Russian Nationals – The Pairs

HOLY COW! Russian Nationals had a superb pairs competition. Everyone really came through with excellent performances and it was really interesting to see how some of these Russian teams fared against one another, although the results came out pretty much as I expected. Even for teams that did not place that well, or perhaps as well as they hoped, the skating was still good. Can we talk about the fact that all twelve teams  achieved a level 3 or 4 on their twist in the short program, including Juniors? (In both programs, four teams got a level 4 on the twist. It wasn’t necessarily the same teams in both programs either. Can you guess which ones?) They would have demolished the competition at most other national pairs competitions. The level of skating all around was terrific.

pairs russia sr

And this is one discipline at Russian Nationals where it is much more difficult for the Juniors to edge out the Seniors. Everyone can do a great short program but the free program is a whole other story. The longer program really tests the endurance, especially with the added third lift. No one is so winded by a pairs free program as a Junior boy skating in a Senior competition… unless you’re Vladimir Morozov or Alexander Korovin.

1. Tarasova/Morozov

Evgenia and Vlad were the leaders throughout the competition, as one might expect. Although, I felt like the judges gifted them a tiny bit in the short program, since they had a few bobbles – on the spins, on the the throw – that other pairs did not. But they were minor mistakes and they skated pretty confidently. But it is so weird for the first place to have about the worst short program in the field. The axe fight is close but Z/E really give it their all, so I think they are still ahead (i.e., not the worst). How crazy is that, that I would rather watch Junior pair short programs??Anyhoo, they were first after the short but only by about 1.5 points. Their free program, however, was probably their best performance of the season (short or free) and they opened that margin a little more. Maybe it’s the best we’ve ever seen from them, considering program, performance and skating all together? However, it wasn’t a runaway victory. Their final score had them in the lead by 6 points.

I do think it’s in Russia’s interests to keep the competition close in the pairs. T/M felt like they were perhaps hitting their stride here but the GPF is too recent to call them anything like consistent. Russia wants some good viable options in the case that they do not come through which is still entirely possible, I would say. And I know Russians have their own way of doing things but can someone please make this teams do some run throughs? Vlad still looks like he could really do with a bit more stamina.

I know, I know, I’m being really a downer here about the first place team. They skated well, they did their job, I  think they are improving. There, is that better?

2. Zabaijako/Enbert

It’s interesting to see that Natalia and Alexander have actually made up some ground on T/M this season. They are still close competitors for the podium, as they were last season, but I think they have pushed themselves forward and closed the gap, certainly if their marks here compared to T/M are any indication (only a 6 point difference!) Maybe cutting her hair and going dark worked it’s magic? I agree with Flutzes and Waxles though – I still want to see them do ballet. It’s what I will always want from them.

But what else can they do to be more competitive? I think their combination jump in particular (triple toe – double toe – double loop) is top notch. I think their throws are going quite well and their twist is usually a level three, sometimes a four. I still think the area they need to focus on is the lifts. To my eye, Natalia can look awkward and hesitant, like she’s not really trusting or comfortable up there. It’s not often the girl who I feel needs the most improvement in the lifts, but this is an exception.

Also, what is up with their coaching situation? They were the one team that didn’t leave the Mozer group or school, or whatever we call it, at the end of last season but she’s not standing by the boards for them! It’s quite odd that she shows up for T/M, even though they are nominally under Trankov and Mozer is nominally retired. Although she’s still listed as one of the coaches on Z/E’s ISU bio… Does anyone know what’s going on?

3. Boikova/Kozlovskii

Well, the did it! They put two clean programs together, back to back, at the same competition. I thought if they skated well they were the clear favourite for the third spot but they would have to go clean. That was probably on their mind too and maybe part of the reason for Dmitrii’s very intense reaction when they finished the free program (he looked a little scary but it was short lived). It was definitely a victory for them to keep their focus and control throughout the competition, even without the results. And, it was pretty exhilarating to watch.

I think the great thing about both their programs is that they have an effervescence and sparkle to them. They automatically elevate the skater and lift up the audience. But of course, they bring a really nice performance quality to them as well. And certainly they are the best packaged pair out of the top teams, the Senior teams. Let’s see… T/M and “I Feel Good”; Z/E and the axe fight; P/K and the bonkers “Great Gatsby”…. Yes, they definitely have the all round better set of programs, costumes, etc. Probably their closet rival, in my eyes, is E/K, another Moskvina team, but “La Strada” just leaves a little bit to be desired. Although, I can’t really see this team doing a heavy-hitting hip hop routine….

