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Murakami Claims Four Continents Title in Convincing Fashion; Sui & Han in a Class of Their Own in Pairs; Hubbell & Donohue Dance to Victory

by Tatjana Flade


(26 January 2014) 

Murakami Claims Four Continents Title in Convincing Fashion

Kanako Murakami of Japan won the ISU Four Continents Championships, her first senior-level title, in convincing fashion. Young teammate Satoko Miyahara skated to the silver medal in her debut at the event and Zijun Li of China took the bronze.

Murakami led after the short program. She had returned to last year’s “Violin Muse” and dumped the Electro Swing routine she used earlier this season. “I changed my short program for the season and tried to get used to it, I really tried, but I couldn’t and this is such an important season. So I went back”, she explained. It worked. The program was clean with triple toe-triple toe and a triple flip. Spins and footwork were rated a level four and Kanako scored a seasons best with 64.73 points. The 2013 Four Continents bronze medalist delivered a strong long program to “Papa Can You Hear Me” that featured again her big triple toe-triple toe combination, a triple Lutz and four more triples. The 19-year-old often has issues with underrotated jumps, but this time the Technical Panel gave her credit for all of them. The result was a new personal best of 132.18 points. Four years after taking the World Junior title Murakami again stood on top of the podium at an ISU Championship. “This is an important competition and winning here means the next step for me”, she said. “I was able to do the best performance that I can do at the moment. At all other championships I have been to my score wasn’t as high as I expected, even if I didn’t make mistakes. I know I still have some problems I need to fix, but I was very glad I came here to Four Continents”, she continued. Actually Kanako didn’t really want to come, but it turned out to be a good decision as this win with strong performances should give her confidence.

Fifteen-year-old Miyahara stood in fourth place following the short after underrotating her triple Lutz-triple toe combination. However, with 60.27 points, she was within striking distance of the podium and she used her chance in the free. Performing to the Flamenco “Poeta” by Vincente Amigo, she hit seven triples including a triple Lutz-triple toe and a double Axel-triple toe combination and this time there were no underrotations. Satoko earned a personal best score of 126.26 points which added up to 186.53 overall. The program choice is not ideal, though. Satoko is tiny, she looks like a little girl, and the music would suit a more grown up looking skater better. “This event I was the most nerve-wracking for me. Ever since I was practicing for the championships, I was nervous”, the always very serious appearing Japanese revealed. “I know this will be a great start for the next season. Today’s performance made me gain confidence. I didn’t care about my placement. Being second doesn’t really matter to me, the most important thing was to do the best I could”, the teenager added.

Li has had a few problems this season. She was out of shape and finished 10th and last at the Grand Prix Cup of China. The 17-year-old was withdrawn from her second Grand Prix and missed Nationals, officially due to illness, but there were also reports that she quarreled with coach Mingzhu Li and went back home to Changchun. Luckily Zijun seems to have overcome these issues now and put out two solid performances. In the short she landed the triple flip-triple toe for the first time cleanly in international competition and scored a personal best with 62.84 points. “I’m really excited, because I never landed that combination in competition. I prepared a long time for the Four Continents Championships and it is thanks to my training that I was able to perform so well”, she said. Li skated also very well in her free program to “Coppelia”, landing five good triples and achieving a seasons best with 118.72 points. However, she reduced the planned triple flip-triple toe to a triple-double, a double Axel and the loop were wobbly and the spins were a level three instead of level four. There went the points she would have needed to remain in second or to challenge for first place, and so she slipped to third at 118.72 points. “I missed the first triple-triple combination, and the landing of the double Axel was shaky. I have to say I was still not in my best condition. I would like to make sure to bring out the best side of me at the Olympics”, Li commented.

Japan’s Haruka Imai was third in the short to “Song Without Words” by Felix Mendelssohn, that included a triple Salchow-triple toe combination. “Even before my performance I could hear the applause and it made me feel that I’m not alone but that my fans are with me. I got more than 60 points for the first time and it was like a triumph for me”, the 20-year-old said.

