The Grand Prix season finally got underway this weekend at Skate America! It was an exciting event–especially because I was there in Milwaukee to see it live! Skate America is the first Grand Prix event I’ve ever attended, and it was so much fun. It was a whirlwind 2 days of constant practices/competition, and I enjoyed every minute of it! I’m going to try and do several blog posts to share my impressions (noting what looked different live vs. on video).
First, let’s look at the pairs event in Milwaukee. This event was a tale of two different competitions. The pairs skated very well in the short program, but the long program was a different story, and not a good one in many cases!
Sui/Han won their first Grand Prix gold medal in Milwaukee. It was a solid victory, and they had a 10-point lead on the rest of the field. That said, Sui/Han are capable of much more than what they showed in Milwaukee.
Wenjing/Cong’s Spanish Romance SP was marred by a missed transition on the combination spin. They earned no points for the spin and, as a result, were in second place after the SP. The rest of the program was fine. But seeing it live in the arena, their speed/amplitude was a little less than I had expected, and overall it was good but not great.
Their Samson & Delilah LP started with a very nice quad twist that earned +2s/+3s. Next came their SBS 3T/2T/2T combo. They landed the combo but with almost no runout. Sui/Han then opted not to try the throw quad Salchow, which they had landed at the Chinese test skates, going for throw 3S instead. Cong Han later had a hard fall on the SBS 3S, which disrupted the program. They recovered with an amazing throw 3F, which received a perfect score (straight +3s). All in all, it was another good but imperfect performance from Sui/Han.
Their new Samson & Delilah SP is dramatic and has lots of lovely, interesting transitional moves. And Wenjing, in particular, is looking terrific with her new sassy, short haircut and shimmery blue LP dress. I think Sui/Han’s packaging is strong this year, but it seems like they are not in peak condition yet. They didn’t look quite as sharp and fast in Milwaukee as I was expecting. I think they’ll want to work on their conditioning and performance level prior to Cup of China and the GP Final.
On the plus side, Sui/Han had easily the best lifts in the competition at Skate America. All their lifts are complex and have great ice coverage and smooth transitions. Watching them live, they really were in a class by themselves with lifts and got almost all +2s/+3s for their lifts in the long program.
Next: Cup of China, in 2 weeks.
This competition was a breakthrough for Alexa/Chris; They earned their first-ever GP medal! The competition was, at once, both a great success for them and yet also a bit disappointing, as they had 3 falls in the long program.
Alexa/Chris got off to a great start, winning the SP with an exciting performance. Their Metallica SP is straightforward and high-energy and suits Alexa/Chris’s athletic style. The construction of the program is interesting: It began with a back outside death spiral, which caught the audience’s attention and earned mostly +2s. Next came the high-risk jump elements. Alexa/Chris punched out this section well, hitting a high triple twist and strong throw 3F. The only mistake was Chris putting a hand down on the SBS 3S. The program concluded with their step sequence/combo spin, which was improved over Nebelhorn but still could use more speed/energy. The audience loved it, though, and overall it was a terrific program. They earned level 4 on all elements except the twist for a new personal-best SP score of 69.69. Oh, and Alexa rocked her black catsuit! 🙂
Going into the LP, Alexa/Chris were in first place, a new position for them internationally. Unfortunately, the nerves showed in their LP. Both fell on the SBS 3S, and Chris fell on the SBS 3T. But there was still a lot of strong content. They landed the quad twist and a very strong throw 3F. Their lifts weren’t quite as good as usual but still earned positive GOE. Their PCS was also good: 63.14. I think Alexa/Chris’s new LP to Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a good vehicle for them. The music is strong and dramatic, which brings out more intensity and purpose in their skating. They can still work on their expression, but I think they’re on the right track.
What stood out to me, seeing Alexa/Chris live, is the bigness of their skating. They’re a relatively tall team, and this enhances their presence on the ice. Their lifts are higher than anyone else’s, their twist is huge, and they have a charisma that’s more noticeable live than on video.
Did Alexa/Chris miss an opportunity to win here? Hard to say. Their previous personal-best LP score, had they duplicated it, still wouldn’t have beat Sui/Han. Ultimately, I think winning the silver medal is a victory on its own and hopefully, the whole experience will help them be better prepared in the future. Step by step and competition by competition, they continue to get closer to the top pairs in the world. The Grand Prix Final is now a real possibility, but they’ll need their absolute best at NHK. They have to start putting those nerves aside and skate full out. Nothing less will cut it in Japan. Fortunately, they have another event beforehand to help them gain confidence.
