Saturday, 22 November 2014

The 2014 Trophée Éric Bompard


"Four down, two to go!" That's what I said when I sat down to put fingers to keyboard to start putting together this recap of the fifth stop on this year's ISU Grand Prix. This year's Trophée Éric Bompard competition was held at the Meriadeck Ice Rink in Bordeaux, France and much like the four Grand Prix events that preceded it, featured a dazzling cast of the world's very best skaters. As always... a little disclaimer. Please keep in mind with all the coverage of any competition on Skate Guard as always I'll post videos of some of the most standout performances. Many of them might be geoblocked in your country, and for that I apologize. Around the time of major competitions, videos go up every minute and come down and get geoblocked just as fast. If you're unable to watch videos in your country, I've got some great advice for you. Go to YouTube, and under your search settings you can select 'Upload Date'. If you type in keywords for the competition or skater you want to see, you can narrow it down to 'Today' or 'This Week' and usually find just what you're looking for in minutes! And now, on to the event at hand...


Russia's Maxim Kovtun won the Cup Of China event ahead of an injured Yuzuru Hanyu, but I can't say that his performance in the free skate there reached out and grabbed me in any way, shape or form. When he lands his jumps, they're certainly beautiful but the musical interpretation kind of always seems to leave a little bit to be desired when he skates I find. The problem in China was that he didn't land all of the jumps and got propped up with that second mark. His short program in Bordeaux started out well with a quad/triple combination but falls on his second quad attempt AND the triple axel really left a flat impression at the program's end but nonetheless Kovtun was still up there in sixth place after the short... naturally ahead of Adam Rippon who delivered a lovely performance because, you know, that just makes sense... In the free skate, there's no questioning that he delivered the goods technically. Two quads, two triple axels and three other triples to boot certainly make for an exciting program and a deservedly high TES score. The third highest PCS score of the night though? Again, I don't think so. As great a skater as this guy is, I can't agree with that kind of judging. He won his second Grand Prix event and a ticket to the Grand Prix Final with a final score of 243.35.


Japan's Tatsuki Machida won Skate America with two outstanding performances and three quads. You gotta hand it to Machida... he's a very consistent skater who doesn't seem to have any trouble delivering when it counts and after winning both his Grand Prix assignments last year, I certainly had every expectation he'd fare well at this event. In the short program, he had errors on two of his three jumping passes but his PCS score was enough to keep him ahead of Konstantin Menshov, who delivered a spectacular short program with two different quads. In the free skate, he again unravelled and although he did land five triple jumps and has quite a fine program, I personally don't feel that his PCS score of 84.00 (the highest of the men) should have been higher than Denis Ten's, speed not withstanding. It's an apples or oranges type thing, though. I do think with all of the mistakes this silver medal and score of 237.74 was a little bit of a gift here. Machida's just so much better than the performances we saw here.


Olympic Bronze Medallist and World Silver Medallist Denis Ten had a rough outing at Skate America and finished just off the podium there, in fourth with a score of 224.74. He told me in my interview with him that he's very much in it for the long haul and that "my goal is PyeongChang 2018". Ten's short program at this event was outstanding. A quad toe, triple axel and triple lutz/triple toe all punctuated the refined choreography set to the vocals Joseph Callejia in his program brilliantly. A score of 91.78 placed him at the top of the leaderboard entering the men's free skate. I have to honestly say that I LOVE Denis' free skate this season. The choreography is nuanced, musical and original and it's just such a cut above what we saw from the other men at this event. I was so excited when I saw him land that quad/triple at the start of his free skate but with all of the pops he really left so many points on the dinner table and ended up dropping to third with an overall score of 236.28. I can't wait to see that free skate at it's best when he peaks though. Imagine it with all of the jumps landed... that's world title material right there.


