More Pairs News and a Coaching Retirement
Sui & Han latest Grand Prix withdrawals; Rogonov has a new partner; Frank Carroll retiring.
It is typical enough for the summer following the Olympics to start with retirements, and continue with Grand Prix withdrawals, both before and after the assignments come out. In this manner, the summer has been typical. Of course, that was all overshadowed by the murder of skating star Denis Ten a week and a half ago. It also overshadowed the biggest and most shocking pairs split so far, when that news dropped hours later.
But while Seguin & Bilodeau are the highest-profile pair to end things, there has been a good deal of volatility in the pairs field this summer. With their split, they became the second high-profile pair off the Grand Prix rosters, with Chinese pair Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang out just before due to injury. There had also been a few lower-profile but still significant splits that had happened earlier. A couple of the skaters involved were retiring, but the rest set to work finding new partners. For some of those searches, we are still hoping to hear of their outcomes, waiting to see if the skaters involved found someone in time to compete this season.
Now, the summer’s trends continue, with another pair out of the Grand Prix, and another retirement, although this one was by a coach. But also, we have a new pairs team.
Sui & Han Out of Grand Prix
It’s not been a pretty summer for either Chinese officials or their skaters, and the end of the month brings yet more bad news. Wenjing Sui & Cong Han are now the third pair crossed off on both their Grand Prix events, meaning both the country’s top pairs teams will miss the series.
So far we don’t have any statements from either them or anyone else as to why. The likely cause is the injury to her that took them out of the World Championships last March. It may even be a precautionary move on their parts. They’ve been successful enough for the Grand Prix not to matter as much to them. And given how many injuries Sui’s struggled with in recent years, it would make sense if they don’t want to risk aggravating her woes there.
In any case, we can hope that, like in 2017, they’ll be back in time for the second half of the season. With Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot out for at least now, they’re likely to be the best pairs team in the world, although the time out might take its toll. Although at this point, the only competition they need to be at full strength for doesn’t take place for nearly four more years. Unfortunately, it’s starting to look like Sui’s injuries could be a chronic situation, so that may or may not be a problem.
The loss of three contending pairs is a hard blow for the Grand Prix circuit. But at least the event in Helsinski has gotten a lot more competitive. Natalja Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert are now the favorites, but it’s far from prohibitive the way it was with Sui & Han. And at least one unlikely team will get their first ever Grand Prix medal. The Internationaux de France, on the other hand, is arguably now less competitive. With both the pairs above them out, it should be an easy win for Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres, which will at least please the home audience. Here, too, at least one team will medal for the first time, unless Tae Ok Ryom & Ju Sik Kim do so in France and Finland both.
Rogonov Teams Up with Ustimkina
At least there is some good pairs news this week. A little more than a month ago, we lost one of Russia’s top pairs, when Alexei Rogonov confirmed partner Kristina Astakhova had decided to retire. He wanted to continue, but it looked uncertain if he could find a partner. Now, however, he has gone onto Russian TV, and announced he’s teaming up with Alina Ustimkina. She herself split from her last partner, Nikita Volodin last fall. With him she had a pretty good record, with some Junior Grand Prix success and a senior international win on the Challenger level.
She’s only seventeen, eighteen in September, while Rogonov is 30. But that’s far from the worst age difference we’ve seen in skating; she’s only a couple of years younger than Astakhova. Their height difference, meanwhile, is less than many a pair, which is something they might have to manage. At least they seem roughly at the same level of ability.
That may not, however, be good enough to break through in the Russian field. Two of the top three pairs don’t seem to be going anywhere, and nobody’s sure what Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov will do. Ustimkina & Rogonov could suffer the same fate as he did with Astakhova, continually coming in fourth, and making the bigger events only when someone else doesn’t. Even if Stolbova & Klimov are removed from the picture, they’ll be fighting multiple other up and coming pairs to take their place in Russia’s top three.
They could, however, make the upcoming Grand Prix. Rogonov’s record makes them eligible for invites, and there are now a number of berths open. How they go against even one of those pairs fields could be very telling for their prospects.
Frank Carroll Confirms Retirement
It’s not always just skaters who retire after an Olympics. Sometimes coaches do it too. Such was already expected to be the case for coaching legend Frank Carroll. At 80 years of age, he already was around less in recent years than he’s been, and his last big student was the late Denis Ten. It’s now official: this week will be his last at his rink. Thus ends a coaching career that produced an Olympic champion, another Olympic medalist, and two more World champions, including the even more legendary Michelle Kwan.
After an amateur skating career that ended in 1960, and a few years of show skating and a brief acting career, Frank Carroll started coaching in the late 1960s. It was half a decade after the devastating 1961 plane crash that killed the entire American World team and their coaches, including Carroll’s own coach Maribel Vinson Owen. Owen had been a great influence on Carroll, and the tragedy too had a deep impact on him. He would be among those who would rise to replace her and those colleagues killed with her, helping rebuild the sport in the U.S.
In the five decades that have followed, his students have included many top American names, as well as a few foreign ones. He would have his first World champion and Olympic medalist in the form of Linda Fratianne, whom he afterwards thought cheated out of gold at her Olympics. She was a skater he had from when she was young, as was Michelle Kwan. By the time she left him in 2002, she had not only also won multiple World titles and Olympic silver, but become one of the most successful, most beautiful to watch, and most loved skaters of all time. Even right after losing her, he would have his third Olympic medalist when Timothy Goebel won bronze in Salt Lake, and eight years later, he would finally become the coach of an Olympic champion, thanks to Evan Lysacek.
With a firm hand, but a lively personality, Carroll is a heavily respected figure, and, generally, a well-liked one. His influence on the sport in the U.S. is likely beyond measurement. It’s not even entirely over; he’ll still do some work with the juniors. They will be the extra beneficiaries of one of the greatest skating coaches the U.S. has seen.