As a passionate fan of pair skating for almost 6 years now, I love getting people involved in the pairs fandom. There seems to be a lack of coverage on pairs in the skating world – singles’ skaters tend to get more attention, and the U.S. media in particular tends to neglect giving pair skating the attention it deserves. Nine times out of ten, when I meet a new mutual, they’ll say “I don’t know much about pairs”. Usually, this leads to me sending them a master list of pairs’ programs and telling them their lives will be changed forever after they see these performances. Since many of the videos have been geoblocked or deleted from YouTube entirely, it’s difficult to find footage of these great performances. To help prevent this, I’ve compiled my favorite pair skating programs into a blog post so people can watch without having to search all over the place for them.
There have been many great pairs in the history of the sport, but I chose programs from the past few years because these are the performances that made me fall in love with figure skating. I’ve included both competitive and exhibition programs because competitive pair skating and exhibition pair skating are almost two separate arts. I’ve listed them as a countdown from 50 to 1 based on my own personal opinions, but if your favorite program isn’t on the list, feel free to comment it below! I hope these programs make you love this incredible sport as much as I do.
50. Astakhova/Rogonov “La La Land”, 2017 NHK Trophy – Free Skate
This cheerful little program always makes me smile. Astakhova/Rogonov were known for their funky steampunk programs from the previous few years, but for the Olympic year, they went for something fun and lighthearted. I really wish they had stayed together and continued after 2018 because they had a cool, unique style.
49. Castelli/Tran “Try”, 2016 U.S. Nationals – Exhibition
Castelli/Tran were one of my favorite underdog pairs of the last few years. Although they struggled with side-by-side jumps and never really broke through as top contenders, they had some of the best lifts, pair elements, and programs in the field. This exhibition shows off all of their skills, including some ridiculously cool tricks, and as a P!nk fangirl, I totally approve of this music choice.
48. Tarasova/Morozov “SOS d’un terrein en detresse”, 2020 Russian Nationals – Exhibition
Tarasova/Morozov are brilliant technicians and competitors, but this exhibition brought out a new level of emotion and performance quality in them. This song has a special place in the hearts of skating fans because of its connection to Denis Ten, the Olympic bronze medalist from Kazakhstan who died last year in a robbery attempt. With their divine skating skills and flawless elements, it’s truly a breathtaking program.
47. Moore-Towers/Marinaro “Eet”, 2019 Canadian Nationals – Exhibition
This exhibition program from Moore-Towers/Marinaro was equal parts fun and beautiful. Regina Spektor is such an underrated artist and this song really works for them. I particularly love the tricks at the end!
46. Marchei/Hotarek “Barbie Girl”, 2018 Europeans – Exhibition
If this program doesn’t make you smile, you must be Ebenezer Scrooge. Italian skaters are known for their over-the-top gala performances, and this one takes the cake. Valentina and Ondrej not only put on a ridiculously fun show, they showed off some jaw-dropping tricks. This is the craziness of pair skating summed up in one video. Not to mention, handsome and shirtless guys is always a good incentive to watch.
45. Boikova/Kozlovskii “The Nutcracker”, 2019 Russian Nationals – Free Skate
It was Boikova/Kozlovskii’s first senior season, but they didn’t come here to play. These kiddos came out of the gate swinging. This program emphasizes their textbook technique – long running edges on the throw jumps, a high twist, and lovely balletic lines. They have a classic style from a bygone era that sweeps you away on a journey to the past (yes, Anastasia pun intended). Dmitri’s reaction at the end is priceless.
44. Denney/Frazier “Don Juan”, 2016 Skate America – Short Program
This short program is so underrated! A step sequence in “hold” (in layman’s terms: when the two partners look like they’re ballroom dancing) is a rarity in pair skating because it’s so difficult to maintain speed while holding hands. The choreography is a masterpiece and these two really do it justice. Also, I adore these costumes.
43. Duhamel/Radford “Say Something”, 2015 Worlds – Exhibition
This is actually the performance that turned me from a casual fan of Duhamel/Radford to a full-blown fangirl. Being about 12 when I first saw this, I was blown away by the idea of a guy swinging a girl by her feet without killing her. It’s jam-packed with athletic feats, but there’s also a beautiful performance quality. Duhamel/Radford have always been known as a technical pair rather than an artistic one, but I think their artistry shines through in this exhibition program.
