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2015 World Team Trophy

 by Tatjana Flade


Press Conference Audio for 2015 World Team Trophy after Day 3 (10:07, in English, Japanese and Russian, with English translations)

Press Conference Audio for 2015 World Team Trophy after Day 2 (08:04, in English, Japanese and Russian, with English translations)

Press Conference Audio for 2015 World Team Trophy after Day 1  (11:11, in English, Japanese and Russian, with English translations)

Team captains from U.S., Japan and Russia talk about the first day of skating.

(Audio edited to remove dead time, translations to Japanese, moderator comments)

 

 

(19 April 2015)  The USA won their third gold medal at the ISU World Team Trophy, but they edged out Russia by just one point. Team Japan took the bronze medal.

The fourth edition of this event that was initiated by main sponsor TV Asahi and started in 2009, was again very successful. More than 34 000 spectators followed the competition and the exhibition gala at Yoyogi National Stadium in mid April.

The points system had changed compared to the first three Trophies and was the same as at the Olympic team event. Now, the skaters earned points in the short and in the free programs, for example Gracie Gold picked up 12 points for her first place in the short program and 8 points for her fifth place in the free skating. There was no combined result of short and free program anymore. Nevertheless, in favor of the skaters the ISU decided that the total score was calculated and counted for the seasons best and personal best. The ISU wanted to make the event more interesting and it worked. After the first two days, the USA had a lead of four points over Japan and six points over Russia, but then Russia caught up thanks to the strong performances of Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Elena Radionova. It was definitely the right step to change the scoring, however, short and free have the same value (12 points for the first place, 11 points for the second place etc). Maybe the short program should be worth a bit less than the free skating.

Not everybody used to take the World Team Trophy serious, some observers considered it a made-for-TV cheesefest, but in spite of the skaters having fun in the team boxes and in the Kiss & Cry, it is actually a real competition with top skaters that even at the very end of the season turned in strong performances. The atmosphere is more relaxed than at the World Championships, but once they are on the ice, the skaters are determined to give their best. Tuktamysheva used the opportunity to try the triple Axel in both programs, the pair skaters and men went for their quads and four men, four ladies, one pair and two ice dance couples achieved a seasons best in at least one segment.

The total prize money of 1 000,000 US$ is nothing to sneeze at either.

Even though they are tired after the season, the skaters all love the event, and they love coming to Japan where their sport is so popular and they get to perform for an enthusiastic audience in a full rink. “I think there are certainly some challenges considering for team USA being in Shanghai two weeks ago. I think all of us went home and now we are back in Asia again. The length of the trip is a difficult thing to endure, but at the same time we are all very excited to be here. This event is very special. You see the way the teams are acting, sitting in the team boxes, cheering for each other. No other competition is like this. We really rallied around each other and encouraged each other the last few weeks to keep training hard. We have a very strong team. We knew we’d have a good shot at taking the top spot”, Evan Bates, team captain for USA, said. Russia’s captain Alexander Smirnov agreed: “I think for our team as well there were challenges such as the long flights and obviously to overcome the jetlag. This is tough, but there is a positive side, because all of us that came here love Japan and love Tokio and everybody is happy to compete at this championship”, he noted.

Different from the format at the Olympic Winter Games, the World Team Trophy favors single skating as there are two ladies and two men competing, but only one pair and one ice dance couple. This is no surprise as Japan is strong in singles but much weaker in the other disciplines and the event was created on the initiative of Japanese TV. But Japan is competitive anyway, as they always qualified on their own (although the host is automatically qualified) and finished fifth in Sotchi.

Day 1: USA leads from the start

The Team Trophy kicked off with the Short Dance, Ladies and Men’s short programs and the USA took the lead and never relinquished it.

However, Canadian ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje won the Short Dance with an excellent Paso Doble to “La Virgen de Macarena” and a seasons best. Madison Chock/Evan Bates did not get a level four for all elements in their “Don Quixote” routine as they had at Worlds and finished second, ahead of World Champions Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron. The French had the same levels as Chock/Bates, but lost a bit on the GOEs and components to them. “It was so fun to skate the Paso. We’ve enjoyed it all year and especially at this competition knowing that it was our last run-through of this program, we put our heart into it”, Chock shared. Elena Ilinykh/Ruslan Zhiganshin finished fourth for Russia as expected. They were disappointed with their levels. Shiyue Wang/Xinyu Liu of China beat Japan’s Cathy and Chris Reed for fifth place.

Perfect Gold sets personal best

Next up were the ladies and Gracie Gold upset World Champion Tuktamysheva with a perfect performance. Gold finally put it together, delivered a clean short program to Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor with a big triple Lutz-triple toe and scored a personal best of 71.26 points. It was a relief for Gracie, who has all she needs to be a top skater but so often succumbs to nerves and makes stupid errors. “I’m really, really happy with my score and with how I skated. To end this program on such a strong note after some disappointing skates, and to come in for Team USA, it feels good for many reasons”, the excited 19-year-old commented.

