Internationaux de France 2017: Pairs Review

This week’s pairs event at Internationaux de France was interesting, if perhaps a bit controversial. Tarasova/Morozov of Russia won their second Grand Prix of the season; but their victory over surging French team James/Cipres wasn’t as convincing as their win at Rostelecom Cup. Let’s take a look at what happened in Grenoble.

Results.PNG

Tarasova/Morozov

Tarasova/Morozov came into this event off a 20-point victory at Rostelecom. Things didn’t go quite so well in France, where Tarasova/Morozov had their shakiest long program in some time. Although they held on for the win, it’s not a competition they’ll want to remember.

Tarasova/Morozov started with a successful short program to Rachmaninov’s Concerto No. 2. Strategically, I feel this program is a brilliant choice for Tarasova/Morozov because it emphasizes their speed to the highest degree. Everything about this program is fast, fast, fast. And big. It’s exactly what the judges want to see in pairs skating. There’s not a lot of emotion or nuance, but Evgenia/Vladimir’s gorgeous basic skating skills are perfectly displayed here. Tarasova/Morozov’s technical elements in this program were very good. They opened with their amazing level 4 triple twist; always a highlight, this element earned almost straight +3s. Their pairs spin was also excellent as usual; I love how they accelerate in the camel section. The SBS 3T was good as well. Evgenia had a tiny slip in the step sequence, and the group 3 star lift was a bit labored. Their throw 3Lp was so big, it was almost a bit out of control; Evgenia had to bend deep to save the landing. Overall though, it was a strong skate. Duly impressed by Tarasova/Morozov’s speed and power, the judges gave PCS marks from the high-8s to mid-9s. Tarasova/Morozov totaled 77.84 for 1st.

Tarasova-Morozov.jpg

Tarasova/Morozov:  Strong short program  (Getty Images)

In the long program, Tarasova/Morozov had to skate directly after a prolonged standing ovation for James/Cipres. I think Evgenia/Vladimir may have been a bit unnerved, as they proceeded to unravel a bit in the long program, turning in an uncharacteristically messy performance. Evgenia 2-footed the SBS 3S and the throw 3Lp. Then, she singled the first 2 jumps in the SBS 3T/2T/2T, and they earned almost no points for the combo. Additionally, Vladimir struggled on the reverse lasso lift and closing star lift; both looked a bit awkward and slow, with shaky air transitions. To be fair, there were also some very strong elements in the program: The throw 3S was simply outstanding (almost straight +3s); the level 2 quad twist was impressive; and the spins and death spiral were very good. But technically, it was not their best.

As to the program itself … As I commented in my Rostelecom review, I am just not a fan. In all honesty, I think this is one of the worst programs I’ve seen from a top pair. The program manages to be tasteless, cheesy, and juvenile all at the same time. Here are some quotes from television commentators this weekend about the program:

“I really do not think this program is the correct choice for a pair that is classically trained and styled. I think this couple would be much better off with something classical in style.”  –Simon Reed, commentator for British Eurosport

I wanted to like this program, and in some places I did. But they lost me in places as well. I felt like their choreography was a little out of sync … And also with the upbeat music, particularly at the end, we needed a little more rhythm and syncopation out of them and their choreography. Wasn’t unique enough to captivate me. I feel like they missed the music. I worry that this program is not strong enough material.”   –Tracy Wilson, 1988 Olympic ice dance medalist, coach, and commentator for the Olympic Channel

Not only is this program a very questionable choice for Tarasova/Morozov, it was rather sloppily skated in Grenoble. Yet somehow, Tarasova/Morozov still earned very high scores. Their GOE marks were mostly appropriate for their actual quality level (although I object to almost straight +2s on the reverse lasso). However, their PCS marks are hard to defend. Tarasova/Morozov scored 73.31 in PCS. Although one judge had the courage to mark the program where it belonged—in the mid-8 range–the other judges issued almost all low- to mid-9s, giving the Russians the edge in every PCS category and a 3-point PCS victory over James/Cipres. Although Tarasova/Morozov absolutely deserved the nod in skating skills, there’s no way they should have gotten higher marks for performance, choreography, or interpretation. Not for this free skate, which was clearly below their usual level, as well as being tasteless and ill-conceived. Tarasova/Morozov earned 140.36 total to place 2nd LP/1st overall.

I’m of two minds about Tarasova/Morozov’s scores. My first reaction–dismay. A couple weeks ago, I argued in an opinion piece that ISU judges are struggling to separate artistry from technical prowess. If more evidence was needed, just look to Tarasova/Morozov’s scores. In handing out 9-range choreo/interpretation scores for this program, the judges are essentially saying: If your elements and skating skills are good enough, then the quality of your program and artistry doesn’t really matter.

