2019 Cup of China Pairs and Ladies Review: Cup of Surprises

Week 4 of the Grand Prix, Cup of China, wrapped up yesterday. With the exception of the chaos in the men’s event, the results weren’t too unexpected, but there were definitely some little surprises along the way. So many of my favorite skaters showed up, especially in the ladies’ and pairs’ events. It’s hard to believe we’re already halfway through the Grand Prix circuit, so I’ll skip the formalities and start this review before it’s time for Rostelecom Cup already. Warning: I’m writing this blog post on very little sleep because I stayed up late catching up on the skating, then stayed up even later to write the review!

PAIRS:

When the Grand Prix assignments first came out, I’ll admit I was most excited for Cup of China because it featured several of my favorite pairs. Sui/Han and Peng/Jin came in as heavy favorites for gold and silver, but the bronze medal was wide open. After the short program, second and third place were separated by only a hair, and 4th through 6th place was not far behind. This was also the first Grand Prix of the season where all pairs scored over 60 in the short program – well done, guys!

Wenjing Sui/Cong Han:

The almighty Emperor and Empress of China are back! They didn’t put a foot wrong in the short program, and they scored head and shoulders above the rest of the field. I had seen clips of their new program on Twitter, but this was the first time I saw it in competition, and I have a lot of thoughts. First of all, the music is something very new for them, a classic blues. While they did “Blues for Klook” a few years ago, this season’s program feels more mature and sensual whereas “Blues for Klook” was all about flirting and swagger. They remind me a lot of Peng/Jin – a cute little couple with a playful banter on the ice. I’m not sure if they’re totally feeling the choreography yet, but it’s early in the season and I think this program can grow with them. As much as I love their emotional, “all-the-feels” programs, I like the edginess and sass in this performance. Wenjing looks like she’s channeling her inner Yuna Kim Bond girl. She looks dang good, but I miss her flapping hair! It’s part of her boss vibe. I was really looking forward to a new free skate from them, but I don’t blame them for keeping “Rain in Your Black Eyes” for another year. They’ve only skated it twice before, and it was a great program that received a lot of good feedback. It’s strange because it isn’t the most complex or fascinating program on its own, but Sui/Han deliver it so well that it’s a joy to watch. I guess they have a certain kind of magic; they have such great skating skills and control over their movements that they don’t need a loud, flashy program. On the technical side, the jumps looked tight but clean. Wenjing nailed her pesky triple salchow, but Cong decided to double because we can’t have nice things. To be fair, I didn’t quite get the chills from this program like I felt when they skated it at Worlds, but they were getting the job done and still won the event by a landslide, so I ain’t complaining. Her new dress is even more gorgeous than the last one; it’s mysterious, expensive-looking, and dang hot. But why, why, why did they not get Cong a new shirt? It doesn’t match the dress! Anyhow, if they can stay at this level or above, I think they will be the clear favorites for the world title.

Cheng Peng/Yang Jin:

If one fabulous Chinese pair is good, two must be better! With a gold medal from Skate America, Peng/Jin had a pretty good chance of making the Grand Prix Final here. Their SP gives me serious Ophelia vibes, but a little less quirky and a little more romantic. I was very surprised to see them behind Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau in the SP, but in the end it came down to a few tenths of a point. It does worry me that she’s starting to fall on side-by-side jumps again – she was doing so well last year – but hopefully she’ll be able to land them when they count. I’m still obsessed about her flirty little dress. But why does his costume look like a Black Panther suit? Forget Erik Killmonger, Yang Jin is the real pretender to the Wakandan throne! I think this free skate suits them much better than last year’s; it’s light, beautiful, and puts you in a dreamy trance. It reminds me of their first free skate together, “I Will Wait for You”, but more refined and confident. This time, Cheng landed her jumps but it was Yang who made a mistake – the Chinese pair girls went two for two on side-by-side jumps in the free skate, but their partners weren’t so lucky. I’m a little worried about Peng/Jin’s chances to medal at the major international competitions like the GPF and Worlds because of their side-by-side double salchows. I understand that the triple isn’t consistent for them, but couldn’t they at least try a double axel or something? An intentional double salchow is practically handing the other competitors a free pass to make a mistake and still beat them. I want them to succeed this season, and they’re going to need a more difficult side-by-side jump to do so.

