by Tatjana Flade
(17 February 2015) Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford continued a successful season with another gold medal and their second Four Continents title. The Canadians so far have won each competition they entered this season including the Grand Prix Final. In Seoul, they held off a strong squad of three Chinese pairs that placed below them second to fourth: Cheng Peng & Hao Zhang, veterans Qing Pang & Jian Tong and Wenjing Sui & Cong Han. A big story of the competition was of course the comeback of Pang and Tong who wanted to take part in the first World Championships in China next month.
Duhamel & Radford started with a strong short to the song “Un peu plus haut” by Ginette Reno that featured their trademark side by side triple Lutz. They picked up a seasons best of 75.67 points for this, but later said that they didn’t feel at a 100 percent. ”We both felt a bit uncomfortable before we went on the ice. We didn’t feel like our usual selves like we felt this year, but we train really hard and we do this program every day at home cleanly, like this. So when we don’t feel perfect we can rely on our training”, Meagan said. “It’s funny how each competition you go to you feel different not matter how you’ve been training. For some reason both of us felt a lot more nervous than usual. Four Continents in the past has been a struggle competition. We never had our best skates here and it’s hard to know where it fits in terms of our timing and peaking at a competition”, Eric explained.
In the long program to a medley of songs by Muse, the Canadians hit their throw quad Salchow as well as other throws and the triple toe combo, but both wobbled on the triple Lutz. They really have grown as performers on the ice and connect better with each other and with the audience. Duhamel & Radford earned 143.81 points which added up to 219.48 points overall. “It was important that we came here and showed strong performances. Overall the Grand Prix Final and Canadian Nationals which just happened two weeks ago were a little bit stronger but we definitely feel confident from this competition but we have room to improve a lot before the World Championships and we are looking forward to the next month of working towards Shanghai”, Duhamel said.
The Canadian Champions probably felt like guests at Chinese Nationals in the last warm up group. Chinese pair skating has really come a long way and the couples impress with technical ability but also have grown artistically. This goes also for Peng & Zhang who skated to their first ISU Championship medal as a team, the silver, in Seoul. Zhang had won many medals with his previous partner Dan Zhang and now is on the rise again with feisty Cheng Peng, who is almost half his age. The short to the “Arabian Dance” from Peter Tchaikovski’s “Nutcracker” was strong and Peng was especially relieved to have landed the side by side triple toe that gave her some trouble this season. With 69.81 points they slightly surpassed their previous seasons best. “Our score is almost the same as at Cup of China. Our program has evolved a lot since the beginning of the season and we have trained very hard. We have prepared very well, because we want to be ready for the first World Championships to be held in China next month”, Hao Zhang commented.
Their free skating to an Allegretto by Dvorak was highlighted by a quad twist and beautiful throws and lifts, but Cheng Peng fell on the double Axel and did triple toe-single toe. The team scored 131.64 points and remained in second place at 201.45 points. “This is our first medal at this event and we got more than 200 points which is nice, but we made mistakes. So hopefully at the World Championships we can skate better than that”, the 17-year-old Peng commented.
Pang and Tong are both 35 years old and have a distinguished career, highlighted by two World titles (2006 and 2010) and an Olympic silver medal in 2010. They retired from competitive skating following the Olympic Games in Sochi where they had finished fourth (like in 2006). But the first World Championships in their home country were too appealing not to try a comeback. So they started training in the fall, put programs together with Nikolai Morozov in Moscow and finally decided in January that they would give it a shot.
They competed in the inaugural Four Continents Championships back in 1999 and are role models for generations of pair skaters. The bronze medal in Seoul meant a lot to them, although the performances were not flawless. The solo jumps as so often in the past caused trouble. Tong touched down in the short on the triple toe while Pang singled an Axel and double the toe in the long. But the judges appreciated the maturity and flow of their skating and awarded them high component scores. In the short, Pang & Tong ranked fourth with 66.87 points and pulled up to third in the long with a total of 199.88 points, edging out teammates Wenjing Sui & Cong Han by just 1.11 points. “We have five gold medals from this event and this time it is the bronze, but it is more exciting, because this is the first competition for us since we came back. This competition is a good practice for us before the World Championships and an encouragement for our last competition in Shanghai. At least I think it will be our last competition”, Tong said with a laugh.
