Rostelecom – The Pairs

Whoo! We are in the sixth week and the Grand Prix is definitely catching up with me. It’s crunch time on the Grand Prix and there is so much going on. I don’t know when I’ll get this done but I am going to because I have thoughts! We are in the heart of the first half of the season and things are really starting to come together. This past weekend, teams seemed ready to compete. Not to say that it all went well but I felt like the teams at Rostelecom wanted to compete and show what they can do. It was just a matter of putting it out there when it counted.

But I guess the important question is: who got Cup of Russia’d? And I think the answer is, surprisingly,  no one. I really thought it might go hard for Ziegler and Kiefer but they managed that final lift and all was well in the world for them. If anyone got Cup of Russia’d, they did it to themselves, so no foul here. I am a bit frustrated with the results but not because any team got stinted on the marks.

pairs rostelecom

Tarasova/Morozov

Note: I found this difficult to write because I was trying not to get mean. I’m not sure if I succeeded.

This is the reason I’m frustrated. Them. They were the clear favourite here, without any true close competition but they didn’t convince me. Instead, they left me feeling that their short program this season and their performance of it is just… complacent. It sort of explains a lot of the issues with this team when you look at it in this light. Why can’t produce better programs? Why can’t they clean up their throws? Why aren’t they using their faces more? Well, perhaps we really need to ask: how hard are they really trying to improve these things?

While I watched the short, it really looked to me as if they were just marking their choreography. Evgenia didn’t even leave the ice on  the “Ow” right at the beginning of “I Feel Good”. Their spins were not in unison, the program has basically the same layout as every other short for forever, right down to the dance lift coming across the ice towards the judges going into the throw, and they still need to sell this program just a whole lot more. Yes, I do feel like this program is a mismatch. Flutzes & Waxels suggested they go back to last year’s short – maybe they should. But are we really prepared to say they are just incapable of doing this kind of program, they simply can’t learn, grow, develop? I don’t buy that. It makes me wonder how hard are they really trying? In fact, how much have they ever tried to sell a program? How much have they ever had to? Good enough has been good enough for awhile now. That’s one side of my frustration. Even Vlad’s flashy red-on-one-side shirt can’t make me feel better.

Judge No. 7 giving you a +5 GOE for a throw that is majorly forward and that Evgenia really worked to hold onto, i.e., not effortless, is an example of the other side. Points for a great save? Or maybe the judge was just so happy that the throw didn’t have a two-foot landing? (Let’s just say thank you Judge No. 9 for keeping it real.) And I think I was even more frustrated in the free! I actually quite like the program – I like how it builds. But for the skate they had, with some pretty major jump errors, the marks they getting are ridiculous. She fell out of her salchow; she touched down with her hand on both the throws. I will give them interesting lifts but they don’t cover a huge amount of ice. Why do they continue to get high GOE (1+) for elements with clear errors? Why should this team get that reward? The thing that frustrates me the most in skating is when skaters do not get deserved or get undeserved GOE and PCs (cough… Alina) and this is totally a case of of the latter. Not cool. And it doesn’t help me like them. Actually, I think it’s creating a fairly major image problem for them.

This was my final thought watching the free. “These are not the World Champions we deserve.” Clearly, there is a concerted effort to make them World Champions. But think of the World Champions we have had in the past few years: Duhamel/Radford, Sui/Han, Savchenko/Massot. Think of how hard these teams all had to work to reach the top; think of the obstacles they had to overcome. Think of the power and beauty and difficulty and chemistry and emotion we have seen on the ice because of them and then ask yourself if Tarasova/Morozov can step into those shoes? Right now, they are not the World Champions we deserve.

Della Monica/Guarise

On the other hand, I was really pleased to see what this team was able to do at Rosetelcom. There was a clear improvement over their last competition. I’m guessing they didn’t want to get that look from their coach again and good for them, they didn’t. She was very happy. And now they are going to the Grand Prix Final! They seemed calm, prepared, confident, and for me, the better skates definitely improved the programs. The short was very good – no errors, no negative GOE. The spins were in unison and I really appreciate that they have picked positions that they both can hit very well. In the free, they skated very close to cleanly (the cleanest I’ve ever seen from them). The only negative GOE was on the side by side combination and every team (but one) had negative GOE on a jumping pass in the free. They seem like they are really hitting their stride and fulfilling their potential this season. Personally, I really appreciate his ice coverage in the lifts and I love their pairs spins sit position in the free. They did have a quite few levels threes though – they can still squeeze a bit more out of these programs.

