I’m not going to lie. The icenetwork.com pairs rankings are kind of intimidating to me. The men, the ladies, even the ice dance…I feel like I can make a valid attempt at analyzing the way things stack up heading into the season. But the pairs? Sketchy, to say the least.
I mean, I watch pairs. I watch it all. But other than Shen and Zhao (who just had a beautiful “wedding” celebration ice show…search for videos on YouTube. Beautiful!), there are not too many pairs teams who WOW me. At least not yet.
So, instead of forcing you to read a bunch of mumbo jumbo about the entire top 20 rankings, I’ve decided that it will be less painful – and more importantly, far more entertaining! – if I key in on a few I think will make their mark this year. Sound good? (Oh, and if you’re sad because it sounds like this will be short, no worries! I’m not a short blog kind of chica. I’ve got a story for you, once we make it through this pairs analysis. Deal? Great.)
Here we go!
At the top of the leaderboard is the Chinese duo of Qing Pang and Jian Tong. These two have kind of lived in the shadow of Shen and Zhao, but this season they may have that top spot to themselves. They were second to their fellow Chinese skaters at the Olympics in February, then beat out the early season favorite – the Germans – for the World title. I just saw their performance of “Impossible Dream” at Shen and Zhao’s show, and let me just say, these two have really developed their style. Their lines are longer, their edges cleaner, their facial expressions are, well, expressive. It hit me while I was watching that this seems to be the way of Chinese pairs teams. They burst onto the scene because of their massive technical elements, but don’t seem to show much style or grace or passion. But if you give them enough time, that comes. And when it does, it’s brilliant! Seems to me most other skaters do things the other way (at least the Americans who seem to get the artistry but not the technique). Interesting. Regardless, these two will still be at the top of the game this season, no doubt.
Right behind the newly improved Chinese artists are the German skaters who seemed to have it all going their way leading up to the Olympics. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy make a beautiful team. Sometimes I feel that skate a little too much within themselves, but I have to commend their creativity and their efforts to push the envelope with their choreography. Last season was a disappointment for them, so I expect great things from them as well.
The top Russian team of Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, as well as the second ranked Chinese team of Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang are in similar situations – they both have the skill, but haven’t put it all together at the peak moments. They’re both still young enough to grown, and that is exactly what I expect this season to be for them. They’ve been around long enough now to know what it takes. Now it’s just a matter of implementing that.
Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison fill out the top five (all of which I’m familiar enough with to comment on!). This Canadian couple is hard not to root for. I was watching the 2007 Four Continents competition where Jessica was hit in the face by Bryce’s blade on a side-by-side camel spin…I was horrified. I will never watch side-by-side spins the same way. But such is the sport of figure skating, and Jessica has come back stronger than ever. (I think I’d have a hard time just getting back out there, much less ever doing that spin again!! Kudos to her for her bravery and determination!) They didn’t have a flawless season last year. They struggle with some technical elements. But if they can get some consistency with those tricks, their artistry is almost natural, they so beautifully emote the character of their programs. I’m excited to see them this season.
Jumping around a bit now, the top two American teams come in at #7 and #9. These two were a pleasant surprise last year. Neither of them had much international experience, but when it counted at the Olympics and at Worlds, they put out pretty solid programs. Now, they’ve got a LOT of work to do to catch the top teams, but they made it known that they want to play with the big kids, and I expect more of that from them both. They’re no longer training under the same coaching staff (see my post, “Oh, the drama!” for more on Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett’s move to John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana) but they both have the desire to move up drastically this season. Denney and Barrett are a much newer team than their compatriots, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, but look out for them both in the years ahead, starting, of course, right about now.
Taking the role of the grandparents on the list (I kid…sort of…) are the long-standing American champs, Rena Inoue and John Baldwin. They’re like the Energizer bunny or something. They just keep going and going and going…
It will be interesting to see how they hold up another season. Don’t get me wrong, they can be magical out there. I was in St. Louis when they nailed the throw 3-axel for the first time and that crowd was electrified. It was AWESOME. They always seem to find a way to make it close to the top, just not all the way there. They passed up their GP assignment, so we’ll see how they rank after that.
