Europeans 2017: Pairs Review

This year’s European Championship was easily one of the best pairs competitions we’ve seen since Sochi. The event was star-studded, with Savchenko/Massot, Stolbova/Klimov, and Tarasova/Morozov the top contenders coming in. However, other Euro pairs were determined to make their mark this year. And none more so than French couple James/Cipres, who unexpectedly took the bronze with two career-best performances. The level of competition among the top teams was incredible—we saw one personal-best score after another. As a pairs fan, it was a joy to watch! Let’s look back at what happened. 

euros-2017-results

FSKATE-EUR-PAIRS-FREE-SKATING

A very deserving group of medalists!  (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

Tarasova/Morozov

Tarasova/Morozov came to Europeans off a big victory at the Grand Prix Final in December. In Ostrava, they solidified their new status among the world’s best by winning Europeans by a good margin.

Tarasova/Morozov have ruled the short program this season, pulling in excellent scores all year with their modern-jazz “Glam” routine. They’ve only been beaten once in this segment (by Savchenko/Massot at Trophee de France), and they continued their SP dominance at Europeans. They again won the short program handily, setting another personal-best score of 80.82. Evgenia/Vladimir now have the 3rd-best SP score of all time.

Yet, I felt Tarasova/Morozov were perhaps slightly overscored in this program. Slow-motion replays showed that Evgenia 2-footed her SBS 3T. However, the judges apparently missed this and gave the element almost straight +2s (and even one +3). The judges also handed out +2s/+3 for Tarasova/Morozov’s reverse lift, which came to a rather clumsy, slow end. These judging errors shouldn’t happen in such a high-level event. Tarasova/Morozov’s other elements were strong, but overall, I felt the program lacked just a bit of the fluidity and ease they showed at the GP Final and Russian Nationals. It was still very good, though, and they were deservedly in 1st. Evgenia/Vladimir earned 10.2 points in positive GOE in this program.

Tarasova/Morozov started the LP with a 6-point lead … but a lot of pressure as well. From the crowd noise, they had to know that Savchenko/Massot and Stolbova/Klimov had laid down big scores before them. I wasn’t sure how they would respond, but Evgenia/Vladimir really rose to the occasion. In the most pressure-packed moment of their careers, they dug in and delivered a career-best LP.

In a bit of a surprise, Tarasova/Morozov opened the program with a triple twist, instead of the quad twist they’ve been doing all season. I thought this was a smart and savvy decision. Tarasova/Morozov needed to consolidate their SP win with a strong and clean performance in the free skate; to achieve that, the triple twist was the best way to go and really offered no downside. As it stood, they scored 8.70 points on the triple twist (highest-scoring twist in LP), and likely would have gotten only about 1 point more with the quad twist (which they didn’t need, with the SP lead). The near-perfect triple twist set the stage for a terrific program.

Evgenia/Vladimir followed up with 2 clean sets of SBS jumps, for the first time this season. And their throw jumps were spectacular—clean, big, beautifully straight in the air, with great flow out. The whole program was beautifully skated right up to the last 40 seconds or so, when they had trouble on their final hand-to-hip lift. Vladimir struggled to get his arms locked, and the lift came down after only 2 fully extended rotations. However, they got away with minimal negative GOE (marks ranged bizarrely from -3 to +3). Aside from that minor hiccup, the program was excellent and exciting to watch. When they’re on, Tarasova/Morozov have such power, speed, and gorgeous technique in their skating that their athleticism really takes on its own aesthetic appeal. They can be exhilarating to watch. Although the program itself isn’t as creative, intriguing, or beautiful as the other top teams’ LPs, they still created a great effect with it in Ostrava. Tarasova/Morozov scored a personal-best 146.76 for 2nd LP/1st overall.

With their victories at Europeans and the GP Final, Tarasova/Morozov have established themselves as legitimate contenders to medal at, or even win, the World Championships this year.

Savchenko/Massot

Although Tarasova/Morozov were the winners, I have to say that, for me, Savchenko/Massot were the most beautiful, impressive, and memorable of all the pairs in Ostrava. Coming into this event off Aliona’s ankle injury, I wasn’t expecting to see Savchenko/Massot at their best here. But they surprised me with brilliant performances, especially in the LP, to take the silver medal. Once again, we saw why Aliona Savchenko is a legend in this sport. And I was equally impressed with partner Bruno Massot.

