Best, Most & Worst of Pairs 2015

Now that the season is over, I decided to put together my own idiosyncratic list of the Best, Most & Worst of Pairs 2015. Fair warning: My choices here are totally unscientific and quite subjective!! So, feel free to disagree! 🙂

PAIR of the YEAR: Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford

It was their year

It was their year

No surprise here: I don’t think anyone could deny that Meagan & Eric completely dominated this season in pairs. Not only did they win Worlds, they also won every other competition they entered (except, unofficially, World Team Trophy). And they frequently won in dominating fashion, by a large margin. No one was able to really challenge them all season. So they are my Pair of the Year.

PAIRS COACH of the YEAR: Hongbo Zhao

Hongbo Zhao

Hongbo Zhao with student Cong Han

What a year it was for Hongbo Zhao, 2010 Olympic pairs champion and leader of the Chinese pairs program. Zhao had 4 pairs compete on the senior Grand Prix, more than any other coach. His pairs won a total of 9 GP medals, 1 Junior World medal, 1 4CC medal, and 1 World medal. And not only did they get results, they were exciting and fun to watch! Under Zhao’s direction, the Chinese pairs are truly moving the sport forward with a combination of innovative, artistically satisfying programs and huge, high-quality pairs elements. The one and only thing missing this year? World gold. You know that will be in the plan for next season.

MOST IMPROVED

GOLD Duhamel/Radford It seems odd to name Meagan/Eric “most improved” when they were already reigning World bronze medalists at the start of the season. But they really did improve so much from last year. Technically, obviously they added the throw quad Salchow. But their SBS 3Lz also got much stronger; the unison on this element has improved tremendously. Their triple twist looked higher. And artistically, this year’s Muse LP fit them so much better than last year’s Alice LP (as they themselves discussed in their TSL interview). Finally, I want to make note of what a great job Meagan/Eric did with their levels. In their short programs this year, they consistently got level 4s on every element except the twist. They did almost as well in their long programs. Occasionally they’d drop to a level 3 or 2 for an isolated element here or there, but for the most part, it was level 4s all the way. This doesn’t sound that exciting, but it’s actually quite hard to do—even the top Russian and Chinese teams often get level 3s on elements. No other pair this season consistently got as many level 4s as D/R did. It makes a big difference in the scores and was probably just as key to their victories as the quad throw.

Sui/Han

Sui/Han break through

SILVER Sui/Han During the GP, I wrote of how impressed I was with the improvement of this pair. In the past I was never a fan of theirs, but this season converted me. They always had the big tricks, but now they’ve added maturity, emotion, and more smoothness to their skating. I really, really respect the work they’ve done. Their classical LP this season, totally outside their usual style, was a big risk but paid off hugely.

BRONZE Fields/Stevens The improvement this junior team made in just a few short months, from U.S. Sectionals to Junior Worlds, was pretty amazing.

BEST SET of PROGRAMS

GOLD Kavaguti/Smirnov Not just one, but both, of Kavaguti/Smirnov’s programs this year were masterpieces. Their Manfred Symphony LP was acclaimed and is certainly one of the best pairs LPs of the past 10 years. And although Meditation from Thais has been done so many times, I found Yuko/Sasha’s SP version enchanting. The delicate beauty of this program perfectly matched Yuko’s ethereal style on the ice. Major kudos to Peter Tchernyshev and Tamara Moskvina for creating these wonderful programs!

Peng/Zhang

Peng/Zhang: Intriguing and innovative programs

SILVER Peng/Zhang I was fascinated by Peng/Zhang’s unusual, intricate programs from the first moment I saw them. I loved the innovative music choices and precise, detailed choreography. I’m going to really miss these programs, especially the ominous Shostakovich LP, which is so different from anything else I’ve seen in recent years.

BRONZE Ilyuschechkina/Moscovitch Luba/Dylan’s programs this season were unusually personal and emotionally revealing for competitive programs. They weren’t portraying characters; they were really sharing a part of themselves and their story. I loved it.

BEST PERFORMANCE in LONG PROGRAM

GOLD Duhamel/Radford at Canadian Nationals D/R had bigger wins at GP Final and Worlds, but I thought their best performance of the Muse LP came at Canadian Nationals. The program was almost entirely clean (the only mistake being a singled 2T), and I felt Meagan/Eric skated with more speed and freedom at Canadians than anywhere else.

Sui/Han: Emotional after their long program at Worlds

Sui/Han: Emotional after their long program at Worlds

SILVER Sui/Han at Worlds This program really had everything–amazing, clean, big elements; really interesting, different transitional moves; and most of all, emotional intensity. I felt like Sui/Han were so emotionally present in this program, just giving it everything they had.

BRONZE Peng/Zhang at Worlds This was the best performance all year of this fascinating LP. Again, it just had everything for me. This is a program I’ll watch many, many times.

FOURTH Kavaguti/Smirnov at Skate America Technically, this was K/S’s best performance of Manfred Symphony and their highest-scoring LP of the season. (Artistically, though, I actually preferred their Europeans LP—they felt more fully at ease with the program by Euros, and their expression was wonderful.)

