In faraway Seoul, where the Mokdong Arena lies bereft of spectators a great deal of the time, the Four Continents Championships are offering up lots of unexpected dramas.
On Day One, forgiveness wasn’t the name of the game, clearly. Grand Prix Final champs Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje lost a couple of levels in their twizzles and their partial step sequence, and fell to (a close) third behind Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates and the ShibSibs as they’ve come to be called.
These Shibsibs, (Maia and Alex Shibutani) relegated to international close-but-no-cigars territory after their surprise world bronze medal a few years back, tallied up the highest technical marks (35.85) of the day, while the Canadians impressed with their look of danger and all else and got the highest components (36.19). But those level twos (instead of fours) were deadly. Fixable in the future, though.
Getting to the top took perfection and that little extra somethin’. On Day One, Denis Ten had that. He won the men’s short program with 97.61 points, the fourth highest score ever attained by a man since the Code of Points began.
He skated to “Caruso” and what a brilliant choice for a skater like Ten. The voice and the vocals enhanced Ten, made him soar, drove spectators in the audience to tears. (Well at least one had to pull of the spectacles to get the hanky in.) Yes, he got a standing ovation. It was as if he could do no wrong. He landed a quad toe with ease, and a triple Axel with a soft knee. During a sit spin, his hand looked like a leaf fluttering on the wind. Although it seems as if he’s been around forever, Ten is only 21. He’s a neat little package.
Coach Frank Carroll leaned forward in his kiss-and-cry seat and squinted hard to see those marks, almost as if he couldn’t believe them. Then he believed them. The kid from Kazakhstan was on top of this non-European part of the world. And for men’s skating, this is a very tough part of the world.
And who would have expected tiny Shoma Uno, only 17, to be Japan’s top man in this short program? Least of all Uno, who admitted to nerves, evidenced by his shaky warmup. He skated to sophisticated music, a violin sonata, with his boyish, ruddy red cheeks. And then magic happened. He landed his quad toe right on a musical highlight. I love that when it happens. Then came a spread eagle into a triple Axel, and that came, too, on a musical highlight, but on a subtle note. Lovely.
As soon as he finished and took his final bow, Uno immediately looked to his coach with a sheepish grin. The coach reacted with girlish delight and both of them giggled when 88.90 came up. That’s serious territory, especially for such a newbie on the scene. Second heading into the free. Defending Four Continents champ, Takahito Mura is fourth (hands down on the quad), while Daisuke Murakami is sixth with a good effort (quad toe – double toe.)
Han Yan of China dazzled with that powerful triple Axel but flipped out of the quad and ended third.
The carnage came for other aspiring skaters. Both Canadian champion Nam Nguyen and U.S. champ Jason Brown decided to attempt quads for the first time in their short programs. It didn’t go well for either of them. Brown clearly underrotated his and earned only 2.00 points for it. Nguyen’s quad Salchow was deemed an invalid element, because he doubled it, and new rules are harsh on double jumps. He got no points for it at all.
He also fell on a triple Axel, and got right back up like a scalded cat, but the damage was done. He seemed flat. He wasn’t his usual spicy self and ended up 14th.
“Doing your first quad in the short is different from doing it in the long,” coach Brian Orser told Nguyen. “There is a different tension in the body. It’s not for lack of work.” Nyuyen ended with 63.78. The importance of doing this? He’s getting miles under his belt with this big jump in the short, learning what it takes before a competition with bigger stakes.
Brown is ninth with 75.86, about 11½ points from a bronze medal. That’s a big ask.
There are other kinds of triumphs. Joshua Farris attempted no quad but sits in fifth. Mishe Ge of Uzbekistan skated to soulful, beautiful music and is seventh. Jeremy Ten, who decided late in the season, to skate for one more year at the national championships, found himself with two Grand Prix events, and assignments at Four Continents and world championships. The momentum continues. Ten didn’t put a foot wrong, earned his best-ever 77.09 and an eighth-place ranking as the top Canadian. Who knew?
And Liam Firus, Canadian bronze medalist, came out with a new look, a rather neat moustache and beard that completely changed his appearance, almost landed his nemesis, the triple Axel, and dazzled with strong skating skills and a powerful emotional pull to his skating. He’s 11th. Somebody gave him a mark as low as 6.00 for skating skills. Things like this we’ll never understand.
Although Four Continents has never been one of their strongest competitions in the past, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford delivered this time in the pair event and earned a season’s best of 75.67. “We were more nervous than usual before we went to skate,” Radford said. They had no expectations, but they are earning +3s for some of their elements.
The only skaters to earn a level four on the triple twist – not easy to do – are third-placed Chinese Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, who are less than a point behind their compatriots Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang, who finally got the skate they wanted with 69.81, which is 5.86 points behind the leaders.
Qing Pang and Jian Tong were to have retired after the Olympics, but the lure of a world championship in their home country next month brought them to Seoul for a test run with longtime coach Bin Yao. Tong put his hands down on the triple toe loop and their side-by-side spins sometimes lost unison but they sit fourth. And it’s good to see them again.
And who could believe this? Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro earned the same technical mark (31.76), but Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch had a slight edge with their components marks and are sixth to their Canadian counterparts’ seventh.
Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch got dinged with a level one on their triple twist, but they earned four level fours on other elements. Ilyushechkina touched a foot down on their triple Salchow, while Marinaro hopped a bit during a camel spin.
Kudos to Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim for earning a 7.40 for their wonderful triple twist. They are fifth. Sui and Han got 7.70 for theirs. The leaders got 7.20 but their triple Lutz is an ace in the hole (7.40 points.)
In short order, the women skate their short programs. More adventures await.