Technically speaking, with this team it’s the throws that really stand out. I would give Aleksandra, with Mishina as a close runner up, and maybe Poulinova, the award for best throw landings. I was quite impressed with their unison on the jumps too, which can be tricky. If I were to suggest any improvement, I would say they haven’t quite got the costumes for the free program right yet. I think they are both very nice but they don’t quite match or compliment one another which I think is necessary in a pas de deux. I think she should try again. They obviously added some red to perhaps make the detail on her dress stand out a bit more but I think they can do better – something white and gold, with bead work and a design that matches his outfit. Maybe with a bit of a Russian flavour? I feel like we are getting that from him a bit and it would be good for her to match.

4. Pavliuchenko/Khodykin

I think Daria and Denis did quite a good job. They lost a bit of ground to M/G in the short program but by a pretty narrow margin and they more than made up for it in the free, moving up into fourth overall. I was very happy to see that they got that alternate spot, so that maybe their season will continue. (Spoiler: it will!) I was also very happy to see Daria wearing braids. I thought it and it happened.

They were a bit out of unison in their spins in the short, which was fairly usual for them (a sign of nerves?), but actually, one thing that really impressed me in the short program was their unison, in their movement, in the step sequence, just overall.

The one thing they do struggle a bit to synchronize is their jumps and with the size difference, and her speed of rotation, I don’t know what exactly they can do at this point. Even when they take off at the same time, they can’t quite land together. How does one go about fixing that? But other things are improving. Again, I think the whole three lifts in a program thing is getting better. I just wish they would change that second lift (the group 5 axel lift). It’s not the best looking.

In terms of ranking in Russia, I think it was always going to be hard for them to beat B/K here, with the programs that both teams have and if both teams skated well, and at the end of the day there was a 10 point gap. I think it’s going to really take a serious amount of work on their skating skills, presentation, performance, all the things outside of the technical elements to make up the gap, but I think Daria and Denis are up to the challenge. To me, their short program says they can do it. They just really need to step away from the style they have had in the free skate the past few seasons. But I do sort of love that they are pushing the envelope in terms of technical content, with the triple flips and forward outside death spiral, for example. I sort of wonder if they could do a quad twist?

5. Mishina/Galliamov

Okay, in one way I was very excited about Anastasia and Alexander’s results and in another way I was a little sad. I am very excited for them but a little sad for E/K to be edged out by a Junior team. But M/G really skated well and have the technical edge. They even placed ahead of P/K in the short. It bodes very well for this team in the future, if they can remain on course. At least, they are very well poised to make their Senior debut next season. (And who knows, maybe even this season? They were named second alternate for Euros, so clearly the Russian Federation sees no need to hold them back.)

I just want to gush about their short program a little bit. They were in fourth after the short. They skated very well.  I think it’s the most animated I have seen either of them. They were really going for it. Their arm movements in time to the music at 0:24-25 are my favourite moment of the whole program. They were flying across the ice. That and their side by side jumps, and maybe the death spiral (level 4). They do lose speed in their lift and going in and out of some elements, so that is something to work on. Also, I want Anastasia to lift her eyes up more, but it general, I just love this program. (Again, awesome music choice!)

With the exception of the jump mistake in the free (another sign of nerves?), they could have been fourth, but I think they made their point. (Another level 4 twist!) She was pretty upset, so you know she means business. But Alexander seemed quite supportive, so again, like at the GPF, I feel there are signs that this partnership is really developing and can go the distance. I think they are clearly the favourites going into Junior Russian Nationals (and Junior Worlds) since they were able to place ahead of the all their Junior compatriots here by a good 14 points. The only ones they have to watch out for are K/I who will certainly want to make up for a weaker performance here. However, I think M/G are really just building in confidence. They’ve had a really good December and they know they haven’t peaked in competition yet either.

Important question: is it one l or two? (Galiamov? Galliamov?) I see both and I don’t know which is right!

6. Efimova/Korovin

I was really hoping for Alisa and Alexander to place fifth but all things considered, they  skated very well. You could tell she was very happy with both their skates from her reaction at the end (all Korovin could do was try to catch his breath). They aren’t very demonstrative from that you knew she was giving it everything she has. I feel like she is all heart when she skates. I was particularly impressed with how she continued to skate in the short even though the fastening of her costume came undone. Maybe she didn’t even realize? As far as costumes go she was fairly safe but she did have to skate the whole step sequence, death spiral and spins with it undone and it didn’tt seem to phase her for a second.

