Grand Prix Final 2015: Pairs Review

This year’s Grand Prix Final pairs event had lots of highs and lows. The highest point was, of course, Stolbova/Klimov’s masterful (and nearly record-setting) performance in the long program. However, at the same time, other pairs in the event struggled quite a bit. Let’s take a look at what happened.

GPF-results

Stolbova/Klimov

This competition was a triumph for Stolbova/Klimov. They won both segments and showed the world know they’re back on form and ready to contend for the top titles this season!

Stolbova-Klimov-transition
Stolbova/Klimov: Almost a world record (AFP)

Stolbova/Klimov’s short program to “I Put a Spell on You” was good, although not their best. There were a few technical issues: The catch on the triple twist was a bit low, Ksenia stepped out of the SBS 3T, and the throw 3F appeared 2-footed on replay. These small flaws were, however, hardly reflected in the GOE marks. The GOE on the twist went as high as +2; the throw 3F was all +2s/+3s. And there were no negative GOE marks on the SBS 3Ts, despite the clear stepout on the landing from Ksenia. (Indeed, one judge even gave +2!) All in all, the marks were interesting, and in my opinion a bit inflated. This program is a winner for Stolbova/Klimov; they clearly had the best overall skating quality in the short program. So I’m on board with the 9.50s and 9.25s they received for Skating Skills and Performance/Execution, but not so much with the overscoring of the technical elements. Still, they earned 74.84 and placed 1st.

Stolbova/Klimov then put out a compelling, commanding, and clean performance in the free skate to win the gold medal. It was clearly the best program of the season so far from any pair. Ksenia/Fedor opened with a decent triple twist. Then they hit their new element, the SBS 3T/3T/2T combination. Fedor’s landing on the second jump was slightly swingy, but he held on, and it was clean. They scored 10.70 on this combo: The highest-scoring element in the competition, by almost 2 points. From there on, it was all gravy for Stolbova/Klimov. The throw 3F was outstanding, with an incredible running edge coming out, and almost all +3s. The lifts were all very well done; the SBS 3S was right on; the throw 3S was excellent. All in all, it was a great performance and they scored 154.60, just .06 off Volosozhar/Trankov’s current world record score.

This victory must feel especially sweet for Ksenia/Fedor after their difficulties last season. They’ve made amazing progress since Skate America and will most certainly be vying for the European and World titles later this season.

As for the quad throw, Stolbova/Klimov said in an interview  translated from Sovsport.ru that they may add it later this season. Fedor added: “But let me reassure you, we are not going to chase the quad. We will not integrate it into our programs until it’s 100% ready.”

Duhamel/Radford

Meagan/Eric skated decently at this event, but had to settle for silver.

Duhamel-Radford-spin
Duhamel/Radford: A solid silver

Duhamel/Radford’s “Your Song” SP included a very nice triple twist, which earned several +3s, and a gorgeous level 4 death spiral. However, Meagan’s landing on the SBS 3Lz was low and tight, and that element got negative GOE. Still, everything was going fairly well until Meagan fell on the throw 3Lz. Unfortunately it was a big fall, and right on a highlight in the music, so it definitely affected the overall impression. They placed 3rd.

Meagan/Eric rebounded with a stronger performance of their “Hometown Glory” LP. They landed the SBS 3Lz and hit the throw 4S. The quad was slightly 2-footed, and got a few negative GOE marks, but it was great to see them land it. Then came the SBS 3T/2T/2T. Meagan landed the last jump, but with a foot down after the exit. Interestingly, they received almost straight negative GOE (as compared to Ksenia/Fedor’s LP combo, which received no negative GOE, despite the slight flaw on Fedor’s second jump landing). The throw 3Lz was landed but with a spinout. It was a solid performance for D/R, but I found it a bit subdued, as at NHK. However, they scored 143.93 to place 2nd LP/overall.

No doubt Duhamel/Radford will be looking to skate much better at their next few events. They now have a month off to train before Canadian Nationals.

Kavaguti/Smirnov

Yuko/Sasha had a pretty strong showing in Barcelona and took the bronze. It was their best finish at the Grand Prix Final since 2011.

China ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating
Kavaguti/Smirnov win their first GPF medal in 4 years (AP/Ng Han Guan)

 

Kavaguti/Smirnov had a great short program; they scored a season’s-best 73.64 and were 2nd behind Stolbova/Klimov. The program featured a very good throw 3Lp and a nice hand-to-hand lift, both earning some +3s (as did the level 4 step sequence). The SBS 3Ts were landed (possibly with a very slight 2ft from Yuko, but it was hard to tell on replay). The program was lovely and very enjoyable to watch, and many in the audience were standing afterward. Yuko/Sasha earned 73.54, just about 1 point behind Stolbova/Klimov.

Kavaguti/Smirnov then opened their Manfred Symphony LP with two unfortunate falls from Yuko on the SBS jumps. I was sorry to see this, because they’ve actually been so consistent with the SBS jumps all season until now! However, Yuko/Sasha then dug in and did everything they could to make the rest of the program as good as possible. Yuko landed the throw 4S, then followed with a strong throw 3Lp. (A wise decision to go with the throw triple loop instead of quad loop.) The lifts were all very good, and Yuko/Sasha really got into the dramatic choreography and sold the performance. The overall impression was very good (despite the early falls), and Yuko/Sasha earned 132.95 for 3rd LP/overall. Their PCS score was 72.40 (second behind Stolbova/Klimov); I probably would’ve had it even higher. It was a great comeback performance for them.

Kavaguti/Smirnov next compete at Russian Nationals, where they will go for a spot on the Russian Europeans/Worlds team. With the success they’ve had this fall, I expect them to do well. So far, this season has been so much better for them than last year. They really are a inspiration; even though they’re older than almost all of their competitors, they’re not only holding on, but actually still improving in some ways.

Seguin/Bilodeau

Seguin/Bilodeau made a big splash here, in only their third full international event as seniors. They placed a strong 4th and served notice that they’re a pair rising quickly.

Seguin-Bilodeau-spin
Seguin/Bilodeau:  A memorable short program

Julianne/Charlie started with a superb performance of their “Inverse Monde” Cirque du Soleil SP. They really went for it in this program. Their opening triple twist was high, with a very good catch, and earned 8.00 points. (It was actually the highest-scoring twist in the whole event, including the quad twist attempts in the LP.) The SBS 3S was good, and the throw 3Lz had great height and flow on the landing. Not only were the elements very good, I loved the performance quality in this program. Julianne/Charlie totally captured the joyful effervescence of this music, and kept the character and speed up through the whole program. I loved how they skated the program with such fearlessness; they didn’t hold back at all. It was a great performance and they earned 71.16, beating their previous best score by over 6 points. (As well as breaking that 70-point barrier for the first time in the SP.)

Seguin/Bilodeau’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” LP was very good, but not at the level of their SP. They landed all their elements well, except for a fall on the throw 3Lz. And their GOE marks were quite strong. However, the program lacked the high energy/intensity level of the short program, and seemed a bit tentative at times. Nevertheless, they earned strong PCS (66.37) to place 4th LP/overall.

It was a great event for Seguin/Bilodeau, and I think they made a big impression here in Barcelona. They appear to be a lock for the Canadian 4CCs/Worlds team at this point, barring a meltdown at Canadian Nationals, and the future looks extremely bright.

Yu/Jin

Yu/Jin placed 5th here, the same as last year. However, I doubt they’re at all satisfied with their performances in Barcelona. They got passed by Seguin/Bilodeau, whom they beat at Junior Worlds; they earned a season’s-low score in the long program; and they got the lowest total PCS of all the teams.

Yu-Jin
Yu/Jin: Not satisfied with their PCS

Yu/Jin’s short program to “Yulunga Spirit Dance” went well enough. Xiaoyu was a bit forward on the landing of her 3T, which resulted in -GOE. But the triple twist was easy and light, with great speed. The throw 3Lp was very smooth and lovely and earned +3s. Yu/Jin skated the program with a bit more intensity and commitment than earlier in the season–good to see. They placed 5th.

Unfortunately, their Creation LP did not go very well. First, Xiaoyu fell on footwork. She then landed forward on the first jump in the 2A/2A sequence and singled the second jump. Next, they went for the throw quad Salchow, which ended in a big, disruptive fall. They got through the rest of the program without any more errors, but it just felt very uncomfortable. After such an odd first half, it was hard to shake that mood in the second half, especially with their rather ominous music. The score was not good: 118.24, almost 9 points off their season’s best at Cup of China.