42. Seguin/Bilodeau “Where’s My Love”, 2018 Olympics – Free Skate
The first time I watched this program, I practically swooned in my chair. The music is beautiful and emotional, casting a dreamy mood over their strong elements. They had a fresh aesthetic on the ice, and this program makes me think of losing your first love and the Twilight saga. It was such a joyful moment for these two to deliver a clean performance at the Olympics – it’s always amazing to see athletes show their full potential on the big stage. I’m still really upset that Seguin/Bilodeau split, even if it resulted in another great pair being formed in the end.
41. Cain-Gribble/LeDuc, “A Storm is Coming”, 2019 Internationaux de France – Short Program
From the moment Cain-Gribble/LeDuc first teamed up, their brand was strength and power, and this short program sticks to those principles. It’s modern, it’s new, and it suits them so well. I chose to include the video from Internationaux de France rather than the one from US Classic. Although the performance in France had a fall and the performance at US Classic was clean, the video quality from France is much clearer and you can actually see what they’re doing. I’m not a fan of watching blurry videos with bad camera angles.
40. Stolbova/Klimov “Mozart”, 2017 Europeans – Exhibition
Of all the comical programs I’ve seen in the skating world, this is the one that made me laugh the most. Stolbova/Klimov’s career was unfortunately hampered by a series of injuries, so in this gala performance, they decided to poke some fun at their own bad luck. I especially love the choreography with the chairs and the bandages. Sometimes when life gets you down, you just have to laugh at it, and these guys did that in front of a whole arena. Respect.
39. Tarasova/Morozov “Glam”, 2016-17 Grand Prix Final – Short Program
This was the program that helped Tarasova/Morozov transition from a young, promising team to a pair of top contenders. Evgenia in particular shines so brightly in this charming, upbeat choreography. It’s a bit quirky and energetic, emphasizing their speed and precision on the ice. Paired with their brilliant elements, it’s a home run.
38. Denney/Frazier “The Lion King”, 2019 Internationaux de France – Free Skate
This program is the quintessential Denney/Frazier program, and I love it. The entire performance is spectacular, but pay special attention to the final minute of the program, which features some insane lifts and a great piece of choreography to finish. Fun fact: Denney/Frazier skated to The Lion King way back in the 2014-15 season, but chose to bring the program back this year with some revisions to the choreography. (Because of the strict copyright rules, you’ll need a VPN to see this video in the United States. If you want to watch without a VPN, you can watch an old performance of it here:
37. Marchei/Hotarek “Americano”, 2018 Europeans – Short Program
Marchei/Hotarek have always been a team known for their charm. Valentina has sass in spades and Ondrej seems to have stepped from the golden age of comedy, like “I Love Lucy”. This program highlights their quirkiness, and the step sequence is a particular delight. I love the tiny details, especially his hand gestures during the death spiral. It’s just so much fun.
36. Della Monica/Guarise “Rocky Balboa’s Crazy Fight”, 2018 Grand Prix of Helsinki – Exhibition
There isn’t currently a video of this performance on YouTube, but https://m.facebook.com/IceLabBergamo/videos/521642068336454/
Only 14 programs into the list and we’ve already encountered another shirtless Italian pair guy…all right, bear with me. This whole performance is epic, complete with Nicole punching Matteo, Matteo flirting and getting nowhere, and some awesome elements in between. It’s reminiscent of Philippe Candeloro’s famous “Rocky” exhibition, but with a fresh spin on it.
35. Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch “Black Velvet”, 2017 Skate Canada International – Exhibition
Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch were artistic innovators in the sport, channeling their own unique and modern style. In this program, they embraced their edgy side with a cool, sexy performance to “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles. Take special notice of the crazy tricks, including the stationary lift and the headbanger. Also, can we get these guys in a spy movie? They’d totally kill it.
34. Sui/Han “Run”, 2017-18 Grand Prix Final – Exhibition
To be honest, I think this is my favorite Sui/Han program ever. They can interpret basically any style, but “all the feels” is their specialty, and Leona Lewis provides a gorgeous soundtrack for them to interpret. Although many of the exhibition programs I’ve included on this list feature dazzling, death-defying stunts, this program is an example of pure, elegant pair skating in all its glory. They have such a divine quality to every movement that makes this performance so special.
