Internationaux de France – The Pairs

France was the big finish to the Grand Prix series, the final stage, the decision maker. And it was a pretty exciting one! Going in, I thought first and second looked pretty locked up, with James/Cipres first and Boikova/Kozlovskii second, and otherwise it could be one of three rounding out the podium: Ryom/Kim, Hase/Seegert or Kayne/O’Shea for the bronze, all having all placed fifth at their previous assignments, all never having medalled on the Grand Prix before. I gave the edge to Ryom/Kim going in with the highest total score of the three pairs. And then there were a few dipsy-doodles and everything sort of jumbled about and in the end we came out with this.

pairs france

Except for Ruest/Wolfe, no team had the same ordinal from one program to the next. Sitting here looking at it all I can think is that probably no one would have predicted the top half. If you did, I want to know. And of course, this all has implications for the Grand Prix Final! But first let’s deal with the actual competition.

James/Cipres

The gold medalists did not start out in a really convincing fashion. Nothing seemed quite together; they were out in their timing and it felt like a bit of a tug of war between them. Vanessa had a weird jump moment (for her) and the throw had a very wonky, off-kilter landing that Vanessa was only just able to hold on. The marks seemed to surprise them a bit. They didn’t seem to realize that everything was just a little out (you could see their coaches explaining in the Kiss and Cry). I don’t think anyone expect to see them in third place after the short but it was fair. It was one of the less confident short programs we have seen from them in awhile but I guess it helped motivate them for the long.

The free skate was very good. I really think this program is their best free program. It’s got everything that I like to see. They are able to take their time with their elements and hold edges but there are also interesting transitions and the program builds to a really effective ending. (That final lift is a great way to end and I’m glad they’ve found a way to make it work.) And… they sort of own this free skate. Based on the convincing free skates we’ve seen from them so far this season, I would say the program is very comfortable and they don’t have any doubts about their ability to skate it. It’s just right in their groove. You don’t often get programs that are that perfect balance between a good fit and a good program at the same time. It’s very rewarding for the audience. That being said, she did shy away from the triple salchow, maybe thinking of the issue in the short program? At the time, I thought the double might just leave some room for another team but in the end it turned out to be a non-issue. That’s one of those things in skating – depending on the day, the competition, a small mistake could be a big deal or not.

So despite the rocky start, as predicted, James/Cipres ended up first and are going to the Grand Prix Final. There scores here weren’t quite as high as at Skate Canada but both there free programs have been in the 140s. I think there are good things yet to come but I don’t want to jinx it!

Kayne/O’Shea

Here is something else I didn’t expect. I thought maybe, possibly, on the outside, a bronze but their competitions so far didn’t leave me very confident in their ability to get a big score. In this case, I’m very glad to be proven wrong. Their short was better than at NHK with a small but decent increase in score. At least the death spiral at the beginning was much better, so I thought it was a good omen (level two instead of a B!) Although I miss their first program (I can’t even find it one youtube anymore), I think this one is working well for them. I just wish she would ditch the dragonflies (?) in her hair. I think it looks a little young for the mood their trying to create. I would like to see them work on getting a bigger throw too. It seemed quite small and I’m always going to see the cheat on it now that it’s been pointed out to me. But all round better levels, better performance, better score.

I thought at this point they were doing quite well but Tarah and Danny really came through in the free program. I maybe should have known better. This free program is (1) terrific and (2) their baby. Although they didn’t have a full season last season, it’s got to be pretty comfortable for them at this point and it is a great vehicle for them – they can perform up to it and perform they did. They really had a fantastic skate. And their coaching situation seems to be coming together. They are no longer going for the throw flip (right?) that never seemed to work out for them, they are now doing the triple salchow – euler – double salchow combination that was quite nice here, the twist has improved and they didn’t lose the levels they did at NHK. I just feel like there are some smart decisions going on. The lifts look great too. Although the throw loop was very nice, the lifts really were the stars of the program. They are all dramatic and interesting. My only real gripe is her arms in the pairs spin. They seem very mechanical (flap up, flap down, flap up, flap down). I think they could be improved. Interestingly, their base value was higher than Vanessa and Morgan’s in the free skate. They got decent GOE but maybe that’s where their focus should be – getting all those levels and increasing the GOE. It seems to be a good strategy this season.