It’s the jumps holding them back the most but she did pretty well here, even saving that combination in the free. Her step out of the landing of the first jump became the euler into the second. Brilliant! I think the lifts could still be improved on and her air position in the throws. But their twist is always impressive and I really like their range of expression. I was trying to remember how many Senior Nationals they have skated at (she was 15 going on 16 and he 21 when they paired up so the answer is four) and looking back at their programs, I was was pleasantly surprised. They’ve done a really nice waltz, Latin music and some Russian folk, as well as some more cinematic, story telling pieces, and now they’ve got hip hop under their belt too. I’m just saying it’s pretty varied and it’s all been good. Whoever their choreographer is they should keep him (Alexander Stepin apparently). Beating drums aside, they have some nice choreographic touches in their programs and really good use of the music.

The trip down memory lane also reminded me that she’s always had jump issues. Her salchow has always been a little wonky and it’s never been plain sailing. So, I hope they get to compete a bit more this season, since they deserve to, but then I hope they really get some time to focus on jump technique so they can be more competitive. Even if they stick with the jump content they have currently (although upgrading from the double axels in the free would make them more competitive), if they are able to get higher GOE it would make a big difference.

It’s really got to be a priority because when you look at the roster, next year Russian Seniors is going to be a bit jam packed. We are going from 6 Senior teams this season, to a possible 13 next season (what with new Senior teams forming and Juniors moving up). I think with improved jumps, their GOE overall may improve as well. They seem to be solidly in the 1-3 range but if they were perceived as a more competitive team, I think that may change. Or they could just work on their overall quality… but jumps too. (Could they go for a quad twist too? They’ve worked on it in the past.)

Still it’s been a pretty good season with two Senior B wins and a Grand Prix medal (also their first season competing in the Grand Prix) and their highest ever placement at Nationals. Also, can I mention how beautiful her skin is? She is blessed.

7. Panfilova/Rylov

I feel like these two are sort of on a roll. They improved their results at the GPF, surpassing A/K and finishing third on the podium, and then they were able to pull ahead of K/I here to be the second placed Junior team. Partly it was due to K/I not having their best competition but it was also partly the result, I think, of their own consistency in putting out really high quality elements. (They were another team to get a level 4 twist.)

I think they’ve made a good argument for sending them to Junior Worlds but Russian Junior Nationals will tell the tale. If they compete well there, I think they have it all sown up. Although, I think they could really improve the second half of the short program. The music change has never really worked for me and they always seem to be struggling to keep up and end with the music.

8. Kostiukovich/Ialin

This team were off their game here a little bit, experiencing a few issues in both programs. It’s not surprising, coming so closely on the heels of the GPF, although, the GPF wasn’t their best either. Perhaps they need to focus more on the program as a whole and getting through one. It was interesting, though, to see that following a bit of a subpar short (for them) they pulled out the quad twist in the free. They’re competitive. Also, it was good to see that they haven’t entirely set that aside. It’s quite a thing to just have in your back pocket to pull out when you need it. I think they should continue to work on it.

They’ve clearly been pegged as an non-traditional team in terms of style and it is one the really appealing things about them but I would like to see them try something a little different next season, something that requires a wider range of expression. I’m just a little worried that Seniors isn’t going to be as kind to them when they get there and they maybe need to stretch themselves a bit more. Or maybe I’ve just seen the Jungle program enough at this point? Those two year programs can sort of start to get a bit stale at the year and a half mark. Survivor is still going strong though (as one might expect).

Actually, one highlight of this competition for me that I haven’t mentioned yet was getting to see what each Junior team had planned for a third lift. I quite liked this team’s lift which ended with her in a no hands platter position (although it was a bit slow and laboured). M/G’s was quite good, with an interesting entrance, exit, and including a no hands position in there too (and it pushed the second throw to quite late in the program), and P/R’s had her in an upright position, again with no hands. There was quite a bit of creativity and I look forward to seeing these lifts improve in the future.

9. Kudriavtseva/Spiridonov

I was really interested to get a look at this team. The only other chance we’ve really had was a Ondrej Nepeal (I think?) or whichever Senior B didn’t have enough teams for world ranking points to be awarded, and there was practically no video to be found, at least of this pair. There is lots of potential here, although they are still a bit rough. However, they were one of the teams to get a level 4 twist and they did it in both programs!

It all went quite well in the short. They skated clean and the elements were pretty smooth and confident. Not surprisingly for a fairly new team who hasn’t competed much, the free program was not as well executed, with negative GOE on the jump combination and one of the lifts and only a throw double flip (but that looked fairly planned). They are still learning. He looked absolutely pooped at the end of free. And I’m not entirely sure about the music choice in the free. It was quite challenging and a little odd in places. The silence with the loud drum bang had me wondering a bit.

