Rostelecom Cup 2016: Pairs Review

Last season, Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot burst onto the scene with an unexpected World bronze medal. Savchenko/Massot showed huge potential in their debut season. This season, their task is to fulfill that promise and establish themselves as gold-medal contenders at Worlds and Olympics. They took a step forward this week by winning Rostelecom Cup. Meanwhile, Russian pair Natalia Zabijako/Alexander Enbert—also in only their second season–turned heads by winning silver at their home Grand Prix. Let’s look at the action in Moscow.



Aliona/Bruno started their season in September at Nebelhorn Trophy, where they won gold with two exciting, but flawed, programs. They continued in similar form in Moscow.

From a performance perspective, Aliona/Bruno’s new short program to Caro Emerald’s “That Man” is certainly one of the best pairs short programs we’ve seen in recent years. Packed with difficult dance transitions and on-tempo choreographic flourishes, this program has been compared to a short dance, and indeed it was choreographed by former ice dancer John Kerr (with assistance from John Zimmerman/Silvia Fontana). The program is just so on point in every possible way—music choice, choreography, interpretation, costuming—and so original. The music has an insouciant charm and bouncy, fast beat that make it feel modern and quirky, instead of traditional. This is exactly the kind of material that Aliona Savchenko does best; and she is, as usual, a star in this routine. Bruno does well too, playing her shrugging, more modest counterpart. Artistically, the program is a slam dunk. And Savchenko/Massot’s skating skills/interpretation were far above the rest of the field in Moscow.

However, technically, the program was quite flawed. Aliona/Bruno opened with a huge triple twist, but both fell hard on the SBS 3S. Next, they went for the throw triple Axel, but it was two-footed. There was also a problem with the transitions in their lift (although they managed to avoid negative GOE). The program was super-fun and entertaining even with the mistakes; but it obviously wasn’t their best, and they finished 2nd with 69.51.

Like the short program, Aliona/Bruno’s “Lighthouse” LP left a somewhat mixed impression in Moscow. Technically, the program was extremely ambitious; but it was inconsistently executed. Aliona/Bruno landed another huge triple twist and solid SBS 3T; however, they lost GOE with some errors on the SBS 3S/2T/1T combo. The real drama came on the throws. Aliona popped the throw 3A into a double, also two-footing the jump. Then, in the final seconds of the program, Savchenko/Massot shocked everyone by attempting a throw quad Salchow!! Aliona fell–and the audience didn’t seem to know how to respond. The sheer audacity of Savchenko/Massot trying both a throw triple Axel and a throw quad in the program–and also putting their first-ever throw quad attempt right at the end of the program—just left everyone stunned!! No one does those kinds of things. (No one except Aliona Savchenko! :-))

So, there were some huge jumps–and a huge splat–in Savchenko/Massot’s long program. Looking past the jumps, all of Aliona/Bruno’s other elements were a class above. Their lifts were difficult and beautifully done, with pristine positions from Aliona; their SBS spins were gorgeous and fast; their level 4 death spiral had an innovative (and smooth) flipout exit. They received mostly +2s for their non-jump elements (and I felt like the judges could’ve gone higher). Artistically, the program is spellbinding. Again, they’ve chosen to skate to lesser-known music–a soulful, lyrical piece by the Canadian band Patrick Watson. The program has a dreamy quality, and I think it will be captivating with a cleaner performance. Even as it stood, Aliona/Bruno still received strong PCS (70.92) en route to an overall score of 138.38. They placed 1st LP/overall, winning their first Grand Prix together.

In terms of results, it was a good start to Aliona/Bruno’s Grand Prix season. However, their performances here and at Nebelhorn definitely exposed some weaknesses that they need to work on ASAP if they hope to challenge Duhamel/Radford at the Grand Prix Final and Worlds. Their SBS jumps were pretty solid last season, but have been inconsistent this fall. And they haven’t solved the two-footed landing problem on their throws. So far, Aliona/Bruno have gotten negative GOE on every single throw jump this season. Although they make up a lot of those lost points on their non-jump elements, the throw problems are concerning.

