This season, the usual Grand Prix event schedule was reshuffled, with the Grand Prix starting in Russia at Rostelecom Cup, instead of at Skate America. The schedule change feels odd … yet somehow appropriate, for the pairs skaters. The last Olympic cycle ended with Russian pair Volosozhar/Trankov claiming double Olympic gold. Will this cycle end the same way? Perhaps so, if the Russian pairs have anything to say about it! They swept the podium in Moscow.
Current World bronze medalists Tarasova/Morozov cruised to an easy victory at Rostelecom for their first regular Grand Prix gold medal. (The couple won the Grand Prix Final last year, but had never won a regular Grand Prix event until now.)
Tarasova/Morozov opened with a strong short program to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2. They had only one mistake, when both of them turned out of their SBS 3T. All their other technical elements were very strong, particularly their level 4 triple twist and throw triple loop, both of which received mostly +3s from the judges. They had only one non-level 4 element (death spiral). It was an impressive performance technically, and I felt it also worked pretty well artistically. The music at the start of the program was very loud and almost overpowering; but the second half of the program was a bit calmer. The choreography was well-integrated with the music, and the program shows off their speed. I feel like this SP could work well for them at the Olympics in Korea. They scored a strong 76.88 for 1st.
In the long program, Tarasova/Morozov abandoned classicism to skate to what they have described as “boogie-woogie” music. Again, they were very strong technically. They started with one of their best quad twists yet, earning level 3 and overall positive GOE. Next, they successfully completed both SBS jump sets (although Vladimir was a bit forward on the SBS 3S), and the throw 3S earned near-perfect scores. The only real mistake in the program came when Evgenia 2-footed the throw 3Lp. However, the jump was so big to start with that they didn’t lose much in negative GOE. Lifts were not as impressive as their jump and spin elements, but still earned positive marks. Altogether, it was a very good technical performance.
Artistically, however, this program is a whole other story. I know there’s a contingent of pairs fans who feel that Tarasova/Morozov’s “Music” LP last year was not just a bad program, but maybe one of the worst programs out there! Personally, I never thought “Music” was THAT bad. But–I’m sorry to say–this new program IS THAT BAD. I’ve seen it 4 times, and each time, it has left me literally cringing.
There are just so many levels of problems. First and foremost, the sexual references in the lyrics …. so inappropriate in an Olympic program! At the very moment T/M are performing their biggest & most important technical element (quad twist), the lyrics are talking about panties dropping! Well, it’s a jaw-dropping moment, anyhow … How anyone on Team Mozer thought this was a good idea is beyond me. At least they edited out the “makes my cherry pop” line in the song … But the very idea of a top pairs team deliberately choosing—for the Olympics–music that requires multiple bleeps is just ????).
There are other problems. The principal music piece is Christina Aguilera’s “Candyman”, and I can only say that the numerous references to “[my] sweet-talking sugar-coated candyman” don’t exactly jibe with Vladimir’s rather stoic presence on ice. Also, the 4 pieces of music in the program don’t fit stylistically. Two of the songs are 2000s pop hits from Christina Aguilera, while the other 2 pieces are rockabilly songs from 1956/1960!! Evgenia’s unfortunate yellow-and-black polka-dot costume seems to reference the 1950s/60s era, so it feels a bit out of place with the Aguilera songs (in addition to just being unattractive).
Sorry, but I’ll take “Music” over this mess any day.
For this LP, Tarasova/Morozov received PCS marks of almost all 9.00 and above. They totaled 147.37 for the free skate—a new personal best and the 7th-best pairs free skate score of all time.
Tarasova/Morozov have 3 weeks until their next event, the French Grand Prix. (Time enough to choreograph a quickie new LP??)
Stolbova/Klimov are still on the comeback trail from an assortment of injuries that have unfortunately plagued them the last 2 years. It’s such a shame, as this uber-talented team can be so exciting at their best. The question now is: Do they have enough time left to get in top shape for Pyeongchang? They made some mistakes in Moscow, but still put together a strong enough competition to claim the silver medal.
Stolbova/Klimov showed some very nice elements in their new “Besame Mucho” short program. Their throw 3F was strong, earning many +3s. Their level 4 step sequence was also excellent, providing a great ending to the program. Their pairs spin and lift also scored well. However, their opening triple twist was weak; it looked underrotated on replay, and the catch was very late and low. Also, Ksenia appeared to rush the takeoff of the SBS 3T, and fell on it. Despite these errors, they showed great skating skills and nice attitude in their interpretation of the tango music, earning very good PCS scores. Stolbova/Klimov scored 71.39 overall for 2nd in the SP, but were hardly satisfied with the result. Ksenia appeared close to tears in the kiss ‘n cry; no doubt upset about her fall.
