Autumn Classic and Ondrej Nepala Trophy
Yuzuru Hanyu and a bunch of Canadians bring attention to the Autumn Classic; Evgenia Medvedeva leads dominating Russian team in Slovakia.
As well as the Junior Grand Prix series, this week saw the continuation of the Challenger series with another two events. One, in Canada, saw the season begin for multiple Canadian skaters who didn’t skate in the Summer Series, with plenty of program debuts-but the skater who drew the most fans wasn’t Canadian. The other, in Slovakia, was more about the Russians, which meant far fewer high profile program debuts, since they mostly did that at the public test skates. But there was one highly anticipated exception, and meanwhile, it was still the start of the season for a ladies legend in the making and likely Olympic champion to be.
Autumn Classic International
— Maé-Bérénice Méité (@MBMeite) September 23, 2017
The Autumn Classic International in Montreal isn’t supposed to be a high-profile competition. But it attracted the audience of one, astonishing even some of the skaters themselves. It was because Yuzuru Hanyu was starting his season there; much of the audience was Japanese. In the short program, he was exquisitely flawless, and maxed out the possible points for his quadruple salchow and triple axel jumps for a world record score. Then he missed most of his jumps in the free, and dropped to second behind Javier Fernandez. The Spaniard skated two decent programs both short and long having good character, at the latter making better use of the entire Man of La Mancha soundtrack than most have. He landed four out of five easier quads, though he also had a couple of doubles.
Two clean quad toe loops in his free helped Keegan Messing surprise for bronze, putting himself in the conversation for Canada’s second Olympic men’s berth, especially when he got much higher presentation scores than Nam Nguyen in fifth, which helped him edge out both him and Misha Ge despite some mistakes, and Nguyen landing four clean quads, though his free wasn’t clean either. Ge was someone everyone was just happy to see here when he only recently declared he’d stay in for the Olympic season. He skated two achingly beautiful programs close to clean, if quadless, and he took missing the podium philosophically. Ross Miner and Daisuke Murakami, who might have otherwise contended for bronze, both made too many errors.
Kaetlyn Osmond’s return to her old short program went excellently here, and her free program is showing signs being her best yet, even when she made a handful of mistakes, including a completely random fall. Winning certainly wasn’t a problem. Japanese fans got to see Mai Mihara win silver. The only one besides Osmond to land difficult triple-triples, she landed hers three times. Her short was brilliant, and a couple of doubled jumps didn’t mar the beauty of her poetic free in its debut. Elizabet Tursynbaeva had one of her better competitions to win bronze, coming back from fifth for it, though she pulled off only the easiest of her three triple-triple attempts (and her difficult three-jump).
Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford had a fate not unlike Hanyu’s. They skated their short program perfectly, then they fell three times in their free and lost the gold to Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres. They said afterwards they might get a whole new long program after all. James & Cipres already have one that elevates pop music, and an equally good short. Those were perhaps a little marred by the particular mistakes they made here, which is unfortunate, considering they didn’t even make too many, and their short was close to clean. They also came within a hair of landing a clean throw quad salchow.
When Marissa Castelli & Mervin Tran made their usual amount of jump errors, Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau took bronze by making less and smaller; the other three pairs in the field weren’t up to challenging them. Seguin & Biloedau revealed she’s been through three concussions, and they hadn’t done many run-throughs yet. One could see that when they skated. Both both programs are well put together, and they’re already getting some emotion into them. Even if one of the musical extensions needed to make the short program long enough was a bit jarring.
But the most anticipated competition was the ice dance, the first look we’re getting at the top three Canadian teams, in a field where they had no trouble sweeping the podium. Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir came out in the short dance and melted the ice right down. Perhaps they did get some home favoring in their marks, especially when they maxed out their twizzles, but they still blew everything else we’d seen so far this season away. And when you watch their Moulin Rouge free, with the penultimate lift maxed out, it hits you that for all the programs we’ve seen to that soundtrack, we’ve seen none that really conveys the passion and the path of the film’s love story. Until now:
Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Pojé, too, have a free dance that gets to the emotional heart of their heavily used music more than most programs to it do; they talked about the story’s relevance today. They had seduction in their short dance too, even if they also had a couple of rough spots. That was part of what made their silver a narrow win over Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier, though it was close even in the free; so far has the other team come. After their themed short dances of the last two seasons, Gilles & Poirier didn’t do anything more unusual this year than a sleeve change, but it’s still a good program. They saved the storytelling for the free dance, where one can feel the world of film noir.
