Worlds 2017: Pairs Review

The pairs event at Worlds 2017 was projected to be a close and intense competition. And it certainly lived up to that expectation. There was drama to spare: Injuries, accidents, quads, spectacular crashes. Chinese head coach Hongbo Zhao recently commented: 2017 Worlds, it’s the qualifying event for the Pyeongchang Olympics. We can say it’s the ‘heaviest among heavy’ World Championships.” I think all the pairs felt that weight, to some extent.

The short program at Worlds was one of the most intense I can remember. With 28 pairs all trying to make the cutoff for the top 16, the level of competition was very high. We saw many teams put out season’s-best performances–while a few others unfortunately succumbed to the pressure. The final team to qualify for the LP scored 62.03; a much higher standard than we’ve seen the last few years.

The long program actually felt calmer, with the field reduced in size and the pressure slightly lessened. All the teams in the final group skated outstanding programs, making for a stunning end to the championship. It was thrilling to see Sui/Han of China win their first World title, with Savchenko/Massot of Germany right on their heels.

Here’s my take on the action in Helsinki. Settle in–there was a lot to talk about! 🙂

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Sui/Han

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that Wenjing Sui and partner Cong Han are just 21 and 24 years old. They’ve been partners for 10 years already, and senior international competitors for 7 years. They’re so young, but have already accomplished so much! In Helsinki, they scored a victory over one of the most talented pairs fields ever to win their first World championship.

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Sui/Han: Such emotion  (AFP Getty)

 

Sui/Han opened the competition with a stunning short program set to “Blues for Klook.” The technical elements in this program were outstanding. Wenjing/Cong landed their SBS 3T with authority, then hit an amazingly high throw 3F that earned a perfect score: +3 from every judge, for 7.60 pts. Their ‘Tano triple twist was very well done; their step sequence was masterfully set to the music. The only slight flaw came on their SBS spins; but this was minor. Elements aside, the program was just fascinating to watch from beginning to end. Sui/Han–and Sui especially–have an intensity and immersive quality to their skating that very few pairs can manage these days. They just take every move, every look, to its maximum potential. They caught the rhythm of their blues piece, accentuating every beat; it was like the music just seemed to come straight out of them. I loved the performance, and the judges did too, awarding a personal-best score of 81.23. Sui/Han now own the second-highest score ever in the SP, behind only Olympic champions Volosozhar/Trankov.

Sui/Han were almost as dominant in their “Bridge over Troubled Water” LP. They had just 1 mistake in this program: Wenjing fell on the SBS 3S. It was a major mistake, but it actually only cost them about 2 points off base value, because she got full rotation. Every other technical element was simply excellent. They opened with a fine level 3 quad twist that earned a massive score of 10.46 pts (highest-scoring element in the whole event). They landed their SBS 3T/2T very well, and both throw jumps were terrific. Sui/Han’s lifts were also outstanding, with 2 lifts earning above 9 points (excellent) and their innovative handstand hip press lift earning a perfect score as well (level 4/straight +3s). Sui/Han’s GOE marks were almost all +2s/+3s (aside from the SBS 3S), and they earned 15.18 points overall in GOE—wow! Not only was the program stunning technically, it was also wonderful artistically. Wenjing/Cong brought so much emotion—they really made every move matter. I felt like the emotional level of this program was definitely the highest in the event. And it went by so quickly; always a sign of a great program. When they reached their final pose, I thought, “Already?” I didn’t want it to end. I actually felt that way with both of Sui/Han’s programs at Worlds. They are very special skaters, in their ability to reach and touch the audience emotionally.

Sui/Han scored a narrow victory in the LP: 150.83 total score, to Savchenko/Massot’s 150.46. That, combined with their lead in the short program, gave them a 1.76-point winning margin. They are the third pair from China to win a World title.

Savchenko/Massot

In only their second Worlds, Aliona/Bruno improved from last year’s bronze medal to silver this year. Their performances in Helsinki were lovely and innovative and so satisfying to watch. As good as Sui/Han were, Savchenko/Massot just about matched them. The Germans outscored Sui/Han in total PCS (112.73, to Sui/Han’s 111.88). However, a few crucial technical errors made the difference and cost the title for Savchenko/Massot. Still, their performances were outstanding—especially after an injury-marred season—and would have been enough to win in another year.

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Tender moment from Savchenko/Massot

Savchenko/Massot started with a season’s-best short program to “That Man.” Their opening triple twist was amazingly high, with a great catch and gentle landing. They earned a perfect score: level 4/all +3s, for 8.70 pts. Aliona/Bruno’s step sequence, spin elements, and reverse lift were all excellent as well; their GOE on these elements was higher than Sui/Han’s. However, a couple mistakes on the jumps hurt them. Aliona slightly two-footed the SBS 3S and landed the throw 3A on 2 feet as well. They got off lightly for the SBS error; several judges appeared not to notice and gave positive GOE. However, the throw 3A mistake was costly; they got negative GOE across the board and lost -2.14 in base value. Still, despite the mistakes, the program was light and charming and a joy to watch. Aliona/Bruno’s PCS was high, and they scored 79.84 for 2nd.

