Worlds 2015: Pairs Review

What a pairs event in Shanghai! I had high hopes going in and was not disappointed. I thought the pairs, as a group, skated great at Worlds. There were many season’s-best performances, and the skating was at a high level, particularly in the short program.

The moment truly belonged to Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who earned their first World title and dominated the field. However, the event also belonged to Hongbo Zhao, Bin Yao, and the Chinese pairs, who all turned in magical performances to place 2-3-4 behind Duhamel/Radford. All season long, I had felt certain the Chinese teams would put forth their absolute best in Shanghai. And they sure did! What a moment for them, at their first-ever home Worlds.

Let’s take a look at how all the pairs did!

The medalists  (photo: ISU)

The medalists (photo: ISU)

Results

Duhamel/Radford

What an incredible season for Meagan/Eric: Winning every competition they entered and capping it off with a well-deserved World title! I saw them skate last September at Evening with Champions in Boston. Who could have guessed then what lay in store over the next 6 months?

Duhamel/Radford: World champions  (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

Duhamel/Radford: World champions (Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images)

Duhamel/Radford opened the competition with yet another outstanding short program. They had no mistakes and scored 76.98, which put them in the lead by 4.39 points.

Meagan/Eric started off well in their Muse LP with a very good triple twist and solid SBS 3Lz. Then things got a bit dicey: Meagan put both hands down on the throw quad Salchow, and Eric fell off his rotation in the SBS spin for a moment. However, as at 4CCs, they recovered quickly, and all the remaining elements were well done. Their performance level was a little subdued emotionally compared to some of their other LPs this season, but still strong. “It was very good,” said one of their coaches as they came off the ice. They scored 144.55 in the LP, a little off their season’s best at the GPF, but still more than enough for the win.

After the event, D/R revealed they’re working on a secret new element for next year. Some of you may recall that I speculated on this possibility a few weeks ago in my column about Stolbova/Klimov. Obviously if D/R are successful, it will make it that much harder for Stolbova/Klimov (or anyone else) to catch them next year.

Sui/Han

Sui/Han had a breakthrough in Shanghai to unexpectedly take silver. After their very solid but not stellar season, I think many people, myself included, thought Pang/Tong or Peng/Zhang would be the top-ranked Chinese team. However, Sui/Han turned in two convincing, clean performances here to earn a career-best result.

Sui/Han skate to silver  (Photo: ISU)

Sui/Han skate to silver (Photo: ISU)

Sui/Han put out an excellent short program. Their SBS 3Ts were right on. Their throw 3F was so big, it almost got a bit wild, but Wenjing held onto the landing. Next came their showstopping ‘Tano triple twist, which earned many +3s. The home crowd was really behind them at this point, clapping along, and Sui/Han just took that energy and ran with it. Their Stray Cat Strut SP is a lot of fun, and this was easily their best performance of it this season. They earned 71.63, 4+ points over their previous season’s best, and were 3rd.

Sui/Han drew to skate last in the LP. They had to take the ice right after a wonderful, emotional program from Pang/Tong, and I wondered how they would handle the pressure. But Sui/Han responded with a great performance. For the first time this season, they went completely clean in the LP. They opened with a terrific quad twist, followed by a 3T/2T/2T combo. Their throw 3F was again almost too big, but landed, and the throw 3S was even better, receiving almost straight +3s. Sui/Han’s lifts in this program are very complex, but they performed them well and had great ice coverage. They skated their Francesca da Rimini program with much intensity and energy, and the home crowd supported them. It was a triumphant performance that left Wenjing in tears. They earned a personal-best 142.49 and had all positive GOE. Although their base value was more than 3 points below Duhamel/Radford’s, Sui/Han made up all the difference in GOE and actually beat D/R on the technical mark. It was an amazing moment for them, and I’m sure they’ll remember it forever.

Pang/Tong

Pang/Tong created some incredible moments of their own at Worlds.

Pang/Tong just swept me away  (Getty Images)

Pang/Tong just swept me away (Getty Images)

Not satisfied with the tango SP they used at 4CCs, Pang/Tong worked with Nikolai Morozov to create a new short program to “Moon Flower” by Secret Garden. Pang/Tong skated this lyrical program brilliantly in Shanghai. All the elements were cleanly executed and woven into the program seamlessly. The throw 3Lp was smooth, the death spiral was lovely, and their SBS 3Ts nicely landed. It was a gorgeous program, and they placed second.

