Pairs

AP Photo

Vanessa James, Morgan Ciprès mark sport with innovative and rewarding lifts

Leave a comment

Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès were the first French pair to win the European Championships since 1932, and the first non-Russian team to claim gold there since 2011.

The pair also won the prestigious Grand Prix Final title in December in their first appearance at the event.

Now, they could be well on their way to what would be their first-ever world title in March. They’ve stood on the podium at Worlds before; last year, they earned a bronze. But could a world title for James and Ciprès spur their retirement?

They sat with NBCSports.com/figure-skating following their European Championship victory to contemplate such a question.

One year ago, you mentioned that you wanted to retire after the Games, especially if you won one Olympic medal. Where do you stand now?

Ciprès: We would definitely have retired if we had won an Olympic medal [laughing]. We are very happy of the decision we made to be on the ice again this year. We had an amazing start of the season. We won the Grand Prix Final, which was amazing. It was our first Final and we were really happy to be there and win with a big fight in the long program. Our European title was also an accomplishment for us. We may have felt old, but now we’re young winners! As sportsmen we want more. We’ll keep going… Until there’s no more!

James: It’s always difficult for any athlete, physically, mentally and emotionally, to give everything you have and not to get the results you were aiming at. Winning like this can continue for four more years without any problems [laughing]! I’ve not done all this stretching for stopping now. But we’ll take it one year at a time.

What is the creative process for your lifts? What drives you to be creative and make them special?

James: First, I work a lot on flexibility with a rhythmic gymnastics coach. It’s not easy, when you are 31 years old. She also helps me strengthening my back.

Ciprès: I go with her sometimes [smiling]… To encourage her!

James: We also work on extensions and on our body lines, so that they don’t look like broken lines during the lifts. We aim at presenting extended legs during the lifts and landings, even when I hold my foot above my head: the other leg shall be extended. So that’s a different perspective from what we were used to.

Ciprès: I must emphasize Vanessa’s imagination and research capacities. She’ll go look on the Internet from gym, circus, roller skating or any other field. We discuss what she found, and try when time permits. I did bring our final lift, the one when I hold her in lunge position. But she brought the lift on an outside spread eagle. That one is really difficult for me. It requires a lot of energy and control. She also created the choreographic sequence, when I hold her on an inside edge.

James: I thought that it would be neat if we could do that, but I didn’t want it to be counted as a lift. I tried with Morgan, then with John [Zimmerman, their coach], and it was so cool! So, we included it in the choreographic sequence.

Ciprès: At first that one would take me as much energy as a real lift! Now it’s almost a moment of rest in the program – well, almost.

It seems that pair skating is taking a lot from ice dance – positions, transitions, steps… Is it a trend you are pursuing yourself?

Ciprès: We get a lot of inspiration from ice dance, it’s true. But ice dance gets a lot of inspiration from us as well, most notably in lifts! They are doing more and more acrobatics, and a lot comes from us pairs. May I tell you? At French Nationals, two dance teams came to me and asked me to teach them one of our lifts! They’ll have to deserve it, though! [smiling]

Some years ago, you said that you wanted to push the sport through more difficult jumps, like quad Salchow or triple-triple side-by-side combinations. Now you’re pushing the sport with lifts?

Ciprès: Indeed, we wanted to mark the history of our sport with our attempts of the riskiest elements. The other day Vanessa saw another competitor landing a throw jump with her arms over her head. That’s something we started, and we have to take it as a compliment. Actually, keeping the quads off means also less risk of injury. Landing quads day after day in practice was physically exhausting and very risky.

What do you think will determine victory at Worlds?

Ciprès [straight-faced]: What will be done on that day. We’ll have to do it.

James: One key factor will also be in the evolution we make in our programs until then. They need to evolve constantly. When we skated our programs at Autumn Classic, early in the season, we had good feedback. But these programs have been intensified so much since then. At each competition we’ve come up with better elements and increased transitions. We need to continue on that trend. I’m sure all our competitors will be in great shape in Japan, whatever can be heard now. We’ll have to be better anyhow.

Ciprès: The main difference now is that we concentrate on ourselves much more than on our competitors. The game before was to see how we could get one point over them. That’s over: we come up with what we need to be the best.

