Various Nationals Events before the Grand Prix Final
Skate Korea, the Skate Canada Challenge, Japanese Junior Nationals, and the first small countries’ Nationals open the month of December.
The Grand Prix season doesn’t end until the Final next week, but Nationals season has already started. The U.S. and Russia have had their qualifying events already, and Canada had their final one this week. Even before that, Japan’s junior skaters had gathered for their separate Junior National Championships, which also acts as a qualifying competition for their senior Nationals. And in Korea, the national qualifying competition, though not Nationals, determined who qualified for Four Continents, and also partially the Olympics. Meanwhile, the flurry of smaller countries having their National Championships has already begun. Two of them were even watchable by the world. One more was significant enough you wish it had been.
South Korean Nationals isn’t for another month, but this weekend saw another one of their ranking competitions in Seoul. Skate Korea is typically used as a qualifying competition for both the Four Continents Championships and placements on the National Team for next season, and it kept both of those purposes this year. But it also was the second qualifying competition for the Olympics. The two berths in the ladies and one berth in (in all probability) the other three disciplines will go to whoever gets the highest combined scores at this event, the Nebelhorn Qualifier from the summer, and Nationals.
Anyone who wanted to contend had to compete, and Jun-Hwan Cha showed up despite not being fully recovered from his injuries. But the result was much as it had been in the summer. Cha failed to land any of his triple axel jumps, or his one quadruple jump attempt. June-Hyoung Lee, meanwhile, skated much better, trying no quads and having a little trouble with the triple axel in the short, but landing the latter twice in the free. He did miss the last two jumps there, but he still won again. He didn’t beat Cha by as much as he had in the summer, but the combined scores give him a nearly thirty-point lead going into Korean Nationals. Even if he’s at one hundred percent by then, Cha might not be able to make that up.
But it’s only the two of them now. Jin-Seo Kim, who beat Cha at the Nebelhorn Qualifier, fell too far behind, thanks to too many mistakes and a sixth-place finish. Now he’s unlikely to even make Four Continents, which Lee and Cha can both compete at if they wish, and should be joined by third place Sih-Yeong Lee. The young skater, who lacks the triple axel, more or less pulled off all of his jumps, if not one of his spins.
The ladies were flooded by the junior-level skaters there purely to make the National team; none of the top three are even old enough to compete at Four Continents or the Olympics. All three of them landed the triple lutz-triple toe in both programs, and Young You and Ye-Lim Kim landed nearly all of their other fairly hard jumps too. You won with the further aid of her performing skills:
In second, Ye-Lim Kim nailed all her jumps, though she did have a handful of silly glitches, such as finishing her short program late. In third, Eunsoo Lim was also skating injured, and she had a little more trouble; her short was only close to clean, and her otherwise good free had two rough falls.
We learned before the competition why Da-Bin Choi sat out Skate America last week: she’s still struggling with foot and boot issues, and it left her with a swollen foot. She managed a second-place clean short with the triple lutz-triple toe anyway. She couldn’t quite manage that for the free, where she did only a triple-double, underrotated the other lutz, and fell on a downgraded axel. It was eighth in the segment, but when she finished fourth overall, she still won another round of Olympic qualifying.
Similarly fighting to repeat was Hanul Kim, who’d been second in the Nebelhorn Qualifier. Her short was so bad it left her down in eighteenth. She fought back with a third-place free, landing her own triple lutz-triple toe, if not her final two triples. When she squeaked out sixth over 2014 Olympian So-Youn Park, she was once again the second-highest finishing contender for the Olympics. Park skated better than she had in the summer, but her limited technical content with her hardest combinations slapped with full downgrades kept her from coming back as much as she’d needed. At least she now has a guaranteed spot at Four Continents. Soh-Yun An, who was third in the summer, likewise didn’t have enough to survive the struggles with her harder jump elements. Ninth here, she remains third in the standings, but is over a dozen points behind Kim.
The pairs and ice dance races are now both over, since each event here had only one entry. Rumor has it the siblings Su Yeon & Hyuntae Kim, who won the Nebelhorn qualifier, have split, and they certainly weren’t here. Kyeung Kim & Kangchan Kam alone were, so even when they struggled with everything in the last half of the free, all they have to do for the Olympics now is wait for the berth to become official and then show up at Korean Nationals. Yura Min & Alexander Gamelin had already been the only ice dance team, and they continued their progression with a solid pair of skates here.
Despite the country’s top juniors all competing as seniors, there were a pair of junior competitions. Technical content was much weaker; there was only one triple-triple at the level. The three men weren’t doing them. Han-Gil Kim instead pulled away from the other two in the free skate by skating relatively well with more harder triples. It was instead ladies winner Seo Young Wi who landed a triple flip-triple toe in her short, though she relied on a double axel-triple toe and triple lutz three-jump as the hardest elements in her free skate. Despite also having a fall in the latter she won by over twenty-five points.
