Best, Most & Worst of Pairs: 2017-18

So the new figure skating season has already started this week, with the first Junior Grand Prix … and I realized I still hadn’t finished my end-of-year wrap-up for last season!! Here it is finally. Because it’s so late, I’ve tried to keep this edition a bit shorter than usual. Hope you enjoy this look back at some of my favorite programs, performances, and costumes from last season!

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Savchenko/Massot with their Olympic gold medals  (AFP Photo/Dimitar Dilkoff)

PAIR of the YEAR  Aljona Savchenko/Bruno Massot   Never any question who would top this category! Despite legitimate competition from Sui/Han and other top teams, Savchenko/Massot ultimately dominated this season, with dramatic and spectacular wins at the Grand Prix Final, Worlds, and of course the Olympics. In my Olympic preview, I wrote that Aljona Savchenko had a date with destiny this season. All she needed to firmly etch her name on the list of all-time greats of the sport was a win at the Olympics. Aljona got that win. She is legend now. And Bruno met his own challenge and became Olympic champion.

 

PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics: Figure Skating, Pair Skating Free Skating
Savchenko/Massot with their coaches:  Alexander Koenig (far left) and Jean-Francois Ballester (far right)

COACHES of the YEAR  Alexander Koenig and Jean-Francois Ballester  My choice here was as inevitable as the first category. In 2014, coach Koenig and supporting coach Ballester were handed an enormous challenge: Take a brand-new pairs team and turn them into Olympic champions in less than 4 years. Their advantage: One of the skaters was a 5-time World champion. Their obstacles: Different nationalities, citizenship issues, injuries. One partner lacked experience at the highest level, while the other was in her early 30s. Yet they triumphed. They did it. They guided Savchenko/Massot carefully in developing their technique and ultimately took them to Olympic gold. Savchenko herself credited coach Alexander Koenig with much of the team’s success: “There were moments when … we had differences. Koenig would get us back every time. I think if it wasn’t for him, our pair would dissolve after a month.”

 

BEST SET of NEW PROGRAMS

Not that many senior pairs teams used 2 new programs during this Olympic year. The majority of pairs started with at least 1 program carried over from the previous season. And even among teams that started with 2 new programs, several wound up dumping one of them mid-season. So there actually weren’t that many candidates for this category! But here are my choices.

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Sui/Han:  Well-crafted programs invested with emotion & passion

GOLD  Sui/Han  I feel like Sui/Han’s programs this year were ultimately very successful. Working with choreographer Lori Nichol, Sui/Han chose quite “safe” music: “Hallelujah” for the short program and Turandot for the long program. It was a calculated risk. Clearly, the team wanted music that was well-accepted by the judges–yet they also had to bring something original to the pieces to keep them interesting. I feel like Sui/Han and Nichol managed that tightrope act well. In the short program, they brought a special passion that helped take “Hallelujah” to a new level. And their Turandot free skate was really well-edited and well-crafted. Great care was taken to carefully highlight each element to the music (down to inserting a separate piece of music just for their side-by-side spins). And Sui/Han elevated both programs with their commitment to the choreography and their interpretation. Although they weren’t the most unique choices, these were programs that I truly enjoyed watching all season.

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Kayne/O’Shea: Skating to music they loved  (Getty Images)

SILVER  Kayne/O’Shea   Like Sui/Han, Kayne/O’Shea chose traditional music: The well-known ballad “All I Ask of You” from Phantom of the Opera for their short program and Swan Lake for their long program. The SP choice was particularly surprising, as Kayne/O’Shea had used Phantom the previous season for their LP. But the couple said they simply loved these particular pieces of music and wanted to skate to them. I don’t know if it was because they were inspired by their music, or because of their choreographers’ skill, or both, but  Kayne/O’Shea wound up with two really lovely programs that perfectly highlighted their personalities and chemistry on the ice. Their POTO SP, choreographed by Massimo Scali, was romantic and heartfelt, with some lovely moments in the step sequence, a beautiful choreo lift toward the end, and a great sense of connection throughout. And in their Swan Lake LP, choreographers Shae-Lynn Bourne and Shae Zukiwsky did a tremendous job highlighting the inherent drama and excitement of this music. Kayne/O’Shea’s programs this season are an excellent argument for skaters going with their instinct and skating to music they want to skate to (regardless of any criticism).