Their second place here creates an interesting situation where they are now the highest ranked American team in the Grand Prix. In fact, they are second alternates for the final! They are one of a few teams that ended up with 20 points but their second place out ranked all (Boikova/Kozlovskii, Moore-Towers/Marinaro and Scimeca/Knierim) except Efimova/Korovin, who also placed second and fifth. For a minute I thought they were going to be alternate because of their high score here but then realized that their total score would still be lower because of NHK. Still, it’s a good result for them and it makes things a bit more interesting going into U.S. Nationals. They’re scores aren’t quite as high as Scimeca/Knierim’s best but I think they’ve topped Cain/Leduc, preformance and points-wise.

Boikova/Kozlovskii

I think this was maybe the short program of the season so far for me. It was stunning! They have such a wow factor. It was more enjoyable and memorable, I think, than all the other clean short programs we’ve had so far, and there haven’t been that many. I count 10 clean short programs with all positive GOE on the Grand Prix in total. But I can’t give Tarasova/Morozov or Zabaijako/Enbert best short program because their programs are silly and not wowing in a good way; I’m not really into Della Monica/Guarise’s or Moore-Towers/Marinaro’s shorts (they haven’t wowed me); I’ve seen Ryom/Kim’s too many times to be wowed; and Pavliuchenko/Khodykin’s short is okay but it doesn’t have the same wow effect – maybe it will get there? That leaves Peng/Jin and James/Cipres in the clean short program club and I do like their programs… but James/Cipres haven’t made me feel totally confident in their short and I haven’t felt wowed, not entirely. (The free is a different matter). Peng/Jin’s does have a bit of wow and I love it, so I guess maybe I’ll make it a tie for short program. Anyway, I’ll continue…

At the very least, it was definitely the short program of the night. I really sat up and noticed. I do like the music and that they interpret it well. The opening was great and they kept the energy going the whole time and all the elements were good. And it’s fun!! The spins had really good speed and I really enjoyed the step sequence. The only thing was a level one of the death spiral. Death spirals are hard this season! The throw though… I just… wow. Maybe Tarasova/Morozov could take a lesson on throw landings from them?

It was really good to see a much improved performance over Skate Canada. The fourth place there was too bad (with such a brilliant free) and it came down entirely to short. But here they came out confidently and just knocked off those elements one after the other. It made me even wonder if they could make a run on gold, knowing how they have performed their free program so far this season. (This is another case of owning a free program.) I was expecting to see another terrific free skate. I’m sure they were expecting to skate one. Sadly, all three of us were disappointed.

The mistakes in the free were all a bit uncharacteristic. I don’t know whether they weren’t totally focused because they were thinking that they had this in the bag, like I did, or perhaps being in the gold medal position spooked them a bit, but their jumps are usually pretty consistent and here they were a bit elusive. And the throw salchow was a bit unfortunate. She fought so hard to hold onto the throw loop salchow but it ended up looking like Bambi on ice and then she fell anyway. It ended up taking away from the program more than an outright fall would have done because it seemed to go on for so long. Even with the mistakes though they still had a pretty good score total score and it wasn’t a total disaster. The twist and throw salchow were eye-popping and the lifts were quite good, although I wouldn’t say they are their best element (yet). In the end, they were only about a point and a half out of second. It was so close! Two clean programs would really have announced them on the scene, but at least this time they held on to the podium! I guess a bit like Eunsoo Lim, they’ve done the short and the free, now they just need to put them together. (I hope they do it at Nationals!)

This makes things a little more interesting in Russia. I was expecting Aleksandra and Dmitrii to qualify for the final with a second place here. But now, Pavliuchenko/ Khodykin must be bouncing around; they haven’t been bumped and are in the finals. Efimova/Korovin also must have some spring in their step too over being first alternates. All three teams have done very well in their first Grand Prix season. Earlier, I really thought this team had the number three Russia spot all sown up but this result allows the possibility that things aren’t quite so fixed. I think all three teams have a chance for third. It’s going to depend on the day. Daria and Denis have the technical advantage, Aleksandra and Dmitrii have the personality and programs, and Alisa and Alexander are going to be all business. It’s hard to say at this point, with Nationals in late December, if going to the Final is a benefit or not. Maybe a break from competition before Nationals is a good thing? I really hope they are all physically and mentally prepared and skate lights out!