Savchenko/Massot were terrific in the short program … except for one fluke fall from Aliona in the step sequence (of all things). In contrast to Tarasova/Morozov, I felt that Savchenko/Massot were perhaps a bit underscored in the SP. They received perfect GOE marks (straight +3s) for their fabulously high triple twist. However, their marks for some other elements seemed a tiny bit stingy. For example, their SBS spins appeared virtually flawless, with gorgeous positions and speed, but received just +2s. I also wasn’t thrilled with the PCS scores. Aliona/Bruno’s “That Man” is one of the best pairs SPs I’ve ever seen—the choreography is so detailed, unique, rhythmically demanding, and perfect for the music. And Aliona/Bruno skate the program seamlessly, with such smoothness, expression, and ease in all the transitions. I honestly don’t see how it could be much better. I thought it was a performance worthy of 9-range PCS scores, despite Aliona’s freak fall … so to see some judges drop into the mid- to high 8s was a bit disappointing. Aliona/Bruno scored 73.76 for 3rd.

Savchenko/Massot’s “Lighthouse” LP was even better; one of the most sublime programs I’ve seen in years. They had me spellbound from start to finish. Technically it was superb; artistically, it was gorgeous. I love the pacing of this program; I love how it pauses at certain points, accelerates at others. Aliona/Bruno aren’t going for the all-out speed of the Russian teams here. They’re fast when they need to be, to match the crescendos of the music; but they pause slightly in quieter moments, gliding effortlessly over the ice. The measured quality of the pacing gives the program an expansive, weightless feel. Aliona/Bruno’s PCS seemed much more correct in this program—all marks 9.00 or above, with three 10.00s for composition.

Of course, it helped that this was one of Aliona/Bruno’s cleanest programs technically. Their triple twist was, as always, amazing and earned perfect GOE scores (all +3s, 8.30 pts). I was also thrilled to see Aliona/Bruno land 2 clean throw jumps: throw 2A and throw 3S. Aliona/Bruno have struggled so much trying to get their throw landings clean, but here it all clicked, and both throws earned all +2s/+3s.

With Aliona recovering from an injury, I was glad to see them dial back on their throw jump difficulty. As I argued back in November, Aliona/Bruno actually don’t need quad or ultra-C elements as much as some other teams, due to the high quality of their other elements. And this program couldn’t have proved that point any better. Although they did two of the lowest-value throw jumps, Aliona/Bruno still easily set the highest score of the season in pairs: 148.59. The quality in their skating is simply so superb that few pairs can challenge them if they skate clean. Knowing Aliona, I’m sure she and Bruno will be attempting the harder elements as soon as she’s healthy again. However, I hope they use caution and realize they don’t have to push themselves dangerously. They are still at the top of the field in pairs, even without such elements.

Watching them in Ostrava, I was so happy to see Aliona back on the ice after her injury. There is no skater in all the world like Aliona Savchenko. And I’m so happy she has such a great partner in Bruno.

James/Cipres

For Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, this competition was a breakthrough of epic proportions. Not only did they win their first bronze medal, they did so in stunning style, with easily the best performances of their career.

James/Cipres almost stole the show in the short program with a memorably sexy, bluesy performance to “Earned It” by The Weeknd. They opened with probably the best triple twist I’ve ever seen them do; it was high and clean and earned level 3/positive GOE for 7.80 points. Next they landed a great set of SBS 3S, out of turns. Their throw 3F was good too, with an exciting leap-of-faith transition into it. Vanessa/Morgan’s other elements were pretty good. However, the difference in speed between them and Tarasova/Morozov was noticeable, particularly in the step sequence. This program is such a brilliant (and daring) choice for Vanessa/Morgan; it takes advantage of all their strengths. The sheer sexiness of the program makes it feel almost too intimate for a competition setting; but Vanessa/Morgan make it work. It was great to see them finally deliver a breakout performance at such a big competition. They scored a personal-best 74.18 for 2nd place.

Coming into the LP ranked 2nd, I didn’t know how James/Cipres would react to the pressure. But Vanessa/Morgan showed no nervousness in this program. Quite the contrary–they went for it and attacked from start to finish. Their opening triple twist was again strong, earning 7.70 points. Soon after came the throw quad Salchow. Vanessa 2-footed and stepped out of the jump, but stayed vertical for 6.49 points. Both of the SBS jump sets were right on, and lifts were very strong as well. Their “Sound of Silence” program is so powerful and effective; it really pulls the audience in, and Vanessa/Morgan skated it very well. Their PCS marks were good; mostly in the high 8s/low 9s (71.57). They scored 145.84 overall for 3rd LP/overall. An incredible moment for them!

James/Cipres have always been a pair with lots of potential, but could never seem to put it all together. It was exciting to see them finally do it in Ostrava!

