Skate Canada 2016: Pairs Review

Skate Canada was the first Grand Prix event for two-time World champions Duhamel/Radford. Their presence automatically raised the level of this competition; but there were quite a few other good pairs in the field as well. Overall, this was a better-skated pairs event than at Skate America, with some close competition for the medals. Let’s see what happened.

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The medalists  (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America)

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Duhamel/Radford

Last spring in Boston, Meagan/Eric reached such a peak of success: They won their second World championship and set a new personal-best score in the free skate. When you have such success, I think the temptation is to continue doing what you’re doing—because why not, it’s working. However, Duhamel/Radford haven’t taken that approach this season. Once again, Meagan/Eric are challenging themselves by trying to add a major new element in the short progam: Throw triple Axel. Just as exciting, they’ve taken a bit of a different direction this year with their programs and packaging. It was interesting to see the results in Mississauga.

Meagan/Eric started the competition by landing the throw triple Axel in the short program! Wheee, that was an exciting element to see! It was a low landing, and Meagan’s free foot brushed the ice, but still a good jump. I really like Meagan/Eric’s sheer chutzpah in going for this element. Other pairs have landed throw triple Axels (Inoue/Baldwin, Savchenko/Szolkowy), but none have really made it a consistent element, so I see this as a risky but bold move on Meagan/Eric’s part.

It’s also a sound move, mathematically. The throw triple Axel carries a pretty big bonus: It’s worth 7.7 points in base value, or 2.2 points more than the throw triple Lutz. Even with a little negative GOE, Meagan/Eric still earned 7.27 points on it. If you combine that with the 1.6-point advantage their SBS 3Lz gives them over most other pairs, that means Meagan/Eric could potentially start every short program with almost a 4-point base value advantage over most rivals. That’s big!

Another risk that Meagan/Eric took in this short program: Skating to Seal’s “Killer.” This song has such a cool sound, with Seal’s distinctive vocals and a rock/funk vibe. The emotional feel is spare and detached. In the past, Meagan/Eric have usually skated to lyrical, accessible, melodic music in the short program, so this is a very different look for them. Personally, I think it’s one of their most interesting programs. The choreography is sharp and punchy. The rock music shows off their athleticism, but it has a different sound, and is more intriguing than, something like Metallica or Led Zeppelin.

Not only did Meagan/Eric land the throw 3A in the short program, their other elements were quite good too (although Eric had to eke out the landing on the SBS 3Lz). They had a lot of +2s. I think the only thing D/R need to do with this program is amp up the step sequence energy just a little more. The step sequence is very good already, but a little extra energy could be what brings the standing ovations and sky-high PCS. Overall it’s a great package, enhanced by Meagan’s edgy black unitard.

Duhamel/Radford’s new LP to “Je Ne Regrette Rien” by Patricia Kaas represents another stylistic departure. This routine, set to modern French chanson or cabaret music, is undoubtedly the most sophisticated program they’ve ever had. Until now, Meagan/Eric have always skated their LPs to relatively straightforward movie themes or pop songs. This music is more subtle, with an opening orchestral section followed by French vocals. Also, Meagan/Eric’s costumes are different; they chose a subdued lilac shade, and Meagan’s dress is more classic than usual, with long sleeves, jewel-encrusted bodice, and elegant oval cutout in back.

Altogether this program is so relatively different for D/R that I wasn’t sure what I thought, the first few times I saw it. But now, after Skate Canada, I am starting to really like this as a vehicle for Meagan/Eric. I think it gives them a new, mature, more passionate look, adding depth to their skating. There are many interesting choreographic touches that enhance the program–for example, I love the new spiral entrance into their throw 3Lz. Also, the ending of the Axel lasso lift is wonderful. As Meagan dismounts, Eric cradles her tenderly, with her head against his chest; then transitions into a spread-eagle choreo lift before gently setting her down. It’s an intimate, lovely sequence. I like this passionate, but restrained, mood from D/R. And the best part is, they have the whole season to grow with this program and make it even better.

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A tender moment in Meagan/Eric’s LP  (The Canadian Press/Mark Blinch)

Another nice thing I noticed about Meagan/Eric’s LP in Mississauga: Even though they had a pretty big fall on the throw 4S (Meagan confessed afterward: “That really hurt”), they still kept the emotional level really high in this program. Last year when they fell on the throw quad at NHK Trophy, the program fell off rather significantly; not so now. And that’s definitely the sign of an experienced and mature pair—that they can still pull off a great program, despite errors. Overall it wasn’t their strongest performance technically. In addition to the throw 4S fall, Eric struggled slightly on the SBS 3Lz landing and Meagan two-footed the last jump in their combo. But their other elements were good, and they won the event easily.