But my other reaction is that this result may be a mixed blessing for Tarasova/Morozov. True, they won here. But everyone will know their scores were questionable. I don’t think their momentum coming out of this event will be all that positive.

Tarasova/Morozov are an excellent pair, and their success in the past year has been very well-deserved. I love many things about this team—their speed, gorgeous elements, and classic look. However, they need to be scored correctly–like everyone else.

James/Cipres

The Russians may not have positive momentum coming out of this event, but James/Cipres most definitely will. The French team turned in some of their best performances yet to win the silver medal—as well as the hearts of fans.

James-Cipres-medals

James/Cipres win silver

James/Cipres’s “Make It Rain” blues rock SP was pretty strong. Their choreography in this program is just so effective, and their performance level was high throughout. They opened with a clean level 3 triple twist and good SBS 3S. Their group 3 star lift was well done, with nice air positions and a smooth dismount. Vanessa had a forward landing and slight 2-foot on the throw 3Lz, but they got off lightly (only 2 negative GOE marks). Their pairs spin and death spiral were both nice, but level 3. Their step sequence is set so cleverly to the music and was generally good … but they did start to slow a little toward the end. The program wasn’t perfect technically, but it was very good and enjoyable. PCS scores were a bit mixed, with a majority in the mid-8s. Overall, James/Cipres scored an excellent 73.18 for 2nd.

James/Cipres then put out a great long program to “Say Something.” I was so, so impressed with the level of emotion and the strong sense of relationship that James/Cipres brought to this whole program. They just connected so well with the music, the crowd, and each other. Each swelling moment in the music was matched by corresponding movement/expression on their part. I found the program really absorbing to watch. Not to mention, their technical elements were also really great. They hit both SBS jumping passes (3T/2T/2T and 3S) very well, earning good GOE and 13.5 points total on their jumps–far more than any other pair in the event. Their throw jumps were fairly successful, too. They got full rotation on the throw 4S—despite a 2ft/turnout from Vanessa. And the throw 3Lz had nice height, despite a forward landing. Their lifts were very strong, with some standout positions from Vanessa and good turns from Morgan. The only weak element was their triple twist, which got only basic level. It was really a triumphant program for Vanessa/Morgan … and they got a huge and well-deserved standing ovation from the home crowd. James/Cipres earned pretty good GOE marks for this program (with a total of 9.75 points in GOE), but I wasn’t happy at all with their PCS marks. They lost every PCS category to Tarasova/Morozov. While that’s justified in the area of skating skills, I just don’t see how the judges could give Tarasova/Morozov the edge in some of the other categories. It’s clear that James/Cipres’s program is far more artistically cohesive, effective, and enoyable than Tarasova/Morozov’s. And James/Cipres truly gave a complete performance of it in Grenoble. Everything was at a high quality level, both technically and artistically. James/Cipres earned 141.14 for 1st LP/2nd overall.

James/Cipres are having an amazing season so far. First they won Autumn Classic; then they won 2 GP medals (bronze and silver). They have a strong chance of making the Grand Prix Final (a long-held goal). Their programs have been very well received. Everything is going their way right now, and they continue to gain confidence. It’s my belief their results may only continue to improve from here.

Della Monica/Guarise

What a milestone this event was for Della Monica/Guarise! After coming close at Cup of China a few weeks ago, the Italians finally broke through here to win their first-ever Grand Prix medal!! What a great moment for them. 🙂

Della-Monica-Guarise-bronze

First-ever Grand Prix medal for Della Monica/Guarise!

Della Monica/Guarise skated the best short program of their career in Grenoble. It just flowed, from start to finish. They showed emotion and intensity skating to their powerful “Magnificat” music. And their elements were great! Their opening SBS 3S were right on, and they hit a neat, clean level 3 triple twist. The throw 3Lp was also nicely landed, and their other elements were all level 4. They also nailed their step sequence, maintaining speed well throughout. Overall it was a great performance, and Della Monica/Guarise earned a personal-best 70.65 for 3rd.

