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Gilles and Poirier, Sui and Han Lead at Four Continents in Taipei City, Mura Shines in Men's Short Program

by Tatjana Flade


(24 January 2014)  In an Olympic year, the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships are always a kind of consolation prize for skaters who did not qualify for their Olympic team. Only few skaters selected for Sochi are competing, since there is not much time left before the Games, plus the event takes place far away in Taipei City. For those who missed out on the Olympic team narrowly, it is an especially tough event and they deserve respect for finding the motivation to come. A total of 96 skaters from 15 countries were entered, but two men dropped out as the event kicked off Wednesday. Taipei City has hosted the event once before in 2011 and the facilities are excellent. The main rink and practice rink are under one roof and the hotel is just a five minute walk away.

Gilles and Poirier capture Short Dance

Canadians Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier and Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue belong into this category. Both had high hopes and the chance to make it to the team, but both fell short and came fourth at their National Championship. The American born Gilles even had received Canadian citizenship just in time. But it was not to be this time. Now both teams are almost head to head following the Short Dance in Taipei City.

Gilles & Poirier delivered a smooth performance to “Just One Dance” (Swing) and “You Don’t Leave Me” (Quickstep). Their twizzles, lift and the first Finnstep pattern merited a level four, while the side by side diagonal step sequence was rated a level three and the second part of the Finnstep a level two. The Canadians earned 62.38 points, a new personal best. “I’d say this is our best performance yet. We’ve had a little bit of an injury earlier this year, so we’ve been pushed back a little bit with our training time. We finally feel like we’re starting to peak and we’re very happy with what we did”, Gilles said. “I think we’re both very pleased with our performance today. All of the teams here had a quick turn around after the National Championships. So there wasn’t a lot of time to rest. We’re just really glad to be able to come back here and have a solid performance”, added Poirier. Both he and his partner had been here in Taipei before. “Taipei City is actually a very special place for Piper and I, because it’s where we first met seven years ago. This is actually my third trip here to Taipei. I was here for the Four Continents three years ago. I think it’s a place a lot of skaters look forward to going. It’s a great city. There is a lot to do and it’s so convenient to have the rink and the hotel close together”, Poirier noted.

Hubbell & Donohue started out with a strong Finnstep to “Mr. Pinstripe Suit” that garnered a level four for both sequences, but then she stepped out of the twizzles. Those were just a level two. The couple from Detroit nevertheless posted a personal best score with 61.05 points. Hubbell has been battling a torn labrum in her left hip for a while and felt that her injury affected her. “I’m in quite a bit of pain here with my injury. Unfortunately my cortisone injection that I had earlier in the season has worn off at this point. The twizzle sequence in particular is difficult with the leg to the side. It pulls traction on the injured hip. Unfortunately I let get myself a little bit out of focus, focusing on the pain”, she explained. “It wasn’t our best skate, but I think we really improved the levels on the Finn(step), which kind of saved us. The Finn was a huge improvement, kind of what we needed at Nationals. Ultimately I think we are pleased. It could have been better. We are kind of more focused on the free right now”, Donohue said.

Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton (USA) came third and have an advantage of almost four points to fourth placed Canadians Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill. The two-time World Junior bronze medalists gave a solid performance to Quickstep, Foxtrot and Swing and picked up a level four for three elements to achieve a seasons best of 57.65 points. “Because of the quick turn around from Nationals we could come here and use our great skate and the hype from Nationals to come here and skate to the best of our ability. We feel really fortunate to be here”, Aldridge commented.

Ralph & Hill have 53.97 points. Their performance to Quickstep and Foxtrot set to songs by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong looked smooth, but low levels let them down. The Finnstep was just a level one and two and the side by side footwork got a level two as well. „We thought we could get a little bit higher. But I am still feeling really good. I think I got the crowd going a little bit, they really enjoyed our performance. It was been really tough this year, technical for everyone”, Hill said.

Fellow Canadians Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams, who beat Ralph & Hill at Nationals, came fifth with 53.73 points. Their technical score was a bit higher but their component score a little lower. Still, it was a seasons best score for them and they felt it was the best performance of this program they’ve had. “It’s definitely a big seasons best as compared to our Grand Prix. We worked a lot on timing”, Orford shared.

Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giuletti-Smith (USA) finished sixth with 49.55 points. Once more the North American dance teams are dominating the event. Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu of China are ranked 7th with 46.81 points. Surprisingly, Yura Min & Timothy Koleto, who compete for Korea and have been skating together only since last April, are ranked 8th at 45.12 points. They even had a level three and four for the Finnstep. Koleto was a single skater before teaming up with Min, who was born in the USA but is of Korean descent.

