Lions, Tigers, and Pairs: Previewing Russian, Canadian, and U.S. Nationals

Every year, I try to get more people interested in the fabulous and underrated discipline of pair skating. With the Grand Prix behind us, we’re about to hit the midsection of the season: Nationals. While your placement at Nationals doesn’t solely determine if you make the World team, it’s definitely a strong indicator of who’s running the world. It’s a lot to keep track of, so I’ve written a short guide to the pairs’ events at Russian, American, and Canadian nationals.

Russian Nationals:

December 26-28

Worlds spots: 3

This season, the Russian pairs have been really coming out in full force. As a major Russian pairs lover, this event has always been one of my favorite competitions of the season because you always end up seeing some high-quality skating.

Of the three younger pairs in the mix – Boikova/Kozlovskii, Mishina/Galliamov, and Pavliuchenko/Khodykin – I would say Boikova/Kozlovskii are the fullest package. Up until GPF, they were looking like the leading pair in Russia. Boikova’s foot injury and a pair of botched lifts hampered them at the Final, keeping them off the podium, but I think they are still the team to beat this season.

Over the past few years, Tarasova/Morozov have gone from a couple of talented youngsters to the veterans and leaders of the pack. Their season got off to a rocky start, but they have all the potential to win it – their season’s best score from Rostelecom Cup would’ve easily won the GPF. They’ve struggled with packaging in the past, but I think

they’ve hit their stride artistically. If the technical side follows, I think they can win this in style.

When all hell broke loose at the GPF, it was Mishina/Galliamov who stayed on their feet for the bronze. The scary part about these guys is their sheer technical perfection. They rack up GOE’s, get their levels, and make few mistakes. Their programs don’t showcase them, but their huge TES is their weapon. I think they could easily lock down the bronze medal here if they can give two decent performances.

I’m really impressed at Pavliuchenko/Khodykin’s growth this year. However, they’re such a frustrating team. They’ve shown their potential, but haven’t been able to pull it together into a single event yet. They thrive in the SP, but the free skate hasn’t worked so nicely for them. If anyone can spoil for the bronze, it’s them, but it won’t be easy.

Last but not least, I’m thrilled to see Efimova/Korovin again. They’ve been underdogs in the pairs field and they struggle with inconsistency, but I find them one of the most intriguing pairs on the ice right now and I hope they can deliver some solid performances.

The roster is chock-full of talent, but two prominent Russian pairs won’t be joining us at Nationals: Zabiiako/Enbert and Stolbova/Novoselov. Reigning World bronze medalists Zabiiako/Enbert withdrew from their Grand Prix events due to his unspecified health problems, and apparently he still hasn’t been cleared to go. This means we probably won’t be seeing them until next season, unless they enter in a small Russian Cup Final or Bavarian Open as a last-ditch attempt to get on the World team. I wasn’t thrilled with their plan to keep last year’s free skate, but I was curious to see their new SP. Stolbova/Novoselov showed some promise in the SP at Rostelecom Cup, but after a rough free skate, they hit a series of unlucky incidents culminating in Andrei’s leg injury. I was really looking forward to seeing them again, but with their low season’s best, getting Grand Prix events next year is going to be a struggle.

Canadian Nationals:

January 13-19

Worlds spots: 2

The pairs’ event at Canadian Nationals could just be called “The Ex-Partners of Dylan Moscovitch”. The title is solidly locked down between Moore-Towers/Marinaro and Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau. So far this season, Moore-Towers and Marinaro have led the way, even making it to the GPF where they finished 5th, and they’re definitely favored to win going into this competition. However, Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau have the scoring potential to pass them if Moore-Towers/Marinaro aren’t at 100%. I think Moore-Towers/Marinaro have much better consistency on the side-by-side jumps, but Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau have stronger pair elements (particularly lifts). I’m really hoping to see them go 1-2 here and get the two spots for Worlds.

I’m also excited to see Evelyn Walsh/Trennt Michaud. This season has been a little shaky for them so far, but their new SP they debuted at Rostelecom Cup was a hit. They had some great skates last year, so hopefully they can get their feet under them and give their best performances here.

