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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