Skate America 2017: Pairs Review

The pairs event at Skate America was a fitting conclusion to a very competitive season on the Grand Prix series. Current World silver medalists Savchenko/Massot came from behind to win the event, while Yu/Zhang and Duhamel/Radford also skated well to win medals. Overall, this was a very deep and talented field of pairs. As at Skate Canada, 7 of the 8 pairs here were previous Grand Prix medalists.

Results-SA.PNG

Podium-SA

Savchenko/Massot

It was a big week for Savchenko/Massot. As they waited at the airport to leave for Skate America, they finally received word that Massot had passed the German-language citizenship test and will become a German citizen (which he did today). What a relief! Then, Savchenko/Massot won Skate America with a personal-best free skate–reminding everyone that they‘re top contenders for Olympic gold in Korea.

Savchenko/Massot actually had a rough start to the competition at Skate America. Their short program opened with a huge level 4 triple twist and a clean, one-foot landing on the throw 3Lz. However, Bruno then fell heavily on the SBS 3S. The fall did affect the overall impression of the program, but Aliona/Bruno recovered well, completing their other elements without incident.

2017 Bridgestone Skate America - Day 1

Savchenko/Massot:  Quite a week

Savchenko/Massot’s technical scores for this program were a bit low. They had quite a few +1s on elements that are normally straight +2s/+3s. One judge even gave them a +1 on their always-spectacular triple twist. Huh??? Normally, I do not analyze the scores of individual judges—preferring to look at the overall picture from all 9 judges. However, there were some individual scoring discrepancies for this program that were quite hard to ignore. The Canadian judge gave Savchenko/Massot only +1s on almost every element, whereas most other judges gave a majority of +2s/+3s (except for the SBS 3S). Similarly, the Chinese judge was the only one to give Savchenko/Massot a 0 GOE mark, as well as several +1s. Hmmm.

In terms of artistry, Savchenko/Massot’s “Ameksa-Fuego” flamenco SP is terrific to watch. The choreography is full of sharp movement, dramatic upper-body positions, and quick turns, cleverly set to the music. The sharply defined lines of the choreography emphasize Aliona’s gorgeous stretch and extension. However, this is difficult music to put on the ice, in my mind. Hitting all those defined positions requires small starts and stops, interrupting the flow and run of the blade. And the tempo switches from a measured pace to a fast rhythm very quickly–also hard to interpret. “Modern flamenco is a highly technical dance style. The emphasis … is on lightning-fast footwork performed with absolute precision,” says one description of the genre. I felt like Aliona/Bruno showed the precision of flamenco in this program, but not the fast quality, or speed, needed to make it shine. Perhaps Bruno’s fall bothered them a bit, affecting their usual speed. Such reservations aside, they still received the highest PCS in the SP (36.46). Overall, Savchenko/Massot scored 72.55 to place an unexpected 3rd in this segment.

Savchenko-Massot-death-spiral

A stunning long program

Savchenko/Massot then came back with a beautiful, moving performance in the free skate. Technically, it was their best LP yet this season. Their opening triple twist was amazing. Next, they went for the throw 3F; it was very high. Aliona did have a slight 2-foot landing, but the judges did not deduct any negative GOE. Aliona singled the last 2 jumps of the SBS 3S/2T/2T combo, which cost a bit, but they landed the SBS 3T well. Their throw 3S was beautiful, with a difficult entrance and great height, and earned 2 points in positive GOE. Aliona/Bruno had quite good speed on their spin elements and death spiral, as well as beautiful positions; and the lifts were all gorgeous, with great coverage. The closing Axel lasso lift was a particular highlight and their highest-scoring element (9.60 points). Not only was it a very good performance technically, it was spellbinding and engrossing to watch. There is a fantastic feeling to this program–pensive, almost mystical. PCS marks were in the 9s, with three marks of 10.00. Savchenko/Massot earned a new personal-best score of 150.58 for 1st LP/overall.

This victory was a great result for Savchenko/Massot and a strong boost to their Olympic medal hopes. They will now prepare for the Grand Prix Final in Japan in 2 weeks. Unfortunately, I fear their participation in the Final could be in some doubt, as Bruno has been suffering from significant back pain. I hope they’ll be able to compete in Japan; but of course, the Olympics is their main goal.