Sui and Han take confident lead in Pairs Short

China’s Wenjing Sui & Cong Han took a well deserved confident lead in the Pairs Short Program with a new personal best score. The two U.S. teams Alexa Scimeca & Chris Knierim and Tarah Kayne & Daniel O’Shea finished second and third.

Sui & Han were in a class of their own with their “La Strada” program and impressed with their elements like a high throw triple flip, triple toe, triple twist and the difficulty and effortlessness of their spins, footwork and death spiral. They earned a level four for all of them and positive GOEs across the board. The reward were 75.26 points, that’s right among the best of the world. But the ambitious skaters weren’t satisfied yet. “Even though we got a really high score today, we thought we were not even close to perfect. I thought that the quality of the elements still could be improved. Our strategy for this season was to showcase a more mature side of us with refined movements and a dramatic storyline”, Han explained. They, too, will not go to Sochi, but said that they will be sent to the World Championships.

Scimeca & Knierim are very nice to watch, but often struggle with the solo jumps. This time, however, both landed the triple Salchow. Their triple twist was very high and the crowd gasped, but it was just a level one. She did put down her free leg on the throw triple twist, but it was not reflected in the marks and hard to see depending on the angle you were watching from. 66.04 points were a personal best for the skaters from Colorado Springs. “Honestly, we struggled a lot this season with our short program and this was our last one for the season and goal was to make it the best, so we’re really proud that we did. I was actually nervous, but my difference was that I tried not to hold back”, Scimeca commented. Her partner, who often misses jumps, felt less nervuous. “There were a little less nerves today. Usually I’m pretty nervous for the short, not for the long. That was pretty good for the short. It helps you to relax. It doesn’t get you mind racing and you kind of get concentrated on what you need to get things done”, he noted.

Kayne & O’Shea were a surprise. They ranked 7th at US Nationals and never competed at a major international event before. They have been skating together for two seasons only, but their program was really solid. The couple from Florida landed a triple Salchow, throw triple loop and collected level fours on four elements in their “James Bond” routine. They scored 62.05 points. “Our placement is surprising, however, how we skated to us isn’t a surprise. We train every day a certain way. Today we went out and put out what we train. It’s a good feeling to put out what you train and to feel strong on the ice”, Kayne said. She really discovered the discipline for herself. “There are so many aspects to skating pairs. You never get bored. Especially having another person out there, you have someone to emote to, that is unlike skating singles where you are by yourself.  When you skate pairs, you have someone to tell a story with. We really have the chance to be James Bond and the Bond girl. If you’re skating James Bond by yourself, you only have one side of that”, she explained.

2013 World Junior Champions Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier (USA) came fourth at 58.57 points. Their program to Malaguena with a triple Salchow and throw triple loop was good, but they lost some points on levels. “I thought the program itself was done really well, the energy was really good. Some things were a lot better from the past competitions we did and some things we’re still striving for, but all in all we’re very happy with the performance getting off the ice. When our score came up we knew we weren’t getting every level we were going for. Obviously we’d like to score a little higher”, Frazier told the press.

Their old rivals, World Junior silver medalists Margaret Purdy & Michael Marinaro of Canada, are in Taipei as well and placed fifth with 51.97 points. They completed a triple toe, triple twist and triple throw loop, but their elements didn’t have the same quality as of most of the others. It is not so easy for them obviously as they are almost equal in height.

There are only seven pairs in the competition. Even Canada and China sent just two teams.

Mura shines in Men’s Short

Takahito Mura of Japan shone in the Men’s short program to take the lead over Richard Dornbush (USA) and China’s Nan Song.

Mura skated an upbeat program to “Minnie the Moocher” and “Jumpin’ Jack”, and he nailed his jumps: quad toe, triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe and he earned a level four for two spins.  This was worth 84.21 points, a new personal best for the 22-year-old skater. For him, being at Four Continents is a fresh start after missing out on the Olympic team. “I couldn’t qualify for the Olympic Games and originally I wasn’t going to the Four Continents Championships. I was really disappointed. So when I got to go to this competition, I was really positive about it and I have been doing well. The short program was really good. Since I am here I am enjoying the practices and I when I went out to compete I was in a good mood and confident. I was really dancing without thinking about anything else. That’s why the short program went really well”, Mura said.

