Europeans 2016: Pairs Review

Despite the withdrawal of Kavaguti/Smirnov and Stolbova/Klimov, Europeans was still one of the most exciting and well-skated pairs events of the season so far.

The competition featured reigning Olympic gold medalists Volosozhar/Trankov in their first major ISU championship since Sochi, plus the major-championship debut of V/T’s longtime rival Aliona Savchenko and her new partner Bruno Massot. It was such a thrill to see Tatiana/Max and Aliona once again battling it out and dominating the medal stand!! I’ve missed this rivalry so much. And not only was there an exciting battle for the top of the podium, many of the other European pairs also put out great performances. The event had depth, as well as star power.

Let’s take a look at the action.

Podium

Tatiana/Max and Aliona atop the podium again! (AFP)

Results

Volosozhar/Trankov

Tatiana/Max started strong with a fine performance of their Bollywoood SP. Every time I see this program, I love it more and more. The first half includes all of V/T’s big, exciting tricks—the level 4 triple twist, big throw 3F, and the impressive SBS 3S out of spread eagles. But it’s the second half of the program where they truly shine. The step sequence was stunning, earning level 4 and almost all +2s/+3s. (The judge who gave it a 0 must have been watching something else!!) You could argue that the GOE marks on V/T’s lift were a tad high—they were slightly slow hitting their first position—and I’m not sure the throw 3F was landed on one foot. However, they earned 79.77 points–the highest SP score of the season, by any pair. A bit generous IMO, but the score indicates the strength of this Bollywood program.

Slovakia Figure Skating Europeans

Max as Dracula  (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

At Russian Nationals, Tatiana/Max were much weaker in the LP than the SP. However, here at Euros, they pushed any doubts aside and delivered a really strong performance of their Dracula LP. Tatiana/Max opened with another great level 4 twist (almost all +3s) and a good SBS 3S/2T combo. There were a few slight miscues—the throw 3F was huge but looked slightly 2-footed, they both had minor errors on the SBS 3T, and Max appeared to almost lose his grip on the death spiral. However, the SBS spins and throw 3 Lp were lovely. And the three lifts at the end also looked better than earlier in the season. This Dracula LP is definitely my favorite long program ever from Tatiana/Max. Max is convincing as dark, tormented Dracula; Tatiana plays the worried heroine well; and the choreography has a dark flair that matches the music. It’s a great package for them. I think Tatiana/Max were scored fairly for this program. Their GOE marks were very good (mostly +2s), but still left room; their PCS marks were in the mid-9s—again, leaving some room. It was the best LP of the season so far for V/T, although they’re still not fully back to their 2013-14 level.

Now that they’ve regained their European crown, the question is whether Tatiana/Max will compete at Worlds in Boston. Apparently, they have not yet decided. I do hope they come to Boston! I would love to see both these programs again.

Savchenko/Massot

Prior to the event, Aliona/Bruno reportedly told German TV they were coming to Euros to win! A bold statement indeed … Unfortunately, they weren’t quite able to live up to it. However, what Aliona/Bruno did accomplish at Europeans was quite impressive indeed: They won silver and immediately established themselves as one of the top teams in the world, in only their first major event together.

Savchenko-Massot-twist

Their stunning triple twist (AFP/Samuel Kubani)

 

Aliona/Bruno had to skate first in the second group in the short program. But the knowledgeable audience at Euros clearly remembered Aliona well and gave her/Bruno a big welcoming cheer. The stage was set for a big moment as their “Creature de Siam” program began. As usual, Aliona shone in the spotlight. She and Bruno opened with their incredibly high, lateral triple twist (all +2s/+3s), followed by a huge, perfect throw 3F (almost straight +2s). The only flaw came when Bruno slightly two-footed the SBS 3T. Their speed looked improved from earlier in the season, and Aliona sold the program like nobody’s business. They got a big ovation, their coach genuflected as they left the ice, and, even from the early starting position, they earned 75.54–a huge score that held up for 2nd place.