Yu/Zhang

This event was a breakthrough for Yu/Zhang. It’s not like they really needed a breakthrough, considering they were already top 4 at Worlds last spring! But until now, Yu/Zhang have been chasing the top teams. In Lake Placid, they showed the potential to be one of the top teams, earning a new personal-best score in the LP.

Yu/Zhang’s Swan Lake SP was very successful. Xiaoyu/Hao landed a good set of SBS 3Ts to open the program. Their level 4 triple twist had a nice split, good height, and clean catch, scoring 8.40 points. The throw 3Lp was big, and the star lift had beautiful air positions and ice coverage. Xiaoyu/Hao achieved almost all level 4s in this program (except for the death spiral), and earned 8.88 points in positive GOE (best of all the pairs in the short program). As strong as the program was technically, it was also great artistically. I feel like Yu/Zhang’s interpretation has improved a lot since Cup of China; the program feels more layered now, more detailed. And Xiaoyu Yu is very beautiful in this piece. She just shines, with beautiful arm/leg extensions and lovely expression. What’s interesting is there’s actually not much interaction between Xiaoyu and Hao in this program. He fades into the background, providing strength and support as Xiaoyu performs outwardly to the audience and judges. Yet it works. Yu/Zhang scored 73.67 to slip into a surprising 2nd place in this segment.

Yu-Zhang-fierce

Yu/Zhang looking fierce in their Star Wars LP  (Tim Bradbury/Getty Images North America)

Yu/Zhang then followed with an excellent long program. Again, they were very strong technically. Their level 4 triple twist was very good (8.60 points). They also cleanly landed both SBS jump sets (3S, 3T/2T) for a total of 11.40 points on the jumps. As always, their throw jumps were outstanding. Their throw 3Lp was lovely, with great speed coming out, and earned perfect marks from the judges (all +3s). Their throw 3S was so huge that there was almost a slight delay on Xiaoyu’s rotation—just breathtaking. Hao added to the effect, performing a dramatic butterfly immediately after throwing her. Again, it was almost straight +3s, and altogether Yu/Zhang earned 4.20 points in positive GOE on the throws—amazing. They did get slightly off sync in the SBS spins, and there was a bit of shakiness on the Axel lasso lift, but these mistakes were minor and barely cost anything.

Artistically, this Star Wars long program was much, much stronger than at their first GP event. At Cup of China, I felt the program completely lacked the energy and excitement needed for a theme like Star Wars. (C’mon, they’re supposed to be saving the galaxy! :-)) But at Skate America, Xiaoyu/Hao skated with much more intensity and even fierceness, carrying this through all the program. Their movement felt stronger, more convincing, than in China, and there was a better sense of the storyline. The judges agreed, issuing high-8s to low-9s in PCS (whereas they got low- to mid-8s at Cup of China). Yu/Zhang scored a very impressive 145.53 points in the LP (smashing their previous personal-best score by over 9 points). They were a strong 2nd LP/overall.

Yu/Zhang’s silver medal and high scores at Skate America helped them qualify for the Grand Prix Final, edging out French team James/Cipres. It’s a great success for them and should help them position themselves well for the Olympics.

Duhamel/Radford

Duhamel/Radford came into this event with a lot of confidence, looking to build on their win at Skate Canada. Although they fell short of victory here, they skated pretty well overall, took the bronze medal, and qualified for the Grand Prix Final in Japan.

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Duhamel/Radford win bronze, qualify for GPF

Duhamel/Radford’s “With or Without You” SP was lovely to watch. This program is such a different look for Meagan/Eric—quiet, yet emotional. Their skating has more softness in this program than I’ve ever seen from them, especially in the closing step sequence (which earned some +3s!). I also liked Meagan’s costume change to a simple, attractive dark blue dress. And technically, it was a good performance. Their opening triple twist was only level 2, but well-done with positive GOE. Eric had a slightly 2-footed, swingy landing on the SBS 3Lz, but the throw 3Lz was good, with nice height. Their star lift was a highlight, with nice coverage and air positions. Meagan/Eric lost a few levels in this performance–unusual for them. However, they still scored 75.37 for 1st.