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Ziegler/Kiefer:  Enjoyable programs that worked

 

BRONZE  Ziegler/Kiefer  Unlike Sui/Han and Kayne/O’Shea, Austrian team Ziegler/Kiefer went with modern music, skating to pop song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” for their SP and a Coldplay medley for their LP. What I really liked about Ziegler/Kiefer’s programs is that they were right for them. Their short program was genuinely charming and sweet, and the liveliness of the song worked well with their youth and athleticism. I looked forward to seeing it at every competition. And Ziegler/Kiefer seemed to enjoy skating it, too. Their Coldplay LP extended the modernist pop paradigm, but rendered it a bit more somber and mature by using instrumental versions of the songs.Their long program was inspiring and energetic in character, while showing some of their emerging maturity. I think sometimes as a choreographer, it’s not about creating an era-defining masterpiece, but simply finding something that works for your clients and shows them at their best. Choreographer Mark Pillay accomplished that with these programs for Ziegler/Kiefer, helping the Austrians to career-best results.

 

FAVORITE SHORT PROGRAMS

In the past, I called this section and the next one “Best Performances in Short Program” and “Best Performances in Long Program.” I didn’t feel I could do that this year, because unfortunately, many of the year’s best pairs programs are not available to watch as single videos.

The entire individual and team Olympic pairs events can be streamed at the Olympic Channel web site, but only a few Olympic programs have been released as individual videos. The situation with Worlds is frustrating …. Although a few select pairs videos from Worlds have been permitted to exist on YouTube (mainly, Savchenko/Massot’s two programs), the ISU and Fuji TV continue (even 5 months after the event) to delete all other Worlds pairs videos that are uploaded.

With so many of the year’s best programs missing from YouTube, I decided to just do a list of “favorite programs.” Here were my personal favorite short programs of the season:

 

 

  1. Savchenko/Massot at Worlds

This program brought a smile to my face every time I watched it. And it was better than ever at Worlds. Aljona and Bruno brought so much personality to it–great facial expressions and fun mime moves–and they skated it with great speed and vivacity. And of course, their elements were fantastic. Their lift, which covered almost the whole length of the ice; their twist, which was incredibly high as always; and their pairs spin, which was about as good as a pairs spin can be, were particular highlights.

 

  1. Tarasova/Morozov at Olympics (team event)

Tarasova/Morozov skated a lot of great short programs this season, but this was my favorite. It was their first Olympics, and you could see the tension on their faces as they started their short program in the team event. But they dominated those nerves and put out an excellent, fast, on-point performance of this program. The speed and technical firepower were just incredible in this routine. Surely there’s not another team in the world who goes into their side-by-side jumps with the total fearlessness that Tarasova/Morozov showed in this program. A bravura performance.

 

  1. Sui/Han at Cup of China

Sui/Han’s “Hallelujah” short program was already great in its first appearance at Cup of China. I was just captivated by the emotion and passion of this program. So special.

 

  1. James/Cipres at Europeans

James/Cipres were so on in this short program at Europeans. They had great flow, good speed, really good height on their jumps, and such engagement with their choreography. (And, did I mention they were super-hot?)

 

  1. Zabijako/Enbert at Europeans

Zabijako/Enbert were also really great in the short program at Euros. Their lyrical Summer of ‘42 program gave me the feeling of being swept up in a dream. Natalia’s skating was so light and delicate that, at moments, she almost looked like she was floating (as in their choreo lift). Yet there was also lots of speed and a difficult, well-done step sequence. Very, very nice.

 

  1. Stolbova/Klimov at Russian Nationals

It took me a while to warm up to Stolbova/Klimov’s “Besame Mucho” SP, but by Russian Nationals, they really had me. Although this wasn’t their cleanest SP of the season in terms of jumps, I felt it was their best artistically. Here, they really showed off all the detail and character in the choreography to best effect. Really, though, this program was all about the step sequence. The difficulty, speed, and edges they showed in this sequence–while still having great expression throughout– was fantastic.

 

  1. Yu/Zhang at Skate America

I really enjoyed Yu/Zhang’s Swan Lake SP at Skate America. This was just classic pairs skating:  Great technical elements, good and interesting choreography, strong skating skills. Maybe not the most emotional connection, but everything else was there. It was very satisfying to watch.

