Four Continents 2016: Pairs Review

The pairs event at Four Continents felt a bit depleted this year. Only 2 Chinese pairs competed, and Canadian #2 team Seguin/Bilodeau withdrew due to injury and were replaced by Grenier/Deschamps. Then Duhamel/Radford had to withdraw when Meagan came down with a severe bout of stomach flu! So overall, it wasn’t the deepest event. However, we still saw some good performances.

Sui Wenjing Han Cong Alexa Scimeca Chris Knierim Yu Xiaoyu Jin Yang

The pairs medalists (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

Capture

Sui/Han

The brightest light in the competition was Sui/Han’s short program. Coming into the event, Wenjing had been dealing with several injuries, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But Sui/Han’s Farrucas SP was simply dazzling.

Sui-Han-SP.jpg

A stunning short program (Getty Images)

Every element was almost flawlessly done. The throw 3F had outstanding height and distance; the ‘Tano triple twist was very good as well. Sui/Han’s TES scores were amazing; they had almost all +2s/+3s on everything. Yet despite how the amazing technical elements, it was really the program itself—the transitions, footwork, and choreography—that stood out most. It was dramatic, intense, immensely enjoyable to watch–and Sui/Han performed the heck out of it. They finished with a score of 78.51: The second-highest score for any pair this season (just a little over a point behind Volosozhar/Trankov’s Euros SP).

Sui/Han followed with a long program that was stellar in some ways, but did include a few errors. They landed not one, but two, quad elements. First was the quad twist, which was completed but only level 1. Then came the throw quad Salchow—a beauty, with easily the most height and distance we’ve seen on any quad throw this season, earning 10.49 points. The rest of the program was highlighted by three excellent lifts, but there were also a few miscues. Wenjing fell on the SBS 3S and put her hands down on the throw 3F, and Cong had an issue in the SBS spins. Nonetheless, overall it was a fine performance, and Sui/Han easily won the event. Their PCS score in the LP (72.30) was comparable to what other top pairs have earned this season at the Grand Prix Final and Euros.

This victory marked Sui/Han’s third win at Four Continents. It’s interesting to look back and compare this victory with their first win, four years ago in Colorado Springs. Back then, Sui/Han were talented but just so young and raw. (Bless them, they were still doing the country hoedown SP!) If you look back at their LP score sheet that year, you’ll see their technical score was already huge, and they actually performed the same big elements (quad twist/throw 4S) that they did this year. But their GOE wasn’t where it is now, and their PCS still had a long way to go. What a journey it’s been, these last 4 years!

Going into Worlds, Sui/Han are positioned extremely well. They have the elements, they have the programs, they have the scores. The only question mark, really, is their health. Wenjing recently suffered an eye injury while practicing the quad, in addition to the earlier Achilles injury and a chronic ligament problem in her foot. Can they stay healthy enough to compete at Worlds at the highest level? Cong Han said they could only give “50 percent” of their best at 4CCs. They’ll likely need more than that to win in Boston.

Scimeca/Knierim

This was a breakthrough event for Scimeca/Knierim of the U.S. At 4CCs, they finally started to deliver fully on the promise they first showed when they teamed up in 2012—and won a silver medal in the process. Coming off two disappointing events at Grand Prix Final and U.S. Nationals, I don’t think many people were expecting this from S/K. What a delight it was to see them skate so very well!

Alexa Scimeca Chris Knierim

Their first medal in a major ISU championship (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

Scimeca/Knierim opened with a solid outing of their Metallica SP. They had two slight errors—Chris put a hand down on the SBS 3S and Alexa 2-footed the throw 3F. But there were no doubles and no falls. Their other elements were strong. They had great ice coverage on the hand-to-hand lift, and the opening death spiral was lovely. It was a good program, and they were 3rd.

Alexa/Chris then put out a career-best performance in the long program. They opened with a level 4 quad twist that earned 10.53 points (highest-scoring element in the competition). Although the ISU doesn’t maintain such records on their web site, it’s thought that Alexa/Chris may be the first pair to ever receive level 4 on the quad twist. Certainly, no other pair has achieved that in the past 2 seasons. Not only did Alexa/Chris hit the level 4 twist, they landed all their other jump elements cleanly. Their throw 3F was a particular highlight; it was huge and got +2s/+3 across the board. Alexa/Chris were just so strong technically in this program. The lifts were well done; their spins looked stronger than usual; the death spiral was wonderful. Alexa/Chris actually won the TES mark (73.90) over Sui/Han (72.10), in part because they got all level 4s on their elements and no negative GOE marks. Altogether, they earned +12.3 points in GOE. Not only was the technical quality there, I really enjoyed the performance itself. The whole program went by so quickly, and I loved how polished and strong they were in interpreting this music from Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Scimeca/Knierim took 2nd LP/overall to win their first medal in a major ISU championship. What a moment for them!