Unfortunately, Duhamel/Radford had some problems in their Muse free skate and could not capitalize on their strong SP. Their opening level 2 triple twist went well. But both had mistakes on the SBS 3Lz—Eric 2-footed and Meagan underrotated and fell. Meagan then landed the throw 4S, but with a slight 2-foot and hand down. Duhamel/Radford recovered well, landing the SBS 3S/2T/2T (although without much runout). The throw 3Lz had good height, and their SBS spins were very close together, with good speed. However, Meagan/Eric again lost levels on a few elements. Artistically, I thought their long program looked definitely improved from Skate Canada. It felt smoother, more organic, at Skate America. Duhamel/Radford scored 140.31, falling to 3rd LP/overall.

It was a somewhat disappointing result for the Canadians. However, they’ll have another opportunity at the Grand Prix Final to hopefully improve and put out the clean & consistent programs they’re striving for.

Zabijako/Enbert

Zabijako/Enbert skated fairly well in Lake Placid, finishing 4th. They improved on their total score from their first Grand Prix by 5+ points.

Zabijako/Enbert’s Summer of ’42 short program was pretty clean. They had decent height and a good split on their level 3 triple twist. Their SBS 3Ts were also well-done (if just a tad out of sync). Their throw 3Lp was clean with nice flow out, earning +2s and even some +3s (the latter seemed a bit high). Overall, it was a pleasant program to watch. Zabijako/Enbert have nice speed and skating skills, in addition to their natural elegance. And they interpreted the nostalgic, bittersweet mood of the music nicely. Skating right after Yu/Zhang’s dramatic Swan Lake SP, the program seemed a bit small and restrained in comparison. Nonetheless, Zabijako/Enbert’s PCS were a bit higher than at Skate Canada, and they scored 70.15 for 4th.

Zabijako-Enbert-lift

Zabijako/Enbert:  A bit bland

Zabijako/Enbert’s long program was a bit lackluster. Their level 3 triple twist was neat and clean; the throw 3F was also well done (if not big). But they had a few problems on the SBS jumps; Natalia underrotated and fell on the SBS 3S, and they were a bit out of sync on the SBS 3T/2T/2Lp. However, due to the high base level of the combo, they still earned 8.00 points total on the jumps. There were a couple other hiccups—Natalia 2-footed the landing of the throw 3Lp, the SBS spins were off sync, and the death spiral short of rotation and only level 1. Lifts were fine, but not much more than that. I feel like Natalia’s air positions in the lifts need more definition/extension; also, dismounts could be faster and smoother. In all, I felt this was a somewhat disappointing, low-energy performance from Zabijako/Enbert. The Russians had the misfortune of skating right after Savchenko/Massot’s stunning LP; they were bound to suffer somewhat in comparison, but still, they seemed unable to pick up on any of the energy in the arena. It was a cautious, bland performance. However, their PCS scores (mid- to high-8s) were again a bit higher than at Skate Canada, and they finished with 127.74 for 5th LP/4th overall.

Zabijako/Enbert finish the Grand Prix season with two 4th places. You could say it’s a bit of a disappointment, after winning 2 GP medals last year. On the other hand, Zabijako/Enbert had to skate in the 2 deepest events this year; considering that, they acquitted themselves fairly well.

The real question is: Where do they stand in the race for the third Russian Olympic spot? (That is, assuming there will be a Russian Olympic team … 😦 ) At the start of this season, I thought Zabijako/Enbert were almost certain to grab that third spot. Now, I think they’re in a dead heat with Astakhova/Rogonov. Zabijako/Enbert had better results last season; Astakhova/Rogonov have had better placements & scores on the Grand Prix this season. It’s going to come down to Russian Nationals. And, going in, I’d give the edge to Astakhova/Rogonov. I just feel they’re a bit hungrier and a bit better prepared than Zabijako/Enbert. I think the judges generally prefer the elegance and beauty of Zabijako/Enbert; however, there is just a certain lack of sharpness to Natalia/Alexander’s technical elements this season, and a definite lack of intensity in their performance level.

Scimeca Knierim/Knierim

It was a somewhat disappointing competition for the Knierims. Although they achieved the same placement that they did at NHK Trophy (5th), their actual performances and scores at Lake Placid weren’t quite as strong.