She didn’t go for a triple-triple combo in the long program to a Piano Concerto by Saint-Preux, though, and also stumbled on a popped double Axel. As a result she dropped to fourth at 175.40 points. Although the Axel was the only major mistake in the program and five triples were fine, Haruka was upset with her performance and walked off without commenting.

Courtney Hicks (USA) moved up from seventh to fifth (169.99 points). In the short, she singled the Axel and the triple flip-triple toe was downgraded. She fell on that combo in the long program to “Evita” and singled a loop, but landed four triples. “I was really glad to get my new personal best. Even though I made some mistakes I thought this was pretty good. This is the first time I’ve done Four Continents and it was such a short turnover from Nationals. So I was really glad to go and skate decently even with being tired and having the jetlag. I think I’m really getting a lot of confidence in myself and in my skating”, the Californian noted.

Hae-Jin Kim of Korea finished sixth in her international senior-level debut with 166.84 points. The short was clean with triple Lutz and a triple flip-double toe combo. In the long, Kim only underrotated a triple Lutz. “It was my first time to go on a senior event, so I was a little bit nervous. But I came here to check everything before the Olympics, see if everything is ready. This is my first time to see other senior skaters’ performances. It was really exciting to see them taking speed faster than junior skaters. Their jumps were higher, everything and everyone looks more sophisticated”, the 16-year-old said.

Alaine Chartrand was the top ranked Canadian in 7th place (165.19 points). She had moved up from 15th place in the short where she almost fell on the triple Lutz, but she produced six clean triples in the long including a triple Lutz-single loop-triple Salchow combination.

Samantha Cesario (USA) placed 8th (164.87 points). Her short was fine although she couldn’t do her planned triple loop-triple loop as the landing of the first loop was not good enough. In the long, she lost points by underrotating a flip and a Salchow and doubling a loop.

Mirai Nagasu (USA) ended a tough season in 10th place (159.78 points). She was sick after the U.S. Nationals, where she had skated well and took bronze, but was not selected for the Olympic team. The 20-year-old underrotated both toes in her triple-triple combo in the short and also three jumps in the long (the flip was event downgraded). “I felt Nationals was a hard competition and I thought I handled myself really well. It turns out that things can be a lot harder and this competition was one of the hardest ones I’ve been through yet and even though I got some underrotations, I’ve never been so happy to be able to get through a competition”, Mirai said. “Obviously the competition at Nationals was really strenuous for me, I’ve never cried so much tears of happiness and tears of sadness. To come here and skate as well was not ideally how I wanted to finish it, but under the circumstances I think I’m really proud of myself.” Now she has to decide where she wants to train. After Cup of Russia she spent some time in Japan and worked with Takashi Mura, the coach and father of Takahito Mura. He also took care of her in Taipei. “Being in Japan is really good for me. I can really relate, because it is the way I was raised at home. I have a lot of friends in Japan now. I’d love to go back, but of course everything especially skating is very expensive. I really have to go home and think things through especially since I support my skating by myself right now. I’ll discuss things with m parents and my other coaches to see what would be the best route for me”, Nagasu explained, but confirmed that she definitely wants to continue competing.

Sui & Han in a Class of Their Own in Pairs

Wenjing Sui & Cong Han of China were a class of their own in the Pairs event and won the title with 30 points to spare. U.S. teams Tarah Kayne & Daniel O’Shea and Alexa Scimeca & Chris Knierim switched places and earned the silver and bronze medals.

Sui & Han were the top favorites coming into this event and they had won Four Continents before in 2012, but they’ve had a few downs this season, failing to qualify for the Grand Prix Final because of a poor performance at NHK Trophy and also not being selected for the Olympic team. China has only two spots this time. However, they put all these disappointments behind them to deliver a career-best performance to “Kalinka”. They opened with a quadruple twist and followed up with a side by side triple toe-double toe-double toe, triple Salchow, throw triple flip and Salchow. Two lifts, the spins and the death spiral garnered a level four. Sui & Han set a new personal best for themselves with 137.14 points and totaled 212.40 points. “Today’s we gave our very best performance for the audience and the judges. We are very pleased to have achieved a personal best score”, Han commented. “I am very happy to have landed the triple Salchow, because in practice my success rate is not so high. I was lucky. Overall I am very pleased with our success”, Sui added.

