After 6 weeks of Grand Prix events and a one-week break, I can finally say it: HAPPY HUNGER GAMES! For me, the Grand Prix Final is sentimental because it’s where I first became a crazy pair skating fan, way back in 2014. It’s hard to believe it’s my fifth year watching the GPF; I have so many happy memories of these events, and even with many of the big names missing this year, the pairs created some lovely moments to remember – and also some things to discuss.
After the shaky short program, I was frankly worried that James/Cipres were reverting back to the poor pair from a couple years ago who had a habit of splatting when it mattered. But Her Majesty the Almighty Queen Vanessa James and her Faithful Prince Morgan heard the doubts in my mind and blew the house down in the free skate. I had goosebumps. Everything in that program was excellent. Their transitions and choreography are like nothing I’ve ever seen in this sport. They completely cast a spell over the audience. Their basic skating also looks much sharper than it used to. It took me a long time to warm up to them, but they are truly one-of-a-kind and 100% deserved this win.
Friendly suggestion: change the short program. It’s not a bad program, but they just don’t look comfortable with it. There’s something about it that doesn’t quite work for them, and if they’re uncomfortable, they’ll continue making mistakes with it. And while they still managed to win here by no small margin, they can’t afford to do that at Worlds when Sui/Han return.
I’ve been telling you. I’VE BEEN TELLING YOU. Peng/Jin’s SP this year is a JEWEL! They just look so sharp and stylish; when I watch them, I don’t think “oh, here’s China’s number 3 team!” They truly look ready to move up, and I couldn’t be happier for them.
I wasn’t expecting to see them go ahead of Tarasova/Morozov (say whaaaat?), but they skated two very strong performances and I’m happy for them. They’re finally starting to look comfortable in this free program; they’re growing into mature performers. They’ll have to fix their double salchow if they want to be World Champions or something, but with the new scoring system, they can honestly just keep doing beautiful doubles while their rivals splat on triples, and they’ll stay afloat. I would suggest this same strategy to Alexa and Chris Knierim.
Last season, I was cringing because Tarasova/Morozov were going to overrun Russian pairs with their quad twists and polka dots, and I was so not ready for it. Now suddenly I am praying to the skating gods to please protect these angels at any cost. They’re a little too serious for this short program to be totally effective, but it’s not a horror, which is more than I can say for some (*steals a glance at Zabiiako/Enbert*). The fall on the triple toe looked like a simple loss of balance, nothing too concerning. The free skate wasn’t bad at all – just a few standard errors, but she was almost crying and I just wanted to hug her. She still has the best running edge on a throw triple loop I’ve ever seen. There is so much to admire about this couple. And can I just say that Evgenia looks so beautiful and glamorous this year?
I usually try to stay out of skating score discourse. Nothing good comes from arguing over scores. But I am going to analyze something that makes me scratch my head. James/Cipres got 9.14 for Skating Skills, Peng/Jin got 8.82, and Tarasova/Morozov got 8.89. Clearly, Tarasova/Morozov have always had the best skating skills of the three pairs, and they’ve been rewarded for that at every competition for the past several years. Let’s remember: at the Olympics last February, they were receiving the same Skating Skills marks as Sui/Han and Savchenko/Massot. So I would say the judges were definitely stingy here.
Zabiiako/Enbert beating Tarasova/Morozov in the short program is a fact I refuse to accept. 35.38 for PCS? I know I’ve said this a million times before, but The. Program. Doesn’t. Work. For. Them. I just can’t get behind this. Here you have two beautiful, talented people and you dress them up in these wonky knight costumes? Really, they could’ve done wonders with something modern, even a little offbeat, but please – not this.
The judges are clearly willing to give these guys good scores. Now they just have to deliver clean performances when it counts. And that means no botching lifts, darlings.
I really like Della Monica/Guarise. Which is why this GPF was painful for me. I don’t know what was going on, but Nicole just couldn’t get her feet under her. The programs are good, so hopefully they will be able to perform them well at Europeans and Worlds.
I love little Daria, but Pavliuchenko/Khodykin looked like juniors sneaking into senior prom. In the short, she was just making nervous mistakes. And the free…technically very strong, but let’s just say, it ain’t the best Great Gatsby program I’ve ever seen. Good for them making the Final in their first senior season – that’s rare in pairs – but I still think Boikova/Kozlovskii have the edge going into Russian nationals. Somebody, please get Daria the partner she deserves and give them a few years to grow into stars. That’s all I want.
QUICK FIRE THOUGHTS:
Favorite moment: Vanessa’s adorable reaction at the end of the free skate
Skater crush of the event: Cheng Peng, her hip shimmies, and her fabulous hair
Best-dressed award: Evgenia Tarasova’s whole “red carpet” look for the short program.
“Nope, Try Again!” costume award: Zabiiako and Enbert’s Crusader outfits
Okay, that’s all for now! Overall, this was a satisfying conclusion to the Grand Prix series and I’m pleased with the results. I’m working on a review of the ladies event, and then I can rest up for Russian and Japanese Nationals in a few weeks. Until then, happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.