 

  1. Duhamel/Radford at Canadian Nationals

I loved the emotion of this performance from Duhamel/Radford. I think knowing it was their last Canadian Nationals made everything feel a bit more raw and real. You could see the depth of feeling on Eric’s face throughout the program. And there was such warmth in Meagan’s presence on the ice. Wonderful.

 

  1. Marchei/Hotarek at Europeans

Marchei/Hotarek had great energy and great connection with the audience in this program. Technically, it was an excellent skate–almost totally clean. And most of all, the program was just fun to watch, with a great crowd reaction at the end.

 

  1. Stellato-Dudek/Bartholomay at U.S. Nationals

Such an emotional performance. I loved how Deanna/Nate really put their heart into the program and had wonderful expression throughout (especially Deanna). They took the excitement of the crowd at U.S. Nationals and just built on it to produce a great and clean program. It was their best short program of the year.

11. Honorable Mention   Moore-Towers/Marinaro at Cup of China

I liked this “Sweet Dreams” program so much that I had to put on the list somewhere. Unfortunately, I couldn’t include Moore-Towers/Marinaro’s best performances of the program, which came later in the season at Olympics and Worlds. But here is their performance from Cup of China. What interested me about this program was how it starts with a mellow jazz-type vibe, but then transitions suddenly into an intense, high-drama orchestral-rock ending. I felt like choreographer Julie Marcotte and Moore-Towers/Marinaro handled this mood change beautifully, with the interpretation building in power along with the music. I liked the originality and intensity of this piece.

 

FAVORITE LONG PROGRAMS

And here’s my favorite long programs of the season!

 

  1. Savchenko/Massot at Worlds

This program was everything pairs skating should be: Beautiful, soulful, spine-chilling. Powerful and fast. Huge elements; exquisite artistry. This program will stand the test of time. It sits atop the ISU list of historic LP scores; a lofty 7 points above the next-best score ever recorded.

 

  1. Sui/Han at Grand Prix Final

This program was Sui/Han at their best. The performance was technically very impressive, with a quad twist and successful triple Salchows. And it also packed a big punch emotionally, with drama and passion for days. This was vintage Sui/Han.

 

https://www.olympicchannel.com/en/playback/duhamel-and-radford-can-bronze-medal-pairs-free-skating/

  1. Duhamel/Radford at Olympics (Pairs event)

Duhamel/Radford had one of the toughest jobs in Pyeongchang: Skating right after Savchenko/Massot’s magical, history-making Olympic long program. Other pairs in that position might have folded. But not the veterans from Canada. Instead of closing in on themselves, Meagan/Eric seemed to open up to all the energy and emotion in that arena and created a magical moment of their own.

 

  1. James/Cipres at Internationaux de France

To me, this performance is the best I’ve yet seen from James/Cipres. Skating at home in France to their “Say Something” LP, they seemed so prepared and ready for this moment. Everything was in place technically in the program. Their pacing was great, too. There was no rushing; every movement seemed to have meaning. And the program had great emotion throughout.

 

  1. Stolbova/Klimov at NHK Trophy

Stolbova/Klimov delivered a confident and strong (if not totally clean) performance of their Carmen LP at NHK Trophy. This program was a reminder of how very good this team could be. I’ll always wonder what might have been at Olympics and Worlds.  😦

 

  1. Yu/Zhang at Skate America

It felt like Yu/Zhang’s season never really came together. The same could be said for this Star Wars LP. However, they did have one great performance of it at Skate America. When they skated this program in Lake Placid, it was clean and majestic and spirited. They seemed into it– there was energy (and some fiery looks from Xiaoyu Yu). Their final two lifts in the program were the best they did all season, and the overall performance the most lively.

 

  1. Peng/Jin at Shanghai Trophy

It was an up-and-down season for Peng/Jin. But they had a lovely moment with this program at Shanghai Trophy, a little-seen competition last November. They skated very clean in Shanghai, with their only mistake being doubled side-by-side Salchows. The rest of their elements were pristine. And artistically, it was quite beautiful. The last third of the program, especially, showed such harmony with the music–there was a great feeling of speed, tenderness, and lightness. And I loved how their reverse lift was set so beautifully to a harp chord progression—perfect.

