Thursday, November 12, 2015

Shanghai Shenanigans: 2015 Cup of China in Review (Ladies & Pairs)

I must confess that I paid quite a bit more attention to the ladies than the pairs at Cup of China. OK, let’s keep it 100—that’s probably true at every event. But it was especially true at CoC, if only because there were no US pairs competing.

There were still some very cool, NOTEWORTHY things happening with pairs, though...

+  Kavaguti/Smirnov... I must admit, they never cease to amaze me. Like ice dancers Cappellini/Lanotte, this is their 10th GP season together. Unlike C/L (who have placed all over the map), Kav/Smir have medaled at every GP event at which they’ve competed—save for the Finals—since 2006. Think about that. Unfortunately, the best they’ve ever been able to place by season’s end (at Worlds) was 3rd, and those times were several years back. Smirnov is 31; Kavaguti will turn 34 in about a week. Like Pang/Tong (who I think have finally retired for good), they are trekking well past the average expiration date at this point in their careers. But here’s the thing: Pang/Tong—or, more accurately, Pang—was not completing, let alone attempting, quad throws in her 30s. In admittedly oversimplified terms, that makes Yuka Kavaguti either a crazy woman or a badass.
    I’m gonna go with badass. And in saying that, I take         back anything I might have said on Twitter                       reminding us how soon she’d be AARP-eligible in the         US.

+ The Kava/Smir win kept home faves Sui/Han from a second consecutive victory this season (though like Chock/Bates, they’re still an early entrant in the GP Final). They, too, have a throw quad—the salchow—but appear to be saving it for later in the season. That strategy may have worked against them here, but then again, Sui/Han are the current World Silver Medalists. They’re clearly doing something right. And as it happened, they lost by less than one point... and one point was deducted from their FS score due to a time violation. So make of that what you will.

+  So if Sui/Han are poising themselves for Shen/Zhao-like domination... and the role previously occupied by Zhang/Zhang is now played by... um... Cheng/Zhang (who make their GP season debut this coming weekend)... who are the “new” Pang/Tong for Chinese pairs? Yu/Jin, with their balletic qualities, seem to fit that bill. Though they were a distant 3rd this year, they’ve done as well as 2nd at CoC. And since they’ve been on and off the GP circuit since 2011, they’re already building up some P/T longevity...


+  USA’s Hannah Miller (in 10th) and China’s Li Zijun (in 9th) were something of a study in contrasts. Miller, 19 and making her GP debut, looked unhappy as soon as her FS ended... though to me it was a pretty good, to-be-expected kind of outing. Li, 18 and now in her 4th GP season, seemed fairly pleased with what she’d done... yet that FS (to The Artist) had sparkle factor that never seemed to kick in, and the 5th place she’d earned in the SP went down the drain.

+ The Russian Report: Elena Radionova took bronze here—by a paltry .12 over teammate Anna Pogorilaya—and she did so with a Titanic soundtrack FS that, unfortunately, checked all the wrong boxes for me. Repetitive, middling tempo? Check. Redundant melody that we’re all a little too familiar with? Check. Lots of overemoting on Miss Rad’s part? Check. Annoying voiceovers throughout the program that bring the infamous Ghost free dance back to mind? Oh, no, where’s that pen... check check check. I DID think her FS dress was a vast improvement on last year’s bead-heavy blue thing, so hooray for that.
   What about Miss Pogo (who is taking on Scheherazade       for her FS this year at the tender age of 17)? I actually      liked her overall skating and presence much more              than previous years. But as soon as I’d be thinking that    for more than 30 seconds, she let loose with one of          those horrifically hard falls that spoiled the effect.          We’ll see her get another shot at the podium when NHK    Trophy rolls around in 2 weeks; Radionova will be back       in the hunt next week at Rostelecom Cup.

+  USA’s Karen Chen and Courtney Hicks finished down in 5th and 6th respectively, though Hicks made things interesting with the 3rd best SP of the event. What happened during her FS to plummet her from podium status? You can call it nerves if you like. Me, I’m blaming the dress. I presume she was going for something to reflect her music (to Elizabeth: The Golden Age), but all I saw was something reminiscent of Dijon mustard that didn’t compliment her skin tone at all. What did YOU think of it? Or maybe the better question is, what color would you put her in for this program?

+  Finally, the Japanese headliner became the Japanese headliners (plural) after that free skate! Thank goodness Mao Asada nailed that FS triple axel with even more strength and flow than usual—she wouldn’t have eked out a victory without it. But if there was an upset to be had, Rika Hongo would have deserved the win. Fierce, that one is, digging in and proving that last year’s surprise Rostelecom victory was no fluke. She may not be the most elegant athlete on the Japanese roster—not yet at least; she’s only 19—but she’s a competitor through and through who skates with a lot of joy and heart. “Reel Around the Sun” (a.k.a Riverdance) is a great vehicle for her strengths. I smell a breakout season ahead.

Gotta go make some Bompard predictions next...! 

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