2019 Internationaux de France Pairs and Ladies Review: Never Know Your Luck When There’s a Free-For-All

It’s the weekend, which means it’s time for me to review the third Grand Prix of the year: Internationaux de France, aka the event in France that changed its name and now I can’t pronounce. What was wrong with good old “Trophee Eric Bompard” or “Trophee de France”? Seriously, the only valid name for a skating event in France now is the “Vanessa James Trophy”. I will hear no other suggestions.

Also, I want to write a brief complaint to Didier Gailhaguet, president of the French skating federation, for organizing an event with such poor-quality ice. Dude, why don’t you take that money you got for trading Bruno Massot to Germany and buy a Zamboni that, you know, actually hardens the ice! I’m not trying to complain, but this is simply not safe for the skaters to be attempting jumps in puddles and slush. It’s called ice skating, not water skating. But hey, at least they handed out real medals instead of the plastic hexagons they’ve used for the past few years, and they even got Morgan Cipres to present them at the medal ceremony.

For those of you wondering why I haven’t written about the men or ice dancers yet, there is a perfectly logical explanation. I am now a junior in high school and trying to maintain a pretty high GPA (confirmed: I’m a nerd), so I don’t have as much time to watch skating as I used to. It’s hard enough to make time to watch four disciplines in one weekend, let alone write blog posts about them, and since I personally like to post immediately after the event is finished, it’s very difficult to watch and review four disciplines before school starts up on Monday morning. However, my men’s and ice dance fans won’t be completely disappointed this year; I’m still going to attempt to write a review of all four disciplines at the Grand Prix Final in December.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at what happened in the pairs’ and ladies’ events.

PAIRS:

This felt like a bit of a Skate America rematch: Pavliuchenko/Khodykin, Denney/Frazier, and Cain-Gribble/LeDuc all competed against each other two weeks ago. Out of curiosity, I compared the protocols and discovered something interesting: the judges at Skate America were incredibly stingy with PCS, so everyone was scoring higher here than they had there. The panel at Skate America wasn’t even helping the American pairs; Denney/Frazier and Cain/LeDuc both scored higher PCS here in France than they did in their home country! At Internationaux de France, the fairy that hands out PCS has awoken from her slumber, but her evil twin came with her: the fairy that hands out underrotations on side-by-side jumps.

Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov:

I really thought I would love Mishina/Galliamov’s short program to “Je Suis Malade”, but I couldn’t put my finger on why it didn’t work for me until now. They’re excellent skaters performing to excellent music, but the elements are in the wrong places. When Lara Fabian is screaming out “malaaaaaaaade!”, you can’t just do some side-by-side spins and a death spiral. You need to be doing a big lift or a dramatic throw. Remember when Stolbova/Klimov used to put their throw triple salchow at the end of their free programs and she would nail it just as the music hit the crescendo? Remember when James/Cipres had that stunning lift at the end of their program to “The Sound of Silence”? It’s a risky move, but I think it would elevate the quality of the program so much. That said, you can’t deny the quality of their elements; they skate big and powerful. They lost a level on almost every element here – twist, step sequence, spin, and death spiral – which made the difference between first and second in the SP. At Finlandia Trophy, they got all level 4s, so I know they can do it.

Anastasia and Aleksandr won the free skate, but it was a close fight for the gold medal. All but one of their elements in the free skate were solid; they lost a huge amount of points on the popped salchows that were intended to be a combination jump pass. They had lower PCS than Pavliuchenko/Khodykin in the SP but beat them on PCS in the free; I agree with this because I think the higher PCS went to the better program in both situations. While I’m not wild about this free skate for them because I don’t quite understand the story they’re trying to tell, it isn’t a bad program. I like her dress a lot, but I need him to tone down his outfit. With a gold medal here, they’re in a great position to get into the GPF, but they do have a tough field at NHK Trophy, so they’ll need to skate well.

Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin:

I really want to thank Daria and Denis for this short program. It suits them so well and showcases all their strengths. With a young pair that doesn’t have the performance maturity yet but is technically proficient, the best option is just to pick good music that doesn’t get in the way of the big tricks. I was a little surprised by their score – 76 is pretty high – but the marks were generous for everyone here so I’m not complaining. Their PCS went up 4 points from the SP at Skate America but I think it was well-deserved; this program just works for them.

Now for the free skate…oh, guys, you were so close! With one less mistake, they could’ve won this event, but the two falls bumped them off the podium. I hate to say it, but I would’ve even had them closer to Denney/Frazier. There were some parts of the program I liked and some parts I didn’t. She has such a great intensity and you would think the Tron soundtrack would be perfect for them, but the music cuts they picked aren’t as dramatic as I was hoping. Her unitard looks cool; I just wish he wasn’t dressed up in Nathan Chen’s “Land of All” shirt from last year. While I admire them for going for the side-by-side triple flips, they got a costly edge call in addition to her fall. I wonder if side-by-side triple salchows might be a safer, smarter option to avoid this in the future. Anyhow, the important thing is that they are the first pair to qualify to the Grand Prix Final so far. They made it last year too, and I’m hoping they can improve on their sixth-place finish this time.

Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier:

After a solid showing at Skate America that earned them the bronze medal, Denney/Frazier came out of the gate strong here. Their only mistake in the short was the underrotated salchow, but this was one of the cleanest short programs I’ve seen from them. I enjoyed the performance a lot. Despite their PCS deficit compared to Cain-Gribble/LeDuc, they still came out on top in the SP because they skated cleaner.

While I like all four minutes of their free skate to “The Lion King”, it’s the finish that blows me away. Their lifts are some of the most impressive ones I’ve seen in the sport (apart from Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau). Sometimes when you have crazy positions in the air, the man’s feet tend to get sloppy or shaky, but Brandon keeps moving strong and smooth. This was a pretty solid performance for them; they hit everything except the botched double axels, which were supposed to be a combo jump pass. In this field, it was more than enough to secure the bronze medal. My friend calls them Simba and Nala because they’ve skated together since they were kids, and if that’s not the cutest thing ever, I don’t know what is. With two bronzes, I think they’ll be on the alternates list for the GPF, and this Grand Prix circuit has been a huge step up for them. They’ve beaten the reigning national champions Cain-Gribble/LeDuc twice in a row, so the national title is a real possibility for them. Regardless of what happens next, it’s been amazing seeing these two rise this season.

Ashley Cain-Gribble/Timothy LeDuc:

Coming off missing a medal at Skate America, Ashley and Tim were looking for redemption here. I think this is the best set of programs they’ve had. They have such raw power, and they’re both quite tall, so their movements really seem to reach the people in the rafters. In the SP, she had a really hard fall on the throw triple lutz and the side-by-side triple salchow was called underrotated. Their PCS were almost 3 points higher than Denney/Frazier’s, but they missed some levels while Denney/Frazier didn’t. In the free skate, they pulled off a very good performance with only one error (a fall on the side-by-side triple salchow, which was called underrotated). This event wasn’t perfect for them, but it was a big step up from Skate America. Overall, what I do like seeing is the improvement in the quality of Ashley and Tim’s elements. Say what you will about Nina Mozer, but I think she fixed their technique on twists and throws. Now they just need to keep working and skate the programs strong at Nationals to nab one of the two spots to Worlds.