Sui & Han skated to third place in the short with a dynamic performance to “Stray Cat Strut” that was well received by the audience. The three-time World Junior Champions collected 69.19 points, which was a seasons best. The Chinese hit a quadruple twist and side by side triple toe-double toe-double toe as well as big throws in their long to “Francesca da Rimini” by Peter Tchaikovski. However, they made a crucial mistake in the pair combination spin by not completing three rotations before the change of foot. As a result the element received no level and zero points which cost them the bronze medal. ”I feel very good about our program, the quad twist was very good as well as other elements. I think we showed our best level and we have no regrets”, Han said before he realized that the spin didn’t count. Sui & Han dropped to fourth at 198.88 points and were very disappointed.
Alexa Scimeca & Chris Knierim joined the illustrious ranks of couples with quads by adding a quad twist to their repertoire. The newly minted U.S. Champions came fifth with 187.98 points. Both struggled with the triple Salchow – he doubled in both programs while she fell in the long on a triple, but the throws worked well. “It wasn’t our best. It’s still new”, Alexa said about the quad twist. “I think it’s been six or seven weeks of working on it. We hope to get one more level on it at worlds. We have time to work on it and smooth it out. I also like executing the quad twist more than the tripe twist. I can use all of my force, where as the triple I have to find a very odd balance between too much and not enough.” Knierim commented: “We improved on a lot of stuff from our last competition. We still have room to grow, technical stuff we can work on.”
Lubov Iliushechkina & Dylan Moscovitch are a new team since this season. The Russian World Junior Champion from 2009 has moved to Canada now after searching for a suitable partner since splitting up with Nodari Maisuradze in 2011. Moscovitch on the other hand was dumped by his partner Kirsten Moore-Towers who felt that he was too old for her. Finishing sixth with 173.50 points ahead of more experienced teams was nice for the Russian-Canadian combo. They also skated well, with no major errors. “We’ve been working a lot on our free program and we were pretty happy that we could show it to the public. It doesn’t matter that there were some obstacles such as the time change and flying. In every competition we get feedback and it shows us what to work on. We’re going to push each little detail, improve and show it in the next competition”, Iliushechkina, who is just one year older than Moore-Towers, noted. “I think we did a lot of great work in between each competition so far this year and we’ve improved each time out. We continue improving our skating as a team, making everything seamless and when we are out there together competing that we don’t lose each other and we know exactly where the other person is going to be and this takes time as a new team”, her partner added.
2013 World Junior Champions Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier had problems with the triple Salchow (she fell in the long, he in the short) and some elements had a low level. The triple twist and the throws were good, though. They came 7th (167.57 points). “It was a tough competition for us. We were pretty tired going into it, still trying to come back from our nationals, which was a big emotional roller coaster for us. It’s always tough to go down and come back up to be at your best within two weeks. It was good in some things but also was not our best”, Frazier said. “Our next goal is to go home, train very well and take advantage of the time we have before worlds. Our goal is to put our absolute two personal best programs out of the whole year. We need to maximize our technical levels like our death spirals, our spins and our footwork in the short program with everything being solid level 4 without any question”, he went on.
Their teammates Tarah Kayne & Daniel O’Shea had surprisingly won the silver medal one year ago at Four Continents, but in an Olympic year the top teams did not attend. It has been a rough season for the couple from Florida, because she underwent hip surgery and they returned to competition only in December. Kayne & O’Shea skated well in the short program, and their only big mistake in the long came when she crashed on the throw triple loop, but she was still very disappointed. (8th & 166.67 points).
Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro still need to gel as a team, but their elements were already quite solid. In the short program they had a costume problem when Marinaro discovered in the dressing room 13 minutes before they went out to compete that his shirt was not there. “This is Mitchell Islam’s shirt from dance. Her dress, my pants and the shirt was in the middle, I just grabbed all three hangers, but it’s very slinky and it does fall off the hanger. That was my mistake. The coach (Kris Wirtz) ran and found it (the replacement). It was last minute”, Marinaro said. “Everybody stayed calm about the missing shirt. Kris is good in a crisis, so I didn’t worry too much”, Moore-Towers added (9th & 160.70 points).
Narumi Takahashi & Ryuichi Kihara of Japan were almost 30 points behind in 10th place. There hasn’t been much progress so far for this team this season. She still rarely lands her triple Salchow and the pairs elements need also work.