Figure Skating: From the Boards

US Pairs: Matchmaker, Matchmaker Make me a Match! January 10, 2013

Just tossing it out there: any chance we can convince Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek to come back to skating as pairs skaters? That would be a great buzz-story, right? And it’s evident the US Pairs world needs a little more drama. (And consistency, but we’ll get to that.)

Seriously, keeping up with the world of pairs skating is like trying to keep up with the road runner and Wylie Coyote. No? Just me? Hmm. Okay. How about this: Keeping up with the world of pairs skating is harder than keeping up with the Kardashians! (Still terrible, I know. Moving on …)

If a team isn’t splitting up, their changing coaches. And if they’re not changing coaches or splitting up, they’re probably injured. And if they’re a national champion one year, chances are pretty good they won’t be around to defend that title the following year.

I know, this year there are some extenuating circumstances there, this time around. John Coughlin’s injury and surgery made his National Title defense with partner Caydee Denney impossible. And with a goal of making the 2014 Olympic team, it’s better to miss this Nationals than the next one.

But with Denney/Coughlin out with injury, Mary Beth Marley/Rockne Brubaker no longer skating together, Amanda Evora retired, Caitlin Yankowskas/Josh Reagan a recent withdrawl … we’ll be lucky if there are enough skaters left to fill the medal stand in Omaha, at this rate!

Yes, I’m being a bit dramatic. But, there seems to be a bit of a black hole in US Pairs skating these days that makes it tough to gain ground internationally. It does, though, open the door for skaters like Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir and Gretchen Donlan/Andrew Speroff to stake their claim the season before the Olympic year. Without a defending (or even former) US Champ in the field, these two teams (who finished in the top five last year at Nationals) have a golden opportunity.

We’ll get to what to expect at Nationals later, but for now, with the current landscape of US Pairs skating, I want to play matchmaker, and I want your help!

Let’s assume we have any US figure skater at our disposal. Who would you pair up in an attempt to create the new super-team? (It worked out pretty well for Caydee and John … pre-injury … so why not give it another shot?)

And, while we’re at it, if we can please find a partner for Rockne Brubaker, that would be fabulous. The skating world misses him. … I miss him. (At this rate, I’ll be your partner, Rockne!)

So, who would you pair up? Current skaters? Past skaters? Singles skaters?

How about Sasha Cohen and Rockne?

Or Mirai Nagasu and Adam Rippon? (Maybe not … but you get the idea!)

Who would you pick as the next great American pairs team??

 

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A look ahead: Pairs of the GP Series June 5, 2012

Now that we have the Shpilband news out in the open, we can get back to daydreaming about what the upcoming Grand Prix season will hold. Today, it’s all about the Pairs. So let’s jump right in, shall we?

First up, Skate America.

Jessica Dube & Sebastien Wolfe (CAN)
Qing Pang & Jian Tong (CHN)
Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres (FRA)

Stacy Kemp & David King (GBR)
Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov (RUS)
Caydee Denney & John Coughlin (USA)
Gretchen Dolan & Andrew Speroff (USA)
TBA (USA)

Pang/Tong and Volosozhar/Trankov look to be the pack leaders at the season opener. Of course, the Russians are coming off of a magnificent Free Skate at Worlds that would have crowned them champions, had they not crumbled in the Short Program. You know they want to prove that was a fluke!

Don’t take your eyes off Denney and Coughlin, though. Last season was their year to feel each other out, see how things would go, and what they were capable of. This year, they must add technical difficulty and depth to their choreography if they want to keep up with the big kids. They can do it. And if they can do it while maintaining their consistency, look for a handful of podium finishes for these two.

The rest of the field is packed with potential, too. Dube and Wolfe have beautiful elements and lines, but their technique sometimes fails them. Dolan and Speroff ooze talent, and Kemp/King and James/Cipres are pressing towards the Olympic games with growing fan bases.

Let the fireworks begin!

Skate Canada

Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford (CAN)
Paige Lawrence & Rudi Swiegers (CAN)
TBA (CAN)
Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy (GER)
Stefanie Berton & Ondrej Hotareck (ITA)
Katarina Gerboldt & Alexander Enbert (RUS)
Mary Beth Marley & Rockne Brubaker (USA)
Tiffany Vise & Don Baldwin (USA)

At first glance, it’s no surprise Savchenko and Szolkowy will enter this event as the gold medal favorites. They narrowly edged the Russian duo of Volosozhar and Trankov at Worlds, and they have oodles of experience to pull from at the beginning of the season.

However, the battle between Duhamel/Radford and Marley/Brubaker could be interesting. Sure, the Canadians have the edge based on last season. But we all know how much the young American team improved in just one off season together. If they make a similar leap this year, they could be right up there, likely gunning for a couple of GP medals themselves.

This event is, however, a great opportunity for the other teams on the schedule to step up their game and make a run at the podium early in the season. (more…)

 

Nice, Take Two: Pairs Preview March 24, 2012

Marina Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov had only been skating together for two years when they captured their first World title the first time Worlds were in Nice. That year, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao actually won the short program with a flawless skate. And in the absence of the then-reigning champs Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, there would be a first-time champion in 2000.

In the free skate, it was the Russians who put together the best four minutes to top Shen and Zhao by owning the presentation mark. Shen and Zhao — who had narrowly missed out on gold the year before — still had some growing to do before they would develop into the beloved team they are now.

