Trophee de France 2016: Pairs Review

The pairs event at Trophee de France featured some some big names, but I was disappointed to see a field of only 6 pairs (instead of the allotted 8). Two French pairs who were originally assigned to the event withdrew quite late, and were not replaced. Since pairs skaters already have the lowest number of entries in Grand Prix events, it was really disappointing to see 2 slots go unused. With only 6 pairs entered, Savchenko/Massot easily dominated the event.




Savchenko/Massot had to skate in Paris just one week after competing at Rostelecom Cup. It’s difficult to do back-to-back GP events. Some other couples who have done it this season (Denney/Frazier in pairs, Chock/Bates in ice dance) saw fall-offs in their performances at their second GPs. Still, Savchenko/Massot managed to win gold in Paris.

Aliona/Bruno started with a strong performance of their “That Man” SP. Their triple twist was again gorgeous and high, earning almost all +3s, for 7.90 total. They also hit a great set of SBS 3S (which they had missed at Rostelecom). Their throw triple Axel was huge, but two-footed. Aliona suffered a costume malfunction in the second half–her dress came unzipped down the side!! However, she and Bruno soldiered on, and finished out the program well. Artistically, I felt this performance was a bit restrained compared to Rostelecom, but still very well skated. They earned a season’s-best 77.55 and were in the lead.

Savchenko/Massot having fun in the short program  (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Aliona/Bruno’s “Lighthouse” LP opened with another incredible triple twist (again earning 7.90). However, problems crept in on the SBS jumps. Bruno put a hand down on the SBS 3S, then doubled the SBS 3T, costing them at least 5 points. The throw triple Axel was very high, but tilted in the air, and Aliona fell. She then popped the planned throw quad Salchow into a two-footed triple. With all the jump errors, you might think the program was a disaster … But quite the contrary; it was still lovely and spellbinding. Aliona/Bruno skate this program so seamlessly, and with such lightness. The transitions just flow effortlessly into the elements, and vice versa. And the high quality of their non-jump technical elements once again saved the day: They had almost all +2s/+3s on their spins and lifts. The lifts, in particular, were spectacular. Their Axel lasso lift earned about 2 points in GOE, for 9.60 points overall, and was the highest-scoring element in the entire event. Their PCS scores were mostly in the high 8.0s/low 9.0s, and the total PCS of 71.14 offset the technical problems. They won both the LP/overall.

With this victory, Savchenko/Massot qualify for their first Grand Prix Final as a team. It’s so exciting, and it was obviously a successful Grand Prix series for them, even with the back-to-back assignments.

Nonetheless, the picture is not all rosy for Aliona/Bruno. First and most importantly, Aliona appeared to be in some pain after the LP, and they had to withdraw from the gala. Unfortunately, a report today says that she has injured her ankle ligament. It’s not known yet how bad it is. It will be a real shame, and loss, if they have to miss the Grand Prix Final. 😦

Second, their problems on the throw jumps continue. As much as I admire their courage in trying both the throw triple Axel and throw quad Salchow in the LP, I’m not sure about this strategy. When you go for such big elements, you want it to be from a position of strength—i.e., your percentages indicate you have a good shot at landing the throw quad/Axel, and you have a sound backup plan if it doesn’t work (i.e., return to your reliable throw triple Lutz/loop/Salchow). The problem is, I feel like Aliona/Bruno don’t have a great backup plan: Their throw triples are still inconsistent and as likely as not to be 2-footed. Are they going for the Axel/quad because they really feel they can hit these elements … or because they lack confidence in their throw triples? I worry that they’re trying for too much at once, and perhaps overreaching.

The thing is, Savchenko/Massot are so strong in most areas of their skating that they actually don’t need quad elements as much as some teams. Their PCS is great; their GOE is amazing. If they could just get 2 triple throws consistent and up to the same GOE level as their other elements, that might well be enough to win most LPs. (Although they might still need throw triple Axel in the SP, just to stay somewhat close in base value to Duhamel/Radford.) I have to wonder if trying some different jumping techniques on their throw triples and/or consulting with a jump specialist might be as reasonable of a strategy as trying a lot of throw quads that could lead to injury.

Aliona/Bruno have now pulled off two GP wins, despite their throw jump issues. But I don’t know if they can win the GP Final over Duhamel/Radford if this problem persists.


Tarasova/Morozov skated pretty well in Paris to win the silver medal. Once again, their short program was stronger than their free skate; however, they improved their scores in both segments versus Skate America.