Pang/Tong then followed with another great performance in the long program. They hit their opening SBS 2A. Pang singled the second 2A, but from that point on, they made no other mistakes. They landed the SBS 3T that they had missed at 4CCs; their lifts were good; and their throw jumps were excellent. They earned a perfect score for their throw triple Salchow: +3 from every judge. There were some slight imperfections here and there, but nothing that detracted from the overall beauty of their Io Ci Saro program. With other pairs, you wait for the next big trick. With Pang/Tong, what I enjoy most is the transitions between the elements. There are so many beautiful moments in their programs; so many lovely positions. And such chemistry. This pair truly skates together, as one. Younger pairs should watch and learn. It was another moving performance and received a standing ovation from the home crowd. They scored 140.18 and won their 6th World medal.

Afterward, Jian Tong said this would be their final competition. If that holds true, Pang/Tong certainly went out on a high note.

Peng/Zhang

Peng/Zhang just missed the podium in Shanghai, but still skated extremely well and had their best overall score of the season.

Their best long program of the season  (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Their best long program of the season (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Peng/Zhang began with a clean, lovely performance of their Arabian Dance SP. They landed the SBS 3Ts–nice to see, as Cheng Peng has struggled with this jump. All their other elements were very well executed, and the program was beautiful. They earned 69.67, just a bit below their season’s best, and placed 5th.

Their Allegretto long program was even better. All season, I’ve been waiting and hoping for a clean performance of this fascinating program. They got very close in Shanghai! Cheng had a small stumble coming out of the SBS 2A, but stayed on her feet. And every other element was executed to such a high level. Their throw jumps were amazing, with incredible distance and flow on the landings. They came very close to a perfect score for the throw 3S. And they again completed a level 3 quad twist that was the highest-scoring element in the whole competition. P/Z skated their intriguing long program to the best level yet this season, and I loved it. They earned 136.96, 5+ points over their previous best score, but I still felt they were underscored in PCS.

I can’t wait to see what this team does next season!


Kavaguti/Smirnov

Well, there’s no way around it: It was a disappointing Worlds for Kavaguti/Smirnov. Coming in, they were looking to medal or win. Instead they placed a distant 5th.

Not what they were hoping for  (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Not what they were hoping for (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

It all started well in the short program, where they hit their elements nicely. They landed the oft-troublesome SBS 3Ts and even got a level 4 on their triple twist. I thought their interpretation of Meditation from Thais was lovely and emotional. They earned a season’s-best 71.59 and were only .04 out of third place. A medal was well within reach.

However, their long program did not go well. They looked a little tight and nervous throughout, like they were trying to force everything, instead of just let it flow. Sasha doubled the second jump in the SBS 3T/3T sequence. Yuko put a hand down on the throw 4S and turned out a little. Then Yuko fell on the throw 3Lp. They made it through the program, but the performance level suffered with the mistakes, and it just felt sloppy. Yuko was quite angry/distraught afterward, although she calmed down a little after Sasha comforted her in the kiss-n-cry. Obviously, it was well below their best and very disappointing to miss the medal stand. They scored 127.32 to place 5th.

Kavaguti/Smirnov will skate at World Team Trophy in mid-April. They have yet to make a decision on whether they will continue next season.

Tarasova/Morozov

In contrast to Kavaguti/Smirnov, Russian teammates Tarasova/Morozov had an excellent showing at Worlds. This team has looked so promising all season, from the first time I saw them at Nebelhorn, and it was so exciting to see them skate well.

Top 6 at their first Worlds  (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Top 6 at their first Worlds (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Their Sarabande Suite SP was terrific. I was worried they would be nervous in their first Worlds, but not so. They opened with their gorgeous, soaring level 4 triple twist, and their throw 3Lp was also amazing. They skated with great speed and amplitude throughout, showing off their line and unison. My favorite part of their SP is the closing step sequence, which they perform with great power and strength. They earned 67.71 and were 6th.

Evgenia/Vladimir put out an equally strong performance in the LP. They landed every element cleanly and skated with great freedom. If they were nervous, it hardly showed. Their triple twist was great; they landed both SBS jumping passes very well. The throws were excellent, with great distance. Vladimir had some slightly scratchy turns on their axel lasso lift, but he held on, and that was virtually the only flaw in the program. Altogether, they did the absolute best they could have in their first Worlds, and I’m so proud of them. (Also, I’m glad that we’ve seen the last of the Lionel Richie muzak program.) The judges were impressed and awarded them a season’s-best 130.75 points. They placed 5th in the LP, 6th overall, and were only .45 behind Kavaguti/Smirnov in total score.