Savchenko/Massot’s second GP event is Trophee de France (TDF), this coming weekend. Will they attempt the throw quad Salchow again? And will they keep it at the end of the program?! Overall, I just hope Savchenko/Massot can get their jumps more consistent in time for the Grand Prix Final in December. (With gold at Rostelecom, and looking at the field for Trophee de France, it seems highly likely S/M will qualify for the Final.)


Last season, Natalia/Alexander skated somewhat under the radar. They only had one GP event, and most of their competitions were in Russia. However, after seeing them at Russian Nationals last season, I had a feeling this team might rise quickly in the rankings. And that’s just what they did at Rostelecom, winning the short program and taking silver overall.

Natalia/Alexander put out a solid, clean performance in the short program. Their triple twist was neatly done; their SBS 3Ts were in sync; their throw 3Lp had good height and a solid landing. They didn’t have a single error in the program, and were rewarded with all positive GOE marks (+5.09 GOE total). Their short program is set to music from The Blizzard, a Soviet movie based on a short story by iconic Russian writer Alexander Pushkin. The music is classic and lyrical;the costumes evoke the early-1800s era of Pushkin; and the packaging takes advantage of Zabijako/Enbert’s long lines and traditional Russian pairs look. The program isn’t particularly exciting or innovative, but it suits them and was well-skated. They scored 69.76 for 1st place.

Zabijako/Enbert followed up with another strong performance in the free skate. Once again, they skated quite clean. Their only real mistake came on the SBS 3S: Natalia singled, Alexander fell, and the element received no points. Otherwise, all their elements were completed cleanly, if not with much flair. Artistically, I’m not a fan of their Michael Buble “Cry Me a River” LP. The music is a bit odd—Buble takes a jazz-blues torch song and adds a lot of heavy orchestration that makes it very dramatic and somewhat dark-sounding. I don’t feel that Natalia/Alexander have the personality or flair yet to pull off this music and make it work for them. Nonetheless, they scored quite well (128.01) to take 2nd place LP/overall.

I don’t think many people were expecting to see Zabijako/Enbert on the podium here, and there were rumblings afterward that they were overscored in GOE/PCS. In terms of GOE, I felt their marks were pretty fair. They received mostly +1s for their elements, with a scattering of 0s/+2s. It’s hard to argue this, because they skated pretty clean, with good form, and had few actual errors. I might argue their lift GOE a bit; they had quite a few +2s for lifts that were fine, but pretty unremarkable. I’d like to see Natalia get a little more extension and stretch in her air positions, and Alexander could rotate more smoothly. In general, though, I found their GOE marks pretty defensible. What did catch my attention was their PCS in the long program: 65.08, a bit generous for a program that didn’t really make much impression, and skating skills that are fine but not exceptional. There were quite a few 8.50s, which seemed a bit high. However … I think the judges were probably just so relieved to see a relatively clean program that the PCS followed!

Zabijako/Enbert’s next GP is Trophee de France, where they will once again face Savchenko/Massot, as well as fellow Russians Tarasova/Morozov. Can Z/E defeat T/M and possibly clinch a trip to the Grand Prix Final?? That would be quite an accomplishment for this second-year team.


After a somewhat disappointing competition at Skate America (5th place), Astakhova/Rogonov looked improved in Moscow and won their second bronze medal at Rostelecom Cup.

Kristina/Alexei skated their “Io Ti Penso Amore” SP with more intensity and confidence than at Skate America. The SBS 3S were underrotated, which cost them about 3 points. However, their other elements were pretty well done. They had nice runout on the throw 3Lz, and their level 4 death spiral was a highlight, with good speed and position. The program is melodramatic and still doesn’t do much for me, but I thought they presented it as strongly as they could. They scored 65.51 for 4th.

I thought Kristina/Alexei really brought it in their “Doll 2” long program. They actually started the program with 2 mistakes on the SBS jumps; but they just powered past that, as if nothing had happened. They hit a level 3 triple twist, and both throws were good. The spin elements were pretty strong, too. I really liked their attack and aggressiveness. They skated with more power and energy than at Skate America; they seemed more in sync; and the music didn’t overwhelm them as much. Still some areas to clean up, but I felt it was a strong performance, and the judges agreed. They scored 123.23 for 3rd LP/overall.

