Last week at Four Continents, U.S. pairs fans saw a sight we haven’t enjoyed for a quite a long time: A U.S. pairs team standing atop the podium at an international competition. Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea of the United States won the title at Four Continents, with their U.S. teammates Cain/LeDuc right behind them. It was a great, and much-needed, step forward for the U.S. pairs program.
The past 2 years have been so very challenging for U.S. pairs. With most of the top teams affected by serious injuries or medical conditions, and several other teams very new, it’s been difficult for U.S. pairs to even keep pace competitively, much less improve. Coming into this event, it had been almost 2.5 years since a U.S. senior pair had last won an international competition, by my count (2015 U.S. Classic for Kayne/O’Shea, 2015 Ice Challenge for Scimeca Knierim/Knierim). So, it was wonderful to see Kayne/O’Shea and Cain/LeDuc step up to win medals in Taipei. Their teammates Deanna Stellato/Nate Bartholomay also placed well.
Of course, the Four Continents pairs field was depleted by the absence of the top Chinese and North American teams, who skipped the event due partly to its closeness to the Olympics. However, there were still some strong teams competing in Taipei. The U.S. pairs were not particularly favored to win here or even medal; so to see them exceed expectations was exciting. Also, all three U.S. pairs scored personal-best performances in both the short and long programs. `
Ryom/Kim also triumphed at this event, winning the first-ever ISU championship medal (bronze) for North Korea! It’s a wonderful accomplishment for the North Korean team.
Let’s take a closer look at the competition.
What a great victory this was for Kayne/O’Shea! After major knee surgery for Tarah and missing most of the fall season, I don’t think anyone had high expectations for this team in the second half of the season. Yet they won silver at U.S. Nationals and followed with the gold medal in Taipei.
Kayne/O’Shea started the event with a clean performance of their “All I Ask of You” SP. I thought Tarah/Danny looked a bit tentative overall in this routine, but they hit their key elements without any issue. They had a low catch on their triple twist; however, there was only 1 negative GOE mark, and they earned level 3 and 6.50 points. Their SBS 3S had good unison, and they landed the the throw 3S as well. Their star lift was nicely set to the music, with good speed in the turns, and earned +2s/+3s. Artistically, Tarah/Danny showed nice detail in their choreography, as well as good connection to the music. They had the second-highest PCS score in the short program (30.03). Overall, Kayne/O’Shea earned 65.74 for 3rd.
Kayne/O’Shea then put out a lovely performance of their Swan Lake LP. This program, choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne and Shae Zukiwsky, has been very successful for Kayne/O’Shea. I think many (myself included) were a bit doubtful when Tarah/Danny announced this music, because Swan Lake is so closely associated with the balletic, classic Russian style of skating.
Yet, it turns out to play very well to Kayne/O’Shea’s strengths. Tarah/Danny’s greatest asset has always been the strong emotional energy they bring to their skating. This program highlights that quality and allows it to blossom. The choreography is quite ingenious. There are lovely moments that nod to the famous motifs and images of Swan Lake. And the elements are so cleverly set to the music. They become not just elements, but climactic moments that raise the artistic level of the program as well. Not only is the program itself special, Tarah/Danny brought it to life here with their emotional engagement. Tarah, in particular, was lovely and graceful.
Kayne/O’Shea’s technical elements in this program were pretty strong. They didn’t get much height on their split triple twist, but the catch looked clean, and they still achieved level 3 and all-positive GOE for 6.80 points. Their SBS 3S and throw 3S were both solid. The throw 3Lz was 2-footed, but some of the judges appeared not to notice, with only 3 negative GOE marks. Tarah/Danny ran into a bit of trouble on the SBS 2A/2A sequence. Danny turned out of the first 2A and, as a result, missed a hop after the jump, which then invalidated the second 2A, I think. They lost about 2 1/2 points there. However, the rest of their elements were pretty good, with the SBS spins being a particular highlight.