Going into the LP, Aliona/Bruno had a shot at the title. However, inexperience and nerves took over, and they could not convert. Their opening triple twist was again astounding (almost straight +3s); however, Bruno then singled the first SBS 3T and two-footed the second 3T.The throws were slightly two-footed, but so huge and high that many judges awarded positive GOE anyway. All was still in reach–until disaster struck on the last 2 lifts. The reverse lasso lift came down early, and then their timing was slightly off on the entrance to the next lift and Bruno’s arm started to bend, disallowing the lift. Those 2 botched lifts cost them nearly 15 points!! Yet, they still earned 8+ GOE points for the elements they completed. And their PCS was only about 1 point behind Volosozhar/Trankov in the LP, even with the mistakes. Aliona/Bruno placed 3rd LP/2nd overall, 21+ points behind V/T. On paper, it was a resounding victory for V/T. But Tatiana/Max know as well as anyone that if it weren’t for those 2 botched lifts … and if S/M had skated in the final group in the SP …. who knows?

All “what-ifs” aside, the scores that Aliona/Bruno put up in Bratislava were a huge statement. They’ve now scored over 75 points in the SP twice this season. Their PCS in the LP was right up there with some of the top scores at the GP Final. I think nothing is impossible for them at Worlds … although they’ll obviously need to show more composure there (and not mess up any more lifts).

I find this new partnership just so exciting. The amplitude and pristine quality of Aliona/Bruno’s elements is amazing; their unison and charisma are incredible; and Aliona looks renewed, refreshed, and ready to take over the pairs skating world. An exciting new chapter is starting to unfold in her long-running rivalry with Tatiana/Max.

Tarasova/Morozov

Evgenia/Vladimir had a good competition in Bratislava and won their second straight Europeans bronze medal.

Tarasova-Morozov-death-spiral

Strength and beauty (AFP/Samuel Kubani)

Their “Warriors” SP was one of their best this season. Their triple twist was outstanding as usual, and their lift was gorgeous. The only mistake came when Evgenia put a hand down on the throw 3Lp. Otherwise it was very good, and the audience really got behind the program, clapping along loudly, which was nice to see. Evgenia/Vlad kept pace with the music, ending on time (something they’ve struggled with this season). I’d still like to see them sell this program even more, but good job.

One criticism of the choreography for this program: I feel like too much of the step sequence is done in mirror mode, for no obvious reason. What makes Evgenia/Vlad special is their unison, line, and power together, as a team—they don’t really stand out that much as individual skaters. Mirroring their choreo and separating them on the ice dilutes that impression—they lose momentum. Keep them together–emphasize their strengths.

Evgenia/Vlad followed up their successful SP with a really good performance of their Mozart LP. They had a few technical issues—the SBS 3T/2T/2T turned into 2T/2T/1T, and the throw 3Lp was 2-footed and spun out. But the SBS 3S and throw 3S were both excellent (even getting some +3s on the throw). They opted to do a split triple twist, rather than the quad twist they did at Russian Nationals; a decision that worked out fine, as they got level 4 and +2s/+3s on the triple for a total of 8.10 (quad twist at Russians = 8.89). Their lifts also looked very good, which was nice to see as they’ve actually struggled a bit with lifts this season. Overall they looked confident, sure, precise, and in command of the program. They were 2nd LP/3rd overall.

Evgenia/Vladimir finally are getting back on form after their injury last fall. Let’s hope they can do even better at Worlds.

James/Cipres

It was a pretty good competition for James/Cipres as well. They were 5th in both segments/4th overall.

James-Cipres

Getting close on the quad (AFP)

James/Cipres’s “I Put a Spell on You” SP was good, except for an odd mistake on the death spiral. Their twist was a little crashy as well, but otherwise their elements were well done. Despite the error, the judges seemed to really like the program. They earned 4th-place PCS of 30.88.

Vanessa/Morgan then went for the throw quad Salchow early in their long program. Although Vanessa 2-footed it and stepped out, I’d say it was the best throw quad attempt we’ve seen this season from anyone other than Duhamel/Radford and Kavaguti/Smirnov. They got full rotation and earned 6.20 points, despite negative GOE. Vanessa/Morgan seemto be getting really close to landing this element cleanly in competition!