Ryom/Kim

Ryom and Kim are another team that really improved in their second assignment. They were looking much more like themselves, much more on form. They were second after the short, so I think speaks for how well the skated. The twist was good and everything cleanly, nicely done but this is another team that I wish had a bigger throw. I think that is something they could work on. They also had level threes in their spins, step sequence and death spiral. Not bad but that’s something they could work on too. I love seeing their little team in the Kiss and Cry. It makes me so happy. They seem like they really love their coach and vice versa. It really looked promising for a podium finish at this point, so the final results were a bit of a heart-breaker for this team.

There was nothing really the matter with the free. They skated well overall, just a few mistakes – she didn’t rotate her double axel and a poor landing on the throw loop (actually, fairly similar mistakes to Boikova/Kozlovskii, just no fall here). The downgraded jump was quite costly but it was really their PCs that made the difference. They were ever so slightly ahead of the Russians in TES but in both programs the judges had them about two points behind Boikova/Kozloskii in PCs. They need more speed and really, I think some new programs might help too. It would be nice for the judges to see them in a new light, I’m sure, get a fresh persepctive. They are skating their programs well, but also perhaps skating them to death. I’m sure it’s not easy for them to be able to get a choreographer and new programs, so I hate that that should hold them back but I think they should investigate pulling something together. A new short, at least, would be very helpful. Even new costumes would help.

But all that aside, Ryom/Kim had a very good competition. It was very sad to see how upset they were to not make the podium. It wasn’t just a bonus to them; they really wanted it. But the good news is that it was really close and it is within their reach. They are competitive and with a bit more polish they can maybe break into higher ranks. Polish… that’s not even the right word. They have polish. They just need to be clean and consistent and consistently present. I hope they don’t disappear from competition again!

Reust/Wolfe

I feel like Camille and Drew are making positives steps forward. They continue to impress me with their style and sophistication; they skate with soul. That feels like a weird description but I can’t think of a better way of putting it. They have beautiful skating that can really cast a spell for me. And so it makes me excited when they skate more consistently or seem to be getting control over those competition jitters because I’m really looking forward to the time the skate clean. It’s gonna be something. (I hope I don’t have to wait too long.)

The short was a definite improvement and I think they made a good impression. The twist got a lot more height than it has before, although the catch was a bit wild and ungainly. Other than that, though, the rest was very good. Their side by side jumps were so well synchronized and the lift! He covered the full length of the ice in the lift. It was very impressive. I think the biggest deal was that she made the throw. It wasn’t the prettiest but she landed it and I don’t know if she’s done that yet this season in competition (I apologize if she has). I think this is one of my favourite short programs. I really enjoy the whole vibe. I just really, really, really need Drew to get a new shirt.

Like the short, the free had its issues but there were a lot of good moments. During one of the lifts I said “I love him” out loud. He just does such a good job of presenting her and carrying himself on the ice. They have a wonderful pairs spin, too. Usually the pairs spin is the low point for me in a pairs free program, but theirs is fast and has an interesting (and exciting) exit. I give them extra credit, too, for having one of the best sets of programs this season. We just need to know what the mystery “illegal element” deduction was for! (Anyone? Anyone? I want to know.)

I know they are working on the twist and it’s probably the big focus because you don’t want to compete something that feels half-finished but I think the throws could really do with more attention. They need to be more consistent. I think that’s what they need more than anything right now. Please get these throws in competition ( I don’t know what’s happening at home – maybe she’s landing everything) under control.

Lu/Mitrofanov

It wasn’t a great competition for these guys but at the same time, it’s sort of hard for me to gauge exactly what would be great. Clean? Only a couple of mistakes? I’m not really sure if we are seeing them at their best or if they are under-performing in competition. I guess that’s it – I really don’t know. I think, though, the short has been their more successful program so far this season and this time I felt like they were finally matching the music! (It’s fast!) I was very happy about that, and they did improve their score. Of the two programs, I think the short is a much the better fit (although oddly, neither seems like a great choice for such a young team) and I quite like the music. I also like his sleeves. I like that she is making her purple outfit from last year work. (I don’t really get the nude cut out the on the sides – it feels like flesh for flesh’s sake – but the high neck and colour and crystals definitely fit. And I guess this is my sign – I will know for sure that Audrey is growing when her dress changes.) They had death spiral issues too – I think they just ran out of time – and the twist was a little dicey, but it was a pretty decent short all things considered. They just don’t have the same power or presentation as other teams.

