Of the four disciplines in this event, the men's field was without question the deepest field going. You had Javier Fernandez, Jason Brown, Max Aaron, Sergei Voronov, Takahiko Kozuka, Michal Brezina, Misha Ge, Stephen Carriere and of course Canada's Jeremy Ten all in the mix. The pleasant part of it all was to juxtapose the skaters simply skating from corner to corner attempting jumps, we saw some brilliant, passionate skating in this event from the men that really restored my faith in men's skating just a wee bit. I love being able to say that!
The pressure on Javier Fernandez at this event had to be unreal. He's basically the poster boy for the Federación Española de Deportes de Hielo and with Barcelona hosting the Grand Prix Final, you better believe that his face was expected to be on those event posters, honey. At Skate Canada, he delivered a high energy, entertaining and faultless short program but kind of melted down in the free skate. It was enough for silver but in order to make it to the Grand Prix Final, he NEEDED a strong result here. His "Black Betty" short program was AGAIN a showstopper (JUST love that program!) and he entered the free skate in first place with a score of 93.92. In the free skate, he earned a new Season's Best and although only one of his three quad attempts were flawless, the problems on the landings of the second two quads he went for were pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. He really sold the program and that reflected in his second mark. It was enough for him to trounce the competition here with a score of 265.01 and all but make his ticket to the Grand Prix Final in Japan official. I'm sure he and coach Brian Orser are breathing a sigh of relief.
European Silver Medallist Sergei Voronov of Russia finished second in the short program with a very strong program to "Danse Macabre" that featured a clean quad toe/triple toe, triple axel and triple loop. I was impressed because with the depth in this field I don't know why but I just wasn't figuring Voronov would deliver that well. His free skate to a mishmash of this, that and the other thing was full of fantastic jumps and his opening quad toe/triple toe combination was huge. He followed that up with two triple axels and three other triples and the choreography was as much of a grab bag as the music was. A little bit Viktor Petrenko chicken legs and finger pointing, a little bit Sotnikova Sochi showboating and a little bit "ooo... I liked that!" His PCS score of 80.44 was higher than Jason Brown's because why? If you know the answer to this question, please enlighten me. His overall score of 252.00 was enough for the silver medal here.
Bronze went to the Czech Republic's Michal Brezina, who mounted a great comeback effort from his first Grand Prix outing and landed two triple axels and a very nice quad salchow/double toe combination to move up from fourth to stand on the podium here. He looked right snacky in the process too, God love him. It was nice to see him have a good day.
After getting quite frankly shafted at Cup Of China, the judges finally woke up and smelled the java and were forced to reward the artistic, passionate and technically difficult performances of Uzbekistan's Misha Ge here. He again came out and threw down two gorgeous performances and what I loved about seeing this the most was knowing that he was so discouraged by the way he's been treated by the judges that he threw in the towel a while back. Technically, he's doing the jumps too, that's the thing. Standing up on two triple axels and two triple lutzes is nothing to sneeze at whatsoever and his PCS score of 78.78 was 0.20 back of Jason Brown which I agreed with completely. I agreed with the judges for once! What up with that? Ge finished the event in fourth place with a score of 238.05.
Former U.S. Champion Max Aaron won the bronze medal at Skate America with a less than stellar short program and a flawed but technically impressive free skate. I kind of watched and waited in the short program with bated breath hoping that there would be SOME sort of improvement when it came to selling the "Footloose" program and what I got as a viewer was quite frankly more of the same... although he did more relaxed and like he was having fun so there's something to be said for that. A foot down on the landing of the double toe on the back end of his quad salchow combination and a stumble on footwork saw Aaron finish sixth in the short program with a score of 77.09 but I have to give him props for squeaking out that triple axel landing. Although he landed two fine triple axels in his free skate, the two doubled quad attempts and a couple of other problems clearly took the wind out of his sails here and the overall impression of the program suffered greatly. His final score was 212.60 and the fact that his PCS score was almost ten points ahead of Jeremy Ten as well as higher than Righini and Carriere made me literally laugh out loud. We're not just talking laugh out loud, we're talking guffaw. Oh sweetie...
