Welcome to the second annual edition of my Best, Most, and Worst of Pairs! This is a review of my personal highlights of the year in pairs. I’ve expanded some of last year’s categories and added a few new ones! Included are my picks for the top 10 long programs and short programs of the season (with videos). Enjoy (and feel free to disagree)!
PAIR of the YEAR: Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot This season saw increased competition at the top in pairs. No single pair dominated the way Duhamel/Radford did last year or Volosozhar/Trankov did the previous year. The 4 biggest events of 2015-16 (Worlds, Euros, 4CCs, GPF) were won by 4 different pairs. With no one pair dominating, the team that caught my interest the most was new pair Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot. In only their first season competing together, Aliona/Bruno immediately established themselves as top contenders by winning silver at Euros and bronze at Worlds. Their sudden, unexpected emergence as a top-tier team made them the talk of the skating world, and they brought a whole new energy and excitement to pairs in 2015-16. That’s why they are my Pair of the Year.
PAIRS COACHES of the YEAR: Richard Gauthier/Bruno Marcotte It was another highly successful season for coaches Richard Gauthier/Bruno Marcotte, who have rather quietly been building one of the best pairs schools in the world. Gauthier/Marcotte’s top team Duhamel/Radford repeated as World champions; they also had a second pair, Moore-Towers/Marinaro, in the top 8. Two other pairs who train either full- or part-time with them also competed at Worlds (Marchei/Hotarek, Suto/Boudreau Audet). In addition, Marcotte guided U.S. pair Castelli/Tran to bronze at U.S. Nationals. The Montreal pairs school is distinguished not only by its success, but by its reported camaraderie and positive working environment. All the Montreal pairs seem genuinely pleased to train together and truly supportive of each other (despite being competitors!). Not only is there a friendly atmosphere, Gauthier/Marcotte have put together all the pieces needed to ensure their skaters have great packaging, as well as good technical coaching. It’s a formula that I’m sure will continue to produce more champions.
BEST SET of PROGRAMS
GOLD Astakhova/Rogonov This young Russian team arguably had the best programs of the year. Their short program to The Artist was glamorous and fun, with many special choreographic flourishes echoing the movie concept/time period. The uptempo music suited Alexei, who’s an extroverted performer, and playing the character of a flapper brought out some sparkle from Kristina. Their “doll/puppet master” LP was completely different in tone—very intense and dramatic—and never less than fascinating to watch. Both programs were created by talented Russian choreographer Sergei Komolov.
SILVER Stolbova/Klimov I really loved both of Stolbova/Klimov’s programs because they were so perfect for them. The “I Put a Spell on You” SP was an absolute showcase for Ksenia, brilliantly emphasizing her sexy, yet slightly forbidding, quality on ice. And the moody LP to The Unknown Known played off the intense, yet at times uneasy, chemistry that Ksenia/Fedor have. No other pair could have skated these pieces as well as Stolbova/Klimov; kudos to choreographer Nikolai Morozov for creating the programs for them.
BRONZE Volosozhar/Trankov In the past, I’ve never been a big fan of Volosozhar/Trankov’s programs. But I loved both of this year’s choices, choreographed by Nikolai Morozov. Their Bollywood SP is brilliant and has become one of my favorite pairs programs ever. And the Dracula program, although not as original, was still very interesting, with Max perfectly cast as a charismatic Dracula.
BEST PERFORMANCE in LONG PROGRAM
Below are some of my favorite long programs from this season. Last year, I listed my top 5 LPs; but this year, I’ve expanded the list to top 10. Didn’t want to miss any great programs!
GOLD Stolbova/Klimov at GPF Stolbova/Klimov were nearly perfect in this stunning performance at the Grand Prix Final. When Ksenia/Fedor are in top form, it’s almost scary how good they are. They were fierce, aggressive, and fast in this program, carrying tremendous speed into every element. What struck me was the total commitment and mastery Ksenia/Fedor showed in this program. They held absolutely nothing back. It was certainly the best pairs long program we’ve seen since Sochi.
SILVER Duhamel/Radford at Worlds Meagan/Eric’s performance at Worlds was a joy to watch. They were truly “in the zone” in this skate, hitting every element so well and performing with such passion. The joy on Meagan’s face as they finished their program was a beautiful thing to see. All skaters dream of a moment like this!