Overall, it was a quite decent skate technically for Kayne/O’Shea. But it was really the quality of the overall performance that lifted them to gold. Their PCS marks were mostly in the high-7s to low-8s, with even a few 9.00s. They posted a new personal-best score of 128.68 for 1st LP/overall.
Unfortunately, Kayne/O’Shea will miss the Olympics. However, they will represent the U.S. at Worlds in March, where they’ll need their best skating to help the United States secure 2 spots for next year. Their success in Taipei gives cause for optimism going into Worlds.
After a disappointing fall season, Cain/LeDuc showed great improvement at Four Continents to win an unexpected silver medal.
Cain/LeDuc had the best short program of their career in Taipei. I was really impressed with how they went for it! Their opening level 3 triple twist was the best I’ve seen from Ashley/Tim, with much more height and a cleaner catch than usual (6.60 points). Just as exciting, they landed their SBS 3Lp cleanly (5.90 points). It was the first time all season that Cain/LeDuc had landed a fully rotated SBS jump in the short program. They also hit a successful throw 3Lz. Cain/LeDuc scored very well with their level 4 step sequence, which had good power and edges. They maintained a strong performance level throughout, getting into the music and showing good form and attack in their transitions. Set to the Beth Hart blues song “I’ll Take Care of You,” their short program shows off their power and charisma. PCS marks were mostly in the low- to mid-7s. Cain/LeDuc scored 66.76 for a surprising 1st place in the SP.
Cain/LeDuc then put out a pretty good long program to clinch the silver medal. As with Kayne/O’Shea, it was their overall performance level that really shone and impressed in their Great Gatsby free skate. I very much enjoy this long program from Ashley/Tim; I think it’s one of the best interpretations yet of the popular Gatsby theme. Most of the music from The Great Gatsby soundtrack is quite difficult to skate to, as it’s very uptempo and dancey. But Ashley/Tim rose to the challenge. There is more actual choreography in this program than in many pairs free skates—more arm/hand movements, more turns, more transitions. Ashley/Tim not only completed the choreography, but showed a lot of animation and expression. Theyreally captured the carefree, spirited mood of this music and were just flat-out fun to watch.
Technically, the program was fairly good. Cain/LeDuc’s opening level 2 triple twist again showed improved height, but had a low catch (5.70 points). Their SBS 3S/2T/2Lp combo was beautiful and by far the highest-scoring jump combo in the event (8.30 points). The throw 3Lz had nice height. However, Ashley put a hand down on the SBS 3Lp (the jumps were also very far apart). And the throw 3S had a very low, eked-out landing. The non-jump elements in this program were a bit ragged. Their first lift was off balance on the mount, the final lift was a bit slow, the death spiral had only 2 rotations and a somewhat high position from Ashley, and the pairs spin was slow. Cain/LeDuc got some scattered negative GOE for these elements. But I think the strong performance level helped lift the GOE a bit. Cain/LeDuc received nice PCS scores, mostly in the high-7s. They scored 123.85 for 2nd LP/overall.
It was great to see Cain/LeDuc end their season on a high note. Hopefully they can build on this momentum going into next season!
I was glad that Ryom/Kim got to compete at Four Continents. As most know, they qualified for an Olympic spot at Nebelhorn, but North Korea failed to officially confirm their participation. The North Korean Olympic slot then passed to Japan, the next qualifying country. At that point, I began to fear we wouldn’t see Ryom/Kim again this season. However, North Korea changed course and will now allow Ryom/Kim to take a special ISU slot at the Olympics. As a warm-up, Ryom/Kim skated here at Four Continents and won the bronze medal.
