Skating Highlights of the Week: Internationaux de France and Intranationals in Russia and Japan
Papadakis & Cizeron finally show up as the Grand Prix ends; Russian Cup series wraps up in Moscow; a surprise men’s win at Japanese Junior Nationals.
This week saw the conclusion of the Grand Prix series in France, with the final lineups for the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver being decided at the Internationaux de France in Grenoble. Except right now, nobody’s sure whether Yuzuru Hanyu’s going to compete in Canada or not, so the position of first alternate was also a thing for the men to target. Although the most anticipated part of the event might have been a certain team that had missed their first event, so weren’t in contention for that. There were a couple more international competitions this week, but they were very small affairs.
Instead, outside Grenoble, most of the week’s action was happening at two intranational events. Nationals season is just around the corner, with Japanese and Russian Nationals now only a month away. The final qualifying competitions for both were held this week. In Russia, that was the final Cup in Moscow. In Japan, that was actually their Junior National Championships, where singles skaters need to finish in the top six to qualify for their senior Nationals. This is nothing to take for granted; Rika Kihira infamously failed to qualify two years ago, and even though she’d made the Junior Grand Prix Final, that automatically took her out of the running for the World Junior Championships.
Internationaux de France de Patinage
Given how many skaters came into the Internationaux de France aiming to make the Final, it’s maybe a little disappointing that in three disciplines, the only skaters who did were the winners. All of them who had won their first event as well, so they didn’t even need to win to make it. The one exception was the ice dance, where the winners couldn’t, so two other teams did instead.
Unlike everyone else who pulled out of their first event, Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron made it to their second. They got a new world record in both their programs, and deserved it. Their rhythm dance suffers from an uneven application of tempos, but their tangoing is so technically sharp and emotionally expressive, and so languid and yet so hot, you almost don’t care.
For the first half of their new free dance, Papadakis & Cizeron are at their softest and sweetest yet. That adds depth to the second half, when they take it into more dramatic territory. Even the technical moves serve the emotion of the dance. Combined that with how perfectly they do everything, and they broke the 130 mark winning here.
They even topped one of the strongest fields of the series, where silver medalists Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov also impressed with how handily they topped everyone who weren’t the French, starting with this strong and strident tango.
Performing right after the French ice dance overlords in the free dance, one could see how much they’re trying to do what they’ve done. It’s not that bad an idea when they’re as good at that style as they are. Russian teams are half the lineup for the Final, and Sinitsina & Katsalapov’s score here is the highest any of them posted.
Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier fell victim to the setup. Although they gave their all, especially in their accolades-winning free dance, it just wasn’t enough, especially when their technical tariff was too low in both programs. They end the series with only two bronzes, and Canada right now has no home skaters in the senior lineup for Vancouver.
Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker skated their rhythm dance without the stumble this time, and they too had a high-quality free dance to display. But a little too much competition and a level 2 or so too many, and they found themselves off the podium. But thanks to the win in Japan, they only needed fourth to make the Final.
A stacked ladies field delivered a competition with a lot of good in it, except nobody skated up to potential. Rika Kihira popped and underrotated her two triples axels and didn’t try the third. Playing it safe there worked; she didn’t skate the stunner she did in Japan, but she did enough to narrowly take gold.
There were five other ladies who theoretically could’ve made the Final, but three of them would’ve had to win, including both the silver and bronze medalists. The former, Mai Mihara, almost pulled it off. She did very narrowly win the short program, mostly by suffering only a single underrotation.
Up until her last jump, it looked like her free program would go the same way. Then she doubled that, which cost her gold and the Final. But silver’s still good for her to get, and with this series she’s somewhat reestablished herself after last season’s ups and downs.
Underrotations were the main problem for Bradie Tennell, who rotated none of the triples in her short. But doing a free with her jump order newly tweaked, she landed a few more of them, and well enough for second in the segment. That pulled her up from sixth and onto the podium.
Evgenia Medvedeva needed at least silver with a high enough score, and by her own admission is still trying to recover from her physical and mental upheaval. Failing to do any of her triple-triple combinations especially took its toll this week. She’s still good enough a performer that she was within half a point of the lead after the short, but in the free she fell back further, and finished fourth.
Stanislava Konstantinova entered the competition with the most wiggle room after Kihira for qualifying for the Final, only to suffer a terrible tenth-place short. She then rebounded, breaking out the Anna Karenina and being the only lady in the free program to actually land everything. But even that was only good enough for the fourth-place program, and she finished fifth, not high enough.