BRONZE Savchenko/Massot at Tallinn Trophy It was the element of surprise that made Savchenko/Massot’s first competitive free skate so exciting. No one knew what to expect when they took the ice in Tallinn; what they delivered astounded me. The program was technically excellent (aside from slightly 2-footed throws). It was also amazingly polished and confident artistically. Although they were skatingto a nearly empty arena in Tallinn, the quality and intensity of the performance was almost as if they were skating at Worlds.
FOURTH Volosozhar/Trankov at Europeans This was Tatiana/Max’s best long program during their comeback season. They skated nearly clean and did well interpreting the dark and dramatic Dracula music. You could argue that the program lacked a bit in lightness and ease, but I suppose that wouldn’t have been in character with the music, anyhow.
FIFTH Sui/Han at Worlds Sui/Han struggled in the long program all season and were never really close to skating clean. Yet, their Worlds LP still ranks in my top 5, simply because of the performance quality. Although they made some technical errors, they never let the performance slip. What I loved most was how Wenjing seized every small moment to portray the passionate character of Delilah. Her facial expressions—her arm flourishes–the sharpness of her stops and turns—all were perfect for the character and music. As I’ve rewatched this program, the intensity and passion of Sui’s performance reminds me of nothing so much as Michelle Kwan skating to Salome.
SIXTH Kavaguti/Smirnov at COC Yuko/Sasha’s best performance this season of Manfred Symphony was at Cup of China. They skated the program with great speed and expression, and went for 2 quad throws as well!
SEVENTH Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch at Worlds This was one of the most inspiring, and surprising, long programs of the year. Luba/Dylan had a rocky fall/winter season, but then produced this magnificent free skate at Worlds. Technically it was a strong program, with just one mistake on the side-by-side Salchows. But what made it special was Luba’s exceptional radiance on the ice. Some skaters at Worlds appeared overwhelmed by the moment and the huge crowds–not Lubov Ilyushechkina. Her joy was apparent, her star shining brighter than ever in this performance.
EIGHTH Kayne/O’Shea at U.S. Nationals Tarah/Danny’s long program at Nationals was just so complete. Every element was in place; every movement was a lovely reflection of the music. It was just an immensely satisfying performance to watch.
NINTH Seguin/Bilodeau at Canadians Like Tarah/Danny, Seguin/Bilodeau really delivered at their national championships, turning in a clean performance with good speed and flow. From a technical standpoint, this program lacked nothing.
TENTH Tarasova/Morozov at Europeans Tarasova/Morozov were saddled with a rather generic, dull long program this year. Nonetheless, they performed it very well at Europeans. The program was fairly clean technically, and I thought they skated with more freedom and intent here than anywhere else this season.
BEST PERFORMANCE in SHORT PROGRAM
GOLD Volosozhar/Trankov at Russians This was my favorite performance of V/T’s Bollywood SP. It had everything: Speed, excitement, great elements, complex choreography, and star power.
SILVER Sui/Han at Worlds Just brilliant. An amazing performance from Sui/Han, which earned the highest SP score of the year internationally. I have it in 2nd only because I feel like V/T had harder choreography.
BRONZE Stolbova/Klimov at GPF Even with some slight technical imperfections, this was still an amazing short program from Stolbova/Klimov. Just so well skated–and so sexy. 🙂
FOURTH Kavaguti/Smirnov at Rostelecom I really liked Kavaguti/Smirnov’s “I Finally Found Someone” SP. I thought their best performance of it came at Rostelecom (although it was also very good at the Grand Prix Final).
FIFTH Savchenko/Massot at Europeans This charming short program was a hit at Europeans, where the crowd was more than happy to welcome back 4-time European champion Aliona.
SIXTH Seguin/Bilodeau at GPF Seguin/Bilodeau’s “Monde Inverse” SP was a favorite with many skating fans, and they made a big splash with it at the GP Final, where they skated with great speed and showed off some strong elements. The best part of the program was the impressive step sequence, featuring beautiful, deep edges and turns.
SEVENTH Scimeca/Knierim at NHK Alexa/Chris made a strong impression with their Metallica SP this year. The hard-driving music and Alexa’s rocker-chick catsuit showed off a new side to this pair’s skating, one that audiences and judges both seemed to appreciate. Alexa/Chris won the SP at Skate America with this routine, but I think their cleanest performance came at NHK.
EIGHTH James/Cipres at TEB James/Cipres also turned heads with their bluesy, sensual SP to Joss Stone’s “I Put a Spell on You.” The program was shown off to its best advantage at their home Grand Prix.
NINTH Wang/Wang at Skate America I saw Wang/Wang’s Romance SP live at Skate America and loved it. They just floated over the ice with such lightness and elegance, and the program was technically clean, too. It’s not power skating, but it’s beautiful.