Richard Dornbush was one of the men affected by the horse and pony show of a men's free skate at the Cup Of China. He won the bronze medal there and delivered quite a strong performance in the free skate, despite losing to a clearly very injured Yuzuru Hanyu who fell times and looked seriously disoriented after his warm up collision. It was clear with one look at him he was under the weather at this event and to go out and skate a clean short program in a Grand Prix event when you're not feeling your best is no small accomplishment. In the free skate, he unravelled though and dropped behind his teammate Adam Rippon who fared SO much better at this event than he did at Skate Canada... which made me really happy to see! Unfortunately, Douglas Razzano had some technical difficulties at this event and wound up in tenth place. There's another one who's a joy to watch when he's on!


After a rough short program that was in my opinion grossly overscored and then a nasty collision with Yuzuru Hanyu at the Cup Of China, Han Yan was back to compete at this event and his participation really revived the discussion about what happened in China and the ISU's typical avoidance and silence on hot button issues. Sochi anyone? The fact that in China he missed all three jumping passes yet still finished in third place in the short program there with a PCS score of 39.78 (ahead of a clean Misha Ge) and now in France landed one of his three jumping passes this time and earned a lower PCS score is just amusing to me. I'm sorry. His free skate wasn't much better (a little bit, a little bit of cold) and he finished off the day with a score of 216.85... in eighth place. As for that whole Cup Of China Yan/Ge scoring business, expect to hear more of that in a bit. I've got a blog on the way that takes a look at that, among other PCS scoring related issues.


Elena Radionova, Elena Radionova... Let me have a sip of a coffee. OK, you know what? ll give credit where it's due. This girl can jump and she can spin too. There's no denying that. Unfortunately her basic skating skills, posture, body line and musical interpretation leave a lot to be desired. This is figure skating, not figure jumping... and I can't say I agree whatsoever with the kind of PCS scores in any of the categories that are being doled out here. Radionova won both segments of the competition with technically challenging performances and a score of 203.92. Her free skate included a triple lutz, triple lutz/triple toe and triple loop/half loop/triple salchow combination. That said, her PCS score in the short program was only deemed the third best of the twelve ladies competing but in the free skate the judges rewarded her with the highest PCS marks over Lipnitskaia and Wagner. The illusion of art and art itself are two quite different things and I can't say that Radionova's technical prowess and youthful exuberance quite match up with Wagner's verve... but that's me.


After unravelling on some of the jumps in the free skate at the Cup Of China and finishing second to Tuktamysheva (and getting fined for missing the award ceremony), Julia Lipnitskaia proved she was indeed human. Who knew?! I jest. As with Radionova, I've been critical of Lipnitskaia's generous PCS scores and I think justifiably so, so entering this event I looked at the list of ladies competing and just assumed the title would go to whichever Russian lady stood up on the most triple/triple jump combinations. As we saw with Radionova's win, I was right. Lipnitskaia looked very on point in her short program (finishing second with a score of 66.79) but in the free skate she threw some points away. A double axel/triple toe/double toe was followed by a double axel/triple toe. She went on to attempt two triple flips, neither in combination and tack a double toe on the end of her final jump, the triple lutz. It was actually quite a gutsy skate technically but again, in terms of a whole package I'm not sure I'm buying it yet. Lipinitskia held on to second place in France with a score of 185.18.


After winning the silver medal at Skate Canada, two time U.S. Champion Ashley Wagner entered this event as the reigning Trophée Éric Bompard Champion but obviously faced some serious competition here. On her programs this season, she told me in our recent interview that "This year, my maturity was something that really came into play when trying to choose pieces of music. Some of these girls weren't even alive when I started skating, and they'll keep on getting younger and younger from now on, so it's up to me to find a way around that. I have a lot of experience in the sport and Raf and I decided it was time to showcase that. We chose pieces of music that were very strong and emotional, even passionate." In winning the bronze medal with a score of 177.74 at this event and even giving a valiant attempt at a triple lutz/triple toe in the free skate - at the END of her program - Wagner reaffirmed that the somewhat forced storyboards of U.S. ladies figure skating in 2014 don't always reflect reality. I really do feel that if she builds on these early season successes, Wagner could very well be again the frontrunner come U.S. Nationals. Time shall tell.


