Singles Troubles Mar Skate Canada
Uno goes unchallenged when Chan falls apart; Osmond goes unchallenged when noone else gets their jumps ratified; Duhamel & Radford come back to win gold; Virtue & Moir top a stronger ice dance podium.
Skate Canada has not always been the prettiest of events. At one point the antics of the men’s competitions got so bad fans even wondered if it had been cursed. This year, the event took place in Regina, Saskatchewan, and much of it was less than pleasant, especially in the singles competitions. It didn’t help the general mood of the weekend when one of the coaches even ended up in the hospital! Nor did it help matters than the technical panel for both singles competitions was an extremely strict one, and most of the ladies especially failed to please them. (The technical controller was Japanese; they’re a little infamous for their strictness.)
It also contained a few disappointments for the home team. It was hardly shabby resultswise, since they won three of the four golds plus a silver. But most of their other skaters faltered, especially their top man.
This was supposed to be another face-off between two top men that would be competitive should the Japanese man make enough mistakes. Shoma Uno only obliged in part. Not in the short, where he was clean, combining his solo quadruple flip jump with a quad toe loop combination. But in the free, the flip wasn’t clean, and he stumbled badly on an underrotated toe. He held onto the same combination and landed a solo quad loop, though he put a hand down on a triple loop. He still broke 300, so Patrick Chan would’ve needed his absolute best, but it’s not impossible he could’ve squeaked out gold.
But even had Uno given him a better chance, Chan wouldn’t have taken it. His week started rough, thanks to a plane delay and lost luggage. It continued with a short where he put his hand down on an axel and barely landed his quad-triple. And all that was nothing compared to the free where he fell on one quad, tripled another, then doubled four more jumps, including both axels. He didn’t even medal, finishing fourth. In fact, five of the six home single skaters had some disappointment here. Nicolas Nadeau had a decent free, though, as he finished seventh. Keegan Messing had a promising short, but disastrous free for eighth.
Jason Brown wasn’t immune to the bad jumping. Even trying no quads in the short, he still had an axel turnout. In the free, he tried one, underrotated and fell, and also underrotated an axel and popped a loop. And even his clean jumps weren’t all dazzling. But his non-jump elements were, and so was every other aspect of his performance. In this competition, that easily got him silver. On the other end of the scale, Alexander Samarin brought little more than jumps and some over the top mugging. But when those jumps included two quads per program, one in each a lutz, even with an underrotated axel also in each, that was enough for bronze.
Much of the rest of the field struggled, in the short program especially. Though Michal Brezina skated far better than he often has lately, even if with only one quad salchow in each program he could only get sixth. Also, of all the significant program debuts, Jun-Hwan Cha at least visibly enjoyed his short, even as underrotations in both programs kept him to a disappointing ninth. Perhaps the saddest case was Takahito Mura. He who has skated Phantom of the Opera to the gold here three years ago fell apart with it and finished last.
As often happens with strict calling, the ladies event became one of survival. Although of all of Canada’s singles skaters, Kaetlyn Osmond was the only one who didn’t suffer disappointment. Her flawless, elegant short program was even the highlight of the weekend:
As with most of the field, her free skate had its issues. There the triple flip-triple toe she’d nailed in the short she stumbled on, she doubled her solo flip, and then after landing the rest of her triples, she went down on her double axel. But thanks to the struggles of everyone else, she still won by twenty points.
The only other lady to skate a clean short was Anna Pogorilaya, and even then she and her elements weren’t nearly as spectacularly done. Then she had a free skate reminiscent of her Worlds disaster, complete with the only clean jumping pass being a double axel, two hard falls near the end she struggled to pull up from, and painful tears. She dropped to ninth. That left fellow Russian Maria Sotskova to win silver. Her short’s triple lutz-triple toe was the only triple-triple ratified that night besides Osmond’s and Pogorilaya’s; she underrotated her double axel instead. Those contained two of the three underrotations in her free, which by the standards of the evening was still pretty strong.
This event also put forth the scary prospect of a known white supremacist medaling. Courtney Hicks went for the harder triple flip-triple loop in both programs. In an otherwise clean short, she got through it with a turn in between the jumps. That left her with a handful of points over Karen Chen, Rika Hongo, and Ashley Wagner, who came in with two tenths between the first and last. Hongo underrotated her triple-triple, Wagner both that and her loop. Chen failed to do her combination when she stumbled on her lutz. She could only get a double onto her loop later. Further behind them, a messy debut of her potential-filled short left Marina Honda in tenth.
When Hongo got only two clean triples ratified in her free, and Chen got only one, bronze ultimately came down to Hicks and Wagner. Wagner did not have her best free skate. This time her triple-triple was one of three underrotations, plus she had a double in her double axel-triple toe attempt. But in her free, Hicks nearly fell on the flip-loop, and she too had a double and three underrotations. Much to the relief of most viewers, Wagner’s high presentation skills made up the technical gaps, and she bumped Hicks safely of the podium by less than a point and a half.