It's been a roller coaster the last few years for Jeremy Ten. After winning the bronze medal at the 2009 Canadian Championships, injury caused him to take two years to return to the national podium and the last two seasons he's unfortunately missed the podium at Nationals. He's got a beautiful free skate this season to Jeff Buckley's version of "Hallelujah" and he's stated will be his last season competitively. Ten has also made it clear that it's about the experience and not the results. He landed his triple axel in both programs at this event and had such passionate delivery of his free skate here that I got goosebumps despite the problems on the jumps. Ten's free skate was yet another reminder that there's SO much more to skating than the jumps and it was a treat to see Righini, Carriere and Ten all go out in a row and INTERPRET THEIR MUSIC before we saw Russia's Artur Gachinski skate from corner of the rink and attempt jumps. Ten finished the event with a score of 198.50 in tenth place.
I really can't say that Japan's Rika Hongo was a skater that was particularly on my radar heading into this event. When it comes to Japanese ladies skaters, the names on everybody's lips this season have really been Satoko Miyahara and of course Kanako Murakami, but Hongo really turned it out at this event and laid down two fine performances attempting two different triple/triples in the process. She moved up from second in the short program to take the win here with a score of 178.00. I can't say that there was much about her skating that left me particularly inspired though. The posture and the presentation in her "Carmen" free skate, to me, were adequate at best and her PCS score which was the highest of the ladies at 58.96 was 4.95 points higher than her PCS score at Skate Canada... and I'm left wondering why.
After claiming gold at Skate Canada with two outstanding performances, Anna Pogorilaya entered this event as a skater everyone had their eyes on. With Olympic Gold Medallist Adelina Sotnikova announcing her withdrawal from both of her Grand Prix assignments, the pressure was certainly on Anna here and she seemed to crack a little under it. After finishing third in the short program with iffy landings on both her triple lutz and a triple loop and scoring 59.32, she had problems on both of her triple lutz and double axel attempts in the free skate and ended up with a score of 173.43 in this event. She finished second with a PCS score of 58.56 in the free skate, which was in contrast to Hongo's PCS rise, 3.77 lower than her Skate Canada PCS score.
Canada's sole entry in the ladies event here was Alaine Chartrand. Alaine is a student of Michelle Leigh and is not one to shy away from going for her jumps when she competes, so I was excited to see how she'd fare here. She turned the competition on its head with an excellent short program that earned her 61.18 points and saw her take the lead in Russia in a field of eleven skaters including three Russians. As Bonnie Raitt would say, that was certainly "something to talk about". Although she unravelled a bit in the free skate and finished third overall at this event with a score of 110.82, I think Alaine made quite a strong statement in this event in showing that the same tired arguments that we hear time and time about Canadian ladies skaters are getting a little old.
After finishing sixth at Skate America, former U.S. Champion Mirai Nagasu came to Moscow as the favourite of the three U.S. ladies competing at this event. With a more refined and reserved look this season, her programs were both choreographed by Adam Rippon and showcase 'a softer Mirai'. As always though, the question on everyone's mind would be her jump landings and how the judges would respond with regards to evaluating her technique. She finished fourth in the short program and showed some of the best fight I've seen from her in some time to go clean on her jump landings but in the free skate, many of the landings again looked quite suspect and there were a couple of step outs although she did manage to stay on her feet. At the end of the day, Mirai's score of 165.88 left her in fourth place.
