Skate Canada 2017: Pairs Review

Skate Canada 2017 featured a great field in pairs:  2017 World silver medalists Savchenko/Massot, two-time World champions Duhamel/Radford, and 2017 European medalists James/Cipres. No less than 7 of the 8 teams at this event had medaled previously on the Grand Prix, which gives an idea of the depth of the field. Happily, the skating at the event fully lived up to expectations, with many highlight moments.

Results

 

Skate-Canada-podium

 

Duhamel/Radford

Duhamel/Radford’s season got off to a rough start at Autumn Classic, where they had major jump issues in the long program. However, Meagan/Eric got back on track at Skate Canada, putting up their best total score since Worlds 2016 to notch a come-from-behind victory over reigning World silver medalists Savchenko/Massot.

Duhamel/Radford’s short program to “With or Without You” at Skate Canada was one of my favorite performances I’ve ever seen from this team. It was gorgeous and just swept me away. This pensive, moody routine is a bit of a departure for Meagan/Eric, and I wasn’t sure about it the first few times I saw it. But it was beautiful in Regina. Every move seemed to just flow so naturally into the next, and it all passed so quickly. Somehow this program made me very aware of the individual qualities I love about these skaters—Eric’s elegance and nuanced interpretation, Meagan’s emotional quality and vitality. This program brought out the best in both of them. They did have one mistake—Meagan doubled the SBS 3Lz—but all their other elements were really strong and well-done. Duhamel/Radford scored 73.53 for 2nd.

Duhamel-Radford

Duhamel/Radford celebrate their long-program success (AFP)

 

The next day, Duhamel/Radford came out and skated the best long program they’ve done in at least a year. They were so “on” in this program, just moving from element to element with great security. They opened with a successful set of SBS 3Lz (just a slight hitch on Eric’s landing). Then they hit a huge throw quad Salchow. It’s been a while since we saw Meagan nail this element, as only she can. But this quad was a beauty and even got some +2s, for 9.34 points total. After that, Meagan/Eric successfully landed the SBS 3S/2T/2T combo and throw 3Lz. Their other elements were well-done, especially the final lift.

Artistically, the program was enjoyable to watch and had good flow and performance level throughout. Muse is not one of my personal favorite programs from Duhamel/Radford; but they skated it very well here. I love the ending, with the gorgeous star lift—it’s a great finish, and brought the crowd to its feet in Regina. This Muse LP is not quite as seamless as Duhamel/Radford’s new SP, where the transitions just seem to blend into the elements. So maybe that’s something to work on—just extending the transitional moves a bit more, or perhaps adding to them. Overall, though, it was a great program, and it was wonderful to see this team skating well again. “That felt so good,” said a joyful Meagan in the kiss ‘n cry. “And room for it to be better still.”

Duhamel/Radford posted a huge score of 148.69 to win the event; an excellent start to their Grand Prix season. It’s great to see them back on their game again. Hopefully this win will give them a nice confidence boost as they prepare for their second GP event at Skate America—where they will again face Savchenko/Massot.

Savchenko/Massot

Current World silver medalists Savchenko/Massot had a somewhat frustrating competition at Skate Canada. Their programs were great and most of their elements top-notch, but they made several crucial mistakes that kept them from the top of the medal stand.

Savchenko-Massot-lift

Silver medal for Savchenko/Massot

Savchenko/Massot’s flamenco short program to “Ameksa-Fuego” was striking and interesting to watch. This program is different than anything Aliona/Bruno have done before; quite intense and dramatic, with a lot of sharp, quick movement and fast, difficult dance steps. The choreography really shows off Aliona’s exquisite line and finish in all her movement; she’s definitely the star here. Aliona/Bruno started the program with an excellent level 4 triple twist, earning 8.50 points on that element. Then they moved quickly into the throw triple Axel. Aliona landed it one foot (barely), but had to put a hand down and spun out of the landing. They got mostly -2s on the element but still earned 5.84 points total. Bruno also had an error on the SBS 3S, a slight 2-foot on the exit. The rest of their elements were all level 4 and very good quality. Savchenko/Massot earned a great score of 77.34 for 1st.

Savchenko/Massot’s long program was brilliant … yet frustrating. Most of their technical elements in this program were close to perfect. Their opening triple twist was level 4 and very high. The throw 2A and throw 3S had great height and distance, with beautiful one-foot landings from Aliona. Their reverse lasso and star lifts were both superb; the reverse lasso was the highest-scoring element in the competition (9.40 points). Savchenko/Massot earned 13.79 points in positive GOE in this program; that’s how good most of their elements were. BUT–all this excellence was marred by a couple crucial SBS jump mistakes. Bruno flubbed the second 3T in their SBS 3T/3T sequence, coming out forward and without full rotation. Then, another major mistake … he popped the SBS 3S into a single! These 2 mistakes cost Savchenko/Massot over 9 points! What could have been one of their top-scoring free skates ever instead turned into a middling score by their standards, good enough for only 3rd in the LP.