MORE: Jason Brown didn’t think he’d make PyeongChang without a quad, sees season as stepping stone

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Tatyana Volosozhar, Maksim Trankov to skip 2016-17 season, report says

Getty Images
1 Comment

Russian Olympic pairs champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov will miss the entire figure skating season for the second time in three years, their coach said without giving a reason, according to Russian news agency TASS.

Volosozhar and Trankov won team event and pairs gold in Sochi and then sat out the 2014-15 season due to Trankov’s shoulder injury.

They returned last season and were unbeatable until placing a shocking sixth at the world championships, their first time outside the top two in 19 top-level international competitions together.

Volosozhar and Trankov, who were married in August 2015, were already set to skip the fall Grand Prix series before Sunday’s news.

MORE: Grand Prix series assignments

With screams, Canadians repeat as World champions in pairs

Leave a comment

Meagan Duhamel said she had no words, only screams as Eric Radford lifted her for the last time during their World Championships free skate in Boston on Saturday.

“It was an out-of-body experience,” she said.

The Canadians performed out of their minds, easily posting personal-best free skate and total scores to overtake a Chinese pair and repeat as World champions.

“How did we just do that?” Duhamel said coming off the ice, before seeing their totals in the kiss-and-cry area. “It’s like a dream.”

They tallied 231.99 points, beating Chinese short-program leaders Sui Wenjing and Han Cong by 7.52 to keep the same one-two as last year’s World Championships.

Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot took bronze in their Worlds debut.

Russian Olympic champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov plummeted from third to sixth after their lowest-scoring free skate in more than four years, finishing outside the top two for the first time in 19 top-level international competitions.

Duhamel said that last fall she wouldn’t have predicted a medal of any color for her and Radford. They won both of their Grand Prix series starts and earned silver at the Grand Prix Final, but they were unsatisfied with their performances.

“It’s been frustration after frustration after frustration for us this season,” said Duhamel, who suffered a stomach flu at their most recent competition in February and withdrew after that short program. “You work so hard, and that frustration, it hurts you so deeply. It just feels so good when it all comes together. I can’t keep anything inside of me. I was waiting for him to put up that last lift, because I was going to explode.”

Experts tapped the Russians or Chinese as pre-Worlds favorites. Radford was cognizant of those predictions.

“I think people kind of drawn a conclusion based on our season that we weren’t quite as strong contenders,” he said. “It’s difficult not to doubt yourself when everybody else has that expectation of you.”

But they were overjoyed not only after but also during their free skate. Radford saw Duhamel pump her first after a throw triple Lutz before the scream on the last lift.

“When you can have like those sort of bursts of a moment in the middle of a program like that, it’s just like surreal,” Radford said.

Sui and Han couldn’t say the same Saturday. Their flawed skate was punctuated by a fall on a throw quadruple Salchow, ending hopes of a first World title.

“We left many regrets in this competition,” Han said through a translator. “We probably have thought so much before going into the free skate, and that led to the mistakes.”

Savchenko is no stranger to the podium. She won five World titles with former partner Robin Szolkowy, who retired after their last crown in 2014.

When she partnered with the Frenchman Massot, it took more than a year before they were cleared to compete together as a German pair.

“After all what happened, I just live my dream,” Savchenko said. “If it’s a dream come true, it’s amazing. This all emotions coming out. I’m really, really happy that I continue and I can enjoy what I love to do. Unbelievable happy.”

The two U.S. pairs — Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim and Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea — both struggled for the second straight day and finished ninth and 13th. The last U.S. pairs medal at Worlds or the Olympics came in 2002.

“I was the problem, I messed up on everything,” Scimeca said. “I don’t have proof, but I felt like my right blade kept slipping every time I was on the outside edge.”

The World Championships conclude with the women’s free skate on NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET.

MORE: Javier Fernandez overtakes Yuzuru Hanyu for repeat World title

World Championships Pairs
GOLD: Duhamel/Radford (CAN) — 231.99
SILVER: Sui/Han (CHN) — 224.47
BRONZE: Savchenko/Massot (GER) — 216.17
9. Scimeca/Knierim (USA) — 190.06
13. Kayne/O’Shea (USA) — 178.23