Stolbova/Klimov’s Carmen LP was better than at Finlandia, but still a work in progress. Their lifts were much stronger than at Finlandia; all were completed with positive GOE. (In some cases, perhaps a bit too positive; I didn’t really understand the +3s.) However, they had a number of jump mistakes. Ksenia turned out of the throw 3F and fell on both the throw 3S and the SBS 3T/2T. Only the SBS 3S were landed without error. Ksenia/Fedor’s triple twist was better than in the SP, but still with a low catch and negative GOE. Altogether, they lost 7.50 points in negative GOE and fall deductions, but were kept afloat by positive marks on other elements and their PCS scores, which were strong as usual. Ksenia/Fedor scored 133.04 for 2nd in the LP/overall. Although far below their personal best, the score was still an 18+ point improvement over the Finlandia LP, so there’s that.
It’s a bit hard to evaluate Stolbova/Klimov’s programs at this stage. In general, my feeling is they don’t seem as intricate, interesting, or powerful as their programs from the past two seasons. However, I also feel like we haven’t seen the full potential of the programs yet. My sense is that Ksenia/Fedor are concentrating a lot on the technical elements right now, trying to shore them up, and aren’t yet able to give full voice to their expression and interpretation. So I’m reserving judgment for now.
Stolbova/Klimov have just 2 weeks before their next GP event at NHK Trophy, where they’ll face World champions Sui/Han. It’s not much time to prepare and get their elements more solid. They’ll be hoping for silver or better at NHK, to punch their ticket to the Grand Prix Final.
Going forward, I think a big issue for Stolbova/Klimov is their triple twist. They’ve been struggling with it since last season, and the highest they’ve scored on it this year is 5.70 points. Their top competitors are scoring in the high 7.0s/8.0s/low 9.0s with their triple or quad twists. It’s a lot of points to give up on one element; but fortunately, Stolbova/Klimov can typically make up much of that deficit in GOE/PCS marks. Still, their prospects for a medal in Pyeongchang will be brighter if they can just get the triple twist a bit stronger.
It seems Rostelecom Cup is a lucky competition for Astakhova/Rogonov. They earned bronze medals in both their previous appearances at Rostelecom, and the trend continued this year, with them winning bronze yet again.
Astakhova/Rogonov opened with a strong and dramatic short program set to music from Mozart and Carl Orff. Their SBS 3S were clean and well-done. Their level 4 death spiral was also a highlight, as was their step sequence, which was powerful and well-set to the music. The performance was not totally clean, however. Astakhova slightly 2-footed the throw 3F, and their triple twist was fast but had a somewhat low catch and adjustment on the landing. Some judges appeared not to notice these errors; only 3 judges gave negative GOE marks on those elements. All in all, though, it was a nice performance for Kristina/Alexei. I thought they had good speed and momentum throughout and presented the program well. There are some very interesting transitions in this program, including a great dance lift at the beginning. I also feel like Kristina/Alexei’s simple, but dramatic, dark blue costumes fit the mood of the program very well. It’s a strong package, and they scored 67.14 for 4th.
Astakhova/Rogonov then put out a completely different type of program in the free skate. Their La La Land LP is fresh and engaging. Kristina/Alexei are power skaters and sometimes can look a bit heavy on the ice, but this program lightens them up and gives them a more youthful feel. Technically, it was a quite strong program, adding to the positive impression. Kristina/Alexei opened with a solid SBS 3T/2T/2T sequence, and their SBS 3S was very good. Kristina 2-footed the throw 3Lp, incurring some negative GOE, but held onto the throw 3F. Lifts were a bit mixed. Kristina always has great extension in her lift positions; but Alexei’s turns and ice coverage could be better. Their weakest element was probably the level 2 triple twist, which was crashy on the catch. But they managed to get off with no negative GOE. Altogether it was a successful skate for Astakhova/Rogonov, and they moved up to 3rd LP/overall.
Choreography has typically been a strong suit for Astakhova/Rogonov, but they fell off a bit in that area last season, with two programs that didn’t seem to attract much notice (either positive or negative). This year, they’re definitely back on track with two strong, distinctive routine. I enjoy this team’s power and interpretive ability.
Astakhova/Rogonov’s bronze medal here puts them in the conversation for a possible Grand Prix Final berth, although it’s probably unlikely. It’s not impossible that they could medal again at their next event, NHK Trophy. Sui/Han and Stolbova/Klimov will be expected to lead, but Astakhova/Rogonov could be in the hunt for another bronze, along with Seguin/Bilodeau and the Knierims.
Italian team Marchei/Hotarek turned in 2 solid performances at Rostelecom to place 4th in Moscow for the second consecutive year.