TENTH Bazarova/Deputat at Russians Vera/Andrei’s Chopin SP was a bit of a hidden gem this season. You didn’t hear about much it, but I thought this lovely, lyrical program was perfect for them. Their performance at Russian Nationals was particularly good. There are some truly standout moments in this routine, including Bazarova’s long, beautiful edge coming out of the throw triple loop (she covers a full circle on her landing foot), and B/D’s combo spin at the end, which I think is one of the prettiest pairs spins in the world.
BY the NUMBERS: HIGHEST-SCORING ELEMENTS of the SEASON
Note: These numbers are from Grand Prix and major ISU championships only (no senior Bs/nationals)
QUAD TWIST Scimeca/Knierim in 4CCs LP: 10.53 points
TRIPLE TWIST Tarasova/Morozov in Worlds LP/Skate Canada LP: 8.60 points
Volosozhar/Trankov in Euros LP: 8.60 points
QUAD THROW Sui/Han in 4CCs LP: 10.49 points
TRIPLE THROW Sui/Han in CoC LP/Skate America LP/Skate America SP: 7.60 points
LIFT Duhamel/Radford in Worlds LP 9.30 points
SOLO JUMP Duhamel/Radford in Worlds SP 7.10 points
JUMP COMBO Stolbova/Klimov in GPF LP 10.70 points
GOLD Della Monica/Guarise It was a great year for Della Monica/Guarise; I thought they were the most-improved team overall. Their programs were much better and more sophisticated than in the past; their performance level deeper; and their technical elements more consistent. They jumped up 3 spots at Worlds (against a tougher field than 2015-16), won Italian Nationals, and won 2 Challenger Series medals.
SILVER Seguin/Bilodeau Julianne/Charlie showed significant technical improvement this season, adding a solid throw triple Lutz to their arsenal and greatly improving the height of their triple twist.
BRONZE Kayne/O’Shea Tarah/Danny made some big steps forward this season. They added the throw triple Lutz (with a difficult entry). Plus, their lifts were faster and smoother. They also improved their consistency (especially in the LP) and their overall presentation level.
BEST COMEBACK PERFORMANCE
GOLD Savchenko/Massot at Tallinn Trophy I’m not sure if this was a performance or a statement of intent. 🙂
SILVER Stolbova/Klimov at Rostelecom Stolbova/Klimov barely looked like themselves at Skate America in late October and failed to even make the podium. But they came roaring back at Rostelecom, looking much improved over the start of the season and putting on a great show for their home crowd.
BRONZE Moore-Towers/Marinaro at Worlds After a bad fall on their triple twist at Canadian Nationals and a 4th-place finish, it looked like Kirsten/Mike’s season was over. However, they got the call to replace Seguin/Bilodeau at Worlds and rebounded strongly in Boston, putting out 2 quality programs for a surprising 8th-place finish.
BEST SEASON: FIRST- OR SECOND-YEAR SENIOR PAIR
GOLD Savchenko/Massot Is there any doubt who belongs in the top spot?
SILVER Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch They moved up 6 spots at Worlds, from 13th to 7th—and against a tougher field, too. Yay, Luba/Dylan!!
BRONZE Moore-Towers/Marinaro There were definitely some rough patches, but it ended well for Moore-Towers/Marinaro. They won a GP bronze and were 8th at Worlds. Pretty good for Year 2!
MOST WORRISOME FALL (yes, unfortunately, this is now a category)
-3 GOE Cheng Peng hits her head on the ice in throw quad Salchow fall during practice at TEB
-3 GOE Moore-Towers/Marinaro fall on the triple twist at Canadian Nationals
-1 GOE Cheng Peng crashes into wall after throw triple loop at Worlds
MOST ROLLER-COASTER SEASON
GOLD Stolbova/Klimov Ksenia/Fedor had a rather odd season. It started with a subpar showing at Skate America, where they were out of sync and off the podium. They turned things around at Rostelecom and notched a huge win at the GP Final. But then injuries struck, and they missed both Russian Nationals and Euros. They concluded their season at Worlds with performances that weren’t bad, but far from their best.
SILVER Scimeca/Knierim Alexa/Chris were up and down this season, from competition to competition, and from program to program. They won the SP at Skate America SP, but the LP wasn’t great. Qualifying for GPF = amazing, last place at GPF = disappointing, Nationals = okay, 4CCs = great, Worlds = what happened?
