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2015 Cup of China

Quad-mania at Cup of China

Rollercoaster comeback for Asada;  victory for Fernandez, Kavaguti & Smirnov, Cappellini & Lanotte

Beijing, China

by Tatjana Flade

Mao Asada’s comeback, a festival of quad jumps and throws as well as a surprise in ice dance made Grand Prix No. 3, Cup of China in Beijing, interesting.

Rollercoaster for Asada

Mao Asada is still a super star in Japan and she alone lured dozens of Japanese journalists to Beijing. TV Asahi arrived with about 50 people and occupied two offices in the ice rink. Ten years ago Asada had debuted here in Beijing at the senior Grand Prix (and won the silver medal). The three-time World Champion proved in the short program that she’s back. She hit a triple Axel, went for triple flip-triple loop (under-rotated the loop) and triple Lutz (edge call), and she looked sharp and fresh in her program to “Bei mir bist du schoen”.  Mao looked really like she was enjoying herself, more than in the past two seasons she competed. “This is my first Grand Prix competition since I came back and I’m trying to include more difficult elements and I’ve been training hard for that”, the 25-year-old said. “I remember my first Grand Prix ten years ago here in Beijing. It is a long time ago, but time flies,” she added.

The 2010 Olympic silver medalist opened her “Madame Butterfly” free skating with a great triple Axel  that garnered positive GOEs, but then a fall on the back end of her triple flip-triple loop combo apparently threw her off. Other mistakes followed, like a double Lutz and a singled flip and Asada was only ranked third in the free skating, but overall held on to first place. “I am not satisfied with my free program and not happy to have won this way. I’m only in first place thanks to my short program. I still have to solve some problems in my training,” Mao said.

Her teammate Rika Hongo was more solid in her jumps as she didn’t miss or underrotate one of the overall ten triple jumps in her short program and free skating. Rika is a dynamic, but not too elegant and she can improve her posture, but the audience really enjoyed her performance to “Lord of the Dance”. “I felt very happy at the end of my program. This was my best performance. Akiko (Suzuki) helped me a lot with my choreography and expression,” Rika, who won the free skating and placed second overall, noted.

The day before her departure to Beijing Elena Radionova learned that her coach Inna Goncharenko had been hospitalized with kidney stones. “I was lost like a blind kitten”, the 16-year-old said. In Beijing, pair skating coach Artur Dmitriev helped her out. The European silver medalist looked hesitant and slow in the short program. The triple Lutz was shaky, so she added the triple toe to the triple loop for her combo later into the program, but under-rotated the toe. Then she singled the Axel and was ranked sixth. The free skating to “Titanic” went better, Radionova only fell on a triple Lutz and stumbled on a triple loop, but landed both triple Lutz-triple toe and triple loop-half loop-triple Salchow. She pulled up to third with the second-best free skating. “I am glad that it was good enough for this result at least. I’ve learned a lot from being in this kind of situation,” Elena commented.

Russia’s Anna Pogorilaya fell on triple Lutz-triple toe and twice in the free skating to finish fourth. “I somehow didn’t feel comfortable here”, the European bronze medalist said. Karen Chen (USA) also fell on her combination in the short program and didn’t risk a triple-triple combination in the free skating. She ranked fifth. Courtney Hicks (USA) stood in third following the short “The Feeling Begins” with triple flip-double toe and triple Lutz, but then struggled with several jumps in her free to “Elizabeth the Golden Age”. Later she wrote on her Facebook page: “I had a great time in China and I was so happy to be in the top three after the short. That was the highest I've ever been at a Grand Prix, and it was the highest score I've ever gotten on a short! Unfortunately I hit a snag when my right skate collapsed above the toe box on a triple loop in the six minute warm-up. Now I'm into new skates and I'm looking forward the the next two weeks of training before NHK.”

World Champion Fernandez stays on top

Following his World title Javier Fernandez was busy over the summer in Spain and therefore started a bit later into the season. The Grand Prix in Beijing was his first competition and in training he looked not too solid, but was able to pull himself together in the competition. The Spaniard wobbled on the quad Salchow in the short program, but triple Lutz-triple toe and the triple Axel were strong. Probably because of the Grand Prix Final held again in Barcelona, Fernandez chose “Malaguena”, and even sports a little beard. He shaved the beard off before the free skating to “Guys and Dolls” and said with a grin that he hopes he always has enough time in between competitions to grow it back. The start into the free was great with a big quad toe, the quad Salchow-double toe was tight and he fell on the solo quad Salchow. Five triples were good and also the choreography of the program worked and therefore the victory was not in question. “I felt good in my Grand Prix in China. My next Grand Prix is in Moscow and it is an important goal for me to go to the Grand Prix Final. I’ll keep going, keep practicing every day improve. It was a good day here in spite of some mistakes and hopefully  I can perform a clean program at my next Grand Prix,” Javier said.