I enjoyed their Tree of Life LP even more. I feel like Della Monica/Guarise’s interpretation of this uplifting, serene music is growing with each competition. The program feels like the unfolding of something—a life, a history? I find the choreography very interesting; and I love the definition and clarity of Nicole/Matteo’s movement. They skate with a lot of intention here—the movement is not careless or random. Technically, the program was pretty strong as well—although not as clean as their short program. They had just one big error: Matteo exited early from the SBS 3T in the combo and omitted the second jump. The 3T was called as a double and they scored less than a point on it. However, that was the only real mistake. They achieved a rare level 4 on their triple twist (usually they get level 3), plus positive GOE, for 7.30 points. Both throw jumps were fairly good (3S, 3Lp), and their SBS 3S scored well. Their lifts were very nice, too. I really love Nicole/Matteo’s Axel lasso lift in this program—it just moves straight down the length of ice, with great positions—so impressive. Della Monica/Guarise 126.94 for 3rd LP/overall.

I was really excited to see Della Monica/Guarise win their first Grand Prix medal here. They should be an inspiration to younger pairs everywhere, in my opinion. This is a team that came together with no fanfare and no expectations. And success did not arrive quickly or easily–this is their 7th year together. But they stayed together, believed in themselves, and kept working hard to improve all aspects of their skating. And now it’s finally paying off. Nicole/Matteo have grown so much as a team; it’s been great to witness their journey.

Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch

Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch have had a disappointing start to their season, finishing off the podium at their first 2 events (Finlandia Trophy 4th, Skate Canada 6th). The Canadians showed some improvement in France, but again failed to make the podium, finishing 4th.

Ilyushechkina-Moscovitch

Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch:  Not quite where they want to be  (Getty Images)

Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch had a flawed skate of their “In the Air Tonight” SP. Dylan had a hand down/turnout on the SBS 3T, and Luba slightly 2-footed the throw 3Lz. Those mistakes cost 2 points in negative GOE. But their level 3 triple twist was good and clean, and their level 4 death spiral had a beautiful position from Luba and scored well. They showed good speed and difficult footwork in their level 4 step sequence. Yet, I felt they weren’t quite connected to each other during the sequence—there was a lack of ease, and a bit of reaching, in their movement. I really enjoy this spare, yet intense, program for Luba/Dylan. But to pull it off at maximum level, I think they need to be a little bit sharper, more defined, in their movement and connection. Their PCS marks ranged from low-7s to high-8s. They scored 66.36 for 4th.

Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch’s long program was fairly good technically, and definitely a big step up from their performance at Skate Canada. They again opened with a good level 3 triple twist, which had great speed coming out. The SBS jumps were dicey; Luba doubled the SBS 3S and underrotated/stumbled out of the second jump in their SBS 3T/2T combo. However, both throw jumps (3S, 3Lz) were strong and well-done. Luba/Dylan’s lifts were pretty good in this program. However, I think they’re not quite at last season’s level, in terms of speed and ease of transitions on the lifts. Accordingly, their lift GOE right now is in the +1 to +2 range, whereas last season they were getting solid +2s/+3s. So that’s something to work on. They also had some slight issues with their spins. Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch scored 126.71 here in the LP, a big improvement over their score at Skate Canada (112.29). They were 4th LP/overall.

Luba/Dylan’s “At This Moment” LP has not gotten great reviews so far from fans. The program is supposed to tell the story of a couple who have drifted apart, and are trying to rekindle their spark. After seeing it again, I think the storyline is part of the problem. Luba/Dylan have to portray a couple both coming together & pulling apart, all in the same program. It’s a challenge. If you look at the choreography, there are sections where they’re clearly “apart” and other parts where they’re more “together.” It makes it hard to establish a consistent mood. I fear that the sections where they’re “fighting” or “apart” have too much prominence—risking the audience’s whole sense of Luba/Dylan as a connected pair on the ice.

Another problem is that the song itself is essentially depressing–not really what you want for a competitive program. It’s a powerful song, but it’s depressing. So the program has a rather “down” feel to it. (You could argue that James/Cipres’s “Say Something” is also a depressing song. But the actual mood of that program is clearly more “I love you and I really don’t want to break up” versus “It’s over and we are definitely breaking up.”)

Anyhow, after seeing it again, I do feel this program is perhaps unnecessarily challenging for Luba/Dylan in an Olympic year. With time, they may be able to skate it to much greater effect than they have so far. But time is running out. The Olympics are now only about 11 weeks away. Do Luba/Dylan consider going back to an old program, or stick with this one??

Peng/Jin

Peng/Jin are in a similar situation to Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch. Like the Canadians, they are not seeing the same level of results they enjoyed last year. Despite skating fairly well in Grenoble, they could only place 5th.