In addition to the throw quad attempt, James/Cipres also did a good set of SBS 3S and three solid lifts in the program. The throw 3F was slightly 2-footed, but they only lost about half a point on it. It was a nice program; they kept up the speed and flow pretty well, especially in the first half, and earned a season’s-best score of 123.45 to place 5th LP/4th overall.

It’ll be interesting to see if James/Cipres go for the throw quad again in Boston!

Marchei/Hotarek

After a disappointing SP, Marchei/Hotarek pulled up in the LP to place 5th overall.

Marchei-Hotarek-spin

Marchei/Hotarek take 5th place  (AFP)

Marchei/Hotarek started their “Mourir d’Amour” SP with a lot of speed and a good set of SBS 3S. They also performed a nice hand-to-hand lift (some +2s). However, their other elements were shaky. The triple twist got only level 1, as did the death spiral, and Valentina had a big fall on the throw 3F. They also seemed to lose speed in the second half and placed only 8th.

Valentina/Ondrej then fought back and put out a good performance of their 70s disco LP. Technically, the highlight was their throw 3Lp, which had great flow coming out. There were minor mistakes on the other jumping passes, and the lifts were a little bit shaky in spots. However, they didn’t let this faze them, maintained their speed throughout, and kept the performance level high.

This program, which has gotten mixed reviews, seemed to work better here than at previous events. The lift during the third music cut is nicely placed and effective, and the choreo footwork sequence during the final cut is crowd-pleasing and fun and got some +2s. It was a good performance, and Valentina especially really sold it to the hilt. A lot of skaters might shy away from the cheese potential of this program, but Valentina just goes for it! She never holds back, and I admire that a lot about her. At times, though, I do feel like Valentina’s exuberance as a performer leads to higher PCS marks than she/Ondrej really deserve as a team. Ondrej is good but doesn’t match her level of expression. And in terms of their actual pairs skating, there are still many slightly awkward moments. I feel this tends to get overlooked a bit by the judges. In the LP, they got 4th-best PCS of 62.19 (slightly ahead of Astakhova/Rogonov), which was, to me, questionable. But certainly it was a good performance, and they received a great ovation to pull up to 4th LP/5th overall.

Della Monica/Guarise

Italian champions Della Monica/Guarise placed just behind their rivals in 6th. They matched their placement from last year’s Euros (also 6th), but improved on last year’s total score by over 23 points, which I think reflects their general improvement this year.

Della-Monica-Guarise

Improving slowly but steadily (AFP)

I really enjoyed Nicole/Matteo’s Magnificat SP. They had a few minor jump errors (SBS 3S spinout, throw 3Lp hand down). However, their lift was very nice and smooth, with good ice coverage, and their level 4 death spiral was lovely (both earning some +2s). I thought they interpreted the dramatic music really well; their step sequence was very effective. Nicole/Matteo are looking more mature, polished, and confident this season. They still need to add a bit more speed and attack, but they’re putting out a very good package overall. They also seem really comfortable and in sync with each other. I felt their PCS could have been higher for this program. They placed 6th.

Nicole/Matteo’s Romeo & Juliet LP started well, with a strong set of SBS 3S and a solid triple twist. Then Nicole hesitated going into the SBS 3T/2T combo and fell on the first jump. The following throw 3 Lp was big, but 2-footed (as was the throw 3S later on). Their other elements were quite good for the most part, especially their death spiral and SBS spins, both of which earned level 4 and positive GOE. I really enjoy the music and choreography of this program, and Nicole/Matteo skated it with emotion and got nice applause afterward. The program perhaps lacked just a bit of the excitement of Marchei/Hotarek, and I wish Nicole/Matteo could have landed both throws cleanly. However, it was a good effort and a good competition for them, and this pair is definitely on the way up. I think the ongoing internal rivalry with Marchei/Hotarek is helping DM/G—it’s pushing them to work hard and get better.

Astakhova/Rogonov

And now we come to one of the more controversial placements. Astakhova/Rogonov were 7th in both segments/overall at Europeans, but many felt they should have been higher. Who’s right—judges or fans?

