Cup of China 2017: Pairs Review

Cup of China was the third stop on this year’s Grand Prix circuit. The pairs event in Beijing didn’t feature quite the same level of competition as the first 2 GP events this year. But it was still an enjoyable event to watch, highlighted by the season debut of Sui/Han. 

Cup-of-China-results

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Audi Cup of China

The medalists at Cup of China  (REUTERS/Damir Sagoj)

Sui/Han

This was Sui/Han’s first competition as reigning World champions. With that title, come high expectations … and Sui/Han certainly fulfilled those expectations in Beijing, skating to a commanding 25-point victory.

Sui/Han offered a stirring, soulful performance of their new “Hallelujah” SP. The World champions looked confident and well-prepared in this program. They attacked their technical elements with full strength, yet also remained totally connected with the music, beautifully capturing the emotion of the pensive melody. They had wonderful speed and expression throughout, and just didn’t put a foot wrong anywhere. Wenjing/Cong’s technical elements were at very high level. Their SBS 3T was decisively landed, and their level 4 ‘Tano triple twist was strong as usual. They showed inventive positions in the pairs combo spin, and their group 3 star lift was very good, with nice ice coverage. Wenjing/Cong received perfect marks (straight +3s) for their outstanding throw 3F. The performance really had everything you could ask for in a pairs short program. My one criticism? I feel this music, though beautiful, is almost too … easy for this team. The past few years, Sui/Han have shown they can interpret far more dynamic, exciting pieces such as “Blues for Klook” and “Farrucas.” This music almost doesn’t seem like enough of a challenge. But Sui/Han scored a stunning 80.14 for 1st. They received five 10.00 marks in PCS.

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Such emotion from Sui/Han

Sui/Han’s new Turandot LP was also very successful. They opened with a level 2 quad twist. It looked like there was a bit of a crash on the catch, but they still earned 9.57 points (highest-scoring element in the event). Both throw jumps were excellent. The throw 3F had terrific height, and Wenjing had total command of the throw 3S landing, with a lovely arm flourish at the end. The SBS 3T/2T/2T combo was right on (if a bit lacking in runout). Perhaps most exciting, Wenjing landed the SBS 3S for the first time in recent memory. The jump was 2-footed and she spun out, costing some negative GOE, but they still scored 3.20 points. It was great to see Wenjing land this jump, because the SBS 3S is really the only weak link in Sui/Han’s technical arsenal. I felt like Sui/Han’s non-jump technical elements weren’t quite up to their usual level in this program. The death spiral and pairs combo spin had great positions, but could have been faster. And the final 2 lifts, while good, didn’t have quite the speed and ease they usually do. Accordingly, Sui/Han received mostly +1s/+2s for those elements.

Artistically, their Turandot program was well-received by the judges, who gave marks in the mid-9s. Many fans have questioned the wisdom of Sui/Han skating to music that is so closely associated with another Chinese pair—coach Hongbo Zhao and his wife/partner Xue Shen, who famously used Turandot to win their first 2 World titles. However, Sui/Han have said they felt drawn to this music and want to present a more modern version of it. The program was indeed enjoyable to watch—particularly the closing “Nessun Dorma” section, which I found very effective. The first half of the program can still improve artistically. What I enjoyed most about this performance was how fully engaged Sui/Han were. There’s no holding back artistically with this team. Both partners just went for it completely, in their speed, emotion, facial expressions, arm movements, everything. It’s what makes them so special to watch. As a finishing touch, Sui/Han’s costumes really enhanced the theme and packaging of the program. Wenjing’s gorgeous long-sleeved red wrap dress was very flattering on her.

Sui/Han earned 150.93 for 1st LP/overall. The score was only about a point off their total at last year’s Worlds.

Sui/Han have only 1 week to prepare for NHK Trophy, their second GP event. Considering the high level they’re at already, this shouldn’t be a problem! They’ll be favored to win gold again at NHK.

Yu/Zhang

Yu/Zhang didn’t have their best performances at Cup of China and lagged pretty far behind their teammates Sui/Han. However, they still did enough to capture the silver medal by a significant margin.