FIFTH Stolbova/Klimov at Rostelecom Cup Ksenia/Fedor’s LP at Rostelecom was a stunning display of high-speed, technically proficient, extremely accomplished pairs skating. They rocked the house at Rostelecom and got a big ovation from the home crowd. At that early point in the season, Ksenia/Fedor looked so prepared and confident that what happened later on was all the more surprising.

BEST PERFORMANCE in SHORT PROGRAM

GOLD Kavaguti/Smirnov at Worlds This may not have been the highest-scoring SP of the season, but it’s the one I enjoyed the most. Just simply beautiful. Their Euros SP was also magnificent.

Tarasova/Morozov in their Worlds SP

Tarasova/Morozov skate their Worlds SP (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

SILVER Tarasova/Morozov at Worlds For me personally, this was the most exciting SP of the entire season. The speed and power that T/M showed in this program—the attack they had going into every element—amazed me. The sheer virtuosity of their skating is exhilarating.

BRONZE Pang/Tong at Worlds Pang/Tong’s Moonflower SP at Worlds was just lovely. The elements were woven so seamlessly into the choreography, it was like they weren’t even competing at all.

FOURTH Duhamel/Radford at Worlds Just an excellent short program that showed off their skating at its best.

FIFTH Sui/Han at Worlds I loved the way they tapped into the energy of the home crowd and had everyone clapping!

BY the NUMBERS: HIGHEST-SCORING ELEMENTS of the SEASON

Note: These numbers are from Grand Prix and major ISU championships only (no senior Bs/nationals)

QUAD TWIST Peng/Zhang in 4CCs LP: 10.67 points

TRIPLE TWIST Tarasova/Morozov in Rostelecom LP: 8.20 points

QUAD THROW Kavaguti/Smirnov in Europeans LP: 9.00 points

TRIPLE THROW Sui/Han throw triple flip in WTT LP: 7.50 points

LIFT Pang/Tong Group 5 reverse lift in 4CCs LP: 8.70 points

BEST COMEBACK PERFORMANCE

Kavaguti/Smirnov win Europeans

Kavaguti/Smirnov win Europeans

GOLD Kavaguti/Smirnov at Europeans It was great to see Kavaguti/Smirnov rebound to win Europeans after a tough stretch during which they placed 2nd at NHK, 6th/last at GP Final, and only 3rd at Russians.

SILVER James/Cipres at Worlds After a very rocky season, I was happy to see James/Cipres skate well in the long program at Worlds. Their performance came out of nowhere, which made it all the more impressive.

BRONZE Scimeca/Knierim at TEB Alexa/Chris had a tough start to their season, with a lot of falls in their first 3 events. It was so great to see them come back and finally skate an almost-clean LP at TEB! This was the springboard to a much more successful second half of the season for them.

MOST EXCITING FIRST-YEAR SENIOR PAIR

GOLD (tie) Yu/Jin and Tarasova/Morozov I can’t choose between these teams. Both made such a big impression in their first year as seniors. Yu/Jin made the GP Final and won their second junior world title. Tarasova/Morozov had an incredible debut at Worlds, placing 5th in LP/6th overall. I absolutely love both these teams. What’s interesting is how different they are. Yu/Jin float lightly over the ice; Tarasova/Morozov dig in to generate power. Ultimately, Tarasova/Morozov have stronger skating skills, stronger basics, but Yu/Jin are more consistent. And it was Yu/Jin’s programs and their unique, enigmatic chemistry that fascinated me this season.

Yu/Jin:  I can't wait to see more  (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Yu/Jin: I can’t wait to see more (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

BRONZE Seguin/Bilodeau Another team with strong skating skills and great results: 8th in their first senior Worlds!

MOST EXCITING NEW SENIOR PAIR

I think everyone has their own personal favorites out of all the new pairs! These are just my picks:

Luba and Dylan at Four Continents (EFE/EPA/Jeon Heon-Kyun)

Luba and Dylan at Four Continents (EFE/EPA/Jeon Heon-Kyun)

GOLD Ilyuschechkina/Moscovitch The chemistry, creativity, and maturity of this team make them the most exciting for me.

SILVER Marchei/Hotarek Valentina’s vitality and charisma is combining in a very interesting way with Ondrej’s technical skill and consistency as a pairs partner.

BRONZE Castelli/Tran It hadn’t fully come together yet by U.S. Nationals, but I still really like the potential of this pair. Their skating skills are at such a high level.

FOURTH Bazarova/Deputat I love their dreamy elegance. Now, if they can just get the technique more solid!

FIFTH Astakhova/Rogonov They are strong, consistent competitors.

MOST EXCITING JUNIOR PAIR

Fields/Stevens I really like this team. I’m so impressed that they can already pull off big, fast, challenging music like Nostradamus and Don Quixote. Most young teams would be overwhelmed, but not these two. They just go for it! I find their level of expression/presentation a lot higher than most young pairs.

