Rostelecom Cup 2015: Pairs Review

The Grand Prix got back on track this week with Rostelecom Cup in Russia.

Rostelecom is a fun event because it usually draws a big and enthusiastic crowd. Plus, there’s always a lot of famous skating stars in the audience, which makes for fun reaction shots. As often happens, the Russian pairs dominated this year’s event at Rostelecom, finishing 1-2-5.

However, for me, the most exciting pairs skating of the week took place not at Rostelecom, but at Tallinn Trophy in Estonia. Former World champion Aliona Savchenko returned to competition at this event with her new partner, Bruno Massot. It was certainly the most exciting and promising debut for a new pair since Volosozhar/Trankov in 2011.

Let’s take a look at all the action this week.

Rostelecom Cup

Rostelecom-podium

Rostelecom-results

Stolbova/Klimov

Stolbova/Klimov took gold at Rostelecom and are getting back into form after a disappointing 4th-place finish at Skate America. In Milwaukee, Stolbova/Klimov’s timing and coordination seemed quite off. But it’s all starting to come back now. This was the best they’ve skated since Europeans last season.

Stolbova-Klimov-3

Stolbova/Klimov: Getting back into form (AFP)

Ksenia/Fedor started with a strong performance to “I Put a Spell on You.” The program featured a great throw 3F, good SBS 3Ts, and a very good step sequence that earned level 4 and +2s. This program is just tailor-made for Ksenia; it shows off her sexiness, attitude, and skating skills to perfection. I would like to see a little more connection between her and Fedor. But it was very good and Ksenia/Fedor earned 75.45 … the highest SP score on the Grand Prix so far this season.

I felt this score was a wee bit inflated. Ksenia/Fedor’s triple twist was not the strongest; Ksenia was almost on the ice before Fedor caught her. Also, the program was good but still needs a bit more speed IMO.

Stolbova/Klimov’s LP was not perfect, but much improved over Skate America. Their opening triple twist was better than in the SP. They again attempted their new SBS 3T/3T/2T combo, but Ksenia underrotated the second triple and singled the last jump. However, they came back strong with a throw 3S that was exceptionally fast and secure and earned almost straight +3s. Ksenia spun out of the SBS 3S, and the lifts were still a bit scratchy in spots. On replay, the throw 3F looked slightly 2-footed, yet still earned mostly +1s. A highlight was the SBS spins, which were perfectly synchronized and very effective. Technically, there are still some things to clean up. However, the overall effect of the program was strong, simply because Ksenia/Fedor’s basic skating is so good. Their speed, edges, power, were all a level above the other pairs. And their long program to The Unknown Known is starting to come together. It’s intriguing, moody, and edgy.

Last spring in my blog post about Stolbova/Klimov’s withdrawal from Worlds, I talked about three key ways they could improve this season: 1) Add new SBS jumps, 2) Add a quad throw, 3) Get better programs. They are accomplishing 1) and 3). Their new SBS 3T/3T/2T combo isn’t consistent yet, but it’s getting there. And their programs are much better suited to their style than last year’s, in my opinion. They’re making progress, and this win should give them a confidence boost.

Next: Stolbova/Klimov are now 3rd in the Grand Prix standings and will likely qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

Kavaguti/Smirnov

The veteran team followed up their gold medal at Cup of China with a silver medal at Rostelecom. (And Yuko also celebrated her 34th birthday during the event!)

FSKATE-GRAND PRIX-PAIRS

Yuko/Sasha win silver  (YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Yuko/Sasha had another lovely performance in the short program. They again landed strong SBS 3Ts, earning several +2s. The SBS jumps have been tough for Yuko/Sasha the last few years, so I’m really happy to see them landing the SBSs more consistently this season. Their triple twist, throw 3Lp, and combo spin were also well done. The only problem came with the opening death spiral, which received level 1, costing them about 1.5 points in base value. Otherwise, the program was wonderful, and they placed a strong 2nd.

Unfortunately, Yuko/Sasha could not maintain this standard in their Manfred Symphony LP. They opened with 2 good sets of SBS jumps. However, Yuko stepped out of the throw 4S, then 2-footed and fell on the throw 4Lp. The rest of the elements were completed but not with the best speed or quality. Overall the performance was a bit sloppy, and their final score was about 7 points off what they earned at Cup of China. Still, it was enough for silver. With their medal here, Kavaguti/Smirnov earned a spot in the Grand Prix Final.

