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2016 Cup of China

Beijing, China

by Tatjana Flade

Favorites Prevail at Audi Cup of China

In the end, most of the top favorites prevailed at the Audi Cup of China in Beijing, the fifth and penultimate event of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series in Beijing, but there were also a few upsets, most notably Ashley Wagner’s failure to make the podium. Overall there were quite a few excellent performances, but also some disappointments.

The Men: Patrick Chan Once Again on Top

Patrick Chan seems to have a history of struggling in the short and coming back strong in the free skate. It happened again in Beijing. The Canadian messed up in his Beatles short program. He put his hand down on the quad toe-triple toe combination, which is a lesser mistake, then he stumbled badly on the triple Axel, which was worse, but to cap it off, he doubled the Lutz. That really shouldn’t happen to a skater at the level of Chan and the three-time World Champion knows that he needs to put out two solid performances if he wants to be competitive at events like the Grand Prix Final or World Championships.  “I think I just lost a bit my focus into the triple Lutz. In the short program those little mistakes become very big mistakes. You do lose a lot of points,” Chan said. He called himself lucky to be in the top three and was right.

Most of the other skaters also made mistakes. Russia’s Sergei Voronov stumbled on triple loop, after landing a nice quad-triple toe loop combination, Max Aaron (USA) stepped out of the triple Lutz and Han Yan of China made an error on the triple Axel and singled the Lutz, to name a few. Only three skaters had a “clean” short, Boyang Jin of China, who landed a quad Lutz-triple toe loop combo, triple Axel and quad toe loop in his program to “Spiderman” as well as Ross Miner (USA) and Alexander Petrov of Russia, but these two did not risk a quad and downgraded their Lutz-toe loop combinations to triple-double. As a result, Jin led clearly, followed by World Junior Champion Daniel Samohin, who went for two quads and missed the toe loop and then Chan.

In the free once again, Chan proved his class. He had drawn to skate after Jin, who obviously is very popular and got lots of toys tossed on the ice. From the cheering of the crowd and from the score, Patrick knew that the young Chinese skater had done well, but he did not pay attention to it and got into his own zone.

His performance to Eric Radford’s wonderful piece “A Journey” was a true highlight of the whole competition. Chan nailed all but one of his jumps, including a strong quad-triple toe loop and another quad toe loop in the second half and even his “old enemy,” the triple Axel, was nice.  The only one he missed was the quad Salchow that he only tried for the second time in competition. But he went for it, he didn’t pop it.  He rotated it and he carried on after the fall as if nothing had happened. The jumps and spins were embedded into the choreography and the Olympic silver medalist showed a real program, not just a collection of elements. He got a big score of 196.31 points and racked up 279.72 to edge out Jin by a little more than one point.

“The program felt very methodical, I didn’t give it more energy that it needed. I really just told myself to relax and not rush, just to enjoy every element on its own and I think it worked. Even with the fall on the quad Salchow I didn’t panic. I got up and started doing the program as I do it at home, forget about the mistake and just move on,” Patrick explained.

Since he is of Chinese heritage and was even announced by the Chinese announcer with his Chinese name “Chen Wei Qun,” he was also warmly welcomed by the crowd and the fans didn’t seem too disappointed that he overtook the cheerful “Tian Tian” (Jin’s nickname).

Jin was most of all pleased with the progress he has made since Skate America. “I worked very hard, because I wanted to skate better here”, the 19-year-old said.

He definitely did. After the solid short he followed up with a good long, hitting three out of his four planned quads (Lutz, Salchow, one toe loop), and falling only on one quad toe loop. “I felt that I skated very well. I made one mistake on the quadruple toe loop that I under-rotated and that influenced my score. It did not feel pressure and I got a seasons best in both programs,” the World bronze medalist commented. He really seems to enjoy his program to “La Strada” and it suits his playful personality. Although Boyang is focused a lot on his jumps, he does interpret the music and tries his best to bring the program across, but obviously his presentation pales in comparison to the sophistication and maturity of Patrick Chan.

