by Tatjana Flade
(6 Nov 2017) The Audi Cup of China in Beijing was the third event of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series this season and the first skaters competed in their second event and even probably qualified for the Final.
It was the 15th Cup of China already and the last event in the Beijing Capital Gymnasium before it is closed for massive renovations for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. Not only the Capital Gymnasium, but also the practice rink and the speed skating oval nearby will be renovated and a new practice rink will be built as well. The Beijing Capital Gymnasium will host the figure skating and short track speed skating event during the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada surprises in the Men’s event
Mikhail Kolyada is a very talented skater from Russia, but often plagued by inconsistency. Nevertheless, when you were watching him in the past few years it was obvious that he has everything he needs to get to the top: great jumps – including several quads, of course – strong spins, skating skills and charisma.
In the short program to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 (mixed with a Tango in between), it finally came all together for the 22-year-old from St. Petersburg. “Misha," as he is called in Russia, nailed a huge quad Lutz, a quad toe-triple toe and a triple Axel out of nowhere. Two spins and the footwork were excellent, too, he only wobbled a bit on the change foot camel spin which as a result merited only a level one. The score of 103. 13 points was not only a personal best of course, but put Kolyada right into the world elite. He became the sixth skater to break the 100 points after Yuzuru Hanyu, Javier Fernandez, Shoma Uno, Nathan Chen and Patrick Chan.
Unfortunately, the European bronze medalist fell on the quad Lutz in his Elvis Presley long program, but he still landed a quad toe, triple Axel-triple toe and four more triples and won the competition with 15 points to spare. However, Kolyada doubled his planned quad Salchow and popped the second Axel and was unhappy about those mistakes. Right after the free, the skater was still a bit confused and couldn’t believe he had won the first Grand Prix gold medal of his career. When the skaters were asked to stand for the photo at the press conference that took place shortly after the competition (and before the awards ceremony), Mikhail wanted to step aside to let Max Aaron stand in the middle, thinking that he had won (but Max was only first in the free skating). Only the next day it had started to sink in.
“On the podium I had mixed feelings. I realized that it wasn’t perfect and I knew there is something left to work on and that this is not the maximum. And at the same time I was pleased," Kolyada said. “As for the short, we have worked a lot and achieved this. It is very nice to see that we are going into the right direction. It is clear what has to be done that everything stays at a high level. Such a skate where I landed everything, I didn’t have in a while, even not in practice. In the long not everything worked out, though," the Russian Champion continued.
Kolyada most likely will qualify for the Grand Prix Final and is looking forward to it. “I like going to Japan," he said and flashed his infectious smile. “It is unexpected, but deep inside I knew that one day it will happen. The Final will be an interesting event. There are only the best of the best and it will be useful for me to be there and watch everybody.”
Kolyada was able to hold in check home crowd favorite Boyang Jin. Jin, a great jumper, too, had some issues with his quads and none of them was really clean in neither short nor free program. “The jumps were not very clean," admitted the two-time World bronze medalist. “Lori Nichol (choreographer) was here two weeks ago and we have changed a few things in the choreography and I still need to do more run-throughs to get used to the program," he explained. Jin hopes to show better performances at his second Grand Prix Skate America.
It has been two years since Max Aaron won a medal on the Grand Prix – his victory at Skate America in 2015. The 25-year-old has had his ups and downs, but now seems to gain more consistency again. The American put out two solid performances, hitting a quad Salchow and quad toe-double toe in the short to “Les Miserables” as well as two quad toes and a quad Salchow and all his triples in the long to “The Phantom of the Opera." Spins and footwork were a level four.
Max was very excited about medaling. “This is my third time in China and both times I was fourth – at the Junior Grand Prix Final and last year I was fourth again (at the Grand Prix). Now this time in China I got a medal and it feels great. The skates I had were a little bit tough, but I enjoyed every minute of it," he shared. He explained that he has revamped his jumping technique to make it more comfortable for him and it looks like the work is paying off. “I can’t wait for my second Grand Prix," said Aaron, who is going to France next.