The Knierims’ “Come What May” SP was marred by jump problems. The team opened the program with a huge level 3 triple twist. However, both partners struggled on the SBS 3S—Alexa fell and Chris doubled/turned out. Well, at least the throw 3F had nice height and a good landing. Their star lift, pairs spin, and death spiral were also good, earning some +2s. However, I felt like the energy of the performance fell off significantly after the jump mistake. It just didn’t shine. They earned 64.27 for 5th.

Knierims-SP.jpg

Knierims in the short program

In the Knierims’ Ghost LP, they had the exact same jump problems as in the SP. Again, Alexa fell on the SBS 3S, and again, Chris doubled. They also doubled both jumps in their SBS 3T/3T sequence. They earned only 2.81 points on jumps (or 1.81, if you factor in the fall deduction). Discouraging, to say the least. However, as in their long program at NHK, Alexa/Chris delivered a lot of quality elsewhere in the program. Their level 3 triple twist was high and lovely. Both throw jumps (3F, 3S) had great height and strong landings. Their lifts and pairs spin were pretty good as well. Again, I really enjoyed the program artistically. It’s quite beautiful and uplifting, and really showcases the sweet, romantic chemistry between Alexa and Chris. It feels genuine and heartfelt, although this particular performance was perhaps a bit more cautious and restrained than at NHK. Alexa/Chris’s PCS marks were a little below Zabijako/Enbert’s, which I found somewhat questionable. Although the Russians have better skating skills, I did feel that the Knierims’ performance, choreography, and interpretation was stronger here. The Knierims totaled 124.80 for 6th LP/5th overall.

After the event, Chris Knierim revealed for the first time that he’s been struggling with a left patella knee injury for the past 9 months. The injury has limited his training time on SBS jumps, which he feels accounted for some of the jumping problems here and at NHK. He said the injury is now improving and that he’ll be able to do more jump repetitions heading into Nationals.

The Knierims remain heavily favored to take the United States’ sole pairs spot for the Olympics. Although the team hasn’t been performing up to their potential this fall, they still have the highest season’s-best scores for U.S. pairs in all 3 categories (total, SP, LP). However, I’m sure they’ll be looking to put out stronger performances at U.S. Nationals (now just 5 weeks away).

Moore-Towers/Marinaro

After winning a bronze medal at Cup of China, Moore-Towers/Marinaro were undoubtedly hoping for a good result at Skate America as well. Unfortunately, they had some crucial (and uncharacteristic) jumping mistakes in this competition and could only place 6th.

Moore-Towers/Marinaro’s short program started a bit tentatively. Their level 2 triple twist didn’t have much height, and Kirsten’s landing edge wavered a bit on the throw 3Lp. Then came big problems on the SBS 3T. Mike 2-footed, and Kirsten came out of the jump early and fell hard. The jump was downgraded, and they effectively earned no points. The rest of their elements were all level 4 and decent quality, but the damage was done. Normally this “Sweet Dreams” program has a great relaxed, sexy, bluesy vibe. But this mood was somewhat lost after the big fall on the jump. The rest of the program felt like they were just fighting through. The Canadians earned a disappointing 59.97 for 7th.

MTM-twist.jpg

Moore-Towers/Marinaro:  Not their best event

Fortunately, Moore-Towers/Marinaro came back much stronger in their “Un Ange Passe” free skate. Their triple twist was a bit higher than usual and earned level 3 and some positive GOE. Alas, Kirsten fell again on the 3S in their big SBS 2A/1Lp/3S combo. But they came back with a good throw 3Lp (+2s) and solid SBS 3T. The throw 3S wasn’t huge, but had a strong landing from Kirsten. Other highlights included their death spiral, which was very good, and their Axel lasso lift, which was smooth and got some +2s. Every time I see this tender, nostalgic program, I’m impressed with the level of emotion Kirsten brings to it. I feel like her stylistic range as a skater is growing. She and Mike can still develop their chemistry more, but it was a fine performance from them, aside from the one mistake. They scored 127.84 to pull up to 4th LP/6th overall.

I’m sure Moore-Towers/Marinaro are disappointed with their result at this event, but hopefully it was a bit of a fluke and they can put it behind them quickly. They must now prepare for the most critical event of their season—Canadian Nationals. They’ll need to be at their best there if they hope to make Canada’s Olympic team.