 

Miriam Ziegler/Severin Kiefer:

I think fifth place was a little victory for Ziegler/Kiefer. They have such charm, elegance, and style, and these two programs are fabulous, and they finished in the top 10 at Worlds last year. This season did not start auspiciously for them, and the sudden passing of their coach in the middle of last season left them in a shaky position. In the SP, they just got a lot of negative GOE on several elements and they couldn’t get a solid score. They finished last out of the eight pairs in the short and I started to think maybe things weren’t going to happen for them this season, but then the free skate happened. It’s a beautiful, powerful, emotional piece of music, and the fact that their late coach picked it for them before he died makes my heart literally ache. They just looked totally reborn from the pair I saw in the short program; I suddenly saw the Ziegler/Kiefer I fell in love with last season. It was a new personal best for them and probably the best I’ve seen them skate – just a tiny mistake on the throw triple lutz. Their twist is what it is, so I’m going to skip talking about that and give props to Miriam for the best non-tacky flapper dress (besides Diva Savchenko’s silver one from the last Olympics).

Camille Ruest/Andrew Wolfe:

When I found out Camille was skating on a serious labral tear at Skate America, my first thought was “get this lady off the ice and cover her in bubble wrap”. Everyone jokes about how pair girls are superhumanly tough, but the truth is, this just isn’t safe. The SP had some errors, but nothing too shocking, and they got level 4 on everything except the twist, which still needs some work. The FS is a stunning piece of art, and I’m just not going to talk about the twist or the botched would-be combo jump. I truly enjoy watching this pair skate, no matter what happens with the technical elements. Why do I always end up loving pairs with beautiful programs and inconsistent jumps? Because I like torturing myself.

Minerva Fabienne Hase/Nolan Seegert:

Hase/Seegert’s SP is simply breathtaking. Unfortunately, they had two falls here: one on the triple toe jump and one silly little one in the step sequence. I find their style very pleasing and enjoyable. She has a beautiful freedom in her skating, kind of like Snow White dancing in the woods for lack of better words. I’m still not a fan of the free skate; they’re a light, flowy kind of pair and the music feels too heavy for them. It wasn’t a great performance either; the combo jump didn’t happen, and the aborted lift took some air out of the program. I would strongly suggest getting a new free skate as soon as possible, and until then, they’ll be “that pair with the beautiful SP” to me.

Rebecca Ghilardi/Filippo Ambrosini:

I was pleasantly surprised by the Italians’ SP; it was a fun example of “not a warhorse”, and besides the clunky twist and the underrotated salchow, they skated pretty clean. But how can you skate a fabulous SP to Jason Derulo and follow it up with boring old “Once Upon a Time in America” in the FS? The jumps didn’t really work out in this program, so I don’t have much to say about that, but they do seem to have some potential, so I’ll keep an eye on them.

LADIES:

The underrotation fairy – or known by her proper name, The Technical Panel – decided that dishing out underrotations for the pairs was fun, so doing it for the ladies would be even more fun! I understand that underrotations need to be called sometimes, but this was excessive. I had to check to make sure the notoriously stingy Shin Amano wasn’t to blame. But we still saw some good skating here, so let’s get down to business.

Alena Kostornaia:

Alena’s SP was so good! She went for the triple axel and stayed upright, although it was called underrotated. She looked a little nervous in the beginning but started to relax after the first two jumps, and you could really start to see her artistry come through. I feel like the Eteri girls get a lot of criticism for “lacking artistry”, but I don’t think that’s all true. They just do a lot of quick little moves instead of long, elegant ones. Alena has a lovely softness to her skating, and her jumps seem to float. Of the three Eteri girls who came up from juniors this year – Shcherbakova, Trusova, and Kostornaia – I think Alena has the best musicality. I gotta say, I was very surprised by the music cuts in the “Twilight” free skate. It starts out with soft music, and by the end of it, we’re jamming to Muse. I’m surprised it worked as well as it did because I’ve always seen Alena as a lyrical skater; to be honest, I would’ve pictured this program on Trusova. 

The only think I would suggest is a more “edgy punk” costume for the second half. Shcherbakova and Trusova both have costume changes in their programs this year – maybe Kostornaia should follow suit!