Ryom/Kim are typically strong short-program skaters. Once again, they put out a clean and dynamic performance of their “A Day in the Life” SP. I really enjoy this program. The choreography is sharp and interesting, and Ryom/Kim give it great expression and liveliness. For a team with so little international experience, they have a surprising, natural connection with the audience. They were very engaged with the music and the performance. Their technical elements were pretty strong, too. They had lovely height on their triple twist, and their SBS 3T was very good—close together and perfectly in sync. The throw 3Lp was solid as well. What held Ryom/Kim’s scores back a bit was level trouble—their twist and step sequence were only level 2, and the death spiral level 3. But it was a great performance, and they set a new personal-best score of 65.25 for 4th.
Ryom/Kim’s long program to “Je Ne Suis Qu’une Chanson” wasn’t quite as strong as their SP, but still good overall. The North Koreans opened with another high triple twist. Although they only achieved level 2, they had very good GOE (almost all +2s), for 7.20 points. Next came a nice 3T/2T combo. Tae Ok then underrotated and fell on her SBS 2A (a new element for them in the LP). She also stepped out of the throw 3Lp. However, their lift and spin elements were pretty well-done.
Despite such technical errors, their stirring free skate was very nice to watch. What I enjoy about Ryom/Kim is simply them as a team. They have lovely fluidity, unison, and interaction with each other on the ice. They look at each other frequently and seem attentive to each other. And, as Charlie White mentioned on NBCSN, they also have excellent posture. Tae Ok, in particular, has lovely carriage–her head always high, her shoulders always back. There’s no lurching forward, no ungainliness, to their skating. And they are strong performers. They don’t ignore the audience to concentrate on their elements. No matter the difficulty of what they’re doing, they maintain an outward focus, smiling and looking into the crowd. Again, considering their lack of international (or even, probably, domestic) experience, Ryom/Kim’s performance skills are quite impressive. They scored 119.73 to pull up to 3rd LP/overall.
Winning bronze here was a great result for Ryom/Kim. Now they can look forward to performing in their first Olympic Games!
It’s been a tough season for Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch. Dylan suffered an accident in December that affected their training, and they were unable to qualify for the Olympic team at Canadian Nationals (despite having been the highest-ranked Canadian pair at 2017 Worlds last spring). Luba/Dylan came into Four Continents as defending bronze medalists, but finished just off the podium in 4th place.
Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch’s short program went well enough. Their level 2 triple twist had great speed coming out and earned 7.20 points. Then Lubov doubled the SBS 3T, costing them 3+ points. They recovered with a high throw 3Lz. Dylan was a bit tentative on the star lift, but their death spiral was beautiful (5.00 points; best death spiral in the SP). Luba/Dylan have returned to last year’s “Jalousie Tango” SP. They received the highest PCS in the short program here (31.06). Still, in all honesty, I’ve seen them skate this program much better before. The intensity and connection they normally share just wasn’t quite there. They earned 64.50 for 5th–almost 8 points off their personal best.
Unfortunately, Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch struggled in their “At This Moment” LP. They started well with a high level 2 triple twist. However, things fell apart on the SBS 3T/2T combo. Both partners had trouble on the first jump, which was downgraded; and Dylan omitted the second jump. Then Dylan put a hand down on the SBS 3S (Luba’s landing was also a bit wild). They recovered with a good throw 3Lp and also landed the throw 3Lz. However, Dylan was uncharacteristically shaky on the first 2 lifts, both of which received negative GOE. Then their third lift failed on takeoff, receving no credit at all. Typically, that third lift is both a technical/artistic highpoint of the program; so losing it really hurt. Luba/Dylan’s skating skills and overall performance level were much superior to many of the other pairs in Taipei, so I was sorry to see them struggle so much with the technical elements. In addition to the aforementioned problems, they also lost levels on both spins and the death spiral. It seemed the judges didn’t know quite how to score the program. PCS marks ranged from high-6s to low-8s. Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch earned 114.50 for 5th LP/4th overall. Again, the score was far below their personal best.
