Four Continents Hosts Olympic-Bound Asian Skaters and Non-Olympic-Bound North Americans
Jin surprises Uno to win the men’s title; Sakamoto surprises countrywomen to lead ladies sweep; Kayne & O’Shea and Hawayek & Baker win relatively weak pairs and dance competitions as bronze medalists in both make history.
In 1999, the International Skating Union created the Four Continents Championships as the equivalent of the European Championships for those outside Europe, and for some time it struggled to get taken seriously. The geography of skating is such that only North America and Asia had top skaters to send, and the latter was still developing. And often the top skaters didn’t bother with Four Continents. Now, most years, more of them do than not. But when it still takes place only a couple of weeks after the U.S. and Canada hold their National Championships, and only a couple of weeks before the Olympics, those who make the latter are not going to tire themselves out trying to do a third competition within that time period.
The Asian skaters, who had their Nationals earlier, are more likely to. Though even some of them bailed. The Chinese pairs did so a week in advance. Then South Korea’s only pairs team, Kyueun Kim & Alex Chan Kang Kam, raised anxiety when they pulled out just before the short program, speaking of a shoulder injury. But it was nothing serious, their federation was quick to say. They were just being careful. No one will give too much at the pre-Olympic Four Continents.
This meant, of course, dominance in the singles by Asia, though one American who surprisingly failed to make the Olympics got a medal too. Things got more complicated in pairs and dance, where outside Chinese pairs Asia is weak, though at the moment at least Australia had one significant contribution to throw in.
This turned out to be one of the better men’s competitions of the year, with strong skates from most of the top twelve, and a close battle between the top two. The cleanliness might have been partially because no besides Shoma Uno and Boyang Jin tried anything harder than a quadruple salchow. But things started with them both landing a harder quad jump along with a quad toe loop in their shorts. However, the first half of Shoma Uno’s program was rough, his quad flip especially, and his combination a quad-double. Boyang Jin got a triple toe onto his quad lutz and was smoother from the start. He still got lower presentation scores, and Uno led by a sliver.
But in the free, Uno underrotated his harder quad loop and flip, and fell on the latter. He was good through the rest of it, which included a pair of quad toes, and his presentation remained superior to Jin’s. But when Jin’s opening quads were a lutz and salchow, he nailed them both. He then went on the skate close to clean through the rest of the program, complete with the same quad toes. The technical advantage was enough; Jin took gold by three points.
Uno’s countryman Keiji Tanaka came out of the short program about a point ahead of Jason Brown for third. He’d skated clean with a quad salchow. Brown, trying no quads in Taipei at all, stepped out of his triple axel, but he was the one with the better presentation. He’s the latest skater to go back to last season’s free program, and it served him well. He had the best skate he’s had in a while, even landing that pesky axel with a triple toe, though his one mistake was two-footing the solo one. At the start of his free, Tanaka tripled one quad salchow, barely landed another, and doubled an axel. He landed everything else, including a quad toe, but as with Uno, the damage had been done. Brown ended a mostly painful season with bronze.
In fact, Tanaka was fifth in the free skate, beaten by another American. Max Aaron’s being named to the Four Continents team had raised some eyebrows, but he validated his ticket here. He landed all his jumps, including quad toe combinations in both programs, though he had to hold on to his one quad salchow in the free. He was one of a number of notable men here for whom this was likely their final competition, and he finished in style and flair. Also in fifth, ahead of Misha Ge, who did his usual thing of delighting audience with his beautiful if quadless skates, though he had a handful of glitches.
Behind Ge, two Canadians likely also had their final competitions, and ended things with at least an excellent free skate. In seventh, Kevin Reynolds wasn’t so good in his short program, and struggled to rotate his quad salchows throughout. But when in the free skate he landed both toes and stayed on his feet, that was one of the better performances of his recent career especially. In eighth, Elladj Balde managed two clean programs, if with a couple bits of shakiness, and dazzled the crowd with first artistry in one program, and then showmanship in the other.
Another man who triumphed in his likely final skate was Grant Hochstein. He too had a bad short, and while his free had a quad, it also had an underrotation. But that didn’t hamper his actual performance of it, with which he brought the house down, even if he only finished eleventh. Whether Takahiko Mura, who finished a point behind him, ended his career here may depend on whether or not Yuzuru Hanyu feels like doing the World Championships after the Olympics. His main problem was his quads going wrong, but his potentially final free skate was still a relatively decent one.
The only huge disappointments here were from two men who are unfortunately prone to them. A fall in his short and then two more and a single in his free left Han Yan tenth. A weak short and a worse free left Denis Ten fifteenth.
The top North American ladies out while the top Asian women weren’t meant the Japanese ladies dominated, sweeping the podium easily. The order they finished in, on the other hand, was a little surprising. Things were expected enough after the short program. Despite an underrotation in her triple lutz-triple toe, Satoko Miyahara had been her usual graceful self and taken a lead. But as with Uno, her lead was only a fraction of a point over Kaori Sakamoto, who’d rotated her triple flip-triple toe in a clean skate.
In the free, by her own admission afterwards, things got to her mentally. After underrotating both the triple-triple and the lutz in her three-jump, she fell on her final triple. Meanwhile, Sakamoto continues to stun. She was clean in the free too, where she backed up her triple-triple with a double axel-triple toe-double toe. Neither of her countrywomen could catch her as she upset them both for the title. Mai Mihara, too, had a strong competition. She landed everything in her short program, including her triple lutz-triple toe. And in the free she nearly did the same, landing the triple-triple again, but like Miyahara she underrotated the lutz in her three-jump. Still, it was strong enough a showing that she too moved ahead of Miyahara, and she claimed the silver. Japan’s usual top lady had to settle for the bronze.
