Time to talk about what we’ve been seeing in the pairs this past weekend. Nebelhorn was certainly an interesting competition!
Efimova/Korovin – My babies! I’ll be honest, after Alisa and Alexander skated the free program I really wished for them to be on the podium and mentally I said that I didn’t care who had to fall to make it happen. I just didn’t realize I had wished quite so hard! This is a great start of them, and with a win perhaps they can garner some attention from among a very talented pairs field in Russia. They’ve got the twist and throws and they’ve got a nice presence and performance quality. Where they lack is the difficultly of their jumps, but as this competition showed, other teams have got to land the jumps for them to be an advantage. They came prepared, which I like to see, and they won. They didn’t win with a huge score but it still counts! Onward and upward, I say. The short program was a bit tough but they were really giving it everything, especially her, perhaps a bit too much. On the plus side, they really hit the side by side spins and the lift is terrific but she just seemed to lose her head a bit in the side by side jumps and then a stupid fluke fall in the step sequence. She was really beating herself up about it at the end of the program, you could tell. But, they came back and skated the best free in the competition. The lifts and energy throughout have really improved since the test skates. They still need work but I think they are on they’re way. And I forgive whoever made the program decisions for them. I love the short program and the free is really starting to work for them as their comfort increases and they perform more. I love when she comes out that throw salchow and just holds that edge. It’s a great moment.
But what really struck me is just that they just really mean business. They have the most solemn faces – there was hardly any smiling or congratulations at the end of the free. Even on the podium accepting their medals and in the interviews afterwards, they were pretty straight-faced. Maybe they are not naturally demonstrative people but I think it’s partly they know they’ve set themselves an ambitious task and they can’t relax or celebrate when they haven’t reached the goal yet. Their coach, Vasiliev, has said that they are aiming for top three this year in Russia (and of course the assignments that come with that) and they have a row to hoe. Also, they are perfectionists. Or at least she is. Even at the end of the free, which was probably the best I’ve seen them do, she was still kicking herself and shaking her head, probably over the throw. I think the body language is interesting here. There was a hug at the end of both programs (after the bad and the good) but there is no other touching. This is strictly a business partnership (ha, ha! you know what I mean). But this is the interesting bit, to me: in the same interview with their coach, he said that with their old coach (Pavlova – don’t act surprised) problems were always the girls fault and Alexander was adjusting to the new mindset, that problems, errors, are equally shared by the team, but that they both liked the new environment. Oh my gosh, no kidding! Who wouldn’t! Take some of the pressure off! So, I feel like they are working on working as a team, being supportive, helping each other. That’s why the hugs make me smile. It’s a good sign. I’m looking forward to the Grand Prix.
Scimeca/Knierim – What is going on with Chris’s neck? That is my question. Why is he wearing uncomfortable looking collars and turtle-necks now? Really, I think he looks uncomfortable. But that aside, I think they’re skating in general looks improved, with more smoothness and flow. They didn’t perform very well overall and those jumps are still a question mark but I think the change to Aljona will be good for them. I’m sure they’re aren’t thrilled by the results but I don’t think the results are going to alter their plans. I think they are following a plan where you don’t expect to win now but you hope to win later. However, it does make the US competition a little bit more interesting too. I think some other teams would be wise to consider vulnerabilities and strategic action. I am also very concerned, in general, that we are entering an era of shreds and tatters and odd colour combinations in the figure skating dresses. I think those are trends best avoided.
Stellato/Bartholomay – Maybe Deanna is a bit Russian because she is not one to celebrate either. She was clearly not happy with their performance. They do get some world ranking points though! That’s the good side. And I finally got to see the free. I don’t love it but it’s sort of fun in a way. I’m not sure why the shoulder vine on Deanna’s dress though. I think the sassy, shiny green is enough on it’s own, right?
Hase/Seegert – I told you they have the goods! They have some nice elements. The short program is a repeat from last season and it was very well done. The free is new and it looked new. It’s gonna need some more work. But I like “House of the Rising Sun” as a music choice. This German rivalry, that hasn’t even really commenced, just got a bit more intense. When do we see Hocke/Blommaert?
Lu/Mitrofanov – This team was looking a bit more Junior at this competition and in this field. I feel like their short program is quite good for them but the music needs to slow down just a little bit (or they need to speed up). It feels like it is getting away from them. I’m not sold on the Moulin Rouge and I really want her air positions to be… prettier? Tighter? Things started to look slow and laboured in the free, I thought. Still, it’s all just experience and exposure right now and they certainly aren’t crumbling in competition or not able to cope with Senior. But, I think it might take a couple years before they really look the part.
Ghilardi/Ambrosini – Are these guys planning on competing at every competition in Europe? That’s three in a row. I guess their coach prescribed competition experience? I do enjoy both of their programs. She has a real leg wrap going on in her jumps though, right? I just really noticed that this time around.
Walsh/Micahud – She looks so good! I loved her in the leggings in the short and I really liked the free program dress too, with the off the shoulder sleeves. You could tell that they were going to be skating to Romeo and Juliet, and in a good way. I was just saying not too long ago how I thought these guys were going to survive as Seniors but now I’m not so sure. Is she taller? He looks quite small and there were problems. The twist isn’t there yet and the throws weren’t looking good either, although the lifts don’t seem be an issue. Maybe things will come along but I’m starting to feel some doubt. I like them both and they both look so fit and ready to go but I don’t know if this partnership is the best answer for either of them. I foresee struggles… I sort of hate to say this but during the free I started thinking that Evelyn and Charlie would look pretty good together. My mind went there. Just putting that out there, in case this doesn’t last.