It was all the more frustrating because Savchenko/Massot’s new long program is so strong artistically. Set to La Terre Vue du Ciel, or Earth from Above, this haunting,lyrical program is just gorgeous to watch. The choreography by Christopher Dean features some lovely transitions and a great dance lift in the middle (borrowed from Klimova/Ponomarenko’s 1991 Lawrence of Arabia free dance). Despite the SBS jump issues, Savchenko/Massot still earned the highest PCS (73.09), which I cannot argue with. Although some felt their PCS might have been a bit high relative to James/Cipres’s free skate, I can’t say I have a problem with it. Savchenko/Massot’s programs are designed to highlight Aliona as much as possible—and wisely so, as her posture, carriage, extension, and interpretation are so exceptional. Of course Bruno’s line and extension does not quite match hers; but whose would? This is not to be expected. What Bruno brings to their skating, artistically, is solid skating skills, good expression, and a tender emotional connection with Aliona. Together, they create beautiful moments on the ice.

Savchenko/Massot scored 138.32 for 3rd LP/2nd overall. It wasn’t a bad result at all—just a lesser result than they probably expected, or could have had. Once again here, the judges made it clear that, in their eyes, the Germans have everything to stand atop the podium. But against such a high level of competition, Aliona/Bruno must also skate clean to win.

Savchenko/Massot have a few weeks off before their second GP event, Skate America. They’ll be looking for a victory at that event to seal their spot in the GP Final.

James/Cipres

French team James/Cipres came into Skate Canada looking to build on the momentum they established last year. And they did exactly that, putting out 2 great performances in Regina to win the bronze medal.

This season, James/Cipres have stuck with the same short program formula that worked so well last year: Sexy, bluesy music (this time, blues rock by Ed Sheeran); hot costumes and cool choreography; high performance level; and hitting those elements! The plan worked last year, and it’s working again now. Vanessa/Morgan are just so comfortable skating to sultry, bluesy music like this; it’s a natural fit for them and a great framework for their elements. Those elements were indeed strong in their short program. Vanessa/Morgan hit a terrific set of SBS 3S, with great speed in and out, netting an extra +1.50 points on that element. Their step sequence was super-effective with the music, ending with exciting SBS death drops. Their level 2 triple twist could have been a tad smoother, but still earned positive GOE. So did the throw 3Lz, although Vanessa was a bit forward. It was a very enjoyable performance, and James/Cipres scored 73.04 for 3rd.

Vanessa-unitard

James/Cipres:  Real contenders now  (AFP Photo/Geoff Robins)

James/Cipres’s “Say Something” LP was another winner. This program was so strong, both technically and artistically. Vanessa/Morgan opened with a nice level 2 triple twist, hit both SBS jumping passes with positive GOE, and landed a good throw 3Lz. Vanessa two-footed the throw quad Salchow, almost coming to a stop on the exit, which cost them a bit. Also, their exits on the SBS spins were different, and they got a couple negative marks for that. But the lifts were all very nicely done, with good ice coverage and great positions from Vanessa. Technically, it was a strong and consistent performance. It’s really amazing how far James/Cipres have come with their consistency. A couple years ago, their long programs were typically riddled with errors. But now, they just look confident, fearless, and well-prepared. Amazing progress for them!

Artistically, “Say Something” is a show-stopping routine for Vanessa/Morgan. I wasn’t sure if they could top last year’s “The Sound of Silence,” but this program may be just as good, or even, in some ways, better. What makes it work is the connection between them. Vanessa/Morgan have always had amazing chemistry, and this program puts that front and center choreographically. There are moments when they stare into each other’s eyes—hold hands—touch each other. All the time, the focus remains on them, and the relationship of their characters. That doesn’t get lost, even with all the big elements going on. It’s really hard to keep that much connection in a competitive program, but Vanessa/Morgan pull it off here, and the program is completely absorbing to watch, with great impact.