Also, can we talk about how gorgeous both Cheng and Wenjing looked here? I guess my type is “sassy, short-haired pair girls who can kick butt while looking pretty”.

Lubov Ilyushechkina/Charlie Bilodeau:

It was a joy to wake up and see Lubov and Charlie in second place after the SP. This program has really grown on me; they look comfortable, classy, and refined. The more I see them together, the more connected they seem; they have a unique but appealing look on the ice. The triple toe has never been their best jump, but the fact that they still scored a 68 with a downgraded triple toe says a lot about the quality of their other elements. I’m so proud they held on for a bronze medal overall. It wasn’t their best performance jumps-wise, but they created so many picture-perfect moments. Her catch-foot in the pair spin and her positions in the lifts never fail to amaze me. It’s my third time seeing The Iconic Lift this season and I’m still gasping in disbelief. Can you imagine doing an upside-down lift that covers the entire length of the ice? The music combined with her blue dress suddenly made me think of Fleur Delacour from Harry Potter, which makes me love this program even more. They’re one of the few teams that can deliver a beautiful performance despite their mistakes, and I can’t wait to see them keep moving up.

Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise:

I had no idea what to expect from Della Monica/Guarise, who did not participate in the smaller Challenger Series events because of Nicole’s injury. I wasn’t sure how much time they had to train for this event, and at the small competition they did right before this event, they had some trouble on the jumps. The side-by-side falls on the first jump was not an auspicious start to the program, but under this scoring system, it’s better to fall on the same jump than two different jumps, so it didn’t put them too far behind. After that, they put together a decent performance. I really like the SP to “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce; I think they will be able to deliver it solidly as they get back into the swing of things. (I do have to gasp at the opening choreography though; get a room, guys!). Nicole and Matteo’s programs generally have this old-fashioned vibe – which I don’t mind – but I love that they’re trying something new. They’ve only had a few weeks of full training so they looked a little tight, but it’s promising. I think we’ll be seeing a very different Nicole and Matteo by the time Europeans rolls around.

I liked the free skate, but they had errors on both throws and both side-by-side jumps, which took the air out of the program here. Skating to “Pilgrims on a Long Journey” is a nice Virtue/Moir reference, but I think they’ve made it their own. Considering they’ve only had a few weeks of full training, I think fourth place here is very respectable, and hopefully they can clean things up before their next Grand Prix, NHK Trophy.

Tae Ok Ryom/Ju Sik Kim:

I love Ryom/Kim’s programs this year. They debuted a new SP complete with flashy purple costumes, which I enjoyed quite a bit. It’s so exciting to see them branch out into a new direction. However, I didn’t mind their Malagueña SP from Nebelhorn Trophy – I know we’ve had plenty of Spanish short programs in the past, but it worked for them. The jumps in the SP gave them some trouble, but they redeemed themselves by placing fourth in the free skate and fifth overall. It was well-deserved – the program almost reminds me of something Yu/Zhang would do. Besides the double axel, they really delivered a great performance with strong elements. I was starting to worry that they were slipping in the standings, but they seem to be finding their groove again. However, it seemed like his arm/shoulder was in pain towards the end of the program, so I hope he’s all right. Also, Tae Ok Ryom looks so stunning.

Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea:

This event was a good start for Tarah and Danny. I think “Sweet Dreams” is a great vehicle for them; it lets Tarah show her sassy side. The SP was fairly clean, except the twist seems to have regressed a bit, hopefully it was just a fluke. Her electric blue dress screams Vanessa James vibes, and I’m living for it. Now for the FS: I love Les Miserables programs, but I don’t think these music cuts are working for them. Anne Hathaway’s weepy “I Dreamed a Dream” is perfect for a tear-jerker gala performance, but not for a competitive program that needs momentum. Minus the throw triple lutz fall, looked pretty clean to the naked eye, but the technical panel harshly downgraded her combo jump, shaving several points off the technical score. I’ve been trying to figure out why Danny shaved his head and I finally came up with an explanation: he’s trying to be Fantine, the mother in Les Mis who sells her beautiful hair so she can take care of her daughter. That’s the only explanation I can accept.

