NHK Trophy – The Pairs

NHK saw a lot of teams finishing up their Grand Prix. All of the teams except two were skating in their second assignment, so for three of the four their was a possible berth to the final on the line. For others it was a chance to improve on their first showing and performances. Quite a few managed to be just that and it was interesting to see who skated up to potential and who didn’t; some under performed and some exceeded expectations.

nhk pairs

I think Zabaijako/Enbert and Peng/Jin both competed up to potential, although there is still room for both teams to improve a the season progresses. The Knierims did better than their previous competitions, although this was a case of finally coming through (mostly) rather than exceeding expectations. Moore-Towers/Marinaro and Kayne/O’Shea both under performed. I think nerves was the issue in the case of the former. I’m not sure what is the issue with the latter. Barquero/Maestu did very well for themselves, really improving while neither Lu/Mitrfanov nor Suzaki/Kihara made any big strides forward with a mix of good and less good.

That being said, there were a lot of high quality pair elements throughout the competition but jumps were really a major factor . Teams from third to fifth all had jumping issues and the top two teams managed to keep it together, which was good to see. Interestingly enough, the three bottom teams had some of the best jumping (at least in the short program)! Mostly, I think things played out as predicted except for that little swap between third and fourth place.

Zabaijako/Enbert

Their not my favourites, you all know that, but they really skated well this weekend. They seem quietly confident in their performances and they improved from just last weekend at Helsinki. Bam, bam, win a couple Grand Prixs and make the Final just like that and then have a month off before you need to show up for it – not a bad way of doing things. I think the clear out at Rink Mozer has been a boon to Natalia and Alexander anyway.

I feel so torn over this short program. I actually quite like the music and find it exciting. I wish I could like the program as well. It has, in its way, brought more out of them in terms of performance and emotion but it still help a tonne when it’s comical and doesn’t feel like a good fit. In the lift, when both her hands are free and she’s balanced above him, she does this fist clenching muscle arm gesture that just made me think of a wrestler ready to do a flying leap onto her opponent. Ah, never ending amusement. It’s great.

In contrast, I find my attitude to their free program quickly changing and not for the better. I’m actually starting to sort of dread the music and it’s monotonous, underlying, never ending beat. I think that’s the problem – the is no variation, it’s just dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, pounding away the whole time. And, the program itself is not very memorable. Afterwards I was trying to recall it and I couldn’t. Good elements – those I could recall – but the actual program, no. I really want more interesting choreography. Oh, I see the problem. They have too little in the free because they have too much in the short – not the best balance.

Actually, when I say they aren’t my favourites, I actually do like them and would like to like them more. (A) I was rooting for them last year – I enjoyed the ballet routine; (B) they don’t typically disappoint me on the scale of say Tarasova/Morozov with their inability to interpret music and two-footed throws; and (C) he’s beautiful. But, I just don’t know what is going on here. No choice ever seems to be entirely a good one. Ballet – good! Costume change – bad! Dark music – good! Axe fight – bad! You see what I mean. Why can’t they just make me happy?

I think they need to start driving their own boat and develop their own style because I feel like other people are still making the decisions for them and they seem happy to sit back and let other people call the directions. You are both adults! But maybe that is their style?? Laissez-faire? Oh, dear. I think Tarasova/Morozov also suffer from the same illness, so at least they aren’t alone.

Peng/Jin

This is a team that I feel is really starting to develop a sense of self and their own style- they have a bit of whimsy; a bit of fun; a bit of nonchalance almost. It’s very attractive and inviting anyway. And they have some beautiful moments too. They really stepped up their performance from their first Grand Prix too, I felt. Both programs really came across and were well received by the audience. In their short, their spins really wowed me. I thought the judges were a bit stingy with the GOE there. (Okay, they could be closer together. Fine then.) Still, it was a clean performance (well, a little stumble in the steps) and I feel like there is still a lot more room to grow, so onwards and upwards! I am looking forward to some big scores.

Okay, but before we continue can we just take a moment to talk about their throws. Of course the Chinese teams are known for their throws but wowzers, there are throws and then there are throws. Both of the the throws in the free were just ginormous and so well done. Her landing made it look like nothing. Peng is definitely Queen of the Throw for me right now.

After the short, I started to feel that maybe Peng and Jin could  catch Zabaijako/Enbert if they hit all their levels but it’s those jumps that make the difference. The toes in the short and free were very well done, so well synchronized, but until they have the triple salchow, it’s not going to happen. Still, it’s important to note that their PCs in both programs, but especially the free, were very close, really right in line with Zabaijako/Enbert. They are within striking distance! And I like that they are planning with GOE in mind at least when they do the double sal in the free and that they are squeezing every last mark out of what they can do. I do have a question though. Why are they only doing a level three group four lift in the free? Because that’s somewhere they could squeeze a few more marks if they wanted. Just saying.