Veteran Sergei Voronov, who already had skated very well in the long at Skate America, proved again that he is still a force to be reckoned with. Since joining his new coach Inna Goncharenko last spring, the now 29-year-old from Moscow has become more consistent again. He landed the quad toe loop  in both the short and long, plus big triple Axels, but he also made a stupid mistake and did one triple toe loop too many.

“Honestly my plan was to do two quad toes in the free today. But not only I tripled the first toe loop, but I also added an extra triple toe loop. I really should not do these kind of stupid mistakes anymore. It almost cost me the medal. But I’m glad that I’m on the podium with these two great skaters – Patrick is a multiple World Champion and Boyang is a rising star in the sport,” the Russian skater noted.

This also should help him to strengthen his position in Russia, because so far he is the only Russian man that won a medal in the Grand Prix series and he also finished ahead of his younger teammates Alexander Petrov and Maxim Kovtun.

Petrov (6th) was solid in both programs, but he was a little “tame,, not very exciting and captivating, and he did not try a quad. Kovtun had followed Voronov and switched to Goncharenko last May, but so far he has not built up more confidence and consistency. He missed the take-off for the quad toe loop in the short and singled it. The free was better with three quads (a good toe loop and Salchow, and step out on the second Salchow), a triple Axel, but a single Lutz. So he pulled up from 10th and last to 7th place.

Max Aaron (4th) could be pleased with his overall performance, although he narrowly missed the podium. The short was much better than at Rostelecom Cup and the long was not bad either, although the American struggled with one triple Axel and a triple loop.

Han Yan popped an Axel and stumbled on the quad toe loop, and he is still not consistent (5th). Daniel Samohin, who surprisingly stood in second place following the short obviously could not deal yet with the pressure and his own expectations. The 18-year-old, who had to skate last after Chan’s impressive free, had a rough performance, fell on his two quad attempts and singled both Axels and so he plummeted all the way to 8th. Usually he is a fearless competitor and attacks his elements no matter what, but this time he seemed intimidated and probably wanted to make the podium too much.

Alexei Mishin called him “hurricane,” appreciative of his fire and aggressiveness. But it was an important lesson and experience for the World Junior Champion who has a lot of potential not only technically, but also as a performer on the ice. Ross Miner (9th) and Michal Brezina (10th) disappointed and made unnecessary and costly mistakes like popping jumps.

The Ladies: Radionova Rallies to Gold

Elena Radionova is still battling the effects of puberty and growth, plus she fell sick in September and lost some training time. But the two-time European silver medalist is not one that gives up easily. She grits her teeth and fights for each element.

 The 17-year-old was ranked second in the short to “Porgy and Bess” as her triple toe loop in the combination with a triple Lutz was called under-rotated and also overall she looked slower and less confident than Kaetlyn Osmond. The powerful Canadian has big jumps and rightfully earns +2 and +3 GOEs for them when she lands them. So Osmond won the short with her characteristic performance to “Sous le ciel de Paris” and “Milord.” However, Kaetlyn still does not have so much experience in competing for podium spots and sometimes struggles to keep her focus. After a strong start into her “La Boheme” free with triple flip-triple toe loop and double Axel-triple toe loop, she landed forward on the Lutz and almost fell and later crashed on a triple loop that was under-rotated. The Canadian slipped to second place, but she qualified for her first Grand Prix Final with two silver medals.

“I started off really strong, it was the first time that I did those two jumps (combinations) together in competition. After that I did two mistakes that were really uncharacteristic for me. I know that is something I just have to work on leading into the next few competitions, hopefully keeping my focus a little bit longer,” Osmond said.

Radionova has upped the difficulty of her program and moved five jumping passes into the second half and also exchanged her triple loop-half loop-triple Salchow combination with a triple Lutz-half loop-triple Salchow.

“To learn the combination was not difficult, but the five jumps in the second half are a bit hard, most of all mentally. You feel like you’ve skated half your program, but the whole program (jumping content) is still to come”, the Muscovite explained.

