The biggest news in pairs the last couple weeks was definitely Stolbova/Klimov’s decision to skip Worlds. This decision was so unexpected that it’s taken me a while to process it.
Stolbova/Klimov’s official reason for skipping Worlds is to start preparing for next season and, ultimately, 2018. When the news first came out, many speculated that S/K might be injured or about to split. However, they’ve since released pictures of themselves in practice and video of them training SBS 3T/3T/2T. So, I’ll assume their stated reason for skipping Worlds is true.
Their decision to forgo Worlds is the biggest surprise of this season, for me. Skaters may bypass Worlds in the Olympic year, or if they are injured or taking the whole year off. However, I can’t remember anyone, ever, declining to compete at Worlds because they wanted to “start preparing for next season.” It means dropping out of the most important event of the year so you can start getting ready for—what? Next year’s Worlds? An Olympics that’s still 3 years away?
It seems odd that Stolbova/Klimov would need to skip Worlds to add new elements. Other top teams, such as Duhamel/Radford and Scimeca/Knierim, have recently added huge new technical elements without taking any time off. So, why do Stolbova/Klimov need extra time off?
Their decision, and the possible reasons for it, have been discussed in great detail on skating forums. So, rather than add to the debate about why it happened, I’ll just look at the potential benefits and risks of the decision.
First, the benefits. In a best-case scenario, Stolbova/Klimov will:
- Upgrade their SBS jumps and get a quad throw
- Have 9 months to rest, regroup, and mentally recharge for next season
- Develop 2 great programs
- Start next season with a big upgrade in base value and possibly PCS as well
Now, the risks. In a worst-case scenario:
- Stolbova/Klimov fail to add upgraded elements and/or cannot perform them consistently
- S/K’s new programs are no better than this year’s programs
- S/K do not get either a big BV or PCS bump next year
- Their absence at Worlds allows other teams to shine, win medals, and gain momentum
It’s the last point I find most worrisome. Stolbova/Klimov are facing a number of rivals, not only internationally but domestically. Handing the spotlight to their competitors and a free pass to shine on the World stage is a very risky move, in my opinion.
Let’s imagine, for example, that Duhamel/Radford win Worlds with two dominating performances. They would probably enter next season with a PCS/GOE boost (partially negating any improvements S/K might make). And, what if D/R added yet another difficult element—for example, a throw 3 Axel? Or maybe their own set of SBS 3T/3T/2Ts? In that case, Stolbova/Klimov could still wind up behind them in BV and PCS.
Of equal concern is the ascent of domestic rivals. If Kavaguti/Smirnov win Worlds, they would become Russian #1–at least temporarily–and get a PCS bump next season. I think a bigger threat, though, is Tarasova/Morozov. What if T/M were to skate really well at Worlds, place top 5, get the quad twist or other new elements, and also get improved programs? They could quickly become major rivals to S/K.
And, in fact, both of these situations (K/S winning Worlds, T/M placing very well) could happen at the same time. In which case, Stolbova/Klimov might find themselves fighting just to make the World team they declined to join this year. (And that’s not even getting into what would happen if Volosozhar/Trankov come back!!)
We also can’t forget the Chinese pairs, who are on the rise and getting better every season. Sui/Han and Peng/Zhang have the quad twist and could very possibly get a consistent quad throw by next season. And, if one of these teams medaled in Shanghai, that would give them an additional boost.
Meanwhile, what are the chances Stolbova/Klimov will be successful in upgrading their elements and/or improving artistically over their (extended) offseason?
If you look at Stolbova/Klimov’s old programs, you’ll see that they’ve been competing the same jump elements since at least 2010: SBS 3T (SP), SBS 3T/2T/2T (LP), SBS 2A, throw 3F, throw 3S. Those were the elements they showed in their senior GP debut at Skate America 2010, and they competed those same elements this season. So, adding new technical elements is not exactly something they’ve been doing every year.
What Stolbova/Klimov did add between 2010 and 2014 was the triple twist. When they started seniors in 2010, they were doing only double twist. Not unusual. But, interestingly, they were still not consistently doing a triple twist as recently as last fall. (See their Skate America 2013 SP.) The fact that it took them so long to add triple twist—basically, a required element for top pairs–is interesting. It doesn’t necessarily mean it would take them that long to add other new elements. However, it’s a point worth noting. (Meanwhile Tarasova/Morozov, in their first senior season, already have one of the best triple twists in the field.)