My biggest critique is about her costumes. I’m just really not into her short program look. Do pair girls know you don’t have to wear a catsuit it you are skating to rock music? I still think they should revisit my suggestions here. I’ve also noticed over the seasons that Nicole seems to be really be into crisscrosses across her back. I think it would be a bit more in character to not have an open back and to have actually lacing going up it. Although I guess the crisscrosses match Matteo’s side-lacing? What is that? Someone needs to explain it to me. I also think they might be in danger of over-using her spread-eagle-out-of-a-landing move in the choreography – twice in both programs. She’s very good at it but I think they might try to mix it up a bit. Also… they might consider not placing both throws in the free in the far left hand corner from the judges. I know she tends to two-foot throws, so I’m guessing that’s why, but I don’t think it’s really helping to hide anything. As a judge, that would just make me suspicious.

It’s funny – they’ve tried a lot of styles but I still think classical music is the best look for this team. They’ve been doing a whole lot of other things for the past few seasons but I think they should re-visit it. Something about Nicole’s posture and carriage just demands it. Just a suggestion!

Pavliuchenko/Khodykin

The real battle was for third and Daria and Denis came out on top. The short was clean and they placed third with a very good score of 69.38. This is what really made the difference for them. Despite two falls in the short – a total fluke and a fall on a throw – and placing fourth in that segment, it kept them far ahead enough of the field to hold onto third place overall. But it was a fluky free skate all round and pretty much all of the other teams also had at least one or two errors, so it wasn’t a lot of damage. And they continue to prove their technical prowess. Of all the teams, they were the only one not to have an error on their side by side jumps, any of their jumps. All their jumping passes, short or free, received positive GOE. They also got a level four on both of their twists! Level four is hard to get and their are not many teams who receive level four consistently. (The only other team I can think of is Tarasova/Morozov.) You just can’t deny the talent.

The short was an improvement over Helsinki. They definitely looked more relaxed, Daria in particular. They were skating in time together and with the music. What a difference it makes to the program! I enjoyed it a lot more than I have before. Also, it helped that they didn’t have a  “what just happened?” moment in the step sequence – turns out they missed a whole choreographic lift last time! They only had one moment of a bit of a scratchy landing on the throw but she fought for that edge and kept it going. Actually, I have to give them credit for that throw flip after all the wonky looking we’ve seen so far this season. Theirs looks pretty stable. They kept their speed and attack throughout and they ended effectively with their spins in unison. If you have to end a pairs program with a spin, that’s they way to do it! It was a good performance and they achieved all level fours except the death spiral which was a three. What I want them to work on now is looking up. They are both looking down at the ice quite a bit. But really, it was well done.

The free was, I think, an improvement over Helsinki in most ways. The program flowed better (it feels odd using the word flow to describe this program) and we really got the finger wiggle moment we deserve. Just like in Helsinki, the first three elements sort of dropped my jaw. Well, that and Daria’s fall on a a cross-cut. Actually, what probably impressed me the most was that even though had to Denis skate back around so Daria could catch up after the fall, they still managed to go down the ice, do a level four triple twist and not fall behind in the music. Although, I think the fall did throw Daria off a little and it was a fight to get back their focus and keep the program together. Mostly they did pretty well but I think a lack of focus was the cause of the fall on the throw because it looked good in the air. I think her head just wasn’t totally there in the moment. Her face is a bit of a dead give away for how she’s feeling and she started to get that grimace on her face in place of a smile; you could tell she was battling nerves.

Still, the second throw (the loop) was lovely and they got mostly level fours, with threes on the first lift and death spiral, so they did pretty well for themselves. They didn’t let a fluke fall derail them. My real concern is that final lift. It stayed up this time but it still doesn’t look completely stable to me. He’s getting slow and it looks laboured. It’s the same lift they do in their short and it looks fine then. I just think it’s at the end of the program and fatigue is really setting in. It probably doesn’t help that the second and third lift are basically back to back without a breather in between. I wonder if they just did a little rearranging, spread them out a little bit, if that would make a difference. I do not want that platter to go crashing.

I haven’t really commented on their costumes this season so far because they’re young and then probably have no say whatsoever. But I have been wondering about the short:  why purple? What are they trying to show? The music is called “Winter”. Are they some kind of blizzard… at twilight? It’s not that they bad costumes, I just feel like I need to understand this choice better. I’ve decided I’m okay with the free. I’ve also sort of gotten over the shocking pink of Daria’s dress and decided that I like it. His vest is pretty cool too.