Boyang Jin of China not only won the silver medal in his senior Grand Prix debut, but he also established himself as the new „king of quads“. The 18-year-old nailed a huge quad Lutz-triple toe combination in the short program to “Tango Amore” that the judges rewarded with plusses. This combination alone was worth 19.19 points and it was the first quad Lutz-combo landed cleanly in international competition. Brandon Mroz (USA) was the first skater in history to land a quad Lutz in competition, but he didn’t do it in combination. Jin included a second quad, a toe, into his short, but it was somewhat shaky. He then went for four quads in the free skating, being again the first skater to do so. He had almost succeeded in a national competition before. In the Grand Prix the quad Lutz was great again, but he fell on the quad Salchow and stumbled on the second quad toe. But Jin also landed a triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe and did the maximum jump-wise. But except for jumps, the World Junior silver medalist has not too much to offer yet and his component score was too high. Jin earned 99.60 points for his technical score (the base value was 102.70) and had 72.58 points in his component score. “I was rather nervous, because it is my first Grand Prix. It wasn’t easy to do all the quads today and only one was really good. I still need to work on my quads but also on my component score and skating skill,” admitted Boyang.

A journalist asked Fernandez if he also wants to do four quads. He laughed. “This guy is half my size and younger. I’m already one oft he old guys in skating and two quads in the short and four in the free would be very risky for me,“ the 24-year-old said.

China’s Han Yan missed his quad toe and triple Axel in the short program, in the free skating he produced a nice triple Axel-triple toe, but made other errors. He was lucky to pull up to third and he knew it. “I’m only in the podium because of the mistakes of others”, the 2015 Four Continents bronze medalist admitted. “There were many mistakes in the short program. I thought too much about it. Today I didn’t do the most difficult elements in my free skating, but there were still mistakes. I have to improve on that.”

Grant Hochstein (USA) had competed in one Grand Prix event before, five years ago at Skate Canada where he placed fifth. Since then he had to work his way up again, went to many smaller competitions, got his triple Axel more consistent, learned a quad and now at the age of 25 is back on the Grand Prix. Grant stumbled on the quad toe in the short and popped into a double in the long, but his triple Axels were solid in both programs and he also had good components to place fourth.

Sergei Voronov under-rotated the quad toe in the short program to „Hurricanes and Butterflies“, but still was in third place. In his free to “Once Upon a Time in America”, the quads didn’t work again – one was called under-rotated, the other one downgraded – and he also doubled the Lutz and slipped to fifth. “It is a bit annoying that I made these mistakes. I could have had the bronze with a better skate,” the Russian commented.

Michael Christian Martinez from the Philippines fell on a triple Axel in both programs, but the rest was solid and he finished sixth – not a bad result for someone from such an “exotic” country. Misha Ge struggled with the triple Axel and the quad toe that he tried in the free skating (7th). Elladj Baldé didn’t skate as well as at Nebelhorn Trophy in September and came 11th, but he was invited to the exhibition gala as he is a great show skater.

Two quads for Kavaguti & Smirnov

Quads become more and more frequent in pair skating as well. Many people were surprised when Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov decided to continue competing following their successful comeback and the European title last year. Aged 33 and 31, the Japanese born Kavaguti and Smirnov are not the youngest in the sport, but they proved that they are competitive and became the first pair to include two quad throw jumps (no twist, but throws) into their long program. One of them was the quad throw loop. Yuko landed on both feet, but it was still the first ever quad throw loop performed in competition. In the short, the duo from St. Petersburg ranked second behind Wenjing Sui & Cong Han with a clean program. In the long, the 2015 European Champions again made no major error, landed their side by side triple toe, double Axel-double Axel, difficult lifts and a triple twist and overtook the Chinese team. They had kept their dramatic “Manfred Symphony” free program. “It is a bit surprising for us that now everybody is saying that we broke through the Chinese wall. Honestly we didn’t think about that. We just set the goal for ourselves to perform our programs with all elements which we did. In spite of this victory we still have to work on many things and to make our program more difficult,” Smirnov said.

