Skate America Ends an Undignified Grand Prix Series
Chen wins one more ugly men’s competition; Miyahara bounces back from Japan disappointment to win ladies; Savchenko & Massot cap off a good week with gold; Shibutanis win the home event in dance.
Perhaps it was never a good idea to try to hold a Grand Prix event on Thanksgiving weekend in a U.S. city one pretty much needs a car to get to. But this one nonetheless saw Skate America take placed in Lake Placid, New York, host of two past Winter Olympiads and common enough location for skating competitions. We can be thankful everyone got there, and that some of them even skated well. Too many didn’t though, there were three rough withdrawals even after the event began, with only the pairs field both starting and finishing the event intact. Other things, like bugs on the ice, also plagued the event. This can’t be called the worst of the Grand Prix events, if only because the ladies competition was actually decent, and the pairs along with the dance had redeeming moments. But it was not a good one.
The men’s Grand Prix series was an utter disaster to the end. Skate America even lost two men en route. One, Maxim Kovtun, was already struggling with a back injury coming in. He’d lost his first event to it, and did this one largely because he wanted to do some competition before Russian Nationals. Unfortunately, it backfired, as in his short program, he not only fell twice, but injured his foot, and withdrew before the free. Now it’s uncertain whether he’ll even make Russian Nationals, let alone qualify for anything from there.
At least he didn’t end up in the hospital, unlike Daniel Samohin. He got through his short program with a fall on his quadruple salchow jump, and was even fifth going into the free. But then in the free skate, when he fell on it again, his second rough fall in as many jumps, he dislocated his left shoulder. He promptly staggered off the ice in agony and was taken to the hospital where the diagnosis was confirmed. The Israeli Olympic Committee has since posted to their Facebook that he’ll be back on the ice after a week.
Other free program disasters included that of the winner. Nathan Chen did well enough in the short, landing both his solo quad flip and his quad lutz-triple toe jump combination, even if he stuttered on his triple axel. That same combination at the beginning of his free even became the first ever technical element to score over twenty points. He even landed the quad lutz again, becoming the first skater to do so twice in one program. But that and the triple lutz were the only other clean jumps in the program. He fell on two others, and doubled or singled the rest out. Lucky for him he had a fifteen-point buffer after the short, and nobody else did nearly enough to bridge that.
In fact, only one man even skated well enough to beat him in the free. Adam Rippon started well in his quadless but clean second place short, even if he too had to hold on to his axel. But in the free skate, after first having to clear bugs off the ice, he nearly suffered Samohin’s fate. Going for his quad lutz and stumbling on it (it was ultimately fully downgraded to a triple), he too dislocated his shoulder. But after a second of clutching at it, he managed to pop it back into place by moving his arm. He then proceeded to be beautiful throughout the rest of the program, even if he had nothing harder left than a triple axel three-jump:
His shoulder wasn’t entirely fixed; it still kept him out of the exhibition gala. Hopefully he’ll be recovered before the Grand Prix Final.
Bronze medalist Sergei Voronov was another one who skated relatively decently, though in his case it was a lack of difficult quads combined with lack of artistry that limited him. Also, while his short was clean, if shaky at points, and had a beautiful quad-triple, his free was another matter. He landed another good quad-triple, and a less pretty solo quad toe, but stumble badly on his solo triple axel. He managed the other axel with two doubles, if barely.
Despite the bad skating, the top four here all made the Grand Prix Final, including Boyang Jin, the only other series seed besides Chen to do so. He was skating on a pair of sprained ankles, and as a result didn’t try his big ticket quad lutz. With only a quad toe in his short, however pretty, popping his axel was enough to drop him to sixth. He landed the toe again in the free, both solo and in a shaky combination. Then he stepped out of a quad salchow, underrotated the triple axel in his three-jump, and was shaky on other jumps too. The highest technical tariff helped him squeak out the highest technical score, and he ended up fourth both in the segment and overall. He won the score tiebreaker for the Final’s last spot by less than three and a half points.