I feel there is no limit to this team’s potential. Their coach Nina Mozer announced that they hope to add the quad twist next year.

Scimeca/Knierim

Alexa/Chris came into Worlds with the goal of 6th place or higher. They fell one place short, so I’m sure they’re not completely happy. But I think they held their own in Shanghai and proved again they’re within striking range of that top group.

Getting closer to the top teams  (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Getting closer to the top teams (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Alexa/Chris were seeded to skate in the final group in the short program. They delivered a fine performance of their Tango de Roxanne SP. Their triple twist was great and received all +2s/+3s. Next, they successfully landed their nemesis element, the SBS 3S. They were slightly off sync, but the element was completed. The SBS spins were okay but also slightly out of sync. They ended the program strongly with a very good, high throw 3F and a lovely level 4 death spiral. Skating in the final group did show some of Alexa/Chris’s weaknesses compared to the top teams. You can see that their positions still need more refinement, their unison needs to be even better, and they can work on getting into the ice deeper for more powerful stroking. Still though, it was a very good program and scored a season’s-best 65.56 to place 7th.

The long program was tough. Alexa/Chris started with a great quad twist. The GOE marks went as high as +3 (although inexplicably, they also received a -1). They scored 9.67 points, and I think by next year, they’ll be scoring above 10.0 on this element. Next they landed SBS 3S, although with a hand down from Alexa. Chris singled the first 2A and stepped out of the second. The landing on the throw 3Lp was stiff, and Alexa again put a hand down. The throw 3F was clean but hesitant. It was not S/K’s best long program, but they held on, stayed with it, and kept the performance level up. The lifts were all great and earned positive GOE. And I love how Alexa really sells this program as much as she can. I think she deserves some bonus points for that smile!

Alexa/Chris scored 120.25 to place 7th in the LP and overall. Not quite what they were hoping for, but still, a nice improvement over their 9th in 2013. It’s also worth noting that Alexa/Chris hit a high total base value in this event—86.32, behind only D/R, S/H, and P/Z. They really have the technical content to be competitive. Now, it’s a matter of getting their presentation and quality up a level higher.

Scimeca/Knierim said they hope to be selected for World Team Trophy.

Seguin/Bilodeau

I had no idea what to expect from Seguin/Bilodeau, considering this was their first-ever senior international competition. I think Julianne/Charlie surprised most people, including me, by skating very well to place 8th overall. I was really impressed with the composure and steadiness of this young team.

Happy to be there  (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Happy to be there (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Julianne/Charlie started with a good outing of their Grand Budapest Hotel SP. Charlie’s landing on the SBS 3S was slightly off, and Julianne had a slight hesitation on the throw 3Lp. But their other elements were good, and the performance was charming. They received hardly any negative GOE and scored 60.53 to place 10th.

Their Peter Gabriel LP was quite good. I didn’t really like this program the first time I saw it, but it’s grown on me. And it’s a great vehicle for Julianne/Charlie at this point in their career. It allows them to show off their speed and elements without requiring too much sophistication or refinement. S/B’s jump elements were strong. The SBS jump passes were both solid (although without much runout on the SBS 2A/2T). The throw jumps were good, too. Julianne/Charlie just go for it on the jumps—they don’t seem nervous or hesitant at all on their entrances. On throws, they don’t get the height or distance of the top teams, but they’re consistent.

What I like most about Julianne/Charlie is how much they seem to enjoy skating together. They smile and look into each other’s eyes a lot; they just seem happy out there. They scored an impressive 117.50 to place 10th in the LP and 8th overall.

The future looks bright for this pair.

James/Cipres

What an interesting event for James/Cipres! They really saved their best for last. After a disappointing season this fall/winter, they finally pulled it together at Worlds in the LP.

Morgan nails the final lift in their LP  (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Morgan nails the final lift in their LP (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Their Tango de Roxanne SP started off with a level 3 triple twist. Vanessa then doubled the SBS 3T, which cost them at least 3 points. The rest of the program was okay. Although I like this music for them, they needed a little more energy in the footwork sequence. Their score was 58.28 for 12th place. It was looking like yet another subpar competition for them.