Denney/Frazier

This was the second Grand Prix event for U.S. pair Denney/Frazier. They were, if nothing else, consistent here: Their scores in both the short and long programs were almost identical to what they put up at Skate Canada a month ago.

Denney-Frazier-throw

Denney/Frazier going for a throw in the short program  (Julie Jacobson/AP)

Denney/Frazier started with a nice short program to John Legend’s “All of Me.” Their only mistake came on the SBS 3S, which was underrotated. Otherwise, it was a clean and strong performance. Their level 3 triple twist had really nice height and a clean catch; the throw 3Lp had lots of distance. The death spiral—sometimes a weak element for this team—was good, as was their complex star lift. Haven/Brandon’s step sequence is nicely choreographed, but could be a little faster, with more fluid movement. Artistically, I felt like they presented the program very well. It looked smoother and more comfortable than at Skate Canada. They earned 64.27 for 6th.

Denney/Frazier’s free skate was a bit mixed—some good elements, some less good. Their level 3 triple twist was high and clean, as in the short program; the throw 3Lp was also good. However, the SBS 3S didn’t go well—Haven spun out and Brandon took a big fall. Their SBS 3T comes almost immediately after the SBS 3S in the program–giving them no time to recover from mistakes on the SBS 3S. Predictably, they both doubled the 3T. Haven also 2-footed and turned out of the throw 3S. Their new Axel lasso lift was very nicely done, and looked much smoother than at their first 2 events. I enjoy this “Who Wants to Live Forever” program for Haven/Brandon; they bring nice expression and power to it. However, in this particular performance, I felt like they got just a bit stiff and tentative after the mistakes on the SBS jumps. Denney/Frazier earned 109.12 for 7th LP/overall.

After a somewhat disappointing fall season, Denney/Frazier will now prepare for U.S. Nationals. Their chances of challenging for the lone U.S. Olympic berth seem a bit remote at this point. However, we’ll see what happens in San Jose.

Stellato/Bartholomay

Stellato/Bartholomay made their Grand Prix debut at this event. They skated pretty well in Lake Placid and posted respectable scores, despite their last-place finish.

Stellato/Bartholomay put out a pretty clean and consistent short program to “Eleanor Rigby.” They opened with a nice set of SBS 3Ts, which earned positive GOE, then followed with a decent level 3 triple twist. They looked hesitant going into the throw 3Lp, and Deanna 2-footed the landing, but the mistake didn’t cost them too much. Overall, Deanna/Nate did a good job with the technical elements in this program. Nothing they do is at a very high quality level yet, but everything was completed without major error. Artistically, the program didn’t make much of an impact. Compared to the more experienced teams, there was a lack of emotion and connection. They scored 57.18 for 8th.

Stellato-Bartholomay-spirals

Stellato/Bartholomay:  Solid Grand Prix debut

Stellato/Bartholomay’s U2 medley LP was not as clean as their SP, but not bad either. Their strongest elements in this program were the two lasso lifts; both had good speed and coverage, and were well-timed with the music. Their level 3 triple twist was also fairly good, earning a couple positive marks. The jumps were a bit dicey; only the throw 3S was cleanly landed. Deanna underrotated and fell on the SBS 3S; Nate landed forward on the SBS 3T/2T; and Deanna 2-footed the throw 3Lp. Nate also had a slight problem on the entrance to the SBS spins. Still, they kept the program going and didn’t give up. Artistically, I felt like they needed more speed, power, and passion through the “One” section of the program; it felt a bit dreary. But they picked up the pace nicely for the closing “Where the Streets Have No Name” segment and ended strongly. They scored a respectable 107.82 for 8th LP/overall.

It was a good first GP for Stellato/Bartholomay. Next up for them will be U.S. Nationals. An Olympics or Worlds berth may be a bit of a stretch for them this year. But a 4CCs slot is not out of the question.

Wrap-up

Skate America was a great way to end this year’s Grand Prix series. I really enjoyed seeing Savchenko/Massot and Duhamel/Radford face off again, and it was such a strong field in general. With the regular Grand Prix series now finished, here is the list of pairs qualifiers for the Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, Japan:

GPF-qualifiers.PNG

This year’s Grand Prix Final should be pretty amazing. I’m looking forward to it!! Until then!

 

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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