In an interview after the competition (translated from Skating China), Yang Jin had this to say: “After the short program, we felt like we really have to face our issues. Our program component score was the lowest of them all, which reflects a very big problem. Our technical score is competitive with the top pairs, but …. The judges are very disapproving of us, components-wise …. What we need to grasp is skating skills, performance, and choreography-related things …. I feel like our skating skills and power are still inadequate. In competition, this is too obvious.”

At least Yu/Jin will have 2 more international events this season (4CCs, Worlds) where they can continue to work toward improvement. At this competition, they struggled not only with low PCS, but also with their new element, the throw quad Salchow. Yu/Jin have yet to really come close to landing the quad in competition, and, at this point, I question the wisdom of continuing to include it for the rest of the season.

Peng/Zhang

Peng/Zhang also had a disappointing event. Not only did they finish 6th, two spots lower than last year, they also fell behind Chinese teammates Yu/Jin in both programs.

Peng-Zhang
Peng/Zhang: A tough season so far (Francois Mori/AP)

Peng/Zhang started their short program with a beautiful level 4 death spiral and a very good throw 3Lp. Both received almost straight +2s. However, Peng fell on the SBS 3T, which cost them on the technical mark. Peng/Zhang looked a bit stronger and faster here than at their GP events. I really like the choreography and music for this Coming Together SP. Yet at the same time, the sharp, choppy tango rhythm requires a level of precision/exactness that Peng/Zhang just can’t quite deliver right now. They finished 7th.

Like Yu/Jin, Peng/Zhang also suffered a major disruptive fall on the throw quad Salchow attempt in their Pearl Fishers LP. And unfortunately, there were many other mistakes as well. In fact, the SBS 3T/2T combo was the only successful jump element. There was a slight crash on the quad twist; the SBS 3S was doubled/2-footed; and Peng fell on the throw 3Lp (normally a solid, high-scoring element for them). I felt like they were trying to pay more attention to detail and interpretation than they did at Rostelecom Cup, but once again, there were just too many mistakes for the program to have any impact. Peng/Zhang pulled up one spot to 6th LP/overall.

I can only look at Peng/Zhang’sLP score of 117.44 as a semi-disaster for them. Just for reference, that score is almost 20 points off their personal best at Worlds last year; almost 12 points off what they scored at the GPF last year. I’m a fan of this team, and it’s really unfortunate to see them skating so far below their best right now.

As with Yu/Jin, I question whether Peng/Zhang should continue attempting the throw quad Salchow this season. After the event, Peng had the following comments about the throw quad: “There’s the factor of the throw quad being placed where it is. It implies that the other throw must be in the latter half [of the program], and by that time a lot of physical strength has already been used up …. We landed one [quad throw] around the time before Skate America, but then we changed boots, so we didn’t do it at all that week, and now the success rate is quite low.”

I just hope Peng/Zhang can get somewhat back on track in the second half of the season.

Scimeca/Knierim

This was a tough event for Scimeca/Knierim as well. I was really sorry to see them struggle here, because I know how excited they were just to qualify for the event.

Scimeca-Knierim
Scimeca/Knierim: Problems on the quad twist

Scimeca/Knierim’s Metallica SP was actually quite strong … except for problems on the SBS 3S. Alexa doubled and Chris stepped out. It was too bad, because the rest of the program had a lot of quality. The other elements were all solid; they got good levels and GOE; and they had good interpretation to the music. Still, they could not overcome the technical errors and were 6th.

Alexa/Chris’s long program was, unfortunately, their worst since last year’s Skate America. It started with problems on the quad twist. The catch seemed to be a bit late or off-balance—Alexa’s blade hit the ice sideways—and she fell. Chris stumbled out of the SBS 3S, then they both fell on the SBS 3T. The final combo spin was invalidated, which cost them around 4 points. As a fan, it was tough to watch, and I’m sure it felt far worse for Alexa/Chris. On the plus side, they did land both throws well. They scored only 109.28—more than 12 points off their score at NHK 2 weeks ago.