Sui & Han won the short program with a dynamic performance highlighted by a throw triple flip and triple twist. The World silver medalists included a quad twist in their free to “Samson and Delilah”, but they didn’t go for the quad throw Salchow as Sui had suffered a foot injury in training just before the Cup of China. The solo jumps were a bit wobbly as well, but eventually the Chinese lost to the Russians only  because of a time violation. “I couldn’t train the throws so much because of my injury, but overall we skated well here”, commented Sui. The team is the first to qualify for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final.

World Junior Champions Xiaoyu Yu & Yang Jin for the first time risked a throw quad Salchow in the free skating, but Yu fell hard. This was the only error in otherwise clean and elegant programs. The Chinese team had kept both routines from last year. “We feel we didn’t show these programs yet to their full potential”, said Jin. “We almost skated our best, but it is a shame for the quad throw, because in training we rarely miss it,” added Yu.

The other teams didn’t include quads. Xuehan Wang & Lei Wang of China had a good short, but made several errors in the free skating. They finished fourth, completing a strong showing for the Chinese pairs. For Russia’s Kristina Astakhova & Alexei Rogonov it was the opposite – they messed up in the short program but rallied back wih a good long to move up to fifth place. Mari Vartmann & Ruben Blommaert of Germany ranked sixth in their first Grand Prix event as a tem and achieved new personal best scores. Their short was clean, but she fell on the throw triple loop in the free skating.

Lubov Iliushchechkina & Dylan Moscovitch (Canada) were 7th as they had some problems with their solo jumps and aborted a lift in the free skating.

Cappellini & Lanotte back on top

One year ago the Cup of China was a low point in the career of Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte. The Italians had come as world champions and favorites to Shanghai, but they didn’t skate their best and had to settle for third place while Gabriella Papadakis &  Guillaume Cizeron started their ascent. Now the 2014 European Champions came back strong and even beat World silver medalists Madison Chock & Evan Bates. Two technically demanding, clean and, most importantly, characteristic programs laid the foundation for this success. In the short it is Waltz and Polka from “The Merry Widow” by Franz Lehar and in the free dance it is “La Dolce Vita” by Nino Rota. In the short dance warm up, Cappellini & Lanotte had to overcome a rough fall on their rotational lift and looked cautious in the performance. “It was an unexpected, quite bad fall in the warm up, we both hit our heads. We feel it really affected our performance which was clean, but way below what we could have put out there. We relied on the training and were able to get through it,” Cappellini said.

In the free dance they didn’t hold back and delivered an inspiring performance with strong levels for their elements (level four for the twizzles, lifts, spin and level three for the footwork). The judges awarded them lots of positive GOEs and all lifts were new. The Italians set a new personal best with 106.91 points. “We tried to do something different last year but it didn’t really suit us. This year we can say about our programs – this is us,” Lanotte explained.

Chock & Bates unexpectedly finished second. They were second in the short dance as Chock made an error on the twizzle that garnered just a level one. “I had a little bit of a mishap on my twizzles, which was a really costly error, especially in the short dance. But this is a great program for us and I feel it has grown a lot over the past couple of weeks”, she said. The elegant Rachmaninov free dance looked smooth, but the step sequences were rated a level two and so the Americans remained in second place. “Our free dance kept building and growing and this is just another step that we hoped to take continuing forward in the season. We got a little lower technical score so we definitely have to take a look at that when we get home,” Chock noted.

A year ago, Elena Ilinykh & Ruslan Zhiganshin competed in their very first competition as a team at Cup of China. They finished fourth. Now they obviously aimed at the podium from the beginning. For the short dance, the Russian Champions wanted to be different and are skating to „Somebody to Love“ (Waltz) und „We Will Rock You“ (March) by Queen, but somehow it does not suit the character of these rhythms. Not everybody should skate to Strauss, but this interpretation seemed far fetched and the idea of the program didn’t really come across. Ilinykh & Zhiganshin had good levels, but their components were weaker than those of the top two teams. Their “Frida” free dance has a lot more potential, but it looked a bit rough around the edges. The Russians lost two points for an extended lift and for a lost hairpiece. “This wasn’t yet the Frida we can do in practice and that we wanted to show. There were a few minor errors. Maybe we just wanted to skate well too much,” Ilinykh said.

Slovakia’s Federica Testa & Lukas Csolley turned in two solid performances to finish fourth. Only six couples competed in the free dance as first the Chinese dancers Yue Cong & Zhuoming Sun and then Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker had to withdraw. Hawayek suffered from a stomach upset. The 2014 World Junior Champions did the short dance and ranked fourth, but Kaitlin was not recovered and felt bad in the warm up before the free dance so that they bowed out. The Chinese pair withdrew the day before the short dance as she hurt her knee in a fall in practice.