She dealt well with the challenge this time, the only technical error in her performance to “Turandot” was another under-rotation in her first triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. “Usually I don’t have a problem with under-rorations, since we’ve been taught to do the jumps correctly from the very beginning,” Radionova commented. “But it just means I have to look at it and work harder.” Overall the blond teenager that loves to pose for photos and always has a smile for the camera seems back on track. Now her program need more mileage and more speed and power, then she can compete with anyone.

Following Skate Canada, Elizaveta (Lisa) Tuktamysheva went back to last year’s program “Peer Gynt”. “The coaches told me that and at first I was shocked. I really liked the character of Cleopatra. But I never skated the program really well and so it was perceived as mediocre, not a winning program,” the 2015 World Champion said. So she agreed to go back to “Peer Gynt” and went to Moscow during Rostelecom Cup to work on it with Stéphane Lambiel.

The change paid off, the program was more dynamic and the music is more pleasant and building, too. Lisa delivered a strong performance with six triples (she touched down on a triple Salchow) and only doubled the second Lutz. “Both Lutzes are now in the second half, usually they were my first jumps,” Tuktamysheva pointed out. The Russian originally wanted to try the triple Axel again in competition in Beijing, but since she had fallen sick after her visit in Moscow, she had no time to prepare it. The bronze medal was a good step forward for the 2015 European Champion. In the short, she was fourth as she had over-rotated her triple toe loop - triple toe loop combination.

Mai Mihara, a pleasant young skater from Japan, like at Skate America convinced in the short with triple Lutz-triple toe loop. In the “Cinderella” long program she singled a Lutz and stepped out of the triple loop and dropped from third to fourth, but she can be more than happy with her debut at the senior Grand Prix. At the closing banquet she took her picture with Ashley Wagner and radiated with joy when Ashley complimented her for her performances. Her teammate Rika Hongo made a few little errors on jumps and still needs to work on her posture (5th).

Ashley Wagner (6th) seemed like a given for the Final after winning Skate America and looking good there. However, in China the World silver medalist suddenly seemed to have lost her confidence. In the short program, the landing of her triple flip was somewhat shaky and she didn’t go for the triple toe loop in combination, but added a double to the loop later in the program. The American came fifth. In the long not less than six out of seven triples were called under-rotated and also the two last spins got only a level two. Zijun Li of China and Courtney Hicks (USA) skated less well than in their first Grand Prix events and placed 8th and 9th respectively. Li wants to join Alexei Mishin’s training group in Russia, time will tell if she really gets to go.

The Pairs: Success for New ChineseTeams Yu & Zhang and Peng & Jin

Last spring the news of the partner swapping of the Chinese pairs Cheng Peng & Hao Zhang and Xiaoyu Yu & Yang Jin upset many fans. Judging from some messages in Chinese social media (that soon disappeared again) it seemed like that especially Yu was unhappy with the change. Now, about six months later, everyone has to admit that the partner change so far has worked out well. Both teams appear very well matched and they skated well, too. Nobody seemed unhappy either.

Asked at the press conference about the change, Zhang, the oldest and “leader” among the Chinese skaters explained: “The partner change was a decision of our skating federation after last season. They saw that we would be a better match that way physically. There was a lot of talk about it, but now everyone can see that we skate really well with our new partners.”

It seems amazing how fast they adjusted to each other and had no difficulty in performing their big throws, which usually takes a lot of time with a new partner. On the other hand, obviously they all come from the same school and use the same technique, which makes it a lot easier. Yu & Zhang had clean short and made only one mistake in the long, when he fell on the side by side triple toe loop. At first Zhang didn’t even remember when he had fallen like that the last time in competition and finally said that it must have been almost seven years ago at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. So Yu & Zhang celebrated victory in their second Grand Prix event as a team and qualified for the Final that they both had attended last year with their previous partners.

Peng & Jin competed in their first competition and came out with the silver medal, which is also a big accomplishment. The couple did not make any major mistakes. Their short program to “My Drag” is cute and full of humor, the long program to the somewhat sappy song “I Will Wait For You” from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” featured a double Axel jumped not side-by-side, but crossing over, and good throws. Peng only stepped out of the side-by-side triple toe loop. “Lori Nichol choreographed this program for us,” Jin said about the short. “While we were practicing steps, we heard the music playing in the background and we wanted to dance to it right away. So we asked Lori if we can skate to it and she agreed. It is a cheerful program with humor and acting. We enjoy it very much,” he continued.