But then Vanessa/Morgan came out in the LP and laid down their best performance of the entire season. They landed a very strong SBS 3T/2T/2T combo, followed by SBS 3S. Their throw landings were both slightly tentative, but held. The triple twist was one of their better twists this season. Even some of the lifts were good, especially their final lift. This group 3 lift is very challenging—it goes from a rotational to a carry and then Morgan has to sink down to a lunge. This lift has been a problem all season, often receiving negative GOE. But Morgan totally nailed it in Shanghai, and the crowd roared as he came down into their final pose. Vanessa/Morgan are charismatic performers, and although I don’t think this program is the best vehicle for them, this was one of their best performances of it. It was nice to see them finally skate relatively clean. They scored 119.06, pulled up to 8th in the LP and 9th overall, and actually moved up a spot from 10th at Worlds last year. Good for them. I think their experience really came into play here and helped them.

France has qualified for World Team Trophy, so I assume we’ll see James/Cipres at that event.

Astakhova/Rogonov

This was the first Worlds for Astakhova/Rogonov. They did a good job overall to place 10th.

A successful debut  (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

A successful debut (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Kristina/Alexei drew to skate second in the short program. They put out a decent performance of their Nine SP–except for Kristina’s fall on the throw 3F. They also got some negative GOE on the SBS spin. They placed 13th.

Astakhova/Rogonov then came back with a solid performance of their Master and Margarita LP. Their SBS jumps were both pretty good. The level 2 triple twist was low, with Kristina landing on Alexei’s chest. Kristina also landed low on the throw 3F but held on; the throw 3Lp was good. Overall it was a fine performance. They kept up the speed and energy level nicely (not easy with this demanding music), and there were no falls or major mistakes. They earned 118.03 to pull up to 9th in the LP/10th overall.

It was a successful first season for Astakhova/Rogonov.

Marchei/Hotarek

There was a lot of buzz around this new team after their 4th place at Europeans.

Valentina/Ondrej started with another strong performance of their Malaguena SP. Valentina is such a sharp and expressive skater, and she really shines in this Latin program. Overall I felt their performance was more subdued than at Europeans, however, it was still very good. Their SBS 3S were well landed, although slightly out of sync, and the throw 3F had good rotational speed. They again performed only a double twist. The closing footwork sequence is the highlight of this program and was fast, sharp, and very well skated, receiving a level 4 and positive GOE, including one +3. They earned 60.56 points and placed 9th.

Valentina/Ondrej’s La Strada LP got off to a good start. They opened with their impressive SBS 3Lz, followed by throw 3F. They lost sync in both the SBS spins and the SBS 3T/2T/2T and received negative GOE. Still, they were skating well until the final axel lasso lift. Ondrej lost control on the entrance, Valentina did not get above his head, and they got 0.00 for the lift. This cost them at least 6 points, and they fell to 11th in the LP and overall.

I’m sure they’re disappointed with their placement. But the mistake on the lift is exactly the kind of fluke that happens to new teams, and no doubt they’ll be much more consistent next year. They again scored well in both GOE/PCS, making a positive impression on the judges in just their first year.

I think Marchei/Hotarek should be pretty happy with their first season!

Denney/Frazier

Haven/Brandon didn’t have their best performances in Shanghai. However, they did improve on their score from 4CCs, and it was a decent competition for them.

Denney/Frazier in their first Worlds  (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Denney/Frazier in their first Worlds (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Their Godfather short program was good. The opening triple twist was well done, as was the throw 3Lp, but then Haven put a hand down on the SBS 3S. Their SBS spins were only level 2 but well synchronized. Their death spiral got level 4 with positive GOE, which was nice, as this is sometimes a weak element for D/F. I thought they skated the program very well. It could have had even a bit more energy and attack, but it was a good skate, and they placed 8th.

Unfortunately, Haven/Brandon had some problems in their Lion King LP. Brandon doubled the 3S; Haven fell on the first 2A; and they skipped the second 2A. Those errors cost them about 8 points. Haven also landed forward on the throw 3Lp, which decreased their GOE. I felt that Haven/Brandon again skated a bit flat and tight in this long program. It wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t their best. They scored 111.19 and dropped to 12th in the LP/11th overall.

I so much want to see Haven/Brandon just let loose and go for it. Despite the mistakes in Shanghai, they have some great elements. Their lifts, twist, and throw 3S are reliable, strong, and get high scores almost every time. Their spins and death spiral could improve, but they have a solid base, and I hope they can gain confidence this summer with new coach Ingo Steuer. In their pre-Worlds press conference, Haven/Brandon said they’ve worked on the throw quad Salchow and may continue that. Personally, I feel they might be better served concentrating on basics right now—stroking, posture, spins, and, most of all, performance level. Taking more dance, ballet, and acting classes might not be a bad idea. Duhamel/Radford have done all those things–and look where they are now. Denney/Frazier have the goods technically. What they need to keep working on is confidence and the total package.