Marchei/Hotarek’s new short program is set to the classic Italian song “Tu Vuo Fa L’Americano.” Technically, it was a pretty good performance. They hit their SBS 3S and throw 3Lz well. The triple twist looked a little underrotated, leading to an off-balance catch and negative GOE. However, that was the only mistake. The rest of the program was clean, and the closing step sequence was effective (with Valentina really selling it). Marchei/Hotarek posted a score of 68.48 for 3rd in the SP.
Marchei/Hotarek then had a few errors in their long program, set to Nino Rota’s music from the Fellini film Amarcord. Their opening triple twist was level 3 but low and crashy. Valentina then underrotated and fell on their second element, the SBS 3T. However, the rest of the program was much better. Marchei/Hotarek hit their SBS 3T/2T/2T combo and throw 3Lp with no problem. Their throw triple 3Lz at the end of the program was landed with great confidence and authority and earned +1.10 in GOE. I feel like Valentina/Ondrej’s lifts are not the most difficult and complex in the pairs field; however, they executed them well and earned positive marks. Except for the opening mistakes, it was a strong performance and Marchei/Hotarek earned 125.15 for 4th LP/overall.
Marchei/Hotarek have chosen similar music for their two programs this year, with the SP and LP both set to lively, characteristically Italian themes. Neither program really suits my personal taste; I find the music choices, choreography, and costumes a bit kitschy and cutesy. However, others will no doubt feel differently, and Valentina/Ondrej appear to really enjoy skating the programs. Valentina in particular is excellent at this type of material; she has the personality, performance level, and lack of self-consciousness needed to carry it off well. And the judges seemed to like what they saw at Rostelecom, awarding PCS marks mostly in the low to mid 8.0s.
The Italians now have 1 week until their second Grand Prix event at Cup of China, where they’ll face not only Sui/Han and Yu/Zhang but also Italian rivals Della Monica/Guarise.
This was Seguin/Bilodeau’s second consecutive year competing at Rostelecom. Like Astakhova/Rogonov and Marchei/Hotarek, they finished in the same spot as last year: in their case, 5th.
Seguin/Bilodeau opened with a solid performance of their new short program, set to Lorde’s cover of “Everyone Wants to Rule the World.” Their level 3 triple twist looked good, as did their SBS 3S. They had good speed in and out of the SBS jumps; they also had good speed and ice coverage in their Group 3 star lift. The only slight problem came on the throw 3F, as Julianne’s free foot just brushed the ice. Technically, it was a sound performance. However, their GOE marks were not as strong as usual; and PCS marks were a bit low as well. It appeared the program just didn’t resonate with the judges. I feel this music selection was perhaps not the best choice for Julianne/Charlie. It comes across as heavy and portentous, and it doesn’t seem to relate to their personalities or style at all. Clearly the intent was to try something edgy and interesting, but for me, it fell flat. Julianne/Charlie earned a quite decent score of 67.06 but were only 5th.
Seguin/Bilodeau’s free skate to “Where’s My Love?” by SYML was also a bit disappointing. They had a couple of mistakes on SBS jumps in this program—Julianne spun out of the SBS 3T and then Charlie turned out of the SBS 3S. They also had a bit of trouble with the Axel lasso lift, almost losing control of the exit. They lost about 3.5 points in negative GOE on those mistakes, and then lost more points due to level problems on several elements. Artistically, the program again left little impression on me. The music worked better than their SP music, but there was just nothing particularly unique or memorable about it. The judges issued PCS marks mostly in the mid-7.0s, and Seguin/Bilodeau finished with a free skate score of just 119.10, far off their personal best. They were 5th LP/overall.
2017 has been a difficult year for Seguin/Bilodeau. Julianne suffered multiple concussions, and they lost a great deal of training/development time, which no doubt has hindered their progress. I feel like they’re struggling right now to find their voice artistically.
Seguin/Bilodeau’s second GP assignment is in 2 weeks at NHK Trophy.
Ziegler/Kiefer’s skating has been on a steady upswing ever since the beginning of 2017—culminating with their successful quest to win an Olympic spot for Austria at Nebelhorn Trophy last month. Happily, the trend continued in Moscow, as Ziegler/Kiefer turned in 2 good performances to place 6th.
Ziegler/Kiefer skated an enjoyable SP to the pop song “500 Miles.” I think this music works really well for Miriam/Severin. It’s not too serious or too demanding; it emphasizes their youth and freshness, and it just feels like them. They skated the program with nice energy in Moscow. They did have a couple technical hiccups that incurred some negative GOE: Their triple twist was basic level and very low, and Miriam put her hands down on the landing of the throw 3F. But their other elements were clean, with no negative marks. I feel like Miriam/Severin are really improving in their presentation; they’re showing much better extension and polish, especially Miriam. I thought this improvement could have been reflected a bit more in their PCS score, which seemed a tad low (28.42). Still, they scored 59.35 for 6th.