Stolbova/Klimov

This was Stolbova/Klimov’s second competition back after a long layoff this fall due to Stolbova’s foot injury. Like most, I’ve really missed the excitement and technical excellence this team brings to pairs skating, and it was great to see them back at Europeans. Stolbova/Klimov were looking to reestablish themselves here as major contenders. However, as we saw at Russian Nationals in December, Ksenia/Fedor are not yet quite back in top form.

Stolbova/Klimov started the event with a fairly good performance of their “Clair de Lune” SP (although Ksenia fell on the throw 3F). This lyrical program set to Debussy’s delicate classic is a real change of pace for Stolbova/Klimov. They show a different side to their skating than we’ve seen before—more tender, vulnerable. I really love their closing step sequence; it has a dreamy, dance-like quality, with long, extended gliding moves. I completely agreed with the +2/+3s that the judges awarded this lovely sequence. However, some of the other GOE marks were a bit questionable. Stolbova/Klimov’s triple twist didn’t have great height or a particularly clean catch, yet received mostly +2s. Their SBS 3Ts, which were a little far apart and with a swingy landing from Ksenia, also got +2s. Ksenia/Fedor’s skating skills and partnering skills are as magnificent as ever, but I’m not sure about some of the GOE scores. Stolbova/Klimov totaled 73.70 points for 4th place.

Stolbova/Klimov fought through their “Apres la pluie” LP, delivering the program with beautiful speed and power. However, they did have some errors on the elements, and in such a strong field, the performance wasn’t quite enough for a medal. Their triple twist again was a bit low/late on the catch. Ksenia fell on the throw 3F, and the throw 3S landing was not well controlled. Ksenia/Fedor’s lifts looked a bit labored; Fedor revealed afterward that he has a wrist injury. Their final hand-to-hip lift was particularly tentative, with little ice coverage, yet received GOE marks of +1 to +3. To be honest, I felt that Stolbova/Klimov’s GOE was somewhat generous in this program, overall. But I loved the power and intensity they brought; it’s actually amazing how well they skated, considering they were off the ice for months this summer and fall. As yet, the program has a somewhat underdeveloped feel to me; I don’t find the music or choreography particularly compelling. But Ksenia/Fedor elevate it with the tremendous quality of their skating. They received very high PCS (73.00). Ksenia/Fedor’s total score was 142.81 for 4th LP/overall.

Stolbova/Klimov looked dispirited after the long program, despite the good score. Obviously, they know they can skate much better than this. The question is, how long will it take to get fully back in form after their various injuries? The answer to that question will determine their results at Worlds. They have 1.5 months to prepare; a good block of time. Hopefully, they’ll be healthy in time for Helsinki.

Zabijako/Enbert

Zabijako/Enbert had a good competition to place 5th.

In their “Snowstorm” SP, Zabijako/Enbert once again put out a set of clean, well-done technical elements, and paired them with a light and undeniably elegant performance to land effortlessly in the top 5. With each competition, I find myself liking this pair more. Natalia/Alexander lack the commanding presence of Stolbova/Klimov, or the big tricks of Tarasova/Morozov, yet there is a calmness to their skating that comes as a relief in this era of high-risk tricks. Most of their technical elements in this program were very good. They had nice height on the triple twist (although the catch wasn’t 100% clean). Their throw 3Lp was strong, and they had lovely, extended camel positions in their SBS spins. Ryan Bradley said on NBCSN that this team’s presence and performance level has grown over the season, and I agree. They looked polished, sleek, and well-prepared. Zabijako/Enbert scored a personal-best 72.38 for 5th.

Natalia/Alexander then put out a rather tentative performance of their “Cry Me a River” LP. Their triple twist got only basic level, Natalia singled the SBS 3S, and the landing of the throw 3Lp was imperfect. Natalia/Alexander completed the other elements cleanly and got through the program, but I felt they looked a bit edgy and tense throughout. I’ve seen them skate this program better at other competitions. Nevertheless, they received a season’s-best score of 128.37 for 5th LP/overall.

Zabijako/Enbert are on track for what I expect will be a top 8 finish at Worlds.

Marchei/Hotarek

Marchei/Hotarek had a rough start to their season at Skate America, finishing last at that event. However, they’ve really turned it around since, with a 4th at Rostelecom and gold at Warsaw Cup (Challenger Series event). They turned in 2 scrappy performances in Ostrava to place 6th.