 

  1. Della Monica/Guarise at Finlandia Trophy

What a triumph this season was for the Italians: Top 10 at Olympics, top 5 at Worlds, their first Grand Prix medal. Yet, to me, the best performance of their long program came not at those events, but at Finlandia Trophy. Their Tree of Life LP just felt so organic and seamless in Finland. The intensity of their skating matched so well with the haunting, evocative music. And although they had a few small technical mistakes, they ended the program beautifully with two gorgeous lifts and great side-by-side spins. This program presaged the good things to come later in the season.

 

  1. Moore-Towers/Marinaro at Cup of China

Here was another early fall long program that really stood out. I loved the emotional quality that the Canadians brought to this routine, especially Kirsten. Her face was so animated, so involved with the music. It just drew me in. There was a gentle, poignant feel to the program, and many special little touches in the choreography. I loved the exit of the first lift, where Mike held Kirsten in his arms–very romantic and tender. And the moment where they took hands and skipped a few steps–ahhh. Technically, it was a strong skate as well.

 

  1. Kayne/O’Shea at Four Continents

Kayne/O’Shea delivered a passionate performance of their Swan Lake LP to take gold at Four Continents. Although they had a few minor errors in the program, it was great to watch and left a strong impression. I just loved all the details in this program, like how they come out of their side-by-side spins with arms raised, to dramatically conclude that section of the music. Great stuff.
BEST COMEBACK

Kayne/O’Shea also get my vote for comeback of the year. Tarah Kayne faced a long rehab process and a lot of doubts after having knee surgery in February 2017. Getting her confidence back wasn’t easy, and Kayne/O’Shea struggled in the first competition of their comeback (Golden Spin). However, the couple was able to turn things around at U.S. Nationals, where they skated two crowd-pleasing programs and won a surprise silver medal. Then, of course, came their victory at Four Continents.

 

MOST IMPROVED

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Best season yet for Marchei/Hotarek  (Getty Images)

Marchei/Hotarek were easily the most improved pair this year, in my opinion. In their fourth season together, the Italians showed greater consistency and quality in their technical elements than ever before, and more connection and confidence in their programs. And they peaked at just the right moment, delivering the best performances of their career at the Olympics. All three of their programs in Pyeongchang were quite clean, sparkling, and great fun to watch. Kudos to Valentina/Ondrej for coming so far in such a short time!

 

BEST SEASON for 1st- or 2nd-YEAR PAIR

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Great start for Hocke/Blommaert  (NPH/Hafner/Picture Alliance/Nordphoto)

New German pair Hocke/Blommaert achieved unexpected success last season. They qualified for the Olympics in their first year together. Not only that, they made the final 16 at both Olympics and Worlds. With solid skating skills and good jump technique, this team has great potential.
MOST EXCITING JUNIOR PAIR

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Kostiukovich/Ialin:  A quad twist in juniors

There were a lot of dynamic young pairs teams this season (mainly from Russia). Yet for me personally, one pair stood out: Polina Kostiukovich/Dmitri Ialin. This team is so new and so young, but I found them exciting and entertaining to watch. They already have a quad twist, and their side-by-side jumps were also ambitious. But it was their speed on the ice, their innovative jungle-music long program, and the outsize appeal of young Kostiukovich that really grabbed my attention. Tiny as she was last season, Polina looked utterly comfortable and fearless performing for judges and audiences. We’ll have to see how things go as she gets taller, but there’s something quite special about this young lady.

 

BEST MOMENTS for U.S. PAIRS

Alas, it was another challenging year for U.S. pairs. A lot of the American pairs had some nice highlights here and there. But in general, the teams struggled with consistency. And the season ended in frustration, as the USA again qualified only one pair for Worlds next year. Here were some of the better moments for U.S. pairs last season:

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U.S. wins 2 medals at Four Continents  (Getty Images)

GOLD  Kayne/O’Shea win gold at Four Continents  Although the field at Four Continents was a bit depleted due to the Olympic season, it was still a major accomplishment for Kayne/O’Shea to win gold here. They put out two good performances and beat some quality teams. It was the first international win for a U.S. pair since 2015.

SILVER  Knierims skate strong short program in Olympic team event   After an uneven season and a somewhat shaky performance at U.S. Nationals, it was crunch time for the Knierims in the Olympic team event short program. Particularly after teammate Nathan Chen unexpectedly faltered in his short program, the Knierims knew they had to deliver for the U.S. to have a real shot at a medal. And they did deliver, with their best performance of the entire season. I was so proud of them!