Their “Lighthouse” LP was even better. This program is so stunning and absorbing; it always gives me the feeling of being taken on a hypnotic journey to a very beautiful place. Aliona/Bruno skate the program with such tenderness and calm and sensitivity to the music; I love the pacing. Artistically, the program has a huge impact, reflected both in the standing ovation Aliona/Bruno received and the PCS scores (almost all 9-range, with some 10s). Technically, the program was also very strong. Aliona/Bruno landed a very good SBS 3T/2T sequence and SBS 3S. Their lifts and spin elements were also superb, earning high GOE. However, there were a couple of technical problems. Aliona/Bruno’s opening triple twist, while amazingly high, was not quite as good as their triple twist in the SP and got only level 2. That took almost 1 point off their base value. Also, both throws were slightly 2-footed. The GOE damage from the 2-footed throws actually wasn’t that bad (only about 1 point off total); but you have to contrast that with Sui/Han, who received huge positive GOE on their throws. Savchenko/Massot outscored Sui/Han in PCS, but lost the TES score by more than 2 points (74.48, to Sui/Han’s 76.78). Savchenko/Massot scored a new personal-best 150.46, but still were second.

Did the judges make the correct call? Should Savchenko/Massot have won the title? In the end, I think the judging was fair and the results correct. Although Sui/Han did have one major mistake in the long program (SBS 3S fall), that was their only real mistake in the entirecompetition. Whereas Savchenko/Massot had 4 minor, but noticeable, errors in the event: 2-footed landings on all 3 throw jumps, plus 2-foot on SBS 3S in the SP. The nature of the IJS judging system is that minor jump errors add up quickly to negatively affect your score, and that’s exactly what happened to Savchenko/Massot.

If you look closely at the technical scores, Sui/Han’s technical advantage over Savchenko/Massot came from 3 main factors: 1) Throw jumps, where they outscored S/M by 4.53 points total in both programs, 2) SBS jumps in the SP, where S/H outscored S/M by 1.40 points, and 3) Quad twist in the LP, which outscored S/M’s LP triple twist by 2.56 points. Savchenko/Massot scored better overall than Sui/Han in lifts, spins, and step/choreo elements, but their advantage there was less than Sui/Han’s lead in the other areas. Hence, Sui/Han won the overall TES score.

I do feel it’s correct that Savchenko/Massot won the overall PCS score, because their basic skating skills are stronger than Sui/Han’s: They have better glide and flow on the ice, and more detailed and innovative choreography. Perhaps the Germans’ PCS could have been a tad higher. But, I also can’t take anything away from Sui/Han in PCS. They are fantastic, wonderful PCS skaters as well.

It was a tough break for Savchenko/Massot to miss the gold despite such a strong long program, but I think the result was fair, according to the judging system. The judges showed huge respect for Savchenko/Massot in GOE/PCS scores, so they’re obviously ready to move the Germans to gold-medal position as soon as their technical element score warrants it. Technically, it’s really clear what Savchenko/Massot need to do to win: Land those throw jumps. At this point, I think landing the throws cleanly is more important than which exact throws they do.

Tarasova/Morozov

Until Worlds, Tarasova/Morozov seemed to be having a charmed season. But their luck ran out the morning of the short program. Vladimir tripped and accidentally cut Evgenia’s leg with his blade; she had to get 10 stitches at the hospital. Despite this setback, Evgenia bravely decided to continue the competition; and Tarasova/Morozov took their first World medal, a bronze.

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Tarasova overcomes 10 stitches to win bronze (AFP Getty)

I think everyone was a bit worried when Evgenia took the ice for their “Glam” SP. Would she make it through? Their opening triple twist was fantastic, as usual (8.70 pts). They skated into their SBS 3Ts with great speed, landing the jumps strongly. Next up was the throw 3Lp—the move I figured would put the most pressure on Evgenia’s injured leg. She landed it, but with a slight 2-ft brushing the ice as she swung her free leg through. Most of the judges appeared not to notice, awarding positive GOE up to +2! Hmm. As at Europeans, some of Tarasova/Morozov’s GOE was a bit inexplicable. Not only did the judges miss the throw jump error, they also ignored T/M getting out of sync on the SBS spins. In all fairness, it was still a fine program from Tarasova/Morozov. They had great speed and energy, especially considering Evgenia’s injury, and presented the program well. Their PCS was very strong, about 1 point behind Sui/Han and Savchenko/Massot. They scored 79.37 for 3rd place.

Tarasova/Morozov also skated well in their “Music” LP. They went for the quad twist and rotated it, although the catch was a bit late. They scored 8.46 pts (-0.24 less than their SP triple twist). Next they hit a good set of SBS 3S. The following throw 3S was huge and deservedly earned all +2s/+3s. Their SBS spins were also very good. After that strong start, the energy/execution of the program fell off a bit, perhaps due to Evgenia’s injury. The throw 3Lp was big but 2-footed. Also, their Axel lasso lift ended a bit early, with a messy dismount; it got level 1/negative GOE. Fortunately, the final lift was better, and their closing combo spin fine. It was a good performance technically. But artistically, it lacked the energy/spark of their Euros LP, as well as the sophisticated choreography of Savchenko/Massot or the emotional level of Sui/Han. As a total package, the program was clearly inferior to the 2 top couples. Accordingly, Tarasova/Morozov’s total PCS score lagged about 5 points behind the top 2. Their LP score of 139.66 put them 4th LP/3rd overall.

Tarasova/Morozov did a great job overcoming injury to win their first World medal. I’m sure they were hoping for even more; but they had a great result here and have clearly established themselves among the top teams. Evgenia/Vladimir are just 22 and 24 years old, so this may well be the first of many World medals.

Yu/Zhang

New Chinese team Yu/Zhang entered this season as a “great unknown,” so to speak. Although both had had great success with their former partners, they were brand-new as a team and no one expected much of anything from them (except, no doubt, the Chinese federation). Yet, they now end the season as one of the top teams in the world–placing 4th in Helsinki and just off the podium. What a dramatic and sudden rise! And it’s happened almost entirely thanks to their amazing technical elements.

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Yu/Zhang: Coming into their own?

