The pairs event at last weekend’s Grand Prix Final ended unexpectedly, with Tarasova/Morozov of Russia winning gold and favored World champions Duhamel/Radford taking only bronze. Along the way, we saw some growing pains from the new Chinese pairs, more consistency from Zabijako/Enbert, and scrappy performances from Seguin/Bilodeau. The overall level of skating was not as high as at last year’s Grand Prix Final. But it was interesting to see some new faces and storylines emerge in Marseilles.
This event was a clear breakthrough for Tarasova/Morozov. Since turning senior in 2014, Evgenia/Vladimir have won many bronze and silver medals on the Grand Prix and at Europeans, but no international titles, except at senior B competitions. Here, they broke that streak and won both segments of the competition to claim their first big title. An exciting victory for the young Russians!
Tarasova/Morozov opened the competition with perhaps the best performance of their career so far. I have never seen them so expressive, sharp, and lively as they were in their “Glam” SP. They skated with great energy, really selling the program, showing animation, and hitting the highlights in the music. Sometimes Evgenia/Vladimir can look a bit detached from their programs; but not so here. And their elements could hardly have been better. The opening level 4 triple twist was fab, as usual. Their SBS 3Ts were possibly the best I’ve seen from them—very close together, very in sync. The throw 3Lp had great flow and distance. They received all +2s/+3s for these superb jump elements. Their level 4 step sequence was also strong, showing off their skating skills (although it could have even more musicality). It was a confident and triumphant performance for Tarasova/Morozov. I knew the score would be big as soon as they finished … and it was. 78.60: The highest SP score among all pairs this season, and a new personal-best. Going into the LP, Evgenia/Vladimir had a 3-point lead on the field (and surprisingly, a 7-point lead on Duhamel/Radford).
Tarasova/Morozov then put out a gutsy, solid performance of their “Music” LP to clinch the title. Evgenia/Vladimir weren’t perfect in this program, but they showed great confidence and did enough to hold on for gold. They opened with the quad twist; and it was their best one yet this season. The catch was a little high, at Evgenia’s ribs rather than her waist, causing a slight adjustment. However, it was landed, and it was a quad. They earned level 3 and almost all positive GOE for 9.74 points (highest-scoring element in the whole event). Both throw jumps were outstanding as well, with great height and solid landings. Spin elements were strong, too. The only problem came on the SBS jumps. Vladimir didn’t get full rotation on the SBS 3S and it was downgraded; he also had to omit the final 2T on the combo. However, their other elements were good enough to keep them comfortably in the lead. Although I don’t love this long program for Evgenia/Vladimir, they skated it with such power, speed, and cleanliness that it was quite enjoyable, even aside from the cheesy music. I felt like they were giving it everything they could. The judges responded with PCS scores mostly in the high 8s, and they scored 135.25 for 1st LP/overall.
Great things have been expected from Tarasova/Morozov since they first debuted in seniors 3 years ago. It’s nice to see them starting to fulfill the promise of their talent. This could be the first of many gold medals to come.
Yu/Zhang continued their stunning debut season with a solid silver-medal performance in Marseilles.
Like Tarasova/Morozov, Yu/Zhang had a very successful short program and set a new personal-best score. Technically, the 2 teams were extremely close in the SP. Yu/Zhang’s level 4 triple twist was just as flawless as the Russians’ and received the same score: 8.50. Yu/Zhang’s throw 3Lp had as much distance and flow as T/M, and again received the same score: 6.50. Also, the teams were only .10 apart on their lifts. Where Tarasova/Morozov separated themselves was on the spin elements (+1.06 advantage), step sequence (+0.5), and PCS (+1.60). Yu/Zhang skated well in their “Eternal Flame” SP, but lacked the vivacity and attack of Tarasova/Morozov. Still, it’s quite remarkable to see a pair that has only been together 9 months come so close to a medal-winning, experienced team like T/M, who have been together for 5 years.
Yu/Zhang’s “Cavatina” LP was attractive to watch, with many strong technical elements. However, a few mistakes kept them out of contention for gold. Yu/Zhang started the program with a very high level 4 triple twist, which earned almost straight +3s. But then in the SBS 3T/2T combo, Xiaoyu put a hand down on the first jump and stumbled on the second. They recovered with a fine set of SBS 2A. The throw 3Lp was very good, and the throw 3S close to perfect. Lifts were strong as well, and everything was sailing right along. But then came trouble on the pair combo spin, the last move in the program. Xiaoyu appeared to lose speed/drop out of the spin and then fell on her final pose. The program ended with her sitting on the ice. It was an odd conclusion; and a reminder that, however amazing their skills, Xiaoyu/Hao are still a new team getting used to each other. The mistake on the spin cost almost 5 points, and Yu/Zhang had to settle for 3rd LP/2nd overall.