In skating, you either move forward every year, or you risk getting passed. Duhamel/Radford are once again moving forward, and I look forward to seeing what the rest of this season holds for them. Their next event is NHK Trophy–which should be an easy win, with Stolbova/Klimov out.

Yu/Zhang

This was the first Grand Prix event for Yu/Zhang, following the infamous Chinese partner swap last spring. I still have a lot of issues with how this pairing came about. But, in all fairness, I have to acknowledge that Yu/Zhang looked very, very strong in practices at Skate Canada. And they delivered during the competition as well.

Xiaoyu and her new partner, Hao, began with a technically strong SP to “Eternal Flame.” Their triple twist was high and easy; their SBS 3T was a bit far apart, but landed. And the throw 3Lp was outstanding, with great height and flow. You can’t argue with those kinds of elements. Yu/Zhang were firmly in 2nd place after the SP, scoring 69.43. In their very first program together in international competition, they came close to beating their previous personal-best SPs with their former partners (Peng/Zhang 71.68, Yu/Jin 70.06).

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Yu/Zhang: Amazing elements in their first international competition together        (The Canadian Press/Mark Blinch)

Xiaoyu/Hao continued with a very good performance of their Cavatina LP. They opened with a fantastic level 4 triple twist, which earned all +3s from the judges for a perfect score: 8.70. Yu/Zhang’s triple twists are already amazing; I assume they’ll probably start training a quad twist sooner rather than later. (Zhang did quad twist with former partner Cheng Peng.) Xiaoyu/Hao had some minor problems on the SBS 3T/2T and 2A, but the negative GOE was minimal. And next came an absolutely gorgeous throw 3Lp that, again, earned almost straight +3s for 7.0 points. The throw 3S was almost as good. They were quite off on the SBS spins, and their lifts could be a little faster, but technically, it was an incredible debut. There is little chemistry/interaction between them as yet; and the program is rather somber and detached. But this actually plays well with Xiaoyu’s remote beauty. Her arms are lovelier than ever, her expression more enigmatic than ever, and Hao adds power and solidity to the pairing. I have no idea where this partnership will go, but it undeniably started off well in Mississauga. Yu/Zhang earned an excellent score of 132.65 to place 2nd LP/overall.

Yu/Zhang next compete at Cup of China—against their former partners Peng/Jin, as well as two teams they beat here: Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch and Kavaguti/Smirnov. If they skate as well in China as they did here, they may win gold and book a trip to the Grand Prix Final.

Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch

This was I/M’s first major event since last spring’s surprise 7th-place finish at Worlds. Liubov/Dylan were able to build on that success, winning their first Grand Prix medal in Mississauga.

Liubov/Dylan’s “Tango Jalousie” SP was quite successful. They did have some problems on the SBS 3T—Liubov doubled, Dylan put a hand down. However, the rest of the program was clean. Their Axel lasso lift was a standout, with good speed, flow, and ice coverage; their step sequence was also nice, with some of it done in hold. This tango is an interesting choice for Liubov/Dylan—I like it, because it’s softer, less stiff and melodramatic, than typical tango programs. And the classic ballroom style shows off Liubov’s beautiful lines. A good program, and they scored 67.53 for 3rd.

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Liubov/Dylan spin their way onto the podium  (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America)

Liubov/Dylan’s Josh Groban LP was somewhat rocky. Liubov fell on the SBS 3T, and Dylan again put a hand down. They also doubled the SBS 3S, earning hardly any points with their SBS jumps. Liubov had a weak landing on the throw 3Lz, which cost them 2 points in negative GOE. The program was saved by a very good throw 3Lp toward the end and 2 strong lifts, with impressive ice coverage. However, with the earlier mistakes, the performance felt a bit sloppy. This Josh Groban program is so overtly, heart-on-your-sleeve romantic that it kind of demands a performance where the pair is very much in sync, together, and emotionally committed. I felt that from Liuba, but not so much from Dylan. He needs to bring a little more intensity IMO. Their PCS (65.14) seemed a bit high for what they put out on the day. But, judges tend to mark on the high side when you’re World #7 and close to that group of top teams.

It’s nice to see Liubov/Dylan in good shape at the start of this season. This was a much better competition for them than their first Grand Prix last year. And with their bronze medal, they do have a chance at the Grand Prix Final. Their next event will be Cup of China, where they will again face Yu/Zhang and Kavaguti/Smirnov, as well as a number of other mid-tier teams. I think their chances of medaling there are good.