It was a disappointing first Grand Prix Final for them. Scimeca/Knierim now have a month to train and, hopefully, rebuild their confidence before U.S. Nationals.

Wrap-up

It was great to see so many outstanding performances in this event from Stolbova/Klimov, Kavaguti/Smirnov, and Seguin/Bilodeau. Yet, I have to say my enjoyment was somewhat muted due to the subpar, worrying performances from some of the other teams.

Now that the Grand Prix season is over, I hope all the pairs can get a good rest before they start their national events and the second half of the season!

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Grand Prix Final Preview & Golden Spin: This Week in Pairs

It’s hard to believe the Grand Prix Final is almost here! This year’s Grand Prix series seemed to go by in a flash. (Probably because I was always behind with my recaps! :-)) Anyhow, I thought I’d do a brief preview of the pairs going into the Final. Also, I’ve put together some notes on last week’s Golden Spin competition.

Grand Prix Final Preview

Last year, the big story going into the Grand Prix Final was Duhamel/Radford vs. Stolbova/Klimov. This year’s GP Final is different. D/R and S/K will again compete. However, several top pairs are missing from the event (Sui/Han, Volosozhar/Trankov, Savchenko/Massot), and the 5 pairs who were here last year and qualified again have had somewhat up-and-down seasons. This year’s event feels more open in terms of who could medal or win. Let’s take a look at where each pair stands heading in.

Duhamel/Radford

duhamel-radford

Where do they stand? Duhamel/Radford won their 2 GP events and are having a good season. However, so far, they don’t look quite as confident or dominant as last year. They’ve had some technical problems in their programs. And although they went for the throw quad Lutz at Autumn Classic this fall, they did not include it at their GP events and will not do it in Barcelona. They are still the favorites heading into this event, but look a bit vulnerable.

Key element/factor: Side-by-side triple Lutz. Despite having the quad, I think SBS 3Lz is still D/R’s key element, especially since they use it in both programs. Last year, the SBS 3Lz was so consistent for them, but this year they’ve struggled with it a bit. It’s placed early in both programs, and I think it sets the overall tone for them. If they land the Lutz well, especially in the short program, it should set them on course to win.

How will they do? I think they will win. After their euphoric victory in Barcelona last year, I am sure they’ll want to do well again this year. This is a special event for D/R. Plus, I think they’re both disappointed with their lackluster start to the season and are motivated to put out 2 strong programs at the GPF.

Kavaguti/Smirnov

 

Kavaguti-smirnov-4

Where do they stand? Yuko/Sasha had an outstanding start this year with their win at Cup of China. However, they fell short in the long program at Rostelecom and lost to Russian rivals Stolbova/Klimov, which seemingly again pushes them back to #3 in Russia (assuming V/T compete at Russian Nationals).

Key element/factor: Throw quad Salchow. Kavaguti/Smirnov are trying two throw quads in the LP, but have yet to cleanly land the throw quad loop. That means they really need the throw quad Salchow to work. The throws are placed right after each other in the LP—a gamble. If they have problems on both throws, as at Rostelecom, it disrupts the whole flow of the program (and probably their confidence as well). But if the throw 4S is landed, I think they can afford the (perhaps) inevitable mistake on the quad loop and still medal. (And this is all assuming they keep their SBS jumps consistent, which so far this season, they’ve surprisingly accomplished!)

How will they do? I think perhaps better than expected. Kavaguti/Smirnov have a history of performing badly at the GP Final, which works against them, plus they are generally rather inconsistent competitors. However, the fact is, their average scores on the Grand Prix this year are the highest among the pairs competing in Barcelona. So that’s a positive. And the judges like their programs–they’re getting good PCS. A lot of people are writing them off, but I think we may well see them on the podium, perhaps in silver position.

Stolbova/Klimov

stolbova-klimov

Where do they stand? Ksenia/Fedor had a very subpar performance at Skate America but rebounded strongly to win Rostelecom. Are they ready to win or medal in Barcelona? I’m not sure. In Moscow, they once again impressed with their excellent basic skating skills and high-quality partnering. However, somewhat lost in the hoopla over their win was the fact that they still struggled with some technical elements and were clearly not back in top form yet (although improving). Plus, that victory came on home territory, and it’s become apparent that Stolbova/Klimov are a team who tend to be at their best in front of a home audience. The question is, Can they match or improve that level in a more neutral environment?

