2018 US Nationals Senior Pairs Preview

As a group, these teams have won 19 nationals medals.  They have won three Four Continents medals, and Denney and Frazier are former World Junior Champions.  This group earned three medals on the Challenger circuit.  The entire podium from last season along with the 5th-7th place finishers will be competing here along with last season’s Junior Champions, who are moving up to compete as seniors.  The short program will  be held on Thursday, January 4th with the free skate on Saturday, January 6th.

To be competitive internationally, these teams will need at least one quad, either a twist or a throw.  The standards for side by side jumps have also increased with many teams attempting triple flips or lutzes and even triple + triple combinations.  They’ll need 70+ points in the short program, 132+ points in the free skate, and 198+ points overall.

There is only one pairs spot on the Olympic team, and while none of the US teams are in contention for an Olympic medal, as none of them have any top 10 scores this season, they will have a spot for the US team event and have a great chance of walking away with a medal from that.

For the US pairs, the key is going to be the side by side jumps.  A consistent issue this season was botching at least one if not all of the side by side jumps for a team in an entire competition.  This included major issues like singling jumps, downgrading, and falling.

Scimeca-Knierim and Knierim missed nationals and most of last season as she recovered from surgery, but they were still the top US team at Worlds.  At NHK Trophy, they landed their side by side triple salchows, but they were messy.  They also had a throw triple flip with Level 4 spin and lift and Level 3 triple twist and step sequence.  Their program components were in the mid to high 7s.  Their free skate had messy side by side triple salchows and a double toe + double toe sequence with throw triple salchow and throw triple flip.  They received Level 4 on their lifts and death spiral, with Level 3 on their triple twist and spins.  Their program components were in the high 7s to low 8s.  At Skate America, they doubled their salchows and fell, but the rest of the program was clean, earning nearly 6 points on GOEs.  The only mistake on their free skate was a fall on doubled salchows.  Otherwise their program was clean with positive GOEs, totaling 10 points.

Castelli and Tran are in a unique position as they cannot compete at the Olympics as he does not have US citizenship.  However, there are three spots at Four Continents and two at Worlds up for grabs.  They could potentially be sent to one or both of those and don’t have the added pressure of competing for the Olympic team.  At Rostelecom Cup, she fell on a throw triple salchow and they doubled their side by side salchows in the short program.  They earned Level 4 on their lift, spin, and death spiral, with Level 3 on the step sequence and triple twist.  Their program components were in the high 6s to low 7s.  They botched both their side by side jumps in their free skate, doubling their toe and missing the combo on their downgraded triple salchow.  They did complete a throw triple flip and a throw triple salchow.  They received Level 4 on their lifts and spins with Level 3 on the death spiral and triple twist.  Their program components were in the low to mid 7s.  At the Internationaux de France, their side by side triple toes were downgraded .  Their program components were better in the low to mid 7s.  Their free skate had an under-rotated triple toe and a missing combo on their downgraded salchow.

Denney and Frazier are the reigning National Champions, but performed so badly at last year’s Worlds, the US lost a spot for pairs at the Olympics.  At Skate Canada, they had a throw triple loop and under-rotated side by side triple salchows in their short program.  They earned Level 4 on their lift and death spiral, with Level 3 on their twist, spin, and step sequence.  Their program components were in the mid 7s.  Their free skate had a throw triple loop and a throw triple salchow but they botched both their side by side jumps: under-rotating and falling on a triple salchow + double toe combo and singling a triple toe.  They received Level 4 on two of their lifts, with Level 3 on their triple twist, side by side spin, and last lift.  Their program components were in the low to mid 7s.  At Skate America, their triple salchows were under-rotated.  In the free skate, they fell on under-rotated triple salchows and missed the combo and doubled their toes.

Cain and LeDuc won the bronze medal last season in just their first season together.  At Cup of China, they landed a triple lutz throw but had their side by side triple loops downgraded after a fall.  They received Level 4 on their spin and Level 3 on their step sequence.  Their program components were in the high 6s to low 7s.  Their free skate also had issues on the side by side jumps with a singled loop and a fall on their intended triple salchow combination.  They did land a throw triple lutz and throw triple salchow, although both received negative GOEs.  They earned Level 4 on two lifts and their pairs spin with Level 3 on the side by side spin and their Level 3 lift.  Their program components were in the high 6s.  At Lombardia Trophy, they went for side by side triple flips in their short program, which were judged under-rotated.  In the free skate, they did better on their combination jump, singling the salchow, but hitting the triple toe + triple loop.  They also received better Levels on some of their jumps, but lower levels on others.  Their program components were better, in the low to mid 7s.