Yu/Zhang had to skate quite early in the short program. But they were unfazed and put out a stellar performance of their “Eternal Flame” SP. Their opening SBS 3T was strong, and they followed with an excellent level 4 triple twist. The throw 3Lp was huge and smooth, earning many +3s. Their reverse lasso lift had great ice coverage and speed for almost straight +2s. Overall, Yu/Zhang’s technical elements in this program were right up with the top teams. They scored 43.11 in TES, basically tying Tarasova/Morozov and Savchenko/Massot technically. However, the performance level was not as strong as the top 3, with more basic choreography and less expression and chemistry. Still, Yu/Zhang earned 75.23 and unexpectedly placed 4th.

I was really impressed with Yu/Zhang’s “Cavatina” LP. They opened with a big level 2 quad twist (8.14 pts, -0.16 less than their SP triple twist). Xiaoyu then had some problems on her SBS 3T/2T combo; she took an extra step in between the jumps and landed the 2T on the wrong foot. Also, both jumps were underrotated. They lost at least 3.5 pts on the element. However, they recovered with a good SBS 2A. Then came their most impressive elements. Both throw jumps were enormous and beautiful and earned very high GOE. The death spiral was lovely, and the SBS spins good. Their reverse lasso lift and hand-to-hip lift were both outstanding, with terrific ice coverage and lovely positions, earning +2s/+3s. It was a majestic, and yet somehow delicate, performance. As impressive as the technical elements were, all I kept thinking was how beautiful Xiaoyu Yu is on the ice. Her arms are so lovely; her head tilted just so; her extensions so pretty. You can’t take your eyes off her—at least, I can’t! I also felt that Xiaoyu/Hao had nice flow and glide on the ice. Yu/Zhang skated right after Tarasova/Morozov, and I must say I preferred their performance artistically to the Russians’. Yu/Zhang’s LP felt more cohesive, more satisfying. They scored a season’s-best 136.28 for 4th LP/overall.

Despite some initial doubts about this pairing, I have enjoyed Yu/Zhang’s performances this season and am becoming a fan. They have amazing technical elements, plus a developing star in Xiaoyu Yu. I’m already looking forward to what they’ll do next season.

Stolbova/Klimov

Coming in, Olympic silver medalists Stolbova/Klimov were expected to at least challenge for the podium. Those plans went awry when Stolbova/Klimov imploded in the short program, falling to 13th. However, the veteran Russians came back with a strong LP and moved all the way up to 5th place. Although it was a disappointing finish overall for Stolbova/Klimov, they proved once again that you can never count them out.

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The troublesome twist in the short program (AFP Getty)

Problems started right away in Stolbova/Klimov’s “Clair de Lune” SP, when Fedor unexpectedly fell on the triple twist. The twist is in general not a strong element for Stolbova/Klimov, but still, it was a shock to see such a big mistake on it. It appeared they didn’t get quite enough height. Ksenia was still rotating as Fedor tried to catch her; plus, she was a little too far to his left side, which seemed to knock him off balance. The mistake cost about 3 points off their technical score and, worse still, ruined the momentum of the program almost before it got started. Unfortunately, the throw 3F came immediately afterward and, perhaps shocked by the twist disaster, Ksenia fell. She also later stepped out of the SBS 3T. Altogether, the jump errors cost Stolbova/Klimov about 8 points off their expected score. But there were still some really lovely moments in the program! Their SBS spins were very fast and good and earned +2s/+3s. Their level 4 step sequence was also beautiful. Even with the mistakes, the quality of Stolbova/Klimov’s basic skating is so strong that their PCS was very high (34.05). Some fans took issue with this; I felt the marks were appropriate. However, in such a strong field, the loss of TES points really hurt, and their total of 65.69 left them in 13th, a shocking result.

The next day, Stolbova/Klimov came back with a strong, effective, and well-delivered performance in the LP. I was so proud of them! They could have folded after that SP; but instead they showed up like champions and did everything to put out the best program they could on the day. In the process, they also helped keep Russia’s 3 Olympic pairs spots. It was a courageous performance, and a good one (if not in the same league as their best programs). Ksenia/Fedor got through the triple twist, then followed with a fairly good SBS 3T/3T/1T combo. Ksenia had a swingy landing on the second 3T and singled the 2T. However, this sequence has a very high start value, so they still earned 7.50 pts. Ksenia had a scratchy landing on the throw 3F but held on; the throw 3S was good. Their lifts looked better than at Europeans and scored quite well. Ksenia did put a hand down on the SBS 3S, but stayed vertical. Overall, it was a fairly strong program technically. Artistically, it was effective as well. The dark, contemporary style of this piece is similar to Stolbova/Klimov’s LP last year, and although I preferred last year’s program, this one is good too. Ksenia/Fedor create some very intriguing, interesting shapes in the choreography, and the strength of the music suits their style and excellent skating skills. The judges gave PCS marks mostly in the high 8s to mid 9s. Stolbova/Klimov scored 141.03 overall to move up to 3rd LP/5th overall.

It wasn’t the Worlds that Stolbova/Klimov were hoping for, but I was so impressed with their comeback in the long program. I just really hope that this team can stay healthy the next 10 months! If they do, they will certainly be a factor in Pyeongchang.

Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch

Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch came into Worlds on a high, after winning bronze at Four Continents. They delivered 2 strong programs and maintained that positive momentum, moving up from their 7th-place finish last year to 6th this year.

