by Doris Spicer Pulaski
Pairs is perhaps the most physically demanding event in figure skating. The crashes are spectacular. The injuries are catastrophic. The 2013 Four Continents Pairs Championship is now down to only seven entries. Of those teams, four of them are making their first appearance at an ISU Championship.
Many pairs who would have been favorites here are injured and not competing. The fourth place team from the 2012 Four Continents Championship, 2013 Canadian National Champions Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford, had the highest placement last year of the two teams who have returned to compete here this year.
Duhamel & Radford, whose short program to "La Boheme" has scored the highest base value of any team in the world this season, 33.20 points, completed an eye-popping display of technical virtuosity to win the Short Program with a score of 70.44. The team's most unusual skill is their side-by-side triple Lutzes, which they have landed for positive grades of execution at almost every event at which they have competed this year. No other top team in the world even attempts it. The triple Lutz has a base value of 6.00 points, 1.80 more than the triple Salchow and 1.90 points more than the triple toe loop, that other top pair teams attempt.
While other teams have struggled to meet the new requirements to earn a level one or two for a back outside death spiral, the Canadian National Champions earned a level four here in Osaka. Their most impressive element may not be their Lutzes.. Their back outside death spiral, entered from a dance lift, where Duhamel cartwheels around Radford's neck, completes two revolutions with her head lower than her knee, and then exits immediately into an illusion is definitely a show-stopper.
The students of Richard Gauthier, Bruno Marcotte, and Sylvie Fullum have a high base value that may put them potentially more than two to three points ahead of the competition before they even begin to skate, but their stellar execution of their difficult program is what won them the Short Program. Every one of their difficult elements was completed with positive grades of execution.
Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch, the 2011 Canadian Champions and 2013 Canadian National Silver Medalists, who failed to qualify for the Canadian Four Continents team in 2012, earned the second spot in the Short Program. While Duhamel & Radford excelled in technical execution, Moore-Towers & Moscovitch impressed with a combination of sound technical execution coupled with the most charming program of the evening, a whimsical and very musical interpretation of "Motley Crew" by R. Beau from the "Micmacs" soundtrack. The film "Micmacs" is billed as meaning "non-step shenanigans," and the team's choreographer, Mark Pillay, has included plenty of interesting material that qualifies as shenanigans. The students of Kristy and Kris Wirtz managed to interpret the music, rather than just executing an assembly of tricks, and completely captivated the audience to earn a total of 66.33 points, a season's best score for themselves, and earned the highest “Interpretation” and “Choreography and Composition” PCS components of the event.
Third place went to the newly-crowned 2013 U.S. National Champions, Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir, with a score of 53.06; far below their season's best short program performance of 61.85, earned at the NHK Grand Prix. The team from the Skating Club of Boston is competing in their first ever ISU championship; and the effects of the size and pressure of the event showed in their skating. Castelli & Shnapir have really worked to upgrade everything about their skating this year, which showed in their best skills, their beautifully landed side-by-side triple Salchows, which both took off and landed in perfect unison, and a nicely executed, high triple twist. However, the NHK bronze medalists seemed rattled by their problems with their side-by-side spin, and Castelli was unable to hold her edge on their huge triple Salchow throw and fell. The pair was able to regroup and perform their exciting crisscrossing step sequence and final lift well, but the due had such problems in their routine to "Stray Cat Strut" by the Brian Setzer Orchestra & "Pink Panther" by Henry Mancini, beautifully choreographed by Julie Marcotte and Mark Mitchell, that they are far behind the leaders, entering the Free Skate.
Several U.S teams that would have been expected to compete at the 2013 Four Continents Championships are not here. The highest placed U.S. team in the 2012 competition, John Coughlin & Caydee Denney, the 2012 National Champions and 2012 Four Continents Silver Medalists, are on the injured list. Coughlin is recovering from surgery on his left hip for a torn labrum. He has returned to training, and the team has petitioned USFSA for one of the two spots on the U.S. team for the 2013 World Championships.
Coughlin & Denney's chances for a place on the U.S. 2013 World Championships team are looking better, as Alexa Scimeca & Christopher Knierim, the 2013 U.S. Pairs Silver Medalists, have withdrawn from the 2013 Four Continents Championship. Scimeca tweeted that she is experiencing severe pain in her right foot, and that the team has returned to the United States to have the injury evaluated by their doctors.
Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig, last year's sixth place Four Continents finishers from the USA, may have split up, but Evora is at the 2013 Four Continents Championships as one of the coaches of the 2013 U.S. National Bronze Medalists, Felicia Zhang & Nathan Bartholomay, who are currently in fourth place, in easy reach of the bronze medal, with a score of 52.98.
