Same Old Same at the Internationaux de France
Another terrible men’s competition at least delivers Ge a medal; Zagitova overscored again but at least deserved this win; Tarasova & Morozov’s deserving to win more in dispute; Papadakis & Cizeron set scoring records in the dance again.
France’s Grand Prix event has its second new title in as many years. This year, it was held in Grenoble for the first time. The prizes were truly unique: big plastic stars which were met with derision from the skating fans watching the podium ceremonies.
But those fans still must have experienced a good deal of deja vu. Much happened here has already happened a good deal this fall. A bad men’s competition, for instance, although at the ladies competition wasn’t as bad this time. Also overly generous presentation scores for Russians, which once again resulted in a dodgy win. And a little record-breaking in the ice dance.
There were a handful of extremely good things in a men’s competition that was somehow even worse than most of the ones we’ve had so far. One was Javier Fernandez’s brilliant short program. His quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination was beautiful enough it scored as high as much harder quad combinations, his quad salchow almost as good. His skating and the show he put on were better still:
In the free, however, it seemed the aftereffects of his illness from China were still taking their toll on his stamina. He started by barely getting out his solo quad toe and quad salchow combination. After that he had only one clean jumping pass. He stumbled on two others, and fell attempting a second quad salchow and his triple axel combination. That he was still second in the free skate, if barely, says everything about how badly everyone else skated.
Including Shoma Uno, his main competition for the gold. He managed the same quad-triple, but went down on an underrotated quad flip, and barely held on to his axel. But nobody who tried one of the harder quads in the short rotated them. Uno did hold onto a quad loop in the free, and didn’t fall on another underrotated quad flip, but he fell right after on one underrotated quad toe, held onto the other but failed to do a combination, and then fell on his very hard triple axel three-jump. He won the free skate, but only by four points, and Fernandez still took gold by ten more.
There were some other men who skated decent shorts. Alexander Samarin took third by landing a quad toe and being the only guy to not fall on his underrotated harder quad. Moris Kvitelashvili fell on his toe, but landed a salchow combination for fourth. Alexei Bychenko took fifth by landing everything with a quad toe, and Misha Ge sixth by doing so with divine beauty. In seventh, Denis Ten was quite pretty, outside the fall on the underrotated quad salchow.
Samarin got off relatively mildly in the free, even landing his quad lutz this time. But he fell on his other quad, and was shaky afterwards. When jumps are all he has, that ultimately only got him fourth. Bychenko landed two quad toes, only to double two more jumps and single a third; he stayed fifth. Kvitelashvili had a similar fate, except he also fell on his solo quad; he was eighth in the segment and had to hold on to sixth. Ten didn’t have a clean jumping pass until late in his tenth-place program, and to add insult the injury left the ice with a cut hand.
He finished eighth, sandwiched between the two Americans. Max Aaron and Vincent Zhou didn’t even skate good short programs, both falling twice on as many quad attempts. At least Aaron rotated his, though. He even landed his quad combination and all his triples in his sixth place free skate, though doubling one solo quad and underrotating another left him without enough for higher. Zhou landed both an easy and a hard quad in combination, only to fall on two more, one underrotated, and double a fifth. He also singled an intended triple lutz. He finished ninth.
But amid all the mistakes and pain that filled this event, there was one man who was immune. As he had under similar circumstances in Russia, Misha Ge followed up his short program with a free equally as well and as beautifully done. He even nearly maxed out the score on his choreographic sequence near the end of his free skate. He had no quads, of course, the same problem that had kept him off the podium in Russia. But here, everyone except the top two actually skated badly enough to come below him, and this longtime fan favorite finished his final appearance on the Grand Prix with a medal. That was probably the best thing of all to happen in Grenoble this week.
The ladies event in particular event was echo of Cup of China. The shorts left a bit to be desired, but the frees far better. And gold went to the same Russian girl getting higher presentation scores than she deserved. Although this time there wasn’t really anyone who deserved to beat Alina Zagitova.
Her short program wasn’t good, with two underrotations and a fall. But she was the hardly the only one to struggle. Kaetlyn Osmond was lucky to be leading after doubling the second jump in her triple flip-triple toe attempt and putting a hand down on her lutz. Maria Sotskova nailed her triple lutz-triple toe and nearly skated clean, but her flip wasn’t quite. Mai Mihara had the toe in hers fully downgraded to a double, and was fourth. Zagitova was right behind her.