Liubov Ilyushechkina, Dylan Moscovitch

Lubov: A perfect picture (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

I thought Lubov/Dylan had a lovely performance in the short program. Their “Jalousie Tango” is such a sophisticated, mature program, and they presented it beautifully, with nice, sharp interpretation of the tango mood. Their technical elements were quite strong. The opening triple twist was only level 2, but received positive GOE for 6.90 pts. Next came the SBS 3T; always a question mark with Lubov. Her landing was a bit toe-y and scrappy, causing some negative GOE, but she fought for it, and they only lost a bit off base value. The throw 3Lz was well done, with nice height and a good landing; the back inside death spiral was really good, with a terrific position from Lubov; and the Axel lasso lift was excellent, earning straight +2s/+3s for 9.10 pts. Altogether Lubov/Dylan totaled 40.99 in TES, their best technical score of the season in the SP. I actually felt like their PCS could have been a bit higher; they skated the program very well, and it’s such a great package overall. They earned a season’s-best 73.14 for 6th.

Lubov/Dylan followed up with a fine long program to Josh Groban’s “When You Say You Love Me.” What really stood out in this program was Lubov. She was so radiant, so engaged in this performance. She just sparkled, as if she weren’t in a competition at all, but performing a favorite show program. I enjoy so much watching her in their transitional moves; and Dylan complemented her with his more restrained, but romantic, interpretation. The judges liked their performance, giving PCS marks in the 8s and low 9s (67.77). Technically, the program did have a few flaws. Lubov fell on the second element–SBS 3T—dampening their momentum somewhat. But she hung on to the second SBS jump, and then they started to pick up the pace. Their reverse lasso lift had great ice coverage; the Axel lasso lift was even better. Lubov was a bit forward on the throw 3Lz but held on; and the throw 3Lp, late in the program, had great speed on the landing. Their closing lift was wonderful, earning all +2s/+3s. Unlike a lot of pairs, Lubov/Dylan really use their lifts to create emotional highs in the program. They scored a season’s-best 133.05 to place 8th LP/6th overall.

What a successful season for Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch! They earned their first Grand Prix medal, their first Four Continents medal, and moved up 1 step at Worlds, from last year’s 7th place to 6th this year. This team just continues to grow and improve and get better.

Duhamel/Radford

The 2-time defending World champions had high hopes coming into Worlds. But alas, Meagan/Eric’s frustrations this season continued in Helsinki. Eric incurred a hip injury, which worsened after they got to Finland, and he found himself unable to reliably land the SBS 3Lz in practice. Meagan/Eric elected to go ahead with the competition but were forced to replace the SBS 3Lz with SBS 3T in both programs, reducing their base value by 3.40 pts overall. Eric bravely skated both programs, but Duhamel/Radford simply couldn’t perform at their best and had to settle for 7th place. As disappointing as it was personally, at least Meagan/Eric had the satisfaction of knowing they helped save 3 spots for Canadian pairs at the Olympics next year. Their finish, combined with Lubov/Dylan’s, was just enough to maintain the 3 spots. If they had withdrawn, Canada would have been down to just 2 spots for pairs.

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Such courage from Eric Radford

On Twitter, Eric described the 24 hours around the short program as “some of the most difficult of my life.” Nonetheless, he and Meagan put out a scrappy, courageous performance of their “Killer” SP. Their opening triple twist was good (7.60 pts). Then came the SBS 3T, and it was clearly a struggle for Eric, but he held on and they got full base value (and +0.10 GOE). Meagan put a hand down on the throw 3Lz. Meagan/Eric were also uncharacteristically a bit off on the SBS spins; however, the GOE damage was minimal. Overall, it wasn’t a bad program at all. Their PCS was quite good (34.55), but they lost some levels on the spin elements and step sequence, which reduced their base value further. Their score of 72.67 left them in 7th. It was a result nearly as unexpected as Stolbova/Klimov’s 13th.

In the long program, Duhamel/Radford did the best they could under difficult circumstances. They opened with a solid triple twist and completed the SBS 3T/2T combo. However, the rest of their technical elements were shaky. Meagan fell on the throw quad Salchow; Eric had a swingy landing on the SBS 3S; Meagan 2-footed the throw 3Lz; and their spins weren’t as strong as usual. As they entered the second half of the program, you could see the fatigue and tension on Eric’s face, and he struggled a bit with the Axel lasso lift. Duhamel/Radford tried their best to keep up the performance level, but it was tough. They scored 133.39 for 7th LP/overall.

So much #respect to Duhamel/Radford for fighting it out in Helsinki! I hope that Eric’s recovery goes well. They have already announced that they will return to their famous Muse long program for the Olympic season, and will get a new short program. Good luck to them as they prepare for the Olympics!

James/Cipres

After their breakout performance at Europeans, James/Cipres were hoping for more of the same in Helsinki, but unfortunately it didn’t quite happen. Their programs once again made a strong impression, and they were crowd favorites, but technical errors dropped them to 8th place (two spots up from 10th place last year).

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Right before the fall: James/Cipres’s triple twist in the short program (AFP Getty)

Like Stolbova/Klimov, James/Cipres started their short program with a huge fall on the triple twist. They went into the twist with great speed (maybe too much?) and almost completed it successfully. But they lost control of the landing edge, and Vanessa tumbled flat onto her back, only narrowly avoiding hitting her head on the ice. It was a scary fall, and to add insult to injury (literally), they lost about 4 points on the element. However, amazingly, Vanessa picked herself up and got right back into the program, successfully landing the SBS 3S and throw 3F. A year ago, James/Cipres probably would have imploded after such a huge mistake; so it was impressive to see them hold it together. Their “Earned It” SP was once again sultry and compelling. They got good GOE scores (aside from the twist). And with their new status as European medalists, Vanessa/Morgan also got pretty strong PCS (32.71), despite the big fall. They earned 70.10 points, quite a good score overall. But in this strong field, were just 10th.