The only completely clean short was Mae Berenice Meite’s, a good moment at home for a fan favorite. Although between her easier technical content and inability to score very high, she was still only seventh. And things didn’t go as well in the free, where she dropped to eighth.
Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres were surprisingly third after the short, due to a couple of glitches they had. But it wasn’t by much at all, and in the free, everyone missed at least one side by side jump anyway, and they were otherwise smooth and powerful, with an increasing emotional impact, which had them easily surging ahead.
Five of the seven pairs had a chance at the Final, at least theoretically, with two needing gold and two needing silver. Of the two pairs needing gold, perhaps Kayne & O’Shea could’ve gotten it had they been really lucky. They weren’t, but they did have a good week. Their wistful, poetic short was a little rough, but they did pull off everything in it to be a close fourth.
And that ultimately enabled them to be the only team that both got everything in the short and limited it to one side by side error in the free. It was definitely one of their better free skates all together, and that helped them get up to silver, finally getting onto a Grand Prix podium for the first time.
The two teams that would’ve gotten in with silver were the also the top two after the short. Anastasia Boikova & Dmitrii Kozlovskii were the ones in the lead, after jazzing things up in a smooth and colorful skate. But both the two teams in question missed a throw as well as a side by side, and slipped out of the top two. Boikova & Kozovskii still took their first Grand Prix medal, though.
Tae Ok Ryom & Ju Sik Kim are doing the same short program for the third season in a row, but this is one of their best performances of it yet. It was what got them second after the short. In the free they actually beat Boikova & Kozlovskii technically, but presentation scores still made them the ones who ended up dropping to fourth.
It was yet another bad men’s competition, and Nathan Chen wasn’t completely immune, especially not in the short. After that, as he had at Skate America, he attempted slightly less technical content than usual. But when he pulled most of it off, it was still way more than anyone else had, so while he had to come back from third to win, that still wasn’t a problem.
Jason Brown couldn’t qualify for the Final outright, but had he won, he would’ve been first alternate. And it actually didn’t seem impossible after the short, where after his year of struggle, he once again becoming the guy who’s so good at everything else he scores way higher than anyone without a quad has any business scoring. He even took a six-point lead.
Between Chen coming back and errors in his program’s second half, Brown ultimately dropped far behind. But his free skate was still far better than it’s been lately, good enough for immense enjoyment as well as silver, which he’ll happily take right now.
Alexander Samarin had been the one looking for silver, with which he would’ve grabbed the last spot in the lineup. And his free was one of his better ones, making up for his errors with more performance than he usually has. But it was only good enough for bronze.
Dmitri Aliev, along with Boyang Jin, would’ve made the Final had he won. For both men, their shorts put an end to that. But unlike Jin, Aliev, who once was the first to fall apart in the free now kept it to stumbles. Combined with his artistry, that got him second in the segment and pulled him up to fourth.
For the gala, Chen broke out the same rock program that’s been entertaining audiences since last season.
Kihira got the gala audience clapping along to her “Faded” program.
It seems Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron really don’t hold the wardrobe malfunction that cost them Olympic gold against the short dance in which it happened, since they’re now doing it as their show program.
The associations to Mihara skating to Cinderella, of course, are all happy, especially since they now include her doing four jumps in a row.
There’s a good chance they would’ve invited him anyway, but it was good to be sure beforehand we’d get Brown in the gala this time.
When the competitive pressure is off, Medvedeva can be as good as ever.
Aliev portrayed a dangerous Western character to a track from the movie Cowboys and Aliens.
Keiji Tanaka had a disappointing eighth-place showing in the men, but when he was invited to do the gala anyway, he performed much better.
View full results here.
Cup of Russia, Rostelecom, Stage 5
With the final stage of Russia’s Cup series held in Moscow, it was one event with plenty of entries. This included both the men previously near the country’s top who pretty much lost last season to injury, as well as a few of the top skaters from this year’s Junior Grand Prix.
The senior ladies winner was once again someone who didn’t need to qualify. Anastasia Tarakanova, preparing for December, was generally steady, though not perfect in the free, and she may now be a bit blander than she was.
Second place Anna Tarusina, meanwhile, might be increasing a bit in liveliness. She did need her Russian Cup results to qualify for Nationals, but that was never much of a problem for her.