Next: Grand Prix Final

Peng/Zhang

Peng/Zhang finished a distant third at Rostelecom, almost 15 points behind the Russian teams; certainly not the outcome they were looking for in their first full event of the season.

Peng-Zhang-TEB

Peng/Zhang: Not a great start to their season

Everything started well in their Come Together SP. The opening death spiral and throw 3Lp were excellent and earned +2s/+3s; they also landed the oft-troublesome SBS 3Ts. All was looking good, but then Cheng Peng fell on forward crossovers heading toward the triple twist. They completed the twist but earned only level 1, and the program ended flatly. I was disappointed because I really love this short program. The music is sharp and interesting, the choreography is good, and potentially it’s a great package. But Peng/Zhang have not yet skated it the way they need to. They placed 3rd.

Peng/Zhang were unable to pull up in their Pearl Fishers LP. There were a number of technical problems in the first half of the program. The quad twist was clearly underrotated on replay (although they avoided receiving -GOE). They landed the SBS 3T/2T combo, but then Cheng Peng fell hard on the throw quad Salchow attempt and stepped out of the throw 3Lp. Lifts and spins were pretty good, and they kept up the performance level as much as possible, but it was not a great debut of their new LP. The mistakes made it hard to get much impression of the program; it seems a bit heavy and histrionic for Peng/Zhang, who IMO excel at interpreting more subtle, restrained music.They earned 124.94 for 3rd place (but were only about 2.5 points ahead of Americans Kayne/O’Shea in the LP).

It’s been a very rocky start to the season for Peng/Zhang. Following their disappointing short program at TEB last week, the team returned to China and then flew to Moscow for this event. I don’t know if the travel exhausted them or if there are other factors involved, but either way, their performance was much below their usual standard, and they will probably not make it to the Grand Prix Final. Something seems off; their timing on lifts, transitions, and footwork is not as smooth as normal. And Cheng Peng has been looking quite unhappy in the kiss-n-cry—which makes me sad, as I’m a tremendous fan of hers. 😦 I hope their season improves from here.

Next: Uncertain. Probably Chinese Nationals or 4CCs.

Kayne/O’Shea

Tarah/Danny had a strong showing in the long program to unexpectedly take 4th place at this event.

Kayne-O'Shea

Kayne/O’Shea:  Making a statement

Kayne/O’Shea’s Espana Cani SP was somewhat tentative. Their triple twist was low/crashy; Tarah spun out of the SBS 3S; and the throw 3Lz was 2-footed. All three elements got negative GOE, and Tarah/Danny only had one level 4 element (the lift). They did their best to sell the Spanish-themed program, but were 6th in what seemed like a continuation of their troubles from Skate America.

However, Tarah/Danny then stormed back in their POTO long program and put out their best skate of the season so far. They opened with a better triple twist, followed by a strong set of SBS 3Ss that were close and in sync. Tarah/Danny chose to go for throw triple Salchow here (instead of the throw quad they tried at Skate America). I think this was smart; they earned all positive GOE for a total of 5.50 on the element (as opposed to 2.70 for the failed quad at SA), plus there was no disruption to the program. Tarah did have a small stepout on the second SBS 2A and the throw 3Lz was 2-footed. However, the SBS spins and lifts were quite strong. Tarah/Danny maintained good speed and presented the program well, with full commitment to the choreography. Although there are still things to work on, it was a clutch performance for them. They earned a personal-best 122.45 to jump into 4th place.

I think Tarah/Danny did exactly what they needed to here. They showed the international judges that they can put out a well-rounded program with good elements, and they showed they are solid contenders heading toward U.S. Nationals. Tarah/Danny’s Rostelecom LP score is the highest of the season among U.S. pairs (just slightly above Scimeca/Knierim’s 122.28 at SA). So they are well positioned.

Next: Golden Spin of Zagreb (Dec. 2-5). At thisevent, Kayne/O’Shea will meet U.S. rivals Castelli/Tran, as well as Savchenko/Massot and three strong Russian pairs.

Zabijako/Enbert

This was the Grand Prix debut for Zabijako/Enbert, who have only been together since last spring. They did well here and were 5th overall.

Zabijako-Enbert-2

Zabijako/Enbert:  An elegant pair

Zabijako/Enbert’s “I’ll Never Forget You” SP was nicely done. They landed all their jump elements, and the lift was good. The only problem came on the death spiral, which was not low enough and earned only basic level. They placed 5th.