The only other semi-decent free skates were the fifth and sixth place offerings of Ross Miner and Liam Firus. Even then, neither man pulled off their only quad attempt. The axel gave both trouble too, although Miner did land one in combination in the free, and Firus had one where he hand ghosted the ice. Miner had popped that in a quadless eighth place short, and could only pull up to sixth, ahead of Han Yan. Yan was fifth in the short, where he was good outside falling on his quad. But in his seventh-place free, his quad-double was the only good jumping pass he had in the program.
Firus’s short had been bad enough to leave him in eleventh, and he finished eighth, beating only fellow Canadians Kevin Reynolds and Roman Sadovsky, who both had truly awful frees. Ahead of Firus in seventh, Takahito Mura at least skated better than he had in Canada, but that’s not saying much.
Grand Prix Final Lineup
- Nathan Chen (USA)
- Shoma Uno (JPN)
- Mikhail Kolyada (RUS)
- Sergei Voronov (RUS)
- Adam Rippon (USA)
- Boyang Jin (CHN)
The ladies competition, at least, had much more good skating in it than the men. But it still had one thing in common with the men’s event: a withdrawal. Ashley Wagner came in with an ankle infection. After underrotating jumps in her short program, she got a minute into her free program before the pain got to be too much, and she stopped and pulled out. In a devastated interview afterwards, she revealed she hadn’t even been able to practice in a week and half. This is not at all good situation a month before Nationals, even for someone who strongly favored to qualify for the Olympics.
Upon her withdrawal, the top six in the final standings got locked, because the only other lady here who could’ve made it, Polina Tsurskaya, already was behind someone, with a score too low for her to qualify without gold. But the competition ended with a battle between two Japanese ladies who would get the first alternate spot-a critical one with the top qualifier currently in a cast!-with the win. In the end, it went to the top lady. In contrast to Japan, Satoko Miyahara rotated everything here. She stepped out of her triple lutz-triple toe in the short, but did it easily in a completely clean free, though she did have to hold on to her triple lutz three-jump. Combine that with her artistry and she might have won even if the other top names had delivered.
They didn’t, but two girls just up from juniors did. Even if she didn’t win, this was still a huge breakthrough for Kaori Sakamoto. Her jumps, which included a triple flip-triple toe in both programs and a double axel-triple toe-double toe in the free, she did about as well as she could have. She did have a little trouble with both of her closing spins, and her artistry is still maturing. But she nearly broke 70 in the short and 140 in the free. Those scores alone throw her right into the crowded mix that is the race for Japan’s two Olympic berths.
For the second year in a row, the third home invitee made Skate America’s podium. Though Bradie Tennell’s already had a breakthrough fall; that’s what got her the invite in the first place. She followed it up with a pair of flawless programs. They included a triple lutz-triple toe in both programs and a triple lutz three-jump in the free, and a good deal of power in her skating. She too is now right in her country’s Olympic race.
Tsurskaya is another skater who has put herself in the Olympic qualifying picture with her Grand Prix results. This was the less successful of her two events, however, especially since in the short, she followed the triple lutz-triple toe with a fall and a stumble. In her free program she landed the triple-triple again and followed it with a clean skate, but she had to hold on to more than one jump. She ultimately finished fourth, ahead of countrywoman Serafima Sakhanovich. She made good use of her late invitation, landing three triple-triples, two of them difficult, and all her other triples in two of the strongest programs she’s skated in some time, even if she did pop an axel and get tired near the end of her free.
Gabrielle Daleman once again made mistakes in a competition where she couldn’t afford them, struggling especially with the triples in the back half of her free. She had enough trouble she slipped just behind Sakhanovich for sixth, ahead of Alena Leonova and Karen Chen. Leonova had one of her good weeks, landing all her jumps and doing as much as she’s still able to do. But Chen had one of her bad ones, suffering from underrotations on her harder combinations in both programs and a nasty fall on her stomach in the short!