There were a tiny pair of junior competitions, where the only foreign entry in the men withdrew; Eric Liu beat two other Canadian boys decisively. Ten junior ladies competed; Julie Froetscher came from behind to win a fairly close one.
View full results here.
Ondrej Nepala Trophy
Over in Slovakia, not far from where the Junior Grand Prix was visiting Belarus, the Ondrej Nepala Trophy was held in Bratislava. And as in Minsk, the Russians dominated. At this one they won all four golds, leaving the American ice dance team here with silver, and went one-two instead of one-three in the men. The ladies and pairs podiums exactly reflected Minsk’s: a Russia-Japan-Russia finish and a Russian sweep.
Though the fate of the two Russian men had a couple of twists. Initially Sergei Voronov was the surprise leader, when a terrible short left favorite Mikhail Kolyada down in tenth. In the free he landed the competition’s only clean quad, a beautiful lutz, then fell on his other two quads, but was close to clean otherwise. And that was enough that when Voronov struggled with his quads and a couple other jumps, the technical content and presentation differences were actually able to make up the twenty-four point gap. And more; Kolyada didn’t even just inch past Voronov, he beat him by nearly fourteen points!
Kolyada was also helped by fourth and fifth place Grant Hochstein and Alexander Samarin struggling with quads in both programs and axels in their frees. And by eighth place Keiji Tanaka following a similar short with an even worse free. Brendan Kerry also benefitted from their errors to grab his second bronze in as many weeks. His short program hadn’t gone well either, but he free was clean outside the quad attempts.
Evgenia Medvedeva wasn’t her usual perfectly skating self for the entire competition; she had a turnout late in her free, and the other final elements weren’t pristine. Nothing that made her defeatable, though. Especially not when she pulled off all her triple-triples, while none of the other ladies managed any of theirs. Rika Hongo got off lightly, merely underrotating them. She also had an underrotated double axel-triple toe and a fall on a fully downgraded loop in the free. But it was still the best competition she’s had in a while, and enough for a surprise silver. Radionova underrotated it in a short where her axel cost her more, then doubled the second jump in a free where her loops cost her more, both of them ending up with no value at all. She was actually fourth in the free skate for that, though she still won bronze.
It was Dabin Choi who came in third in the free, debuting a program she had a bit more connection to than her last and skated clean. But she did neither a triple-triple nor a clean short, and couldn’t pull up from fourth. Suffering disappointment in both programs was Caroline Zhang, who finished sixth. In between them, in fifth, Alena Leonova’s programs were anticipated more than her, after she missed the Russian test skates. Sadly, there was none of the “only Leonova” craziness we’ve gotten a couple times from her recently. And one wonders why she did her short to a cha cha in a season when the junior ice dancers are all required to. But her Bollywood free is very entertaining, when she skates it decently, as she did here:
This Russian sweep in pairs happened mostly because the other three pairs in the field weren’t able to challenge the three Russian pairs. But the top two did have a bit of a face off. When they both put down clean short programs, their harder jump content gave Kristina Astakhova & Alexei Rogonov the lead over favorites Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert. But in the free skate, both teams had similar content, and Zabiiako & Enbert did both their opening side by side passes and their closing elements better. That was enough; they moved up to win by a point. Bronze medalists Alisa Efimova & Alexander Korovin had the most ambitious side by side jump content, but failed to pull off any of it.
Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev had none of these issues. They skated two straightforward programs to easily win gold. If there was one creative lift in the free they weren’t quite comfortable with yet, they also maxed out the stunning one they kept in from last year’s free. Silver medalists Rachel & Michael Parsons had it a little harder, challenged by Betina Popova & Sergei Mozgov, who impressed with their two energetic programs which were actually better done. The Americans were lucky Popova & Mozgov got a low technical tariff in the short dance, while they themselves got the highest, building a six and a half point lead. Popova & Mozgov got close enough to their tariff in the free dance they actually beat them by five points, but they held on.
View full results here.
Next week the amount of Challenger events goes down to one. But that one is the Nebelhorn Trophy, where many of those who frequent the Challenger circuit will be looking to qualify their countries berths to the 2018 Winter Olympics. For many of them, next weekend will be the most critical one in their careers.