Skate Canada Challenge
The interlude week usually sees the second stage of qualifying for Canadian Nationals, the Skate Canada Challenge. This year, it took place in Pierrefonds, Quebec. The skaters here, after qualifying in the Summer Series or fall Sectional events (or being byed), competed to fill out a set number of spots in each novice, junior, and senior event. Skaters with good enough results the previous year, a senior Grand Prix assignment, or a spot in the Junior Grand Prix Final were byed, though it’s typical for a few byed skaters to skate at the Challenge anyway.
Two byed senior men competed, but neither of them won. Joseph Phan beat them both, and decisively so in the free. He had trouble with his quadruple jump combination in the short, but landed both solo and quad combination in the free, and a late fall still left him with the highest technical score. Highest presentation scores went to Nicolas Nadeau, and played a large part in his getting second despite his failure to land any of his quads clean, though landing also his triples clean in the free helped too. In third, Nam Nguyen was much stronger technically than Nadeau, at least in the free, where he landed both his quad salchows, if not his quad toe loop. But his presentation scores were much weaker.
He’d also had bad enough a short to be fourth in that segment behind Elladj Balde, even when the latter attempted no quads and had trouble with his triples. Balde had far more trouble with them in his eighth-place free, though, falling three times and dropping to fifth behind Stephen Gogolev. Last year’s Junior National Champion had a bit of a disappointing showing too, having multiple errors in both programs and landing only one of his quad attempts.
None of the top names skated the senior women’s competition. Sarah Tamura, who was fifth at Nationals last year, did, but skated very badly and came in twelfth. Reigning Junior National Champion Aurora Cotop narrowly won on the strength of her short program over Michelle Long, with Alicia Pineault and Emy Decelles close behind them and .21 apart. In a competition where no one landed anything harder than a triple toe-triple toe, clean ones helped Cotop and Pineault go 1-2 after the short, while Decelles’ was downgraded, and Long didn’t try it, but still made mistakes. Long also did a pretty easy free program, but she did it pretty well to win the segment. The other three all landed double axels-triple toes for their hardest elements, but Cotop had a fall and a double, and Pineault and Decelles had smaller and larger issues with their other jumps.
Only three senior pairs finished the competition, including Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau, who towered over the other two, even when their jumps didn’t go as well as they would’ve liked. Five senior ice dance teams skated, and Hayley Sales & Nikolas Wamsteeker grabbed big enough a lead in the short dance to make the win easy. Sarah Arnold & Thomas Williams helped out with a couple low levels on their elements. They improved them enough in the free dance to win that segment, but could only pull up to second.
Iliya Kolvar won the junior men’s competition that wasn’t the strongest; he was neither ambitious nor completely clean, just decent. Alison Schumaker came back from a singled lutz in the short to win the junior women by a large margin with a similarly decent free, if only because short program winner Sarah-Maude Blanchard had enough difficulties in her eighth-place free she barely held onto second. Lori-Ann Matte & Thierry Ferland won the junior pairs with ease, though like the senior winners they had some trouble with their free skate jumps. The junior ice dance competition was much closer. Ashlynne Stairs & Lee Royers ultimately won it over Alica Fabbri & Claudio Pietrantonio, mostly because the latter only got level one on their twizzles in the short dance.
View full results here.
Japanese Junior Nationals
While the Grand Prix was wrapping up on the other side of the world, Japan had a national competition in Gunma: their Junior National Championships, which they hold separately from senior Nationals. In fact, their junior-level skaters have to do well here to make the senior Nationals, where the Junior World assignments are made. Unfortunately coverage was limited, and footage has only become available of the ladies free skate.
The potential consequences of a bad Junior Nationals were something Rika Kihira knew very well. Last year she did so badly there she didn’t make the senior Nationals, which meant her season ended at the Junior Grand Prix Final. So when a lack of a combination left her sixth after the short, she went all out in her free. She opened it with an insanely difficult triple axel-triple toe-double toe, landed beautifully. For good measure she then landed another triple axel. Despite a very unfortunate pair of doubles later, the rest of the program was good enough to make up a seven point gap and win:
Short program winner Mako Yamashita may not have a triple axel, but she still landed difficult triple-triples in both programs, and a difficult triple-triple-double in the free. She did a little bit of doubling herself late in the program, but still was more than good enough for silver. Bronze medalist Nana Araki similarly skated mostly well and landed difficult triple-triples in both programs, but tried only two doubles after her second lutz and underrotated the second-her only real mistake.
JGP Final qualifier Mitsuki Sumoto won the men with the most technical content, although it appears from the scoring sheets he made some mistakes, including on both triple axel attempts. Below him there were less than two points between Sena Miyake, Tatsuya Tsuboi, and Kazuki Kushida in second, third, and fourth. Of them only Miyake tried the triple axel; he didn’t land it either. In fact, Tsuboi and Kushida skated far cleaner than him, and even both beat him in the free, as did fifth place Yuto Kishina. Kishina actually did land the axel, but only in the free skate, other mistakes there plus singling it in the short cost him too much.