Zabijako/Enbert then followed with a quite strong performance of their Thunder in Heaven LP. They had a couple mistakes on SBS jumps. However, all their other elements were clean, including the two throws. They had no negative GOE in the whole program except for those SBS jumps; technically, it was a strong skate. There is not much character or distinctiveness yet to Zabijako/Enbert’s skating, and their programs are generic. But they look elegant together, have nice lines and good flow, and just a good overall skill level, so the future looks promising.

Next: Golden Spin

Marchei/Hotarek

This was Valentina/Ondrej’s first event since Ondrej suffered a concussion at Skate Canada. They skated reasonably well but placed 6th, lower than expected.

Marchei-Hotarek-2

Marchei/Hotarek skate into 6th

 

Marchei/Hotarek had a few technical issues in their “Mourir d’Amour” SP. The opening SBS 3Ss were great, but the triple twist was low/crashy, with a weak exit. The death spiral got only basic level, and the throw 3Lz was landed but small. I’m not a big fan of this program for Marchei/Hotarek. The serious dramatic music doesn’t allow Valentina to shine and sell the program the way she usually does. Nonetheless, they received 4th-best PCS scores and were 4th in the SP.

Marchei/Hotarek’s LP, set to a medley of 70s music, was interesting. This routine seems closer to Valentina/Ondrej’s natural style, but it’s overly busy, with 4 different songs included. Every time Valentina/Ondrej started to get into a song, the music abruptly switched to the next piece. It was just a little too much, and they seemed tentative throughout, lacking their usual speed. There weren’t any falls, but there were a lot of smaller technical issues—Valentina doubled the SBS 3Lz, costing them almost 4 points in base value, Ondej turned out of the SBS 3S, and there was a scratchy landing on the throw 3Lz. The technical issues added up, and Marchei/Hotarek dropped to 6th LP/6th overall.

Next: Warsaw Cup (Nov. 26-29)

Moore-Towers/Marinaro

This event was a setback for Moore-Towers/Marinaro, following their bronze medal at Skate Canada. They placed only 7th in both segments/overall.

MTM-SC-2

Moore-Towers/Marinaro at Skate Canada

Kirsten/Mike opened their Etta James SP with an okay triple twist. The catch was too low, but they got by with only a couple -1s. Next came very good SBS 3Ts. But their lift received no points, apparently because Mike lost his arm lock during a transition, and then they both fell on the throw 3Lp. I like this program for Kirsten/Mike; they express the music well. But they could not overcome the technical errors and scored only 51.97, more than 11 points off their Skate Canada SP score.

Their Romeo & Juliet LP was better, but not enough to pull up in the standings. Both throw jumps were 2-footed, and they doubled the SBS 3S. The twist again landed on Mike’s shoulder and got only level 1. Lifts are improving, but still need work. The closing death spiral was good. This Romeo & Juliet program is a very different look for Kirsten, and I still don’t think it was the best choice for this team. But it’s getting better; they’re looking more comfortable and capturing the poignant feel of the music a bit more. I thought they did a pretty good job keeping up speed and momentum, despite the mistakes. However, the judges were not impressed, and Kirsten/Mike’s PCS score dropped 4.5 points from their Skate Canada LP PCS score.

Next: Canadian Nationals (I think)

Bell/Swiegers

Like Zabijako/Enbert, this pair was also skating in their first Grand Prix event after only 6 months or so together.

Bell-Swiegers

Bell/Swiegers: Not quite ready

Bell/Swiegers did not seem fully prepared for this event. They had numerous mistakes in both segments, and the programs looked rough and unpolished. Their overall score of 130.46 is the lowest of any pair on the Grand Prix this season. (Next lowest was Grenier/Deschamps’ 144.15 at Skate Canada.)

Next: Canadian Nationals (I think)

Tallinn Trophy

Tallinn Trophy started 2 days before Rostelecom. This senior B event marked the return to competition of 5-time World champion/2-time Olympic medalist Aliona Savchenko and her new partner, Bruno Massot.

Savchenko/Massot

I’ve been a fan of Aliona for such a long time and followed her and ex-partner Robin Szolkowy through all five of their World titles–as well as their Olympic heartbreaks. I’ve missed Aliona so much and was thrilled to see her back on the ice in Tallinn. Still, I had no idea what to expect from her and Bruno. I figured they’d be like most new pairs—some great stuff here & there, along with some mistakes and not-so-great elements.