Yu-Zhang.png

Yu/Zhang take on Swan Lake

Yu/Zhang started with a good outing of their new “Swan Lake” SP. Some of their elements in this program were really spectacular! Their triple twist was huge, with almost a delay on Xiaoyu’s rotation. It got level 4 and straight +2s/+3s for 8.20 points. Their throw 3Lp was, as usual, big and gorgeous. And their group 3 star lift was most impressive, starting from a difficult choreo-lift entrance and then moving the length of the ice with multiple position changes. Wow! The only real issue was the SBS 3T; Xiaoyu landed forward and put her hand down. However, this didn’t cost much, as only 2 judges gave -1 marks (the rest were 0s). Artistically, I felt like this program suited Yu/Zhang surprisingly well. I would never have pictured Hao Zhang skating to ballet music; but he remained somewhat in the background, with one’s attention drawn mostly to Xiaoyu and her lovely skating. Yu/Zhang have enough power to match up with this big music, and they hit some nice musical highlights. The program lacked the balletic details that you might normally expect in a Swan Lake routine, but still worked quite well. Yu/Zhang scored 71.37 for 2nd.

Yu/Zhang also had a fine, if not particularly exciting, performance in the long program. Their Star Wars music is quite dynamic, with lots of highlights, and I think it demands a certain energy and spirit that I didn’t see here from Xiaoyu/Hao. This team can sometimes look a bit detached on the ice, which doesn’t really work with rousing music like Star Wars. I just think they need a bit more liveliness and connection in the program. Technically, it wasn’t their strongest effort. Yu/Zhang went with a triple twist, instead of the quad twist they did in the latter half of last season. The triple twist was well-done but received only level 3 (instead of their usual level 4). Xiaoyu had an awkward 2-foot landing on the SBS 3T, which led to 2 points off in GOE, and also had to bend deep to save the throw 3Lp landing. Their throw 3S was strong, as usual. Yu/Zhang are trying SBS 3S as their solo jump in the free skate this year; it’s the first time Xiaoyu has attempted triple Salchow since she turned senior. She 2-footed the landing but still earned 3.80 points. Pretty good, considering it’s such a new element for them. Yu/Zhang’s non-jump elements were a little less crisp than usual, as with Sui/Han. Accordingly, those elements got mostly +1s/+2s. Overall, the program had a slightly tentative feel; but Yu/Zhang still earned a pretty high score of 134.17 for 2nd LP/overall.

With their silver medal, Yu/Zhang have a chance to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. However, they’ll face a stacked field at Skate America, their second GP event. They’ll likely need to skate better there to secure a berth in the Final.

Moore-Towers/Marinaro

It was a good competition overall for Moore-Towers/Marinaro of Canada. After a shaky start in the short program, they rebounded with a solid free skate to win the bronze.

Moore-Towers/Marinaro’s short program was a bit flawed. Their opening triple twist wasn’t the best; it got very little height, and Kirsten landed on Mike’s shoulder. They got only level 1 and negative marks on it. Their SBS 3T was also problematic, with Kirsten coming out forward. (At least they weren’t hit with an underrotation.) The throw 3Lp was good, with a nice landing from Kirsten, and the step sequence was nice, too. I really like this moody, bluesy program set to Terez Montcalm’s cover of “Sweet Dreams.” I think it’s a great fit for Kirsten/Mike’s contemporary style. But, in this particular performance, it just felt like Kirsten/Mike were a bit off and not quite connecting with the music. They scored 62.52 for 4th.

MTM-sitspin

Moore-Towers/Marinaro win bronze  (Wu Hong/EPA-EFE)

Moore-Towers/Marinaro then came back with a beautiful free skate to “Un Ange Passe.” They had lovely flow and emotion skating to this poignant, melancholy music; the whole program felt very organic and smooth. There are some choreographic nuances I really like—Kirsten’s simple backward glide in the beginning, which focuses your attention on her; the way their Axel lasso lift ends in a warm embrace; the playful running steps in the closing choreography. Kirsten/Mike are repeating this free skate from last season, and I felt like they brought it to a new level here artistically. Technically, it was also pretty strong. The triple twist was low, with contact on the catch; but it was level 2, at least, and scored 5.60 points. Kirsten/Mike landed two nice throw jumps (3S/3Lp). Both SBS jumping passes were slightly flawed: Mike 2-footed the 3S in the combo, and Kirsten’s 3T landing was hesitant. However, the GOE damage wasn’t bad, and they earned an impressive 7.50 points on their SBS 2A/1Lp/3S combo. (They were the only team other than Sui/Han to score more than 5 points on the combo.) Kirsten/Mike’s Axel lasso lift was also a highlight, earning mostly +2s with great positions and good speed; the reverse lasso lift was good too, as was the death spiral. Moore-Towers/Marinaro scored 132.00 for 3rd LP/overall. (A nice improvement from their 123.00 at U.S. Classic.)
Moore-Towers/Marinaro have gotten off to a good start with their win at U.S. Classic and bronze medal here. Their next event is Skate America. It’s possible they could make the Grand Prix Final, with their bronze medal here. However, considering the very strong pairs field at Skate America, it’s probably unlikely.

