by Tatjana Flade
Photos © International Skating Union (ISU)
Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov
Caroline Green and Michael Parsons
Successful Four Continents Championships in Europe
Until recently, one would never have believed that a Four Continents Championship would take place in Europe. However, since China already gave back the third ISU competition after the Junior World Championships and the Grand Prix Cup of China 2021 because of the ongoing pandemic and the ISU did not find a replacement host at first, the Estonians stepped in and thus hosted two ISU Championships in a row, another novelty.
It deserves great respect what this small federation with its enthusiastic staff and volunteers achieved. In the end, everyone was exhausted but happy. Everything was well coordinated and ran like clockwork, there were no mishaps. The Estonians proved that it is possible to hold a safe event even without a "bubble." Only one positive Covid case was reported during the week.
As at the European Championships, all accredited persons were tested daily. The spectator attendance was lower than at the European Championships, which is not surprising, because the big stars were missing as almost always in an Olympic year. On the other hand, the competition in such a season is the chance for newcomers and for skaters that are the number two, three or four in their countries, who can prove themselves at an ISU Championship. The athletes all emphasized several times how happy and grateful they were that the "Four Continents" took place.
The United States and Japan dominated as usual, but up and coming Korea won three medals, more than ever before at an ISU Championship. The winter weather caused some problems during the arrival. On Monday, there was such a strong storm over Tallinn that the Lufthansa plane with many participants, which was supposed to land at 5 p.m., turned away and returned to Frankfurt after a stopover in Stockholm. The passengers then arrived on the also delayed evening flight only around two in the morning.
The Men: Junhwan Cha Makes History
Junhwan Cha caught the eye already back in 2016 during his junior world championship debut. Six years later, the Korean celebrated his first major title and made history by becoming the first man to win an ISU Championship for Korea. Previously, only his famous compatriot Yuna Kim had managed to do so. Cha actually trains with Brian Orser in Toronto, but because of the pandemic he stayed most of the time in his home country for the past two years and had to train there alone. This obviously didn't hurt him and he has steadily increased his confidence and performance level over the course of the season. He achieved a new personal best with 98,96 points in the SP landing a quad Salchow and triple Lutz-triple loop combination, edging Kazuki Tomono. The Japanese had successfully risked two quads, but got a little less for the execution of his elements and in the components, because Cha is more elegant. In the free skating to "Turandot", the Korean fell on his opening quad toe, then pulled himself together to land a somewhat wobbly quad Salchow and completed all his triples, only one Axel was under-rotated. That was enough to win by about five points. Tomono also went down on a quad toe and hung on to a quad toe-double toe combo. The other elements in the program to "La La Land" caused him no problems.
"When I came here, I wasn't thinking about medals or placements, but it was another step for me on the way to the Olympics. In the free skate, I was a little disappointed with the mistakes on the first two jumps (4T and 4S), but I fought through it and overall I'm happy with it. My performance here was a big step for the Olympics and the rest of the season. I learned a lot of things that will be helpful for me and I can gain more confidence. When I look at the skating history of Korea, it is difficult to create the conditions (for success) because we didn't have good conditions for a long time. To the juniors in Korea, I would like to say, 'be patient, accept the challenge, try harder, and you will have a good future.' I hope I can be a role model or mentor for them so that their future becomes a reality."
Kao Miura is only 16 years old, but looks much more grown up. The Japanese Junior Champion was delighted with bronze at his Four Continents debut. In the short program he convinced with two quads, in the Flamenco free program he again managed a quad Salchow-double toe and a quad toe, he just stepped out of his solo quad Salchow and in the end he ran out of steam a bit. However, he had pulled a muscle on the training day after the short. The next target for the funny Miura, who said he was so nervous before the short program that his legs were shaking like a newborn Bambi, is the Junior World Championships.
The tall Sena Miyake is another talented skater from Japan with the quad Salchow in his repertoire. However, the program looked a bit empty in between the elements (4th). Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Shaidorov trains with 1994 Olympic Champion Alexei Urmanov in Sotchi and convinced with two solid programs and a total of three quad toes, but looks a bit flat (5th).