The next day, Vanessa had bandages on her back and seemed a bit stiff during the 6-minute warmup. However, once the music started, she was all in. James/Cipres opened with a good triple twist (this time a bit more controlled) and a strong SBS 3T/2T/2T combo. Next, they went for the throw quad Salchow. Vanessa got full rotation, but fell heavily; still, they scored 5.20. Vanessa then popped the SBS 3S down to a single, but recovered with a fairly good throw 3F. Their lifts were really strong in this program, with good ice coverage and innovative positions. Once again, their “Sound of Silence” LP was extremely effective, drawing in the crowd and adding momentum to the performance. Despite the technical problems, James/Cipres scored very well. Their non-jump elements have improved a lot, and their GOE is rising correspondingly. Their PCS was also strong—mostly in the mid- to high 8s. James/Cipres’s basic skating skills/posture do not quite match the top teams’, but their programs are excellent. James/Cipres scored 134.58 and pulled up to 6th LP/8th overall.

Compared to their triumph at Europeans, Worlds was a disappointment for James/Cipres. However, their LP scores showed that they are continuing to rise in the judges’ estimation and getting closer to the top.

Marchei/Hotarek

It was a great Worlds for Valentina/Ondrej. They put out 2 season’s-best performances to finish a strong 9th, moving up 5 spots from last year’s 14th-place finish (and in a stronger field, too). They continue to show improvement in their skating, and their placement was instrumental in securing 2 pairs spots for Italy at next year’s Olympics. Great job!

Valentina Marchei, Ondrej Hotarek

Valentina: Never short on attitude (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Marchei/Hotarek skated their “Seven Nation Army” SP with a lot of confidence and sass. They opened with a nice set of SBS 3S, which had good flow out. Their triple twist wasn’t great, but they did manage to get level 2 and full base value. Although the twist isn’t a strong element for them, it’s slowly improving. The throw 3Lz, on the other hand, was very good, with great height and a good landing; it got straight +2s. Valentina/Ondrej also received excellent GOE on their level 4 step sequence, where they showed nice unison and great expression. It was a fun and exciting performance. Marchei/Hotarek scored 71.04 for 9th.

Marchei/Hotarek’s “Skyfall” LP was also strong. Again, they got level 2 on the triple twist and minimal negative GOE (5.40 pts). Their SBS jumps were clean and good. The throw 3Lp had good height; the SBS spins were nice; and the reverse lasso lift very good, with great, creative positions. Their other lifts were nice, too. Ondrej’s turns could be faster and more fluid, but Valentina has terrific air positions, which makes their lifts enjoyable to watch. The highlight of the program was the throw 3Lz toward the end; Valentina landed it with authority and a flourish, and it scored well. Technically, this was one of the cleanest long programs I’ve seen from Valentina/Ondrej. Artistically, they performed it with the most expression and attention to detail that they’ve showed all season. I’d love to see Valentina/Ondrej choose more distinctive music next year, and also work on a bit on their knee bend. But this was a strong performance and they scored 132.88 to place 9th LP/overall.

Marchei/Hotarek had a rough start to this season; but they kept faith in themselves and their training, and it all ended very well.

Scimeca Knierim/Knierim

The Knierims continued their comeback with 2 solid performances to place 10th. From an individual standpoint, it was a good competition for them. Unfortunately, from a U.S. team standpoint, the picture wasn’t as good. Although the U.S. pairs’ finish (28 total combined placement) was good enough to secure 2 spots at Worlds next year, it fell just short of gaining 2 Olympic spots. So next year, the U.S. pairs will have only 1 spotat the Olympics (for the first time since 1924). For the U.S. pairs community (skaters, coaches, fans), it was a distressing turn of events that left a bitter taste indeed.

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The Knierims continue their comeback

Alexa/Chris skated a very nice, lyrical short program to “Come What May.” They started with a terrific level 3 triple twist, very big and smooth. The twist earned all +2s/+3s for 8.0 pts. Chris then stepped out of the SBS 3S, but the GOE damage wasn’t too bad, and they only lost about 1 point. Their reverse lasso lift had good ice coverage and speed. The throw 3F had great height, although Alexa was slightly forward on the landing. Altogether, it was a fairly strong performance technically and earned 40.74 TES. Artistically, the program was fine. However, with Alexa/Chris skating right after James/Cipres in the start order, the program did feel rather conventional, compared to J/C’s more modern, sexy SP. Alexa/Chris’s PCS marks were, correspondingly, about 1.28 pts behind James/Cipres. They scored 72.17 for 8th.

The Knierims then put out a fine performance of their Ghost LP. Their opening triple twist was again great, earning 8.10 pts. The throw 3S was huge. Alexa appeared to put a hand down, however, they only got 1 negative GOE mark. The SBS 3S was good, but Chris spun out of the SBS 3T, which cost them 2 points minimum. The throw 3F near the end had good height; it looked like it might have been slightly 2-footed, but again, they got only 1 negative mark. The lifts were very attractive, with good amplitude, but perhaps a tad slow. Spins were also slow; but the level 4 death spiral was lovely and got high GOE. (Alexa/Chris have beautiful death spirals.) All in all, it was a nice program for Alexa/Chris, especially considering they’re just coming back from surgery. The program was soft and romantic, if a bit lacking in impact. Alexa/Chris had great speed in the first half, but slowed a bit in the second half. I’m sure this is just a conditioning issue resulting from their time off. PCS marks were in the high 7s/low 8s. Alexa/Chris scored 130.20 for 11th LP/10th overall.