The US pairs are bringing it this year, so they can’t afford to lose any points if they want one of those two spots to Worlds. Denney/Frazier have been holding it together and Cain-Gribble/LeDuc have the potential to score higher than any of the other American teams, so Kayne/O’Shea need to clean things up before Nationals rolls around.

Feiyao Tang/Yongchao Yang:

Besides the fall on the triple toe, Tang/Yang put out a great performance in the short program. The violin arrangement of the tango is cool and refreshing. I’m a sucker for “The Greatest Showman”, so this FS was one of my favorites of the event, jumps or no jumps. They scared me out of my wits when they collided after the side-by-side jumps though – please, guys, never do that again! Overall, it’s been great seeing these two on the Grand Prix this year and I hope to see them at Four Continents and Worlds, since China has earned 3 spots for both events.

Alisa Efimova/Alexander Korovin:

If you follow my blog much, you probably already know that I’m a bit of an Alisa Efimova stan. The side-by-side triple salchow is not her friend, but the rest of the program was clean. The lift went up without a hitch, which was a relief because they’ve had a few lift problems in the past few competitions. Overall, I really enjoy this short program. I love the intensity of these Russian pair girls – Efimova, Pavliuchenko, Panfilova. Unfortunately, the ice in the free skate didn’t like her as much as I do, and she fell on both side-by-sides. Then there was this wonky little fluke fall that literally made me shout out “toepick!” Their free skate to “The Sound of Silence” really relies on clean elements to build the momentum, so it lacked some of the impact it had at Finlandia Trophy last month. It’s hard being a fan of this pair because she struggles with jumps, he struggles with lifts, and just when one partner gets things sorted out, the other starts messing up. Therefore, I’ve decided to just watch them for their good programs and forget about the elements.

 

LADIES:

This roster changed so many times over the past month that I had to check Wikipedia to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind. Four ladies withdrew from this event and four new ladies were assigned. I’m sending wishes to Mai Mihara, Gabby Daleman, Viveca Lindfors, and Elizabet Tursynbaeva for an epic return.

This also meant I saw a bunch of girls I didn’t know. I really wanted to do a full review of the ladies this weekend, but I didn’t have many loud opinions on the bottom four, and with my busy schedule, it just isn’t viable to write a review for every performance I’ve seen.

Alas, the underrotation fairy who jinxed Internationaux de France was alive and well at Cup of China. I saw some quite harsh calls on jumps that looked clean even in slow-motion. There’s a lot to cover here, so let’s get started.

Anna Shcherbakova:

After winning Skate America, Anna backed it up with another win here, easily qualifying to the GPF. I’ve seen a lot of people disliking the SP, but I don’t think it’s that bad, although the music is somewhat slow. The only part I don’t like is that the soundtrack comes from a movie about a man who stalks and murders beautiful young women, and I don’t think that’s suitable for a teenage girl. If I didn’t know the story behind the soundtrack, I would like the performance a lot more. I worry about her longevity in the sport because she is so tiny and will probably hit a growth spurt sooner than later, but I am going to enjoy her skating as long as I can. Her SP was her weaker performance at Skate America, so after she went clean here, she was free to deliver an incredible free skate. She has such a happy energy in this program that’s refreshing and fun. I would like to see more refinement in her skating skills and arm movements because she still looks a bit gangly, but she’s 15 and killing it so I’m not asking for more. The tech panel hit her opening quad with an underrotation, which dropped her score quite a bit, but she still won by a mile. I’m confused why she still has two double axels in her program; if I’m not mistaken, she could easily swap one out for a triple flip or triple salchow to maximize the points. She’ll likely face off against her teammates Kostornaia and Trusova at the GPF, so she has a few things to consider polishing up before the battle begins.