Alina Zagitova:

For the reigning world champion, this was a close fight. An underrotation nipped her in the short, and a timing deduction took another point off. But how did they not catch that her music was too long BEFORE she competed? She still got higher PCS than Kostornaia, which I expected. Her SP dress is so stunning and you can really tell her musicality has improved. However, I just don’t like the music itself. It’s heavy and reminds me of the song Zabiiako/Enbert used last year for their FS. Alina is a sparkling, beautiful girl and I think her star power comes from her brilliance on the ice. Remember the second half of her Don Quixote program when her jumps were like a fireworks show? That’s what I want to see.

I enjoyed her Cleopatra free skate. The technical controller hit her hard with underrotations (a common theme at this event), but she fought through the jumps and held on for silver. It’s going to be hard staying on the World team this year with the Teenage Charlie’s Angels coming up from behind, but Alina said she’s happy with the silver here and I’m happy for her.

Mariah Bell:

I was very doubtful when Mariah announced her SP was a Britney Spears medley. She’s always had a more classic, floating look on the ice, so I wasn’t sure if she could pull off the “bad girl” vibe. But Sandy Olsson found her inner leather chick and pulled off a fun performance. She got through with no underrotations, a miracle with this technical panel. No matter how many I’ve seen, I’m a sucker for “Hallelujah” programs. It’s a big risk because we all remember Sui/Han and Patrick Chan’s stunning versions, but this music really suits Mariah’s style. She has a nice, easy way of moving that, coupled with this music, creates a pleasant performance. I can’t honestly tell you whether she intentionally collided with Eunsoo Lim at Worlds like people are saying, and I don’t think we’ll ever know what exactly happened there – it’s been over 25 years since the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding incident and you still can’t prove who was or wasn’t involved. I don’t think we should blindly defend Mariah and ignore the accusations, but I definitely don’t think we should be sending her death threats and making jokes about hoping she gets injured. The only thing I can judge is what I’ve seen on the ice, and I enjoyed Mariah’s performances. She pulled together two solid programs in a tough field, and she’s looking steady heading into her next Grand Prix event.

Kaori Sakamoto:

This season, Kaori stepped out of the box with both programs. One day, she was a cute little girl with the playful “Amelie” program, now she’s Trinity from “The Matrix”. The SP had some mistakes, but it’s still fun and different from anything I’ve seen in a ladies’ program. I strongly feel she was underscored in the free skate; the cursed fairy called underrotations on jumps that looked perfectly clean to me. I’m not on the technical panel, but Kaori rarely underrotates, so it seems like they were just trying to set the world record for the most underrotations called in one competition. The skating fans on Twitter always complain about how skaters have wrong-edge takeoffs and underrotations that don’t get called, and now they can all complain about how unfair it is when skaters get called on everything, even clean jumps. Anyway, Kaori’s “Matrix” program is super cool and I loved seeing her so happy at the end of her program.

Starr Andrews:

I’ve been a casual fan of tiny Diva Starr since she came onto the scene with that Whitney Houston program at 2018 Nationals. She’s such a little spitfire. The Christina Aguilera short program is fierce and totally fits her style. I want her to get a brighter dress though; this one is beautiful, but imagine this program in a stunning emerald dress! Technically, she didn’t put a foot wrong in the SP, and she got all level 4s. The free skate is good – a Salome theme is a gutsy move after Michelle Kwan made it iconic, but if there’s anyone with the guts for it, it’s Starr. She had some jump problems here, so I’d like to see this program clean to get the full impact. It seems like things are coming together little by little for her.

Wakaba Higuchi:

It’s no secret that I love Wakaba, and this SP works so well for her. She’s one of the few skaters who has the raw power to skate to Sia. I thought the technical controller was really hard on her with the edge call and underrotations. I can’t defend the free skate; she ended up in sixth because she popped the jumps, not because she was robbed. But I still enjoyed her performances, and I think it was a step forward for her compared to last season. She’s got so much talent and it just needs to come together the way it did at 2018 Worlds. Onward and upward to Japanese nationals!