BRONZE  Cain/LeDuc win silver at Four Continents  Second-year pair Cain/LeDuc struggled to find timing and confidence on their elements last fall. Therefore, it was all the more satisfying to see them skate well at Four Continents and win silver!

 

BEST COSTUMES

When you’ve been watching skating as long as I have, costumes can start to run together a little in your mind. It’s a challenge to create new looks that are memorable or notable, while still being attractive and appropriate for competition. But there were definitely some interesting and beautiful costumes this season for the pairs.

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James/Cipres:  Best unitard ever?
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Costumes of the year!

GOLD  James/Cipres “Say Anything” LP   James/Cipres top my list for the second year in a row, with the striking silver gray costumes they wore for their “Say Anything” LP. I instantly loved this eye-catching catsuit for Vanessa. It was so sleek and modern, yet elegant at the same time. The choice of silver added a modern, current feel (and was a welcome break from the de rigueur black of most competition unitards). Vanessa pushed the envelope with a low V-neck cutout in front and a deep-plunging open back, but added an elegant counterweight of beautiful, luxurious white crystal beading. The overall effect: A costume that was beautiful, sexy, and athletic all at once. It was probably one of my favorite pairs costumes of this whole past quad. (And it’s already inspiring younger skaters, as seen on Vanessa’s Instagram a few days ago.) For his part, Morgan looked great in fitted charcoal gray pants and a silver-gray top with mesh inserts. I liked the slashes on the sides of his shirt, allowing for freedom of movement (and another nod to athletic wear).

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A costume fit for a queen  (Harry How/Getty Images)

SILVER   Savchenko/Massot FS   Designed by Lisa MacKinnon, there was a regal quality to these free-skate costumes that seemed especially suitable and appropriate for the Olympic year. First, the color choice. Purple is traditionally the the color of royalty. It felt like there was a subtle suggestion here, a subliminal reminder, that this wasn’t just any skater going for an Olympic medal, but Aljona Savchenko, queen of pairs skating. The unusually long, flowing skirt, high jeweled collar, elegantly ruched bodice, and long sleeves added touches of formality suitable to the occasion of the Olympics. This costume was impressive and at the same time very soft and lovely, echoing the lyrical, ethereal feel of their Earth from Above music. Bruno’s simple ensemble of dark-purple pants and translucent purple top worked well as a counterpoint.

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Knierims:  Most elegant look of the season

BRONZE   Knierims SP  These costumes, also designed by Lisa MacKinnon, were classy and beautifully detailed. I loved the fabric and color choice for Alexa’s dress. The subtle champagne shade was different and very flattering to blond Alexa. And the subtle, brocade-like pattern gave the dress an expensive, sumptuous look. The choice of navy beading and belt, meanwhile, added elegance and impact. (The dress wouldn’t have been as memorable with white or metallic beading.) Chris’s navy shirt, meanwhile, was a terrific complement. With a stand-up collar and dark gray buttons, it was one of the more elegant men’s costumes this season.

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A pop of color from James/Cipres

FOURTH  James/Cipres SP   Bold, bright color is something that’s been missing from pairs costumes the last few years, as we’ve seen a trend toward elegant, but subdued, looks. Leave it to Vanessa James to once again blast out of the box of standard skating fashion with this fantastic SP dress. I loved this outfit because it was just such a gorgeous color and looked so great on Vanessa. As per Vanessa’s usual aesthetic, this dress skirted the boundaries of risque, with wide sequined straps holding the dress together on the sides, and more open straps across the bodice. However, the overall sleek line through the front of the dress allowed Vanessa to carry it off with no problem. This was a great look on her and brightened up the costume landscape considerably. (Morgan’s costume, on the other hand, needed more than a single blue strap to coordinate with Vanessa’s dress).

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Classy and subtle look for Knierims  (Associated Press)

FIFTH  Knierims LP  Unlike their short-program costumes, which featured luxurious detailing, these costumes for the Knierims’ long program were striking in their simplicity. Here, designer Lisa MacKinnon relied not on decoration but on beautiful draping, elegant lines, and a refined color palette to give the Knierims the perfect look for their romantic, dreamy Ghost LP.