Denney/Frazier

Haven/Brandon came into this event right off their silver medal at Skate America last week. It’s not easy having back-to-back GP assignments, but I thought Haven/Brandon handled it quite well. They looked pretty strong in practice at Skate Canada.

Haven/Brandon opened with a solid performance of their Don Juan SP. Their triple twist was easy and light, with a nice catch; the throw triple loop was excellent. The only problem came on the SBS 3S; Haven had a slight 2-ft and Brandon stepped out. Aside from that mistake, though, I thought this performance was perhaps even stronger than at Skate America. Haven/Brandon seemed really committed to the program, giving it a lot of expression. The step sequence, which earned a majority of +2s, had good speed and emotion. I enjoy this Don Juan program from Haven/Brandon. The Spanish duet music is a little unusual, and a bit formal. But the program is well-choreographed, and Haven/Brandon seem to enjoy performing it. They scored 66.50, about a point off their Skate America SP, for 4th.

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Another strong short program for Haven/Brandon

Haven/Brandon then had another great skate to their Somewhere in Time LP. I love this long program for them. It just draws me in, and always seems to go by so quickly. The program is simple, rather pure, poignant. Once again in this program, Haven/Brandon skated very cleanly … except for those pesky SBS jumps. Their level 3 triple twist was very nice, with good height and flow, and scored well. Their lifts were again a standout, with the reverse lasso lift earning straight +2s/+3. However, Haven singled the SBS 2A and the 2T in the combo. Worse yet, her SBS 3T was downgraded; overall they lost 4 points’ base value on the combo. Although the program was lovely, their score of 121.73 was 3.5 points off their SA score, and they had to settle for 4th place.

After the competition, some felt that Haven/Brandon skated cleaner overall than Liubov/Dylan and should have taken bronze. I think there’s an argument to be made that Haven/Brandon were a bit lowballed in PCS (62.58) versus I/M (65.14). Personally, I found Haven/Brandon’s program more enjoyable and artistically satisfying, and I think they have stronger unison; however, Liuba/Dylan do have a more mature look, and better extension/posture. I’m not entirely happy with the PCS, but the fact remains that Haven/Brandon did also lose some crucial points on the technical side. The two teams were fairly equivalent in SBS jumps and lifts. But not only did Haven/Brandon lose 4 points’ base value on the combo jump, they also lost 1.6 points off their death spiral score, compared to I/M. (Haven/Brandon did only two rotations, compared to three for I/M; also their positions were not as good.) So, it was close, but the medal went to I/M.

It’s too bad because, with a bronze, Denney/Frazier might have had a shot at the Grand Prix Final, which is now unlikely. However, this was still a strong event for D/F, and I think they should be very satisfied with their Grand Prix results, considering their comeback from injury. Haven/Brandon can now rest and train hard for U.S. Nationals, where they should definitely be favored for a medal, or even, perhaps, the title. It’s also possible they could be assigned to one of the later Challenger Series events.

Kavaguti/Smirnov

Like Denney/Frazier, Yuko/Sasha came into the Grand Prix off a major injury (Achilles tendon rupture for Yuko). Unfortunately, in their case, Yuko/Sasha just didn’t seem fully ready to be back in competition.

With Yuko’s recovery from her Achilles surgery, Kavaguti/Smirnov did not have time to create new programs this season. Instead, they returned to programs from the 2011-12 season: “All Alone” by Joe Satriani (SP) and Claire de Lune by Debussy (LP).

Kavaguti/Smirnov’s short program started with Yuko falling on the SBS 3T and ended with SBS spins that were very off sync and slow. They lost about 2.5 points on those elements. In between, they skated fairly well, completing a nice throw 3Lp and pretty good step sequence. However, I’m not really feeling this “All Alone” program for them. Yuko/Sasha don’t really have the sexy chemistry to pull off this sultry, bluesy music, and it doesn’t match well with Yuko’s delicate, ladylike presence. I don’t think this program plays to their strengths. They could only score 64.40, almost 12 points off their best, and were 5th.