Brendan Kerry of Australia did not want to compete in Tallinn, but for the Australian Olympic Committee the championship was part of the Olympic qualification, and he had to meet a relatively low set minimum socre (just like Kailani Craine). Since Kerry trains in Moscow, at least he didn't have a long journey, but he's been hampered by a foot injury. Nevertheless, he landed a quad toe in both programs and achieved the best result of his career at the Four Continents (6th).
“I withdrew from the Worlds last year because I had a really bad bone stress injury. About a week ago my left leg started to really, really hurting. I spoke to the coaches, and we went to see a doctor, we did an x-ray and they kind of gave me an ultimatum “listen, we are not saying it will break, but it certainly could at any moment, so you can either stop competing now, rest the leg or we going to have to change how we’ve been training and to be very, very careful”. We pulled back on practicing quads, I’m on the ice for no more than 20 minutes at a time now, and lots of ice (for the leg), I walk around, I don’t do anything, I go to the rink, I warm-up, I skate, that’s it.”
The Americans did poorly as they all made multiple mistakes. Tomoki Hiwatashi had missed the U.S. Championship because of a positive Covid test and was behind in training. “The week before the Nationals I got a positive Covid test and I just couldn’t make it. I tried, I had a Covid test every day trying to do two negatives, but it was never possible,” he shared. Jimmy Ma was as inconsistent as ever and Camden Pulkinen had seemingly peaked in Nashville and couldn't build on those good performances. “I was a little off, just tired from Nationals. It wasn’t anything like what I was training this week. There’s nothing I can do at this point but just to move on, and just work harder,” he commented after he failed in the short program with a fall on the triple Axel and tripled quad toe. The free skating went better, but was not perfect either. To make matters worse, his coach Damon Allen, who had already traveled to the European Championships with Israel's Taylor Morris, was sitting in quarantine at the hotel as he had tested positive. He could only assist his student by phone. Canadians Corey Circelli and Joseph Phan were unlucky as well. They arrived two days later than planned after one flight was canceled due to bad weather in Canada and another was delayed several hours due to technical problems. Phan's suitcase broke (at least his belongings were still there) and when the two finally got to the hotel, they got stuck in the elevator.
Green and Parsons Superior in Ice Dance
Caroline Green and Michael Parsons are competing only in their third season together, but they've already attracted attention. Both used to skate with their siblings under the same coaching team led by Alexei Kiliakov and found each other when their sister and brother, respectively, hung up their skates. They finished just behind the more established Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker at the U.S. Championships and in Tallinn they proved they are a force to be reckoned with. Green and Parsons stood out especially with their avant-garde, modern dance-oriented programs. In the freestyle, this is a dance to "Eso Concerto" and "Clouds. The Mind on the Re(Wind)" by Ezio Bosso and they interpreted this unusual music with innovative choreography. This was very refreshing to watch and is a program that gets more enjoyable each time. The Rhythm Dance to songs by Janet Jackson was also original. The US Americans made no mistakes, the levels were good, their flow as well. They are determined to build on their successes next season.
Caroline Green and Michael Parsons
Caroline: I think our goal for this performance was just to go out there and really create a moment and I think we did that. We just felt really together and we’re just so happy to share this program that feels so special to us with everyone. It’s just been such an interesting process for us. We’ve never approached a program in the way that we have with this free dance. I think it’s just really representative of our development as a team and the direction we want to take both our partnership and skating. Having a strong performance at this competition was really rewarding and it’s just been a great experience.”
Michael: It’s a Championship event so it’s a huge honor to be here and to have two of our best skates of the season here did a lot for our confidence. I think missing the Olympic team put a little chip on our shoulder too, so the confidence is helpful and the motivation moving forward is very helpful. I think no other sport really has a perfect mix of both artistry and athleticism like ice dance. And because of that there’s a huge opportunity to really create art on the ice. It’s not just strength and not just power but it’s about the image you put out there, the concept that you create with your partner, and this program we put on the ice and it felt more like art than sport and I think that’s exclusive to ice dance - I love it.”
