|1||Elena Berezhnaya / Anton Sikharulidze||RUS||1||1|
|2||Oksana Kazakova / Artur Dmitriev||RUS||2||2|
|3||Dorota Zagorska / Mariusz Siudek||POL||4||3|
|4||Xue Shen / Hongbo Zhao||CHN||3||4|
|5||Kristy Sargeant / Kris Wirtz||CAN||6||5|
|6||Sarah Abitbol / Stephane Bernadis||FRA||5||6|
|7||Tiffany Stiegler / Johnnie Stiegler||USA||7||7|
The long program was basically a duel between the two Russian teams, and then a chance to see how the other teams are coming along. Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze reprised last season's long program which they skated with a few small errors, but with poise and elegance. Except for a pop on triple toe loop, Berezhnaya stepping out of throw triple loop, and a minor loss of unison one one side-by-side combination spin, they skated securely. They were placed ahead of all the other teams in both marks and are clearly the favorites for this season. Coming out of the starting gate, it looks like their training partners Kazakova & Dmitriev will have to play catch up with them this season.
Kazakova & Dmitriev skated to last season's long program, and presented it nicely, with all of their signature move done to nice effect. Overall, however, their technique was a little rough and just a little off. They stayed close to Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze in the second mark, but were down several tenths in the first mark despite having made fewer obvious errors (Kazakova stepping out of a double Axel).
Zagorska & Siedek moved up to the bronze medal primarily by virtue of being the most consistent among the remaining teams. Their lifts and spins were all decent and their jumps and throws were full of problems, but overall as a pair they were just a little more together than the other teams which earned them the bronze.
The Chinese team of Shen & Zhao gave a very uneven performance tonight. Some tricks were well done but there were many errors and the middle third of the program was extremely ragged. Their style was hard charging and very "American" (and that's not a compliment in pair skating). Their marks ranged from 5.0 to 5.7 in the first mark and 5.2 to 5.7 in the second mark, with only the Chinese judge going as high as 5.7 - and definitely not deserved.
Sargeant & Wirtz move up one spot to finish fifth overall by skating a slow, uninteresting program whose only virtue was that it was mostly clean. They switched places with Abitbol & Bernadis who dropped a place with the debut of a new long program and their new coach. The program has potential, as does the team, but it just isn't ready. And finally, still looking like a junior team, Stiegler & Stiegler placed last. They had some decent elements, and are working on developing a more elegant and "European" style (that is a compliment in pair skating) but have a long ways to go - especially on the triple twist which is weak even for an American team.
In pairs, the small size of the event is at least made up for by the fact that there are three strong teams here to keep our attention. For the U.S., however, only one team is showing the flag, the brother and sister team of Tiffany and Johnnie Stiegler, the highest ranked U.S. team from last year (4th at U.S. Nationals) still together after this years retirements and summer pairs-partner derby.
We saw here tonight what is likely to be a season long rivalry for the top pairs spot in the skating of Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze and Kazakova & Dmitriev. Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze skated first and did a splendid job to music from Swan Lake. They landed effortless triple toe loops and had a huge double twist. At the and they were clearly pleased with their effort, with a little pelvic victory wiggle from Anton at the end. Kazakova & Dmitirev did a fine job landing triple toe loops also and had a nice double twist. Their back press lift into a star had a little trouble going up but Artur got it under control once Oksana was in the air. Their back outside death spiral, that received so much criticism last year, was better than last season but still was not positioned much below waist level, and well below the quality of several of the other teams. Thank goodness they won't have to do it again the rest of this season.
Having broken through into the top five last year, Shen & Zhao must clearly be considered medal contenders this season. They landed their triple toe loops and had a strong double twist. They managed most of the program cleanly, but in the final element, their difficult forward outside death spiral, Shen slipped off her edge for a required deduction.
Abitbol & Bernadis, a talented but inconsistent team, had their ups and downs tonight. They completed an outstanding double twist, but then Bernadis fell on triple toe loop. Their lift was just a basic back press, while their back outside death spiral was better than average. Overall though, they were just a little too ragged and their unison was off. Afterwards Abitbol said about their performance, "No, I was not pleased. It was not too nice." Said Bernadis, "It is just very difficult in July. We didn't have much time to work before the competition, so it makes it tough to perform."
The remaining teams were mostly undistinguished, with Zagorska & Siudek placing ahead of Abitbol and Bernadis mostly by virtue of making fewer error, and Stiegler & Stiegler looking out of their league. Tiffany & Johnnie skated a clean program, but did double Axels instead of triple toe loops and only a basic back press lift. Their back outside death spiral was clean but way too high for a senior team. Mostly, however, they were just too slow, slow, slow. On the plus side they had a decent double twist (for a U.S. team) and skated with good unison. For their first major senior competition they skated with poise, but they clearly have a long way to go this season in order to compete with the "big boys". Mostly they are just here for the experience, but as likely U.S. World Team members much more will be expected of them by the ned of the season.
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