Figure Skating: From the Boards

On To The Springs! Four Continents — Pairs Preview February 6, 2012

Without the likes of Savchenko/Szolkowy, Volosozhar/Trankov, or Kavaguti/Smirnov, the Pairs event in Colorado Springs will showcase a new tier of talent, led by the young Chinese pair of Wenjing Sui & Cong Han and Canada’s sweethearts Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford.

But it’s not just that simple. There are also three talented American teams, and two more Canadian duos.

It gets a little convoluted when you rank them on paper — the young Chinese team has the highest GP score. The American and Canadian champs are coming off of their best competitions yet. Nationals scores don’t really count in international comparisons, but Marley and Brubaker clearly showed they have the talent to compete here. Evora and Ladwig have the experience and, now, the motivation to prove themselves. Dube and Wolfe showed themselves a new team at Canadian nationals — one with skill, elegance, poise and determination.

But, we really don’t know how any of those “intangibles” translate into scores. So, when the numbers settle, who will head to Worlds with a 4 Continents medal?

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford win their first national title

They're on a roll, and as motivated as ever. Look out, world!

Gold: Duhamel and Radford

Sure, they have had their moments of weakness this season. But, beyond the elements, the throws, the side-by-side triple lutzes, and the majestic choreography, they have something above any other team — grit.

All season I’ve been impressed with their goal development (and achievement!) from competition to competition. You can hear them in the Kiss and Cry saying ” Oh, good. We got (fill in the blank) for PCS this time. That’s much better,” or — like at Nationals — “Nope, we didn’t get the lift. Not with that score, because we got (fill in the blank) for TES at the Final.”

They’re knowledgeable, but they’re also entirely capable of translating that knowledge into goals, and thus, into results. They want to win this title to check one more thing off their season’s list, and I fully believe they can do that here.

Silver: Denney and Coughlin

A stretch here? Maybe. Sure, Sui and Han are the anointed heirs to the Chinese pairs thrown. But, Caydee and John improve every time they get out on competition ice. Plus, being at home will add to their comfort and growing confidence. These two may have been criticized at the start of their partnership, but even the toughest critics can’t ignore their immense talent and fast-developing bond. They make a great team, and obviously have the talent to make a splash on the internationals stage.

Call it a “gut feeling,” but I think their Nationals performance is just the start of what they have to offer. While their choreography isn’t particularly detailed or challenging, their elements are big enough to compete with the best.

Two clean skates will earn them a medal here, for sure.

My only request? That Caydee loses the barbie doll blue eye shadow. Pronto. 

Bronze: Sui and Han

They may be considered favorites to compete for the title. And, in all honesty, they may do just that. However, they once again competed on both the junior and senior circuits this year and are nearing the end of a very long season. They haven’t been as untouchable this year, despite having hit 180+ in their Skate Canada performance to start their senior GP season.

Program composition for them is not necessarily in their favor — their short is significantly stronger, but their free skate is as “junior-ish” as ever. It doesn’t make fans — or judges (who are also fans) see them in the same light as the Duhamel/Radfords or the Denney/Coughlins. Then, when they fail to hit their extremely ambitious routines, their lack of polish is even more evident.

They’re in a stage of “growing pains,” and it’s not quite their time. Still, their talent will keep them in the hunt.

The best of the rest

I see this as a three-way battle between the other two American teams and the rising Canadian team of Dube and Wolfe.

Evora and Ladwig have stunningly elegant and mature programs, filled with challenging details. Their lifts — as I always say — are among the best in the world. Their throws, when landed, are marvelous. But those silly side-by-side jumps will make or break them. At this point, it could go one of two ways — they have nothing to lose, so why fret going into the jumps? Or, they have yet to hit that element this season, so how can they be confident with it now?

Americans Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker skate to a first place finish in the Short Program at US Nationals

If the American rookies can match *this* program and better their long, they will be in the mix.

We all know what Rockne Brubaker brings to the sport. But, what we now know is how much he brings to a partnership — with his help, commitment and encouragement, Mary Beth Marley is a legitimate pairs skater, with the same kind of grit Meagan Duhamel has. Their Nationals performances — even with the flaws in the free skate — showed how far they have come and undoubtedly boosted their confidence. But, they’re both fierce competitors, certainly not satisfied with slipping to second after their phenomenal short.

We can’t eliminate Dube and Wolfe from this conversation, though at the start of the season they wouldn’t have been more than an afterthought. I was stunned with their transformation at the Canadian championships. Sure, they have a ways to go to be back to the level Jessica is used to. But, much like Mary Beth, Sebastien is in a whole new league as he tries to skate up to her level. After the GP, they went back to the drawing board and put in a massive amount of work to get where they are, and it paid off. Look out for them, if the teams at the top struggle.

The best part of a wide-open event like this is, well, the element of surprise! Any of these teams on any given day could be medal-worthy. They question is, who has what it takes to lay it all on the line?

Let me know who YOU expect “bring it!”

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