Success for Muramoto and Takahashi
Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi wrote skating history like Cha. On the one hand, they achieved with silver the best result so far at an ISU championship for a Japanese (and Asian) ice dance couple. On the other hand, Takahashi is the first figure skater to win a medal at ISU Championships in both singles and ice dance. Plus, at 35 years old, he's also one of the oldest (if not the oldest). Not everything went smoothly, however. In the Rhythm Dance, Muramoto fell on an transition move right at the start while Takahashi wobbled on the twizzles. But the unusual program to a mix of traditional Japanese music and hip hop sounds still was received very well and there were still level fours for the midnight blues, the lift and Muramoto's twizzles. In the balletic Free Dance to "La Bayadere" the Japanese demonstrated a lot of elegance. There was a little lack of speed, but the choreography cleverly concealed that. In any case, it is a great achievement what Muramoto and the World Champion of 2010 have achieved in two years - and this even under difficult conditions as they could not train with Marina Zueva for months in Florida due to the pandemic. They had to rely on distance coaching and training by themselves. For the World Championships, the duo has set itself the ambitious goal of finishing in the top ten.
Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi
Muramoto: "We are very happy about our second place. It's very special to be here with Daisuke and see him as an ice dancer. For us, this is just the beginning. Our team in Florida - Marina (Zueva) and all the other coaches have prepared us to do our best. We want to work on our confidence (for the World Championships), have confidence in our skating and be able to compete with the best in the world. We still have so much potential to get better. Daisuke has accomplished incredibly much in two seasons."
Takahashi: "We tried to make the Olympic team, but unfortunately it didn't work out. For me, this is only the second season (as an ice dancer) and I am honored to be sent to this championship. Because of Covid, we hardly had any competitions, so this was a precious opportunity to compete with international couples. We have made mistakes. It's a learning experience and we only get that in competitions like this. We are now focusing on the World Championships and after that we have to take our time and think about what we want to do. If we want to keep competing, it's a commitment and we have to make sure we have the same goals."
The bronze went to Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko, who have stagnated in their development over the past two or three years and were as low as seventh at the U.S. Championships. Since Canadian Carreira doesn't yet have an American passport, the Olympic Games this year weren't an option, but placing behind newer pairs like Green and Parsons and Emily Bratti and Ian Somerville was a disappointment nevertheless. In Tallinn, the son of Olympic Champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko and his partner could convince with solid performances, but the levels were not the best. Bronze should still be a motivation for Scott Moir's students. "It was a difficult season for us. We changed coaches and changed our skating technique, which meant a lot of adjustments, but we're happy to end our season with our best free skate. We want to continue to grow over the next four years," commented Carreira.
In a similar situation are Carolane Soucisse and Shane Firus, who won silver at the Four Continents Championship four years ago and have not really progressed since and were overtaken by other teams in Canada. They have gained confidence this season and were able to deliver clean programs in Tallinn, but were not able to get on to the podium this time. Bratti and Somerville are skating in their first season together and have made rapid progress. They please with an entertaining style, in the free dance they skate among others to "Seven Nation Army". Tanith (Belbin) and Charlie White are on their coaching team. The Canadian-French couple Marie-Jade Lauriault and Romain Le Gac chose to skate for Canada because they have lived there for seven years. Except for a fall by her in the twizzles in the free skate, they turned in solid performances.
For the first time an ice dance couple from New Zealand competed at Four Continents (or any senior-level ISU Championship): Charlotte Lafond-Fournier and Richard Kang In Kam. She is Canadian, he is the New Zealand-born son of Korean immigrants who used to compete for Korea. After a few year's break, he now returned with his new partner. The duo trains in Montreal.
