2019 Skate America Pairs and Ladies Review: When Life Throws You for a Loop

After months and months of waiting, the Grand Prix of Figure Skating is finally here. The pairs event at Skate America was the perfect way to kick things off. The short program lulled me into a false sense of safety, and the free skate killed me the moment I let my guard down. Because that’s how pair skating works. But overall, it was a very interesting event, so let’s start spilling tea. This time, I’m looking at both the pairs’ and ladies’ events.

I really didn’t want to start off my first Grand Prix review of the season by complaining, but I am very, very annoyed. The ISU finally provided a stream for us to watch the skating events…but it’s literally geoblocked in almost every country! I was doing school during the pairs’ short program, and when I looked on YouTube for the videos, all I could find were men and a few ice dancers. In order to watch the pairs’ programs so I could write this blog post, I literally had to log into my friend’s NBC Sports Gold account (since she has a paid subscription)and bootleg the videos. Of course, there are some foreign live streams, but I’m a busy student; I can’t always watch live. Videos didn’t come up on YouTube until the next morning (with some talkative Spanish commentators, which was quite annoying to my English-speaking ears). Thank God for my sweet friend, but it shouldn’t have to be this hard just to watch some pairs.

 

PAIRS:

Cheng Peng/Yang Jin:

At the beginning of the week, I had predicted Peng/Jin would win. Then the genius of skating twitter, Jackie Wong, had to go scare me by predicting they would only get a bronze. Needless to say, my gut was right and now I will never forgive Jackie for putting this fear in me. I adore this short program for Peng/Jin; it continues the quirky theme of last year’s “Ophelia” program, but a bit more serious. I’m mildly obsessed with her dress: it’s like a piece of glamorous vintage lingerie, yet it’s still light and charming. They had a little mistake on the side-by-side jump, but overall I found this program very enjoyable. But the real stunner was the free skate. The choreography is exquisite; it allows for breathing room, but it doesn’t feel empty. She took a very hard fall on the throw triple loop, which is usually her strongest element; it just looks like her foot slipped and she crashed into the boards. What amazes me is how they pulled it together and delivered a beautiful performance after such a horrible fall. This is their first gold medal at a Grand Prix event, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin:

I was very impressed with Pavliuchenko/Khodykin’s SP. It’s similar in style to their SP from last year, which worked well for them. I like that they aren’t trying to look older than they are; they just work with what they’ve got. Last season, I was pretty harsh about their free program. I’m really not sure what to make of this “Tron” program for them; there are parts that I like and parts that I don’t. I like the intense parts; I think it gives them more maturity and power. But “Tron” is a tricky soundtrack. It has highs and lows and you have to be dang good to perform the heck out of every nuance. However, it’s a huge upgrade from last year, so I like it.

Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier:

This short program keeps growing on me the more I watch it. I wasn’t surprised by the side-by-side jump error because it tends to be their trouble spot, but everything else had such a nice quality. I like the new SP dress better than the bodysuit she was wearing at Nebelhorn Trophy; it’s busy, but it’s a Cirque du Soleil program so it fits. What really draws my eye about this couple is their lifts. They change positions with such ease and flow, and he is incredibly strong. But the real highlight of this event for me was their free skate. I’ve been waiting for Haven and Brandon to skate like this for a long time. Her new free skate costume is stunning; it totally suits the theme of the program while still looking chic. There were a few small mistakes, but it’s a huge step in the right direction and I’m so happy they got a medal in the end. The US has two spots for pairs this year at Worlds, so if they can keep it up, I think they could be serious dark horses.

Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson:

I appreciate that they chose “Light of the Seven” from Game of Thrones for the SP, and her dress is the best GOT costume I’ve seen so far. She is so stunning! There were some odd mistakes, including a fall in the step sequence, but considering that, they still got a very good score. I think the US Fed is ready to give them a chance, and I’m eager to see where they’re headed. The free skate was equally beautiful, despite the falls on the side-by-sides. Their lifts in particular are lovely. I hope to see them rise this season because they have a lot of potential for a new-ish team.