Ziegler/Kiefer also skated fairly well in their Coldplay LP. They landed 2 good throw jumps and a nice set of SBS 3S. However, there were a few technical problems elsewhere, which were perhaps not readily apparent to many fans watching on video. The third jump in their SBS 3T/2T/2T was singled and downgraded, which cost them almost 2 points. Their death spiral was only level 1, and there were also level problems on the pairs combination spin and a couple lifts. So their final score (115.71) appeared a bit low, but it was largely due to these small technical errors adding up. This was actually Ziegler/Kiefer’s highest-scoring long program ever. They placed 7th LP/6th overall.
After a couple rough years with not much forward progress, Ziegler/Kiefer finally seem to be on the right track. Their throw jumps are becoming consistent; their presentation is really improving. There are areas that still need work–twist and lifts, especially—but they’re on the right path.
Like Seguin/Bilodeau, Ziegler/Kiefer’s next GP is assignment is NHK Trophy.
U.S. team Castelli/Tran placed a disappointing 7th in Moscow.
Castelli/Tran struggled in their “Fallin’” SP, making 2 major mistakes: Marissa doubled the SBS 3S and fell on the throw 3S. Their lift dismount was also slightly shaky. On the plus side, their triple twist was level 3 and looked clean, and the spin, spiral, and step sequence were all strong. Nonetheless, their GOE marks were low, even on their good elements, and they had negative GOE overall for the program. Castelli/Tran got their lowest short-program score of the season (54.37) to place 7th.
Fortunately, they put out a much stronger performance of their “Woman” free skate. Again they struggled on the SBS jumps; Marissa doubled the SBS 3T, and both had trouble on the SBS 3S, which was downgraded. However, the rest of their elements were actually quite good. Both throw jumps were successfully landed, with no negative GOE. The level 3 triple twist was again clean, although the catch was a bit late. Lifts were all level 4, with positive scores, and spins were good as well. I really love this new “Woman” LP for Castelli/Tran. The program has an intimate, emotional feel, and some gorgeous, inventive transitions. Yet, overall, there was a certain lack of ease and lightness to Castelli/Tran’s skating in Moscow. It was almost as if they were trying too hard to keep everything on track; and the effort showed, a bit. Their PCS scores ranged from mid-6.0s to mid-8.0s, as if the judges weren’t quite sure what to do with the program. The couple looked a bit dejected in the kiss ‘n cry, as did coach Bruno Marcotte. Castelli/Tran scored 116.16 for 6th LP/7th overall.
Castelli/Tran’s FS score here was actually just about on par with their season’s-best FS score from last season (116.92). Yet, there is a sense of dissatisfaction with their season so far. Currently, Castelli/Tran’s next scheduled competition is U.S. Nationals. Unless they receive another Challenger Series assignment or replacement Grand Prix pick, the next time we will see them is just after New Year’s in San Jose.
Unlike Ziegler/Kiefer, who are trending upward, Suto/Boudreau Audet have struggled this fall. They skated poorly at U.S. Classic, failed to qualify a spot for Japan at Nebelhorn Trophy, and placed a distant 8th here at Rostelecom (over 30 points behind 7th-place team Castelli/Tran).
Suto/Boudreau Audet had numerous problems in their Sakura SP. Their triple twist was only level 1, with an awkward catch. Sumire doubled the SBS 3S and had a hesitant landing on the throw 3S. Also, their step sequence was slow to get started and a bit off unison at first (odd). They lacked intensity and engagement in this program—I’ve seen them skate it much, much better. They received a very low score of 48.93 for 8th.
Unfortunately, things only got worse in their free skate to Beatles cover songs. Sumire/Francis had problems on nearly every element in this program: They received no credit for the death spiral, the twist was crashy with a late catch, Sumire doubled the SBS 3S, the SBS 3T was downgraded … you get the picture. Perhaps worse, Sumire/Francis showed almost no expression at all while skating; the whole program had a very half-hearted feel. They scored only 87.87 to place 8th LP/overall. Suto/Boudreau Audet had negative GOE overall in this competition, meaning they scored below the base value of their elements …. never a place you want to be.
I don’t know what’s going on with this team, but they’re clearly in a major slump. And they don’t have much time to turn it around. Like 5 of the other teams in this event, their next GP event is in 2 weeks at NHK Trophy.
It was an interesting start to the Grand Prix season at Rostelecom. I feel like all the pairs are very much still settling into their new programs, while at the same time dealing with the intense pressure of the Olympic season. I’m looking forward to stronger performances from everyone as the season goes on!
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