Varying Kinds of Unfortunate Events at Cup of China
Kolyada has breakthrough win in bad men’s event; Zagitova takes first amid dubious scoring; Sui & Han lead triumphant home 1-2; Papadakis & Cizeron set new records in the ice dance.
In terms of skating, the Cup of China actually entirely wasn’t the #CupOfDisaster on the kind of level with which it’s usually earned that hashtag. Sure, the men’s event was, but the ladies event was actually impressive, the pairs event wasn’t the worse, and the ice dance was also very good. Three of the winners even put down exactly one of their best performances ever. Instead, it suffered a couple of other kinds of messes. Scoring was one of them, with very arguably the wrong lady winning gold as a result. Also, their feed actually broke at one point, leaving fans all over the world staring at either their TVs or computer screens, briefly wondering if they’d see more than the first couple in the pairs free. One now has a new reason to dread the prospect of the 2022 Olympic skating competitions taking place in this likely venue. There was also a couple of other pieces of weirdness, such as two instances of two competitors tying in the short program scores. There was everything happening in Beijing, except, thankfully, another case of someone being rushed to the hospital.
The men complied with China’s disaster mandates, skating an event far worse than the ones we saw at the first two Grand Prix. Except it took Mikhail Kolyada a while to get with the program. First, he stunned with the best short program he’s ever done. It included a to die for quadruple lutz, a fought-for quad toe loop-triple toe loop jump combination, and a level of beauty and artistry we didn’t even know he’d had in him. More of his free program than not was also very good. Except, of course, for the parts where he fell on the quad lutz, doubled a quad salchow, and singled an axel; he was left with only one quad toe. He was third in the free skate, but that was by less than half a point, and he won by nearly fifteen.
Of the two men who were supposed to face off for the gold, only one of them even partially delivered. In the short, Boyang Jin also did a quad lutz combination, but put his a hand down on the first jump, and turned out of his quad toe. His artistry showed improvement, but still has ways to go. His was the fifth place free. His four quad attempts results in a fall, a stumble, and two hands down, though the last two included the lutz, and he rotated them all. He stumbled on a flip too. Having by far the second highest technical tariff helped him get silver. The other favorite, Javier Fernandez, fared far worse. He tripled three of his five quad attempts, landing only one salchow in each program, and that not cleanly in a free littered with errors. He finished down in sixth.
Going one-two in the free skate were Max Aaron and Vincent Zhou. The two of them had already been the front and back of a three-point spread that stretched from fifth to eighth. In fact, Aaron didn’t comply with the expectation of bad skating either. He first got through his short with only a two-foot on his quad toe and a hand down on his triple axel, managing a quad salchow. Vincent Zhou had landed the quad lutz combination, only to fall on his quad flip and axel. Han Yan also made two mistakes, but took sixth on his presentation. Grant Hochstein took seventh when he stumbled on his quad.
Hochstein’s free was bad enough to drop him to ninth. Yan’s free was close to clean, one of the night’s better ones. But he still had only one quad and not enough else to quite keep up with the two Americans, though he was close behind them in fifth. Meanwhile, though Aaron had to hold on to all of his jumps, he had the night’s one completely clean skate, and it included three quads, albeit two toes and a salchow. His coach even called it his best afterwards. Zhou held the lutz combination again, plus a quad salchow combination and a quad flip, if the last barely. But he underrotated the solo lutz and salchow, and fell on the latter. His was the highest technical tariff of the night, but Aaron still edged him out to take bronze.
The only clean short program besides Kolyada’s with a single quad salchow got Keiji Tanaka fourth initially. But that was the only quad he landed in the free either, tripling two other attempts and losing a combination. The rest of his program wasn’t good enough to compensate for that, especially when he fell out of nowhere late in it. Eight in the segment, he dropped to seventh, ahead of the five men who had at least one terrible program; the casualties there also included Kevin Reynolds and Alexander Petrov.
In contrast to the men, the ladies broke Cup of China tradition. They did some of the best skating we’ve seen so far this season. It was the result that was ugly.
The short program was all very well. It raised the suspense of the event too, with not four points between first and seventh. Gabrielle Daleman, Wakaba Higuchi, and Elena Radionova ended up two tenths apart with well-done shorts, Daleman compensating for her easier triple toe-triple toe by being slightly better overall. A point behind them, Alina Zagitova also did most of her program brilliantly, but fell on her difficult triple lutz-triple loop. Without as much to compensate for her only doing a triple toe-triple toe, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva got fifth with another clean skate. Underrotating their triple-triples, Marina Honda and Mai Mihara ended up getting one of the events two short program ties (Honda got sixth due to a higher technical mark).
Higuchi couldn’t have skated her free program much better than she did. She landed everything, including both her triple lutz-triple loop combinations, and performed with maturity and grace. Zagitova actually wasn’t clean; she underrotated a lutz. Between landing her lutz-loop this time and backloading all her jumps, she still beat Higuchi technically, which was still fair enough. Her program was also choreographed to max out her presentation scores. But when one considers its juniorish qualities, and the lopsidedness of the backloading, one questions whether she should’ve also gotten the highest presentation scores of the night. There’s even an argument Higuchi should’ve gotten higher enough than her to win, and so was robbed. In any case, Zagitova winning with the program she won with carries risky implications for the programs skaters will skate in the future.