World Junior Champion Vincent Zhou (4th) debuted on the Grand Prix. He has nothing to lose and went for all his quads, but while the quad Lutz-triple toe was great in both short and free, he missed other jumps.
Han Yan (5th) of China had to sit out the past World Championships as he underwent shoulder surgery. “I am still recovering," the 21-year-old from Harbin said. His did well, though, delivering a strong free skate (to last year’s short program music “I’ll Take Care Of You”) that included a quad toe and two triple Axels.
Javier Fernandez (6th) did not have a good competition. The two-time World Champion suffered from a stomach upset and struggled with many jumps in his programs. Fernandez had to compete without his coach, as Brian Orser still was recovering from his gall bladder surgery and not allowed to travel to China.
Zagitova prevails in relentless Ladies competition
The level in the Ladies competition has become incredibly high and you cannot make even small mistakes. Russia’s World Junior Champion Alina Zagitova narrowly beat Wakaba Higuchi for gold in what was her debut at the ISU Grand Prix senior level.
In the short, Zagitova sat in fourth place after falling unexpectedly on her triple Lutz-triple loop combo in her program to “Black Swan." “I was not happy with the short. This is my favorite combination and in practice I land it usually a 100 percent," the 15-year-old said. Alina fought back in the long to “Don Quixote," reeling off not only the Lutz-loop combo, but also all her other triples, excellent spins and steps to overtake her competitors. The only error was an under-rotation on the second triple Lutz. “To win the gold medal in my first Grand Prix means a lot to me, but I need to continue to work and I cannot rest on my laurels. When I get off the podium, I am just a normal girl again that starts from scratch,” the teenager from Izhevsk who now lives in Moscow, said.
Wakaba Higuchi was just 1.36 behind Zagitova and showed strong performances to “Gypsy Dance” in the short and in her “James Bond” themed free. The ambitious Japanese is a strong jumper but also has improved her expression on the ice. Her triple Lutz-triple toe was solid in both programs as were the other jumps and especially the “James Bond” theme suits her well. “I think I moved very well on the ice today and I am satisfied with what I did here,” the 16-year-old said. “However, I still have a lot of things to improve in future training and competitions. I have a little regret that I am not at the top here, there is still a gap. I think I met my goal to go to the Grand Prix Final and I want to show my best there,” she continued.
Elena Radionova has been struggling with consistency as she has grown quite a bit. She now is one of the taller ladies out there (and looking gorgeous, especially when she lets down her long, blond hair). But she is a fighter, never gives up and seems to adjust now more and more to her height and weight. Since the Grand Prix in Moscow, the two-time European silver medalist has improved significantly, her jumps are higher and her skating looks more effortless. There were no under-rotations this time.
Elena holds herself in contention for an Olympic spot. Two clean performances were only enough for bronze this time, since the Muscovite can improve the quality of the execution of her jumps and her speed. “I am getting into shape. With each step I am moving forward and I progress. Maybe not as fast as I would like to, but nevertheless the progress is there," Radionova explained.
Mai Mihara is another beautiful skater from Japan and celebrated a breakthrough last season. An under-rotated triple toe in her combo with triple Lutz in the short left her in seventh place – another example how tough the Ladies competition is right now. The 2017 Four Continents Champion rallied in the free to “The Mission” by Ennio Morricone, showing off her skating skills and excellent elements. She pulled up to fourth.
Marin Honda, also from Japan, had her two Grand Prix events back to back. The 2016 World Junior Champion underrotated the triple flip-triple toe in the short program, but overall it was much stronger than at Skate Canada the week before. The popular skater did well in her “Turandot” free again, she only doubled a flip. She repeated it right at the end as a triple, but even though it was underroated, it was good that she went for it (5th).
2017 World bronze medalist Gabrielle Daleman impressed with her huge triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination and took a narrow lead in the short program. Two bigger stumbles on the triple flip and the triple Salchow in the free program were enough to drop the Canadian to sixth place.