Perhaps even more eye-catching than the medal was their LP score: 140.35. It’s a big number–a very big number–for Scimeca/Knierim, topping their previous personal best by over 10 points. In the bigger picture, this is where Scimeca/Knierim now stand on the ISU season’s-best and personal-best lists:

  • 7th-best total score/LP score this season among international pairs (10th-best SP score)
  • 11th-best total score, 9th-best LP score all-time (i.e., since IJS started in 2006)
  • Top U.S. pair all-time in all 3 scoring categories (total, LP, SP)

What does it all mean? To me, it means Alexa/Chris should be incredibly proud of themselves for what they put out there at 4CCs! Despite all the doubts and naysayers, they showed everyone just how good they can be. And there’s still so much room to grow.

Hopefully, this 4CCs silver will give Alexa/Chris a nice confidence boost heading into Worlds. They are in a great place. If they can stay centered and put out the kind of performances they did at 4CCs, they should do well at Worlds. All the numbers indicate that, if they deliver, a top 6 placement is possible. Perhaps even top 4 or 5, depending on exactly who competes in Boston. It’s all in Alexa/Chris’s hands, and I just hope they can put it all together and have a great moment at their home Worlds!

Yu/Jin

Coming into 4CCs, Yu/Jin were not in top form, having faced a number of problems since the Grand Prix Final. First Xiaoyu’s leg got slashed during practice; then she fell ill; and they had to compete at altitude for the Chinese National Winter Games, which was difficult. All things considered, I thought Yu/Jin did well to win bronze.

Yu Xiaoyu Jin Yang

A compelling performance (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

Yu/Jin had a shaky start to their Yulunga Spirit Dance SP. Xiaoyu looked very tentative going into the SBS 3T, and fell on it. However, the rest of their elements were lovely, especially the throw 3Lp, which had gorgeous flow and height. I felt their performance was strong artistically; the judges agreed, giving them 3rd-best PCS marks. They were 4th after the SP.

Yu/Jin struggled a bit technically in their “Humility and Love” LP. Xiaoyu landed forward on the SBS 3T, put a hand down on a SBS 2A, and slipped off her landing edge on the throw 3Lp. However, she and partner Yang rallied and delivered the rest of the elements cleanly. I thought the program was lovely; Yu/Jin felt really engaged with it (unlike in some other performances this season). I just love the mysterious mood this program creates, as well as Yu/Jin’s enigmatic chemistry. Despite the technical problems, they earned their highest PCS of the season (63.65) to hold off Kayne/O’Shea for 3rd LP/overall.

I hope Yu/Jin can get back to full strength physically by Worlds. Xiaoyu has been through a lot this season! Yu/Jin will no doubt be aiming for a top 10 placement at Worlds–and I think they’ll get there, if they’re in decent shape physically and show the same emotional commitment to the programs that we saw at 4CCs.

Kayne/O’Shea

The new U.S. champions had a tough competition at 4CCs; Tarah unfortunately came down with a viral infection. However, she battled through, and Kayne/O’Shea placed 4th, an improvement on last year’s 8th place.

Kayne-O'Shea-spiral.jpg

Not their best, but a strong effort nonetheless

Kayne/O’Shea’s SP was a bit disappointing. There was only one obvious error—Tarah fell on the SBS 3S. But minor slips on a few other elements (crashy twist, too-high death spiral) led to negative GOE. Their new “Take Me to Church” program, so effective at Nationals, seemed to lack impact and power at 4CCs (possibly due to Tarah’s illness). They were 7th.

Tarah/Danny then fought back with a fine performance of their “Music of the Night” (POTO) LP. Their twist looked better in this program, and they landed a very good set of SBS 2A/2A, as well as SBS 3S. Tarah had to fight for the landing edge on the throw 3S, but held on and got full base value for it. The only error was a fall on the throw 3Lz, late in the program. Their interpretation was light and lovely, as usual, but again, seemed to lack some of the power of their Nationals LP. Tarah/Danny pulled up to 4th LP/overall, only .04 points behind Yu/Jin in the LP. It’s interesting to compare the two teams’ scores—K/O beat Y/J by 3.34 points TES in the LP, but fell behind by 3.38 points PCS. Advantage = Yu/Jin.

It’s really too bad Tarah/Danny had to deal with illness at 4CCs right after their exciting win at U.S. Nationals. But I think their reaction to the situation says so much about them as a pair. “I figured it wouldn’t be fair to my partner if I gave up and he wasn’t given the chance to skate the free program,” said Tarah afterward. “I tried my best to get through the program … I think we stayed together through the whole thing.” That kind of selflessness, concern, and caring seems to typify Tarah/Danny’s partnership. There’s always a sense with this couple that they are the best of friends and truly support each other.