Stolbova/Klimov are known for their SBS jumping skills. Although they don’t do the hardest jumps, their SBSs are probably the most consistent in the world and high-quality, too. Ksenia and Fedor competed in singles until they were 14/16 respectively, so they should have at least some experience with the harder triples. I think their best bet for adding base value is in the SBS jumps. They’re practicing SBS 3T/3T/2T; if they get it consistent and add it to the LP, it should increase their base value by almost 3 points.
Then, if S/K added a 2A/2A sequence like Yu/Jin, that would be another 2 points. The 2A/2A sequence seems like it should be very achievable, considering how good their 2As are. If they have any comfort level with 3F or 3Lz, Stolbova/Klimov could also try that. The advantage is they could use 3F or 3Lz as their solo jump in the short program (where they can’t use the 2A/2A). However, this might be more of a stretch than adding 3T/3T/2T or 2A/2A, as it would involve a completely different jump. Whatever layout they choose, I feel good about the odds of Stolbova/Klimov upgrading their SBS jumps. My guess is they can, and will, make this happen.
Upgrading their throw jumps is another question. Stolbova/Klimov’s throws score well and were very consistent in 2014. However, S/K’s throw jumps are notable mostly for their fast rotational speed, rather than height or distance. I really have no idea whether they can upgrade to a quad. They don’t have the extra “hang time” in the air that, say, Castelli/Shnapir did on their throw 3S, or some of the Chinese pairs, or Scimeca/Knierim. On the other hand, they have more control than Castelli/Shnapir. It will be interesting to see whether they can get the quad throw or not. Hard to guess the odds—maybe 70/30? 60/40?
A third area where Stolbova/Klimov can pick up more points is artistry (PCS). This season, Stolbova/Klimov scored well in PCS. But at the GP Final, they did not get the PCS advantage over Duhamel/Radford that many expected. I think much of this was due to program selection.
Stolbova/Klimov are wonderfully skilled skaters, with great unison, line, sharpness, and power. However, as a pair, they lack the lyric, romantic quality associated with many great Russian pairs. Their interpersonal dynamic often feels tense and wary, rather than passionate and emotional. As a result, their natural style is edgy, modern, fast-paced, electric, sometimes comic. This season’s Notre Dame de Paris program was a very unfortunate choice because it didn’t play to any of their strengths. Romantic melodrama is not their thing. Instead of being passionate, the Notre Dame program just looked mechanical and cold. And the Crouching Tiger SP was DOA; too similar to the previous year’s SP (and not as good).
If you review Stolbova/Klimov’s senior programs, the most successful have cleverly highlighted their best qualities. The 2010-11 Asturias flamenco SP showed off their speed and precision; the 2010-11 La Strada LP let them be amusing and picaresque; the 2012-13 Interview with the Vampire SP brilliantly drew on the inherent tension between them; the 2013-14 Surrender SP again showcased their speed and dynamism. And, of course, their best-known Addams Family LP highlights their sharp timing and comic ability.
I think Stolbova/Klimov just need to return to music and choreography that show off their strengths. If they do that, I think they’ll again be wowing crowds and getting the PCS they want. The issue is whether Nikolai Morozov, their current choreographer, can deliver the material they need. Not known for his innovative choices, I question whether Morozov can get the job done. I guess we’ll have to hope that Nina Mozer and Stolbova/Klimov will demand some of his best work.
All in all, I believe Stolbova/Klimov will succeed in upgrading their SBS jumps and probably their programs. Their throw jumps are a bit more iffy. Still, I think their chance of success is fairly high. They will probably meet their goal of improving their base value and PCS by next season.
However, the trouble is, I feel quite certain that a lot of other teams will also get new elements and/or significantly improve over the offseason. Several rising teams have shown improvement already within this season (especially Tarasova/Morozov, Yu/Jin, Scimeca/Knierim, and Astakhova/Rogonov). These teams are starting to knock at the door, and I think it’s very possible their development could accelerate over the offseason. There’s other talented teams out there, too. So even if Stolbova/Klimov use their extra time well, I’m not sure it will be enough to bring them even with Duhamel/Radford or keep ahead of other rivals. Meanwhile, they are likely sacrificing a World medal.
So the question still remains: In the end, will it have been worth it for Stolbova/Klimov to skip Worlds to prepare for the future? My guess is: No. Only time will tell for sure, though.