To be honest, Tuktamysheva still would have won, hadn’t she missed her triple Axel. But her calculation that the triple Axel is worth the risk even if she falls as long as she rotates the jump, was correct. Lisa still scored 4.50 points for the triple Axel (minus -3 GEO plus 1 point deduction for the fall), while Gracie scored 4.13 points for her 2A in the second half of the program. So Tuktamysheva was just 0.33 points behind Gold. The World Champion had a slightly higher component score and a slightly higher technical score, but it was not enough to completely make up for the one point deduction for her fall. “The triple Axel attempt this time was not successful, but there have to be such attempts as well. It is not possible that this difficult jump works all the time, because it is new for me. But I am pleased that I was able to pull myself together after the fall”, the 18-year-old from St. Petersburg said.

Her teammate Elena Radionova came third with a clean short that featured a triple Lutz-triple loop (68.77 points). “I am glad that I did not let down my team. I tried to give the maximum. But obviously there is always room for improvement and I know what I have to work on”, the World bronze medalist explained.

Ashley Wagner pulled off a triple Lutz-triple toe, but stepped out on an underrotated triple flip to finish fourth. “I did a pretty much perfect triple Lutz-triple toe. The flip was wonky. Going into it I slipped on something but I got it together. The past two World Team Trophy events, I have fallen and cheated a double Axel. Today it was clean so that is a success“, the U.S. Champion pointed out.

Japan’s Kanako Murakami and Satoko Miyahara found themselves in fifth and sixth as they both underrotated one jump and Miyahara did only a triple flip-double toe as the triple Lutz was wobbly.

Zijun Li of China under-rotated her 3F-3T and touched down on the 3Lo (7th).

Hanyu wins short program

Yuzuru Hanyu hit a great 4T and 3A in his Chopin program only to fall on the back end of his 3L-3T. “I am frustrated”, the Olympic Champion said, shaking his head. “I had not enough speed for the Lutz.” So he didn’t do a clean short in competition all season, but still was in first place and picked up a seasons best with 96.27 points and secured 12 team points for Japan. Ironically, when Hanyu skated last year’s Blues short program in the gala, he did it perfectly with 4T, 3A and 3Lz-3T. “Finally I had a clean short but this was just the exhibition”, he sighed. Han Yan came second. He stumbled on the quad toe. Quad-less Jason Brown (USA) placed third with a clean performance. Mura ranked fourth with a hand down on the 4T and a step out on the 3A. Russia’s Sergei Voronov tripled the quad and had only a 3T-3T combo, but no other mistake to finish fifth ahead of Nam Nguyen (Canada) and Max Aaron (USA).

At the end of the day, the USA led with 48 points, followed by Japan and Russia that had 43 each, but the Asians were second because of a tie-breaker.

Day 2: USA defend their lead

Day 2 started with the Pairs Short Program, followed by the Free Dance and the Men’s Free Skating. Team USA defended their lead with 83 points, Japan was four points behind with 79 points and Russia was still third with 77 points.

Sui/Han upset Duhamel/Radford in Pairs short

Wenjing Sui/Cong Han beat World Champions Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford for the first time, however, the Canadians were handicapped. Radford suffered from foot poisoning and was even in the hospital two days before the competition. He also missed the training the day before the short program. “I must have eaten something bad two days ago. During our second practice, I started to feel sick and it got worse and worse. Eventually I called my teamleader and said, I need to go to the hospital. They did some tests, put me on IV, managed to get me hydrated after losing a lot of fluids and then I spent yesterday all day recovering. This was extremely challenging in many ways. I didn’t even know if I am able to finish the program”, Eric explained.

But in the program “Un peu plus haute” it was Duhamel who doubled the side by side Lutz, while he did a triple. “It’s the first short program we’ve made mistake (this season), so it was of course the weakest. So we just showed that we are not robots”, Meagan said and added that she “hated herself” right now for doubling the Lutz.

Sui/Han delivered a crisp and flawless performance of their fun “Stray Cats Strut” to come first with 71.20 points.

Yuko Kavaguti stumbled badly on the triple toe so that she and Alexander Smirnov sat in third place. Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim skated well, he only put his hand down on the triple Salchow.

The solo jump was the problem element for the other two teams as well. Vanessa James (who skates with Morgan Cipres) stepped out of her triple toe while Ami Koga (who skates with Francis Boudreau Audet) cheated hers so that it was downgraded. Koga/Boudreau Audet, who finished sixth at Junior Worlds, were thrown into their first senior competition after Narumi Takahashi/Riyuchi Kihara split up shortly after Worlds.

