the short program at Euros; otherwise, it’s been a season of messy programs and disappointing placements. Their total average score places them 13th in this field. Their average BV is 13th; GOE 12th; TES 13th; PCS 13th. Their season’s-best ISU score is also 13th! Therefore, I anticipate them placing at the bottom of this group.
The Last Group: Fighting to Make the Long Program
The last group of pairs consists of 6 teams who will try to make it to the long program: Della Monica/Guarise, Vartmann/Van Cleave, Ziegler/Kiefer, Takahashi/Kihara, Fancy/Boyadji, and Paliakova/Bochkov. Three of these pairs will miss the cut.
Della Monica/Guarise are clearly the leaders. DM/G were 16th last year at Worlds, had a respectable season on the GP, and placed 6th at Euros. DM/G have decent base value/content in their programs. They also have a big lead over the other pairs in this group in average PCS and TES. What’s holding them back is GOE. Their net GOE in the competitions I looked at is slightly negative. So, they’re getting less than base value on their elements; obviously not a situation you want to be in. DM/G need to improve the quality of their elements to break into the group above them.
After looking at the numbers and the season overall, my Worlds predictions are below.
14. Della Monica/Guarise
15. Vartmann/Van Cleave
I’ll be happy about any and all surprises, though. (Except for the American teams placing lower than predicted!)