Honda back came with a third-place free which might have been the most beautiful skate of the night. When she nailed a triple flip-triple toe, she was even the only major contender to land a clean triple-triple in the free. But she still had a couple of underrotations in the middle. She pulled up to fifth, two points ahead of Hongo. Chen was a bit further behind in sixth. At least her free’s of the type that will serve her better when she gets more time and more jumps.
There were no such boons for the other two Canadian ladies. Alaine Chartrand skated so badly questions started to come up as to whether she’s really certain for Canada’s third Olympic berth. At least until Larkyn Austman, who would be her main challenger for it, proved the only lady to skate worse and come in below her.
Considering how their countrymen did, Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford truly had a great competition, even if she doubled her lutz in their short. Going back to the old element order in their revived Muse free skate did the trick. This time they got through the lutzes with only a hand down from him. Then they held on to the rest of their jumps, which happened to include not only a three-jump with a triple salchow, but a throw quadruple salchow. Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot had been ahead in the short, where they’d held on to salchows and landed a throw triple axel with only a stepout. But their harder three jump elements went far more wrong in the free, and they dropped to second and left the home team with gold.
They were even beaten in the free skate by Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres. Their strong salchows and throw lutz made theirs the hardest short technical content done clean. They too went for the throw quad salchow in the free, which she two-footed. The rest of the program they pulled off, adding an easier three-jump to their salchows and throw lutz. They missed silver by less than a point and a half. It was a more disappointing event for Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert. They too nailed their short, but their technical content was easier. Any chance they had at beating the French ended when they she singled the doubles in their three jump and he stumbled on underrotated salchows. They likely wouldn’t have anyway.
It was an even more disappointing event for Lubov Ilyuschechkina & Dylan Moscovitch. They were one of two teams to have the side by sides fully downgraded in the short. Their free program in general was shaky, with no clean jump elements. They were still daring enough to also go for the throw quad salchow, which she fell hard on. They finished seventh, behind Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier and Cheng Peng & Yang Jin. Peng & Jin were the other team to suffer full downgrades, and neither they nor the American managed any of the side by sides in the frees either. But their throws at least went better, if not without fight on Denney & Frazier’s parts.
Arguably, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir were the only home skaters that absolutely performed up to potential. (Aside from the third pairs and dance teams, who were just happy to be there.) The certainly did in their brilliant short dance with straight level fours, which got them a new world record score, and also eventually led to a new world record overall score. Their free dance was their more normal level of excellence, which is still arguably the best in the world. They especially impressed the judges on their lifts, maxing out the scores for all the ones they did in Regina, except their final closing choreographic one.
Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Pojé made it 1-2 for the home team, but they didn’t pull it off without a couple of bumps. In fact, Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue even beat them in the free dance. The Americans basically could not have skated either of their two programs any better than they did; nailing their elements with a feeling of electricity in the air. Weaver & Pojé skated very well, but maybe didn’t have quite the oomph, especially in their free dance spin, and an extended lift there didn’t help. Although they performed their free dance with as much feeling as they’d given it back during the 2012 season. They also got the highest technical tariff of the night, which was pretty much the difference between silver and bronze.
Below the podium, a little bit of twizzle drama struck. In the short dance, it hit Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker, causing them to come in behind Olivia Smart & Adria Diaz. Perhaps it would’ve been less surprising had they come in behind up and coming Alla Loboda & Pavel Drozd, but general low element quality left them a little further behind. It was less than two points difference between fourth and sixth, but it was still a breakthrough for the Spanish team, who skated excellently. They’ve gone up a level generally, and are swiftly making themselves favored to get Spain’s one Olympic spot over their rivals.
Except he fumbled the first set of twizzles in their free dance. Even when the rest of the free dance was done as well as their short dance had been, the damage was done. Especially when Hawayek & Baker broke out their beautiful free dance and glided through it with exquisite grace and without further mishap. Loboda & Drozd still weren’t doing their elements as well as the other two teams, but they did some of them better. Seventh in the free dance, Smart & Diaz dropped to sixth, behind both the American and the Russian teams.
View full results here.
Brian Orser Goes in for Emergency Surgery
Despite the underrotations and low finish, Jun-Hwan Cha arguably held it together pretty well, considering his coach was suffering a medical emergency. Early in the week, Brian Orser seemed fine, even working with Virtue & Moir on Thursday when their own coaches took longer to reach Regina than they did. But Friday night, the report came he’d been taken to the hospital and would need emergency gall bladder surgery. Thankfully, it turned out he only needed a standard, minimally invasive procedure, and it was carried out without complications Saturday morning.
Orser, a World Champion, two-time Olympic silver medalist, and highly successful coach, received support from all over the world during his ordeal, and was sure to thank those who gave it afterwards. He should be released this morning, back at work next week, and fit to travel in time to join Yuzuru Hanyu at the NHK Trophy in two weeks, though he may miss Cup of China, where students Javier Fernandez and Gabrielle Daleman will be among those starting their series.