Satoko Miyahara:

Satoko Miyahara + strict technical controller = sad day. She got two underrotations called in the SP, but her level 4 spins saved her. I was quite surprised that her PCS were only two points higher than Shcherbakova’s, and Twitter sure as heck was, but I still think that was fair. For me, this program doesn’t highlight Satoko’s gorgeous musicality and elegance. She’s not a flashy Vegas showgirl, she’s a skilled classical pianist. I would like to see Wakaba Higuchi skate to this music; she has that unrestrained style this program needs.

I already talked about the controversy over Schindler’s List programs from a cultural standpoint in my review of U.S. Classic, so I’m going to review this program strictly based on what I saw on the ice. I think the music itself is a great choice for Satoko because she has a lovely softness and attention to detail in her movements; she really feels the nuances of the music. “Schindler’s List” is a very hard piece to interpret because it requires a restrained yet powerful artistry. You can’t use intense and dramatic gestures or you look like a clown and the program comes off as insensitive and forced. I think 72 for PCS was still on the high side, and I just don’t know how she can get three underrotations called and still score 142 – the math doesn’t make sense. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a very talented and hardworking skater who pays attention to the little details, and my problem is with the judges, not her. With silver here, she’s made a strong case to get into the GPF, but the ladies’ events on the Grand Prix have been wild, so I won’t predict yet.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva:

Okay, I think I’m totally obsessed with Liza’s look for the SP. She looks like the hot goth girl at your high school who’s up to no good, gets in trouble all the time, and doesn’t give a you-know-what about it. Using Florence and the Machine music was a great idea to inject new life into her skating; she’s always used either classic pieces or old-fashioned themes, but this was a refreshing change. Unfortunately, her skating style relies heavily on the cleanness of the jumps, and in the SP, the jumps let her down. I am impressed that she swapped out the 3T+3T combo for an attempted 3F+3T combo to maximize her points, but she ended up popping it here, and she lost points on the missed triple axel. Still, I do think she deserves higher PCS. Her skating skills and transitions aren’t great, but her PE, IN, and CO scores shouldn’t suffer for it. At Skate America, I had one complaint: somebody, please get this girl a proper costume for the free skate, because she’s too fabulous to be skating in a waiter’s uniform! Well, God himself heard my prayer and sent Liza on the ice with last season’s free skate, which meant we saw the return of last season’s dress. She looks so comfortable with the program, which allows her to land the jumps cleanly and sell the heck out of it. Both triple axels were flawless; I had no doubt she was going to land them the minute she took off. It’s a controversial opinion, but I would’ve scored her above Satoko here. While the technical scores were pretty fair, the PCS gap was too large. Both Liza and Satoko delivered such different programs that it’s almost too hard to compare them. Liza’s program is a big, loud, flashy Cirque du Soleil show that sweeps you up in the fun and blows you away, whereas Satoko’s program is like an incredibly skilled violinist who leaves you with chills. In general, I do think Satoko deserves higher PCS than Liza because she has more transitions and pays attention to the tiny details. However, Liza had the better performance of the night and she deserved to be rewarded for that. I just wish the judges agreed with me.

You Young:

Coming off a strong debut at Skate Canada, You Young earned herself a second Grand Prix assignment. Unfortunately, two falls in her short program bumped her out of medal contention. She is a beautiful, elegant skater, but I would like to see her emote more with her face. She is still very young so I’m hoping it will come in time. She got her redemption in the free skate and pulled up to 4th, but I swear the technical panel was calling imaginary underrotations at this competition. Anyway, I like her classic, elegant style on the ice and she always has nice dresses.