Keep an eye on Ruest/Wolfe. They struggle with consistency, but their programs are never less than stunning. I’m curious to see what’s up with Brasseur/Bardei, who haven’t skated much this season. Also notable, US pairs queen Deanna Stellato has adopted the maple leaf and will debut with Maxime Deschamps. (You might remember her from her partnership with Nathan Bartholomay). They’re still working out the new partnership, but I think they could be a team to watch in the next few seasons.

U.S. Nationals:

January 20-26

Worlds spots: 2

U.S. Nationals is always a bit of a free-for all. American pairs like to play hot potato with the national title. The Knierims won in 2015 and 2018, Kayne/O’Shea in 2016, Denney/Frazier in 2017, and Cain-Gribble/LeDuc in 2019. The American pairs drought has become somewhat of a joke in the skating fandom, but I personally find watching US Nationals a new kind of fun. There are certain events where the results seem decided before the skaters even perform, but nine times out of ten, US Nationals is unpredictable and chaotic, and I love it. I like having five pairs with roughly the same skill set fight it out because you have no idea how things will shake out until the bitter end. Also, for the first time in several years, we have two spots for Worlds instead of one. For the past few seasons, Nationals has felt like a pack of hyenas fighting over one piece of meat, but no more!

Denney/Frazier led the way for American pairs on the Grand Prix, picking up two bronze medals. We haven’t had an American pair win two medals on the Grand Prix in the same season since the Knierims did it in the 2015-16 season. However, their recent coaching situation throws a huge wrench in the road to victory. (If you haven’t heard, here it is in a nutshell: a prominent skater sent explicit photos to an underage girl at the rink where Denney/Frazier train, and their coaches tried to cover it up). A situation like that no doubt affects your preparation and disrupts your training. I’m really hoping Denney/Frazier can keep moving forward this season despite the incident. They have some of the best lifts, throws, and programs this season. Like most pairs, their Achilles’ heel is the side-by-side jumps, but I’m crossing my fingers for them.

Defending champions Cain-Gribble/LeDuc got off to a rough start on the Grand Prix, but promising performances at Golden Spin of Zagreb have put them back on the map. The federation seemed very eager to push them last year, and the judges are rewarding them for getting the job done. Their programs this year are fabulous and I’m hoping we can see them clean or nearly clean here. To be honest, I’m just so impressed at how much they’ve improved since they paired up a few years ago.

A few years ago, the Knierims led the US pairs field easily, but the past two seasons have been a bumpy ride. In theory, they could be the biggest American contenders on the international stage – they have all the big tricks and even made it to the GPF a few years ago. However, skating isn’t a game of talent, it’s a game of consistency. If the Knierims are going to stand any chance of getting their title back, they need solid performances. I’m not feeling the short program this season, but the free skate has a lot of potential.

Kayne/O’Shea showed marked improvement at Golden Spin. I feel like they were on the wrong foot for most of the season, but they’re moving up slow and steady, and if they can stay upright, they can make a strong claim for the podium.

I’m most excited about my new loves, Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson! They haven’t quite pulled it all together, but they’ve got the goods, including two stunning programs. I’m low key hoping they can get on the podium here because I want to see them skate as much as possible, and I’d love to see them at Four Continents.

Lu/Mitrofanov have some good qualities, but I’m still waiting for it to come together for them. They need to clean up the execution of the elements to maximize the GOE, especially the lifts. They’re the youngest team of the top contenders, so I’m hoping they have a strong future ahead of them, because we need good American pairs! In any case, I’m a sucker for a Skyfall program, so I’ll enjoy their short program no matter what.

Shoutout of the week goes to Magia Gelada and her amazing blog! In a fandom that often gets tangled up in ridiculous drama, this blogger keeps it real, respectful, and enjoyable. Her tweets are always a breath of fresh air within the craziness on my timeline. Follow her on Twitter @MagiaGelada and her blog here:

This concludes my quick preview of the major Nationals. Until next time, happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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