It’s unclear if we will see Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch again this season. If one of the top 3 Canadian teams withdraws from Worlds, Luba/Dylan might go in their place. But we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I wish Dylan well in recovering from the unfortunate accident in December.
Stellato/Bartholomay weren’t perfect at Four Continents, but they skated well enough to earn new personal-best scores in both segments and place 5th overall.
Stellato/Bartholomay had a solid, if not totally clean, performance in the short program. Their opening level 3 triple twist was nicely completed. Next, they landed a solid set of SBS 3Ts. Unfortunately, Deanna put both hands down on the throw 3Lp. The rest of their elements were pretty good. Their closing pairs spin was a highlight, with great speed and positions, and earned some +2s. Deanna/Nate’s “Hallelujah” SP has a calm, flowing feel to it, and I thought they presented it well, with good expression and some nice detail in their skating. Their PCS scores were mostly in high-6s and low-7s. They earned 60.93 for 6th. It was their first time scoring over 60 points in the SP internationally—a nice step forward.
Stellato/Bartholomay were a bit on-and-off in their U2 free skate. They completed a clean level 2 triple twist to start (6.60 points), then followed with a successful set of SBS 3S. Again, they went for the throw quad Salchow. However, Deanna 2-footed and fell on the jump. The first jump in the SBS 3T/2T was good, but Nate singled the second jump. Deanna also 2-footed the throw 3Lp. Their best elements in this program were the lifts. Deanna has lovely air positions, and Nate maintains speed quite well through his turns. All 3 lifts scored well, with many +2s. Their spins were also good. Despite the technical errors, Deanna/Nate kept their performance level pretty high. In fact, it got stronger as the program went on. Deanna/Nate particularly shine in the final section of this program to “Where the Streets Have No Name.” As the tempo picks up, they respond effortlessly and start to really build energy through the final lift. They’re so good in this section that I’d love to see them try another inspiring, fast-tempo piece like this next year. It could be a nice way to set themselves apart in the international field. Stellato/Bartholomay scored 117.45 to pull up to 4th LP/5th overall.
Deanna/Nate accomplished a great deal in their second season together. They won a medal at Nationals and represented the U.S. well in their 3 international assignments. Also, their scores showed improvement over the season (always nice to see). Their jumps are a bit unpredictable right now, but their non-jump elements are actually stronger than that of many other first- or second-year pairs. Hopefully they’ll continue to progress over the off-season!
Alexandrovskaya/Windsor came to Four Continents off a busy season, which saw them competing on both the junior and senior level internationally. The Australians did well at their 2 senior Challenger Series events, and definitely had a shot at a medal in Taipei. However, nerves and inexperience took their toll, and the Aussies would up in 6th place.
Alexandrovskaya/Windsor started the event with a solid short program. Their level 4 triple twist had nice height and earned good GOE marks for 7.90 points. Their SBS 3Ts had great unison and good speed out. The throw 3F looked good as well. Alexandrovskaya/Windsor earned all level 4s in this program—excellent. However, they can still work on improving the quality of the non-jump elements. Their star lift didn’t have the best ice coverage, and there were some awkward transitions in their pairs spin. In terms of presentation, I felt their “Paint It Black” program didn’t really shine. Katia/Harley performed the choreography dutifully, but there wasn’t much connection to the music or each other. The program felt like a technical exercise as much as anything else. PCS marks were mostly in the mid-6s to low-7s. Alexandrovskaya/Windsor scored 66.45 for 2nd.
The Aussies still looked poised for a medal going into the free skate. Unfortunately, they hit some technical bumps in the long program. Their level 4 triple twist was great, earning almost all +2s for 8.10 points. However, Harley then doubled the SBS 3S. Their SBS 3T/2T/2T combo was good, if a bit lacking in runout, and scored well. The throw 3S was also solid, but Katia stepped out of the throw 3F. The mistakes to this point were unfortunate, but definitely survivable. However, then disaster struck on the Axel lasso lift. It appeared that Harley did not get his right arm firmly locked before Katia pushed her leg into position. The lift got off balance, came down early, and earned no points. With that error, any hope of a medal was lost.