Peng-Jin

Peng/Jin bring the attitude  (Getty Images)

Unfortunately, Peng/Jin started their “Assassin’s Tango” SP with a big mistake. Cheng Peng doubled her SBS 3T, a costly error (3.40 points lost). But they recovered well. The throw 3Lp had good height (although a low landing); their level 3 triple twist was nice and clean; and they had good speed on their lift, pairs spin, and death spiral. I enjoy this dynamic program. The antagonistic mood is entertaining and different; the choreography has nice flair and highlight moves. I do think the step sequence at the end needs a little work. The music builds here, and Peng/Jin need to bring a bit more speed and boldness. They also get quite far apart at times in the sequence, which works with the mood of the program, but may bring down their score a bit. They had a level 3 on the step sequence; they want that to be a level 4. I think with better SBS jumps and a little work on the step sequence, this program could be quite a bit more effective. Here, they scored 62.40 for 5th.

Peng/Jin’s “Butterfly Lovers” LP was quite good. Again, they had just 1 mistake in the program: Both partners fell on the SBS 3S. The Salchow is a new element for Peng/Jin this year, and they have yet to land it cleanly. Hopefully it’s just a matter of more practice. They did succeed in landing a fine SBS 3T/2T combo, which earned 6.70 points. (Peng/Jin actually had the second-highest point total for SBS jumps in the LP—not a spot you’d necessarily expect them to be in!) Their throw 3Lp had great height and distance. Cheng/Yang actually slipped on their entrance to the throw 3S but then re-set and still landed it—impressive! Their level 3 triple twist was also well-done. They were slightly off sync in the SBS spins, but it wasn’t a big problem. Lifts were lovely and smooth and well-set to the music. Artistically, I find this program very beautiful and a joy to watch. However, despite all the good things they did, Peng/Jin’s marks really weren’t very high. Their PCS was mostly in the high 7s, and their GOE was also disappointing (and has been so all season). They’re performing most of their elements at a similar quality level to last year, but are getting a lot more +1s and fewer +2s than last year. When you add up those slightly lower GOE marks over 12 elements, it makes a difference. Peng/Jin scored only 125.74 here, nearly 8 points lower than they scored for a similar program at World Team Trophy last spring. They were 5th LP/overall.

Considering they won 2 Grand Prix medals last season, I’m sure Peng/Jin are quite disappointed with their results this year. And I can’t blame them, nor fully account for the marks they’re getting. I think perhaps several factors may be hurting them this season: 1) Competition has increased; 2) They’ve made some crucial SBS mistakes in the GP short programs that they didn’t last year; 3) As a result, they’ve had to skate in the first group for the LP at both GPs, which may have depressed their scores a bit; 4) They didn’t skate at Worlds last year, so it could be the international judges are trying to reestablish their place in the pecking order; 5) They just need more time to develop greater maturity/definition in their skating. (They can look a bit wispy at times.) The good news is, they have tremendous talent and many strong elements. I have confidence that they’ll get there.

Peng/Jin will now prepare for (presumably) Chinese Nationals, the Olympics, and Worlds.

Castellli/Tran

Castelli/Tran were added to the roster in France as late substitutes. I was happy to see the American team get a second GP assignment! Castellli/Tran placed 6th.

Castelli-Tran

Castelli/Tran:  Up & down in this event

The Americans’ short program was a bit messy. Marissa didn’t get full rotation on the SBS 3T, and the jump was downgraded. She also put a hand down on the throw 3S. These jump mistakes cost over 4 points. At least their level 2 triple twist was pretty good—the catch was clean, if a bit low. Castelli/Tran’s best element was their group 3 star lift, which had 2 different one-armed variations from Mervin. Castelli/Tran also got level 4 on their step sequence, which was well done except for perhaps a little lack of connection between them. Marissa/Mervin had a decent performance level in this short program—which, for lack of a better term, I’ll call “Fever 2.0.” Marissa/Mervin debuted the first version of their “Fever” SP last year. This year, they wanted to keep the music but shift the order of elements (and also add the required elements for this year’s SP). The result is almost a new program, just set to the same music as before. In terms of execution, this version seems to flow more easily for Marissa/Mervin, and I prefer the revised step sequence—it feels more comfortable. I like the flow/setup of the new program, but I do have to say that its connection to the music feels a bit weaker than the original version. Castellli/Tran scored 58.99 for 6th.