Astakhova/Rogonov won’t make the Grand Prix Final, but I think they should be pleased with their bronze here and the improvement they showed. Now they can start preparing for Russian Nationals– where they will face an uphill battle to make the Russian team for Europeans/Worlds.


Valentina/Ondrej also had a far better competition here than at Skate America and, surprisingly, took 4th place.

The Italians put out a pretty good performance of their “Seven Nation Army” SP. They opened with a nice set of SBS 3S. Their triple twist was again low and looked a bit underrotated, but they got only one negative GOE mark on it. Valentina was forward on the landing of the throw 3Lz and had to spin out a bit, but again, the GOE damage wasn’t as bad as I expected. The program is improving; I thought they captured the jazzy, showy vibe of the music more than at Skate America. They scored 66.82 for 3rd and appeared very happy with the program.

Valentina/Ondrej then had an interesting performance in the long program. They started off with 2 big falls, on the triple twist and the SBS 3T. I was afraid things would implode at that point; but instead, they improved. I felt like Valentina really dug in and focused totally on her technique, in order to land those elements. She hit both throws, and the lifts and spins were clean too. M/H appeared so focused on the elements that I did feel the performance level suffered a bit. The program felt very purposeful, but mechanical. There is not much interaction/chemistry between Valentina/Ondrej in this Skyfall/Mission Impossible LP. Still, it was a much better performance overall than at Skate America, and they scored 120.79 for 5th LP/4th overall.

With their Grand Prix season over, Marchei/Hotarek will next compete at the Warsaw Cup Challenger Series event.


After winning Skate America, Seguin/Bilodeau were favored to win silver here and challenge Savchenko/Massot. However, things went awry in the short program and Julianne/Charlie finished a disappointing 5th.

Seguin/Bilodeau have upped their difficulty this season by adding the triple loop as their SBS jump in the short program. Unfortunately, they’re not fully comfortable yet with this element. Julianne doubled it, and they both fell, earning only .90. Perhaps thrown off by this, Julianne also put a hand down on the throw 3Lz. Additionally, S/B only got level 2 on the triple twist, instead of their usual level 3 or 4. These technical mistakes cost roughly 5 points and left Seguin/Bilodeau in 5th place. Julianne/Charlie also had to skate directly after Savchenko/Massot; unfortunately, the contrast with the Germans’ masterful performance left Julianne/Charlie looking rather young and unsophisticated.

Julianne/Charlie then had more uncharacteristic technical errors in their Cinema Paradiso LP. Charlie fell on the SBS 3S; Julianne put a hand down on the throw 3Lz and two-footed the throw 3Lp. They actually got off quite lightly for those throw errors, only receiving a few negative GOE marks (and even some positive GOE!). But the triple twist was dicey as well; the catch looked awkward and crashy. Artistically, they didn’t have quite their usual sparkle; Julianne looked worried at times. But they kept the program moving, and I always appreciate their solid skating skills. The final score wasn’t that bad: 121.65. They were 4th in the LP, but remained 5th overall.

It was definitely a surprise to see Julianne/Charlie finish 5th here. We’ve gotten so used to them delivering technically consistent, clean performances it’s almost just expected at this point. However, no one can be consistent 100% of the time, especially when they’re adding new elements and trying out new types of programs. Julianne/Charlie have such a strong base to their skating that I’m sure they’ll bounce back from this. However, I think this competition did expose a need to keep working on polishing and improving their line, extension, and general presentation.

Unfortunately, their 5th-place finish put their spot in the Grand Prix Final at risk. Julianne/Charlie will have to wait for GP results over the next couple weeks to see if they make it. Meanwhile, they can start training for Canadian Nationals.


This was the first Grand Prix event for Ruest/Wolfe, in their first season together. They had a very respectable showing in Moscow, placing 6th.