Next: Ice Challenge (Challenger Series), next week in Austria, then NHK Trophy
After a rough outing at Nebelhorn, Julianne/Charlie came back with a much stronger performance to win their first Grand Prix medal.
They opened with a good SP that included excellent SBS 3Ss and a very nice death spiral. Their step sequence was also well done, earning many +2s, and they placed 4th. I have mixed feelings about their new Cirque du Soleil SP. The intricate choreography and quick tempo show off their speed, and yet the music is so bouncy and happy that it feels a little juvenile compared to the top teams. It accentuates S/B’s youth and perk, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I love the originality, though.
Julianne/Charlie followed with a very good skate in the LP. Their triple twist is higher this year and earned positive GOE. Their SBS jumps were pretty good. Julianne put a hand down on the throw 3F, but the throw 3Lp had excellent distance and got +2s. I’m enjoying their A Whiter Shade of Pale LP. The choreography really builds at the end of the program, matching the swell of the music, and the whole package is very effective. I love that this team is trying out different music and choreographic styles and avoiding typical warhorse programs. It works for them and helps them stand out. Julianne/Charlie placed 3rd in the LP and overall to win an unexpected bronze medal.
Seeing them live, I was struck by how good Seguin/Bilodeau’s basic skating skills are. Their speed and edges are excellent. It’s exciting just to watch them stroke around the ice on practice; they’re wonderfully fast and secure over their feet. What they need to work on is lifts. Julianne’s positions need refinement and better extension, and Charlie’s speed in his turns could be better. However, the judges are already giving them +1s and +2s on lifts, so I don’t know how motivated S/B will be to improve. 🙂
Next: Trophee Eric Bompard, in 3 weeks
The biggest story of this event was Stolbova/Klimov finishing off the podium. I don’t think anyone saw that coming.
The problems started right away in their “I Put a Spell on You” SP. Stolbova/Klimov’s opening triple twist was very low and crashy; they received GOE marks as low as -3. The SBS 3Ts were good, but then Ksenia fell on the throw 3Lz. Clearly rattled, she slipped during the step sequence, and even the lift was a bit shaky. This slow-burn, sultry program has lots of potential, and should score well with a cleaner performance. The Olympic silver medalists finished this segment in 5th place.
Stolbova/Klimov rallied to start the LP in stronger fashion. The twist was better, and they landed their big new element: SBS 3T/3T/2T. This combo earned 10.30 points and was the highest-scoring element in the whole event. But then problems crept back in. Ksenia stepped out of the throw 3S and fell on the SBS 3S (another new element); also their SBS spins were too close and off sync. Their new program to The Unknown Known is moody and intense, but it’s going to require clean skating to have the proper effect. Their PCS was strong (64.29) and they were 2nd in the LP, but only 4th overall.
Ksenia/Fedor’s result here was kind of shocking. The odd thing is, their basic skating looked as good as ever. Watching them live, I was really impressed with their unison, speed, power, and partnering skills. Ksenia, in particular, is a striking figure. My eye was constantly drawn to her in warmups and practice. I don’t think there is another female pairs skater in the world who carves and works the ice like Stolbova (except perhaps Marissa Castelli). Her new short haircut matches the aggressiveness of her skating. And her costumes are just as bold!! The black SP costume, cut down to her lower waist in the back, was stunning and attention-getting, to say the least.
For his part, Fedor looked a bit solemn in warmups and practice, and given the problems on their twist and even the lifts, I can see why. Several times during practice, he worked on his throwing motion for the twist, as if it were not coming naturally right now. He and Ksenia skated apart for at least half the time during practices/warmups. I’ve never seen them in competition before, so this may be their regular practice, and not a sign of tensions. When they do join hands, the skill is still very much there, but something just seems to be off with their timing, confidence, and/or comfort level.
For Stolbova/Klimov, the good news here was landing their new SBS 3T/3T/2T. If this element becomes consistent, it will be a major weapon for them. They had the highest base value in the LP, due to the combo and five level 4 elements, so that’s encouraging. One thing they can work on is lifts. Seeing them in person, Stolbova/Klimov’s lifts lack a bit in ice coverage (in part, I think, because they don’t incorporate any carries), and also Fedor’s footwork didn’t look quite as strong as in the past.
So, things to work on. I hope Stolbova/Klimov can sort it all out, because seeing them live reminded me of how much they have to offer this sport.
Next: Rostelecom Cup, in 4 weeks
This was Wang/Wang’s first international competition in 10 months, and the rust showed.