Yu/Zhang have been so impressive in their first season together. With their success so far, it seems all but certain they’ll be named to the Chinese team for Four Continents and Worlds.
Coming into the Grand Prix Final, Meagan/Eric had won all their events this season, but their actual performances were not always up to their usual standard. Unfortunately, this trend continued in Marseilles. Meagan/Eric hung on for the bronze medal, but were not at their best.
Duhamel/Radford opened with a fairly solid performance of their “Killer” SP. They had some mistakes on the jump elements. First, Meagan put a hand down on the SBS 3Lz. Then, the throw 3A was called underrotated and Meagan fell (about 5 points lost). However, their other elements were all good and earned positive marks. They’ve made some changes to their step sequence; their efforts were rewarded with level 4 and strong GOE. I thought Meagan/Eric had good speed and energy, but the technical errors held their score down to 71.44. They were 3rd.
Duhamel/Radford’s LP was similar to the SP: A good performance overall, but marred by technical problems. The opening triple twist was well done. But Meagan doubled and Eric 2-footed the SBS 3Lz. The throw quad Salchow had great height, but Meagan had to put her hands down to steady the landing. Then in the jump combo, she turned out of the SBS 3T and omitted the following 2T. The rest of the program was good; their interpretation of the music was strong, and they had nice flow and interpretation throughout. I love this program for Meagan/Eric, and I thought the performance really worked as a whole, despite the technical mistakes. However, they were disappointed, and Meagan fought back tears as they headed to the kiss-n-cry. 😦 Duhamel/Radford scored 134.55 for 2nd LP/3rd overall.
After the short program, Eric commented that they may reevaluate including the throw triple Axel. Although it’s such an exciting element, it’s also quite risky, and this is the second consecutive event where they’ve had a mistake on the throw 3A and lost the short program (surely not a position they want to be in). It was a disappointing competition for Duhamel/Radford; but hopefully they can just put it behind them and regroup for Canadian Nationals next month.
Zabijako/Enbert made it into the Final as alternates, after Savchenko/Massot withdrew. The Russians made good on the opportunity, taking 4th place.
Zabijako/Enbert’s “Snowstorm” SP was not quite as clean as their other short programs this season. Natalia 2-footed the throw 3Lp and had a scratchy landing on the SBS 3T. Their triple twist catch was also messy, with the twist getting only level 1. These mishaps aside, the rest of the program was well skated. They had nice extension in their SBS camel spins (some +2s), and the reverse lasso lift was smooth. They had good knee bend, edges, and unison in the step sequence. Artistically, I enjoyed this program; I felt like they captured the flow and sweep of the music well, interpreting the high/low points. Their score of 65.79 was not bad at all, considering the errors. They were 5th.
Natalia/Alexander then put out a strong performance of their “Cry Me a River” LP. The only problem was the SBS 3S, which they both doubled. All the other elements in the program were completed without significant error. Natalia/Alexander are an interesting team. In today’s era of huge throws/twists and risky quad attempts, they offer something else—elements that may lack wow factor, but are generally clean and consistent. Everything they do is at a good baseline level of quality. Their throw jumps are fine, if perhaps a bit small. Their triple twist doesn’t have the most height, but is usually clean. They don’t get much runout on their SBS 3T/2T/2T, but the jumps are typically landed. And so it goes. Zabijako/Enbert didn’t get high GOE in this program–mostly +1s. But on the other hand, they had only one negative GOE mark for the whole program (quite rare). I think the judges feel they can trust this team to deliver a solid, good-quality performance. I myself am coming to appreciate their skating more with each competition. However, their Michael Buble LP does create a certain dissonance for me. Zabijako/Enbert have such a classic Russian pairs look … and Buble is not classic Russian pairs music. So, something feels slightly off with the package. Despite this, though, I thought their performance in Marseilles was their best outing yet with the program. They brought more drama and flair this time, although there’s still not much connection between them. Perhaps reflecting the lack of chemistry, the judges awarded relatively low PCS (61.26) compared to the other couples. Zabijako/Enbert scored 122.53 for 5th LP/4th overall.
Julianne/Charlie came to Marseilles looking to rebound from a disappointing showing at Rostelecom Cup.