Kayne & O’Shea had to overcome a shaky start into their “Don Quixote” program when he tripped and fell after catching his partner on the triple twist. Unfazed by that rare mistake, the team from Florida continued with a triple Salchow, throw triple loop and Salchow as well as three level-four lifts. Kayne & O’Shea earned 119.40 points moved up to second at 181.45 points overall. They competed in their first ISU Championship. “We started this year with three senior Bs and medaled in all three of those. To come here and medal gain it feels really good to show what we can do. Hopefully there is more to come in the future”, O’Shea said.

He explained what happened on the twist: “I was focused so much on what we’ve been working on lately with my arms and my upper body that I let my feet get away from me a little bit there. It was just a fluky thing, but I think it was really our training that kept us going. Tarah was so strong for me. I could tell from the fire she had. She gave me such a strong vibe and I got back into it and things really started to build”, O’Shea said. “I knew that when a mistake happens earlier in the program, you have to be extra strong for the rest of it, because it can throw you off so easily. So I went into our next element with a lot of attack, even with more attack than I would have had”, Kayne added.

Scimeca & Knierim are a stylish couple and nice to watch, but they had a glitches in their routine to “Ever After”. The opening triple twist and throw triple flip were nice, but he doubled the side by side triple Salchow and fell on a single Axel. She stepped out of the throw triple loop. The students of Dalilah Sappenfield were ranked fourth in the free skating with 104.31 points but remained on the podium at 170.35 points overall. “We didn’t put our best performance out in the long program, so that’s a little disappointing. But we had a good short. So I think overall it was an okay event for us. We’re just excited to get the opportunity to come here and get the bronze medal”, Knierim told the press. “We were prepared for this competition. We skated very well two weeks ago at our Nationals. Maybe I did put more pressure behind it, but that’s because I expect a lot from myself. I can tell you that next season it will be a lot better”, Scimeca said.

The reigning World Junior Champions Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier (USA) finished fourth in their senior-level ISU Championships debut (167.10 points). She fell on the throw triple loop, their second element in their program to “Notre Dame de Paris”, but the rest of the performance went well. “Just the fall in the beginning. I think we had a good recovery after that. It wasn’t our best, but it’s been worse than that. We stayed strong throughout the program and we just left that behind us and kept going”, Denney noted. She felt that they got  a lot of experience in their first senior year. “The whole senior internationals and getting used to the whole competition aspect to it and knowing that we are going to have many more years of this to come. It’s all a learning experience. I’m just excited for the future now”, she said.

Canadians Natasha Purich & Mervin Tran had a few issues with the solo triple Salchow and their throws, but pulled up from seventh to fifth (147.80 points). “The short was a rougher skate. It’s been a long road, it’s been tough year, after the short and everything fighting through to the end was just more than enough. It was a decent long”, Tran commented.

World Junior silver medalists Margaret Purdy & Michael Marinaro had not the cleanest performance with two-footed landings or stumbles on the solo and throw jumps plus they aborted a lift. They came sixth (139.99 points). There is almost no height difference between the Canadians and she is rather tall for a pair skater so the question obviously is if they have any future together. However, they talked about continuing as a pair. “(It was) Definitely not the program we wanted to end the season with, but we’re going to train hard and getting right back at it. It’s a little bit of experience from the senior category to take with us for next year”, Marinaro said. “We’ll go back home and do a few shows and then we’ll start the programs for next year and push away and learn from this year, from our ups and downs”, Purdy added.

Wenting Wang & Yan Zhang of China also struggled with the solo jumps and came seventh (139.95 points).