33. Moore-Towers/Marinaro “Carry You”, 2019 NHK Trophy – Free Skate
This free skate is the perfect vehicle for Moore-Towers/Marinaro. They’ve tried soft, lovely programs in the past, but this one is on a whole new level from anything they’ve done in the past. At NHK Trophy, they pulled all the elements together and gave a beautiful performance, securing them a spot in the Grand Prix Final. Also, Kirsten’s hairstyle makes me jealous.
32. Volosozhar/Trankov “Nagada Sang Dhol”, 2016 Europeans – Short Program
Prepare to be swept away into the enchanting world of a Bollywood film! Every movement in this program is precise, artistic, and perfectly timed to the music. It feels like watching actual Indian dancers. Volosozhar/Trankov’s technical elements are always top-notch, giving the program a magical quality. Tatiana’s dress is god tier – green costumes are a rarity in this sport, but our queen didn’t disappoint!
31. Yu/Zhang “Swan Lake”, 2017 Skate America – Short Program
To be quite honest, I was not a fan of Yu/Zhang when they first paired up. However, this program completely persuaded me to join their cheer squad. Xiaoyu is such a beautiful, graceful girl and Hao is a massive, strong partner; I dare you to find two people more suited to play the White Swan and the wicked sorcerer. The choreography feels like a professional ballet at the Bolshoi, and their gorgeous elements seem to be woven into the program, rather than the program being woven into the elements.
30. Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch “In the Air Tonight”, 2017 Finlandia Trophy – Short Program
I will always mourn the fact that we didn’t get to see this short program more. It really channeled the edginess and flair Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch had together. They had a magnetic chemistry on the ice – not necessarily romantic, but nevertheless captivating. It takes a lot of skill to sell a step sequence to the beat of “In the Air Tonight”, but they had the timing for it. I still wish they had stayed together long enough to give us a Dirty Dancing program because they totally had that vibe.
29. Ziegler/Kiefer “Adele medley”, 2018 Rostelecom Cup – Free Skate
(Skip to 14:47)
Okay, guys, you knew this was coming. As an Adele fan, I always break into hysterical screaming and cheering whenever skaters use one of her songs. The universe wasn’t complete until Ziegler/Kiefer used “Hello” and “Rolling in the Deep” for a pairs’ free skate. The vibrant purple costumes are still some of my favorite skating costumes of all time. At Rostelecom Cup, they put together a nearly clean performance and scored a personal best, and their happy reactions at the end make my heart melt.
28. Duhamel/Radford “Muse medley”, 2014-15 Grand Prix Final – Free Skate
For years, Duhamel/Radford struggled to fit the standard mold of a “balletic” pair, but this season, they finally threw caution to the wind and went for a big, bold, edgy free skate. The result? Fabulous. Their
massive technical elements, including a huge throw quad salchow, provide the backbone of the program, which grows more dynamic with each element. Although this program also won them a World title that year, I think this performance at the Grand Prix Final gave the most electric impact. At the time, this program was a radical idea for pair skating, but it played to all their strengths and resulted in a memorable, epic skate.
27. Moore-Towers/Marinaro “Glad You Came”, 2017 Cup of China – Exhibition
This is no doubt my favorite performance from Moore-Towers/Marinaro. Like “Eet” (#47 on the list), this program showcases several fabulous tricks. The song is fun and catchy, and it feels like they’re taking us to a club for a long night of dancing. I always enjoy pairs’ exhibitions that are just plain fun, and this one steals the show.
26. Peng/Jin “Cloud Atlas”, 2019-20 Grand Prix Final – Free Skate
Peng/Jin have been one of my favorite pairs since the day they paired up. This season’s free skate captures their soft elegance and almost poetic musicality. The highlight of this pair for me is the quality of their throw jumps. They feel like a classic Chinese pair from another era, and it’s so easy to get swept up in the magic of these two.
25. Tarasova/Morozov “The Winter”, 2019 Russian Nationals – Free Skate
After a few unsuccessful programs, Tarasova/Morozov finally found a free skate that showcased their incredible talent and performed it to its full potential. They have such strong basic skating skills, explosive throw jumps, and a twist that just seems to float in space forever. Not many pairs could pull off this simple style, but they can. Also, Evgenia’s white dress is so lovely!