2015 World Champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (7th) stood in fifth with a clean short, but since she is doing “only” triple toe loop-triple toe loop and her layback spin was a level three, she was a little behind already. In practice, Lisa landed triple Axels again and went for it in the Tango long program. She stepped out of it, but it was great to see she did it and also that she completed all her other jumps as planned. In comparison to the other ladies she lost a few points on her spins and in the components, but she is on a good way.
Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron are first to crack 200 points in ice dance
Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France were a class of their own in the ice dance event and became the first to crack 200 points. They were 16 points ahead of silver medalists Madison Chock & Evan Bates.
The short dance used to be the weak point of the French, but this year they do a great job with their Samba and Rhumba to Ed Sheeran songs. The elements were strong – Papadakis & Cizeron picked up a level four for the Rhumba pattern, the Pattern step sequence, the twizzles and the lift and a level three for the side by side footwork, and they got mostly plus 3 for Grade of Execution as well as a total of eight perfect 10.00 in the components for music interpretation (3x), composition (2x) and performance (3x). Already here the two-time World Champions earned a new personal best score with 81.10 points.
“We choreographed the short dance with Christopher Dean and he came up with the idea which we loved. It was a good challenge to use this music for Latin, because it has asn urban Latin feeling to it. But it’s been really fun to dance to that. It’s really popular, it is something you can here in clubs and on parties and it’s really fun to dance to it,” Cizeron said. “We worked a lot on the short dance since the beginning of the season, but there is still room for improvement. We skated very clean and I think that how we got that score,” Papadakis noted.
For the free dance the three-time European Champions stick with the romantic style that has been so successful for them in the past three seasons. Their “Moonlight Sonata” is a beautiful program, soft and flowing like a dream on ice. However, you can criticize the skaters for not trying something different. They have decided to focus on evolving their lyrical style instead of exploring different directions, at least for now. Only few skaters are willing to take any risks in the Olympic season.
Regardless, the performance in Beijing was flawless, six elements were rated a level four, one step sequence a level three, the judges awarded +2 and +3 GOEs for everything and 14 times a 10.00 points (skating skills 1x, performance 5x, composition 2x, music interpretation and timing 6x). The team was obviously thrilled with their performance and their score, but they are already looking ahead. “Our next Grand Prix is in France and we have one week to train in Montreal. We want to take the feedback from the judges and keep improving. I don’t think we will make We want to stay grounded and continue the consistent work we’ve done since summer," Cizeron said.
Unlike in previous years, Madison Chock & Evan Bates did not do any Challenger Series events but started their season right with the Grand Prix. Their short dance to Salsa, Rhumba and Samba to Marc Anthony songs was characteristic, but the levels were not perfect yet. The dancers were especially not satisfied with the level 2 for the side by side footwork. In the free dance the 2015 World silver medalists skate to “Imagine," and this is a very good program, too. The levels were very good this time with everything a level four but the step sequences (level three).
“We put out two great performances and this is a great stepping stone for the rest of the season,” Chock said. “We have the same schedule as Gabi and Guillaume, so this gives us just one week at home to train. I think it was important for us that we skated well at this event. We haven’t competed in six months.
To start with the Grand Prix is something we’ve never done, but we felt really good and I think this carries the momentum forward,” Bates shared.
Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Solovied turned in two strong performances as well, but they, too, got a level 2 in the side by side footwork in the short dance. The Russian Champions had the same technical base value as Chock & Bates, but got slightly lower GOEs and component scores in both programs and had to settle for the bronze. “We are pleased with our performances overall. We did everything in the short dance and almost everything in the free dance. We maybe held back a little, because we skated last und were a bit nervous in the beginning and did not skate the free dance as well as we do it in practice,” Soloviev pointed out.
Tiffani Zagorski & Jonathan Guerreiro, also from Russia in spite of the not very Russian names – she is originally British and his father is Portuguese – have switched coaches in May from Alexander Zhulin (where they trained together with Bobrova & Soloviev) to Elena Kustarova and Svetlana Alexeeva. They seem to benefit from being the top team in their training group and skated really well. The free dance to “Exogenesis Symphony” by Muse suits them very well. They are a tall couple with beautiful lines.
Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter had a tough year last season The 2016 World Junior Champions had stayed junior last year, but they were overtaken by other teams at the junior level. When you are World Junior Champion and stay junior, you basically have not much to win but a lot to lose. However, the U.S. dancers seem to dig themselves out of the hole and were convincing in their short dance and the Tango free dance (5th).
Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu of China moved up from eighth to fourth in the free dance. Elliana Pogrebinsky & Alex Benoit (USA) are an expressive team, but a few low levels and his stumble in the diagonal step sequence put them into seventh place.
Wenjing Sui & Cong Han start strongly into Olympic year
World Champions Wenjing Sui & Cong Han started strongly into the Olympic year at their home Grand Prix and won their first Cup of China title with 25 points to spare.
Sui & Han looked very sharp in their short program to “Hallelujah." All elements were of top quality, especially the throws stand out. The Turandot free program was very good as well and included a quad twist, spectacular throws and lifts. Sui only stepped out of the side by side triple Salchow and the pair combo spin had a level 2. The program was also well performed. Turandot is another popular choice in the Olympic season (like Black Swan & Swan Lake or Moulin Rouge etc), and it is also one of the most famous programs of Sui & Han’s coach Hongbo Zhao and his partner Xue Shen, who skated to it in 2002 and 2003.
“I watched that program and I wasn’t even skating yet, but I was so inspired that I told my mother that I want to learn skating,” Sui explained. “When we came to Canada and Lori (Nichol) gave us this music, it was a coincidence. Our coach said we should do a better job than he did with this program," she added. In 2003, Shen & Zhao won the World Championships with that program – “Violin Fantasy on Puccini’s Turandot” by Vanessa-Mae and in 2002 they took Olympic bronze with it. Sui & Han use the Violin Fantasy in the first part and Nessun Dorma with lyrics in the second part of their program, so it is not the exact same music choice. The choreographer for Shen & Zhao’s Turandot was Lea Ann Miller.
Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang came second with solid performances. Their “Swan Lake” short was highlighted by the big triple twist and a huge throw triple loop. In their free to “Star Wars” soundtracks, Yu two-footed the tripe Salchow and fell out of the triple toe, but all the other elements were strong again. The triple Salchow is new in the repertoire of the ISU Grand Prix Finalists. “Last seasons we did triple toe-double toe and double Axel, now we do the triple Salchow and I was a bit nervous in competition. In practice, the jumps are going well,” Yu said. “Maybe we will change the first three elements in our program. We might do a quad twist. We tried the triple Salchow, but we could also do a double Axel-double Axel sequence. We still have time for adjustments,” Zhang explained.
Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro were fourth in the short as she stepped out of the triple toe loop and their twist was only level 1. The Canadians looked good in their free to “Un Ange Passe” (they had kept it from last year), only the twist again was shaky and the double Axel-single loop-triple Salchow sequence. They pulled up one spot to take the bronze.
“We feel pretty good about our performance today, definitely a solid step up from yesterday and also from our Senior B (event) that we had earlier this season. We missed some levels and we know we have some space to grow, but we are super excited,” Moore-Towers said. “We are happy to start off the season with a medal at the Grand Prix, but we have a lot of work to do in the next couple of weeks leading into Skate America,” Marinaro agreed.
Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise of Italy finished fourth. She stepped out of the triple toe in the short program, but they were ranked third in this segment. He doubled the toe loop in the free skating, but that was their only major error. Their teammates Valentina Marchei & Ondrej Hotarek (5th) had not such a good short when she fell on the triple Salchow and touched down on the throw triple Lutz. The free went much better, Valentina only under-rotated the side by side triple Salchow.
There was a big gap between the Italians and Ashley Cain & Timothy LeDuc (6th), but Cain had a stomach upset and the team made several errors. Only seven pairs competed as Anna Duskova & Martin Bidar of the Czech Republic had withdrawn. Duskova injured her knee and needed surgery.