Unfortunately, Katia/Harley couldn’t rely on strong PCS to keep them afloat, either. All season, I’ve felt that their Mask LP is a miss artistically. The character, theme, and music of The Mask demand a big, charismatic, and fun level of performance, similar to what Cain/LeDuc achieve with their Gatsby LP. Alexandrovskaya/Windsor just aren’t there yet in their artistic development. They needed much more sharpness and attack in their movement, as well as better interpretation of the different moods within the music cuts. Alexandrovskaya/Windsor scored 111.65 to fall to 6th LP/overall.
It wasn’t the best competition for the Australians. But they still have 2 more opportunities (Olympics and Worlds) to put their best out this season!
Like Alexandrovskaya/Windsor, Canadian team Ruest/Wolfe are in their second season together. They placed 7th.
Ruest/Wolfe had a disappointing performance of their “Oblivion” SP. They opened with a rather weak level 2 double twist (only 3.49 points). Camille then underrotated and 2-footed the SBS 3T, which scored less than 1 point. She also had an awkward stumble out of the throw 3Lp. The rest of the elements weren’t bad. Their tango program has a very elegant, sophisticated feel, and Camille/Andrew are such an aesthetically appealing team to watch, with their lovely, stretched lines and good posture. Unfortunately, they just seemed a bit off and tentative in this performance; there were some missed handholds and little balance checks here and there. They scored 54.70 for 9th.
Ruest/Wolfe’s Earth Song LP was also a bit of a struggle. Again, they performed only a double twist to start. Next, they had problems on the SBS 3T/2T combo—Camille was forward on the first jump and singled the second. The rest of the jump elements had issues as well. Camille stumbled out of the throw 3Lp and put a hand down on the throw 3S, and Andrew doubled the SBS 3S. It just wasn’t a great skate for the Canadians. They again looked a bit off, as if things weren’t flowing smoothly. Their lifts were completed, but looked laborious rather than exciting. All the technical errors also distracted a bit from the artistic effect of the program. I like the dreamy, delicate quality of the choreography in the first half. But the music in the second half becomes a bit bombastic, and doesn’t really highlight Camille/Andrew’s natural elegance quite as well as their tango SP. Ruest/Wolfe scored 105.03 to pull up to 7th LP/overall.
I hope Ruest/Wolfe can improve their technical consistency going into next season.
Japanese team Suzaki/Kihara skated respectably in Taipei to take 8th place.
Suzaki/Kihara’s “Yuri on Ice” SP was quite good, especially from a technical standpoint. The Japanese team landed SBS 3Lz to start the program. I love their ambition in going for these difficult jumps, but the next step is to improve the quality level. Miu/Ryuichi’s synchronization on the triple Lutz is nonexistent—even their takeoffs are done at different times—so they need to clean that up. Even though they landed the jumps, they lost -1.20 in GOE due to the lack of synchronization—earning barely more than they would for a successful SBS 3T. Suzaki/Kihara also had some negative GOE on their level 1 triple twist, which lacked height. Their throw 3S was fine, if a bit small. Miu/Ryuichi are clearly still developing as a pair, but they put up enough technical content here to post a new personal-best score of 56.95 for 7th.
In contrast to their short program, Suzaki/Kihara’s Romeo & Juliet LP was more successful artistically than technically. Miu/Ryuichi really struggled with the elements in this program. Miu underrotated and 2-footed the opening SBS 3Lz. Their triple twist had a low catch and got only basic level and negative GOE. Miu then 2-footed both throw jumps (3Lz, 3S). Their SBS 3T/2T/2T combo was good except for the last jump, which Miu singled (a shame, as the negative GOE hits the whole combo, not just the last jump). Not much went right for Suzaki/Kihara in this program. Kihara’s lift technique has improved since his partnership with Narumi Takahashi, but he still needs to touch up his footwork. He tends to hesitate after each position change in the lifts before starting his turns; ideally, the footwork should happen more seamlessly. Despite all the technical errors, Suzaki/Kihara still brought a decent performance level to the program and showed a nice, tender quality to their skating that was appropriate for Romeo & Juliet. Their PCS marks were respectable (low- to mid-6s), and they managed to score above 100 points (100.32), placing 8th LP/overall.