24. Stolbova/Klimov “Besame Mucho”, 2017 NHK Trophy – Short Program
Move over, Dancing with the Stars pros, because this program is a masterclass in tango. Ksenia and Fedor always had this unique chemistry on the ice, like two elements and creating a chemical reaction. She has such a captivating intensity and he provides a strong, elegant frame; their posture and skating skills are second to none. I’m also so in love with her dress; it’s simple but it looks fabulous on her.
23. Sui/Han “Rain in Your Black Eyes”, 2019 Worlds – Free Skate
Coming back after an injury, many fans feared Sui/Han wouldn’t be able to claim the world title last year, but they silenced all doubt with this perfect free skate. I think the music is a very difficult piece to interpret in a fascinating way, but they hit every beat. Their gorgeous technique elevates the entire program to the heavens, and the final lift makes me gasp every time. It was truly a moment I won’t forget anytime soon.
22. Savchenko/Massot “Un Giorno Per Noi”, 2017 Europeans – Exhibition
I don’t know how else to say it: this program is a masterpiece. When Savchenko/Massot first started skating together, there was a considerable gap between their skating levels, but this performance really showcased Bruno’s natural strength and his commitment to improve. It felt like watching the moment in “A Star is Born” when Lady Gaga finds the courage to get up onstage and blows everyone away with her incredible voice. This team’s strength was always the sheer ease of the pair elements, and the final lift created a breathtaking crescendo that has stayed with me even today.
21. Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch “When You Say You Love Me”, 2017 Worlds – Free Skate
This is one of my underrated faves. Despite the errors on the first two jumping passes, they pulled together an exquisite performance, and there are so many tiny details in the program I can’t stop gushing over. Lubov has an insane level of flexibility, and her skating combines classic Russian lines with modern Canadian choreography to create a stunning quality on the ice, while Dylan has such a strong, solid frame and performs even the most difficult lifts with ease. I truly think they were one of the most beautiful pairs to watch.
20. Seguin/Bilodeau “Shut Up and Dance”, 2016 Rostelecom Cup – Exhibition
If you ever need a program that will put you in a good mood, try this one! Not only did Julianne and Charlie put together a fabulous performance with wild stunts, they made it fun! The headbanger and Detroiter lifts always make me gasp, and it was the perfect program choice for a young, up-and-coming team. But let’s be fair – the real star of the show is Charlie’s crazy disco pants.
19. Duhamel/Radford “With or Without You”, 2018 Olympic Team Event – Short Program
This style was a leap of faith for Meagan and Eric, but the risk paid off. April Meservy’s soft, emotional voice turns U2’s upbeat hit “With or Without You” into something poetic and heartbreaking. Meagan and Eric have a unique soul to their skating; it’s raw, powerful, and a bit gritty, giving this program a strong impact. The step sequence at the end really channels that spirit and left me with chills. I’m so upset because they performed this program flawlessly at Canadian Nationals that year, but there aren’t any videos of it on YouTube, so I went with this nearly-clean performance from the Olympic team event.
18. Duhamel/Radford “Piano Man”, 2016 Worlds – Exhibition
Continuing on the Meagan and Eric theme, let’s take a minute to appreciate one of their greatest hits. This program really emphasized their best tricks and even allowed for a bit of cute acting. Coming off their victory, they skated with a palpable joy and freedom that gave the entire performance a delightful energy. This whole program is just ten times more charming if you know that Eric is actually a highly skilled pianist who has released several piano tracks.
17. Sui/Han “Hallelujah”, 2017 Cup of China – Short Program
And from my lips, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han drew a hallelujah. This team has it all – exquisite elements, excellent skating skills, and a tender, emotional chemistry. They have a luxurious quality to everything they do; watching them is like opening a box of Godiva chocolates. We’ve seen scores of “Hallelujah” programs over the years, but this one is still my favorite of all time. From her catlike landing on the throw jump to the richness of her dress, there’s so much to admire in this program.
16. Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch “Tango Jalousie”, 2017 Worlds – Short Program
Is this a figure skating performance or a ballroom dance? With Lubov and Dylan’s incredible footwork and intensity, it’s hard to tell. This was Lubov’s dream program, and she delivered it like a boss. She has always been a beautiful skater, but I feel like this is the program where she revealed her brilliant, magnetic spark – she was in full command of the performance. In addition, Dylan really embodied the ideal of a male pair skater here: he showcased his partner but remained equally captivating to watch, a balance few have actually mastered. Also, I absolutely adore this white ruffle dress.
15. Boikova/Kozlovskii “James Bond”, 2020 Russian Nationals – Free Skate
This performance really set Boikova/Kozlovskii on the road to become Russia’s number one pair this season. They showed potential since juniors, but this program raised them to a new level of maturity. This gorgeous cover of “Writing’s on the Wall” turns what could’ve been just another James Bond program into something modern that suits their style. Combined with their high-quality elements (their lifts in particular have really improved), they’ve carved their mark in the long line of excellent Russian pairs, and they’re just getting started.
14. Tarasova/Morozov “Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2”, 2019 Worlds – Short Program
Tarasova/Morozov have often been lauded as one of the greatest technical pairs of the past decade, and this short program shows those skills to great advantage. Every element is executed to the best humanly possible quality. Speed, power, finesse – they’ve got it all. After so many struggles to find a program that played to their strengths, they hit the jackpot. I was so glad they brought this program back for Worlds because it’s one of their very best, and they even got some beautiful new costumes for it.
13. Stolbova/Klimov “The Addams Family”, 2014 Olympics – Free Skate
When I was 11 years old, this little program swept me away into the world of figure skating forever. It’s equal parts pair skating glory and playful comedy. Ksenia and Fedor came into this event as underdogs with an outside shot at making the podium and left with the Olympic silver medal. Although it’s not the most technically difficult program on the list, their exceptional execution racked up huge points and lit up the entire arena. No matter how many times I watch this performance, I can’t get over the running edges on her throw jumps. And props to Ksenia for finally giving us a Morticia Addams who wears something other than black! On a personal note, this program really means a lot to me because it helped me manage my anxiety.
12. Peng/Jin “My Drag”, 2016 Grand Prix Final – Short Program
It’s insane to remember this was Peng/Jin’s first season together. The minute they teamed up, they showed not only a quirky chemistry and adorable charm, but excellent pair skating (check out that throw triple loop!). This partnership revealed little Cheng Peng’s true star power – she was a bit overshadowed when she skated with Hao Zhang, but with Yang Jin, she grew into a tiny queen in her own right. Although they were originally considered the weaker team from the Peng/Zhang/Yu/Jin swap, they rose to the top in the long run. Finally, “My Drag” eventually paved the way for two of their later short programs in the same style – “Ophelia” and “Allegria”.
11. Duhamel/Radford “Be Mine”, 2018 Stars on Ice Japan – Exhibition
Okay, you know I’m addicted to pairs’ exhibition programs because I love seeing some insane tricks. And, well, Meagan and Eric decided to do an entire program dedicated to insane tricks. These are the kind of stunts I used to think would be totally cool but scientifically impossible. Seriously, check this out: he throws her into a triple lutz, then she adds a double toe loop-double toe loop combination on the end of it, and he swings around to land a double toe loop in synchronization with her third jump. It’s completely mind-boggling to me. Also take note of the crazy transitions – he literally just flips her around the ice without a hitch. Although they’re also great competitors, I think Meagan and Eric really thrive in exhibition programs because they can be more freeform and perform innovative moves that aren’t even allowed in competition.
10. Savchenko/Massot “That Man”, 2018 Worlds – Short Program
Skip to 1:56:18
It’s officially the Roaring Twenties again, so we need to talk about the best flapper program of all time. From the moment the twist goes soaring into the air, you know this is going to be a fun time. The music has such a vigorous tempo and the choreography is exceptionally intricate. This was the ultimate test of Bruno’s ability to keep up to his five-time world champion partner Aljona, and he delivered the program so convincingly that there was no doubt anymore: the partnership of Savchenko/Massot was a success. Also, can we just stop to admire Aljona’s silver flapper costume? Daisy Buchanan just died of envy.