Stellato and Bartholomay finished 4th at nationals last year after she returned to competition after a decades long hiatus.  At the US International Figure Skating Classic, they landed side by side triple toes and a throw triple loop.  They received Level 4 on their spin and lift, with Level 3 on everything else.  Their program components were in the mid to high 6s.  Their free skate had under-rotated triple lutzes with a fall and a missed triple toe combination.  They did attempt a quad salchow combination which was fully rotated but she fell and they also had a throw triple loop.  They received Level 4 on their lifts and spins with Level 3 on their twist.  Their program components were in the mid 6s to low 7s.  They also fell on the quad salchow at Finlandia Trophy.  They skated a fairly clean short program at Skate America, but were held down by their program components.  They dropped to a triple salchow throw at Skate America which was successful, but they under-rotated a triple salchow and fell.

Liu and Johnson competed at two Challenger Series events, and even placed ahead of Scimeca and Knierim in the short program at the US International Figure Skating Classic.  At that event, they landed side by side triple salchows and a throw triple salchow.  They received Level 4 on their spin and lift with Level 3 on everything else.  They had all positive GOEs and their program components were in the mis to high 6s.  In the free skate, they missed the second half of their triple salchow combination but did land side by side double axels in addition to a throw triple flip and throw triple salchow.  They earned Level 4 for their lifts and spins, with Level 3 on their triple twist.  They had program components in the low to mid 7s.  At the Warsaw Cup, they doubled the salchows in their short program, fell on their throw triple salchow, and missed their pairs spin.  Their free skate again missed the triple salchow combination and under-rotated the double axel.

Kayne and O’Shea had to withdraw from nationals last season and weren’t able to compete again until December.  At Golden Spin, they fell on a side by side triple salchow but landed a throw triple salchow.  They had an under-rotated triple twist but earned Level 4 on their spin, lift, and death spiral, with Level 3 on the step sequence.  Their program components were in the low to mid 5s.  Their free skate had three falls, including the side by side triple salchow, throw triple flip, and double axel + double axel sequence.  They also doubled their throw salchow.  They received Level 4 for their lifts with Level 3 on the death spiral and spins.  Their program components were in the high 6s to mid 7s.

Scimeca and Knierim have said that they are adding the quad twists to their programs which will give them an even greater technical advantage.  They have been executing a Level 3 triple twist (no US pair has hit Level 4) worth 6.2 points base value.  A +3 GOE twist would be worth 8.30 points.  A basic level quad twist is worth a base value of 7.0 points, while a Level 3 quad twist is worth 8.60 points base value.  If they hope to compete with the top teams internationally, they’ll need the quad, as fairly clean skates at Skate America still left them back from the podium and outside of the top 10 internationally.

Stellato and Bartholomew went to a throw triple salchow at Skate America, but they have been hitting fully rotated quad salchows.  If they go for the quad salchow, it has a base value of 8.20 points.  A fall makes the jump worth 4.20 points.  In contrast, the triple salchow is worth a base value of 4.50 points and they earned 5.00 points after positive GOEs at Skate America.  Given this small difference, I would say the risk is worth it especially since it’s been fully rotated.

The difference in base value in the side by side jumps is virtually moot as most teams haven’t hit their jumps in competition.  Castelli/Tran and Stellato/Bartholomay have never hit their combination jumps in their free skate this season.

Interestingly, Cain and LeDuc are going for an easier Group 5 lift, which has a full point less of base value than the other teams are executing.  Denney and Frazier have never hit Level 4 on the group 3 lift in their free skate, costing them a half point.

Scimeca Knierim and Knierim are the only team to hit 8s internationally on program components.

 

My podium predictions:

Gold: Scimeca Knierim/Knierim

Silver: Castelli/Tran

Bronze: Denney/Frazier

Pewter: Cain/LeDuc

 

Bios of the competitors:

Cain/LeDuc: She is 22 and represents the Skating Club of New York and he is 27 and represents the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club.  They finished 9th at Four Continents last season.  They placed 6th at Cup of China.  They placed 4th at Lombardia Trophy and 7th at Nebelhorn Trophy.  They are the reigning Bronze Medalists.

Castelli/Tran: She is 27 and he is 27 and they represent the Skating Club of Boston.  They placed 7th at Rostelecom Cup and 6th at Internationaux de France.  They placed 4th at the Autumn Classic International.  They are the reigning Silver Medalists, 2016 Bronze Medalists, and finished 6th in 2015.

Calalang/Sidhu: She is 22 and represents the DuPage Figure Skating Club and he is 26 and represents the Las Vegas Figure Skating Club.  They placed 6th at Autumn Classic International and 7th at Finlandia Trophy.  They finished 5th in 2016, 5th in 2015, 11th in 2014, are the 2013 Junior Silver Medalists, 2012 Junior Pewter Medalists and finished 8th in juniors in 2011.