The free, unfortunately, didn’t turn out very well. They started strongly, fast and sharp and in character. And really the program was going quite well up to about the half-way point, but I think fatigue became a factor. Things became a bit scrappy and ragged as the program went on. Her falling on the toe jumps just felt like her legs sort of gave way. But it wasn’t just about them on the ice during “Moulin Rogue.” They have the dubious distinction of the having something  – a sign! – fall on the ice during their program and then a man got on the ice to get it off. Climbed right over the boards. I did notice him at the time and thought there was going to be a imminent streaker situation, but then the camera moved away and we didn’t see anything else, so I thought I just must have been mistaken. I thought for sure that if there had been someone else on the ice, the program would have been stopped. Silly me! But re-watching, I don’t know how much Audrey and Misha even noticed. They never seemed to have him in their eye-line. And, I don’t think we can blame the lift not going up on the sign or the man on the ice; it was earlier in the program and it has happened before. However, I think we can say that signs falling on the ice are dangerous to skaters. I don’t think they realized it was there and Audrey came very close to it. Not good.

I guess when I think about American pairs and this team, I’m just not really sure what their place is. I don’t really know how they will come through in competition. They have the elements but they still feel like a Junior team. The fact that one of the lifts in the free has not happened on a few occasions now – that feels like a Junior team. (They really need to sort the issue out.) We’ve seen them more this season than some other U.S. pair teams (Pfund/Santillan, Deardorff/Settlage, Digerness/Neudecker and Calalang/Johnson) but I don’t know if they are really going to be able to out skate them. Maybe? Again, I’m not really sure.

I guess partly I’m not sure where this team will go – what is their true potential? I see some issues. She is young which means she is going to grow at some point and they will have to go through a period of adjustment; she has some technique that needs fixing in her twist and throws; he needs to improve his endurance and strength. But pairs is also about being a team and making things work, even if it’s not the perfect-on-paper partnership. What I really think they need is funding and support. (They are both repeating costumes here – skating is expensive.) They are going to need a top five at Nationals to get it. Can they do it? I guess the only way well find out is wait and see.

Hase/Seegert

I was expecting so much from them! They’ve had really great short programs so far this season and it isn’t a new program. I really thought they would have it under control. It was bad timing on their part for things to go wrong here. I thought the chunk of time they had between competitions would allow them time to improve, but now I wonder if the long wait between assignments (from the first to the last) maybe gave them too much time to try to maintain their form and also think about the possibilities. Whatever the case, with the bad catch on the twist and then with a fall on the jumps, they were not off to a good start and they never really recovered. The program just did not have the impact that it has had at other competitions. The throw, however, was GORGEOUS, and the the angel of the camera (at his back), although odd, really emphasized the height of it. She was way over his head.

The free program was more of the same. Nolan really did not look great in this competition. I started to wonder if he was injured or ill. He really looked tired and depleted during the program and they seemed slow. There were just too many mistakes for them to really build any kind of momentum. They were losing points off their base value which never the way you want to go. This free program has not come together yet this season. Here’s hoping for Europeans!

It does make me a little sad that Denny/Frazier withdrew (anyone know why?) and the field was down to seven, with no replacement. That’s the story of this Grand Prix. So many reduced fields and empty spots. I really feel that hosts need to do more to try to fill those empty slots, even at short notice. Other skaters deserve the opportunity! Maybe we could have skaters assigned like understudies, sort of on standby, instead of waiting for the host to issue an invitation. It could be previously determined who the alternates will be (say up to three skaters or so, like for he Grand Prix Final) and they can have the visas lined up and the skaters on call, ready to go at a moment’s notice. It would also help the problem of hosts hand-picking the field to favour their own skaters – they wouldn’t have a say – because, let’s be real, the competition is not even across competitions and that is not fair. Sometimes the field is stacked and sometimes it is thin. I’m a big fan of the motto: “You get what you get and you don’t get upset” and I think we should follow that more in skating – you get these skaters at your competition. Deal with it. Anyway, I’m really liking this understudy idea. Does someone want to float it with the ISU?

But before I’m done, let’s take a look at who’s in the Final:

Tarasova/Morozov, James/Cipres, Zabaijako/Enbert, all with two gold medals; Peng/Jin and Della Monica/Guarise each with two silvers (26 points) and Pavliuchenko/Khodykin with two bronze medals.

I get to see all these wonderful teams skate in the Grand Prix Final. I am very excited to see Peng/Jin and I get to see my Russian babies at the Grand Prix Final. (I am very interested to see how petite Daria actually is.) Oh my goodness… I’m going to see the axe fight live!! I’m going to watch every practice!

 

 

 

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