Zagitova skated about the best free skate she could’ve. The triple lutz-triple loop she underrotated in the short she pulled off here, before holding onto a three-jump with a flip. That many difficult backloaded jumps got her a technical score of over 80, which she did deserve. But she also got nearly 70 in presentation scores, which even with her PCS-friendly choreography she didn’t. It allowed her to break 150 and made it impossible for most of the field to beat her, which should not have been the case. Sotskova couldn’t do it. She too rotated and landed everything, including her lutz-toe. But when she somehow got lower PCS she had no chance of staying ahead.
Only Osmond had the ability to beat her, and would’ve done so had she skated clean. But after nailing the flip-toe, Osmond followed a stepout on her double axel-triple toe with a fall on her loop, and singled her axel. The rest of the program was good enough she might have won a less competitive event. But on this night, it was the fourth place free, and she had to settle for bronze ahead of Mihara. She pulled off quite a bit of technical content, even though she had rearrange her jumps a bit on the go, when she failed to do one of her planned combinations; she ended up doing two triple lutz-triples toes instead. And if it wasn’t quite clean, it was very close, and it was a beautiful program. But she got lower presentation scores than she deserved, and could only get fifth in the segment.
Third in the free by less than two tenths was Elizabet Tursynbaeva, who had one of the best free skates she’s ever had, even when she finished behind the music. She didn’t do any triple triples in it; her hardest element was a double axel-triple toe-double toe. She’d done an easier triple salchow-triple toe in the short, where she’d also popped her lutz. She was overjoyed at her score, even when it only got her fifth, ahead of Yuna Shiraiwa. Shiraiwa was third in the short, mostly by skating clean. She landed the triple lutz-triple toe in both programs, and then again with a double toe in the free. But she also followed a near-collision with the boards near the end by underrotating and falling on her final jump, which helped drop her.
Not everyone made up for bad shorts with good frees. Elizaveta Tuktamisheva was dead last with her short. Her eighth-place free went slightly better, but she still made too many mistakes, and she ended up ninth, right ahead of Polina Edmunds. Edmunds at least skated better here than she had so far this fall, in the short especially. But that’s not saying much, and her free still had only three clean jumps, two of them triples.
It was in the pairs where overscoring of the Russians arguably resulted in the wrong team winning. Though it isn’t that easy, perhaps, to argue with much of the scoring of Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov in their short program. A good deal of it was flawless. But that started wear off at the very end, where they finished late enough to lose a point. Meanwhile, Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres tried to approach them with higher technical content, including side by side triple salchows. But a shaky throw triple lutz left them nearly five points behind.
James & Cipres weren’t perfect in their free skate, but that was only because of their ambitious throw content. They held onto the lutz slightly better this time, and had another close call with the throw quadruple salchow, though the two-footed landing was a rough one. They landed salchows again, and nailed their three-jump. Plus they performed with drama and emotion, bringing the house down. Meanwhile, Tarasova & Morozov pretty much lost their three-jump when she singled out, and two-footed as easy throw badly. They did have salchows and a quadruple split twist, but James & Cipres’ technical superiority was enough to win the segment. But they still got higher presentation scores, despite a lousy program, and the French only won it by a point. They won by four points, arguably less than they were gifted in PCS.
Bronze went in a direction that wasn’t as expected, though maybe it should’ve been. Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise had never medaled on the circuit, but had contended for it in the past. They skated an especially beautiful short with salchows, breaking 70 for the first time. That helped them get a bit of a lead when the teams below them had issues. Lubov Ilyuschechkina & Dylan Moscovitch had multiple rough elements, Cheng Peng & Yang Jin had her doubling their side by side toes, and Marissa Castelli & Mervin Tran had their toes fully downgraded.
It was perhaps in the free skate that the Italians really showed themselves able to take on the Chinese and Canadians, as they were all very close in the free skate scores. But even there Della Monica & Guarise scored highest, and when they lost their combination when he fell. That left their salchows their hardest element. But Ilyuschechkina & Moscovitch had her struggling on both side by side elements, while Peng & Jin followed up their combination with side by side falls on underrotated salchows. As is usual for the Canadians, their other elements were good enough they still nearly matched the Italians technically, and the Chinese actually got the highest technical score. But low presentation scores kept the latter down, and the Italians actually even got slightly higher PCS than the Canadians once again.