The Knierims will not be competing at World Team Trophy later this month. Presumably, they will instead start preparations for the Olympic season. Despite being off the ice for so long, the Knierims easily posted the best scores of any American pair this season at Four Continents and Worlds. They will be strongly favored for the one U.S. Olympic spot next year.

Seguin/Bilodeau

This was Seguin/Bilodeau’s first competition since early December, when they competed at the Grand Prix Final. A bit of rust showed at Worlds. Seguin/Bilodeau put out decent performances, but in a very strong field, could only manage 11th place.

Seguin-Bilodeau-split-move

Seguin/Bilodeau return from injury

Seguin/Bilodeau’s “Monde Inverse” SP was well-delivered, but there were some issues on the jumps. Julianne 2-footed the throw 3Lz and had a swingy, uncontrolled landing on the SBS 3S; these errors probably cost about 3 points. Their triple twist was also a bit problematic (crashy/slight adjustment on landing), and although they only had a couple negative GOE marks, it was a somewhat weak start to the program. The rest of their technical elements were clean (if not particularly high-scoring). This program really shows off Julianne/Charlie’s speed and skating skills, but it didn’t seem to resonate strongly with the judges. Their PCS marks were mostly in the 7s. They scored 66.31, well off their season’s-best, for 12th place.

Seguin/Bilodeau came back strongly the next day in their Cinema Paradiso LP. Technically, this was one of their best free skates of the season. The level 3 triple twist was good, and their SBS jumps were clean. It looked like there might have been a slight 2-ft on the throw 3F, but the GOE was all positive. The throw 3Lp had nice flow out, although Julianne landed a bit forward. They got off sync in the SBS spins, but that was the only element to receive negative GOE. Seguin/Bilodeau had good speed and ice coverage on the lifts, but Julianne’s air positions need improvement in line and toepoint. Now in their third senior season, I’d like to see Julianne/Charlie start paying a bit more attention to the details in their skating. They have great skating skills and solid technical elements, but could really use more refinement and maturity. Their Cinema Paradiso program was pretty, but bland. There was a lack of phrasing in the program–no sense of the ups/downs of the music or the story they were trying to tell. I just know Julianne/Charlie can do much better. Their PCS scores were mixed, with some in the high 7s, others in the high 8s. They scored 131.90 to pull up to 10th LP/11th overall.

I was happy to see Seguin/Bilodeau have a nice comeback at Worlds after Julianne’s concussion. This hasn’t been their best season, but they did have some really great high points: Winning their first Grand Prix event and making the Grand Prix Final. And now they will get to compete at World Team Trophy later this month (replacing injured Duhamel/Radford).

Zabijako/Enbert

This competition was like a tale of two programs for Zabijako/Enbert. They had a terrific short program, earning their highest score ever and placing a strong 5th in that segment. However, their long program was unexpectedly weak and dropped them all the way to 12th. I’ve grown to like this team, so I was sorry to see them skate poorly in the LP.

TOPSHOT-FSKATE-WORLD-FIN

Zabijako/Enbert:  It started off so well in the short program (AFP Getty)

Zabijako/Enbert looked a bit nervous as they took the ice for their “Snowstorm” SP—not surprising, as this was their first Worlds together. However, they kept those nerves in check and delivered a smooth short program with a lot of quality. Their opening level 3 triple twist was one of their best (7.30 pts). They looked a bit hesitant entering the SBS 3T, but the jumps were well landed. The throw 3Lp was good–not particularly high or big, but solid—and earned many +2s. Zabijako/Enbert have strong SBS spins, with lovely positions and fine speed, and this element was well-rewarded with straight +2s/+3s. Their step sequence also scored well, perhaps partly because they do more steps in dance holds than most other teams. Overall, Natalia/Alexander’s GOE score was about 2 to 3 points higher than in most of their SPs this year! Their classic look, elegant line, and good speed were also appreciated by the judges, who gave PCS marks mostly in the 8s. Zabijako/Enbert earned a season’s-best 74.26 for 5th.

Zabijako/Enbert’s “Cry Me a River” LP started off well, with a high triple twist. Then they went for their SBS 3T/2T/2Lp. Alexander spun out of the last jump, but it didn’t seem like too bad of a mistake. However, the score sheet showed that the 2Lp was downgraded, and the whole sequence received almost 2 points off in GOE. Next, they went for the SBS 3S. This is an element that I feel Natalia/Alexander don’t really “have,” so to speak. All season long, typically one or both of them has doubled the Salchow. Here they went for full rotation, but both spun out–and it was another costly downgrade. They earned less on the triple than they usually do on their double (and that’s not including the negative effect on their PCS). Next, Alexander lost his center/balance on the hand-to-hand lift! The lift came down early, and they got only basic level, costing at least another 3 points! At this stage, they were in trouble, and the remaining elements were not at their usual level. Zabijako/Enbert did show nice-quality skating skills, line, flow, and partnering in this program. It was all very smoothly skated; however, there was little connection to the music or each other. Their technical score was much lower than usual, and their PCS marks were lower than in the short program. They could manage only 118.28 and dropped to 13th LP/12th overall.

It was a disappointing end to Zabijako/Enbert’s season. However, I feel pretty confident this is only a temporary setback for this team. There’s a lot of quality in their skating, so I think they’ll be back strong next year (and hopefully with better programs).

Della Monica/Guarise

The Italians had a decent event at Worlds, skating better than at Europeans. However, both of their programs had some problems; and the level of competition was high. As a result, they could only place 13th, down two spots from last year’s 11th.