Key element/factor: Side-by-side 3T/3T/2T combination. This is Ksenia/Fedor’s big new element, worth 9.90 points in base value. If it’s executed as well as we’ve seen them do jumps in the past, they could easily score over 11.00 with it. I think hitting this element would increase their confidence level exponentially.

How will they do? For their sake, I hope Ksenia/Fedor make the podium here. This competition is important for them. Last year’s GP Final was the turning point of their season—it was all downhill after they lost to D/R. They need to put that demon to rest with a strong showing in Barcelona.

Scimeca/Knierim

 

scimeca-knierim-2

Where do they stand? It’s been a successful and groundbreaking season for Alexa/Chris, winning their first GP medals and becoming the first American pair to qualify for the GP Final in many years. However, there is still much work to do, as their LP performances in particular have been inconsistent.

Key element/factor: Performance level. This season, Alexa/Chris are presenting their programs with a lot of energy and commitment (especially Alexa). Although some feel it goes over the top at times, the judges seem to like it, and their PCS are rising. In this field, against the other high-level pairs, it’s important they keep up that energy and really go for it. Their average PCS scores on the GP are higher than Yu/Jin’s and Seguin/Bilodeau’s, and they’ll need to maintain that if they want to finish in front of those teams. (Landing the SBS 3Ts would help, too. :-))

How will they do? I expect Alexa/Chris to have a strong showing. A medal is unlikely, but not impossible. The important thing is to put out 2 good programs and show how much they belong here. It’s been a long process for Alexa/Chris to get to this point; success didn’t come overnight. Knowing how much this opportunity means and how long they’ve worked for it, they’re going to want to put out their best. Nerves are still an issue with this team, but I hope and expect they will do well.

Yu/Jin

Yu-jin-3

Where do they stand? Yu/Jin have been one of the more consistent teams on the Grand Prix. With 2 GP medals, it’s been a successful season so far.

Key element/factor: Performance level. Yu/Jin are scoring very well technically this season. But their PCS isn’t quite keeping pace. I think whenever you’re repeating programs for a second season, you’re at risk of the performance level falling off, because the programs just don’t feel fresh. Yu/Jin’s skating has been lovely this season, but also a bit lacking in impact. I’d like to see them bring more intensity in Barcelona.

How will they do? I think they’ll do well. Their consistency is such a strong point for this team, especially when it comes to the SBS jumps. And they’ve shown twice already this season that they can survive a fall on the throw quad Salchow without the program falling apart. If any of the top 3 teams falter, I think Yu/Jin will be there.

Seguin/Bilodeau

Where do they stand? Julianne/Charlie had such an excellent showing at Skate America, especially considering it was their first Grand Prix. They were equally strong in the TEB short program before the cancellation. Making the Grand Prix Final in their first full senior season is a huge accomplishment (even if it happened in somewhat unusual fashion).

Key element/factor: Maintain their usual consistency. Unlike most pairs, Julianne/Charlie don’t seem to have a weak or “problem” element. Their lifts could use improvement but are not a real liability, either. At this event, they just need to keep on doing what they’ve been doing.

How will they do? I think they’ll put out good performances. However, their average PCS score does lag behind the other teams here, and that will probably keep them in the lower half of the standings.

Peng/Zhang

Where do they stand? Not where they want to be. It’s been a difficult season so far for Peng/Zhang. Last year, there was little question of them making the GPF—this year, it only happened because of a withdrawal and the odd circumstances around TEB. Peng/Zhang did win a medal at Rostelecom, but their performances weren’t great.

Key element/factor: Timing/comfort level. Peng/Zhang have looked off this season, like something is awry with their timing and coordination. There have been some odd mistakes, a lack of flow, and a certain awkwardness to their skating. How they do here will depend on their general comfort level at this stage–with each other, the programs, and the elements.

How will they do? With the season they’ve had, I don’t expect to see Peng/Zhang win a medal. But we can’t forget that this team has some amazing skills, a very interesting short program, and also a pretty big reputation with the judges. I don’t expect them to be on the podium, but I doubt they will finish in the last place they qualified in, either.