Petranovic/Souze-Kordeiru – This was a better outing and they looked much happier than last competition. And I got to see the short program this time around, so I am happy too. I am not sure about her jumps but they are sort of banging out most of the elements. I hope they take some time to really concentrate on polishing the final product – the synchronicity isn’t there or the lines. I think that is the best choice they can make. They have potential and there is a sort of exuberance there but if it is always coming across as powerful but raw and sloppy and sort of uncontrolled, they aren’t going to progress more. They dance lifts really weren’t working for me. Or maybe they just need to practice a more? That could be part of it too.
Chtchetinina/Auklov – It’s sophomore year for these guys and you know what that means – frustration. Two steps forward and one step back. But look who they have as a coach. I was excited to see Larinov and instead I got Bruno! I think it’s a great move! Ioulia is clearly the one in charge here (or maybe the one who speaks the language?) but I think they are really in serious earnest and I am excited to see how they improve.
Aside: I have a question: how many pairs, do you think, are nailing their side by side spins in practice? I don’t think it can be many. It’s so infrequent to see in competition that I think pairs must be working on a hope and pray system. What is happening, we aren’t getting very good result. They need to figure out new training methods or rethink the positions they choose or something! (This is the music student in me but I would be using a metronome.) I really want to see well synchronized side-by-side spins, much, much more than I want to see people grabbing blades or in flexible positions. Side by side spins could be such a highlight but they end up being more of an eye sore.
I didn’t really intend to write about Junior pairs too, but it’s just so darn interesting to me, I’ve added them to the mix this week too, since this was the last Junior pair competition on the Grand Prix. The places are set and the final has been decided.
Akhanteva/Kolesov – Things just got interesting! I did not predict that they would win here but they pulled it out with clean skates. It makes the Russian pecking order going into the Grand Prix Final a bit interesting. Now there is only one team going in with two wins: Mishina/Galimov. I thought there might be a tie but not now. I’m not really tied to this team because I don’t feel confident that Kseniia will be able to hold on to her jumps past this season. Or maybe I should rephrase: I feel confident she’s gonna grow and develop and he’s not biggest guy, so I don’t know how long this is going to last. But, they are in the mix for a big season now! Considering the Grand Prix Final, they have proven to be consistent so far this season but they don’t generate a lot of excitement. They qualified in third, and I don’t think they will surpass the top two teams, but I do think that in the competition for third they have the edge and will stay ahead of Panfilova/Rylov, and that’s still on the podium!
Kostiukovich/Ialin – This competition was really theirs to win. They really dominated in the short program, I thought. I really like how their program has improved. I am quite into it now and she especially really seems to enjoy it. In the free though, the jump mistake made the difference. I still don’t understand why they stuck with the free program after last season though. It doesn’t look greatly improved or polished. It’s not Jungle Animals 2.0. It still looks like they are just going through the arm motions to me! I think they could have tried something new and different or at least worked on improving their performance aspect. Ted compared them to Gordeeva and Grinkov and I can see it but I want them to work on their connection on the ice. They are sort of just skating side by side. Of course, they are young but I think they are at the level that they can and should work on it. They seem to have a good, supportive relationship, good chemistry – I want them to show more of that on the ice. Still, they are going into the final in second place but I think a head-to-head with Mishina/Galimov is going to be excited.
Feng/Nyman – I was really excited for theses guys! They were so promising in the short at Richmond and then fell apart in the long, but here they kept it together. And they threw a spanner in the plan for Russian domination! Well, it wasn’t really a plan because they couldn’t expect the two teams with only one assignment to qualify, and everyone with two did, so… I guess the plan did work, but I’m really glad this team made the final. I think they can definitely be competitive with the Russian teams. I think they look like a team that have staying power too (I just realized that they are 18 and 19, so I guess so) and they both perform, which I always appreciate.
Poulianova/Sopot – Man, things are just not working out here. I’m sure they weren’t planning on ending up fourth at this competition and it’s not like the skated badly. They are not getting the breakthrough they are looking for and I don’t think they will. Anastasia and Dmitry are both good skaters but there is no spark. I think they were trying to go for a more mature look this season to set them apart, but without the spark, I’m not that interested. It all seems a bit dull (aside from her throw landings). Maybe if they just worked on their facial expression… They both seem serious and almost pained. I would love to see them try an upbeat, happy program and see what that did for their demeanour. Maybe it would still be the same? It would be a good test though. I don’t really know what to suggest. Maybe a different coaching situation, new perspective would help? I’m not really sure what the answer is but currently, I don’t think things are working well enough and time is running out. They will have to turn Senior next season. Look at me. I’m all doom and gloom and these guys made the Grand Prix Final. What do I know.
Other teams… the French team of Hamon/Strekalin continue to make a good showing – they could be interesting Seniors (if they make it); Baby Canadians MacIntosh/Toste continue to charm me; and I loved the debut and short program from North Korean pair Mi Ro/Han! Lockley/Procknow didn’t impress me as much this time around but Finster/Nagy did. I’m intrigued! Why didn’t they have two assignments? Sofiia Nesterova is clearly a star pair girl in the making and I think her partner has accepted this. (Poor guy, I didn’t even name him! Artem Darenskyi) And finally…
Tang/Yang – I have to talk about my little Chinese team too. They placed 7th. I really think they have the makings of a great partnership. They are new and learning and you can see them working things out. They seem like a tight-knit team and he has so much personality. He’s really performing out on the ice and I loved watching him in the Kiss and Cry – he seems like the most most good-natured guy. They seem pleased with their progress and I can’t wait to see more! I think they have the makings of a team to watch in the future but honestly, I’m enjoying them now.