Della Monica/Guarise

Italian champions Della Monica/Guarise opened their season with 2 silver medals in their Challenger Series events (winning the free skate at Finlandia). Here in Beijing, they had a great chance to win their first Grand Prix medal after placing 3rd in the SP. But they couldn’t convert in the free skate and fell to 4th.

Della-Monica-Guarise

Lovely lift from Della Monica/Guarise

Della Monica/Guarise had a decent performance of their “Magnificat” SP (repeated from the 2015-16 season). There were a couple jump mistakes; both spun out of their SBS 3S (in unison), and Nicole put a hand down on the throw 3Lp. But these errors only lost about 2 points in negative GOE. The rest of their elements were pretty good, especially their lift, which was smooth and earned +2s. It was a decent skate technically, if not their best. However, Della Monica/Guarise drew the short straw by having to skate right after Sui/Han’s magnificent short program. The contrast in quality was, unfortunately, very evident. Sui/Han skated with such speed and dynamism that Della Monica/Guarise looked slow and stolid in comparison. Della Monica/Guarise skated well enough, but completely lacked the excitement of Sui/Han. Comparisons were also hard to avoid since both teams skated to music with a religious association. Still, Della Monica/Guarise scored 63.76 for 3rd.

Della Monica/Guarise’s “Tree of Life” LP was enjoyable to watch. Choreographed by Raffaella Cazzaniga, there were some lovely, interweaving transitions. Also, he lifts toward the end were well-placed musically and helped the program build to a strong finish. Nicole/Matteo skated the program well, but they really need more speed for it to have full effect. In terms of elements, Nicole/Matteo started off with a very nice set of SBS 3S and a solid level 3 triple twist. However, then things got dicey. Matteo doubled the first jump in the SBS 3T/2T (a loss of 3 points’ base value), and they had a swingy entrance into their Axel lasso lift. Nicole also had slight 2-foot issues on both throw jumps (3Lp, 3S), but most of the judges appeared not to notice, with only a couple negative GOE marks. Overall it definitely wasn’t a bad performance, but it wasn’t great, either. Della Monica/Guarise scored 126.49 for 5th LP/4th overall.

Della Monica/Guarise’s next Grand Prix is in 2 weeks at Internationaux de France. Looking at the field there, they could have an outside shot at a bronze medal, depending on what happens with the rest of the teams.

Marchei/Hotarek

After a fairly strong 4th-place showing at Rostelecom Cup, Marchei/Hotarek had a disappointing short program here and had to settle for 5th overall.

Marchei/Hotarek struggled with the jumps in their “Tu vuo fa l’americano” SP. Valentina had a big splat on the SBS 3S and put a hand down on the throw 3F. Their level 1 triple twist had pretty good height, but the catch was crashy, costing them 1 point in GOE. Their best element was the group 3 star lift, which had good flow on the ice and nice air positions. Their step sequence was good, but I’m not sure it has the difficulty of some of the other teams, and Valentina/Ondrej weren’t able to sell it quite as much as at Rostelecom. They scored only 59.53 for 5th (9 points less than their Rostelecom SP).

Marchei/Hotarek’s charming Amarcord LP was better. They started off the program tentatively, with some technical errors. There was a slight adjustment on the landing of their level 2 triple twist; Valentina underrotated the triple Salchow in the SBS jump combo; and she then 2-footed the throw 3Lp. However, they got stronger as the program went on. The final 2 lifts were both well-done, with nice positions and coverage. And their throw 3Lz at the end of the program was excellent, with a great landing from Valentina. This element is becoming quite consistent for Marchei/Hotarek, and they had almost straight +2s on it here. Valentina/Ondrej performed the program well, with good expression and nice detail throughout. This program does have a kitschy side to it, but I felt like it was toned down a notch from Rostelecom, which I appreciated. They scored 128.48 for 4th LP/5th overall.

Marchei/Hotarek’s Grand Prix season is now over. But they will compete again in 2 weeks at Warsaw Cup, a Challenger Series event.