James/Cipres scored 141.33 for 2nd LP/3rd overall. Many fans felt they could have placed higher. Comparing James/Cipres’ score sheet to Duhamel/Radford’s, the main difference was base value. Both teams earned almost exactly the same overall GOE scores, but Duhamel/Radford had a 5-point base value advantage, which came from several different elements, including their SBS 3Lz. They also scored a bit higher in PCS (perhaps helped slightly by competing at home). Savchenko/Massot, meanwhile, had a 4-point lead on James/Cipres after the short program, but lost most of that in the LP due to jump errors. Savchenko/Massot’s PCS in the long program helped them stay on top of James/Cipres overall. As discussed above, I can’t really argue with that. As powerful as Vanessa/Morgan’s LP was, they still do not have quite the same carriage, posture, or skating skills, as a team, that Savchenko/Massot do.

Although James/Cipres were 3rd here, they served notice that they are prepared and ready for this season, with great programs and solid elements, and will be a legitimate podium threat in every event they enter. They confirmed here their status as real contenders. Which is about as big a statement as they could have made, short of winning the gold medal.

James/Cipres now have a couple weeks to prepare for their home Grand Prix event, Internationaux de France. They will face Tarasova/Morozv there, but should be favored for silver–which could be enough to get them to the Grand Prix Final.

Zabijako/Enbert

Zabijako/Enbert have started off their Olympic season strongly, winning 2 back-to-back Challenger Series events last month. Their success continued at Skate Canada, where they took 4th overall. Although they didn’t medal, they skated well, made a good impression on the judges, and beat several rival teams here (i.e., Iliushechkina/Moscovitch and Peng/Jin).

Zabijako/Enbert’s new Summer of ’42 SP is an almost ideal vehicle for this team. The romantic, sweeping music perfectly suits their skating style, showing off their long lines, speed, and classic look together. They skated the program very smoothly at Skate Canada; there was no hesitation in their skating, no tentativeness in their transitions. Everything just fell into place. Their level 3 triple twist was high and easy; their SBS 3T was good (if a bit far apart). The throw 3Lp was tilted in the air, but still landed with ease by Zabijako. It was a fine performance, and all their elements except the twist were level 4 (not the case with many teams at this event). Zabijako/Enbert scored 69.00 for 4th place.

Zabijako-Enbert-white

Such elegance from Zabijako/Enbert  (AFP Photo/Geoff Robins)

Zabijako/Enbert’s LP was good, but not quite as clean and smooth as their SP. Natalia/Alexander struggled a bit with the side-by-side jumps. Both of their triple jumps were underrotated, and Natalia singled the last 2 jumps in their SBS 3T/2T/2Lp combo.These mistakes cost them 4 points in negative GOE. They recovered well with two good throw jumps and a nice set of SBS spins. However, they had level problems on the death spiral and pairs combo spin, and lifts were adequate rather than outstanding.

What really kept Natalia/Alexander afloat was their PCS scores. They earned mostly high 7s/low 8s, which added up to nearly a 4-point PCS advantage over Peng/Jin and Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch. Considering the strength of those teams, in some ways this seemed questionable. However, I think what the judges really like about Zabijako/Enbert’s skating is how easy they make everything look. Their crossovers and elements are done with a lightness and flow that many other teams lack. Not only that, they truly have an elegant look. Natalia, in particular, has really lovely carriage and attention to detail in her skating. She knows how to hold her arms and place her head in just the right way to make each move look polished and beautiful. In their long program this year, they play ballet dancers who have both an off-stage and on-stage relationship; the balletic theme of the program suits them, picking up on their natural elegance. The program is lovely and serene rather than exciting; but it’s a good package for them.

Zabijako/Enbert scored 123.70 for 4th LP/overall at Skate Canada. They now have several weeks to prepare for their second Grand Prix event, Skate America.

Peng/Jin

I’m sure that Peng/Jin’s 5th at Skate Canada was not the placement they were looking for here. However, they actually turned in very nice performances in Regina. So they can at least feel satisfied about that.

Peng-Jin-closeup-SP

Peng/Jin:  Chemistry and quality  (AFP Photo/Geoff Robins)

Peng/Jin skated quite well in their “Assassin’s Tango” SP … except for one costly mistake. Cheng Peng struggled with her SBS 3T landing, and the jump was downgraded, costing them at least 3 points. Peng/Jin’s throw triple loop was great, and the triple twist was also well-done. However, they lost levels on a couple elements, which further cut into their base value. Still, I really enjoyed their program. The tango theme shows a different, more dramatic side to Peng/Jin’s skating, and it’s well-choreographed, with great flair. My one criticism–I think they need more excitement and speed in the final step sequence. It should be explosive, not gentle. Peng/Jin scored 61.58 for 7th place.