Ilyuschechkina/Moscovitch

What a thrill it was to see Luba/Dylan at their first Worlds! I’m a huge fan of this pair and really enjoyed their performances. I’m sure their final placement of 13th is not where they want to be. But their problems were the same kind of fluky, first-year issues that plagued Marchei/Hotarek.

Luba/Dylan skate their long program  (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Luba/Dylan skate their long program (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Luba/Dylan had a good SP. Dylan landed forward on the SBS 3S and put a hand down. However, their other elements were pretty strong. They completed the triple twist and earned mostly positive GOE. Luba was slightly forward on the throw 3Lz but held on. The lift was great and got some +2s from the judges. The program was so enjoyable to watch, as always. They earned 60.32 to place 11th.

The first 3 minutes of Luba/Dylan’s From Russia with Love LP were great. They hit their SBS 3T/2T sequence and got almost all +2s. The triple twist was okay; the SBS 3S were well landed. There was a little problem on the throw Lutz takeoff but Luba saved the landing, and the throw 3Lp was really good. But then, things went awry. Luba stumbled on the step after the throw 3Lp, and this seemed to throw off their timing on the difficult cantilever entrance to the death spiral. They got no points on the death spiral. There was also a problem on the final lift, and Luba came down early. Altogether, they lost at least 7 points’ base value in the final minute. OUCH! “Well, that was weird,” said Dylan in the kiss-n-cry. They scored 109.59 and fell to 13th in the LP/overall.

The first 3 minutes of that LP showed what Luba/Dylan are capable of. In the last minute, I think their timing just got off, and they didn’t have the experience/comfort level to recover quickly. It was similar to what happened with Marchei/Hotarek and with Ilinykh/Zhiganshin in the free dance. Luba/Dylan’s LP is choreographically complex, with ambitious, difficult transitions. It’s a high-risk/high-reward program for a new pair, and at Worlds it caught up with them a little.

I’m very proud of Luba for landing all her jumps at Worlds, after having her jumping skills questioned in the past. I also love her fearlessness as a performer. Just a little example of what I mean . . . When you watch pairs in sit spins, you often see the partners staring past each other with glazed expressions. But in Luba/Dylan’s sit spin, Luba looks straight into Dylan’s eyes and strokes his hair, establishing a connection between them. It’s just a little example of how Luba doesn’t hold back in her performance. She really goes for it and puts it all out there, and I love this about her. I already can’t wait to see more of this team next year!

Della Monica/Guarise

A disappointing event for Della Monica/Guarise  (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

A disappointing event for Della Monica/Guarise (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Alas, Nicole/Matteo did not have a great competition.

Their Cinderella SP wasn’t too bad. Nicole spun out of both jump landings, but the other elements were fine, and it was a nice, smooth performance. They earned 54.48 to place 14th.

However, their Mask of Zorro LP was a mess. Nicole fell on 2 jumps and two-footed the throw 3S. Also both of them stepped out of the SBS 3S. The other elements weren’t bad, but all the mistakes definitely detracted. They scored 97.29, ten points off their LP score at Euros, and were 14th overall.

I would not be surprised to see a coaching change for this pair in the offseason.

Vartmann/VanCleave

This was the last competition for Mari/Aaron. Reportedly, she has already started training with Ruben Blommaert and only practiced with Aaron for a week or two prior to this event. Nonetheless, they had one of their better competitions together. They made it through the long program without any falls—that in itself was a victory for this team! They finished 14th in the LP/15th overall.

Fancy/Boyadji

It was a bit of a surprise to see this British team in the final 16. Their best element was probably their SBS 2A/2A sequence in the LP. They also landed the throw 3S in both programs. However, their skating lacks speed, polish, and sophistication. They finished 16th but were 17+ points behind Vartmann/VanCleave.

Teams that Missed the Long Program

I was surprised to see Ziegler/Kiefer miss the long program. They finished well above Fancy/Boyadji at Europeans, so I’m not sure what happened here. Miriam fell on the SBS 3S in the SP, but their PCS score was also below Fancy/Boyadji’s, which I didn’t quite understand.

Paliakova/Bochkov had a number of minor errors in the SP and again got low PCS.

Takahashi/Kihara placed last in the SP with mistakes on both jumps and the double twist. They announced their split right after Worlds. Both will look for new partners.

Wrap-up

Well, I hope I haven’t exhausted everyone with this long review of the pairs event! There was a lot to talk about, though. I thought it was a great season overall for the pairs, and Worlds was a satisfying conclusion. Already, I can’t wait until next year! 🙂

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