Cain/LeDuc

Unfortunately, this was a tough event for U.S. team Cain/LeDuc. They had major struggles in both programs and placed a distant 6th. Afterward, Ashley revealed she had stomach issues that affected her performance.

Cain-LeDuc-lift.jpg

Cain/LeDuc fight their way through

Cain/LeDuc’s “I’ll Take Care of You” SP was pretty rough. They had big problems on the triple twist–the landing was 2-footed, and Tim caught Ashley on the ice (not in the air). They got only level 1 and lost 1.70 points in GOE, earning only 3.70 points in all. Ouch. Then Ashley was short of rotation on the SBS 3Lp and fell to her knees; the jump was downgraded. They got through the throw 3Lz (a bit forward), but there were other technical issues. Their lift was shaky on the transition into swan position, and their step sequence was a bit off unison at times. It just was not a good performance for Ashley/Tim, and they looked kind of slow overall. I’m not sure this blues rock song was the best choice for them. The music has a heavy feel—I felt like it was weighing them down a bit. Cain/LeDuc could score only 53.15 for 7th. (Actually, Cain/LeDuc tied with Chinese team Zhang/Song, but lost the tiebreak because the Chinese team had a higher TES score.)

Cain/LeDuc’s Great Gatsby LP also had a lot of technical errors. The triple twist was crashy, with a late catch; and Ashley fell on the SBS 3S and singled the SBS 3Lp. Both throw jumps (3Lz, 3S) were 2-footed, and some of their other elements just seemed a bit slow. With so many mistakes, it was hard to keep up the performance level. I enjoy this program from Ashley/Tim; it was really fun and a bit cheeky at Nebelhorn. But they weren’t able to sell it as well here. I also felt that Ashley’s costume change to a black unitard didn’t help. The snazzy gold fringed dress she wore at their Challenger Series events suited the mood & theme of the program much better. Cain/LeDuc earned 101.21 to pull up to 6th LP/overall. (Actually not a bad score, considering the number of mistakes.)

It’s been a rather disappointing season so far for Cain/LeDuc. They’re struggling with the triple twist and SBS jumps, and their programs haven’t really come together yet. Currently, their next scheduled event is U.S. Nationals (unless they get a replacement GP or late CS assignment). Hopefully, they can make more progress in their training by Nationals.

Zhang/Song

This was the first international event for new Chinese pair Mingyang Zhang/Bowen Song. They did quite well for themselves, even if they didn’t place highly.

Zhang/Song put out an enjoyable short program to “Uptown Funk.” Not a typical music choice for a Chinese pair, but why not? This team is so young & new that it doesn’t make sense to skate to something serious or pretentious. Zhang/Song landed a good set of SBS 2As to start their SP. They also hit a good throw 3F. Their triple twist was high, but had a late catch and got negative GOE. Zhang/Song’s other elements weren’t as impressive as their jumps and twist. The lift was a bit slow, and the positions needed more definition. The spin and death spiral were slow as well. Zhang/Song had good energy, and it looked like they were enjoying themselves out there. However, their skating skills, edges, and speed are not really up to senior international level. As such, they received the lowest PCS in the short program (22.88). However, their jump elements were strong enough to lift them to 53.15 overall and 6th place—not bad!

Zhang/Song also skated pretty well in the LP. Like most Chinese pairs, they have strong throw jumps. They got good height on the throw 3F and nice flow out of the throw 3S. The SBS jumps were a bit more problematic. Mingyang doubled the SBS 3T, and the second jump in their SBS 2A/2A sequence got a downgrade. The triple twist was crashy and earned only basic level and negative GOE (3.00 points). Bowen also struggled with the lasso lifts; both were slow. Despite these issues, I still enjoyed this program from Zhang/Song. Set to gentle, lyrical music, the tender style and choreography suited their youthful look. Mingyang has a lovely radiance about her, and Bowen seemed delighted to be competing at this event. Zhang/Song earned 95.19 for 7th LP/overall.

I don’t know when we will see Zhang/Song again, but I enjoyed watching them in Beijing!

Wrap-up

The level of competition in China wasn’t the highest. Still, Sui/Han competed here with almost as much fire and precision as if it were a major championship. The World champions look ready to take this season by storm and contend for Olympic gold! I’m already looking forward to their performances next weekend at NHK Trophy, where they will face Stolbova/Klimov and several other strong teams. It should be fun to watch!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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