by Klaus-Reinhold Kany
(10 December 2017) The Free Program of the six pairs at the 2017 Grand Prix Final in Nagoya had a good level. The performance of the best two pairs was outstanding, whereas the other four pairs made several mistakes. Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot from Germany skated by far the best program of their career together up to now which began in 2015.
For the first time, the 2017 World Silver Medalists made no mistake at all which is rare in a pairs free program. They skated to the romantic music "La Terre Vue du Ciel“ (The earth seen from the sky) by French-Israeli-Moroccan young composer Armand Amar and edited by French composer Maxime Rodriguez, which has probably never been used in skating. Christopher Dean did the choreography and the spectators began to clap in the soft rhythm of the music one minute before the end and gave them a huge standing ovation.
They won with with 236.68 points, exceeded their personal best by six points and were only one point from the all-time world record of the 2014 Olympic champions Volozozhar & Trankov which they had achieved at Skate America 2013 with 237 points. But these points are not completely comparable because of the number of elements and the points of each element at that time. In the 2017/18 season for example, there is a group 3 lift required which brings less points than a level 4 or 5 lift in other seasons.
In Nagoya, Savchenko & Massot began with a stellar and extremely high triple twist which all nine judges rewarded with GOEs of +3. Next was an excellent triple throw Lutz which had four GOEs of +3. The highest risk for them are the individual jumps, but this time, their combination of triple Salchow, double toe-loop and another double toe loop as well as their triple toe-loop were clean, executed in good harmony and had mainly GOEs of +1 and +2. The triple throw Salchow was a bit shaky, the lifts, spins, death spiral and choreographic sequence excellent and had mainly GOEs of +3. They had an excellent mix of emotions to express this unusual lyrical music. Their components had an average of 9.6, with six perfect 10.0, the first time in their career, among them four for performance.
Massot commented in the interview in the kiss and cry corner right after the result, "I saw the score of the Chinese team and I knew the level was very high and the program will be difficult. But we wanted to give the best and everything went well except for that tiny little mistake. We felt it was a big practice for the Olympic Games. The top six pairs were here and the level was so high. Now we have to calm down and to realize that we got the gold. We have to keep practicing this way and be ready for the Olympic Games.“ Savchenko added, "Four years ago in Japan I won the Grand Prix Final with Robin Szolkowy, it was great to come back to Japan. The audience here is amazing. Thank you so much.“
The Chinese World Champions Wenjing Sui & Cong Han also showed an absolute world class free program and won the silver medal with 230.89 points. They also showed a lot of emotions in their program to different pieces from Puccini‘s opera Turandot, among them the well-known "Nessun Dorma“ sung by Luciano Pavarotti. They began with a good quad twist, followed by a very good combination of triple toe-loop, double toe-loop and another double toe-loop. Their only mistake came when Han landed the triple Salchow on two feet. The following nine elements were excellent, including an outstanding triple throw flip (which got nine GOEs of +3) and an outstanding triple throw Salchow (which had seven GOEs of +3). Their components were around 9.5, with two perfect 10.0.
Sui said, "I thought we performed at the best level. At NHK Trophy, we were not prepared well and couldn’t perform in the way we wanted to. But I am happy with the outcome today. There are a lot of lessons we can learn from Chinese skaters in Olympics in the past. Thus, we know what we should be doing and we just want to enjoy to skate.“ Han added, "Throughout Grand Prix and the Final, we learnt a lot and found the room for improvement. I felt we need to improve the execution of the jumps and side-by-side performance once we go back home. After the short program, I was disappointed but I know where to make changes, so I prepared myself to get ready for the free program today. I am satisfied with the performance.“
Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford from Canada won the bronze medal with 210.83 points. They have to take a high technical risk because their presentation is not as good as the presentation of the two top teams. Skating to three different pieces by Muse, their first element was a good triple twist (level 2), followed by a relatively clean side by side triple Lutz which no other pair does. Then Duhamel fell on the quad throw Salchow, which no other pair in the final tried. In their jump combination of triple Salchow, double toe-loop and another double toe loop, Radford landed the third jump forward, which cost some points The next five elements were very good, including two lifts and a throw triple Lutz. But at the third lift at the end, Radford seems a bit exhausted and had problems to keep his partner in the air. Their components were around 8.8.
"Our free skate was ok today,“ Duhamel explained. "Everything has been going well for us in practice and the short program really shook up our confidence. The throw quad is always a risk, but we fought through the long program so when we finished we feel proud of ourselves because we didn't give up. We saved the throw Lutz which is a very difficult element for us, kind of the very end, we don't get any bonus points for doing it that late. But we think it's very effective on the music. If we can be on the podium at the Olympics it will be a perfect complete to our career. We don't often fall on the quad at home. So it was a bit of a surprise and it actually hurt me a little bit so I had to recover very fast for the rest of the program. We missed the throw Lutz in the short and didn't do a clean side by side Lutz, so to do both those elements clean today was a good breakthrough for us.“
"I think we took a nice step and we built at this competition from the last competition so I think our goal will be to go into our National Championships, take one more step up, try to get some more levels, don't make so many mistakes and we want to hit that big peak at the Olympic Games in February.“
Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov from Russia moved up one position and finished on fourth place with 209.26 points. Skating to Carmen, they began with a triple twist which is always a bit shaky and one of their weaknesses because she does not land in his arms, but more or less on his shoulder. The triple throw Lutz was ok, but in the step combination, her first triple toe loop was shaky and her second toe-loop, which was planned double, landed forward. Then she fell on the triple Salchow. The other elements were good or very good and all six had a level 4. Their triple throw Salchow at the end was excellent.
Stolbova said, "I made two major mistakes. Unfortunately, in the short program I got injured a bit and I hoped it will be easier today, but, unfortunately, it wasn't. In our free program we want to show unusual choreography, a different Carmen from the one everybody is used to see. We want to show it not in classic style but in a modern way. But the story line is the same - Carmen is killed at the end.“
The World bronze medalists Tatiana Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov dropped from second to fifth place, earning 208.73 points. Their triple twist normally is outstanding, but they tried a quad twist which did not have level 4, but 3, and was executed less huge than a triple one, but still it had 9.17 points. Tarasova landed the triple Salchow forward, which cost about five points. Their triple throw Salchow was outstanding, but then Morozov made mistakes on all three toe-loops of the jump combination. The next elements were at least good, but in the last minute Tarasova landed the triple throw loop on two feet and the spin at the end was so wobbly that it got no points. Their components were around 9.0 which is too high because their interpretation of three songs by Christina Aguilera and Elvis Presley is not very convincing because they do not have much show talent. Something classical like their Rakhmaninov short program would be better for them.
Morozov later explained, "What happened, happened. It was a bad performance and there is nothing to say. Well, it happens sometimes, we will try not to upset about it, we just should make conclusions and work on. Maybe, we just couldn't cope with our nerves. We didn't think about our victory in the last Grand Prix Final, so it didn't influence our performance at all, there wasn't any pressure because of it.“
The second Chinese pair Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang ended up sixth and last with 207.14 points. Most of their elements were good, the throws even excellent, but artistically, they are a bit inelegant and did not interpret their music from the soundtrack to "Stars Wars“ really much. Therefore the components of 8.5 were partially too high. Zhang said, “ We were not sure if we could make the Grand Prix Final. It was great that we got the second place at Skate America and, because Japan is Xiaoyu's favorite place and it is now mine too, we were so glad to come to Japan and to participate in the Final. There are some disappointments and we need to work on it once we are back in China."