Ashley Cain-Gribble/Timothy LeDuc:

Oh, what could have been! This short program works so well for them. It’s cool, it’s unique, and it plays to their strengths: power and individuality. She took a rough fall on the throw jump but everything else looked top notch. Unlike the people on my Twitter feed, I don’t think they were overscored here; they’ve worked very hard to improve the overall quality of their elements over the past couple years and it shows. Of course, it was shocking to see them struggle so much in the free skate, but ice is slippery. With the fall in the short and the level Peng/Jin delivered, I don’t think they would’ve won even if they had been clean in the free, so they didn’t “lose” a Grand Prix title here. The program has great potential; I think it’s a strong vehicle and fits their style very well. They’re such a strong, powerful, modern team and I love that they’re leaning into it this season. Sometimes you just have a rough skate and all you can do is try again at your next event and kill it. I hope that happens for them.

Camille Ruest/Andrew Wolfe:

New season, same old Camille and Drew: a gorgeous pair with great programs but technical problems. They remind me of Moore-Towers/Marinaro. The SP has the potential to be epic if they can get the elements together. I don’t understand why his shirt looks like the top of some old British lady’s dress (kind of like Downton Abbey) and I think the program would be even hotter if they put her in a darker color – imagine the power if she showed up in a dark burgundy version of this dress, like the one she had last year. I’m so glad they kept that stunning free skate; it’s the program that made me notice them as a pair. Also, Camille is so beautiful.

Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya/Harley Windsor:

The technical side of things was not great here for the Aussies. It’s funny, I enjoyed the short program more than I usually do. I’m not sure if they’ve been working on their chemistry or something, but it’s better. I’m not sure what’s missing for me with this team though. They’re both strong skaters – especially her, she has the spirit of a scrappy pairs queen – but I can’t quite get into them. She took some hard falls in the free skate; I hope she’s okay and they can improve for their next competition. They only have one Grand Prix this year, so they have plenty of time to regroup.

Zoe Jones/Christopher Boyadji:

I have so much respect for these two, especially Zoe. Imagine being a mom of 3 kids and a competitive pair skater – it takes guts! There were some technical problems with both programs, particularly the twist, but they seem to truly love what they’re doing out there. I love how she came out there in that pale blue dress and hair ribbon in the short; it’s so vintage. It was just refreshing to see.

 

LADIES:

Anna Shcherbakova:

I try really hard not to get attached to Russian ladies’ skaters. I learned with Sotnikova and Lipnitskaya that nothing good lasts forever. But I’ve been a bit of an Anna fan since I saw her win Russian Nationals last year. The story behind her short program is creepy, but I actually like the program itself. The two programs are complete opposites – the short is dark, the free is cheery. I’m so happy she was able to fight back after the mistake in the short program. She’s tiny, but she fights like a beast.

Bradie Tennell:

I was pleasantly surprised by Bradie’s overall performances here. I like everything about the short program except the opening choreography. (Benoit, what were you thinking? She just looked uncomfortable). I like how the red dress makes her stand out on the ice. Skating right after Wakaba’s epic “Bird Set Free” was no easy feat, but she delivered. Her spins are amazing, her jumps are pretty solid, and overall I think this was another step forward for her. While I enjoyed Kaori’s performance more, Bradie checked off all the boxes, and I don’t see any injustice in the way the placements shook out. I like Bradie’s free skate; Cinema Paradiso fits her style. She’s a talented girl who just needed some polishing, and now she’s getting there.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva:

First of all, let’s thank Liza for bringing the SP to “Drumming Song”. I totally approve of the goth punk look on her. The scores were awfully stingy here. I can understand why they didn’t give her high PCS, because she’s not a naturally Kostner-esque skater. But it seems like they robbed her on GOE for jumps that were perfectly fine. I’m just going to be honest and say I didn’t like the FS costume at all. Going from sultry devil woman in the short to a waitress at Olive Garden in the free was a bit of a disappointment. But the performances were good, and I’m happy she scored a medal here.

Kaori Sakamoto:

I enjoyed every second of Kaori’s SP. Skating to “No Roots” is a gutsy, creative move. I would’ve had her score a bit higher because she has such large, smooth jumps. I’m a huge fan of “The Matrix”, so of course I support her free skate. When did Kaori go from a cute little angel to a fierce woman who could kill you with her eyes closed? I love it. Unfortunately, the pops in the FS knocked her off the podium, but I hope she can skate well at her next competition.

