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Four Favorites: Internationaux de France 2018

Well, somehow the 2018 Grand Prix Series has concluded. Anybody else feel like the Olympics were about two minutes ago? I fell off of posting a bit last week due to the holiday, but did have plenty of time to soak up the Internationaux de France and determine my four favorites from the event:

        1. In the ladies event, I liked Alexia Paganini’s rocker-rocker entrance into the triple lutz-triple toe combination in the short program. It not only added difficulty, but also highlighted the strong outside edge on the takeoff, which not everyone in this field has mastered. It was the opening element of the Swiss skater’s program:

          Honorable mention goes to the closing moments of Rika Kihira’s long program, with it’s beautifully paced choreography. I’m trying to stick with only four favorites, for alliteration and organization, but sometimes I can’t help myself.
        2. In the ice dance event, I loved how Team USA’s Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker enter their stationary lift directly out of the curve lift in the free dance. A difficult setup that shows strength and control, and helps blend the elements seamlessly into the program, rather than telegraphing them.
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        3. On the pairs side, champions Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres stood out in more ways than one, but I particularly liked their unique entry into the side-by-side salchows:
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          Setting aside that she doubled the jump here, I love this entry, choreographed by Olympic Ice Dance Champion Charlie White. They are doing different movements leading into the jump, but still have perfectly synchronized timing. Plus, this is more visually interesting than simply entering the jump by skating next to each other, as many pairs do.
        4. My favorite part of the men’s event was seeing the International Judging System as its best self. The ISU implemented a lot of changes since last season, including some that controversially devalued quads, especially quads that are underrotated or where the skater falls. I had hoped it would be a positive change, without entirely discouraging skaters from still pushing the sport forward with quad jumps. As I watched Jason Brown’s short program last Friday, I was loving it as usual, and then noticed how high the score was ticking up in the box in the top left corner of my screen. “Is it possible…is he about to win this short program?” I asked myself (aloud, as I often do when watching skating, even alone). Given that he wasn’t trying a quad, I assumed he would end up behind programs with quad attempts, even with a clean program. Not in this newest iteration of the IJS! It was great to see. And in the end, Nathan Chen, the Quad King, won the event, showing that clean quad jumps will still rule the day. But it was so heartening to see a complete program—clean skate, presentation, spins, everything Jason Brown does so beautifully—properly rewarded. Here it is:

 

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2017 Worlds Predictions: Pairs

Of the four skating disciplines, pairs tends to be the one that I don’t follow as closely. I certainly know less about it – despite my childhood dreams of being a #pairgirl because of how fun the throws looked. Not only was there a shortage of male skaters at my rink, but I was also too tall by the time I was approximately 10. Hat’s off to the brave pair ladies in this discipline.

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Image Source: icenetwork.com

In listening to the awesome episodes of the Ice Talk podcast with Nick McCarvel and Jackie Wong on Ice Network, I’ve not only learned more about pairs this year, but loved hearing firsthand from some of the teams, in particular, France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres and Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. You should check out their episodes if you haven’t already!

I have less of a blind loyalty/emotional attachment to any of the pairs as compared to other disciplines, but that doesn’t mean I still don’t have strong opinions about it. So here goes:

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Image Source: vancouversun.com

Sentimental:
Gold – Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, Canada
Silver – Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, China
Bronze – Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres, France
Bonus: Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau of Canada and Americans Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim in the top 6

Rational:
Gold –Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, China
Silver –Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, Canada
Bronze – Evgenia Tarasova/Valdimir Morozov, Russian

I’ve loved Duhamel and Radford since Sochi – when they skate with true ease and joy, it is completely infectious. It would make my sappy little heart so happy for them to win a third World title after an up-and-down season. Sui and Han were beautiful at Four Continents, especially considering it was their first competition of the year and a comeback after injury for Sui. That performance was so solid that I think they are likely to take the title, and the Russian team is riding a wave of success after victories at the Grand Prix Final and Europeans.

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Image Source: goldenskate.com

My bonus sentimental predictions are for two teams whose style and attitude I love. The Canadians skate with a lightness that is a pleasure to watch, and I’d love to see them succeed. The married Knierims are coming back from a terrible injury to Alexa, and yet still posted the highest scores of a U.S. pair this year in their comeback outing at Four Continents. I think the odds are good that they skate well, and it would be well-deserved after all they have been through.

Last but not least, my ladies predictions are up next!


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Time to Grow

Sometimes I judge programs too harshly upon first viewing. I remember watching Ashley Wagner’s “Moulin Rouge” long program early in the 2014-2015 season and thinking it was kind of terrible. I thought the lyrics were overkill, used in too many of the cuts throughout the program. Fast forward to her stellar performance at 2015 U.S. Nationals, and she made me love it. I was thrilled she kept it around for another season, and was on my feet, screaming and cheering at 2016 Worlds in Boston when she brought the house down with an even better, more technically difficult and emotionally poignant rendition of this program.

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Image Source: USA Today

Today, I’d say that this program would be a great blueprint for how to use lyrics well in a skating program—Wagner and her choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne chose songs from the movie that captured the essence of that story, as well as the story of resilience that they wanted to portray.

This season, there have been a few programs that I didn’t enjoy upon first viewing, but have really grown on me as the skaters settled in to them, and made improvements as the season has progressed.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates (USA), free dance “Under Pressure”

This song choice seemed more like noise than music to me, at first. They created quite a buzz by beating Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in the free dance at Skate Canada with this program, but I still wasn’t convinced. But after seeing two excellent outings of this program, at 2016 U.S. Nationals and Four Continents this week, I’m enjoying it much more. I love how the arm movements and lifts subtly reference the lyrics without being too cheesy or showy. The sharpness of their movements and commitment to the choreography are also fantastic. The entries and exits to all of their lifts are so difficult, yet they pull them off without any disruption to their speed or smoothness.

 

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres (France), free skate “Sound of Silence”

I saw this program live at Skate America this fall and was underwhelmed. Partially because I associate this song with Nyle DiMarco’s performance on “Dancing with the Stars” and how incredible and impressive it was to watch someone who is deaf perform a fantastic routine to this song, and partially because James and Cipres had a rough skate that day and seemed visibly annoyed with each other. When they were on the “Ice Talk” podcast, they talked with Jackie Wong about putting this program together, and the intentional way that it starts slow and soft and builds throughout. Between learning that, and then seeing them perform with so much heart and confidence at Europeans, I’ve totally come around to this program. If you don’t watch the whole thing, you’ve at least got to check out the incredible, difficult death spiral entrance at about the 4:01 minute mark in the video:

 

Maybe I wrote off these two programs too early in the season (I’m pretty sure it was October, after all). I’m excited to see how much farther they’ll go in the month or so that both of these teams have before the World Championships in Helsinki.

Which programs have grown on you this season?