Nicole Della Monica, Matteo Guarise

More technical consistency needed for Della Monica/Guarise (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Della Monica/Guarise’s “Carmina Burana” SP was pretty strong. Nicole had a very slight 2-foot on the SBS 3S and a hand down/forward on the throw 3Lp. However, they got off lightly for these mistakes, only losing about a half point total off base value. Their other technical elements were quite strong: They had all level 4s and no negative GOE (other than on the jumps). That helped their score a lot; and their PCS was respectable, mostly in the high 7s/low 8s. Their step sequence was excellent, and I enjoy this program quite a lot from them. They scored a season’s-best 70.08 for 11th.

Della Monica/Guarise had a somewhat mixed performance of their “Love Story” LP. A lot of the technical elements were really quite good. They had a fine level 4 triple twist (7.40 pts) and 2 strong throw jumps. The final 2 lifts were also excellent, earning almost all +2s. (Matteo has improved so much in his lift technique!) Spins were good, too (and I felt could’ve been scored higher). However, Nicole doubled both of their SBS jumps, which obviously cost them a lot of points technically. I really enjoy their Love Story program, and I thought they skated it with great emotion and lovely transitions. But their PCS marks were only in the high 7s. Nicole/Matteo do still need to work on improving their speed; maybe that’s why their PCS wasn’t higher. I did feel their performance level was very good. They scored 121.94 for 12th LP/13th overall.

I feel like Della Monica/Guarise made nice progress artistically this season. But they still need to become more consistent on the technical elements if they want to break into the top 10 at Worlds.

Duskova/Bidar

This was Duskova/Bidar’s first senior Worlds. Considering their youth (they are just 17/18), I thought they did great in Helsinki. They looked nervous in the short program, and it showed in their technical elements. However, they qualified for the free skate, where they put out quite a strong program to place 14th. Not bad for the young’uns! 🙂

Duskova/Bidar got the job done in their “LA 40” SP. Their best element was the opening SBS 3Ts; they had nice synchronization and speed. Their other two jump elements were slightly shaky: Anna was off-balance on the triple twist landing and forward on the throw 3Lz. Anna/Martin looked a bit tight throughout the program and got some negative GOE here and there. But the only big error was on the final SBS spins, which got quite out of sync. Artistically, the program was fine, if a bit lacking in vivacity. They scored 63.36 for 15th.

Duskova/Bidar’s “Historia de un amor” LP was considerably stronger. They put out some very nice, clean technical elements in this program. Their level 2 triple twist was high, light, and easy. Anna had problems on the SBS 3S combo, costing them a couple points. However, the SBS 3T was very nice, and both throw jumps were cleanly landed. Martin’s turns could be a bit faster in the lifts, but Anna has very nice air positions. The young Czechs looked very “on” for the first 3 minutes of the program, skating with good attack and energy. I felt they started to get a bit disjointed in the final minute—not surprising at all, as they’re used to skating shorter-length junior LPs. Still, I love this team’s youthful energy, crispness, and unison. They scored 116.34—very respectable for such a young team—and placed 14th LP/overall.

It was a great season for Duskova/Bidar. This team has so much potential, and I look forward to seeing them grow in coming seasons. They did not earn an Olympic spot here, so they will be looking to qualify at Nebelhorn Trophy next fall. Currently #17 on the ISU season’s-best list, they should also hopefully get at least 1 Grand Prix event next year.

Ryom/Kim

The North Koreans seemed so happy to be competing in their first Worlds! Their bright smiles in the kiss-n-cry after the short program were a joy to see. And it was wonderful to see them skate well in the SP and qualify for the long program. They weren’t able to quite maintain the same standard in the long program, but still, it was a great competition for them.

Ryom-Kim-LP

Ryom/Kim:  Stars in the making? (Ivan Sekretarev/AP Photo)

Ryom/Kim’s sparkling SP was actually one of the highlights of the whole pairs event for me. What’s fun about this team is they’re so fresh and unknown, yet so good! Perhaps because they have competed very little internationally, their style is a bit different and interesting to watch. They presented a new short program in Helsinki to a rock instrumental version of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” Unlike most Beatles covers, this one actually had a bit of an edge to it, enhanced by Ryom’s slinky silver/black unitard. The choreography was inventive, and I felt that Ryom/Kim skated it with great sharpness and musical awareness. Their technical elements were also strong. They opened with a good triple twist, followed by solid SBS 3Ts. Their throw 3S was excellent, with great distance and speed (and a difficult entrance too). One thing they can work on is levels. All their elements were level 2 and 3; they’ll want to upgrade at least some of those to level 4. But it was a terrific and fun performance, and they got great applause from the audience. They scored 64.52 for 14th.

Unfortunately, Ryom/Kim were not able to maintain the same level in their Nutcracker LP. They opened with a fine triple twist, but then Tae Ok underrotated and fell on her SBS 3T. They also had problems on their SBS 2Lp/2T/2T combo, popping the last 2 jumps to singles. Their throw jumps were fine; the lifts were okay, but didn’t earn much positive GOE. Tae Ok and her partner Ju Sik have lovely precision, detail, and line to their skating; but they lacked speed in this long program. (Also, this is a minor complaint, but I felt that Tae Ok’s unitard didn’t fit the Nutrcracker theme and detracted a bit from their packaging.) It was a nice program, but lacked the spark of their SP. They scored 105.13 for 15th LP/overall.

I hope that Ryom/Kim will be invited to one or more Grand Prix events next year. I’d really like to see this team more often in international competition, plus it would probably be helpful in their development. They may also skate at Nebelhorn Trophy next season to try to earn an Olympic spot.

Alexandrovskaya/Windsor

Well, they did it! Australia’s first-ever World junior champions put out a great short program in Helsinki and managed to just sneak in to the final 16. Congratulations to them! As with the Czechs and North Koreans, it’s exciting to see a team from a smaller federation achieve such success.