Mai Mihara and Yuna Kim's Heirs in Women's Event
The enchanting Mai Mihara floats over the ice like a little fairy and is the favorite of many fans, who rooted for her at Japanese Nationals. But the petite Japanese just missed the qualification for the Olympic Games. In her "home even" Four Continents, she came up with two flawless programs with all the regular triples and won her second title and her fourth medal overall.
"I was so nervous before my free skate that tears welled up in my eyes before I went out to skate and I wondered what to do. Then I said to myself 'I have no choice, I have to go out there and do this now'. I was first, then second and third (at Four Continents) and I didn't want to be fourth this time, I set first place on the podium as my goal. I put pressure on myself to get gold and now this is my best and happiest medal. I think I left my bitterness from the national championship behind with this."
Korea is on the rise and proved it more than ever in Tallinn. Haein Lee and Yelim Kim, like Young You, are part of the generation of talented skaters who came to figure skating thanks to the success of Olympic Champion Yuna Kim. Lee and Kim impressed with very good performances to earn silver and bronze. Lee has been seen landing the triple Axel in training, but in competition she did not risk it yet. Her next goal is now the Junior World Championships. You, who is going to Beijing with Kim, missed her triple Axel in both programs – she singled it in the short program, and she fell in the long. Therefore, Audrey Shin and Rino Matsuike, who delivered two strong free skating performance with seven triple jumps each, pulled up and surpassed her to finish fourth and fifth. Gabriella Izzo and Starr Andrews ranked eighth and ninth after making some errors.
Canada's Gabrielle Daleman, the 2017 World bronze medalist and 2018 Team Olympic Champion, is still there despite a seemingly endless string of injuries and illnesses. However, she struggled with some jumps, even her impressive triple toe-triple toe didn't work out. Nevertheless, she was the top Canadian lady in 10th place.
Few Entries for Pairs Competition
The pairs competition was very small, with only six North American teams competing. The Japanese and Chinese were no-shows because of the Olympic Games, and the North Koreans were out of the picture. The Australians were absent for an unknown reason and the remaining Four Continents countries have no pairs at all. The favorites Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov (USA) deservedly prevailed, except for a fall by Lu on the 3T in the free skate, they didn't make any major errors. They were not in top form at the U.S. Championships after he slashed her cheek with the skate blade shortly before in the death spiral and they lost some training time, but now they were fit again.
“We are very grateful for coming here and for the result. This means the world to us. This definitely gave us a great confidence boost going into (future) competitions. We want to go back and continue working on our free skate (since) we understand we made some mistakes. We’re going to continue to strive for perfection. Going forward we will continue training hard.”
Emily Chan, a singles skater not so long ago, and Spencer Akira Howe, who train with the winners in Boston, also turned in solid performances, winning silver despite a painful-looking fall by Chan on the throw loop in the free skate. Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud were convincing in the short program, but in the free they made several mistakes and messed up the last lift, which dropped them to third place.
Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps had problems with the side by side jumps. They lacked training mileage due to Deschamps' Covid-19 infection prior to the Canadian Championships. Stellato-Dudek proves that it is still possible to compete at a high level at the age of 38. The American and her Canadian partner hope to participate in the Olympic Games in four years. "I'm probably in better shape than I've ever been and we can train as much as ten-year-olds in our rink. I'm taking good care of myself and my body to make that happen," Stellato-Dudek said. Katie McBeath didn't switch to pairs skating until her mid-20s at the suggestion of U.S. Figure Skating and left a decent impression together with Nathan Bartholomay.
“My federation had reached out about trying pairs and where I was from there wasn’t a lot of pairs. They set up a special camp for a bunch of skaters to try it out. They kept me in mind and when Nathan was searching for a partner, they had called me and asked me whether I wanted to try out. I said ‘absolutely’! So far it went pretty good. This is technically our 9th competition together in total. With each one I’m learning about skating next to someone with a partner and having two people on the ice and someone out there with me. It’s a lot of learning and experiences but I really enjoy skating with Nathan.“