I was captivated by Peng/Jin’s “Butterfly Lovers” LP. This program has a classic, romantic feel to it, and Lori Nichol created some beautiful shapes and moments with her choreography. The program takes full advantage of Peng/Jin’s still-surprising chemistry as a pair. Although they were the “leftover” partners in last year’s Chinese pairs swap, Peng/Jin unexpectedly shine together. They fit. Cast as two lovers in this program, they are quite believable. Technically, their program also shone. Their only struggles were on the SBS jumps—Cheng doubled her SBS 3S and singled the second jump (downgrade) in their SBS 3T/2T combo. However, both throw jumps were excellent and received mostly +2s. Their two lasso lifts were also particularly strong, with good speed and ice coverage. And their level 3 triple twist was solid. Aside from the SBS jump issues, it was a lovely program. Peng/Jin scored 120.92 to pull up to 5th LP/overall.

Peng/Jin had to skate 1st or 2nd in both rounds of this competition, and I do feel like that hurt them a bit. Their scores were, if anything, on the low side in my opinion.

Peng/Jin now have a couple weeks to train before their next GP event, the French Grand Prix. Their season got off to a great start with the win at Finlandia Trophy, but I’m sure they were hoping for more here. The pairs field at the French Grand Prix will not be as strong as in Canada, so they should have a good shot at a medal in France.

Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch

It was a rather disappointing event for Canadian team Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch. They won bronze at last year’s Skate Canada, but could only place 6th this year. Definitely not the Grand Prix debut they were looking for.

Ilyuschechkina/Moscovitch opened with a great short program to “In the Air Tonight.” This music is a great fit for Luba/Dylan’s skating, in my opinion. It’s intense and powerful, and the spare but effective choreography captures the mood well. The program shows off Luba/Dylan’s skating skills and performance ability and has an interesting modern vibe to it. Luba/Dylan also hit some great technical elements. Their throw triple Lutz was excellent, with nice height and a firm landing from Luba. The step sequence was a highlight, with good speed and expression, and got many +2s.Unfortunately, Luba’s SBS 3T was underrotated and downgraded, and they scored less than a point on it, which cost them in base value. I felt that Luba/Dylan’s GOE and PCS marks were a tad stingy. There were some +1s that arguably could have been +2s; some high 7 PCS marks that could’ve been low 8s. Luba/Dylan looked a bit disappointed with the score in the kiss ‘n cry, and I can’t say I blame them. They earned 64.06 for 5th.

Iliushechkina-Moscovitch-death-spiral

Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch:  Some work to do  (AFP Photo/Geoff Robins)

Alas, Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch’s LP was marred by jump problems. Luba doubled the SBS 3T in the combo; Dylan doubled the SBS 3S. Then Luba fell on the throw quad Salchow and 2-footed/turned out of the throw 3Lz. Perhaps shaken by these errors, they also lost levels on the death spiral, hand-to-hip lift, and pairs combo spin. It was a messy performance, and Luba/Dylan just didn’t seem quite ready or “on.” I did really like their choreography sequence, which scored well.

It was hard to evaluate the performance artistically, with so many mistakes. Set to 1980s power ballad “At This Moment,” the program has not been positively received so far by fans. I can see some of the complaints: The music does suggest a show program, more than a competition program; plus, it’s an older song that may not be familiar to younger viewers. There are also some long pauses, or quiet spots, in the music that are risky in a competitive program. The skaters have to “fill up” those empty moments. If they’re not skating well, as was the case here, the dramatic pauses will not have the intended effect. But although this music choice has its challenges, I don’t see why it can’t work for Luba/Dylan. The strong emotion/romanticism of the song should be right in their wheelhouse; they’re good storytellers. And chemistry is something this team is not short on. So I’m not ready to write this program off yet. I’m looking forward to when it’s skated well. Let’s face it, nothing looks good when you have mistakes on every jump. With a clean(er) performance and more mileage, this program could feel quite different.

Luba/Dylan earned just 112.29 in the LP—a low score, by their standards (20+ points below their Worlds free skate score). They placed 6th LP/overall.

Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch’s season has gotten off to a rough start, with disappointing performances here and at Finlandia Trophy. Let’s hope they can turn things around before their next GP event, which is in 2 weeks in France.

Denney/Frazier

Last season was a comeback year for U.S. pair Denney/Frazier. In some ways, I feel like the comeback continues. Denney/Frazier’s skating is “a work in process,” as Brandon said in the kiss ‘n cry. This year is about rebuilding their confidence after a stressful season last year and a disappointing Worlds. The good news: I saw positive signs in Regina that Denney/Frazier are on the right track and improving, even if their final placement wasn’t high.