Evora seemed very happy with the performance of her students, who train in Ellenton, FL, and who are competing at their first ISU Championship; despite Zhang’s fall on their throw triple Lutz. The team executed their other five elements well. Coach Evora had reason to be happy. With Knierim & Scimeca injured, if Coughlin & Denney do not recover in time, Zhang & Bartholomay are the second U.S. world team alternates for the 2013 World Championships. The team had not yet achieved the TES minimum score to qualify to compete at Worlds. When the score flashed up, Zhang & Bartholomay had received a TES score of 29.60 points. They now have all the qualifications they need for the 2013 championships, since they earned the minimum TES for the Free Skate at the 2012 U.S. International Ice Skating Classic in Salt Lake City, UT.
The Chinese pair program has also been decimated by injuries. The 2012 Four Continents Champions, Wenjing Sui & Cong Han, are sidelined. Sui is reported to have Osgood Schlatter disease, an over-use injury that young athletes are prone to. They are expected to return to competition at the 2013 Worlds, and were originally listed on the 2013 Four Continents entry list, but their names were withdrawn before the competition.
The long time stars of the Chinese team, two-time World Champions Qinq Pang & Jian Tong, also are not competing at the 2013 Four Continents championships. Jian Tong has been competing injured this season; the team is hoping to skate at the 2013 World Championships, and is giving the injury some time to heal by declining to skate here.
Cheng Peng & Hao Zhang, a new team this year, are in fifth place. Although the twenty-eight-year-old Zhang won an Olympic Silver Medal for China with his former partner Dan Zhang, and is a three-time World Silver Medalist, when his partner retired, Zhang decided to continue skating. He joined forces with Cheng Peng this year.
The students of famed Chinese coach Bin Yao and Yu Sun are also very close to the bronze medal position with a score of 52.46. Performing to "Live & Let Die" by Paul McCartney, the experienced Zhang made no major errors. The couple's triple twist was really the best of the competition, scoring 7.50 points. However, the fifteen-year-old Peng, in her first ISU senior level championship, popped her triple toe loop to a double toe loop. She was also unable to land the throw triple loop cleanly, and pitched forward and put both hands on the ice.
Zhang & Peng have a good chance for the bronze medal. The team has plans a quad twist in the free skate, which they performed cleanly at 2012 Trophee Bompard, where they already earned the qualifying TES scores for the 2013 World Championships. Peng & Zhang are eligible for the 2013 World Championship because, although Peng is only fifteen years old, her fifteenth birthday was prior to July 1, 2012.
Wenting Wang & Yan Zhang, the current Chinese National Silver Medalists, earned the sixth place position in the Short Program, with a score of 51.26, skating to the soundtrack from the movie "Dracula." They, too, are within striking distance of the bronze medal. The sixteen-year-old Wang and the twenty-four-year-old Zhang have been partners for three years, but this is the first year they have had either a Grand Prix assignment or have earned a spot at an ISU Championships. Their TES in the Short Program qualifies them to compete at the 2013 World Championships. The students of Bo Luan also completed a high quality triple twist and a throw triple flip. However, Yan Zhang popped her side by side triple Salchow to a double, and the team also could only manage a level one on their back outside death spiral.
In last place are Paige Lawrence & Rudi Sweigers, the three-time Canadian Bronze Medalists, who are Four Continents competitors for the third consecutive time. American skating fans may remember that it was Rudi Sweigers who lent his skate to American Mark Ladwig during the 2011 Four Continents Championships when Ladwig's skate broke. The popular Canadian team skated a routine to the "Robin and Marion" soundtrack which they call "Prairie Skies" and is a tribute to their Saskatchewan and Manitoba roots. Unfortunately, they experienced a lot of problems in the Short Program at 2013 Four Continents Pairs Short Program, scoring only 48.76 points. However, the rest of the competition, other than Duhamel & Radford and Moore-Towers & Moscovitch also struggled so much, that the bronze medal is not our of the question for Lawrence & Sweigers either.
Lawrence fell on her triple toe loop, and also fell on the landing of the throw triple Lutz. Additionally, their back outside death spiral had no change of hand, and only one revolution, and so received only a level one. The team also had the weakest triple twist in the competition, earning only a Basic level, and marred by the catch not being clean when Lawrence landed on Sweigers' shoulders.
While the gold and silver medals seem to be out of reach, any of the teams in place three through seven could win the bronze medal.
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