9. Sui/Han “No One Like You”, 2019 Worlds – Short Program
This short program feels like a splendid, beautiful film. Sui/Han came into this event after a serious injury and a rough outing at Four Continents, positioning them as dark horses, but this performance blew any naysayers out the window. Like their previous masterpiece “Hallelujah”, it has a high-society quality – I can’t help picturing Sui/Han drinking champagne in the gardens of their luxurious Victorian mansion while Pavarotti himself gives them a private concert. (Hey, on that note, can we get them a role in Crazy Rich Asians 2?). It was a beautiful moment and it set the stage for their sweet victory in the free skate.
8. Volosozhar/Trankov “Masquerade Waltz”, 2014 Olympics – Short Program
There are very few programs I would describe as “perfect”, but this is one of them. If I was a pairs coach trying to teach skaters how to do elements, I would make them watch Volosozhar/Trankov videos until they mastered the technique. I’ve never seen a pair that literally doesn’t have bad technique on a single element, but Tatiana and Max were no ordinary pair. The program itself is good not because it’s a great piece of choreography, but because it lets the pure skating itself take center stage. They came to the Olympics dressed as royalty, and after that performance, I’d say that’s pretty accurate. Watching them, I felt like I was swept away to a grand ball in a Tolstoy novel. I’m probably just the waiter bringing these divine people their hors d’oeuvres.
7. Duhamel/Radford “Hometown Glory”, 2016 Worlds – Free Skate
The real excitement to Meagan and Eric’s skating for me is the energy they bring to the performance when they’re throwing down the elements. “Hometown Glory” echoed the raw passion of their skating and allowed their technical strength to carry the rest. In fact, it was such a big success that they brought it back for the Olympics and won a bronze medal. By the time she landed that second throw jump, the entire arena just flooded with excitement: this performance was going to win it, and everybody knew it before they were even done skating. The pure relief and satisfaction, especially since people had started counting them out that season, set the entire mood of the program. I would say this was the greatest moment of their career. And hey, look at that throw quad salchow!
6. Stolbova/Klimov “I Put a Spell on You”, 2015 Rostelecom Cup – Short Program
If you could extract the essence of Stolbova/Klimov into two minutes and fifty seconds, it would be this program. It really marked Ksenia’s transformation from the quirky, sassy girl skating to “The Addams Family” to a fierce, sexy boss woman who lands triple toes first and asks questions later. (Was she my first gay crush? I think you know the answer to that already). Everything about this program was sleek, smooth, and dynamic. The real star of the show is the rare, striking magnetism between them; it’s not quite “I’m going to seduce you because I want you”, it’s “I’m going to flirt with you because I want to drive you crazy”. It was almost a precursor to the fierce “Carmen” program they skated in their last season together. The step sequence is one of the finest pieces of choreography I’ve ever seen, and they never lose character in the intricate turns. You don’t need beakers and periodic tables to learn about chemistry, you just need to watch this program.
5. Savchenko/Massot “Lighthouse”, 2017 Europeans – Free Skate
Fresh off an ankle injury, Savchenko/Massot had their work cut out for them when they arrived at Europeans, but the minute they took the ice for this performance, a miracle happened. This program just feels like being swept away into the dreamy world of a Monet painting. The elements seem to float through the air as if they’re skating through clouds. The music is like a lullaby, drawing you into the performance. Although they didn’t come away with the gold medal, they created an unforgettable moment.
4. Sui/Han “Turandot”, 2017 NHK Trophy – Free Skate
While this free skate also won them silver medals at the Olympics and the Grand Prix Final, I think it had the greatest impact here at NHK Trophy. “Turandot” is the story of a majestic empress who answers to no one, and there is no empress more majestic than Wenjing Sui. It’s a frequently used piece of music in the skating world, but they brought it to a whole new level. They channeled their inner Shen/Zhao while bringing their own glorious skills to the table – a quad twist, massive throw jumps, and a stunning lift at the end. They were truly the king and queen of that performance, and I was happy to watch their coronation. Now can I just obsess about this godly red dress for the rest of my life?