Camille/Drew put out some good elements in their “Something” SP. Their SBS 3Ts were very nice– close, in sync, and with good runout. Their throw 3S was small, but well landed. And the SBS spins were good. At present, Camille/Drew have only a double twist; also, the lift seemed a bit slow. The program was attractive enough, but felt a bit wispy. They scored 60.09 for 7th place.

I enjoyed Ruest/Wolfe’s “Earth Song” LP more. The music is melodic and lyrical, and the choreography shows off their grace and elegant lines. Camille/Drew seem very well-matched—they have similar body types, similar styles, they look good together, and they seem to enjoy skating together, too. They were a bit up-and-down with the elements in the LP, but landed a good SBS 3T/2T combo and solid throw 3Lp. I’d like to see more speed and power in their skating; their crossovers look shallow and small. But the judges liked the program, and Camille/Drew scored 107.10 to pull up to 6th LP/overall.


This young Russian pair was my “find” of the competition. I had never seen them before this event, and really enjoyed watching them. Alisa was a ladies singles skater for Finland until 2014, when she moved to Russia to team up with Alexander. They were 9th at Russian Nationals last year.

Alisa/Alexander opened their cha-cha SP with a terrific triple twist! They got amazing height and pop on the twist; it was also very fast. They earned level 3 and many +2s, for a total of 7.30. Their throw 3Lp was also very good, with great distance, and again earned great GOE. Some big, exciting pairs elements from this team! Their cha-cha program was cute. They are young and still have a very juniorish look, but they had nice crispness to their movement and kept up well with the speedy tempo. They earned 61.27 (quite a good score for such an unknown team) and were 6th.

Efimova/Korovin followed up with another interesting performance in the long program. Once again, the triple twist was excellent. Efimova had problems on both SBS jump passes, but they recovered quickly with two successful throw jumps. Both throws were big, with plenty of height. Their lifts need some work: Alexander needs to improve his speed and execute the transitions more smoothly. However, the lift positions from Alisa are simply stunning! Their long program is set to Strauss waltzes; it’s quite a nice package for them, at this stage, and Alisa’s ruffly white unitard is an interesting touch that makes the program a bit more memorable! With the SBS jump problems, and also a musical deduction for ending late, Efimova/Korovin scored 103.80 and dropped one spot to 7th LP/overall.

I think this team has some really interesting potential. Alisa is elegant, with very attractive line and presentation; there’s a “baby ballerina” look to her skating. Their twist and lifts are really strong, too. Right now, the areas that need work are SBS jumps (Alisa) and lifts (Alexander). I look forward to seeing how this team develops (and hope their coaches can provide a supportive environment to nurture their talent).


This was the first Grand Prix appearance for this young Lithuanian team, who placed 17th at Worlds last year. Unfortunately, Butkute/Ermolaev didn’t seem fully prepared for this event.

Goda/Nikita opened their “Maybe I, Maybe You” Scorpions SP with a very tentative set of SBS 3S, which were downgraded. They completed a triple twist, but it was very low and got only basic level. They had negative GOE on several other elements as well. Goda/Nikita lacked the speed, power, and charisma necessary to match up to this strong music, and the program just didn’t work artistically. They scored 47.39 for 8th place.

I thought Goda/Nikita’s “Exogenesis” Muse LP was a little better match for them stylistically. However, they struggled with most of their elements, and lost 4+ points off their base value. They really need to work on their speed and also their interaction together; they need more spark and chemistry. They scored 89.69 for 8th LP/overall.


The pairs event in Russia was a bit unexpected, with some new faces and surprising results. Next week, the Grand Prix moves on to France. I look forward to seeing Savchenko/Massot face off again against Zabijako/Enbert, with Tarasova/Morozov and James/Cipres also in the mix. See you in a few days! 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Rostelecom Cup 2016: Pairs Review

  1. Christine Love

    I am really impressed with Svchenko and Massot. I think their partnership is much better than Savchenko and Salkowy. Massot has so much personality and their inventiveness in their skating is exciting to watch!

    Liked by 1 person

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