Tarasova/Morozov had a very successful performance of their “Glam” SP. They opened with a great level 4 triple twist that earned 8.50 points (the highest-scoring triple twist in the competition). They also landed great SBS 3Ts (close and in sync) and a very good throw 3Lp, with nice height and distance. They had excellent GOE on all three jump elements. The only slight problem came on the SBS spins, which were a bit off, but this didn’t cost much. I felt that Evgenia/Vladimir brought good energy and excitement to this program. The judges seemed to love it, and Tarasova/Morozov scored a season’s-best 76.24 and were just 1+ point behind Savchenko/Massot going into the free skate.

Tarasova/Morozov’s throw triple loop  (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Tarasova/Morozov’s “Music” LP was stronger than at Skate America. However, there were still some technical issues. They opted to go for the quad twist again and completed it. However, the catch was crashy and the landing rough; they got only level 2 and negative GOE, for 7.43 points. Evgenia two-footed the SBS 3S and popped the combo down to SBS 2T/1T/1T. Also, she was a bit forward on the landing of the throw 3S. Their lifts continued to suffer from a relative lack of ice coverage/speed compared to some other teams. Evgenia/Vladimir got away with minimal negative GOE despite these issues, but it wasn’t their strongest program either technically or artistically.

It’s unfortunate that Evgenia/Vladimir had to skate right after Savchenko/Massot in the LP; the comparison was not to their advantage at all. I’m afraid that Tarasova/Morozov have, once again, been stuck with a lemon of an LP this year. Their “Music” program, set to a cheesy 1976(!) pop song, just has a dated, simplistic, stereotypical “athletic pair”-type feel to it. In fact, if you close your eyes, you can almost picture Rodnina/Zaitsev skating to this back in 1976! This was my third time seeing the program, and I’ve tried to keep an open mind. The simplicity of the program does allow T/M’s strong skating skills/big elements to take center stage. But honestly, coming after Savchenko/Massot’s modern, beautiful “Lighthouse,” Tarasova/Morozov’s program looked its worst yet—just lacking in every area, compared to S/M. And the monochromatic costumes added to the dated feel. The judges were not impressed, giving PCS of only 67.49, versus Savchenko/Massot’s 71.14. Evgenia/Vladimir scored 130.70, 20 points higher than Skate America–but dropped to 3rd in the LP, behind James/Cipres.

With silver/bronze at their two GP events, it’s been a reasonably successful GP season for Tarasova/Morozov. And they’re well-positioned to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, although they won’t know for sure for another week or two. Still, as with Savchenko/Massot, there are definitely some clouds on the horizon.

Evgenia/Vladimir are scoring extremely well with their SP, so that’s a hit. However, they’re not doing nearly as well in the LP. And the quad twist is a question mark. They can do it, but they haven’t demonstrated mastery of the element. In each competition this season, they’ve actually scored higher with their triple twist in the SP than with the quad twist in the LP. They seem committed to the element, but it’s got to be a close call. Because, in addition to not getting big points yet with the quad, I fear it could also be affecting their PCS a bit.

Evgenia/Vladimir have possibly the highest-scoring, most reliable triple twist in the world. The twist is their opening element in every program, and it sets the tone. When the judges see a nearly perfect triple twist go up first thing …. They’re thinking: “This is a top team.” And so immediately, psychologically, they’re prepared to possibly give high PCS scores. Whereas, when they see a messy, not-very-good quad twist go up first thing … They’re thinking: “Hmmm.” Just like the audience. And next thing you know, there’s a tenth off here, a tenth off there, in PCS. T/M’s PCS has been clearly lower in the LP versus the SP at both GP events. It could be just due to the program … or it could be due partly to the way it’s opening, with the messy quad twist … or it could be both. I admire Evgenia/Vladimir’s commitment in going for the quad, but I just hope they will keep their minds open to re-think the strategy if need be.

On the other hand, if they start to really hit that quad twist soon, then the GOE and PCS skyrocket, and all doubts slip away. 🙂


James/Cipres had a breakthrough event in Paris, where they put out a very strong free skate to win their first-ever medal at a full Grand Prix competition. It was great to see James/Cipres come back so strongly after their disappointment at Skate America.

Vanessa/Morgan started off with a decent short program. They had some trouble with the opening triple twist, and got only basic level. Also, Vanessa spun out of the throw triple Rippon flip. However, they landed the SBS 3S, and their other elements were pretty good. Vanessa/Morgan tend to lose some speed on the step sequence, but the choreography of this sequence is so strong that they still got positive GOE on it. As at Skate America, they did a fine job interpreting the sexy, intense music (“Earned It” by The Weekend). They scored 66.05 for 4th place.