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Perfect for Turandot

SIXTH  Sui/Han LP   I thought these costumes, like Sui/Han’s choreography for their LP, were very well-crafted. The strong, simple cut of both outfits–straight skirt and striking V-neck for Sui, high neckline for Han–seemed appropriate for the powerful music. And the colorful gold flower/serpent embroidery on the side of Sui’s dress and back of Han’s shirt added a measure of opulence.

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Simple but effective costumes for Moore-Towers/Marinaro

SEVENTH  Moore-Towers/Marinaro LP  While Moore-Towers/Marinaro didn’t push any fashion boundaries with these costumes, they were just very flattering and appropriate for their bittersweet “Un Ange Passe” LP. I liked the simplicity of Mike’s look–just a well-cut white shirt and black pants. And Kirsten’s lavender gray dress, with silver striped beading, was lovely and classy. I especially liked the high neckline; it gave the dress a streamlined look.

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Fun La La Land costumes

EIGHTH   Astakhova/Rogonov LP  These costumes seemed just about perfect for Astakhova/Rogonov’s La La Land LP. Again, Kristina’s yellow dress was a welcome shot of color in a sometimes-dreary costume landscape. And the whimsical design of Alexei’s shirt, with yellow tie, dress-shirt styling, and light black-and-gold trim, was perfect.

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Nice look for Ziegler/Kiefer

NINTH  Ziegler/Kiefer LP  Those who have followed this column for a while may have noted my fondness for navy/dark blue costumes. I’m always really drawn to this color, so I quite liked Ziegler/Kiefer’s dark midnight costumes for their Coldplay LP. These costumes weren’t unusual in any way, but they just looked good. The easy cut of Miriam’s sleeveless dress was flattering; the blue silk striping on Severin’s shirt was a nice detail; and the widely spaced crystal sequins on their tops gave the costumes a starry, elegant look.

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Interesting Star Wars costumes

TENTH  Yu/Zhang LP   I was of two minds about these outfits. For me, the original Star Wars trilogy still defines the series, so a part of me really wanted Xiaoyu’s dress to be white, like most of Princess Leia’s costumes. When I think of a lady skating to Star Wars, I just think white. That said, I actually really liked the dark somber gray of Xiaoyu’s dress, the strip of fabric crossing the top of her costume, and her head wrap decoration. It was one of the more interesting pairs ladies’ costumes of the season. (Hao’s costume, meanwhile, had a somewhat constricted look. But let’s face it, we’re all looking at Xiaoyu anyway in this partnership. :-))

 

WORST of the SEASON

Usually I try to focus on the positive in my annual Best, Most & Worst column. However, there were some things happening in pairs skating last year that didn’t make me very happy. (I think that’s partly why I was so slow to write this column.) To be honest, it wasn’t my favorite season. Although there were some glorious moments at the Olympics and Worlds, there were also some low points. (And what do you know … our new +5/-5 system lets me hand out more Worst “awards.”)

-5 GOE  Tarasova/Morozov “Candyman” LP   There’s some revisionist thinking that “Candyman” wasn’t really that bad, and everyone has some bad programs, right?? Well … not buying into it. This program was one of the biggest missteps I’ve seen in skating in years. And yes, what made it all worse was that Tarasova/Morozov chose this as their Olympic program.

A skater’s Olympic program is not just any program. It’s the biggest event of a skater’s career, with literally millions of people watching. And, not to put TOO much weight on it … but for top teams, it’s basically their statement to posterity. Olympic programs tend to be remembered and rewatched far longer than any other programs. Especially Olympic long programs. Many people won’t recall all the programs that Gordeeva/Grinkov, Berezhnaya/Sikharulidze, or Volosozhar/Trankov skated to at Worlds. But they probably do remember “Moonlight Sonata,” “Meditation from Thais,” and Jesus Christ Superstar.

For top skaters, especially, your Olympic long program should represent the best of you. “Candyman” was more like the worst.

-4 GOE  “Candyman” PCS   It was bad enough that this program existed (particularly for a top team). What was even worse was the PCS it received. It was a program that Tarasova/Morozov never really skated lights-out, and never really seemed happy with themselves in competition. In all honesty, it probably never deserved much higher than 7s, except for skating skills. Yet it routinely got 9s (even high-9s).  