The only skater besides Sakamoto to go completely clean was Da-Bin Choi. Her free skate especially was performed about as well as she could’ve done it. And she rotated in the lutz not only in both her triple-triples, but in her three-jump too. But she couldn’t pack the punch the Japanese skaters could, and so had to settle for fourth ahead of Mariah Bell. For Bell, things went too much like they did at U.S. Nationals. Once again she started things falling on her triple lutz-triple toe. She opened her free by landing it, only to promptly pop a loop. She got through most of the rest of her program, but even then she had a put a foot down on her flip.
Her fellow Americans also had a few issues. Starr Andrews tried only a triple toe-triple, and it wasn’t clean in either program; in the free she fell on it. Still, with only one stumble outside that in the latter, she still had a strong showing and finished seventh. Angela Wang started her competition landing a triple flip-triple toe, but she missed most of her jumps after that. She finished ninth. In between them, Alaine Chartrand showed up with a new coach, and skated a pair of programs that would’ve gotten her onto the Canadian Olympic team had she skated them two weeks ago, but she’s still struggling with underrotations. Most disappointed of all was Elizabet Tursynbaeva, who also missed most of her jumps and finished twelfth.
The pairs field, already hit hard by the loss of both Chinese entries, after Kim & Kam’s withdrawal consisted of only ten teams. After a short program where four of them skated clean, five of them were only about two points apart. But when things got messier in the free, two American teams rose to the top. Having the hardest side by side jumps, triple loops, had helped Ashley Cain & Timothy LeDuc take the lead after the short. Tarah Kayne & Daniel O’Shea had settled for the normal top side by side salchows, and were a point behind in third.
In the free, both teams had only one actual blip, Cain & LeDuc on the loops, Kayne & O’Shea in their axel sequence. The latter was more costly, since it kept the second jump from counting. And while Kayne & O’Shea were landing solo salchows again, Cain & LeDuc were landing them in their three-jump. But they then got rough on a lot of their non-jump elements, including two of their lifts. Kayne & O’Shea were easy and smooth on those, enough so they made up the content difference and actually got the higher technical score. When they had the higher presentation score too, they moved ahead to take gold.
At least Cain & LeDuc completed all theirs lifts. Two teams didn’t. Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya & Harley Windsor were initially second after the short. But in the free, after doubling their salchows, landing their three-jump, and not quite managing their throw flip, they botched their second lasso lift. That dropped them to sixth, and bronze went to the first North Koreans to ever medal at an ISU Championships. Tae Ok Ryom & Ju Sik Kim came in fresh off their restoration to the Olympic roster, and skated with the joy of it. Theirs were the easiest jump elements of the top six. In the short, they landed them all no problem. In the free, she went down on underrotated axels and stumbled on a throw. But that was still the cleanest program outside the top two.
The other team to botch one of their lifts was Liubov Iliuschechkina & Dylan Moscovitch. In their case it was their easiest, but the one before it was also very shaky. They were the most talented team in the field, but between that and botching all their side by sides once more, they could only finish fourth. It’s especially painful because this may be their final competition. There’s a good chance top Canadian pairs team Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford won’t do Worlds, and they would be offered their spot. But Moscovitch said afterwards they’re not sure they’d take it.
They had to hold off the third American team, Denna Stellato & Nathan Bartholomay. In their short, they went with easier jumps and had a bad landing on their throw, so were a little further behind. When they tried to break out the harder ones in the free, they landed side by side salchows, but went down trying the throw quad, and their easier combination and throw also had trouble. But all their non-jump elements were fine, which on this day was enough for fourth in the segment, and they pulled up to fifth. Though between Iliuschechkina & Moscovitch and Alexanderovskaya & Windsor there was ultimately less than a point.
Generally, even the B North American dance teams are better than the top Asian ones. Certainly Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker, the top American team, were also undisputedly the top team in the field. The sheer beauty of their free dance alone, performed with grace and in perfect counterpoint to their energetic Latin short, made it easy. They didn’t need the highest technical tariff in either segment. They didn’t even need to be perfect on all their elements, though they weren’t too far off. Their winning margin was nearly ten points.
Carolane Soucisse & Shane Firus, the top Canadian team in attendance, suffered more from their low short dance tariff, especially when Kana Muramoto & Chris Reed managed to get the field’s highest. The different was enough that the Japanese team initially claimed second by .16. But in the free dance, the two teams were in a four-way tie for the highest tariff. Sharper in their elements and stronger in their performance, Soucisee & Firus outskated Muramoto & Reed enough to beat them, even when they got penalized two points for an illegal tiny jump in their choreographic twizzles. They still did it by over a point, enough to claim silver. Muramoto & Reed skated a beautiful free dance, though, and with bronze, they became the first non-North American dance team to medal at Four Continents in its nearly twenty-year history.
The only other team in the top six to make the four-way tie was Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter. That and a passionate performance helped them stay in fourth even when they weren’t quite technically flawless, and had been weaker with their short dance tariff. Last year, Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu had been looking like the strongest Asian team. But here, they were hindered by lower tariffs than Muramoto & Reed got, and sync issues in their short dance twizzles. They finished fifth, ahead of Rachel & Michael Parsons, the other young American team competing. They had even worse trouble in their short dance twizzles and an even lower tariff in their free dance, though in the latter they nearly made it up on the Chinese with their presentation scores.
View full results here.
At one point during the exhibition gala the power went off. Thankfully the crowd had it covered:
— JodyC໒꒱🍀4CC⛸🏆 (@boredjdc) January 27, 2018
All the major pre-Olympic competitions are now done. In twelve days’ time, the Games begin.