But overall, I think they have a nice look. I quite like her. She’s quite a pretty skater, with very nice positions and presentation. I really liked her dress in the short and I swear she was wearing one of Alisa Efimova’s old dresses in the free. I don’t doubt it because Kristina Astakhova, also coached by Dmitriev, once wore a dress that I previously saw on another skater which I swear was the same (her dress from the Master and Margarita program she did with Rogonov).

10. Akhanteva/Kolesov

Kseniia and Valerii seem to be having a bit of a dip in their performance level. We’ve seen more mistakes from them here and at the GPF than we saw earlier in the season. But they also have been against some stronger teams in those competitions than they were in their Junior Grand Prix assignments, where they shone in comparison. This partnership, though, doesn’t convince me as much as the other Junior teams which placed higher (or lower) here. They are both on the younger side and do have time to develop but they don’t seem to have a real identity as a team and aren’t particularly memorable. I’m also fully expecting her to grow.

Here at Senior Nationals, the jump issue in the short, where pretty much everyone skated clean, left them with some ground to make up but they had a better free program, or at least, they weren’t the only team to have problems and so were able to move up. But with three solid Junior teams ahead of them, right now I would say they only have an outside chance of going to World Juniors. Whereas earlier in the season, they seemed like a consistent team and solid choice. I wonder if she is growing as we speak?

There is nothing really wrong here though. They have all the elements and she can be quite winsome (although, I feel like she really needs to point her toes). And he has nice lines. I like his carriage too. I could see improvements here too. They kept their timing to the music in the short and ended with the music! And at least one thing you can say for them so far this season is that they have improved over last season. They were faster and more connected to the music. They have improved in terms of profile and ranking too. They went from one GP assignment last season to two assignments and the GPF this season, so that’s nothing to sneeze at.

11. Labazina/Rakhmanin

I was really excited to see this team at the Senior Nationals! We haven’t seen much of them this season (at least, we not on the Junior Grand Prix) although they were a team that caught my eye last season. From video from a Russian competition this fall I gathered that she had grown and they were having some issues. Still, I thought on the whole they looked pretty good here. She certainly is taller but overall they having pleasing elements and look like a fairly well matched team. And she is young! She is just 14, so I don’t blame her for looking a little uncertain and uncomfortable. I would too if I was competing at Senior Nationals. Although, she possibly has the makings of a diva…

They have really quite a good twist and their jumps were pretty spot on. Their lifts are nice too, which is always a good sign. They are one of the harder things to make attractive, I think. They probably struggled the most with the throws but she was tenacious and fought and held on every time. I think I like her quite a lot. I shouldn’t ignore him but I have to be honest, she’s the one I’m watching.

I’m not sure what will happen with them next season. He’s going to be 20 in May. They will they be able to do one more season of Junior, right? I think that would be good for them. Who are their coaches? The woman was also at the boards for Z/E. I don’t recognize them and they don’t have a real ISU bio yet to tell me.

12. Poluinova/Sopot

Things do not fare well for Poluinova/Sopot. They continue to have some struggles and the jumps seem to be the issue, for both of them. And it’s not that they skate badly. It’s just that in this field, you really had to skate clean. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with them but I wonder if an early end to the season and lots of time to work and prepare for next isn’t a bad thing. He’s going to be 21 in May. They are going to have to move up next season and at the moment, I am not confident that they are ready to compete as Seniors.

I can’t say I’ve ever really been into this team, her throws excepted. I do feel like more needs to be done to feature her but they could also do with some better material. None of their programs have been very engaging. I want to see them skate to something that makes her face light up, if that is possible. They also need something that’s going to make everyone forget about the falls by the time they get to the end of the program. It makes me wonder about their coaching situation. How much is Moskvina and the St. Petersburg team involved? Surely they can find something better, something with more energy! Although, I’m not always 100% convinced by Moskvina’s taste. She did have Kavaguti dressed as a giant swan in 2010. I fear that she could be responsible for what Dmitri is wearing. It’s the worst.

What’s next?

The Russian Federation just went with the results here and named Tarasova/Morozov, Zabaijako/Enbert and Boikova/Kozlovskii as the team for Europeans, with Pavliuchenko/Khodykin and then Mishina/Galliamov as alternates. However, Z/E have already withdrawn, saying something about Enbert needing some time to have tests done and recovery. Not sure what exactly the issue is, if it’s something ongoing or something that happened since the competition. So, Pavliuchenko/Khodykin are up and we will see them at Europeans now!

Who did the level 4 twists?

It was T/M, Z/E, P/K and K/S in the short and T/M, M/G, P/R and K/S in the free.


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