The ridiculous overscoring of this very flawed program, along with some seriously inflated PCS scoring in ladies last season, honestly rocked my faith a bit in the judging system.

 

-3 GOE  “Candyman” GOE   “Candyman” also exposed an apparent flaw in the technical judging of pairs skating. As the season progressed, Evgenia Tarasova frequently two-footed the throw jumps in this program. Her mistakes were sometimes hard to see in real time, yet visible in slow-motion replays (see above). However, Tarasova/Morozov continued to get +2s and +3s. Why weren’t they getting marked down?

After exploring the issue a bit, it seems that perhaps no one is really looking at throw jumps in slow-motion replay. ISU technical callers have slow-motion replay available, but seemingly don’t review throws unless a fall happens, because they’re not a leveled element. It seems it’s the ISU judges’ responsibility to note two-footed throws and mark them down. The problem?? ISU judges have video replay, but not slow-motion replay. And, as I said, it can be very hard to spot two-footed throws in real time.

This apparent flaw in the system could be magnified under +5/-5. If we see judges handing out +5s for throws that are actually two-footed … and people start winning due to those GOE scores … 😦

The answer seems clear: The judges need access to slow-motion replay, and they should review all throw jump landings. There’s only 1 or 2 throws per program. This seems doable.

-2 GOE   Not enough new programs   I know that there are a lot of reasons why skaters reuse old programs: Cost, time, lack of reward within IJS for new material. Recently, U.S. skater Tim Dolensky commented: “I feel that it is really difficult, especially now with the way IJS [scoring] is, to have two new programs, at least if you want to work on other things.” Last year, we saw more old programs than ever before; not just from the pairs, but from ladies and men as well. And sometimes, reusing an old program is absolutely the right decision (as it was for Savchenko/Massot, with their short program).

But as a spectator, as a fan? I don’t like this trend. I just don’t. Great programs are a lot of the reason I love skating. I love experiencing new programs, and seeing how they develop. When I’ve watched a program 10 times in competition–and maybe another 10 times on video–well, by then, there’s not so many new aspects or nuances any more.

I think I understand the reasons for the situation, but I just wish it was different. I wish there was more reward in IJS for creativity, risk-taking, and artistic development. And I wish all skaters had the means and time to get new choreography.

-1 GOE  Disappointing end for Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch  Lubov/Dylan were a special team in many ways. Their backstory, their artistic ability, and their chemistry won them many fans (myself included). After two successful seasons with top 10 finishes at Worlds, they seemed a near-lock for Pyeongchang. But not much went right for them last season. They unfortunately failed to make the Canadian Olympic team, and retired after Four Continents. Wish things could have ended differently! 😦

WRAP-UP

So, the Olympic year is over. It was an exciting, but draining, season as a fan/writer. Just imagine what it must have been like for the skaters and coaches! I loved seeing all the extra skating at the Olympics. But I’m not sorry to put the Olympic strain and pressure behind us.

Now, a new quad begins. This coming year will bring shorter long programs and a significantly revamped scoring system. What will it all mean for the pairs? I can make no predictions, but am interested to find out.

Onward, to the next Olympic cycle.

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2 thoughts on “Best, Most & Worst of Pairs: 2017-18

  1. Thank you so much for this thoughtful analysis. I may not agree with all points, but the the general gist: certainly. Especially about the worst GOE’s (I rather liked that take on the new system). some things were expected, and would have been odd if otherwise (I mean, Aljona and Bruno’s successes as well as their coaches’ success, obviously are the stories of the year, but I rather liked it that you put in some not so well-known performances. It was lovely reading, and the lateness is perhaps the charm: so nice to read back on a season I rather enjoyed (because of the Queen and King of Pairs mostly) with some wonderful highlights, but also some great let downs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Vanessa

    I loved watching Polina Kostiukovich And Dmitri Ialin too! Still don’t know a lot about skating, but I’m glad my “instinct” was right. I loved their short program and yes, even at her age, I could see the intensity and fire she has. During the post skate commentary, I loved that Ted (?) pointed out her smile on their lift in the short program, and how happy she looked. It was so cute, especially seeing how “serious and intense” she is during the rest of the performance. I work with kids so I recognized that type of smile and happiness right away. It’s just that pure joy that comes out when they know they’ve nailed something. Great recap-thanks for your knowledge!

    Like

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