BRONZE Yu/Jin This team faced many challenges in what would turn out to be their final season together: Injuries, illness, pressure to try quads, a packed schedule of Chinese/international competitions. It was a test of their endurance, but they still won 2 GP medals and 4CCs bronze.
MOST EXCITING JUNIOR PAIR
Duskova/Bidar I really enjoyed this young pair at Junior Worlds! They have lovely speed and fluidity, and seem very well-matched. Their look on the ice is quite mature for a junior team. I sort of wish they were moving up to the senior Grand Prix next season! Instead, they’ve opted to do another season on the Junior Grand Prix. But we may also see them compete in seniors at Europeans.
BEST MOMENTS in AMERICAN PAIRS
GOLD Scimeca/Knierim qualify for Grand Prix Final In an up-and-down season for American pairs, the high point was Scimeca/Knierim qualifying for the Grand Prix Final. It was the first time an American pair had qualified in 8 years; a very encouraging step forward.
SILVER Kayne/O’Shea win first national title Tarah/Danny’s victory at Nationals was emotional and exciting. It was also impressive technically, with Tarah/Danny delivering 2 clean programs.
BRONZE Scimeca/Knierim win silver at 4CCs Alexa/Chris’s excellent LP in Taipei won them the silver medal and showed what they’re capable of at their best.
PEWTER Castelli/Tran win bronze at Nationals, silver at U.S. International Classic Marissa/Mervin’s first full season together resulted in a National medal, a Challenger Series medal, and a 4th-place finish at Skate Canada. I’m sure they hoped for more, but it was a respectable debut season for this talented team.
WORST of the SEASON
-3 GOE Chinese pairs: WTH? After a brilliant season last year in which the Chinese pairs went #2-3-4 at both Worlds/Four Continents and #1 at Junior Worlds, the Chinese federation seemingly decided to shoot themselves in the foot this year. Although Sui/Han were (thankfully) supported and given a decent shot to succeed, the decisions made regarding the other 3 senior Chinese pairs were very hard to understand, explain, or, frankly, excuse.
So many wrong turns were made, all by the federation/leadership, not the pairs themselves: 1) Not giving Yu/Jin and Wang/Wang new programs, 2) Forcing Yu/Jin and Peng/Zhang to try quad throws that clearly weren’t ready, 3) Making Yu/Jin compete as juniors in their national events, 4) Making Yu/Jin compete at China’s National Winter Games despite obvious injury/illness, 4) Not sending Wang/Wang to 4CCs when they had an open slot, 5) Not sending Yu/Jin to Worlds, although they clearly had the second-best record of the Chinese pairs this season, 6) Scheduling a high-stakes test skate (of questionable legitimacy) just days before Worlds practices started.
And then things got worse. Much worse. After Worlds, it was first rumored, then confirmed, that the federation was splitting up Peng/Zhang and Yu/Jin and forcibly re-pairing them into 2 new teams. The announced purpose? To give Hao Zhang the best chance to fight for a medal at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. (When he will be 37.5 years old.)
Regardless of the wisdom or feasibility of this goal, it was fairly clear that the other three skaters involved (Peng, Yu, and Jin) opposed this partner swap. For fans in China and the West, seeing the Chinese federation force these skaters into new partnerships against their will has been very difficult to watch.
-2 GOE Injuries It was a rough season for the pairs, physically. So many teams struggled with injuries that affected their performances and/or forced them to withdraw from events. Stolbova/Klimov had to withdraw from Russians and Europeans; Sui/Han withdrew from GPF and Sui had surgery right after Worlds; Kavaguti/Smirnov withdrew from Euros/Worlds; Seguin/Bilodeau withdrew from Worlds; Denney/Frazier lost the entire season. It was sad to see so many teams struggling with injuries. I’m really hoping for a much healthier season for all the pairs next year.
-1 GOE Premature quad attempts? Last fall, we saw quite a few pairs trying quad throws that seemed more like experiments than elements. Few attempts were successful. I love the ambition, but should pairs look to achieve a certain success rate in practice before adding quads to the programs?
Costumes are so subjective!! But here are my personal picks for best costumes this season:
GOLD Duhamel Radford LP These were my favorite costumes of the year. The deep, gorgeous blue shade was wonderfully flattering to Meagan/Eric, with their dark coloring. And the simple, elegant cut matched the direct simplicity of their music. The spare black silk trim on Eric’s shirt was an elegant touch, bringing his outfit together. Meagan’s gold/silver/blue beaded collar added just enough bling to keep her dress from being boring, as did the beaded insert on the back. Meagan/Eric almost always have nice costumes (as do all the Montreal teams), but these are my favorite costumes ever from them.