BEST MOMENTS for U.S. PAIRS

Scimeca/Knierim land the quad twist at U.S. Nationals (Jay Adeff)

Scimeca/Knierim: The quad twist at U.S. Nationals (Jay Adeff)

GOLD Scimeca/Knierim land quad twist and win Nationals Alexa/Chris announced one week before Nationals that they had the quad twist and would try it in Greensboro. Almost no one knew they were even working on this element, so this was a huge surprise (and a brilliant PR move). They landed it and won Nationals. What’s exciting about S/K adding the quad twist is it signifies the intent, desire, and ability to play with the big boys & girls in pairs skating. So often in the last 10 or 15 years, American pairs have settled for respectable but mediocre results. Scimeca/Knierim want more, and I love it.

SILVER Denney/Frazier win silver at Skate America Haven/Brandon made a big splash when they won silver at Skate America this fall. It was the best Grand Prix finish by a U.S. pair in 6 years. More importantly, they won the medal with two great performances. Their long program was a hit, and they showed a new level of detail and maturity, while skating with a lot of freedom and abandon. Haven/Brandon were not able to maintain that same level for the rest of the season, but Skate America showed what they’re capable of. Let’s hope they can get back to that level after Haven returns from knee surgery. (I’m really sad about her injury.)

BRONZE Kayne/O’Shea return to win bronze at Nationals It was a difficult comeback for Tarah/Danny after Tarah’s hip labrum surgery. However, they skated so well at Nationals, winning the hearts of many with two emotional, triumphant performances and also winning their first medal at Nationals.

PEWTER Castelli/Tran place 3rd in Nationals SP I loved Marissa/Mervin’s sultry Summertime SP at Nationals.

WORST of the SEASON

Stolbova/Klimov:  What went wrong?

Stolbova/Klimov: What went wrong?

The biggest negative news was Stolbova/Klimov dropping out of Worlds. It’s still unclear why this happened, and the decision didn’t come without a price. Skipping Worlds cost Stolbova/Klimov: 1) A guaranteed second GP spot next year, if they had placed top 12 at Worlds; 2) Favorable seeding in the Grand Prix next year, if they had placed well; 3) Between $15,000 and $67,000 in Worlds prize money, if they had placed top 5; and 4) About $40,000 in World Team Trophy prize money, if they were the top-finishing Russian team at Worlds and appointed to WTT. Not only that, Stolbova/Klimov also lost momentum. They started this season as reigning Olympic/World silver medalists and early favorites to win Worlds. Now they will enter next season as just one of 4 top Russian teams (along with V/T, K/S, T/M) vying for dominance. When you look at all this, their decision seems as inexplicable as ever.

My other main gripe about this season: France still has not released Bruno Massot!! Something clearly needs to be done. We need Aliona Savchenko back in competition! 🙂

BEST COSTUMES

This is figure skating, so of course we have to talk about costumes. Everyone has their own taste, but these are my personal picks for best costumes this season:

Pang/Tong: So elegant

Pang/Tong: So elegant

GOLD Pang/Tong’s Moonflower SP These costumes were the best of the season for me, hands down. I loved the beautiful dark blue color and the simplicity. These costumes were elegant, classy, and mature—just like the couple who wore them.

James/Cipres bring the heat

James/Cipres bring the heat

SILVER James/Cipres’s Tango de Roxanne SP Truthfully, this pair looks great in just about anything. But these sexy red-and-black costumes, with matching plunging necklines, made them look even hotter than usual.

Yuko:  Lovely in light blue

Yuko: Lovely in light blue

BRONZE Kavaguti/Smirnov’s Meditation from Thais SP Beautiful costumes for a beautiful program. I especially loved the light blue jewelled dress on Yuko. The long layered skirt was pretty and matched the romantic mood of the music.

A dramatic look for Haven/Brandon  (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

A dramatic look for Haven/Brandon (Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images AsiaPac)

FOURTH Denney/Frazier Godfather SP These costumes were flattering, matched the music well, and gave Haven/Brandon a sophisticated, grown-up look. The bright red dress was gorgeous on Haven, with her dark hair and eyes.

Denney/Frazier: Best dressed this year? (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)

Denney/Frazier: Best dressed? (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)

FIFTH Denney/Frazier The Lion King LP I liked how these costumes evoked the African theme of the music in a subtle, tasteful way (without going over the top like Florent Amodio’s LP costume). The ivory cream color was different and interesting; the neckline beading was lovely. And the slashes at the bottom of Haven’s skirt and Brandon’s shirt gave the costumes a flowing feel that seemed to enhance their movement on the ice.

WRAP-UP

It was a great season in pairs, with so many wonderful moments! Now, we wait for new program announcements, Grand Prix assignments, and videos from shows/galas. Hopefully the off-season will go by quickly!! 🙂

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One Response to Best, Most & Worst of Pairs 2015

  1. Pingback: Best, Most & Worst of Pairs: 2016-17 | A Divine Sport

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