American’s Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin make the September rankings, coming in at #18. These two will be fun to watch. They’re a team with so much potential, and the determination to make anything happen. One of their goals for the year, as posted on icenetwork.com, is to win the U.S. National Championships this season, plus have a strong debut at Worlds. They’ll face some tough competition, that’s for sure. But these two, along with the other young American teams, bring some excitement to US pairs this season. We’ll see how they all do internationally, but I see a lot of good to work with from this team, and the others who will be pushing each other to the top!
Well, I think that’s about where I call it a day with pairs. I’ll try to keep you updated through the season if I feel there’s another team coming on strong that just has to be mentioned and discussed! But for now, as I promised, a little something else.
Figure skating has brought me so much since 2002 – the trip of a lifetime in 2006, a reason to be excited about the cold, the desire to push myself in whatever I do each day, an introduction to all sorts of new music, and some really great new friends. I’ve had the privilege of participating in a few on-line forums as a fan of various skaters, and some of the people I’ve “met” via those forums have become wonderful friends! From the Michelle Kwan Forum
and the Evan Lysacek Fan Forum
and even a Josh Groban Forum where I found a group of fans who also adored figure skating, I’ve had the chance to share in my skating joy with people who love it as much as I do.
At the Evan Lysacek forum specifically, I’ve had the chance to participate in various projects that were either sent or hand delivered to Evan. We (as a group, known as “Evan’s ELFF’s”!) have not only gotten to know each other, but in a general sense, Evan, as well. He knows who we are, mentions us in Tweets/Blog posts, and always recognizes the fact that he’s received something from us. The fact that a group of fans can become that memorable is, well, pretty awesome to me! Well, we have, on several occasions, created message books filled with personally written “good luck” messages for Evan prior to competitions. Trying to be unique, and trying to make use of my writing skills, I decided that for each of these message books I’d write Evan a silly little poem all about the task at hand. For example, this was the pre-Worlds 2009 rhyme:
Hello, dearest Evan
I’m back with a rhyme
This time for Worlds,
And it’s right on time.
With all the world
Coming to your backyard,
Show ’em what it’s like
Give ’em LA’s best regards.
Then head to the ice
To show what you’re made of
Don’t worry ’bout techniques,
Wear your heart on your sleeve, love!
Remember the time
You first landed that axel
The time you looked back
And knew you did right well.
Capture the essence
Of your childhood dream
And show to the world
Your passion extreme.
But most of all
When you step on the ice
Know you are loved
Don’t ever think twice.
With ELFFs ’round the world
Cheering most loudly
You’re certain to feel it
And we’ll clap ever so proudly
When you stand on that podium,
Champion at last,
(…knock on wood, just for safety!)
You’ll have such a blast!
So go get ’em, kid.
I’d be there if I could
But you’ll do just fine
With Frank, that’s understood!
Your motto will be
It worked for Michelle Kwan…
…now’s your time, we believe!
And whaddya know, he DID win! And what a glorious win it was…
I also had the opportunity to organize a collection of video montages for Michelle Kwan and send that her way…
All in all, I suppose what I’m getting at is this: I’m a sports fan because I love the magic of sport. I’m a skating fan because I love the passion to skate. And because of these loves, I’ve been blessed with the other thing I love about sport – the power it has to bring people together. That’s what they Olympic spirit is all about. That’s why the world’s gone crazy for college football, that’s why my skating friends are such a blessing. Sport – and silly Evan Lysacek poems – bring us together, no matter what other circumstances may be around.
So whether I know all there is to know about the current top 20 pairs teams or not, I know that come competition time, we’ll all watch together and share in the magic of sport, the magic of skating.
(Follow me on twitter: @FromTheBoards!)