Things were looking downright alarming for Maxim Kovtun after the short, when he was down in ninth. But he rebounded in the free, which was him at his strongest. He blew past the rest of the field for the win, and he’s now the top qualifier for Nationals out of the Cups.
Right behind him came two younger men. Vladimir Samoilov, just up from juniors, did well to qualify in second, especially when he landed the ridiculously hard quad three-jump he started his free with.
Making Nationals was a narrow business for third place Egor Rukhin, who is still in juniors, and didn’t do that well in it this fall. Managing the hard jumps and honing his performance to win the short program helped. He was also lucky that Alexander Petrov, the other big name in the field, made enough mistakes to finish fourth (though he too qualified).
There were only two senior ice dance teams, but one of them was pretty good. Olga Bibikhina & Daniil Zvorykin aren’t as strong or as high ranked as some teams, but their free dance especially is worth watching for the sheer Russianness of it.
The junior ladies competition didn’t include those topping Russia’s junior scene at the moment, but it did include two girls who’ll probably be considered from Junior Grand Prix assignments when they age in next summer. The free skate of winner Anastasia Shabotova actually isn’t available, although her Ed Sheeran female cover medley short is.
Maya Khromykh was fifth after a fall in her short, but she rebounded to nearly match Shabotova in the free and claim second. Her technical content was slightly lower than the winner’s, but she already skates with a sophistication that belies her years.
The short program left Shabotova a fraction of a point behind Anastasia Kostyuk; the two of them had very similar skates. But Kostyuk made multiple mistakes in her free, and dropped to fifth.
They may have suffered a disappointment at their second JGP event, but here, Elizaveta Shanaeva & Devid Naryzhnyy got higher scores in both segments than anybody, even when they made multiple mistakes in their rhythm dance. Their free dance went better.
Second place Ekaterina Andreeva & Ivan Desyatov got pretty close to Bibikhina & Zvorykin in their free dance as well.
It wasn’t very hard for the junior pairs competition to be better than the senior one. Polina Kotiukovich & Dmitrii Ialin faced a bit of competition, and were even left in second after the short. But it was by very little, and a good performance of the Cirque du Soleil ultimately carried the day.
View full results here. (In Russian)
Japanese Junior National Championships
Japan’s Junior Nationals is basically a singles event; there was no pairs competition, and the ice dance event had only two teams. It was on the volatile side, especially when it came to who qualified for senior Nationals. Only the top six do, and this year, three JGP competitors found themselves on the outside looking in. Painfully, two of them finished seventh, including multiple medalist and 2017 JGP Finalist Mitsuki Sumoto, although that was partly because he’s dealing with a hip injury. There was a lot of movement between the segments as well.
Which made it all the more aggravating that Japanese TV showed so little of it. We saw only free skates, and in the men, they only showed three skaters, and when one of them didn’t even skate well.
Despite some issues with underrotations, Yuhana Yokoi was the cleanest technically in a somewhat rough ladies event, and her excellence with this free program put her above the others as well. She’s the top Japanese junior lady right now, and she finished accordingly.
Silver medalist Nana Araki wasn’t all that far behind, though, especially artistically. She too had a good competition, and she even got her triple-triple combination ratified in both programs, and when the strict Japanese panel wasn’t ratifying many of those.
Things were a bit more packed and a bit more messy below that. So much so, that even when she was twelfth after the short, and was hit hard by the technical panel, Tomoe Kawabata did enough technically that her relatively strong presentation pulled her all the way up to third.
Tatsuya Tsuboi was not whom most would’ve expected to win the men’s event, having neither the most technical content nor the most artistry. But he was smooth and steady, having enough of both, and while he won neither segment, when the numbers crunched together he’d won by about half a point.
But the real shock was Shun Sato. A complete unknown down in sixth going into the free, he suddenly broke out two quads-albeit one with a hand down, continued to skate mostly clean, and won both the segment and the silver by a dozen points.
View full results here.
Next week may be the gap week between the Grand Prix series and the Final, but it won’t be a completely quiet one. The penultimate Challenger event, the Tallinn Trophy in Estonia, will be the biggest international event. And the final Nationals qualifying event, the Skate Canada Challenge in Edmonton, will fill out the roster for Canadian Nationals. Some of the smaller countries will even have their National Championships, but there may not be much footage from that.