After taking the bronze at Skate Canada, Liubov Iliushchechkina & Dylan Moscovitch had a chance to make it to the Final and maybe put too much pressure on themselves. In the short, they stood in second. Their side-by-side triple toe loops were wobbly, but the other elements in their Tango routine were strong. Their long program did not go too well, though. They both made errors on the side-by-side jumps (for some reason the Technical Panel called their first jump, a toe loop, as a Salchow), and both throw triple Lutz and throw triple loop were not clean.  “It was a rough go for us today. It was unfortunate and disappointing and it wasn’t depicting how we’ve been training and how we’ve been practicing here. The program got kind of broken up by the mistakes,” Moscovitch said. They settled for the bronze, which will not be enough for the Final.

Xuehan Wang & Lei Wang of China confirmed the strength of the Chinese pair skating team by coming fourth, but they made mistakes on the solo jumps in the free skating. Italians Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise had a good short, but in the long to “Love Story” they made several errors including her fall on the throw triple loop and him aborting a lift. Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov of Russia had missed some training time as her foot where she had suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon last January, had bothered her and looked not quite ready. In the free she landed her jumps, but he singled an Axel and aborted a lift so that they could not move up from sixth place. Mari Vartmann & Ruben Blommaert of Germany overall were quite solid, but she missed the throw triple flip in both programs. Jessica Pfund & Joshua Santillan (USA) were not really competitive in this field.

Ice Dance: ShibSibs Dance to Gold

The Ice Dance competition once more proved how competitive and exciting the discipline currently is and how close the couples are in ability and how quickly results can change. World silver medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani, the “ShibSibs”, obviously were the top contenders and also had won Skate America. However, the brother and sister team found themselves in second place, edged out narrowly for first place by Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje. Both team had turned in enjoyable and excellent performances to Blues and Hip Hop. The Americans had used “That’s Life” in the original version performed by Frank Sinatra for the Blues and then in a Hip Hop version by Jay Z. The Canadians started out with the Blues “The Way You Make Me Feel” and then continued with the cool songs “Dangerous” and “Jam” by Michael Jackson for the Hip Hop.

The Shibutanis got only a level two for their partial step sequence, that made the difference here. But in the free dance the American overtook Weaver & Poje thanks to better levels and also higher component scores. Weaver & Poje also looked strong in their dance to “Concierto de Aranjuez,” and when they meet again next time, the outcome might be different.

“We love our material this year, and so we’re able to step out on the ice very confident and we were confident going into today’s free dance that we would be happy with our performance,” Alex Shibutani commented.

“This season is all about building. We had a coaching change and change of location. We started learning again from the beginning, building out technique from step one. And that takes time. It is not always an instantaneous result. I think now that we have time to go back again and keep building. We didn’t make any major mistakes here today, but everything can get better. We have to max out every single level,” Weaver said. The Canadians are now training with Nikolai Morozov in Hackensack but also spent time with him in Novogorsk near Moscow.

Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin continue to draw attention and put out two strong performances that earned them the bronze medal. The young Russian dancers look suddenly more grown up and not anymore like a team that just came out of juniors, especially in their passionate Argentine Tango free dance. Also their confidence level is increasing. “We got personal best scores in the short and free dance here and that motivates us a lot. We know now that we are competitive with the top teams,” Stepanova noted.

Their teammates Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov had a late start into the season as he underwent shoulder surgery last spring. The couple has relocated back to Moscow, also because of financial reasons as the medical treatment and ongoing physical therapy he needs are expensive in the USA. In Moscow, they train with Oleg Volkov, but are in close touch with Marina Zueva, as they pointed out. The Russians came fourth with good levels, but got a bit less positive GOEs and lower components than their national rivals.

Natalia Kaliszek & Maksym Spodirev from Poland were solid fifth. The crowd enjoyed their “Dirty Dancing” program in the free dance. Not far behind were the top Chinese dancers Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu in sixth.