Astakhova-Rogonov

Astakhova/Rogonov: Should they have placed higher?  (AFP)

There was a lot to like in Astakhova/Rogonov’s The Artist SP. Their triple twist and throw 3F were good; Kristina’s positions in the lift and death spiral were lovely. And their level 4 step sequence has lots of fun, jazzy moves that echo the theme of the music. Their performance level was good … Yet, seeing A/R after a team like Savchenko/Massot, I found myself wanting more, especially from Kristina. More smiles; just a little more sparkle. If you watch Aliona, there’s never a moment when she isn’t projecting to the audience, or stretching a move to its maximum; she just sells everything. Kristina is more reserved, and I’d like to see her open up a bit. A/R had only 7th-place PCS in the SP. An even bigger problem was their SBS 3S. Not only did Kristina spin out, the jump was downgraded, costing them about 4 points. They placed 7th.

Astakhova/Rogonov then put out an intense performance of their puppet master LP. Everything seemed to be in place. Both throws were clean, their SBS 3S was very good, the lifts looked fine. And the performance was wonderful. Their music is so stirring, the choreography so eye-catching, and the whole package so interesting that I always enjoy this program, whether they skate clean or not. It appeared to be one of A/R’s best performances of the season. But as they exited the ice, their TES started dropping like a stone. Their most valuable element, the reverse lasso lift, was declared invalid, costing about 8 points. Also, a slight hop from Kristina after the first jump of the 3T/2T/2T combo invalidated the rest of the combo. This, together with negative GOE on the combo, cost them another 4 points. So, they lost roughly 12 points off their TES. That’s huge. Both Marchei/Hotarek and James/Cipres had over 10 points’ more TES, which kept them comfortably ahead of A/R; even Della Monica/Guarise had 5 points’ more TES.

An open question is whether Astakhova/Rogonov should have gotten higher PCS marks, reflecting the strong quality of their choreography/performance, in particular relative to Savchenko/Massot. A/R earned 62.15 PCS for the LP, whereas Savchenko/Massot, who also had costly mistakes, got 72.61. This is a dicey matter to debate. But … I think the bottom line is, Savchenko/Massot got much higher PCS than Astakhova/Rogonov because they’re just a much better pair overall. If you compare any aspect of A/R’s technical skating to Savchenko/Massot’s, A/R come up short. Astakhova/Rogonov’s throws are half the size; their SBS spins are half the speed; their twist is much smaller. And even if the judges did prefer A/R’s choreography, S/M still have better line, extension, unison, and skating skills. The judges can easily see who is the better pair, and ultimately that’s what the PCS marks reflected. I can see an argument that A/R’s PCS could have been 1 or 2 points higher, but no more than that.

I really like Astakhova/Rogonov, but I think there’s a tendency to somewhat overvalue their standing. Good choreography is a big plus, and it’s helped A/R stay in the mix this season despite mistakes. But it only goes so far when you’re a mid-tier team and you lose 12+ points off your TES (or 16+ points overall, if you count the downgraded jump in the SP). Bottom line, I don’t think A/R wuzrobbed at Euros.

Vartmann/Blommaert

The new German team Vartmann/Blommaert also had an interesting competition at their first Europeans.

Vartmann-Blommaert

A team with potential

Vartmann/Blommaert had a lovely, sparkling performance of their “Strangers in Paradise” SP. They opened with a triple twist, then immediately landed throw 3S. Their SBS 3Ts were great—very close, very in sync—and earned some +2s. The death spiral was nice and also got some +2s. It was a very complete performance—elegant, light, refined, and the technical elements were there. Mari especially really shone. She is a very pretty skater, with nice positions in everything she does. Now that she’s skating with Ruben, you can better appreciate the elegance of her skating. Mari/Ruben earned 62.90 for this SP, with almost all positive GOE marks, and were 4th. I thought the scores could have gone even higher.