Looking ahead to Boston, I’m sure Kayne/O’Shea are hoping to do well at their first Worlds. It’s a little hard to assess their chances at this point. The numbers indicate that a top 20 finish is more likely than top 10. However, Tarah/Danny have shown multiple times this season that they are fighters and are quite capable of laying down clean programs when it counts (especially in the LP). Plus, they should have great support from the home crowd in Boston. So, although the numbers suggest top 20, I wouldn’t rule out top 10 as a strong possibility.

Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch

Luba/Dylan had a decent competition at 4CCs to place 5th in both segments/overall (one spot up from last year’s 6th).

Luba-Dylan

Showing improvement

Luba/Dylan’s Led Zeppelin SP was fairly strong technically except for their SBS 3T, which Luba fell on and underrotated. They lost about 4 points on that element, but everything else was pretty good. Luba/Dylan’s triple twist is looking so much improved since last year. They’re getting better height, and the catch is much higher and smoother than before. They got level 2 in the SP and level 3 in the LP, and only one negative GOE mark overall in both programs on the twist. So, great progress there! Artistically, I thought their short program was polished but lacking in spark. They were 5th.

Luba/Dylan’s long program to Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 was a bit up and down. As noted, they started strongly with the improved triple twist. They also landed both throw jumps; the throw 3Lz had nice height and got all +1s/+2s. However, Luba had mistakes on both SBS jump elements, which cost them at least 8 points off their planned base value. Fortunately, their lifts were all very strong and elegant and earned nice positive GOE, somewhat offsetting the jump problems. As with the twist, Luba/Dylan’s lifts are looking much improved from the start of the season and are now highlights in the program.

As for the program itself, I really enjoyed the final minute of it. The spiral sequence toward the end is beautiful, and combined with their final big carry lift and gorgeous death spiral, nicely expresses the building excitement of the music. However, the first two-thirds of the program are not as involving/interesting to me. All season long, I’ve been trying to discern the theme of this program. Is it supposed to be romantic, or a more abstract expression of the serene but majestic music? I think the latter, but it’s not clear.

I have to say, I’m somewhat disappointed in Luba/Dylan’s programs this year. I think it’s because the programs don’t feel as distinctive and personal  to Luba/Dylan as last year’s programs did. The programs are fine, but generic in my opinion. And neither really plays to Luba/Dylan’s natural chemistry, which was such a strength of theirs last season.

Nonetheless, Luba/Dylan’s skating has improved a lot over the season, and they  are looking much more comfortable on the ice now than they did last fall. It’s been a mixed season so far, but I’m hoping we will see their best performances at Worlds. One thing to work on going into Worlds: Levels. Luba/Dylan had a quite a few level 3 elements in both programs; they need to get those elements up to level 4 to maximize their technical scores.

Castelli/Tran

Marissa/Mervin placed 6th in both segments/overall at their first major ISU championship together.

Castelli-Tran.jpg

Some pluses & minuses for Mervissa

Mervissa’s Summertime SP started with a crashy triple twist, which got negative GOE. They landed the SBS 3S, but with a slight foot down from Mervin. Fortunately, the throw 3S was great, with a beautiful running edge out, and got +1s/+2s. The rest of the program was clean, but seemed to lack a bit of intensity compared to some other events this season.

Marissa/Mervin’s Journey LP started with more problems on the triple twist. The catch looked low, and Marissa fell on the exit. Unfortunately, this set the tone for the program. Marissa/Mervin both had slight issues on the SBS 3S, and Mervin tripped slightly after throwing Marissa into the throw 2A. However, there were also some positives in this program. Marissa landed both throw jumps cleanly for the first time this season, and they also landed the SBS 3T (although singling the following 2T). I really liked the fact that they fought for everything and didn’t double or pop any jumps (a problem earlier in the season). Artistically, the program didn’t have quite the same spark or energy as at U.S. Nationals, but I still enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, the judges didn’t fully agree. In both programs, Marissa/Mervin’s PCS lagged behind Luba/Dylan’s and Kayne/O’Shea’s rather noticeably, particularly in the long program, with some judges going down into the 6s on Marissa/Mervin’s PCS marks. For two skaters who are generally considered to have some of the strongest skating skills in the field, these marks are a bit puzzling and definitely disappointing. My guess is there are several factors at play. First and foremost, I think Marissa/Mervin just don’t have the judges’ full respect yet, due to several messy performances this season. Second, any time you have problems on the triple twist at the start of both programs, the judges are not going to be impressed. Third, I reluctantly have to conclude that Mervissa’s programs this season just didn’t fully resonate with the international judges.