Marchei/Hotarek had a successful outing of their bluesy “Seven Nations Army” SP. They skated with verve (and a lot of flirtatiousness from Valentina), and the crowd seemed to love it. Technically, their elements were completed, but many had minor errors. The SBS jumps and spins were both off sync, and the triple twist was low. However, they stayed vertical and scored 66.53 for 6th.

Marchei/Hotarek’s “Skyfall” long program was one of their best LPs this season. They had some mistakes on the SBS jumps, but otherwise their elements were mostly clean. Both throw jumps were well done, and the SBS spins and reverse lasso lift were also highlights, earning some +2s. Valentina/Ondrej looked more together and in sync in this program than they have all season. At times this year, their skating has looked a bit wild, but here they were smoother and more in control. I find this “Skyfall” program a bit bland and somewhat oddly constructed, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it, giving them a great ovation. Their PCS marks were pretty good (62.80) and they scored a season’s-best 125.40 for 6th LP/overall.

Not only did Marchei/Hotarek skate well, they also beat Italian rivals Della Monica/Guarise for the first time this season. That should give them a boost of confidence heading into Worlds.

Duskova/Bidar

This was Duskova/Bidar’s first major senior competition; they were Junior World champions last year. The young Czechs seemed energized by the support of the home crowd and did very well in what will no doubt be the first of many European championships for this team.

Duskova/Bidar started with a terrific performance of their “LA40” SP. I loved how clean, crisp, and fast their skating was in this program. Anna/Martin are such a well-matched pair; they complement each other very well in height, body lines, and style. They are so young—both just 17—that they lack the maturity and presence of the older teams. But nonetheless, they presented the program well, with good speed and nice lines. Martin had a fluke fall after they landed the SBS 3Ts, but that was the only mistake. They hit a nice level 3 triple twist and a good throw 3Lz. A bright future lies ahead for this team. They scored a personal-best 65.90 for 7th.

Duskova/Bidar’s “Historia de un Amor” LP was every bit as impressive as their SP. They started the program with a set of beautiful, well-synchronized SBS 3Ts, which earned many +2s. Their triple twist was big and fast, and they landed a SBS 3S/1T/2T combo. Both throw jumps had slightly imperfect landings, but quick rotation in the air. What’s impressive about this team is how fast and fearlessly they skate. There’s no hesitation on their elements; they just go for it, and have wonderful flow. Anna/Martin have spent the last 2 years competing against some very talented and technically strong Russian junior pairs on the Grand Prix circuit, and I think it’s been great preparation for them as they go senior. They’re used to competing full out and not holding back. My only complaint about Duskova/Bidar’s LP? It’s set to Latin music, but there’s zero Latin feel to either the choreography or costumes. They scored 123.19 for 7th LP/overall.

Duskova/Bidar reportedly plan to compete at senior Worlds (and will likely skip Junior Worlds). I look forward to seeing them in Helsinki!

Della Monica/Guarise

This Italian team came to Europeans off a quite successful season—they won 2 Challenger Series events (Lombardia, Golden Spin) in the fall, plus Italian Nationals over rivals Marchei/Hotarek.

Unfortunately, Della Monica/Guarise had a disappointing performance of their Carmina Burana SP. Nicole turned out of the SBS 3S and fell on the throw 3Lp. They recovered with a wonderful reverse lasso lift that had great speed and coverage, earning mostly +2s. I enjoy Nicole/Matteo’s step sequence in this program; it’s really well choreographed, with lots of intricate, interesting steps, yet matches the strong momentum of the music. Their SBS spins were also very good, earning +2s. It’s too bad Nicole/Matteo had trouble with the jumps; perhaps they were unnerved, skating in the last group? They scored 63.97 for 8th.

Della Monica/Guarise then had more problems in their Love Story LP. Both throw jumps had good height but were 2-footed. The reverse lasso lift came down early, and Nicole put a hand down on the SBS 3T/1T combo. They lost almost 5 points in negative GOE on these elements. Nicole/Matteo recovered somewhat with 2 strong lifts at the end, but it was too little, too late. I really enjoy this program from them—it’s so well-constructed, with great transitions, and shows off their good skating/partnering skills. However, they scored only 117.02, well off their personal best, for 8th LP/overall.

I’m sure this competition was quite a disappointment for Della Monica/Guarise. Hopefully they can regroup for Worlds.

Ziegler/Kiefer

The Austrian team continues to struggle with consistency on their SBS jumps. However, their base value helped keep them in the top half of the standings.