Papadakis/Cizeron repeat Worlds’ success

Like at the World Championships, Papadakis/Cizeron put out a stunning performance of their Mozart Free Dance to come first. They scored 111.06 points, not far off their personal best from Worlds of 112.34 points. “It is a little bit sad that this was the last performance, because we were really attached to this program. It was very emotional to do it and also for the short dance. It was a technically and emotionally strong performance”, Cizeron commented. The French skaters came from the French tour (and went back to it after World Team Trophy), so their preparation for the event was limited. “We are very tired. We had a long season, it started in September and ended just now. We didn’t have good practice conditions the past two weeks, we practically didn’t train. But we’ve done these programs hundreds of times and they are like imprinted on our bodies”, he added.

Weaver/Poje also skated very well to “The Four Seasons”, with more flow and freedom than at Worlds and ranked second with 109.79 points, which was almost a seasons best. “We are very pleased. We wanted to go out and have more of a free performance this time and just show those emotions and give the program a performance it deserves. It felt like we did that today”, Poje noted.

Chock/Bates were maybe a little slow and he fell at the very end oft he diagonal step sequence as he caught an edge. Their levels were the same as for the top two teams – a level three for the step sequence and a level four for the lifts, twizzles and spin, but the World silver medalists got less on the GOEs and in the components. The U.S. Champions already have their minds set on the next season. “We put a lot of work into our elements especially in the offseason. We like to get a head start and do most of our thinking them. Great ideas happen throughout the season too but most of it happens in preparation. We want to be on the world podium (again). Winning worlds is a big goal of ours. We also want to put out good programs all season and be extremely consistent “, Chock said. “Next year, we have Worlds in our home country, in Boston. That’s really exciting for us. We’re looking forward to that and our ultimate goal would be to win in Boston“, Bates added.

Ilinykh/Zhiganshin gave a solid performance, but lost a few points on the circular step sequence that was rated a level two. They finished fourth ahead of Wang/Liu and Reed/Reed. Cathy Reed announced her retirement from skating at the exhibition gala. Her brother Chris wants to continue and looks for a new partner, in spite of his ongoing injury problems.

Hanyu victorious again

Hanyu was determined to end this season with a perfect free program and opened it with a beautiful quad Salchow, but then he doubled the toe. Seven clean triples followed in his passionate interpretation of “Phantom of the Opera” and Hanyu won the Free Skating with about 16 points to spare at 192.31 points, but he was still frustrated. “I did a triple instead of an quad, I lost points. There are already six points of difference between a triple and a quad and I had to change the Axel-triple toe into a double, so there I lost another three points. Including the GOE, I lost at least 8 or 9 points overall. If not for these mistakes, I could have reached 200 points“, the Olympic Champion explained. “I focused on skating a clean program. I was tired but I could perform well until the end and it was good for my team members. Takahito Mura did skate well, too, so his skate encouraged me”, the reigning World silver medalist said.

Jason Brown ended the season with a flawless “Tristan and Isolde” program and picked up 11 team points for his second place. “I wanted to skate the best I could for Team USA and skate the programs I have been training all year. To get a season’s best at my final event of the season, I’m so thrilled and proud“, the U.S. Champion commented. He debuted at World Team Trophy and he loved cheering for his teammates and putting on all kind of crazy outfits. “This event has rejuvenated me. I was definitely tired after worlds but the cheering and the energy of the team has helped me ride the wave of excitement“, Brown told the press.

Mura underrotated his first quad toe, but then landed a quad-double toe plus two triple Axels to come third. Han Yan made a few errors and finished fourth. Sergei Voronov gave an inspiring performance that included quad toe and six triple jumps (5th) and Maxim Kovtun also skated better than in the short program (6th).

Florent Amodio lost many points because he repeated the triple Salchows three times and did a ninth triple jump that didn’t count.

„Today was a very exciting day for the entire competition. Apart from the ladies everyone competed today and we had a chance to get to watch the Pairs and Men’s event. It was just thrilling. You really could see at the end of the season the skaters are in top form and maybe a little bit more relaxed. Some of the performances were exceptional today. So this is really nice to to see, and I think the audience enjoyed it as well“, U.S. team captain Bates said at the end of the day.

„I watched the pairs, ice dance and the men and all skaters skated very well, especially Yuzuru Hanyu. He skated at the very end of the day so I think it is difficult for him, but he recovered very well from his mistakes . I also missed the fact that Japan got second after today. I think the ladies will do very well and we like to continue to fight until the end of the competition“, Japan’s captain Mura commented.

„Today was another great day, a festival of figure skating, our whole team skated very well, some surpassed their abilities, others couldn’t quite do that, but the result is good. The placements didn’t change, and everything will be decided tomorrow. I am happy that we could enter the fight and I hope the fans enjoyed our performances“, Smirnov told the press on the behalf of the Russian team.

Day 3: USA edges Russia for gold

On the final day the USA clinched the gold, but the Russians almost got them thanks to their strong Ladies.

