by Klaus-Reinhold Kany
(23 March 2022) The pairs competition reflected the two biggest worldwide crisis: the ongoing covid-19 pandemic and Russia‘s attack on its neighbor country Ukraine with the ongoing war. And it is normal that some teams finished their career after the Olympic Games. Instead of about 25 or 27 pairs only 14 competed the short program. Therefore the level was quite reduced. The three Russian pairs and the Belorussian team had been banned by the ISU. The two Chinese teams, including the Olympic gold medalists, could not compete because the Chinese authorities forced them to go into a quarantine of three weeks after the Olympic Games for fear of infection. Therefore none of the five best pairs from the Olympic Games was in Montpellier.
None of the three Italian pairs is here either. Della Monica & Guarise obviously finished their career, Conti & Macii could not compete because Macii was tested positive of Covid in Montpellier. The third Italian pair Ghilardi & Ambrosini are not here because Ghilardi was tested positive at home before coming. The new Australian pair Golubeva & Giotopoulos Moore is said to have been tested positive as well. The Hungarian team of Chtchetetina & Magyar obviously finished their career after being tested positive the day before their Olympic competition and not being able to compete in Beijing. The Czech team of Zhukova & Bidar could not come to France because Zhulova suffers from an ankle injury. And the Canadian champions Moore-Towers & Marianaro obviously also finished their career after the Olympic Games, but Canada at least sent the alternates. The Spanish team of Laura Barquero & Marco Zandron is not here because Barquero had a positive anti-doping test result after their performance at the Olympic Games using a forbidden skin cream, but Spain sent alternates.
Alexa Knierim & Brandon Frazier of Irvine, California, Covid-sick (him) at U.S. nationals but sixth at the Olympic Games some weeks later, took the lead in the short program. They gave an excellent performance which included seven very good elements, winning 76.88 points. Skating to “House of the Rising Sun“ by Heavy Young Heavens, they opened their routine with an outstanding triple twist (level 3), followed by a good side by side triple toe loop and a triple throw flip which got mainly GOEs of +4. The other four elements all had a level 4 and their components were around 8.7. They are trained mainly by Jenni Meno and Todd Sand.
Frazier commented: “We feel very fulfilled. We’re proud of ourselves for continuing to build at each competition for our second season together. It takes a lot of time to build in the international circuit. I think we’re just doing our best each time.” Knierim added, “We’re very grateful to be here and have a chance to do these programs again. Going out and skating well – skating like we do at practice – is very fulfilling. It’s a nice way to end the season in the short program segment.”
Their teammates and reigning U.S. champions Ashley Cain-Gribble & Timothy LeDuc of Euless in Texas, eighth at the Olympic Games, competed to the soundtrack of “White Crow” about the Russian ballet dancer Nurejev. They are close second with 75.85 points and skated even with more elegance and therefore had a bit higher components with an average between 8.7 and 8.8. But Cain-Gribble stumbled on the side by side triple loop, which cost them two or three points. The other elements were excellent, including a triple throw Lutz. Their best element was the step sequence which had mainly GOEs of +4. Their main coach is Cain-Gribble’s father Peter Cain.
Cain-Gribble explained, “It was really hard mentally and physically after the Olympic Games. We reached the peak of what we always wanted to do and it’s kind of hard to come back from that. But you just have to trust your training, trust the people around you to get you through it.” Le Duc added, “We've been training really strong all season, we've been building, we've put in so much training, we just want that to show, so we're ready to go out there and execute like we do in practice.”
Riku Miura & Riuichi Kihara from Japan, seventh at the Games in Beijing, are currently in third position with 71.58 points. They train in the Canadian city of Oakville, Ontario in Bruno Marcotte’s pair skating school. Competing to “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, they had the highest components of all teams with an average of 8.8. Six of their elements were very good, but Miura stepped out on the triple throw Lutz and almost fell.
Miura said, “Although there was one big mistake I was determined to finish the program with a smile because it was our last Hallelujah program and I think I was able to do that,“ Kihara added, “Besides the big mistake we missed some of the levels, the lift - I have to look it over and try to fix it before the Free Skating. The throw jump – after coming out of the dance lift we were not able to pick up the regular speed. So the timing for the throw jump was off and that was the mistake.”
Karina Safina & Luka Berulava from the small European country of Georgia sit on fourth position with 67.36 points. They had seven good elements, the best one being the triple throw loop. Vanessa James & Eric Radford from Canada placed fifth with 66.54 points. Five elements were very good, but his triple toe loop and their triple throw flip a bit shaky. Minerva Hase & Nolan Seegert from Germany came sixth with 66.29 points after a program without big mistakes. The Austrians Miriam Ziegler & Severin Kiefer are seventh with 60.79 points and the Canadians Evelyn Walsh & Trennt Michaud are eighth earning 60.28 points.
The Ukrainian team of Sofiia Holichenko & Artem Darenkskiy could not train after the Olympic Games. When they came home from China, the war started. It took them six days to flee out of the Ukraine and coming to France via Romania, Italy and Poland. Their families are still in Kiev and Dnipro and the men, including their fathers, are fighting in the army now. After training for the two practice days in Montpellier, they decided to risk only double elements in the short program and to skip the long program. They had even chosen a new Ukrainian music for their short. In the opening ceremony, they and the other Ukrainian skaters got an applause of a whole minute for coming. In the mixed zone the pair had to give interviews for more than 45 minutes and tell their story many times. They were 13th in the short program with 44.95 points, but not even last.