Mari/Ruben got off to a great start in the LP, landing a very good throw 3S and SBS 3T/3T sequence. However, then the nerves and inexperience kicked in, just as with Aliona/Bruno. Mari 2-footed and stepped out of the throw 3Lp. Then, Ruben fell on and Mari doubled the SBS 3S. From there, the program went downhill and ended with the final lift failing. Mari/Ruben fell to 8th LP/overall. It was a dispiriting end to their competition.

Despite the disappointment, though, I’m starting to get excited about Mari/Ruben as a team. What stood out about them at Europeans is how well they move together. So often with pairs, you see a lot of little starts & stops in their movement. They’ll carry speed into a move, execute the move, their speed will drop, and then they have to push to regain momentum. But I didn’t notice this very much with Mari/Ruben. There is a gentle, seamless quality to their movement. I wasn’t sure what to expect when these two initially teamed up, but now I’m seeing potential.

Ziegler/Kiefer

This Austrian team placed 9th (dropping a spot from last year’s 8th). They finished over 22 points behind Vartmann/Blommaert.

Ziegler-Kiefer

They need to reach higher  (AFP)

Ziegler/Kiefer’s “It’s Oh So Quiet” SP was actually fairly clean. They landed a very nice, high throw 3F and a good set of SBS 3S. However, they got only basic level on the death spiral—it appeared Miriam was not low enough. Also, the triple twist was low and crashy; Z/K are still struggling to master this element. The program is cute and well-choreographed, but Miriam/Severin need to skate it with more precision, extension, and deeper edges. Their PCS was about 4 points below the higher-ranked teams. They placed 9th.

Ziegler/Kiefer’s Moulin Rouge LP was, like many of their programs this season, somewhat disappointing. They went for SBS 3Lz right at the start. The jumps were far apart but landed, and they earned 5.80 points—very good. However, they did only a double twist, and then Miriam fell on the SBS 3T combo and the throw 3F. The rest of the program was clean, but unexciting. Nothing really stood out much. I’m not sure this Moulin Rouge program really works. I can see how they were trying to do something different by going with lesser-known songs from the soundtrack. However, the result is the program doesn’t have any Moulin Rouge character; it just sounds like a bunch of covers of 80s hits. Z/K had negative overall GOE in the LP and the competition as a whole and dropped to 10th LP/9th overall.

I think Miriam/Severin are at a bit of a crossroads. They have a good look on the ice, a natural charm, and some teknik. But they need to kick it up a notch if they want to become competitive. Getting a solid triple twist is a must. But it’s really the details that are missing in their skating. They need more stretch, extension, polish, speed, on almost every element. I love their ambition, though, in going for the SBS 3Lz. If they can get that element consistent, add it to the short program, and improve their percentages on other jumps, they’ll have the base value to move up.

Danilova/Kamianchuk

This team from Belarus is in their second season together. They put together 2 solid programs in Bratislava to place top 10.

Danilova-Kamianchuk.jpg

Top 10 for the Belarus team

Their Don Juan de Marco SP was not bad at all. They did only a double twist, but there were no falls, and the program was fine. They placed 10th.

Tatiana/Mikalai’s Notre Dame de Paris LP was also solid. They landed both SBS jump sets, and their throw 3F was quite good and earned all positive GOE. The throw 3S was slightly 2-footed, but had nice speed coming out. The lifts are probably their weakest element and got some negative GOE—Mikalai needs to cover more ice, and some of Tatiana’s positions need improvement. But overall, they skated well. The Notre Dame program is formulaic but still made a good impression. Tatiana/Mikalai seem well-matched, with good skating skills. It will be interesting to see how they develop. They scored 98.64 to place 9th LP/10th overall. Not bad at all for their first Europeans!

Wrap-up

There’s a lot of parity right now among the mid-tier European teams. This makes for an interesting competition, as it’s hard to predict who will end up on top. In general, I feel the Euro pairs are definitely on the upswing—this year’s pairs competition felt much stronger than last year’s. The strength of the mid-tier teams, combined with the stunning debut of Savchenko/Massot and the welcome return of Volosozhar/Trankov, really made for an excellent pairs event. I’m looking forward to seeing many of these teams again at Worlds!

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