Prior to the event, the Canadians decided to drop their new “Skokiaan” SP, which had received mixed reviews, in favor of last year’s successful “Monde Inverse” Cirque du Soleil SP. Unfortunately, the change in strategy didn’t produce immediate positive effects. Julianne/Charlie had some uncharacteristic technical mistakes in their SP: Charlie fell on the SBS 3S, Julianne fell on the throw 3Lz, and there were also problems with the triple twist and SBS spins. And although it was fun to see last year’s upbeat, cheery SP again, the program fell a bit flat due to the technical errors. Also, Julianne/Charlie’s comparative lack of stretch and extension versus some of the other top teams was evident (and somewhat to be expected, as they are one of the younger teams in the field). Julianne/Charlie scored only 60.86, well off their best, and were 6th.
Seguin/Bilodeau then came back with a much stronger performance in the free skate. Charlie again fell on the SBS 3T. But they re-set themselves after that mistake, and the rest of the program was quite good. Their strongest element was the throw 3Lp, which had great flow out and earned high GOE. Julianne/Charlie got a bit lucky on the throw 3F; the jump was clearly 2-footed on slo-mo replay, but received no negative GOE and even got quite a few +2s! The rest of their elements were cleanly done and received mostly +1s. It was a good and solid program for Seguin/Bilodeau. Their Cinema Paradiso LP is rather romantic and lyrical. It’s an attractive enough program, yet at the same time, it’s not particularly interesting. I feel it doesn’t really bring out Julianne/Charlie’s personalities. However, they scored well (125.99) and pulled up to 4th LP/5th overall.
Now it’s on to Canadian Nationals, where Seguin/Bilodeau will undoubtedly be looking for much stronger performances.
It was so exciting to see Peng/Jin qualify for the Grand Prix Final in only their first season together. But unfortunately, nerves popped up in their long program and left the new team in last place.
Peng/Jin started the event with a clean, charming performance of their “My Drag” SP. Their throw 3Lp was very good, with nice height and speed, and earned great GOE. The SBS 3Ts were perhaps a bit far apart, but well landed. Their other elements were good, and Peng/Jin skated the program with nice expression and energy. The judges seemed to like the package, and they scored 70.84 points for 4th place.
Unfortunately, Peng/Jin then had major problems in the LP. With a possible medal on the line, nerves appeared to strike. Cheng Peng fell on the first 2 elements in the program: SBS 2A and SBS 3T. 😦 She and partner Yang recovered somewhat to put out a fine triple twist and throw 3Lp. However, the program then fell apart toward the end. Cheng had to turn out of the throw 3S landing, costing them about 2 points. Then their Axel lasso lift got off balance, and Cheng almost fell out of the dismount. They scored only 4.40 points on the lift (about 3 to 4 points less than usual). Altogether the mistakes somewhat ruined the impression of their lovely Umbreallas of Cherbourg program, and Peng/Jin scored only 112.35 and fell to 6th LP/overall. A tough way to end the competition.
Going forward, I hope Peng/Jin can focus on the positive aspect of this event (qualifying) versus the negative (bad LP). I’m also wondering if they should rework the opening of their LP. The program starts with Peng/Jin doing their double Axels separately, in a big mirror pattern. Although it’s a cool opening, I wonder if Cheng Peng might do better with a traditional approach into the 2As. Pairs skaters get used to jumping side by side; it may feel weird to jump so far away from her partner. I think it’s important that the team try anything possible to make Peng feel more confident and avoid costly falls.
With the Grand Prix Final over, Peng/Jin will next compete at Chinese Nationals. Their results there may determine if they are named to the Four Continents team. Unfortunately, a Worlds appearance seems unlikely, as China has only 2 spots in pairs this year, which will undoubtedly go to Yu/Zhang and Sui/Han (unless Sui/Han are hampered in their return from injury).
It was exciting to see Tarasova/Morozov win their first Grand Prix Final in Marseilles! However, it was a bit sad to see Duhamel/Radford and Peng/Jin struggle. It’s such an accomplishment just to make the Final; I’d love to see all 6 pairs really skate their best, so that everyone could feel satisfied with their performance!
With the Grand Prix season over, national championships are next on the horizon. The first round of major national championships (Germany, Italy, France) takes place this week; the second round (Russia, China, Japan) occurs over Christmas; and the third round (Canada, USA) is set for mid-January. Good luck to all the pairs–I look forward to hopefully seeing as many nationals performances as possible!!
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