Denney-Frazier-lift.jpg

Good short program for Denney/Frazier  (AFP Photo/Geoff Robins)

Denney/Frazier had a successful short program to John Legend’s “All of You.” Their opening level 3 triple twist was good, and they had great distance and a nice landing on the throw triple loop. Next, they went for the SBS 3S, which has been their nemesis since Haven’s injury … and they stayed vertical and landed it! By my count, this is the first time since 2015 Nationals that Haven/Brandon have both landed their SBS 3S on one foot in the short program. Granted, the jump was a bit underrotated and got negative GOE; but it was still a big step forward, in my opinion. Haven/Brandon finished out the program well, with lots of energy and passion. Their new short program is fast-paced with difficult transitions and footwork in the step sequence; at times, it almost felt like Haven/Brandon were rushing a bit. But it’s a good program, and I think it’ll keep improving as they settle into it. Denney/Frazier scored 63.26 for 6th place. It was the highest SP score this year for a U.S. pair.

Denney/Frazier had a few issues in their “Who Wants to Live Forever” LP, but still put out a decent skate. Their opening level 3 triple twist was very neat and clean, and earned +2s/+3s for 7.70 points. Denney/Frazier then went for, and landed, SBS 3S/2T. They got hit with an underrotation on 3S/downgrade on 2T, but I’m proud of Haven for landing the jump. Obviously, there’s still room for improvement on the jumps (they popped their SBS 3Ts later in the program). But I think their training with Alex Ouriashev is making a difference.

Unfortunately, Haven/Brandon had minor errors on the throw 3Lp (forward) and throw 3S (2-foot), which held down their scores a bit. Also, something went awry on the death spiral—they did only one rotation and got level 1. Denney/Frazier are trying some difficult new lifts and challenging transitions in this program, which aren’t completely seamless yet. But Haven, in particular, puts her heart & soul into every move and really tries to sell it as much as possible. An observer attending Skate Canada aptly described Haven as having “a generous presence on the ice.” Denney/Frazier scored 109.69 for 7th LP/overall.

The team now has 3 weeks to prepare for Skate America in Lake Placid, where I’m hoping to see continued progress with SBS jumps and a smoother feel to the programs overall. I’m excited about the path Denney/Frazier are on this season. They’re not standing still; they’re challenging themselves with more difficult choreography, harder lifts, and new jump technique. We haven’t yet seen the full results of their efforts, but I applaud their ambition.

Kolodziej/Deschamps

New Canadian team Kolodziej/Deschamps placed last at Skate Canada, yet still had quite a successful event. They put out 2 good programs in Regina and earned very respectable scores for such a new team.

Kolodziej/Deschamps skated with good energy and confidence in their upbeat Colin James SP. Their throw jump and SBS 3S were both cleanly landed. They lost 1 point in negative GOE on their triple twist, but did achieve level 2 on it. Their other elements were pretty clean. They scored 59.06 for 8th.

Kolodziej/Deschamps had a few mistakes in their long program to Far From the Madding Crowd. Sydney came out forward on the landing of the SBS 3S in their combo, and then she suffered a hard fall on the throw 3S. But Sydney/Maxime kept going and finished the program fairly well. Their throw triple loop had nice height and flow and earned positive GOE. Their closing Group 3 star lift was also a highlight, with Maxime showing great ice coverage in this stunning (and long) carry lift. Sydney/Maxime did have some quality issues on other elements, which led to negative GOE overall for this program. Still, I was impressed with how well they held it together in their first Grand Prix event, especially after her big fall on the throw. That showed a lot of composure. Kolodziej/Deschamps scored 104.97 for 8th LP/overall.

It’s been a great debut season so far for Kolodziej/Deschamps. They’ve skated solidly at both their events; they have good basic skating skills; and they’re landing jumps. There’s lots to work on with their line, unison, and artistry, but that’s to be expected with a new team. What’s important at this point is they have a good solid technical base to build on. Any time you see a first-year pair scoring close to 60 in the SP and 100+ in the LP, as they have in both their events this fall, it’s promising.

Kolodziej/Deschamps do not have a second Grand Prix or Challenger Series event at this point. So we will likely next see them at Canadian Nationals (or one of the domestic events leading up to Nationals).

Wrap-up

Skate Canada was a great competition studded with emotional, exciting performances. It was one of the strongest fields we’ll see in the whole GP series. Tomorrow, the Grand Prix moves to Cup of China, where World champions Sui/Han will make their season debut. We’ll also see Yu/Zhang, who were a strong 4th at 2017 Worlds. Unfortunately, the young Czech team Duskova/Bidar were forced to withdraw due to ligament surgery for Anna; but it should still be a good event. Until then!

Note: If you’re enjoying articles on The Divine Sport, please take 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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