Hubbell & Donohue Dance to Victory

Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue (USA) overtook overnight leaders Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier of Canada to claim their first ISU Championships title. Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton (USA) celebrated a successful senior-level debut by taking bronze. As expected, the North American teams dominated the event, taking the six top spots.

Hubbell & Donohue had drawn to skate last and turned in a smooth performance to “Nocturne” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”. They collected a level four for the lifts, the twizzles and the circular footwork and a level three for their spin and the diagonal step sequence. The program had good flow, but overall was a bit boring. The Americans scored a personal best with 97.20 points and totaled 158.25 points. They were happy to end a tough season on a high note. “It means a lot. We’ve learned a tremendous amount about our partnership this season. We had a pretty stellar year our first year together and since then it has been a little bit of a struggle to find our way. I feel that we finally have proven ourselves as a strong, consistent team that deserves to be at the top. We can’t wait until next season and keep pushing higher”, Hubbell said. Her partner gave her a lot of credit: “More than anything I’m so proud of Maddie. She’s had the hardest year I think that any skater has to deal with that I’ve heard of. Concussion, tears, injuries, but she’s never given up, never stopped fighting. She was the one that gave us such a successful season and career so far.”

Gilles & Poirier’s dance was something different and actually more interesting, plus the Canadians included some innovative elements such as their stationary lift at the beginning. They skated to music from the “Hitchcock” and “Psycho” movies. However, a straight line lift and the diagonal step sequence were only rated a level two. This cost precious points and in spite of a seasons best score of 91.33 points, Gilles & Poirier dropped to second place at 153.72 points overall. “We’ve had a seasons best in both programs, that’s definitely more than we can ask for. I think today the performance was a bit tight, compared to the times we’ve done it in the past, but there were some positive things to take out of this. We’re going to take this competition with us, because it taught us a lot about resilience and about being able to come back so quickly after Nationals. Overall it’s been a really positive experience and we are pleased with the result”, Poirier said. Gilles gave more information about their free dance choice: “We were talking about doing something very dark. Our coach Carol Lane came back from Junior Worlds and she happened to watch this movie Hitchcock on the airplane. We started to listen to it (the soundtrack) and we found this great connection, we just thought that Paul would be a great Hitchcock and me being blonde like Grace Kelly or Tippi Hedren. We just kind of went with it. Once we started choreographing it, it started to grow on all of us. I think we’ve done a really good job with it this year”, she explained. Like Hubbell & Donohue, the Canadians felt energized for next season. “We had long break due to Paul’s injury, but we had a good comeback. We’ll be working really hard the next four years for the next Olympics. We’re not done pushing the boundaries”, Gilles noted.

Aldridge & Eaton turned in a fun dance to Bollywood music, again a program that was different from what you usually see and they did it well. The levels were good – four elements were a level four and three elements got a level three. The 2013 World Junior bronze medalists picked up a personal best score of 87.30 points which added up to 144.95 points overall and they went home with the bronze medal in their debut at the ISU Four Continents Championships. “We’re so excited and so honored to just be on the podium. We couldn’t ask for much more, this being our first season as a senior team”, Aldridge commented. “Alex and I are extremely excited. This is our first year senior and we have really made huge progress. It is extremely motivating for us”, Eaton agreed. “We’re still extremely young so it should be an interesting (next) season. It is extremely motivating to come in every day and work with such elite athletes on the same ice every day. We’re just grateful to have the motivation and strength to hold our own in the field”, he added when asked about training in the same group as Hubbell & Donohue.

Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill of Canada finished in fourth place with 137.03 points. They gave a lively performance to Latin music. “We skated the best we could have, but some our levels were a bit lower than we expected”, Ralph said. They beat their teammates Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams that had placed ahead of them at Nationals. Orford & Williams were fifth with dance to “Phantom of the Opera 2” (133.42 points). Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giuletti-Smith’s (USA) performance to “Spartacus” was well received by the crowd. They placed sixth with 130.05 points.