Nicole Schott:

It was nice seeing Nicole back after all her health problems. In the SP hit a great triple toe-triple toe and double axel, but splatted on a downgraded loop. I like her program to “Caught Out in the Rain” – this music was used by Hubbell/Donohue for the Olympic season, and Nicole skates it really well. It’s always a little funny to see non-Asian skaters doing programs like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, but she had a solid free skate with only a few small jumping errors. I think 7th place was very respectable for her, and I hope she keeps going strong.

Lea Serna:

I really enjoyed Lea’s performances here. She had a fairly clean SP, and her music choices for both programs (SP: “Experience”, FS: “Light of the Seven”) were winners. She has great flexibility and very pretty dresses, and I hope to see her move up in the future.

Yuna Shiraiwa:

Yuna’s dress for the SP is so beautiful. I’m not the biggest fan of her (I just don’t find her skating interesting) and she did a triple-double instead of a triple-triple, but she has nice jumps when they’re on. The FS is just a big miss for me; she’s a light, girly skater, and this Holocaust-themed program is much too heavy for her. The jumps didn’t quite show up, and the tech controller gave her 5 underrotations. Also, I demand a different dress for her! The dye on the fabric looks like a bloodstain, which seems tacky and insensitive for a program about genocide (we already talked about this with Satoko Miyahara). Respectfulness aside, I just don’t like the idea of putting a pretty young girl in a dress with fish’s entrails coming out of it, and red stains below the waist remind me of that time of the month (I know, I know, TMI). I’m sorry, I really don’t have anything against her personally, but this dress left me stunned, and not in a good way.

Mae Berenice Meite:

Mae’s SP is stylish, sexy, and fun. I love her wild parrot dress – she looks amazing. The underrotations fairy came down hard on her jumps though. Then she decided to make me an even bigger fan: she skated to “Hometown Glory” in the free skate. Y’all know how much that song gets me. I know the jumps didn’t work out there, but I just love the soul in her skating and I really want to see these programs clean. Mae is the kind of skater who has so much swagger on the ice that she can miss the jumps and still be fabulous.

Maria Sotskova:

I really wish I had taken the time to appreciate Maria Sotskova’s lovely skating a few years ago. She has such a light, elegant touch on the ice. Unfortunately, the underrotations fairy paid her a hard visit in the SP. Her jumps were always on the borderline of rotated/underrotated, but she lost a lot of points here. It’s a shame because it’s a lovely program. Y’all can judge, but I love her free skate to the “Fifty Shades of Grey” soundtrack. I was afraid it was going to be over-the-top and raunchy, but she kept it very classy, and it felt like a blues night at an old club instead of an R-rated movie. If anything, I’d like to see her cut loose and get a little flirtier in the choreography. The only part I don’t like is the soft music between “I Put a Spell on You” and “I Feel Good”. It just doesn’t fit in this big, bold program. It breaks my heart that she got underrotations/downgrades on every jump in the program, because I remember how good she was in the Olympic season. Well, I guess I’ll hold onto that.

—-

The shoutout for this week goes to Emily, known as @spiral_stan on Twitter! She is one of the kindest figure skating fans I have ever encountered on this little blue bird app. The ice dance fandom can often look like the Capulets and Montagues, and there are so few people who truly appreciate the discipline as a whole. Many so-called fans try to justify why their favorite team is superior by spewing hate about the opposing team. Emily, on the other hand, loves skating for the beauty of it. She’s educated about the sport, particularly ice dance, but she never nitpicks the teams, and she stays out of the toxic gossip. No shade, just facts. Her live tweets always shine a little positivity onto my Twitter feed amidst the drama. She’s so lovely and I really hope to talk with her more this year because we all need a sweet friend like her in our lives. Follow her on Twitter for your daily dose of sunshine.

This concludes the review of Internationaux de France. Until next time, happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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