Vanessa/Morgan go for the throw triple Rippon flip  (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Vanessa/Morgan then followed with a very good long program to “Sound of a Silence”. I loved the pacing and the patience they showed in this program. They didn’t rush their elements; they stayed in control; and they flowed with the rhythm of the music. It was really nice to see. Sometimes I feel like Vanessa/Morgan are almost too aggressive in their skating, rushing their elements and forcing them a bit; but not so here.

They opened with a clean level 1 triple twist and SBS 3T/2T/2T combo. Then they went for the throw quad Salchow and … wow. Vanessa 2-footed the landing and spun out a bit, but she got the 4 rotations and stayed vertical. Watching this throw in slow-motion, it’s amazing (and a bit scary) how much power Morgan puts into it. He actually jumped into the air on the takeoff and threw Vanessa so hard that he lost his own balance and had to put a hand down. I give Vanessa James a lot of credit for being willing to try such a difficult & dangerous element … and I hope she stays in one piece! Vanessa also landed the throw triple Rippon flip, again with a slight 2-foot, and they hit their SBS 3S.

Despite the slight errors on the throw jumps, the program was powerful. The choreography is involving, the music is dramatic, and Vanessa/Morgan skated with intensity. Their lifts were also strong and added a lot to the impression, especially the lift at the end, where Morgan dramatically sinks down to one knee. I remember how that lift was giving James/Cipres fits 2 years ago; now, it’s one of the highlights of their program. This couple is really working hard to improve!! And their efforts paid off here with a standing ovation and score of 132.53, for 2nd LP/3rd overall.

Afterward, some felt that, with Savchenko/Massot’s mistakes in the LP, James/Cipres should have won the free skate or perhaps even the whole competition. I can somewhat understand this feeling, considering the impact of James/Cipres’s LP.

But, as much as Vanessa/Morgan are improving steadily and it was a great program, I have to agree with the judges’ GOE/PCS marks. James/Cipres just aren’t quite at the level of Savchenko/Massot, either technically or artistically. In terms of presentation/skating skills, Aliona/Bruno are superior in speed, flow, carriage, posture, line, extension, unison. Both teams do have strong choreography and interpretation. (No wonder, since they share the same choreographer!)

And although Vanessa/Morgan landed some great jumps, the rest of their technical elements are weaker than Savchenko/Massot’s.

I decided to take a closer look at the judges’ GOE scores for the non-jump technical elements (lifts/spins/choreo sequence). This table shows each pair’s total GOE for non-jump elements in the LP:

Pair GOE: Non-jump elements
Savchenko/Massot +9.96
James/Cipres +5.31
Tarasova/Morozov +5.44
Zabijako/Enbert +5.03
Castelli/Tran +5.50
Ziegler/Kiefer +0.77

As these numbers show, the judges see Savchenko/Massot’s quality in the non-jump elements as pretty far above the rest of the field. Realistically, when a team has such a big lead in GOE, it inevitably just reinforces their PCS, too.

So yes, I think the judges’ marks were defensible in this case. Still, this was a terrific result for James/Cipres. If they keep working hard and stay united as a team, I definitely see them challenging for the podium at Europeansthis year.


Natalia/Alexander came into this event off their silver medal at Rostelecom and were no doubt hoping to medal in Paris as well and make the Grand Prix Final. They fell just a bit short.

Their “Blizzard” SP was again very clean and well-delivered, if lacking in excitement. Their throw 3Lp had good height; they landed the SBS 3Ts; the step sequence was nicely done, with much of it in hold. Everything was good, but lacked the amplitude of Tarasova/Morozov and Savchenko/Massot. For example, whereas Tarasova/Morozov’s triple twist was textbook, and Savchenko/Massot’s twist was dramatically high, Zabijako/Enbert’s was simply … completed. Nonetheless, Z/E still got a season’s-best score of 71.36 for 3rd.