SILVER Volosozhar/Trankov SP I adored V/T’s Bollywood costumes–especially Tatiana’s. I’m always drawn to green costumes, as they’re still somewhat rare in skating. And the combination of the bright green with the gold trim, plus maroon accents, was just so festive and fun, like their Bollywood music. Max’s costume was nice, but not as interesting. That’s okay; it allowed Tatiana to shine all the brighter. 🙂
BRONZE Stolbova/Klimov SP Could any costume be more perfect for Stolbova? The sophisticated black, the long sleeves, and the severe, plain-cut front of the dress were cleverly offset by a daring, open back and split skirt, held together only by a jeweled band. This severe yet sexy dress was as eye-catching as Ksenia’s bold, short shortcut. There was a lot of buzz about this costume when it was debuted at Skate America. Fedor’s outfit was fine–but somewhat beside the point.
FOURTH Astakhova/Rogonov LP These costumes beautifully portrayed the story of a puppet master and his doll. The delicate ruffles and pale pink color of Kristina’s costume subtly suggested a doll’s dress, while the painted inserts on her back and arms denoted the machinery inside the doll. Alexei’s black apron-top and brown leather vest made you think of a 19th-century artisan crafting his puppets.
FIFTH Astakhova/Rogonov SP Another set of lovely costumes for Astakhova/Rogonov. Kristina’s outfit was sophisticated: The fringed skirt, sleek cut, curved Art Deco shaping of the beading and headband, and glamorous white/silver/gold palette created the perfect flapper dress. Alexei’s black/white look, bow tie, and film-roll decoration on his leg all echoed the theme of the silent-movie filmmaker.
SIXTH Savchenko/Massot LP I just love it when Aliona breaks out one of her unitards. It always reduces me to awed amazement at her audacity and sheer physical perfection. (A reaction perhaps intended for her competitors as well?) This year’s version, if not as iconic as her Pink Panther unitard, was still a costume I’ll not soon forget. Aliona looked amazing in this black/red ombre-shaded outfit. It was instantly eye-catching. Bruno’s costume used the same colors and shading to create a matching, yet more masculine version of the look. I liked the black belt and front seaming on his pants.
SEVENTH James/Cipres SP Speaking of bold unitards, Vanessa James’s black version was even more daring! I thought this outfit stopped just short of going over the top for a competitive costume. At first glance, the unitard appeared discreet enough, with long sleeves and covered shoulders. But look closer, and there was a daringly low slit in back, flesh cutouts above the hips, and an unmistakable view of cleavage. Audience-pleasing, I’m sure. 🙂 Morgan’s black outfit with V-neck front and leather trim was a nice complement.
EIGHTH Kavaguti/Smirnov SP I loved this red dress on Yuko; it was so elegant. The one-sleeved design, curved stripes, and single cutout were unexpected elements that made an otherwise simple dress interesting. And the all-over sequins and silk trim gave the dress an expensive, luxurious look. Smirnov’s classic tux, with only a simple red bow tie as embellishment, was the perfect foil.
NINTH Stolbova/Klimov LP These costumes were interesting and a bit unusual, like the program they accompanied. It’s not too common to see dark charcoal-gray or steel-gray ladies’ costumes; but this subdued shade looked terrific on Ksenia. The wide black ribbon trim added intrigue, as did the cutout down the side. The flat pleating and bow on the skirt were feminine touches that softened the look. Fedor’s costume was plain and masculine–a style I appreciate.
TENTH Volosozhar/Trankov LP These rich-looking period costumes were perfect for V/T’s Dracula program. Max’s white blouse and burgundy velvet vest, with gold/black trim, effectively suggested a 19th-century antihero. (The black leather pants were perhaps anachronistic, but attractive.) And Tatiana’s somber dark burgundy dress, with long sleeves, high collar, and long skirt in back, nicely suited the time period/theme.
It was an interesting season in pairs. So many highlights, but some heart-tugging moments, too. The depth of the field and the level of technical difficulty continued to rise, but the actual level of execution sometimes sagged a bit. We saw a lot of tough, difficult programs, but very few clean & inspired performances. More than ever, the challenge for the pairs is finding a balance between increased technical difficulty and maintaining high performance quality–all while hopefully remaining injury-free. It’s a tall order, for sure. I’m already looking forward to seeing how the pairs meet the challenge next season!
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