Duhamel/Radford on top again

Duhamel/Radford won the Pairs free skating, but Sui/Han trailed them by just 0.97 points. The Canadians were solid except for Meagan’s fall on the quad Salchow, but they were holding back a little (140.70 points). As a result, Sui/Han came very close to beat them. The World silver medalists performed a quadruple twist and their only error was Sui’s double Salchow. “I think we performed up to our level, it is just too bad for my solo jump”, Sui noted.

Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim produced a personal best free skating to “Rhapsody in Blue” that was highlighted by a quadruple twist and side by side triple Salchow and by finishing third. They ranked third in the free skating and got that decisive point their team needed for victory as it became obvious later. “This was the best way to finish the season. It’s been long and I’m glad that it shows that we have been improving. I’m happy to leave that wonderful program on a good note“, Scimeca observed. “Personable best free skate and almost a personal best short program. Combined, they are our best. We had two good programs and we are leaving Japan and the season happy“, Knierim added.

Kavaguti/Smirnov, on the other hand lost that precious point and finished fourth after she fell on an underrotated triple toe, but they hit the quadruple throw Salchow. “We have mixed feeling, because not everything worked, but many things did work”, Smirnov observed.

Tuktamysheva with 3A

Lisa Tuktamysheva stuck to her plan and went for the triple Axel in the long program, although she struggled with it in practice and in the warm up. But then she pulled off a great triple Axel that garnered +2 GOEs from seven judges (one judge gave a +3 and one gave a +1). The World Champion went on to nail five triples, but she popped the loop. She still was clearly first with 134.21 points.

“I landed the Axel confidently and I knew that I have to go on. I did not feel any euphoria like at Worlds, although the audience cheered loudly”, the European Champion said. “The Axel didn’t work in the warm up, but I felt the adrenalin, some anger and my wish that I have to do this jump. I knew the feeling that I need to have in order to execute the jump. I rotated the jump in my head many times and I went into it with determination, I turned sharply and that helped me to do the jump as well as I did. I even liked it myself”, Tuktamysheva shared.

Radionova also did her job and came second with a solid program, just stumbled on a double Axel and on a spin. “Lisa and I tried to skate very well. Obviously, I felt tension before the free skating. I knew I had to help out the team, which I did. Our whole team is friendly with each other and fun. Our teammates supported us during the warm up and helped us. They cheered for each jump we landed. I think our skaters were the most active”, the 16-year-old European silver medalist commented.

Satoko Miyahara came back from her disappointing short and brought the audience to their feet with her emotional performance  to “Miss Saigon”. The only glitch came when she under-rotated a triple flip. The 17-year-old placed third.

Wagner underrotated both triple-triple combos, but the other elements were solid and she ranked fourth. “I was so happy with that program. It was really great for me. I went out there and I went for everything“, the U.S. Champion said. “This season has been really challenging. It’s been a season where I have learned a lot. There have been so many ups and downs. The technical part of my skating has been upped so much and I’m so proud that I have been able to put two triple-triples in my program whereas before I could barely even get one in. For me, almost 24 (years old), to be upping my game at this point, I’m pleased with myself“, she continued.

Gold once again succumbed to nerves and fell on her opening triple Lutz. She also stumbled on the flip and the second Lutz and placed a disappointing fifth. ““It was not a great performance. I had to really fight through it. I was nervous because my program ultimately determined the placements. I was nervous but USA was able to win“, Gracie said.

It was close, as the Russian ladies score 12 and 11 points and Russia moved up to second place.

“This was an amazing competition. Watching I think is so much more stressful than being on the ice and skating. Especially towards the end when the ladies were skating and it started to get really close and we were not sure what was going to happen, some of the most nerve wrecking moments I remember experiencing in the sport. It is just thrilling to experience that as a team and to have our fates tied together and to rely on one another is really the essence of this event. It’s wonderful”, Bates told the post-event press conference. “Obviously it’s a team effort and a team competition. But if I were to point to one performance this week that made the difference for us I would say it was our pair team Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim. Their long program today was phenomenal and their performance made the difference for us”, he said when asked about who stood out for him in the team.

“We are very happy to be on the podium for the first time at this championship. I think our two beautiful girls did their job a 100 percent, while for the others there is still room for improvement. We could have had more points in pairs and men’s. I think the dancers did their job 100 percent as well, because they are a very young team. However, we are still satisfied with today’s result”, Smirnov said.

“Of course it was a three days event and not much time had passed since the World Championship. I know all skaters were very tired but even though they are tired they put all their energy into their performances and did everything they can in the competition. I’m sure this is the reality for Japan but in pairs and dance we are relatively weak. But it is still too early to say, especially for the pair. There is still room for growth, and while we are waiting for this growth, we could compliment with the singles events”, Mura explained.