Sofia Samodurova:

Sofia swaggered into my heart last year with her sassy, fun “Burlesque” program. Besides the underrotated combo, this short program was great. I’m a little annoyed with the judges for dropping her scores this year. I know they’re trying to make way for the new girls who came up from juniors, but it isn’t fair to the senior skaters who haven’t gotten any worse. They’ve dropped Sotskova, Radionova, and Tsurskaya already, and I’m afraid Sofia and Stanislava Konstantinova are next on the chopping block. Her PCS in the free skate – 61.33 – were ridiculously low, especially since she’s scored up to 68 in PCS. Granted, her jumps have always been small and close to the ice, but I find it odd how she rarely got underrotation calls last season and now the judges are cracking down on her. I don’t think her jumps were any worse than Satoko’s here, but there was more than a 20-point gap between their free skate scores. Something is rotten in the state of judging. She’s an Ashley Wagner fangirl, so she probably chose the “Moulin Rouge!” soundtrack as a nod to her idol. It’s been heavily overused throughout the past few years, but it’s a nice program for her, and it’s a good excuse for her to wear a stunning dress like she did. Long story short, I enjoyed her performances and I frankly don’t care about scores anymore.

Amber Glenn:

Okay, I might have screamed like an idiot when I found out Amber got a second Grand Prix event. And okay, I might’ve screamed like an even bigger idiot when I found out she was third after the short program. Her jumps are so big, solid, and powerful, leaving no chance for underrotation, and she earned a level 4 on everything. As much as I loved the dress she wore at Skate America, I think this one suits the program even better. This performance was the highlight of the event for me. Holding on for a medal was nearly impossible in this field, but she gave it her all in the free skate and fought for it. Skating to Madilyn Bailey AND Sara Bareilles in the same season is a true power move – I personally thought her PCS in both programs were too low. She has such exquisite musicality and the best Ina Bauer of the night. I appreciate how she slows down to hold her moves, rather than rushing into the next transition. I’m really hoping the US ladies can nail down 3 spots at Worlds so Amber has a chance to go to Worlds in 2021. She has all the talent and potential, she just needs to bring it all together.

Marin Honda:

Marin is a beautiful skater, but her underrotations got called heavily in the SP and the fall on the triple flip didn’t help the technical score. She got a new costume for the Seven Nation Army program and I would argue it’s the best one yet. The lace is cut perfectly, the red underneath is a stunning shade, and I think I’ve fallen completely in love with her. I prefer the FS over the SP tbh; I think La La Land works so well with her style and charm. Her whole presence reminds me of the k-pop song “Flower Shower” by Hyuna, especially with that beautiful blue dress! The jumps didn’t work for her, but I honestly didn’t care too much because I was enjoying her performance so much. Her skating just has that simple power to make you happy, and I hope I can enjoy her skating for years to come.

Yi Christy Leung:

I was so impressed by Yi Christy Leung at Skate America, but it looks like the underrotation fairy took an extended stay on her protocols. It’s a shame because she really is an impressive, lovely skater with quality elements. Both her programs are lovely, so I hope to see her back up and running at Four Continents or whenever I get to see her again.

——-

This week’s shoutout goes to my friend Shreya Angana, proud owner of the new blog Shreya Through the Looking Glass! I started talking to Shreya over the off-season and was amazed by just how much she loves the sport. Even in July when literally nothing is happening in the sport, we could have three-hour conversations about skating. She’s not afraid to share her opinions, but as a former skater herself, she respects the skaters as people. She knows the gossip but shares it in a straightforward, non-shady way, and her blog posts are detailed, extensive, and interesting. What I love is how she appreciates the sport based on the performance, not the skater. She cheers for her favorite skaters but she can acknowledge when they didn’t give their best performance, rather than screaming that they were robbed or the skater in front of them was overscored. She talks openly about the real issues in the sport without turning it into a petty drama, like so many fans have done. It’s a refreshing change to see someone who just likes the sport overall and wants to improve it. She once eloquently told me, “As a fan, you’re totally entitled to whatever opinions you have, but you’re not entitled to using your opinion to hate on skaters.” and that has stayed with me every time I write a blog post. Plus, she lets me use her NBC Sports Gold pass for free so I can watch skating while being broke! Follow her blog for her event reviews and her Twitter for hot takes.

And that’s a wrap on Cup of China – now on to Rostelecom Cup! Until next time, happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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