FSKATE-TPE

Terrific senior Worlds debut for the Aussies

In my predictions before Worlds, I said this about Alexandrovskaya/Windsor’s chances: To move into the top 16, they will likely need two things to happen: 1) A new personal-best SP score and 2) Significant mistakes from at least one of the 16 teams ahead of them on the season’s-best list.” Both things came to pass. First, Alexandrovskaya/Windsor posted a new personal-best score of 62.03 in the SP. Second, Denney/Frazier of the USA–who were ahead of A/W on the season’s-best list–had major problems in the SP and dropped out of the top 16, enabling the Aussies to slip past and into the long program. Not only did Alexandrovskaya/Windsor make the final 16, they skated pretty well in both portions of the event—serving notice they could be a force in the future.

Alexandrovskaya/Windsor drew to skate second in the short program; not a favorable spot. But the Aussies kept their cool and put out a very solid program. Their level 4 triple twist was excellent, with great height and nice speed on the exit (7.40 pts). The SBS 3Ts and throw 3F were cleanly landed, and the level 4 SBS spins had great synchronization. Technically it was a very strong program (37.69 TES). Artistically, the program was rather basic and unremarkable. However, I really like the “bones” of Katia/Harley’s skating. They have a classic look together, great height differential, nice clean lines, and good speed. I see much potential for the future with this team. They placed 16th.

Alexandrovskaya/Windsor’s long program to W.E. again included some nice technical elements. Unfortunately, they both fell on the SBS 3T, but the SBS 3S was solid. Katia had a scratchy landing on the throw 3F and stepped out of the throw 3S, and the final lift was a bit shaky. However, they again completed a great level 4 triple twist (7.50 pts), which gave a nice boost to their tech score. Katia has lovely positions in the lifts and death spiral, and Harley is attentive to his partner and has good basic skills. They scored 102.07 for 16th LP/overall.

Denney/Frazier

Sad to say, U.S. champions Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier had a very disappointing competition at Worlds. Although their practices seemed to go fairly well by all accounts, they looked nervous and tense as they took the ice for the short program. What followed was little short of disastrous: Haven fell badly on the throw 3Lp, almost hitting her chin; then Brandon sprawled to the ice on the SBS 3T. They also had problems on the SBS spins. Denney/Frazier got their worst SP score of the season (56.23), finished 20th in that segment, and did not qualify to the long program. As a fan of this team, it was pretty tough to watch. Rooting for them to come back stronger next season!

Other teams

Japanese pair Suto/Boudreau Audet put out a lovely season’s-best SP. But, in this deep field, it wasn’t quite enough and they unfortunately just missed the cut for the long program. They will compete at World Team Trophy in late April, and are a team to watch for next season …. Austrians Ziegler/Kiefer finally put together a clean short program at Worlds, yet still couldn’t make the long programin their 4th try at Worlds. I felt for them. Hope they won’t be too discouraged …. Hase/Seegert of Germany have been on an upswing the latter half of the season, and that momentum continued at Worlds, where they had a strong SP. With the German pairs gaining 2 spots for the Olympics, they now have a chance to make it to Pyeongchang …. Petranovic/Souza-Kordyeru of Croatia continued to impress with their big triple twist and topped most of the lower-ranked Euro pairs here. Now, time to start serious work on improving their line, unison, and presentation …. Butkute/Ermolaev of Lithuania had one of their best short programs of the season, and looked miles better than they did at Rostelecom Cup last fall …. Danilova/Kamianchuk skated decently in the SP but, just like last year, were unable to capitalize on the momentum of their 10th-place finish at Euros …. Brand-new team Beklemisheva/Magyar of Hungary had a fine debut, although their program didn’t leave much impression on me …. Ditto for Simonen/Penasse of Finland ….. Jones/Boyadji of Great Britain had a rough skate in the SP; just too many little technical errors. Still, I look forward to seeing how this team progresses next year …. Now that France has gained 2 Olympic spots, I certainly hope that Esbrat/Novoselov or another French team can step it up significantly before Pyeongchang. The level of skating they put out here was not Olympic-worthy …. Poor Chtchetinina/Scherer. They had an awful fall on their triple twist first thing in the short program …. Ouch!

Wrap-up

It was a dramatic and exciting pairs event at Worlds. Many surprises & triumphs, but also some unexpected setbacks & heartbreak. It was thrilling to see Sui/Han win their first World championship and wonderful to see Savchenko/Massot go one step higher on the podium with their brilliant skating. Yet my heart went out to the pairs who were injured or who suffered huge falls or just plain heartbreak: Duhamel/Radford, Tarasova/Morozov, Stolbova/Klimov, James/Cipres, Denney/Frazier.

Still, though, Worlds was a great conclusion to a very interesting season in pairs. Many pairs were able to successfully peak in Helsinki and put out season’s-best performances; always the goal for every team, and great to see as a fan.

For most of the pairs, there won’t be much time off after Worlds. Now begins the all-important Olympic season: Pyeongchang is just 10 months away! Although we‘ve just ended one season, it’s already time for new programs, new beginnings, new hopes. The next 10 months will be a period of intense work and much pressure for the teams. Congratulations to all the pairs for putting out the best they could in Helsinki; and good luck for next season!

 

Note: The quote at the beginning of this article from Hongbo Zhao, Chinese head coach and 2010 Olympic champion, is taken from this interview: http://milquetoasted.tumblr.com/post/159203599431/chinese-pair-skating-unlocking-the-dilemma

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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One Response to Worlds 2017: Pairs Review

  1. Pingback: Figure Skating Articles for Sunday, April 9, 2017 | BLAZING BLADES II

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