Flash forward a mere 12 years, and it’s another Russian duo (two, actually) taking on another Chinese pair, and attempting to fend off the reigning champs from Germany.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, along with Tatiana Volsozhar and Maxim Trankov, and Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov have played an unpredictable game of leap frog all season.

Aliona and Robin and Tatiana and Maxim each won both of their Grand Prix events. Yuko and Alexander won their first, but placed second to the Germans at Rostelecom Cup. Then at the Final, it was again the Germans taking the top spot, but by a mere .18 over Volosozhar and Trankov. Kavaguti and Smirnov were third.

Each of the three has also battled injuries at some point, Savchenko and Szolkowy as recent as Europeans where they were not able to compete.

Not to be forgotten is the Chinese team of Qing Pang and Jian Tong. The two did not compete on the Grand Prix circuit this year, making it difficult to predict how they’ll stack up. They finished third at last year’s Worlds.

The other Chinese team of Wenjing Sui and Cong Han are the kids with the fancy tricks. However, their polish and maturity will show quite glaringly against the other teams.

Then you have a host of challengers who, though they may not be favorites to medal, could push the teams at the top.

Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran are an exciting, young team with elegance and presentation beyond their years. Their elements — when they hit them — are stunning. Trouble is, they tend to miss a lot. And they often don’t just miss one thing. When it goes wrong, it seems a lot goes wrong. They need to clean up their act if they want to contend.

Canadian darlings, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are, in a word, delightful. Their charm reaches every person who watches them, and the connection between the two of them makes you love them even more. Both their programs have strong choreography, and they are more than capable of putting out strong technical components.

But you can’t forget about the Americans. Now, American pairs skating has, undoubtedly, been lacking for some time. John Coughlin and Caitlyn Yankowskas looked to be a shining hope, but instead, they split. However, that made way for Caydee Denny to rejoin the elite ranks. Now, she and John are on the brink of putting U.S. skating back on the map.

Their technical elemnts are their strength. They have a split triple twist that makes my jaw drop, every single time. They need more time to develop intricacies in their choreography and finesse in their presentation, but there is a good chance for them to make a splash in Nice.

If they don’t, Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker will. Another team well on their way to greatness, they are, perhaps, this season’s Most Improved. They have a refreshing youthfulness, and an equally exhilarating determination.  This is likely not their year, but don’t forget the faces.

In the end, only one team can win, and two more will join them on the medal stand. Here’s how I see it breaking down.

Gold — Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov
Silver — Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy
Bronze — Yuko Kavaguti and Aledanxer Smirnov
Fourth — Qing Pang and Jian Tong

*I’ll also say that both American teams have a good chance to finish within the top ten.

Nice Part One took place two years before the Salt Lake City Olympics. Part Two? Two years before the Sochi games. In 2000, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier placed fourth. They went on to share the gold in the oh-so-famous 2002 pairs competition. Will history repeat itself this time around? Only time will tell!

 

Vlog: The 4CC Breakdown — Pairs February 21, 2012

 

You Can Take My Breath Away February 14, 2012

I may not have been in Colorado Springs this week, but with all the running in circles I did trying to keep up with “real life” and Four Continents, I might have had as much trouble breathing as anyone!

Okay, maybe not quite that much (my sympathies to Nan Song and the entire Chinese team who seemed completely overwhelmed by the altitude!). Still, after being available for nearly every minute of the US Nationals, it felt oh-so-wrong to miss so much of the Four Continents action.

Thankfully, Icenetwork had my back with on-demand coverage, so I caught up in no time!

I’ll have a set of vlog recaps up this week breaking down each event further. But for now, before we get too far removed and focused on Worlds, I’ll leave you with my greatest impressions — and boy, were there some big ones! I can quite honestly say, there were moments that left me “breathless.” (Betcha haven’t heard that one yet, right?!)

Okay. Where to begin …

The men’s event was relatively predictable. And yet, it filled in several empty blanks. How is that possible? Just go with it, I’m not sure myself.

What We Learned

  • Patrick Chan may make mistakes more often than we’d like, but when he’s good, he’s really good. That said, he’s no where near the 300+ scores he pulled in at Canadian Nationals. Not that that’s a ton of comfort, because he still beat Daisuke Takahashi by nearly 30 points.
  • Speaking of Daisuke … he is, perhaps, the most introspective, organic artist in all of the skating world. It’s hard to compare the styles between Chan and Takahashi because they’re so different. One is big and bold, the other is intricate and riveting. Both are beautiful. Both are worthy of praise. (And World medals …)
  • Ross Miner is the future of men’s skating in the US. Bold statement? Sure. But what I saw in Colorado Springs was rock-solid technique, backed by a clear understanding of his place and his path in the sport. And his triple axel is to die for.
  • Misha Ge is immune to altitude! What a joy he was to watch, no? The energy, passion and expression in his skating, while reminiscent of on Johnny Weir, sets him apart in a diverse field. I found him quite refreshing.

What I Felt

  • Heartbroken for Richard Dornbush. You’ll get ’em next season, kid.
  • Thrilled for Ross Miner. That’s how you end a season, regardless of the event!
  • Hopeful for Adam Rippon. He’s improving. Perhaps his peak will be perfectly in time for Worlds.
  • Impressed beyond words by the top two. Simply put, they are phenominal. (more…)
 

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.  (more…)

 

Vlog: Pairs and Men Make A World-Class Case January 31, 2012