A weird thing happened to Dornbush, when suddenly his foot got caught in his pants while he was in the air for his quad Salchow. He underrotated and almost fell on the landing. But the 22-year-old didn’t let distract himself and landed a triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe and three level-four spins in his program to “The Sons of Italy”. He posted a new seasons best with 82.13 points. “I would say that I was mostly just very happy to be on my feet at that point. I was very thrown off when my foot got caught”, Dornbush said. “When I was on my feet, I was just looking forward to the rest of the program, because I thought that things ended up as well as they could be after that happened in the air. I decided I just needed to press on the rest of the program to push through it. Going to the short, I wasn’t really focused on placement or anything. I was really focused on the program and I knew what I needed was a good attempt on the quad and skate the rest of the program cleanly and I was able to do that. I think that it was a good confidence boost, but mostly I think after a good short I just need to get down on my knees and focus on the long”, he continued.

Song laid down a solid program with a quad-triple toe loop combination, triple Lutz and level-four spins, but he stepped out of the triple Axel. He had switched back to last year’s routine  “The Middle East Side” and was rewarded with a seasons best of 78.71 points. “I brought out my A game. The quad toe was really good, so I kind of relaxed and I stumbled on the triple Axel”, Song explained and told the media, why he went back to last year’s program: “I didn’t get so good scores with this year’s program. I feel that I can perform very well to the music of this (the old) program. So we decided to go back to it. The Four Continents are a very special competition and I really want to get good scores.”

Takahiko Kozuka of Japan was only fourth after he stepped out of a cheated quad toe and had a shaky landing of the triple Axel. He has 76.85 points. “I’m very disappointed with my performance, especially with the quad toe loop. I know that I’m not going to gain any points through it, but there is nothing I can do about that. Despite the fact that my other jumps went well, I’m unsatisfied with my overall performance. I made a mistake in a spin and I was exhausted. I could feel my legs shaking. I’ll try my best for the free program”, the 2011 World silver medalist commented.

Reigning World silver medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan struggled as well with the quad toe. He fell and the jump was downgraded, so eventually he just got one point from it (if you count the deduction for the fall). The triple Axel was fine, and the 20-year-old hit a triple flip-triple toe plus he also picked up a level four for all spins and the footwork. Ten scored 76.34 points. Still, his component score for his exquisite program to “Danse Macabre” was too low. “I did a good quad in the warm up and I actually felt good throughout the week. Sometimes it happens. That’s why I’m here to get this experience. I’m looking forward to skating the long program and I hope it’s going to go well. This competition is part of our building process (for the Olympic Games). It’s a rehearsal or training”, Denis noted. “This whole season wasn’t the best for me, but I’m feeling much better now. I had a month of consistent training in LA. Physically I’m very well prepared, so I just need to get back into my technical shape. My health condition is getting better. I would not say it is a 100 percent, it is 75, 80 percent”, he added when asked about his condition.

Canada’s Jeremy Ten turned in a clean performance that included a triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe and triple loop to finish sixth at 75.21 points. “I was a little bit nervous going into it, but after that Axel I felt back in control. Everything was a little tight, but I’m proud of myself for fighting. That just shows how trained I am to be able to make it work”, Jeremy said. “My goal is just to skate my personal best and to focus on myself. I was just one point away from reaching my personal best that I set for the season for the short program. Hopefully I can do it in the long and get an all-time personal best.”

Joshua Farris sits in seventh with 74.85 points after watering down his combination to triple flip-double toe. “I’m happy with how I skated, especially since I competed last week (at Nationals). I think it’s hard for anybody to do that. I’m proud of myself. I’m so disappointed about that flip-toe (triple-double), it’s a really easy jump for me. But it happens. I was kind of shaky during the program, so don’t think I got the spring as much as I normally do and the toe…. I was trying to pull in for a triple, but my body just kind of bailed on it without me realizing it. At least I didn’t fall”, the World Junior Champion commented.

Like his teammate, Adam Rippon did not go for a quad in the short program. He stepped out of the triple Axel and did only a triple flip-double toe combo as well. That was rank 8th with 72.90 points. “Ever since the US Championships it (the quad) felt really off and I had a really hard time getting ready for this competition. I just went out there and tried to fight for everything I could. It was not very good, but I know I can do a better free skate on Friday”, the 24-year-old said. For him as well, it was hard coming off the disappointment at Nationals. “It was really tough, because I was fully trained and really prepared and to go to the Olympics in Sochi. It was really tough coming off not making the team. It was a lot of emotion from the competition and that kind of carried over into tonight’s program”, the 2010 Four Continents Champion shared. But he didn’t hesitate to take the opportunity to compete in Taipei. “I was lucky enough to get one competition and if I didn’t get this I would have been more upset. I felt fortunate to be here.”

Jin Seo Kim of Korea withdrew before the Men’s short program due to injury. He was diagnosed with tendonitis in his left foot. Michael Christian Martinez of the Philippines was entered, but did not show up for the competition. Apparently he is already in Russia preparing for the Olympic Games.