Castelli/Tran’s new “Woman” LP is one of my favorite new programs this year. It’s beautiful and intense, and it brings out a new vulnerability and maturity in Marissa/Mervin’s skating that I absolutely love. The emotional quality is great. I find that I just want to watch the program and not even worry about the elements. That said, Castelli/Tran actually had some quite good technical elements in this program. Their triple twist was level 3, with positive GOE, and scored 6.70 points. I’d love to see the catch come a second earlier on their twist, but it’s improved. Marissa/Mervin’s throw jumps in this program were probably the best I’ve seen them do. The throw 3F had nice flow out, and the throw 3S also had a lovely landing edge. (This is the second competition in a row that Castelli/Tran have landed both throws cleanly.) It’s been a tough road to get their throw 3F solid, but it’s finally happening and it’s great to see. Mervin had a slight mistake on the exit of the SBS spins, but their pairs spin was great, and lifts were strong too. The only significant problem in this program was, again, the SBS jumps. It seems clear that Marissa/Mervin are having major confidence issues with the jumps … and I hate to see them going through this, but hopefully things improve. The throw jumps have gotten stronger, so I’m holding out hope that the same can happen for the SBS jumps. And aside from the jump mistakes, this was actually a pretty good program for Castelli/Tran. They got a new season’s-best score of 118.16 for 6th LP/overall.

Castelli/Tran are still not where they want to be, or need to be. And I know some have questioned whether they’ll get there. But this team has way too much talent for me to give up on them. I feel like their new “Woman” program is just a taste of what they could potentially accomplish.

Castelli/Tran will now prepare for U.S. Nationals. Wishing them all the best!

Esbrat/Novoselov

This was the first Grand Prix event for Esbrat/Novoselov, France’s #2 pairs team. They placed 7th.

Esbrat/Novoselov’s short program started with several mistakes. Lola doubled the planned SBS 3Lp; they had a big crash on their level 3 triple twist; and Lola had an awkward 2-foot landing and turnout on the throw 3Lz. The rest of the elements were okay. Their Lady Caliph SP was lyrical and pleasant enough to watch, but I can’t say they brought anything new to this music. And, of course, any pairs team choosing Lady Caliph risks comparison to Berezhnaya/Sikharuldize’s famous Olympic short program to this piece. Esbrat/Novoselov scored 51.90 for 7th.

Esbrat/Novoselov skated to The Great Gatsby for their long program. There were a lot of different music cuts, even more so than usual in Gatsby programs, and it got a bit distracting. Esbrat/Novoselov brought some personality to it, but need more energy in their interpretation. Technically, it was a pretty good program for them. The highlight was their side-by-side triple loops, which were well-landed and earned 5.20 points. Unfortunately, that was followed by a downgraded SBS 3S combo, which earned only .70 points. They completed both throw jumps (3F, 3S), but their level 3 triple twist did not have a clean catch. This team’s main technical weakness is their lifts. Andrei’s turns are very small/scratchy, and as a result, they don’t get either good coverage or speed on the lifts. The backward lasso lift failed on takeoff and they got no points. Overall it wasn’t a bad program, but Esbrat/Novoselov lack the skating skills and polish to really be competitive at this level. PCS marks were in the mid-5s and mid-6s. They scored 94.82 for 7th LP/overall.

Jones/Boyadji

Jones/Boyadji were a late replacement at this event. I’m sure they were very excited to get their first Grand Prix, so it was really unfortunate that Zoe Jones was reported to be sick during the event. She nonetheless elected to skate.

Jones/Boyadji’s short program to “It’s a Man’s World” was a struggle. Jumps are usually a strong point for this team, but perhaps due to her illness, Zoe fell on the SBS 3T and turned out of the throw 3Lz. They did only a double twist. Zoe/Christopher did their best to keep up the performance level, and their choreography was reasonably polished, but Zoe did look a bit tired. They scored 44.59 for 8th.

Unfortunately, things didn’t get much better in their free skate. They again did a double twist. Then Zoe had more jump problems—she fell on the SBS 3T, doubled the SBS 3S, and fell on the throw 3F. At least she hung on to the throw 3Lp. The other elements were competently performed. Their “Who Wants to Live Forever” program is a good fit for them—the choreography is rather basic, but they present it well. They scored 85.84 for 8th.

Wrap-up

It was an interesting pairs event in France. I only wish the judging of the top pairs in the long program had more closely matched the quality of their skating. Next week, we move on to the final stop of the Grand Prix series at Skate America. This event features one of the most star-studded rosters of the whole series: Savchenko/Massot, Duhamel/Radford, Yu/Zhang, Moore-Towers/Marinaro, the Knierims, and more. It should be an exciting battle for the medals and final spots in the Grand Prix Final!

Note: If you’re enjoying the 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.

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One Response to Internationaux de France 2017: Pairs Review

  1. michaeltaylor529525299 says:

    Well Done, Claire!

    >

    Liked by 1 person

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