Golden Spin of Zagreb

The Challenger Series concluded last week with the last event, Golden Spin of Zagreb. The pairs competition at this event was quite strong—almost like a Grand Prix. No time this week for a full review, but I did want to mention some of the highlights from the competition.

golden-spin-results

Tarasova/Morozov won the competition on the strength of their “Warriors” short program, which was easily their best of the season so far. Their level 4 triple twist was beautiful, with incredible height, and their SBS 3Ts were well synchronized and very close together. They did a better job this time matching the driving, high-energy feel of the music and scored a season’s-best 73.06.

tarasova-morozov.jpg

Unfortunately, Tarasova/Morozov couldn’t sustain this standard in the LP. They again had several jump errors in their Chopin program, and the closing two lifts were also a bit slow/awkward. They finished behind the music, and their PCS marks dropped in the long program compared to the SP. They were 2nd LP/1st overall.

After a strong debut last year, Evgenia/Vladimir have, sadly, lost momentum this season. If Volosozhar/Trankov compete at Russian Nationals, Evgenia/Vladimir will be in for a fight just to make the Russian Euro/World team this year.

Astakhova/Rogonov also skated a nice short program to The Artist. They lost unison on the SBS 3S, but the program was jazzy and fun to watch. Kristina/Alexei followed up with a pretty good outing of their “puppet master” LP. There were a few errors, including a crash on the triple twist and Alexei falling on the SBS 3S. But they landed a very nice SBS 3T/2T/2T combo, and the throw 3Lz was good. This program is so involving and dramatic and beautifully choreographed that I find myself overlooking some of the errors and just enjoying the performance. I hope to see a more clean version of the program at Russian Nationals. Kristina/Alexei were 3rd LP/2nd overall.

And, speaking of clean programs … I want to make special note of the fact that Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea achieved a rare feat at Golden Spin: They delivered a completely clean long program, with no falls/stepouts/2-fts/pops on any jump elements. As far as I can tell (looking at notes/protocols), Tarah/Danny are only the 2nd pair this season to actually deliver a clean long program in a Grand Prix or senior B competition! (The only other pair to do so: Training mates Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillan at Skate America.) Tarah/Danny were rewarded with 1st place in the LP/3rd overall, and I really enjoyed their lyrical, lovely performance to “Music of the Night.”

kayne-oshea

With a bronze medal here, a gold medal at U.S. International Classic, and a fine 4th-place showing at Rostelecom, I think Tarah/Danny have established themselves as favorites to claim one of the two spots on the U.S. team for Worlds. Of course, they’ll still have to lay it down at U.S. Nationals. But they’ve certainly done enough this season to make a strong case for the team, assuming a good showing at Nationals.

The other contenders here for the U.S. 4CC/World team were Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran. Marissa/Mervin once again skated a strong SP to place 3rd. However, they also once again had jump problems in their Journey LP and slid to 5th LP/overall. As disappointing as the jump errors are, at the same time I think Mervissa continue to improve in every other way. The speed, power, and depth of edge in their skating is terrific. And their lifts are getting so strong! The combination of Mervin’s easy turning movement with Marissa’s enviable core strength in holding spectacular air positions makes their lifts look very secure and impressive. I actually felt they were underscored in GOE on a lot of their elements here, and also in PCS. I will continue to wait semi-patiently and ever-hopefully for the jumps to improve!

In terms of where they stand now …. I think Marissa/Mervin are going to have to fight very hard and have the performance of their career (so far) at U.S. Nationals to make the U.S. World team. It could definitely happen—they have the talent, no question. It just needs to come together.

The third U.S. team in this event was Caitlin Fields/Ernie Utah Stephens, making their senior international debut. Their short program to Hugues Le Bars’ Piano et Voix Rhythmiques was original and interesting, with a great step sequence. Unfortunately, Caitlin/Ernie did have some technical problems in both programs. But it was great seeing them back on the ice, and hopefully they will be stronger at U.S. Nationals.

Zabijako/Enbert, the new team from Russia, also competed here and did about the same as at Rostelecom Cup. They placed 4th overall. This team is elegant and technically competent, but their programs really do not make any impression at all. I hope they get better material next year.

Wrap-up

Well, that’s it for this week! Only 1 day now until the Grand Prix Final starts!! 🙂