Ziegler/Kiefer put out a decent performance of their short program, set to Ingrid Michaelson’s “Turn to Stone.” Their triple twist was crashy, and Kiefer fell on the SBS 3Lz. The rest of the program was pretty clean. I thought Miriam/Severin looked improved in this skate–a little more controlled and polished in their movement. I like the overall package of this program. The lyrical music is appealing and suits their style, the costumes are great, and there are some nice shapes and moments in the choreography. For me, it’s one of their best programs. They scored 57.14 for 9th.

Ziegler/Kiefer’s Mika medley LP was about on par with their short program. Once again, they struggled with the triple twist and the SBS jumps. Once again, the rest of the program was pretty clean. They hit two good throw jumps and some decent spin elements. Miriam/Severin’s lifts have improved over the last year or two; Severin is getting better ice coverage, and the lifts look smoother. They still can work on making the lifts faster, though, with better air positions. Ziegler/Kiefer scored 108.49 for 9th LP/overall. They seemed disappointed with the score in the kiss-n-cry, but it was only about 1 point off their personal-best, so really not bad.

Ziegler/Kiefer have some technical issues to work on, especially with their triple twist. But even more, I’d like to see them work on the presentation side of their skating. It’s as if the picture they present on the ice is only half-finished. They need more toe point, more arch, more extension, more attention to head placement. As I’ve said before, it’s the details that are missing in their skating. Their PCS marks hover in the high 6s-low 7s; they’ll need to get those marks up in order to move up the rankings. Choreographer Mark Pillay has given them some decent programs to work with; now, they need to raise the level of their own skating.

Danilova/Kamianchuk

The Belarusan team had disappointing results this fall on the Challenger Series circuit, coming in only 6th and 8th at their CS events. However, they rebounded at Europeans to place 10th for the second consecutive year.

Danilova/Kamianchuk opened with a decent performance of their Sherlock Holmes SP. Their technical elements in the program weren’t perfect; but they avoided major errors. Tatiana/Mikalai don’t have the same speed and skating skills as the top teams, but I thought they did fairly well interpreting the dark period theme of this program. They scored 53.27 for 10th.

Danilova/Kamianchuk’s Game of Thrones LP got off to a shaky start, but picked up in the second half. Their best elements were a nice set of SBS 3S, a good throw 3S, and a level 4 death spiral. Mikalai struggles a bit with lifts—his turns lack fluidity and he doesn’t get good ice coverage. They also had a fall on the triple twist and a stumble in the combo spin. Their Game of Thrones LP is rather ambitious, both in theme and in choreography; however, I kind of enjoyed it. It was different—which I always appreciate—and their costumes fit the theme well. With her dark beauty, Tatiana looks like she could be a character on the show. (Sand Sister? :-)) Danilova/Kamianchuk scored 98.28 for 10th LP/overall.

Other teams

Among the lower-ranked teams, Jones/Boyadji of Great Britain stood out for having the most compelling backstory. Zoe is a 37-year-old former singles skater and mother of three who came out of retirement and is now skating pairs with Chris Boyadji! I actually quite enjoyed their Malaguena SP and was impressed with how unhesitatingly Zoe went for—and landed–tough elements like the throw 3F! It was great to see them out there …. This was the first Europeans for new Israeli team Cherniavskaya/Krasnopolski. We’ll see how long this partnership lasts, but Arina has a charming, sweet presence on the ice and decent skating skills. Krasnopolski would do well to hold on to her … Second French team Esbrat/Novoselov are so unpredictable. They landed a great throw 3Lz in the long program but then had major lift issues–not looking at all like a team good enough to make top 16 at Worlds (which they did in Boston) … First-year pair Petranovic/Souza-Kordyeru of Croatia have some of the biggest technical elements in the lower ranks—and a very engaging performer in Souza-Kordyeru. I’m rooting for this pair to stay together and keep developing … #3 Italian team Ghilardi/Ambrosini are improving, but need to develop a more distinctive style and personality. Their SP felt a bit like a Marchei/Hotarek program; the LP felt very Della Monica/Guarise … Current German #2 team Hase/Seegert have an elegant look but struggled to land their jumps. With Vartmann/Blommaert’s split, will this team be sent to Worlds? …

Wrap-up

What a privilege it was to watch this event! Europeans showed what pairs skating is all about, at its best: Big, exciting athletic elements, gorgeous artistry, and interesting, creative programs. The top pairs really gave it their all—raising hopes of perhaps an even better competition to come in March at Worlds. We still have Four Continents to look forward to, in the meantime. But I already can’t wait until Helsinki. 🙂

Note: If you’re enjoying the articles on The Divine Sport, please take just a moment to “like” the site’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/adivinesport/. You can also follow me on Twitter to get updates of new posts: @ClaireCloutier on https://twitter.com.

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