Deardorff/Settlage:

Denney/Frazier: She is 22 and represents the Skating Club of New York and he is 25 and represents the All Year Figure Skating Club.  They placed 20th at Worlds and 8th at Four Continents last season.  They finished 7th at Skate Canada and 7th at Skate America.  They placed 4th at the US International Figure Skating Classic.  They are the 2013 World Junior Champions.  They are the reigning Champions, 2015 Silver Medalists, finished 5th in 2014, 5th in 2013, are the 2012 Junior Champions and 2008 Intermediate Bronze Medalists.

Digerness/Neudecker: She is 17 and represents the Broadmoor Skating Club and he is 21 and represents the Seattle Skating Club.  They finished 10th at Junior Worlds last season.  They are the reigning Junior Champions and placed 7th in novice in 2016.

Esposito/Newby-Estrella: She represents the Colonial Figure Skating Club and he represents the Dallas Figure Skating Club.  They won silver at Eastern Sectionals to qualify for nationals.

Fields/Stevens: She is 22 and he is 24 and they represent the Indiana World Figure Skating Academy Figure Skating Club.  They finished 11th in 2016 and are the 2015 Junior Champions.

Kayne/O’Shea: She is 24 and he is 26 and they represent the Southwest Florida Figure Skating Club.  They won bronze at Golden Spin of Zagreb.  They are the 2014 Four Continents Silver Medalists.  They are the 2016 Champions, 2015 Bronze Medalists, placed 6th in 2014, and 7th in 2013.

Liu/Johnson: She is 18 and represents the St. Paul Figure Skating Club and he is 22 and represents the Detroit Skating Club.  They finished 7th at Junior Worlds last season.  They won bronze at the US International Figure Skating Classic and placed 6th at Warsaw Cup.  They finished 6th last season and are the 2015 Junior Silver Medalists.

Pfund/Santillan: She is 20 and represents the Southwest Florida Figure Skating Club and he is 25 and represents the All Year Figure Skating Club.  They finished 4th at Ondrej Nepela Trophy and 5th at Warsaw Cup.  They placed 5th last season and 7th in 2016.

Scimeca-Knierim/Knierim: She is 26 and represents the DuPage Figure Skating Club and he is 30 and represents the Broadmoor Skating Club.  They placed 10th at Worlds and 6th at Four Continents last season.  They placed 5th at NHK Trophy and 5th at Skate America.  They won silver at the US International Figure Skating Classic.  They are the 2016 Four Continents Silver Medalists and 2014 Four Continents Bronze Medalists.  They are the 2016 Silver Medalists, 2015 Champions, 2014 Pewter Medalists and 2013 Silver Medalists.

Smith/Reiss: She is 28 and represents the Skating Club of New York and he is 25 and represents the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club.  They placed 6th at Ondrej Nepela Trophy.  They finished 7th last season and 6th in 2016.

Stellato/Bartholomay: She is 34 and he is 28 and they represent the Southwest Florida Figure Skating Club.  They finished 8th at Skate America.  They placed 6th at the US International Figure Skating Classic and 6th at Finlandia Trophy.  They are the reigning Pewter Medalists.

Timlen/Highgate-Brutman: She represents the Columbia Figure Skating Club of Maryland and he represents the St Clair Shores Figure Skating Club.  They won gold at Eastern Sectionals to qualify for nationals.

Yao/Simon: She is 17 and represents the Peninsula Skating Club and he is 20 and represents the Skokie Valley Figure Skating Club.  They finished 11th at JGP Poland.

2017 World Championships Pairs Preview

Sui and Han missed the first half of the season as she had surgery last spring.  They are the reigning World Silver Medalists and reigning Four Continents Champions.  Their personal best came at Four Continents, where they scored 225.03.  They have a quad twist in their free skate, but what is most impressive about their programs is the quality of the elements they execute.  They routinely receive +2 and +3 GOE, giving them bonus points on their base score.  This quality performance gives them the best element score in a short program this season.  They have the 2nd best short program, 4th best free skate, and 2nd best total scores.

Stolbova and Klimov also missed the first half of the season due to injury.  They finished 4th at Worlds last season, and 4th at Europeans this year.  Their personal best was set at the Grand Prix Final last season, where they scored 229.44.  Technically there is nothing that stands out in their programs.  They don’t have quads or difficult side by side combinations.  This doesn’t give them a lot of wiggle room and they’ll have to execute everything cleanly to make up for the lack of technical firepower.  The only real difference between them and gold at Europeans was their technical score in the short program after they made errors on the side by side jumps.  They have the 7th best short program, 5th best free skate, and 6th best total scores.