I have a lot of admiration for this team. They could have continued to skate in Junior but they decided to go for Senior and they’ve managed, quite well, to put themselves in the mix. With their two bronze medals on the Grand Prix, they even have a chance at the final. They are on the bubble and I think they will probably get bumped but they will probably be first alternates which is very respectable. I just hope they are able to continue to progress. They’re young and she’s gonna grow at some point, maybe not a lot, but there are going to have to be some adjustments. I just hope they can continue on the trajectory they are currently on. Certainly, they’ve placed themselves very well going into Russian Nationals. I have a strong feeling that Rostelecom was a bit of a test for the Russian pairs and being the second-placed Russian team here is a good thing for Daria and Denis.

Ziegler/Kiefer

This competition was another positive step for Miriam and Severin. I just have so many good things to say about their skating. They performed both of their programs very well and were awarded accordingly. It makes me very happy to see! It just continues to impress me how much they have improved. Talk about a team that has worked (ahem, Tarasova/Morozov, please pay attention). They improved their elements across the board and their performance and interpretation as well. I really enjoy their skating. They are so smooth and soft and easy across the ice.

The short program had them placed in fifth, behind Pavliuchenko/Khodykin in third (roughly 6 points back) and Efimova/Korovin in fourth (2 points back). Mostly this was due to their level one twist, a slight loss of unison in the spins and a funny kind of fall out of the death spiral; not an actual fall but a definite bobble. So nothing major, overall just not quite as clean or with quite as high of base value. Still it was a very nice performance. Everything had a feeling of quality – the jumps were in unison with lovely flow on the landing, the throw was controlled with a nice landing, the lift transitioned smoothly and I really like the intricate dismount they are using. And interestingly enough, all three teams had about the same PCs – 29.something. So in a way, that said to me that it could be anyone of the three teams’ day in the free.

Sure enough. In the free they skated very well indeed. The main thing, however, was that they changed the entrance to the final lift and it went up and the program ended on a strong note. Actually, what I should really talk about is the lifts. I’ve raved about their first lift already but they are all good. I feel like this is a transformation indeed. The twist is really looking consistent too. It’s just a level one but maybe they’ll be able to start going for additional features soon, since it seems to be going well. I just want them to skate all to Adele in the free program. I don’t know what this cover music nonsense is. The change from “Hello” to “Rolling in the Deep” in itself is enough to deal with. I shouldn’t also then have some other person singing instead. Can we change this please? I really don’t think Adele will object to you using her music.

Overall, I think that Ziegler/Kiefer feel like a really well rounded team. They have a lot of quality, good programs, good packaging! (Their look has really improved too. Look at that purple dress and hair down. She looks so good!) They were able to place third in the free! It was a strong competition for these two and that has to build confidence. And with two fourth places overall in the Grand Prix – not too shabby. It’s definitely a step forward for them.

Efimova/Korovin

Let me tell you, this competition was hard for me with both my Russian babies competing here against each other. I really wanted them both to do well! But I think I maybe was hoping even more for these two because I know they are the underdog team.  I know Alisa and Alexander really wanted to do well too just by their demeanor. They were really in business mode and I enjoy seeing it. (I would love see what it would take to make them celebrate, even mildly, in the Kiss and Cry.) Unfortunately, although they were fourth in the short and had a chance to capture third, they ended up slipping to fifth overall. Big picture – first season competing internationally, first season on the Grand Prix – that’s a good result. But I know it’s not what they were hoping for and not what they need in the cut-throat world of Russian pairs.

The short was very good. It was probably their strongest performance to date. They were hitting the music and delivering the choreography. They landed their jumps and the elements were good. They only error was a slight foot down on the throw landing (which is usually pristine, so maybe a bit of competition adrenaline?) I like how they are getting into this program. There are some really nice choreographic moments that work well, changing between smooth and sharp. I love that highlight moment at the beginning when he quickly lifts her up and she pauses on his shoulders. (This might be a good moment for an aside on camera work for skating competitions. Do not get caught up in zooming in on the face and so miss the moment when the girl is lifted up on the boy’s shoulders and cut off the girl’s head in the shot! You can zoom in on a face before the program but during, you should always be able to see the whole body, face and skate included. That is a rule. Also, I don’t care what is happening in the stands. I want to see what is happening on the ice at all times, even during the bows. There is important body language to observe at these times!) As you maybe can tell, the camera person really let down here a few times. But one thing that did come across to me is that they are fast! I was really feeling their speed in this short and I liked it.

