As we approach the announcement of the 2106-17 Grand Prix assignments, I’ll make a few comments about the year in mens, pairs and dance to review and set us up for next season.
Upping the Game: More than in any other discipline, the pairs field pushed technical boundaries this season. A greater number of teams were trying quad throws/twists and we’ve seen teams like Duhamel/Radford and Stolbova/Klimov upping the ante on the side-by-side jumps as well. Pairs, in general, is exciting to watch because of their high flying elements, but with the addition of quads, it becomes even more entertaining. The question for many teams will soon become- “Can we be competitive without a quad?”
Russia Falters at Worlds: Always a fixture in the pairs, the Russian pairs left Boston medal-less. Though Stolbova/Klimov and Volosozhar/Trankov both won events throughout the season, they struggled at Worlds. Neither of these teams have expressed plans to add a quad, so consistency and performance quality are key for them. Volosozhar/Trankov have already announced that they plan to skip the GP series this coming fall, so I’m wondering if not competing will improve that consistency or hinder it. Not to be forgotten, there *is* a Russian team with quads, Kavaguti/Smirnov, who will be hoping to come back strong from an injury and perhaps could capitalize on the absence of their teammates in the Grand Prix.
Uncertainty for Chinese Pairs: Another dynasty in pairs faces huge question marks as next season approaches. China’s number one team of Sui/Han will likely miss the Grand Prix as Sui recovers from a serious foot surgery. This team made huge strides artistically and technically this season, and you hate to see their momentum slowed. I am hoping a completely healthy Sui can help this team continue its progress, but it would be more realistic to assume that next season *won’t* be the year they return to top condition. Perhaps using the season to completely heal and slowly build up to the Olympic year would be more fortuitous.
Without their top team, China has two completely new pairs next on its roster, pairs who recently flip-flopped partners (Peng/Zheng and Yu/Jin will now be Peng/Jin and Yu/Zheng). While they are all great athletes, it takes time to grow a partnership to World-class levels of performance. With one year left before the Olympics, we may see some “growing pains” from these teams as they begin their new partnerships.
American Pairs: While American pair Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim making it to the Grand Prix Final was a huge accomplishment for US pairs skating, they haven’t yet figured out the consistency they need to be real World contenders. Their teammates and National Champions Tarah Kayne/Daniel O’Shea *do* have consistency, they lack the finesse and technical prowess that they need to threaten for an international podium. The battle between these two pairs got heated this year, as Scimeca/Knierim were surprisingly dethroned at Nationals by Kayne/O’Shea’s consistency. Heading towards the Olympics, both of these teams will be looking to establish themselves as the top US pair next season.
Other notes: I loved Canadian pair Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau this season, and they made a strong statement in finishing fourth at the Grand Prix Final. Though they had to withdraw from Worlds with an injury, I can’t wait to see what next year holds for them. Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot made an impressive debut at Worlds, earning a bronze medal, and wowing audiences with their huge technical elements. This team has *a ton* of potential, and they will compete a full year next year. Watch out!
I will be back with more pairs discussion after the initial Grand Prix assignments are posted next week. I'll do a round of analysis of the fields and make some fun, yet entirely pointless, early predictions : )
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