Going into next season, I think program selection will be important. Marissa/Mervin need to find music that they enjoy personally, but is also appealing to the judges. I don’t think they need to go with a warhorse, but maybe try something with a bit more depth and emotion. They could possibly look to Stolbova/Klimov’s programs this year for inspiration. Like Stolbova/Klimov, Marissa/Mervin are a team with very strong skating skills but a little bit different style on the ice. They don’t have that classic/romantic traditional pairs look, so they need to find their own artistic approach. I already can’t wait to see what they come up with. 🙂

Ryom/Kim

It was a bit of a shock to see this new North Korean team come 7th in their first major ISU event. Until the Ice Challenge event in Austria this fall, 17-year-old Tae Ok and her 23-year-old partner Ju Sik had never competed internationally. However, they skated quite well in Taipei.

Ryom-Kim

The new pair from North Korea

Their short program, set to a Tchaikovsky piece (“Salute to Love”), was well done except for the opening triple twist, which had a 2-footed landing. The other elements were pretty clean, with the highlight being their pairs combination spin, which received a couple +2s. The program was elegant and quite appealing. Tae Ok and Ju Sik have a nice, gentle look together and seem well-matched physically. They were 8th.

Their long program to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker was just as good. Once again, the only problem element was the triple twist. Everything else was executed fairly cleanly. Their opening SBS 3Ts earned straight +1s; the following throw 3S had nice distance and speed. The program was a bit old-school but still quite enjoyable to watch. Tae Ok/Ju Sik have nice line and unison together, and appear well trained. They do need more speed and attack; and their second SBS jumping pass in the LP is junior-level (2 Lp/2T combo). However, there’s a lot to like about their skating, especially their consistency.

It’ll be interesting to see how much this team competes internationally next year and how they develop. For now, they look promising.

Grenier/Deschamps

This was Vanessa/Maxime’s first opportunity to skate in a major ISU championship. Alas, they had numerous problems in both programs and placed a distant 8th.

Vanessa/Maxime did land the SBS 3Ts in their “Por una cabeza” SP and received some positive GOE for their lift and step sequence (which was nicely choreographed). However, there were problems on most of the other elements, and they placed 10th/last in the SP.

They did pull up a little with their Don Juan de Marco LP, but still had many mistakes. Vanessa fell on the SBS 3S, doubled the SBS 3T, and 2-footed the throw 3S. The lifts were also problematic–the entrance was shaky on both lasso lifts, and the third lift was slow through the carry section. They lost levels on all 3 lifts and also got some negative GOE. They finished 8th LP/overall.

Vanessa/Maxime have a natural chemistry and rapport, and I actually quite like their programs/packaging. However, technically, they are really struggling right now. Very few of their elements look secure and stable, and their overall GOE in this event was negative (-6.85 total). There’s a slowness/tentativeness to their skating that doesn’t help their overall impression. With some talented pairs coming up them in Canada, they have a lot to work on this off-season.

Suto/Boudreau Audet

This new team from Japan is in their first season together.

Sumire Suto Francis Boudreau Audet

Suto/Boudreau Audet perform a throw jump (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

They skated two decent, but rather forgettable, programs to place 9th/last. They seem well matched, but are still developing as a team. Their best element is the throw 3S, which was nicely done in both programs. However, a couple of their lifts in the LP were a mess, and they do not yet have a triple twist.

Duhamel/Radford—W/D

As mentioned above, Meagan came down with a terrible case of stomach flu in Taipei. She and Eric fought through the SP and actually skated quite well. But Meagan looked so pale and drawn afterward in the kiss-n-cry, it was clear she was not well. She and Eric were forced to withdraw from the LP, which no doubt was very discouraging, after all the travel to get to this event. I really respect them for putting forth such an effort in the SP, despite Meagan’s obvious illness. I’m sure this disappointment at 4CCs will leave them all the more eager for a strong showing at Worlds later this month.

Duhamel-Radford

A valiant effort in the short program (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

Truth be told, it’s hard to predict how Duhamel/Radford will fare in Boston. They are defending World champions … but they’ve had a challenging season, the level of competition at the top is increasing, and, adding to the confusion, it’s not even clear which top Russian pairs they will face at Worlds. There’s just a lot of uncertainty. When you look at average scores over the GP and major championship season, Meagan/Eric still have the highest average base value among top pairs and among the highest average total scores. However, their PCS/GOE are lagging behind some other teams, so it’s hard to say what will happen. The good thing is, it’ll be a short trip to Boston, and they should have good fan support there. I think at this point, Meagan/Eric just have to focus on their own training and try not to worry about the competition. Just remember the success of last year, and focus on doing what they do well.

Wrap-up

Although the 4CCs pairs event wasn’t at the same level as Europeans, there was still some great skating, especially from Sui/Han and Scimeca/Knierim.

Now, it’s on to the big event. Worlds starts one month from today in Boston. It should be an incredible competition, and I’m happy to say that I’ll be able to attend in person, since I live in Boston! I’ll try to provide as much coverage of the event as possible.

Are you as excited as I am? 🙂

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