Suzaki/Kihara will now prepare for the Olympics, where they will skate in both the team and individual events.
New Canadian team Kolodziej/Deschamps are in their first year together. After quite decent showings at U.S. Classic and Skate Canada, they’ve unfortunately hit a slump in the second half of the season. They could only place 9th in Taipei.
Kolodziej/Deschamps’ “Satellite” SP was a bit lackluster. They completed their level 1 triple twist without error. However, both had problems on the SBS 3S (Sydney turnout, Maxime forward). Their throw 3Lp was mostly fine. Kolodziej/Deschamps got through the rest of the elements, but nothing really stood out or scored particularly well. The concept and choreography of this retro-rock SP is a bit basic, and the performance just lacked polish and excitement. PCS scores were in the 6s. Kolodziej/Deschamps scored 56.18 for 8th.
Unfortunately, the Canadians had a rough skate in the long program. Their level 2 triple twist had a messy catch; then Sydney fell on the SBS 3S. They rebounded with a good throw 3Lp, which had nice height and good flow out. But then they had big problems on the SBS 2A/2A sequence. Sydney underrotated and fell badly on the second 2A, almost hitting her head on the ice. They doubled the following throw 3S—no doubt wanting to play it safe, after the scary 2A fall. Maxime struggled to stabilize their Axel lasso lift, and Sydney almost fell out of the death spiral. I think all the mistakes must have drained their energy, because there was barely any performance at all in this program. Kolodziej/Deschamps just skated from one element to the next. They scored 97.39, falling to 9th LP/overall.
It was a tough competition for the Canadians. Hopefully they can put it behind them and regroup for next season.
This Japanese team competed on the Junior Grand Prix circuit this fall. At present, they lack the skating skills, presentation, and polish of the more mature, senior-level teams.
Miura/Ichihashi put out a fairly good performance of their Miss Saigon SP. Their twist was only a double, but had a great split from Riku, helping them achieve level 3. They also had nice speed and unison on the SBS 3T. However, Riku 2-footed the throw 3Lp, leading to negative GOE. Then Shoya lost his pivot on the death spiral, and the element received no points. Miura/Ichihashi showed decent speed and presentation in this program. However, they need more stretch, extension, and definition to their movement. Right now, everything they’re doing kind of blends together—they need to show off their elements more and create highlight moments. PCS marks were in the high-4s/low-5s. Miura/Ichihashi scored 44.25 for 10th.
Miura/Ichihashi’s Warsaw Concerto LP was, unfortunately, a bit of a mess. Their twist was only a double. Then Riku wiped out on the first jump of the SBS 3T/2T combo and omitted the second jump. The throw 3Lp was 2-footed , and the throw 3S landing was a bit wild. At least their SBS 2A was clean. But the biggest problem in this program was the lifts. All 3 lifts were extremely shaky; Ichihashi somehow kept them going, but I was afraid they might fall at any moment. With their elements so insecure, the team looked nervous and tight, and the performance level was flat. Miura/Ichihashi could only manage 81.94 points to place a distant 10th LP/overall (over 25 points behind the 9th-place team).
Although the level of competition at Four Continents wasn’t as high as Europeans, there were still some very nice performances from the teams in the upper half of the rankings. And of course, as a U.S. pairs fan, it was great to see all the U.S. pairs skate so well and achieve personal-best scores. Now, time to look ahead to the Olympics! We’re literally only days away now. Until then!