3. Peng/Jin “Ophelia”, 2019 World Championships – Short Program
Oh, Ophelia, heaven help a fool who falls in love with this program, because after you’ve seen it once, you won’t ever stop watching it. Believe me, it’s been over a year and I haven’t stopped yet. This program builds on the playfulness of their previous program “My Drag”, but they added a new level of swagger, skill, and flirty chemistry. Cheng’s sassy haircut set the tone for the program, and from the first beat of the music, you start clapping along. Most of the time, a program is built around the elements, but here, it feels like the elements are woven into the choreography. The throw triple looop is particularly well-done, and after years of triple jump woes, Cheng nailed the side-by-side toe loop! What I appreciate most about this program is how they move as a pair across the ice; they skate as if they are one person, not two. If I was stranded on an island and I could only watch one pairs’ short program for the rest of my life, I would pick Ophelia.
2. Stolbova/Klimov “Man and Shadow”, 2015 Grand Prix Final – Free Skate
When I first saw this program at the beginning of the season, I thought, “This is never going to work.” It’s an impossible piece to interpret – it’s a rather dark, almost monotone soundtrack from a movie about politics. But somehow, Ksenia and Fedor turned it into a unique modern dance that holds your attention and gives you goosebumps. They have a riveting intensity, but it’s not really about serving face in this program; in fact, it’s their deadpan expressions that give the program its eerie power. While Ksenia and Fedor struggled with consistency in the second half of their career, this performance showed everything they were capable of. Note the triple toe loop-triple toe loop-double toe loop combination; it’s the most difficult jumping pass ever performed by a pair team. Pulling off this program so well was a true testament to their sheer level of talent – to me, this is pair skating in its purest, truest form.
1. Savchenko/Massot “La Terre du Ciel”, 2018 Olympics
I dare you to watch this masterpiece and not cry. Then I dare you to hear the story behind it, watch it again, and not cry.
From the moment they take the ice and form a loop of infinity with their arms, they are creating a piece of art. Their violet costumes match the vibrant purple boards around the edge of the rink. They are polar opposites – they look like a small yet powerful queen and her massive, gentle protector – but they have learned to move together. With one easy toss, he sends her floating into the air for a triple twist and lowers her to the ice softly, like a fairy landing. Then the jumps come: a silky throw triple flip, a side-by-side three-jump combination, a triple toe loop. He throws her high into the air for a moment of truth – this throw triple salchow will either seal victory or ensure defeat. As her blade hits the ice, strong and steady, the crowd breathes in relief. From then on, the next two minutes of the program are a beautiful dream, building along with the music’s strengthening heartbeat with a series of heavenly lifts. Down on his knee, all the elements completed to the best of human ability, Bruno raises Aljona into the air above his head on the final note of the music, as if placing her atop her throne after all these years. Then they collapse, overwhelmed with emotion.
Now if that wasn’t enough for you, let’s talk about the story for a moment.
Aljona Savchenko was a 5-time World champion and two-time Olympic bronze medalist with her partner Robin Szolkowy, but she had her eyes set on one last goal: the Olympic gold medal. In 2014, Szolkowy retired to become a coach, and there were very few male partners available who could come close to Aljona’s skill level. She started from scratch with Bruno Massot, a pair skater from France with no major international medals. At the time, she didn’t even know if Bruno would receive the release form from the French figure skating federation to skate with her or the German citizenship he needed to compete in the Olympics, but they were undaunted. For the next three and a half years, they put in a tremendous amount of work to reach the top once again. Still, this colossal effort was almost undone in a single second; in the short program at the Olympics, Bruno doubled the side-by-side jump, putting them in fourth place behind formidable teams like Sui/Han, Duhamel/Radford, and Tarasova/Morozov. To finally claim that gold medal, they would need to skate like they’d never skated before. The level of competition was so high that even after that performance, they weren’t guaranteed to win.
But in the end, they did win – by 0.43 points. And in the words of Dom Toretto in The Fast and the Furious, “It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a mile. Winning’s winning.”
You may notice that I’ve excluded Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres from this list because of the current sexual harassment scandal surrounding Cipres. While they were an excellent pair who gave many stunning performances to the skating world, I don’t think his name belongs amongst these legends. I can still acknowledge them as some of the best skaters of this era, but I don’t want to celebrate his accomplishments in light of recent events.
I’m sure I’m missing some great performances on this list, but these were the programs that personally stood out to me. I hope this makes you all love pair skating as much as I do.
Until next time, happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.