In the free, they laid down a really solid skate and were quite comfortably second. (They were 17 points over third and closer to first, with a seven point difference there.) I think they have yet to really find their groove with this free program but it’s coming along. They are more in the spotlight this season and I think it’s really good for them. Certainly, things seem to be working a bit better. I really hope they are able to build their reputation back up a bit this season because it took a hit last season when they were firmly placed as China’s number three team. I want it to be harder for them to be dislodged when (or if) the other Chinese teams make it back to competition. And now they are going to get to go to Vancouver and I am going to get to see them!!! This is all I was really hoping for from this weekend: that Peng and Jin would make the final.

Okay and did anyone else notice Yang (jokingly – maybe? Maybe not?) pick up a rose off the ice and offer it to Cheng on one knee (although she didn’t seem to notice at all what he was doing)? I have been all over watching their body language without much of a hint at anything but that gave me a bit of hope! I had to go back and watch it over a few times. I like my Chinese team romances and since Sui/Han are holding out on us, although I have not given up on them (and clearly, it’s not going to happen with Yu/Zhang), here I am hoping Peng is going to fall for Jin. I think she’s going to be the one needing the convincing though. Keep it up with the roses!

Scimeca/Knierim

My impression at this competition is that the judges actually really want to give these guys the points. If only they would just jump!! I really enjoy this short program and I feel like I’m seeing Chris for the first time in a long time. I feel like he has more presence on the ice this season or maybe the programs just do a better job of highlighting him? Anyway, I’m appreciating him. They had a great twist, throw and lift in the short, with big GOE. They got level fours on their steps and death spiral too. Everything was going quite well (except for the jumps but hey, what else is new) until the spins. It was too bad because really, they were positioned for third up to that point. At the end of the short program, I thought they had a really good shot at the podium.

Sure enough! It wasn’t a clean performance but the US will be happy to see one of their pairs competing with Moore-Tower/Marinaro. I think the pair elements have really nice quality. I think the throws were really beautiful and I especially liked their pair spin. It seemed so fast! They received, again, big GOE on nearly every element, except the jumps. I think they command the judges respect in most other aspects, at least on the technical side. They were a bit gifted by a nervy free program from MT/M but in the end, the TES won the battle of the bronze for Alexa and Chris.

I noticed at this competition that Alexa is looking physically very strong which is great to see. However, I feel that mentally and emotionally she is just one big nerve, raw and exposed. There is a level of anxiety underlying her skating that is almost palpable. And this isn’t new. It was there all last season. The whole situation certainly isn’t helping her jumps. I really think that’s what is effecting her confidence. I feel like she is on constant alert, on the edge of panic. It’s uncomfortable to watch, so I can’t imagine how it feels to skate. I hope they things can wind the emotion down a notch or two for their sakes. Maybe not worry about placements, scores or ranking and just let the skating happen? And maybe let Chris take the reigns for a bit, Just for awhile, let him drive the ship. (I think he can handle it.) I feel like Alexa needs to take a bit of a back seat or she is going to snap.

Moore-Towers/Marinaro

Kirsten and Michael defnitely struck me a nervous at this competition. They had some jump and throw issues and they just seemed a bit tense, a bit edgy. Of course, they could have been thinking that if they could get on the podium for a second time they could possibly make the final and if that’s the case, it’s too bad because those thoughts did not help in the end. They were not in their best form. However, let’s just take time to appreciate their spins in the short! And I feel like Kirsten and Michael might be miracle workers because they are actually starting to sell this short program to me. I don’t know what is happening? What if I really like it by the end of the season?

The free program had a nervy beginning. Maybe they could feel the pressure to hold off Scimeca/Knierim because the program did not look settled at the start, although they eased more into the performance as it went on. They definitely fought through and good for them. It was just one mistake too many, literally. They were behind Scimeca/Knierim by 3.78 points in the free and had 2.95 over them coming in from the short. So… if they had done either one of the jumps cleanly or that throw loop, it would have made the difference. When you think of it that way, it is a bit of a heart breaker but MT/M did at least beat Alexa and Chris in PCs, so that’s some good news.

I know I’ve already mentioned how much I am appreciating their lifts this season but I have to say it again. I love the first lift in the free (the group three lift); it has good positions and a cool exit. They also took my advice (and possibly some people’s too) and changed their jump combination. It didn’t work here but I approve the change in principle. The one thing that I would really like to see is more pop on their twist. She rotates so fast but she doesn’t really go up, just over (it’s all almost done at one height), so the catch always appears a bit crashy. There is just no room to show a clear catch. I think they need an outside influence to improve it. Surely they could bring someone in to work with them on this? Nina Mozer seems to travel around doing pair camps. Maybe they should invite her to Montreal? (Oh my gosh, that would be so funny if it actually did happen, just from the improbability of it… if everyone didn’t kill each other first. I think Meagan would need to take that day off.)