Zagitova might have been able to afford a single underrotation, but everyone skated well enough that no one else had much margin for error. When Daleman suffered a pair of stumbles and a little bit of shakiness, she paid a steep price, her seventh-place free dropping her all the way to sixth. That left Radionova with her fourth-place free to hold on to bronze by less than a point ahead of Mihara. Mihara had to hold on to an axel in her third-place free, but other than that she too couldn’t have skated much better than she did. Radionova had to fight for her jumps only a little more, having one of the best skates she’s had in a while.
Elizaveta Tuktasmysheva, too, had a skate that was pretty strong for her. She even went for the triple axel, which she had a stepout on. Aside from an underrotated double, that was her only actual error. But with only the easier, if backloaded, triple-triple, she simply didn’t have the content for higher than sixth in the free and seventh overall. Marin Honda did better, pulling up to fifth. She did not manage her triple-triple, doubling the flip when she tried it, and she underrotated the solo one too. But the rest of her free skate was truly lovely. In contrast to Zagitova, she got lower presentation scores than she deserved.
The three Chinese pairs all skated well on their home ice in the short. Wenjing Sui & Cong Han especially threw down a short for the ages, complete with a throw flip they maxed their possible score out on. Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang weren’t as perfect, with close calls on their opening side by side triple toes and closing pairs spin, but held it together. Sui & Han then kept it up for the free, pulling off a quadruple split twist and side by side three jump, and while they didn’t max anything out this time, they came close on both throws. She stumbled on their salchows, but it didn’t matter; they still broke 150 to win. Yu & Zhang landed salchows on their free, if barely, before she fumbled their combination. Nailing the rest of the program made silver easy.
The four foreign pairs were not as clean. Though Kirsten-Moore Towers & Michael Marinaro almost were in their free, having only a little bit of trouble from him in their three-jump. If they still don’t have the most difficult or highest-quality elements, they still got a breakthrough score. They’d been fourth in the short when she’d stepped out of the toes, but even then it had been by only a point. With their free, they easily pushed past Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise for a breakthrough bronze medal.
Della Monica & Guarise had skated a similar short, excerpt her stumble was on the more difficult salchows. Fellow Italians Valentina Marchei & Ondrej Hotarek had been fifth when her falling on the salchows was followed by both the split twist and the throw flip being rough. Unfortunately we didn’t see all of Marchei & Hotarek’s free thanks to the feed breaking, but despite an underrotation in their three-jump and a two-foot they got very strong in the second half. Della Monica & Guarise landed salchows only to double out their combination, and Marchei & Hotarek beat them in the segment. However, they held on to fourth by two points.
The second short program tie happened between Ashley Cain & Timothy LeDuc and Mingyang Zhang & Bowen Song. The third Chinese pair were very much just happy to be there and weren’t supposed to beat anyone. But the Americans had bad enough a skate they ended up behind them in the segment, if only due to their lower technical score. Cain & LeDuc did manage to pull ahead of them in the free, but even then they didn’t land a single clean jump element that night.
Who ought to win the ice dance was never in debate, but a few fans did raise some eyebrows at how high Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron scored in the short dance. Their execution of it, including maxed out twizzles, was faultless, but that did not get past the weirdness of Ed Sheeran being Latinized. There is a serious question as to whether their score should’ve been as close to Virtue & Moir’s score from last week as it was. That score then helped them become the first team to break 200 since ice dance became a two-segment event, with a new world record free dance score.
On the other hand, their free dance actually pretty much deserved every point. From the first moves that hypnotized you immediately, to the perfect final lift that also maxed its modest score out, it’s hard to find the words to describe how good they were. Their free dance should, perhaps, just be watched:
It was in the shadow of this that Madison Chock & Evan Bates made their season debut. Their short dance has a good deal going on, but not as much uniqueness they expressed a belief in before the event began. They also talked a good deal about their free dance and its idealistic message in response to our times. The music cut doesn’t exactly work, but the choreography is Christopher Dean at his best, and they performed here with true inspiration and feeling.
There’s even a question as to whether they should’ve beaten Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev in the segment by more than they did, though they did edge them out in both segments for silver. On the other hand, Bobrova & Soloviev themselves had one of their better performances in the free dance. It was especially difficult to split the two teams in the short dance, where they both mostly just got the job done.
In fact, the more breakthrough performance by a Russian team was that of Tiffani Zagorski & Jonathan Guerreiro in fourth. Last week, at the Arena Ice Star in Minsk, these two already made waves when they beat Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov, but that was when the latter made mistakes. Now, however, they put down two solid programs, and posted two very solid scores. High enough that they are now officially threatening to take over completely as Russian number threes.
View full results here.
With gold here and bronze in Russia, Mikhail Kolyada is the first skater to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. Indeed, it’s now looking like the men’s lineup in Nagoya is going to be a little different than we initially anticipated. Patrick Chan and Javier Fernandez were both expected to make it, but now the former is out of his second event, and the latter can’t qualify with sixth here.
With silver and bronze, Wakaba Higuchi and Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev currently stand on top of the ladies and ice dance standings respectively. Whether they make the Final will depend heavily on what happens at the other events. Bobrova & Soloviev probably have the best chance, since there’s a good chance the three ice dance winners will all repeat, and two of them are almost certain to. More potential chaos in the ladies gives other competitors more chances to get ahead of Higuchi. Elena Radionova, meanwhile, is pretty much out.
View full standings here. Next week the series moves to Japan.