I think maybe the possibility of and the determination to get on the podium drove them a little bit over the edge in the free. The problems came with the side by side jumps, where she fell on one and downgraded another. She is not the best competition jumper but from my vantage point, I feel it’s because she is trying too hard. I think she pushes herself too much and doesn’t let herself jump as she normally would. Maybe there are nerves too but I really feel like she is putting too much effort into the jumps and weird mistakes arise. I think her coaches need to work with her on keeping a consistent approach no matter the situation. Otherwise, the program, although not their best, was not bad. I would even venture to say pretty good. The twist got an “ooo” from the audience and the section of the throw loop through to the end of the first lift was quite impressive (as always). In the second half though, they missed some levels and they had to fight for some elements. Like Pavliuchenko/Khodykin, the last lift had a few iffy moments; but, they did well to keep it going. They need to continue to work on the lifts, keeping up the speed in the second half and making sure they get every little point possible.

I enjoyed Alisa’s new dress, which is a little more grownup, although for a moment, seeing it at first from the back, I thought she was wearing Vera’s dress from 2014. (It was white and black striped and beautiful.) I’m not sure why La Strada demands a red patch on the skirt but I guess I’m okay with it. Well, not really okay, but I’ll live with it because I could forgive her most things. Her body is just so expressive. She captures so many different kinds of movement and I feel like she is packing a lot of intense emotion beneath the surface. So much so, in fact, I hope she doesn’t take the mistakes here too much to heart. They improved their overall score from Skate America and they now have a second and a fifth on the Grand Prix, which totals 20 points, which is equal to veteran teams like Moore-Towers/Marinaro and Scimeca/Knierim. They have shown that they are competitive internationally.

Russia doesn’t have a lot of Senior teams at the moment, so there wasn’t many to choose from their three host spots, but I’m sure part of the thinking of having both Efimova/Korovin and Pavliuchenko/Khodykin skate here was to have them go head-to-head, probably to help determine who is going to be team number four in Russia. And that maybe doesn’t sound like the best prize ever but it does mean you are the alternate for Europeans and Worlds and it can provide some chances (ask Astakhova/Rogonov). Daria and Denis coming third here to Alisa and Alexander’s fifth (I love the alliteration) has maybe sealed the deal but in the broad scheme of things Korovin/Efimova really haven’t fallen too far behind. I predict they are going to be second alternates for the Grand Prix final, right behind Pavliuchenko/Khodykin, and I think we can safely bet on them continuing to improve their programs between now and Russian Nationals.

After fifth, it sort of gets difficult to talk about this competition. Suffice it to say pairs were not skating to their potential. I’m going to try to be brief(er) for these teams.

Cain/Leduc

They seem quite intensely prepared for this competition, so I’m pretty sure missing the throw entirely in the short wasn’t part of their plan. I don’t really know why it happened but it put a damper on their competition. They were behind and then there were real struggles with the jumps in the free. Ashley looked unhappy all weekend.

I think I prefer their free program to their short, and I think I enjoyed the lifts the most in the free. In the past that’s not something I would have expected to say, so I think that’s some progress, right?

In the free, I want to know, why leggings? I just don’t think they aesthetically suit the theme. I think a dress would suit “W/E” much better. It’s what Wallis would have worn.

Alexandrovskaya/Windsor

The competition started off pretty well for Katia and Harley. Their short program opened with a level four triple twist and solid triple toes and a nice death spiral. But something went wrong in the spin (level B?) and she used her cat instincts to land a wonky throw and then they ended with a level two step sequence. So, not great but not terrible either. It really looked like a step up from the last competition and overall a pretty performance. They looked pretty pleased at the end and steady improvement is always a good sign.

I did worry a bit what it would be like for them competing in Russia, since there seems to be some tension around her being Russian but now skating for Australia. I wondered if it would be a nerve-wracking situation. And then in the free I was so surprised to see her go down on the combination. She has been pretty reliable so far; it’s been him with the problems lately. ButI guess it totally threw her for a loop (not literally) because they just could not get it together after that. She took some hard falls and it wasn’t pretty. But it was nice to see how supportive the audience was and I’m sure that was heartening. Aside from the program being a disaster, I did feel like there were some positives. I feel like their expression and the choreography are improving, although it didn’t really get a chance to shine. I am quite concerned about the throw flip though. It seems so wonky in the air. I think they need to work through a few kinks. But, I hope they are too discouraged. I think there are happening in this partnership that will be worth it in the end.

Did anyone else know that Katya is still only 18 years old? Someone take care of this little baby in Montreal!

Stellato/Bartholomay

Deanna got sick and that explains the short. Then, they had to withdraw. It wasn’t a fun trip to Russia for them. But that really is a very nice lift they have there in the short and Nate landed his jump, so there is always a silver lining!

This season was such an opportunity for American pairs but it just doesn’t seem to working out well for anyone so far. Train hard for Nationals guys!

I’m so late with this that Internationaux de France is upon us as we speak! I’m still thinking James/Cipres, Boikova/Kozlovskii, and Ryom/Kim but we’ll see very shortly.

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