Kayne/O’Shea

I have to say that I was disappointed with Kayne and O’Shea’s performance in Japan. I was really hoping for more. It was only marginally better than their first outing and their has been time to work on things. Maybe all the time was taken up making this new short program but if that is the case, I think it could have been spent better. I really liked the old program! I makes me sad that they changed it – the first one was so fun and unique. I haven’t heard of anyone who didn’t enjoy it. And I don’t think keeping it would have resulted in them doing worse. (And I just realized another pair, Ruest/Wolfe, is already using this music. I knew I recognized it! So yeah, I really wouldn’t have gone there.)

Still… I thought that Tarah and Danny overall made a fairly favourable impression in the short program, despite the problems that they had. This new program is quite nice on it’s own merit, although it isn’t anything really creative. With the comtemporary music and lyrical, romantic style, it’s very much like a lot of other programs. Still, it’s pretty at least and they did seem to be enjoying themselves too. They were very expressive. The one thing I really did like was their costumes. The colours are good and her dress is very nice – simple and lovely. But, she did have a hand down on the throw and he on the solo jump and they did not get the levels on the death spiral. Actually, the death spiral was more of a big problem; they only got a B. So that’s an area that needs focus. Their final two elements –  steps and lift – were both quite good and they ended well.

In my heart of hearts, I think Tarah and Danny are my favourite US pairs team at the moment. I think it’s mostly a personality thing for me: they seem down-to-earth, good-natured and seem to have a solid partnership. I also think they are generally well packaged, with good costumes, and they are good storytellers on the ice – for the audience, they are nice to watch. For all of that though, I know they still have things a lot of things they need to work on.  They need more speed and flow over the ice. The jumps and throws need to become more consistent (although it’s been a few years since we’ve seen that from them). She also needs better extension and carriage. I want her to point her foot. Often she seems clunky or even a bit rag doll. She needs to really work on carrying her body in the different elements; it would also give them more overall refinement. I hope they can work on these things in their new coaching situation because the judges don’t tend to respond very positively or generously to their performances.

One thing that is improving, however, and we saw it in the free program, is their twist! It definitely caught my attention and they got a level three! They had a number of jump/throw issues in the free but I will give them huge credit for their crazy entrance into the throw salchow and their exciting lifts! I still really like this program. They weren’t happy with the scores and yes, it wasn’t really well done. They need to really work and come out better next time – things are at stake. But on the positive side, at least we know they have the potential to score much higher. I think their is a ceiling for most of the US pair teams, these guys included, but I definitely enjoy watching Kayne/O’Shea more than the rest (at least most of the time), so I hope they can show some clean programs. France is coming up soon!

Barquero/Maestu

What difference a week makes! This team really skated very much better than in Helsinki and it was great to see. I really feel like they achieved at their level or even a bit higher, which has got to make you smile. (It certainly made them!) Their “Buona Sera Signorina” came across much better this time around. The skate was basically clean (with no fluke falls on jumps!) and it really helped the performance. It carried  across to the audience more confidently and effectively. Of the elements, only the throw received negative GOE. She had a bit of a forward landing but otherwise it was fine. Not bad at all, I would say. They really did look like they were having a good time out there which made it fun watch!

The free program was also much better than last week and overall well done. I think this was the best twist we have seen from them yet. The whole program was smoother and more cohesive and more effective. They were pretty far apart on the jump combination and he had a hand down on the solo jump but there was very little negative GOE and for a pretty new team, that is quite a feat! Really all of their elements are looking pretty confident. You can see that they are all there, now they just need to work on the quality. I would like their transitions from one position to another in the lifts to be more seamless for one.

But what I was really watching for in the free was that final position at the end because I wanted to know if that flourish last week was really a spontaneous addition (as I thought) or actually supposed to be there. The answer is: it was a flourish and I love you, Laura Barquero. I think we should all give her a round of applause for that. I should add that I really do quite like her beautiful catsuit in the free program. It looks so good and is quite a different take on leggings on ladies in pairs skating. Usually it means, “I’m a rebel doing a program to sexy, edgy music. Can’t you tell by my pants?” But not in this case. Here it says, “Leggings can be elegant too.”