Savchenko and Massot had to sit out the middle of the season, missing the Grand Prix Final, due to injury.  They took home gold in their two Grand Prix assignments and are the reigning World Bronze Medalists and European Silver Medalists.  They set a personal best at Europeans, scoring 222.35.  They had to water down some of their content at Europeans as they were making their way back from the earlier injury.  However, they are capable of landing throw triple axels in the short program and free skate and they have a throw quad salchow planned for the end of their free skate.  It’s a risky move putting such a difficult element as the last thing in the program as it is the last impression the judges have, however, if it’s landed well, it can greatly inflate the program components as the overall impression of the program will likely be higher.  Even with the watered down content, their passionate free skate at Europeans earned the the highest score of the season in program components and the second highest in technical elements.  They have the 4th best short program, best free skate, and 3rd best total scores.

Yu and Zhang have made the most of their new pairing, winning a gold and silver on the Grand Prix and silver at the Grand Prix Final.  They set their personal best at the Final, scoring 206.71.  They finished 4th at Four Continents.  They recently upgraded to a quad twist in their free skate.  They are still a new team and are learning how to perform together in a program.  This is reflected in the steady rise in their program components, staring around 29 points and moving to 33 points in the short program, and going from 65 to 68 points in the free skate.  They have the 5th best short program, 9th best free skate, and 8th best total scores.

Duhamel and Radford are the two-time reigning World Champions and Four Continents Silver Medalists.  They won two gold medals on the Grand Prix and bronze at the Grand Prix Final.  Their personal best was set at Worlds last year when they scored 231.99.  They have difficult programs planned with a throw triple axel in the short program and a throw quad salchow in their free skate.  They haven’t had as much success with these elements, so it will be interesting to see if they include them to prepare for the Olympic season, or if they go for more guaranteed elements and a clean program to try and hold on to their title.  They are fairly successful at their side by side triple lutzes in both programs.  Most teams are attempting a triple toe in their short programs worth 4.30 points, while the lutz is worth 6.00.  They have the 3rd best short program, 6th best free skate, and 5th best total scores.

Tarasova and Morozov didn’t really come in to the season as a team that was on the radar.  They finished 5th at Worlds last year, but were 10 points from the podium.  They won a bronze and silver on the Grand Prix and then were the surprise winners of the Grand Prix Final.  They claimed their first European title in January with a personal best score of 227.58.  In general, the elements of their program are not super difficult, with the exception of the quad twist in their free skate (which they did not include at Europeans), but they have quality.  Everything they do earns positive GOEs.  While their programs are a little bit paint by the numbers, they are clean and have the classic Russian look that earns them high program component marks.  The biggest difference in their success this season has been getting consistency in the free program.  At Skate America, they earned only 49.84 points in the free skate for TES, but they earned 72.82 points at Europeans.  They have the best short program, 2nd best free skate, and best total scores.

James and Cipres had the best performance of their careers to take home the bronze medal from Europeans with a personal best 220.02.  They also won a bronze medal at Trophee de France.  Their biggest improvement has been in the program components.  At Skate America, their free skate earned only 59 points in that segment, while they earned 71.57 at Europeans.  They have the highest technical score in a free skate this season.  They have dialed back some of their side by side content this season but do plan a quad salchow in their free skate.  They do a lower value Group 5 lift in their free skate, which is worth a half point less than other teams are doing.  It’s a small thing, but that half point in base value could make a difference in a tight competition.  They have the 6th best short program, 3rd best free skate, and 4th best total scores.

Seguin and Bilodeau have had a bit of an up and down season.  They won gold at Skate America and then placed 5th at Rostelecom Cup.  Their personal best is 208.30, but was set at a Challenger Cup series, and they have yet to come close to that score in any other event.  Like James and Cipres, one of the Group 5 lifts in their free skate is a lower base value, although theirs is a full point less.  They have the 7th best free skate and 7th best total scores.

Iliushechkina and Moscovitch are the reigning Four Continents Bronze Medalists.  They won two bronze medals on the Grand Prix.  They have steadily been making improvements in their scores throughout the season, but the biggest thing holding them back is the side by side jumps in their free skate which they’ve yet to hit cleanly.  They have the 9th best short program, 10th best free skate, and 9th best total scores.

Zabiiako and Enbert finished 5th at Europeans.  They won silver at Rostelecom Cup and finished 4th at the Grand Prix Final, coming in as a first alternate.  Their technical score in the free skate is a bit behind the other teams as they are doing a throw double axel.  This is worth at least a half a point less in the throws than any of the other top teams.  However, if they decide to go for the full triple axel, that element would give them an extra three points in base value.  They have the 10th best short program score.

Also trying to crack the top ten are Scimeca Knierim and Knierim (6th at Four Continents) and Denney and Fraizer  (silver at Skate America).

Peng and Jin have the 8th best short program, 8th best free skate, and 10th best total scores, but there were only two spots for Chinese teams at Worlds this year.

 

My podium predictions:

Gold: Savchenko/Massot

Silver: Sui/Han

Bronze: Tarasova/Morozov