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Kavaguti/Smirnov:  Not at their best  (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America)

Yuko/Sasha’s LP was stronger artistically, but not so much technically. Clair de Lune is one of Yuko/Sasha’s best-known programs, and rightfully so. It’s beautifully choreographed by Peter Tchernyshev, with lovely transitions and highlight moves. Unlike the SP, it takes advantage of all of Yuko/Sasha’s good points—their lightness, grace, and musicality. I love the program, and for me, it still cast a spell at Skate Canada. However, unfortunately, technically it was rather weak. Yuko again started with an awkward fall on the SBS 3T, and Sasha singled the first jump in the SBS 2A/2A sequence. They did land both triple throws, but the throws were kind of small. And many of their other elements seemed slow. Yuko was limping a little as she came off the ice, so injury may have affected the performance as well. Yuko/Sasha scored 118.35, much below their normal, and dropped to 6th LP/5th overall. It was their lowest-ever finish at a Grand Prix event. (Surprisingly, until this, they had never been off the podium at a regular GP event in their whole 11-year career!)

Kavaguti/Smirnov will next compete at Cup of China, where they’ll face three of the same pairs they met here, along with Peng/Jin and Vartmann/Blommaert.

Della Monica/Guarise

The Italian champions have been on the rise since last year. They closed last season with a career-best 11th-place finish at Worlds, then started this season by winning Lombardia Trophy. Going into this event, they definitely had some spoiler potential.

Unfortunately, Nicole/Matteo’s Carmina Burana SP was disappointing. Nicole stepped out of the SBS 3S and then had a big fall on the throw 3Lp, which took the energy out of the program. I like their power in this routine, but the pace of the music is challenging. They scored 59.25 for 6th.

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Della Monica/Guarise:  Matching unitards  (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America)

Nicole/Matteo’s Love Story LP was so much better. Here, they showed more what they’re capable of. They popped the SBS 3T/2T into 2T/1T, and the landing on the throw 3Lp was a bit rough. However, the throw triple 3S was really good, with nice flow and a good strong landing edge. And their triple twist, which continues to improve, looked clean and gained positive GOE. They closed the program with two strong lifts that earned mostly +2s, and solid SBS spins. It was a good performance from the Italians. Love Story is an interesting choice for them, because it of course invites comparison to Sale/Pelletier’s famous Love Story program. But if you just look at Nicole/Matteo’s routine on its own terms, I think it’s effective. They really pull the emotion out of the music and give you a bit of the story. There are some nice moments in the choreography. Nicole/Matteo earned 119.42 and pulled up to 5th LP/6th overall.

Coming into this event, it had actually been 2 years since Della Monica/Guarise’s last full Grand Prix. Last year, they only had one assignment, at Trophee Eric Bompard–which was canceled halfway through. So, perhaps some nerves affected them in the short program in Canada.

Della Monica/Guarise’s next GP event is Cup of China.

Jones/Reagan

This was Brittany/Joshua’s first-ever Grand Prix assignment, coming off their win at U.S. International Classic last month. They were rather outclassed in this field and finished a distant 7th.

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Jones/Reagan compete in their first Grand Prix  (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America)

Brittany/Josh’s short program is set to the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Under the Bridge.” It’s an intriguing choice. On the one hand, I think this music works for them; it gives them a modern look and doesn’t demand too much detail/stylistic precision. On the other hand, it does kind of feel like a gala program. Their best elements were a good Axel lasso lift and SBS spins. However, they had problems on the twist and jumps and could only score 54.23.

Jones/Reagan’s Turandot LP is generic and not as good a fit for them. They did land a good throw 3S in this program, but had problems on most of the other elements. They scored 97.45 for 7th.

Going forward, Jones/Reagan need to get their elements more consistent and up to a higher level. Also, they need to work on presentation. Brittany has nice long lines, and they look good together. But Josh needs to put more energy into his presentation/musical intepretation.

Wrap-up

So, that’s it for Skate Canada. Next week, the Grand Prix series moves to Russia, where we’ll see Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot make their Grand Prix debut. Seguin/Bilodeau will be their main challengers; Russian pairs Zabijako/Enbert and Astakhova/Rogonov should also be in the mix. Until then. 🙂

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3 Responses to Skate Canada 2016: Pairs Review

  1. Christine Love says:

    I attended the event and was thrilled to see Duhamel and Radford land their throw 3A. I enjoyed both of their programs but was worried when Meagan fell and seemed to twist her knee. Those Pair ladies are tough! I was very impressed with the new pairing of Yu and Zhang and think it was a good move for China. Very happy that they medalled. I liked Haven and Brandon and was happy for Lubov and Dylan to medal after lubov came off the ice shaking her head. I too think that Kavaguti had an injury from an awkward fall. Looking forward to seeing Savchenko and Massot but always thrilled to see how Seguin/Bilodeau will compare.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Skating Articles for Wednesday, November 2, 2016 | BLAZING BLADES II

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