Zabijako/Enbert’s triple twist in the SP  (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Unfortunately, Zabijako/Enbert faltered a bit in their “Cry Me a River” LP and could not hold on to podium position. Alexander fell on the SBS 3T, and they both doubled the SBS 3S. Their other elements were clean and well-presented. Natalia/Alexander have a really solid base to their skating—they have the basic elements down well, they have good skating skills, they match well with their line/body types. Now, they need to work on developing some personality and chemistry. Natalia/Alexander start this long program standing side-by-side, facing the judges, but not looking at or touching each other. I find this pose sort of emblematic of where they are right now: Technically strong, competent skaters who don’t really feel like a team yet. I don’t have any sense of their personality; the programs are bland. I did find their interpretation in the LP a bit stronger than at Rostelecom—they were catching the rhythm a little more, and some of the musical nuances. Still, they have some distance to go in terms of skating with passion and personality.

I’d also like to see them work on developing some more distinctive technical elements. Their lifts are okay, but the positions really aren’t very attractive or memorable. The same applies to their pairs combo spin; it’s just not the most aesthetically pleasing spin, especially the part where Natalia holds Alexander’s skate right in front of her face. (Who thought that up?)

All criticism aside, Zabijako/Enbert did well in the LP, scoring 121.20 for 4th LP/overall. I’m sure they’re disappointed to miss the Grand Prix Final, but they’ve obviously done very well in their first full GP season together.


This was another event that proved somewhat disappointing for Marissa/Mervin. However, they did post new season’s-best scores for the LP and overall, offering hope of improvement.

Marissa/Mervin had problems with the jumps in the short program. Their triple twist had decent height, but the catch was crashy. Mervin spun out of the SBS 3S, and Marissa fell on the throw 3S. I love their “Fallin’” program—it’s so dynamic and exciting. But it was hard to recover from the opening mistakes. They scored 59.26 for 5th.

Marissa/Mervin: Fighting through  (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Their Journey LP was better. Marissa fell on the SBS 3T, but they stayed vertical otherwise. I was happy to see them land the throw 3F again—it was very tilted in the air, but Marissa saved it. Another thing: Their lifts looked stronger and more secure than at Skate America. Aside from the jump mistakes (and I know that’s a big “aside”), I thought Marissa/Mervin actually skated this program really well. They had great sustained speed throughout—great skating skills. The mistakes were there, but were not as bad as at some previous events. Their final score of 116.92 was, if not good, at least respectable. As much as some fans are doubting C/T, I think the judges still recognize the quality in their basic skating.

With both their GP events done, Castelli/Tran currently have the #1 SP score among American pairs (Autumn Classic), and #2 LP/overall scores (Trophee de France). So, although their season has been pretty disappointing, there is still hope of medaling at Nationals and even making the World team. But obviously, their chances will be far better if they could just improve the consistency on the jumps. What Marissa/Mervin need most of all is to avoid the horrific splats and pops that have derailed too many of their recent programs. Minor jump errors, like they had here in the LP, are survivable.


This was Miriam/Kiefer’s first Grand Prix event of the season. Unfortunately, it didn’t go very well.

Ziegler/Kiefer’s short program to Ingrid Michaelson’s “Turn to Stone” was attractive and pleasant to watch, but marred by technical mistakes. The opening triple twist looked underrotated, and Severin caught Miriam at the thighs, rather than the waist. Later Miriam almost landed the throw 3F, but then fell when her free foot got caught on the ice. They could only score 52.06.

Ziegler/Kiefer:  Disappointing competition  (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Alas, the technical problems worsened in their Mika medley free skate. They missed the rotation on their twist entirely (it was called a single and scored only 1.04 points). Then they both fell hard on the SBS 3Lz; Miriam’s head almost hit the ice, and it was quite scary. After that disastrous start, they were unable to recover. They scored 92.95 to finish a distant 6th.


Although the pairs event in France was small, I really enjoyed seeing Savchenko/Massot and Tarasova/Morozov in their second events. Hopefully, these teams will meet again in the Grand Prix Final. It was also exciting to see James/Cipres have such a breakthrough!

Next weekend’s Grand Prix event is Cup of China. Here, the Chinese pairs will take over top billing, and I admit I’m awaiting with morbid fascination the prospect of seeing Yu/Zhang compete against former partners Peng/Jin. Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch of Canada will be looking to win a second GP medal and possibly a berth in the Final, and Russian veterans Kavaguti/Smirnov will compete as well. We’ll also see the #2 German team, Vartmann/Blommaert, in this first Grand Prix event this season. Should be interesting!!


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2 thoughts on “Trophee de France 2016: Pairs Review

  1. Christine Love

    I saw James and Cipres in Montreal at Autumn Classic and was absolutley blown away by their Free Program! I hope them the best this season because I think they have something very powerful!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Europeans 2017: Pairs Review | A Divine Sport

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