Eunsoo Lim:

Every time I see Eunsoo, I think the same thing: she is exquisitely beautiful. Her dresses, hair, and makeup are always spot on. She had a few mistakes, but 5th place is no crime. I would like to see her perform a little more with her face, particularly in the Spanish short program. She was a great actress in her “Chicago” program, so I hope she can bring some of that energy next time. Overall, I just love her and I need to shut up before I start gushing for an hour.

Wakaba Higuchi:

For me, Wakaba’s SP was the highlight of the season. I don’t care that we’re only on the first Grand Prix; that SP was the best moment we’re going to get in this whole season. She has a fabulous grit and rawness that you don’t often see in the Japanese ladies’ skaters, and I think “Bird Set Free” really lets her unleash it. She lost a few levels on the spins so she needs to fix those before Japanese Nationals, but she has time. I’m not going to talk about the jumps in the free skate. It’s a great program, her dress is beautiful, and that’s all I’m going to say. I’m not sure if she can make the team for Worlds this year, but she looked so much better here than at Lombardia Trophy last month, so she’s not out of the fight yet.

Amber Glenn:

Amber’s SP almost had me in tears. There is a special raw, emotional power in her skating. She threw down the jumps in the short and just let go out there; I would’ve had her higher in the rankings. The free skate had some technical problems, but I’m just so happy she’s skating to “Gravity”. It takes guts, power, and finesse to skate a program like that, and she’s got it, so I hope she can lay it all out clean at Nationals. She wins my award for best music choices of the season. Also, her dresses are beautiful.

Karen Chen:

Okay, I’m obsessed with Karen’s short program. Her spins with Lauren Daigle’s music is the definition of heaven, and her dress looks like it came from fairyland. I don’t know how you can look at this girl and not give her all the PCS. The jumps said “not today” in the free skate, but I’m just so happy to see her back. She has a unique and powerful gift and I want to see her realize her full potential.

Yi Christy Leung:

This girl was the substitute for Elizabet Tursynbaeva, who withdrew right before the event. She has pleasant skating and it’s always nice to see skaters from small countries get their chance on the international stage. I’m going to keep an eye on her!

Veronik Mallet:

It was a pretty good event for Veronik. She didn’t have a triple-triple, but what she did have was clean skating. I especially enjoyed her FS to “Flashlight” – you don’t see a lot of Jessie J music in skating and it’s a darn shame.

Stanislava Konstantinova:

Stasya is a breathtakingly beautiful skater. Even with the mistakes in the short – and they were major – I still found her performance one of the most enjoyable of the night. I loved her makeup for the free skate! Moulin Rouge is such a warhorse soundtrack, but her program works well. The music cuts give me serious Ashley Wagner vibes. Seeing her so upset broke my heart. Russian ladies’ skating is a war and I’m afraid she’s not going to make it this year, but I’m going to enjoy her skating no matter what.

Mako Yamashita:

I wasn’t a fan of Mako’s SP last year, and it hasn’t grown on me. The trilling lady at the end just makes me laugh. But I feel bad for her. She’s a talented, cheery little skater who’s having some jump problems. She was so good at Skate Canada International last year, so I know she’s got it in her.

 

SHOUTOUT:

Last week, I started a new little project: giving weekly shoutouts on my blog to skating bloggers, interviewers, and fans who spread positivity and love in the skating world. This week, that person is TJ Carey! TJ is a competitive ice dancer who knows his stuff. In the few years I’ve followed his Twitter, I’ve never seen him tweet a harsh criticism of a skater, yet he keeps it real. He’s enthusiastic, positive, and informative, and he runs a blog where he offers helpful information about the sport. Ice dance fans have a reputation for being overdramatic, shady, and gossipy, but TJ is always a class act. Follow him on Twitter to get a taste of his eloquent writing and drama-free approach to skating.

So that’s a wrap on Skate America! I’ll see you again next weekend for Skate Canada International. Until next time, happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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