Lu/Mitrofanov

So, I don’t really know where I am with this team. They were sort of selling their programs to me and sort of not. I quite like this short program and I like that they are using some good classical music. I think they have improved their performance of it too. But, it still feels a tiny bit too fast for them. I quite like Misha as a pair boy but I’m sort of lukewarm with Audrey. I still feel like her legs and feet are sloppy, although at least she can jump and in general get things done out there. She seems dependable. Maybe some ballet classes? Toe pointing exercises? In the free, I started to notice that she has a bit of a leg wrap on those throws and again, another B death spiral! Not good. (Although I think she hit the position’ it just wasn’t held quite long enough, which I am going to blame on the speed of the music. They had to wrap things up quickly to finish on time.) But I shouldn’t be too hard on the them. She is young and it was their first Senior Grand Prix. So, they did pretty well, all things told. They did miss some of their levels but I don’t think that really counts on your first time out. They didn’t fall on their faces or fall apart from nerves, that is the main thing.

I was more into their ill-advised, music-stealing free program this time around. I feel like their expression had improved a bit and they were skating more up to the music than before. I was impressed that they are going for the triple-triple combination and they had a very cool lift entrance, on their group five reverse lift, I think. It was too bad about the lift that came down. It could have been a 100+ program otherwise. Although, Flutzes and Waxels pointed out that this isn’t the first time this lift has failed . So… I think back to the drawing board on this one. They should be able to find another way to get a level four.

I expect that we will see better from them next time out again, which for them will mean France. Right now they are sitting as about the fifth ranked US team, although Digerness/Neudecker had a pretty good Grand Prix and there are other teams in the wings who could surprise us. A good performance at their next outing will really help solidify their footing.

I have an important question. How long is Audrey Lu’s hair? The bun on the back of her head is enormous but maybe she’s just using padding? I don’t know why I’m thinking about this but I want to know. I need to see it down.

Suzaki/Kihara

Well, it was a quick turn around for these two (along with Barquero/Maestu and Zabaijako/Enbert), doing Grand Prix assignments back to back but I feel like they improved… at least in the short program. And surprise, surprise (but maybe not a surprise) they didn’t go for the flips in the short which I think  was a good choice. The triple toes were nicely done and got them off to a good start. I notice that Ryuichi lost his jacket (not literally, well perhaps literally?) and skated without it. I think he looked good and it probably freed up his movement a bit. Another good call.  Still, they lost levels on a lot of elements – the spins, death spiral, step sequence, the lift too, although maybe they were only planning a level three lift? – and hopefully that is something they can address. They didn’t skate with obvious mistakes or major errors but I guess they aren’t hitting all the features.

What they really, really, really need to work on are the throws. What they are currently doing is not working. Maybe they should try the arm-hold technique you see some of the Montreal pairs (and others) do? She is just on a complete tilt in the air and doesn’t seem to have any chance of saving the landing for the most part. I really have faith that they will get there. I just have to be patient. They are making steps forward all the time.

Thinking about costumes… How do you feel about Miu’s choker? I think an accent is a good idea but that it might be bugging her and a bit in the way. Maybe they should go with a hair flower and ditch the neck rose, like they ditched his jacket? And I still think she needs to find her diva face because while she’s maybe going for aloof or serious in the short, she’s still coming across as either a bit scared or blank.

In the free, I think they opened with the best twist we have ever seen from them, so yay for that! They also changed the solo jumps in the free to their mis-matching lutzes but I feel that is a regression. The un-synchronized entries are never going to look good and they didn’t make them anyway. If they really have decided against the flips, then they need to make the lutzes match or choose something else. Again, I think the lifts look quite nice and I enjoyed the program… although maybe not quite as much as last week. I think this performance wasn’t quite as good. There were quite a few problems.

So that’s the end of the Grand Prix for Suzaki and Kihara. That was quick! I guess the next we will see them is at Four Continents and then Worlds. I hope so! And maybe that gives them enough time to sort out those throws.

Next up is Rostelecom! I wonder who is going to get screwed this year? That’s always they question: who is going to get Cup of Russia-ed this time? We’ve got three Russian teams, of course, so presumably not them – Tarasova/Morozov, Efimova/Korovin, Pavliuchenko/Khodykin. Tarasova/Morozov are of course the favourites and I expc they will win no matter how they skate but the other two… They’ve both medalled once already and I’m sure they are all going to fight to get on the podium again. A place in the Grand Prix Final will help them a lot when it comes to Russian Nationals. Then we have Della Monica/Guarise and Cain/Leduc who also have both medalled and both have a Russian connection which I’m sure they are hoping will help them politic their way through the competition. That leaves Alexandrovskaya/Windsor, who also have maybe the strongest Russian connection for a non-Russian team but who seem to be on the outs with the Russian federation, so I don’t think it’s going to help them. And then Ziegler/Kiefer, who I hope skate very well, but maybe are the strongest candidates for getting Cup of Russia-ed. I’m sorry guys. I hope I’m wrong!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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