Things started off well enough in the SP. The highlight was their excellent throw 3Lp, which had a gorgeous, smooth landing and earned up to +3. Their lift was also lovely, with great coverage. Wang/Wang are repeating their “Romance” SP from last year; it’s a lovely, gentle program and suits their style perfectly. They placed 3rd.
Unfortunately, Wang/Wang had quite a few problems in their My Fair Lady LP (also repeated). They doubled both SBS jumps, and Xuehan fell on both throws. The triple twist was excellent, though, and the lifts were good. They fell to 6th in this segment/5th overall.
I enjoyed watching Wang/Wang live. Their pairs elements are strong, and Xuehan has such a radiant presence. That said, they do lack power and deep edges in their skating. I think Wang/Wang really need more experience on the international stage. Two competitions a year just isn’t enough for them to grow and develop the way they need to. I would like to see the Chinese federation send them to a couple senior B events next year; I think it would help. The way things stand now, they are on course for a disappointing season compared to last year’s 2 GP bronze medals.
Next: Cup of China
It was a disappointing event for Tarah/Danny as well, especially following their victory last month at U.S. International Classic.
They presented their Espana Cani SP well, with a nice step sequence and lots of choreographic flourishes. However, the elements were problematic. The triple twist almost didn’t get off the ice and received all negative GOE. Tarah had to put both hands down on the throw 3F, and the death spiral was not low enough. They were 6th.
Things didn’t get much better in their Phantom of the Opera LP. The opening twist had a Tano position but was low and crashy. Tarah fell on the SBS 3S and throw quad Salchow, and both elements were underrotated. The SBS 2A/2A sequence was good, and there was an exciting choreo lift into the throw 3Lz, but the actual throw itself was a bit small and two-footed. They ended with a good lift that tied in nicely to the music, but placed 5th in the LP/6th overall.
The good news for Tarah/Danny is their base value was higher than some of the other teams, which kept them a little higher in the standings. However, I’m concerned that they may be going for too much difficulty with the throw quad. What they’re gaining in base value, they’re giving up in GOE. They were the only team in this event with negative GOE overall in both programs. Tarah/Danny are still working to build a reputation internationally; the way to do that is with consistent, good-quality performances, not a lot of failed jump attempts.
Their programs this season are fine, and they interpret them well as always, but I’d like to see them try something more innovative and interesting. In their fourth year as a pair, I think Tarah/Danny are capable of stronger material than they have right now.
Next: Rostelecom Cup, in 4 weeks
I was surprised to see Astakhova/Rogonov place so low here, especially after almost winning at Ondrej Nepela a few weeks ago.
Their short program to The Artist was okay. They hit very good SBS 3Ss, but the throw 3Lz was small and 2-footed. The step sequence at the end was wonderfully choreographed and performed, but they placed 7th.
In their “puppet master” long program, they lost 7+ points when the first lift failed. They also doubled the SBS 3S, and Alexei stepped out of the 3T in their jump combo. The real problem with both programs, though, is they didn’t get much positive GOE on any of their elements. Also, they didn’t hit their levels. They only had two level 4 elements in the whole event, whereas many pairs had 4 or 5 in the LP alone.
It’s really too bad, because their programs this year are so interesting. The choreography is stunning and the costumes wonderful. Watching them live, they definitely have that trademark Russian attack, power, and polish. But Kristina/Alexei need to bring up the quality of their technical elements.
Next: Cup of China, in 2 weeks
This was the Grand Prix debut for this new American pair, who have been together less than a year.
Pfund/Santillan put out a very nice, lyrical short program to “Gravity.” Their SBS 3Ss were excellent, very close together and perfectly synchronized. Their throw 3Lz looked slightly two-footed, and the lift was a bit slow. But they had nice performance quality throughout. They placed 8th.
Their Prince Igor/Polovtsian Dances LP was really strong, especially for a new pair. They stayed focused throughout and landed all their major jump elements cleanly. They do need to work on lifts a bit; their lift entrances are labored and the speed slow. Hopefully, this is just a matter of practice and timing. They also need to work on skating skills, which are a little weak compared to the top teams. But they have a nice look together and good musicality. Polovtsian Dances is very “big” music and often overwhelms skaters, but I thought they kept up well with the pace and intensity. They placed 7th in the LP/8th overall. The future looks promising for this new pair.
Next: U.S. Nationals (I think)
The pairs event at Skate America started strongly but fell off a bit in the LP. Some of these pairs have quite a bit to work on before their next events; it’ll be interesting to see how they respond. Meanwhile, the Grand Prix series continues next week with Skate Canada, where we’ll see Duhamel/Radford for the first time. Should be interesting!!