Olympic Gold and Silver Medallists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov were the odds on favourites to win the gold in the pairs event but with Duhamel and Radford and Kavaguti and Smirnov turning in such fine performances already this season on the Grand Prix, I wanted to see how they factored into the mix. I'm not going to lie, this team looked well trained and prepared. They went clean with side by side triple toes and a throw triple flip to handily win the short program over their Russian teammates with a score of 69.09 and then delivered an excellent free skate with both the throw triple lutz and salchow landed cleanly to earn 211.97 and take the win at this event. To put things in perspective, Kavaguti and Smirnov's score at Skate America was 209.16 and Duhamel and Radford's score at Skate Canada was 210.74 so this team's score here was the highest we've seen posted from the pairs on the Grand Prix... so far. They proved that they're on top on their game and very much in the mix this season here and their "Notre Dame De Paris" program is a huge step up from their "Addams Family" free skate from last year in my opinion.
The other two Russian teams competing here were Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (love the last names!) and Kristina Astakhova and Alexei Rogonov. Now, don't get me wrong, these are two excellent teams and both pulled off clean and convincing short programs with the great attack and polish we always characteristically see from Russian teams. They won silver and bronze here, but one has to look at Tarasova and Morozov's silver medal winning free skate, which had three falls and a two footed landing on their final throw and shake their head a little. By 0.02, it was still considered better than Astakhova and Rogonov who certainly weren't perfect either and were a little hesitant at times but brought some nice expression to their "Master And Margarita" free skate. I gotta be honest,
In winning the silver medal at Skate America, Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier received a lot of praise for their confidence and free skate to "The Lion King". The judges concurred there and gave them Personal Bests for BOTH their programs in Chicago. Up against three strong Russian teams on their home turf here, problems on the side by side triple salchows in the short program put them in fourth place. A double from Frazier on the same side by side jump attempt in the free skate coupled with misses on the side by side double axel sequence from Denney in the free skate kept them there, a real shame considering the lovely throws. The program to me unfortunately didn't have the same spark here and their final score at Rostelecom Cup was 164.85, 18.99 points back of their Skate America score.
The shoe ins in the ice dance event were Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who dominated at Skate America with two programs that were for all intents and purposes lost on me when they performed them in Chicago. Their speed and the difficulty of the programs were certainly well rewarded by the judges here with an overall event score of 174.28, which was 3.25 higher than their score at Skate America. They won the title in Moscow with an almost fifteen point lead.
Remember when Pasha Grishuk and Evgeny Platov and Maya Usova and Alexander Zhulin played musical partners and competed against each other at the World Professional Championships? I do. It was so good it was fattening! Well, we all know how the world so dearly loves a remake these days and Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin and Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov did not disappoint in bringing the soap opera to life on home soil. In the end, Ilinykh and Zhiganshin ended up in second place to Sinitsina and Katsalapov's fourth. As a matter of personal preference, the latter of the two teams' steamy free skate to the music of Gary Moore captured my attention more but I agree with the judges in terms of the technical side of the performance in rewarding the former.
Britons Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland have a refreshing attitude about competition. They told me when I interviewed them that they "don't like to think about placements. We think that if you prepare right and skate as you do in practice the results will take care of themselves." After winning the bronze medal at the European Championships last year and finishing in the top ten at the Olympics and Worlds, they came into this event as medal favourites whether they liked to think about placements or not. Skating to "Exogenesis Part 1" and "Hurricanes And Butterflies" by Muse, they were in my opinion just a pleasure to watch. This free dance was a stark contrast to their Michael Jackson program from last season and although certainly angsty, well highlighted their ability to interpret music and bring passion to their skating. They actually finished second in the free dance with a score of 98.47 but remained third overall.
Do you know who I really like? Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. They're the reigning Junior World Champions and I don't know why, but I remember watching them at last year's Junior Worlds and going... these two remind me of a young Tessa and Scott. There is power behind their edges and a confidence that belies their years. Their programs are warhorses this season - "Malaguena" and "Romeo And Juliet" - but they are warhorses done quite well. They ended the competition in sixth place with 136.33 and are a team to watch in the future.
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