I was wrong. Aliona hit the ice in Tallinn like she had never been away. Everyone is rusty after a year-and-a-half off competition, right? Even Olympic champions get rusty. Well, not Aliona Savchenko.

Savchenko-Massot

Savchenko/Massot:  A debut to remember

Aliona/Bruno started their Cirque du Soleil SP with possibly the highest triple twist I’ve ever seen. Next came a huge throw 3F (just slightly 2-footed). Aliona did stumble out of the SBS 3T. (Okay, she’s human.) But the rest of the elements were very good. The death spiral was a particular highlight, with a great position from Aliona, and the program was fun and interesting. When the scores came up, they were huge. All level 4s except for the twist (level 3). All +2s/+3s for the twist. PCS marks in the high 8s. Total score: 71.44.

The long program was perhaps even more impressive. The twist was again incredible, this time earning almost straight +3s. It’s so high and so well controlled, Bruno has time to catch Aliona by the waist and delay for a moment, before gently setting her down. They followed this with a SBS 3T/3T sequence—in sync, perfect. Then SBS 3S—landed. The throw jumps are so high, they haven’t yet learned to fully control them; both were slightly 2-footed. But such potential. And the lifts! The entrances/exits are light and smooth; Aliona’s positions are more pristine than ever; ice coverage seemed good. When all was said and done, they again had level 4s on everything except the twist. They earned over 13 points on GOE in the long program alone. Their final score: 142.88. That’s a number that only 2 pairs have beaten on the Grand Prix this year; and in each case, by less than 1 point. To see this kind of scoring firepower from a new pair is almost unbelievable.

Not only did Aliona/Bruno bring the tech content, they looked strong artistically as well. I really liked both programs, especially the Peer Gynt LP choreographed by Gary Beacom. It’s odd, angular, and intriguing; reminiscent of the inventive edginess that Savchenko/Szolkowy were known for. Aliona/Bruno already have great unison, good partnering, and interesting interpretation. One area to work on is speed; they did look tentative at times. Hopefullyimproved speed will come with more competitive experience.

What impressed me most about Aliona/Bruno? They made it look easy. They made it look like it’s no big deal to get tossed 4 feet up in the air, or to lift your partner one-handed. There was a lightness and ease to their skating that we haven’t seen much in pairs lately. Stolbova/Klimov are amazing—but they don’t necessarily make it look easy. You can see how much work it is when you watch them skate. It was different with Aliona/Bruno. I hope they can keep that light feeling about their skating, even under the grind of competition and training.

Aliona/Bruno are now scheduled to compete at the last 2 Challenger Series events. I’m just pinching myself and crossing my fingers, hoping this week in Estonia wasn’t some fluke, and that they’ll not only be as good the next couple weeks, but perhaps even better!

The pairs skating world is a much more exciting place with Aliona Savchenko in it.

Next: Warsaw Cup (Nov. 26-29); Golden Spin (Dec. 2-5)

Vartmann/Blommaert

Mari/Ruben continued their debut international season with another set of pretty good performances to claim the silver at Tallinn Trophy. I’m really starting to enjoy this team. They seem well matched both physically and in temperament, and I like how they maintain their performance level even when technical mistakes occur. They’ve been fairly steady competitors so far; hopefully it continues that way.

Next: German Nationals

Aaron/Settlage

This was Maddie/Max’s first international competition this season, as they’ve been out with injuries. They had a decent event here but had to settle for 5th place. Maddie/Max’s new programs are lovely and more mature than last season’s; a nice step up for them. However, they did struggle with the technical elements, especially SBS jumps and lifts. And they will need to train more to get their speed back up to last year’s level. Still, it was nice to see them back, and hopefully they can make good progress before Nationals.

Next: U.S. Nationals

Wrap-up

The other big pairs news of the week was Volosozhar/Trankov’s withdrawal from NHK Trophy. Tatiana has an injury and was told to take several weeks off. Will we see them at Russian Nationals in late December?? I hope so!

The Grand Prix concludes next week with NHK Trophy in Japan. Even with Volosozhar/Trankov out, it should be a great competition. Four pairs at NHK will be seeking to medal and book their ticket to the Grand Prix Final: Duhamel/Radford, Yu/Jin, Scimeca/Knierim, and James/Cipres. It sure will be interesting to watch!

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