After a sixth place finish in the free skate, Courtney Hicks rallied back with a very gutsy free skate that included two triple flips and two triple lutzes to move up to fourth place overall in Bordeaux with a score of 172.58. After her disappointing sixth place finish in an Olympic year, I have to say that Hicks is looking to be in VERY good shape this season and her name is very much in the "medal conversation" heading towards the U.S. Championships.


France's Maé-Bérénice Méité finished ninth at Skate America in Chicago and competing on home soil hoped to put together two solid performances in this event. In my interview with her, she told me that the world needs "more tolerance... and optimism!" and it seems fittingly optimistic that she trained even harder after Skate America. The hard work paid off in a fifth place finish in her home country with a score of 169.46. A triple salchow/triple toe and double axel/triple toe highlighted her free skate and a step out on the landing of her triple lutz was her only noticeable error in that portion of the competition. The judges seem to be lowballing her a little on the second mark this season so I'm hoping that by the time of Europeans these programs will develop further and rack up some more marks. Although she's known as a powerhouse of a jumper, we have to consider that if some of the world's top men who barely acknowledge their music whatsoever consistently gain high PCS scores, there's a double standard going on here a little... when the Russian dynamos get those marks and other "technicians" like Méité don't.



Finishing fourth at Skate America less than five points shy of the bronze medal there, Samantha Cesario was definitely another skater to watch at this event. In my interview with her earlier this year, she told me "one of my main goals is to perfect a triple/triple and up my technical side to keep up with the talent we have here in the U.S. as well as internationally. Another main goal is to improve on my skating skills and speed while continuing to bring entertaining programs to the audience. I think the new program I am currently working on is something a little different for me and I hope it shows off my skating in a fresh and fun light." Easing up on the technical content in both programs didn't do her any favors in this event, but she stayed on her feet and looked confident and classy throughout this event. Cesario finished the event with a score of 161.70 in seventh place.


Canada's Veronik Mallet finished tenth at Skate Canada and after Alaine Chartrand's bronze medal win at the Rostelecom Cup, I was crossing my fingers and toes and hoping that she'd live up to her wonderful potential and lay down two solid skates in Bordeaux. She struggled a little in both programs here but did manage to move up from eleventh to tenth place after the free skates were all said and done. Although she backed off a little in the latter part of her free skate, she did go for the lutz, flip and loop and hey... nothing wrong with that! Her final score was 139.64.


The overwhelming favourites in the pairs event were Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who were fresh off a convincing win at the Rostelecom Cup in their home country. They did so by posting the highest score we'd seen from any of the pairs competing on the Grand Prix this season, and while their programs are in my opinion a huge improvement on their material last year, I never seem to be able to find that emotional connection in their skating or relationship to the music I see with Kavaguti and Smirnov or the excitement that we all see in Duhamel and Radford's skating. They went clean in winning the short program with triple toes and a throw triple lutz and attacked their free skate as well, completing a throw triple lutz and throw triple salchow as well as both of their side by side jump passes. Their final score of 209.81 decisively won them their second consecutive Grand Prix event.


China's Wenjing Sui and Cong Han were on fire at this event. Their short program to "Stray Cat Strut" was effortless and clean as a whistle and in their free skate set to the music of Tchaikovsky was exceptional. Like the Russians, every single jumping pass in both phases of the competition was executed flawlessly so it's no wonder their overall score of 200.68 wasn't really that far back from the Russians. While their quad twist is definitely an "ooo! aaa!" fireworks type moment, that tano twist in their short program is just as much of a highlight in my eyes.


Americans Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim finished just off the podium at Skate America in Chicago so hoped to rebound and post a strong result as the only American pair here. Although they were didn't claim the bronze medal which was won by China's Xuehan and Lei Wang, their free skate was quite strong and boasted side by side triple salchows and a throw triple loop. They ALSO landed their throw triple flip in both programs, so easy does it now... I think Denney and Frazier have some competition brewing.


Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro made their Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada and finished sixth of the eight pairs competing with a score of 158.82. As far as a competitive debut, it wasn't perfect but there was certainly potential there and as someone watching, I wasn't expecting them to come to this event and kill it. New partnerships take time and there's a huge learning curve to learning to perfect each element with somewhat new. Considering that many of the newer partnerships we've seen this season in pairs haven't exactly been smooth sailing, I think these two are actually doing pretty damn good in comparison. They did improve slightly on their Skate Canada score although they finished seventh at this event. With two side by side triple toes landed as well as both throws in the free skate, I certainly don't feel this team is on the same uphill battle as many of these other new pair teams this season. Once they find their stride and gain more confidence as a pair, the little kinks will iron themselves out. Their score in France was 159.13.


After winning the Cup Of China ahead of the reigning world champions, France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron entered this event on their home soil as the odds on favourites despite being up against two Canadian teams who had outranked them at last year's World Championships, a very strong American team, the Spaniards and Italians. One of two teams coached by Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon competing at this event, the attention not only to correct technique but put to presentation from this team is very evident. Their short dance score of 64.06 gave them a precarious lead of the field but their free dance sealed the deal. Their twizzles were excellent as was the first lift and I have no argument with this team winning here. Their final score was 166.66 and they'll be in Barcelona for the Grand Prix Final.


Canada's Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier finished a strong second at Skate Canada in Kelowna but were almost twenty points behind the French team with a score of 152.60 so certainly hoped to make up some ground at this event. They did. Their short dance earned them a score of 61.90 and second place but their very ballroomy free dance again didn't have the same magic that their "Hitchcock" free dance did for me. Piper looked a bit off of the twizzles in the free dance but I did find that they looked a little more confident here. Their free dance score of 95.68 was a new season's best and their total score of 157.58 was enough for second place here... meaning we'll be seeing them in Barcelona for the Grand Prix Final as well!


Americans Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue finished third at Skate Canada and have a really unique and refreshing free dance this season which is a modern interpretation of "The Great Gatsby" depicting the relationship between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. The reviews have been really mixed but I actually like it... because I get what they are trying to do. I see a lot of Navarro and Bommentre in this team in that they are taking risks and experimenting and seem to be creating a body of work and not just very clinical "West Side Story"/"Carmen" type free dances. I'm not saying the free dance was textbook technically - there is room for some growth - but a season's best free dance score of 91.92 is still nothing to sneeze at. Coupled with their short dance score, Hubbell and Donohue won the bronze medal.


I think Spain's Sara Hurtado and Adrian Diaz are just fantastic. When I interviewed them last year, they told me their biggest goal was to be Olympians and not only did they achieve that in Sochi but a thirteenth place finish of the twenty four teams competing was absolutely nothing to sneeze at. This season, their free dance to "Atonement", "Meditation" and an original composition by Karl Hugo is a wonderfully abstract and intense piece with some innovative lifts and good edges but at both the Skate Canada Autumn Classic and Skate Canada International, they lost some ground with fifth place and eighth place finishes. As usual, the lifts were a highlight with this pair and the judges finally decided to cut them a LITTLE slack on the rest of it and dish them up a new season's best score in the
free dance. Their final score of 146.10 may not have been enough to move them up on the podium but the programs themselves (both of them) were a pleasure to watch.


Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam were tenth at last year's World Championships and their fifth place finish at Cup Of China with a score of 140.46 wasn't truly indicative of their talent, in my opinion. The ice dance field at their first Grand Prix outing was particularly deep and I was excited to see how they'd fare here in a more even playing field with their "Nocturno" and "Farruca Y Rumba" short dance and Frank Sinatra free dance. Unfortunately, they really seem to be losing some ground with the judges... and fast. Their final score of 138.99 is ten points back of their personal best from last year's Worlds and with Piper and Paul having such a massive lead on this team at this event, this team is going to have to dig in their skates and pull out all stops at Nationals. They've certainly got the talent to do it.

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