Ice Network

Tarasova, Morozov lead pairs pack in Grenoble

France's James, Ciprès slot into second; Italy's della Monica, Guarise third
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Aside from a time violation, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov skated a clean rendition of their "Piano Concerto No. 2" short, and the Russian silver medalists earned a score of 77.84 to take the lead in the short. -Getty Images

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov might have been the last team to take the ice in the pairs short program Friday at the 2017 Internationaux de France, but the Russians made sure they'd emerge first out of the pack.

The duo won the segment with renewed amplitude and mastery, while hometown favorites Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès slotted into second place. The Italian team of Nicole della Monica and Matteo Guarise turned in a magnificent program themselves, placing the pair in prime medal position heading into the free skate.

The first movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2" can be a terrifying piece to work on. It can be an overwhelming piece for pianists to master, and the same can be said for those who dare skate to it -- which is precisely what Tarasova and Morozov chose to do this season. They were completely up to the task in Grenoble, with the program truly emphasizing their class.

Wearing black outfits with elegant yet sober red lines, Tarasova and Morozov skated fast and powerfully, mastering the music's unforgivable phrases throughout. They landed their triple twist with ease, and performed their side-by-side triple toes almost in sync, when most other pairs struggled with their side-by-side elements. To cap things off, the pair finally landed a throw triple loop.

"Today was good," Morozov said after the pair earned a score of 77.84 points and positive Grades of Execution across the board. "Not the best, as we made a little mistake on the last element, but we are in the right direction in this most important season."

The team has also found a way to emphasize Morozov's strength. When you watch the pair, Tarasova seems to be lifted by her partner in an effortless way, creating the appearance that she may never come back down to earth.

"We had the idea of skating to Rachmaninoff's music last season and planned to use it for our Olympic season," Morozov explained. "This music is very strong and aggressive. We feel in harmony with it, I suppose."

James and Ciprès delivered a complete package to Ed Sheeran's "Make It Rain." The French pair opened their program with a balanced lift that took them into their triple twist, which was followed by their side-by-side triple salchows. James slightly two-footed the throw triple flip (which was validated as a lutz by the technical panel), but the rest of their program was flawless. They ended with a seldom-seen parallel butterfly into their final combination spin, which aided in them amassing 73.18 points, some 4.66 behind Tarasova and Morozov.

"We're pretty happy with our performance," James said with a smile. "We lost a few points on the flip, and we'll have to pay attention not to lose those points."

Perhaps most important, James and Ciprès seem to have found their style, as their rather bluesy music emphasized both their power and clear lines.

"That style worked well last year," James said. "We obviously needed to change our program this year, but not our styles. It's important, as you get into the Olympic season, to keep what works best with you."

Skating to "Magnificat" by Italian singer Mina, della Monica and Guarise completed their side-by-side triple salchows, triple twist, throw triple loop and three Level 4 elements.

"It's the best program we've done so far this season," della Monica said.

Returning to a program they skated two seasons ago, the team scored 70.65 points, which placed them just 2.53 behind the French.

"We couldn't skate well to this program until the world championships," Guarise explained. "So, we decided to skate to it again in the Olympic season. Worlds are also going to be held in Milano, so we wanted to skate to an all-Italian song. Mina is our idol, and that music, though sung in Latin, is Italian as well. Every time we hear this music, we feel at home and at ease."

Canada's Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch stand in fourth place. Skating to Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," the team struggled with its side-by-side triple toes as well as with its subsequent throw triple lutz, but was still able to garner 66.36 points

Team USA's Marina Castelli and Mervin Tran are sixth after collecting a season's-best 58.99 points for their "Fallin'" short.