No narrative of the quad was as dispiriting as the pairs story. The retirement of Shen/Zhao really left a hole in the competition and no skaters really raised themselves up. No team has the “skating as one” that Shen/Zhao had (have) and the consistency of the top skaters (Kavaguti/Smirnov, Pang/Tong, Dube/Davison, Zhang/Zhang, Murkhtova/Trankov, Savchenko/Szolkowy) really did leave a lot to be desired. So while Shen/Zhao cruised to their gold medal at the Olympics (a long time coming for Mr. Bin Yao), the early part of the season actually held more promise for this group (P/T improving their URs, D/D having that gorgeous Nationals LP, S/S coming back of that disasterous TEB, M/T skating clean programs more times than ever before). So, with Shen/Zhao gone again, what do we see happening this season (I know, predictions are futile, etc ad infinitum)?
1. How will the new team of Volosozhar/Trankov work out?
Why is this such a good idea? People have responded so strongly to the idea of this team that it’s rather startling to me. Admittedly both were the stronger halves of their antecedent pairs, but it seems people are rooting for them much more than I’d have expected. Is it that lack of a truly GREAT pairs team (S/S and P/T are the closest we have right now, but can you imagine either joining the firmament of the Protopopovs, M/D, G/G, or Shen/Zhao?). Is it the hope for a Russian resurgence (for all the negativity surrounding the nation and figure skating, figure skating fans benefited from Yagudin, Plushenko, Slutskaya, not to mention the plethora of pairs and dance teams they’ve given us)? Or is it simply because YES, they are the stronger halves of the antecedent pairs (and in the case of Trankov, removed himself from what wasn’t a great situation, personally) and this new situation will likely be better for both, and could be better for us?
2. Are Pang/Tong the new Chinese number one, or do the Zhangs get a comeback?
Perhaps the most startling development of the 09/10 season was the unceremonious decline of Zhang/Zhang. I don’t want to call it dumping because that seems deliberate because that would be unfair to Pang/Tong who (a) had great programs and (b) skated much better than they’ve done in the past, but the decline of Z/Z and the re-establishment of P/T at the top seems very weird to me (removing Shen/Zhao from the equation). It’s easy to forget that Zhang/Zhang were ridiculously consistent this quad. From the 05/06 season to the 08/09 season, they missed the podium only once (2007 Worlds, and there they had an entire element ruled invalid). This season, they missed the podium THREE times. Pang/Tong, conversely, missed the podium three times in the same time frame (Olympics 2006, Worlds 2008, 2009), but not at all this season. I’ve always got the impression that most people felt that Pang/Tong were the more talented of the two teams, so maybe it was just, but fascinating nonetheless. And do either teams go onto Sochi? Both will be looking at their fourth Olympics then.
3. Will Dube/Davison recapture their spark?
Okay. Here is their 2008 Worlds SP. It’s not a perfect program, maybe not even a great one (though it’s stronger than I remember). But they’re skating with such feeling that was largely absent these past two seasons (Nationals 2010 LP excepted). Now, Bryce has gone on record (pre Worlds 09) stating that he’s questioned his commitment to the sport and thought about quitting. So really, what are the odds of them really regaining something (and I’m speaking as someone who basically spent this season defending them). The one advantage they have is that they’ll likely be the number one Canadian team for at least two seasons (I can’t imagine Moscovitch/Moore-Towers catching up before then and we have no idea about Duhamel/Radford). Part of me says yes. This is a team that has defeated every single team currently skating at least once at a major ISU event (with the exception of Savchenko/Szolkowy. I don’t consider the TEB a major ISU event and that was such a profoundly epic meltdown for the two it seems churlish to consider it.) This is a team that came back from one of the most truly painful looking on-ice accidents I can recall as well as personal issues off the ice (we see teams like Trankov and Murhktova breaking up over personal issues) to win a bronze medal at worlds with the cleanest, most engaging long program of the night (if we look at the archived thread here). I have to think they can still come back.