Grand Prix Final Lineup
- Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS)
- Alina Zagitova (RUS)
- Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN)
- Carolina Kostner (ITA)
- Maria Sotskova (RUS)
- Wakaba Higuchi (JPN)
Despite his back pain, it was a good week for Aliona Sachenko & Bruno Massot. First, just as they were boarding the plane to the U.S., they received word that on his third and last chance to pass his language exams in time for the Olympics, Massot had finally done so, and he’ll be sworn in as a German citizen next week. He skated a bit more lightly as a result, though he still fell on their side by side triple salchows in the short. He had no problem landing it with two double toes in the free. She singled the doubles out, but she made up for that and a troubled throw triple lutz by landing beautifully one throw triple salchow she had no business not falling on. The rest of the program was so beautiful they still broke 150 and came up from third to win.
Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford won the short by holding on to their signature side by side and throw lutzes. Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang nailed their short of easier content for second. But in the free, Duhamel fell on underrotated lutzes. They managed the three-jump the Germans hadn’t, but when they went for the throw quadruple salchow, she had to scramble the landing. Meanwhile, Yu & Zhang again went clean. They did do the salchows here, and while their throws were easier, they were good enough to max out the possible score on one, and nearly do so on the other. It was enough to surprise for silver-and with it, a Grand Prix Final berth they wouldn’t have gotten with bronze. When Duhamel & Radford took bronze instead, all three medalists qualified.
Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert pulled off the only other clean short with easier jump elements. Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch tried to do the same, but she fell badly on the side by side toes, which left them in seventh. In between were two more American teams done in by their salchows. Moore-Towers & Moscovitch would get the fourth place free by skating cleaner than the back half of the field. But she still went down on the double axel-loop-triple salchow attempt. Zabiiako & Enbert would manage a shaky three-jump to offset her falling on underrotated salchows, and would only finish a tenth behind them in the segment. Holding on to fourth was no problem. The Canadians ultimately would have to settle for sixth.
Things did not get any easier for any of the three American teams in the free. Alexa Scimeca Knierim & Chris Knierim, who were coping with his knee injury, missed both their side by side elements. But when they at least landed their throws, their artistry helped them hold off Moore-Towers & Moscovitch for fifth. Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier had neither artistic advantage nor two clean throws, and fell behind them for seventh. In last, Deanna Stellato & Nathan Bartholomay suffered a similar fate, although they didn’t quite have the goods to keep up with the rest of the field anyway.
Grand Prix Finale Lineup
- Wenjing Sui & Cong Han (CHN)
- Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov (RUS)
- Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot (GER)
- Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford (CAN)
- Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov (RUS)
- Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang (CHN)
The technical panel for the short dance in Lake Placid wasn’t easy to please. Afterwards more than one team expressed confusion about the low levels assigned to a couple of their elements. Maia & Alex Shibutani, however, were not among them. They got level 3 steps and level 4 on all their other non-choreographic elements. The highest tariff in both segments combined with a pair of stunning performances made winning easy. They nearly broke 80 in the highest short dance score they’ve ever gotten, which led to their highest overall score, with their free dance score coming within half a point of their best.
Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte were among those confused after the short, wondering about the low levels on their rumba pattern and steps. But the technical panel went after fewer teams in the free, and they tied for the second-highest tariff. They still had some trouble on the dismount of their straight-line lift, leaving them much below the Shibutanis. But they still not only won silver, but scored high enough to grab the last sport in the Grand Prix Final on that tiebreaker.
Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov had the same difficultly with their short dance, and their free dance tariff was a point lower. However, that free dance was still one of their better performances, and their segment score was only a point behind the Italians. That got them bronze, no small prize for them given their recent history. On the other hand, Tiffani Zagorski & Jonathan Guerreiro, who threatened them earlier in the fall, got hit on their element levels in both programs, and did not have the strongest performance of their free dance. They could only finish sixth.
Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier were hit especially hard on their short dance tariff, especially when they made an error on their twizzles. They tied Sinitsina & Katsalapov on their free dance tariff. But even then they had trouble getting into into the air for the first of their lifts. They were able only to pull up to fourth, ahead of Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker. They too had trouble with their short dance twizzles. But it was they who tied Cappellini & Lanotte in the free dance tariff, and their performance of it is one of the best of the program they’ve done.
Grand Prix Final Lineup
- Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron (FRA)
- Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir (CAN)
- Maia & Alex Shibutani (USA)
- Madison Chock & Evan Bates (USA)
- Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue (USA)
- Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte (ITA)