There were two pairs, both of whom appear to have had fairly clean shorts but very messy frees; a presentation score advantage made it easy for Riku Miura & Shoya Ichihashi to win. There were five ice dance teams; winners Haruno Yajima & Daiki Shimazaki were the only ones to break 100 overall. Their technical tariff in the short dance was much higher than anyone else’s, and they got the highest in the free dance too.
View full results here.
British Figure Skating Championships
The biggest Nationals this week was British Nationals in Sheffield, although footage is in short supply. There was genuine suspense in both senior singles competitions, and when it’s actually not impossible they could get a men’s berth in the Olympics, if Russia is lost, as it may be next week, and Sweden gives theirs up, as their high-demanding officials may insist on. There were four senior men, two of them doing the triple axel: Philip Harris and Graham Newberry. They both landed it in the short, and Newberry seems to have managed it in the free where Harris did not. But Newberry had a lot of other mistakes, including multiple doubles. He who had made Britain fourth alternate for the Games could only finish third. Harris had a double and single in his own free, but still landed the most jump content by some way, which got him his third national title.
The six-skater ladies competition was a close battle between Natasha McKay, Karly Roberston, and Kristen Spours. All three skated clean shorts, with Robertson and McKay close together on top, and Spours fourth due to lower presentation scores, even though her jumps were harder. When she was the only one with a clean free, the higher technical content nearly won her the segment. But landing everything except an axel gone very wrong helped McKay stay ahead of her. Meanwhile Robertson fell twice. When the numbers crunched, McKay had defended her first title from last year, Robertson held onto silver, and Spours with her still low presentation scores could only get bronze.
Britain may also inherit a pairs berth, but Zoe Jones & Christopher Boyadji were unopposed for their second straight title anyway. They managed a clean short and most of the jump elements of their free for it, though they appear to have had a lift go wrong. Meanwhile, Penny Coomes & Nicolas Buckland were officially named to the Olympic team after winning their fourth national ice dance title over four other teams. They had high scores in the short dance especially, though that was likely partially home judging.
Luke Digby narrowly won the junior men over free skate winner Josh Brown, mostly due to his being the only good short program. Spours actually competed in both senior and junior ladies, and easily won the latter. Sasha Fear & George Waddell dominated the other three junior ice dance teams. There was only one junior pairs team: Emilia Drury & Aiden Brown, and they relied heavily on double jump elements, and may not have even skated their free; it’s unclear whether that event happened. But their clean short is one of the few skates currently available on YouTube:
View full results here.
The Latvian National Championships in Marupe streamed on YouTube, and videos are available. But there, it was as much about who wasn’t competing as who was. The ladies competition was the only senior event with more than one entry, but it only had two, with a third for some reason skating out of competition. And none of them were Angelina Kuchvalska. She earned Latvia an Olympic berth at Worlds last year, but did badly this fall, and withdrew with Latvian TV reporting she’s struggling with a longtime injury. Diana Nikitina was ready not only easily take her first title, but to put forth an argument that she get the berth instead. She provided two strong ones, in the form of two truly excellent programs, complete with a triple lutz-triple toe in each.
Deniss Vasiljevs may have been unopposed for his third straight, but he still skated a short worthy of it:
His free skate had a couple more issues, such as two singled axel and a fully downgraded quad, but of course that was of no consequence. Similar, while Latvian Nationals had an ice dance competition for the first time in years, their top team didn’t show, leaving only Aurelija Ipolito & Malcolm Jones. They were a bit underwhelming, but they still took it by default. There were three junior men and nine junior ladies. Kim Georgs Pavlovs skated fairly well, while his two opponents did not, so that was another easy win. Anete Lace, on the other hand, won the junior ladies by less than two tenths of a point, her clean short making up for trouble late in her free.
View full results here.
The Danmarksmesterskaber og Ungdomskonkurrence in Horsholm is also up on YouTube, mostly in whole segments. But while their free dance isn’t up yet, being the only team in their competition means the event’s best skaters, Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Nikolaj Sorenson, do have a video to themselves for a short dance that was good even when his skate laces came loose:
Unopposed for their third ice dance title, like Coomes & Buckland they got very high scores, helped a little by indulgent home judging. There was also a senior competition for ladies with three skaters. None of them could do a triple harder than a loop, and Pernille Sorenson was the only one who could do ever that. Combined with a clean short and and free very close to it, and she won her second national title by over thirty points. There was no senior men’s event, but there were four junior men, with Daniel Tsion easily winning that competition simply by landing enough easier triples. The junior ladies event was closer, but very weak technically, even winner Jane Iskov couldn’t break 100 overall.
View full results here.
Australian Nationals is currently underway, though the marquee events won’t happen until later in the week. Most of the rest of the countries will wait until the Final is over.