Below Ilyuschechkina & Moscovitch in fourth and Peng & Jin in fifth, Castelli & Tran finished much further behind. She too failed to pull off either of their side by side elements, and the beauty of their program couldn’t make up for that. At least they landed both throws, and in fact got the highest score they ever have internationally.
The question related to the ice dance winners, of course, wasn’t who’d they be. It was how high Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron would score. Their short dance was an excellent job, even if the music remains a little weird. They edged out their own best there, but stayed below the world record. But in the free dance, the sheer sublimeness of the program combined with home ice favor to deliver in the scores. They got the highest possible score for three of their elements, including the twizzles, and a perfect 10 in the Interpretation of the Music/Timing of the PCS scores. (One judge gave them a 9.75, which was dropped as the lowest mark.) They won the ongoing race with Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir to be the first team to break 120 in the free dance, and set a new world record for overall score too.
The competition’s big battle was supposed to be for silver. But that one got decided early. Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Pojé’s had nearly pulled out with her displaced rib, and he came into the short with a very newly banged knee. That started with her skirt getting caught on his skate, but it was his failure to do their first set of twizzles that left them down in fifth. Meanwhile Chock & Bates got their job done, no problem, and took enough of a lead to make silver easy.
They weren’t the only team to take advantage. So did Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin and Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri, who claimed third and fourth with a pair of excellent skates. Stepanova & Bukin did have a little bit of weakness in their rumba, though, enough so that they had to edge the Italians out on presentation scores. Guignard & Fabrii tied Chock & Bates for the highest technical tariff after Papadakis & Cizeron’s.
It was Bates’ turn to go wobbly on his twizzles in the free dance, where Weaver & Pojé avoided further bigger mishaps. Both teams also gave excellent performance, Weaver & Pojé’s being particularly impressive emotionally. But the Canadians were a little rough on some of their elements, and when the two teams ended up with the same tariff, and Chock & Bates took second the segment by a fraction of a point. Which didn’t matter much for the two of them anymore.
What did matter was that Stepanova & Bukin got a higher tariff than either team, and the execution of their technical elements was exquisite. They still didn’t get the presentation scores of the top three, and as a result were only fourth in the segement. But the were behind Weaver & Pojé by only a point, and they’d been ahead by just a little more, and so just held on to bronze. Guignard & Fabrii had a higher tariff than them, but despite an excellent skate simply didn’t reach the performance level of the top four, and dropped to fifth.
View full results here.
Series Standings and Skate America
With sixth in China, Javier Fernandez was already out of the running for the Grand Prix Final, but Shoma Uno is now in. All three of Alina Zagitova, Maria Sotskova, and Kaetlyn Osmond also qualified. So did Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Mozorov. Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres took fourth in the standings, and may find themselves in a score tiebreaker for who rounds out that lineup.
Madison Chock & Evan Bates & Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Pojé were competing for a Final lock as well as the silver. By winning it, Chock & Bates easily got in along with Papadakis & Cizeron. And their countrymen Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue must be grateful things went the way they did, since it is now impossible to knock them out of the top six either. Weaver & Pojé will likely miss it, although if they’re injured, that may be just as well. View full standings here.
Next week the series wraps up at Skate America, which is still struggling to keep its rosters full. Scarcely had they replaced Alexander Petrov with young Canadian Roman Sadovsky then Australian Brendan Kerry pulled out, apparently out of a desire to shake things up after his struggles at Skate Canada. He even changed coaches to Nikolai Morozov. Interestingly, the latest update replaced him with Han Yan, who could place high here, and even a medal is not unthinkable. (Technically, getting a second event even puts him in the running for the Grand Prix Final, but for any chance he’d have to win, which is it hard to see happening.)
The same update took a lady off the roster, though. And it wasn’t Anna Pogorilaya, who at one point looked like she might consider pulling out, but by later reports seems game to go. Instead it was Da-Bin Choi. This doesn’t affect the competition here as much, with her likely to go unreplaced. But with currently no explanation or idea of how long she might be out, it carries significant implications for their Olympic team. Nor do we have any idea why Isabella Tobias & Ilia Tkachenko pulled out of the NHK Trophy last week, but they remain on Skate America’s dance roster for now.