by Tatjana Flade
Japan won their second World Team Trophy Title since 2012. The fifth edition of this event that took place once again in the Yoyogi National Stadium was a big success. The rink was full on all four days – three days of competition and one day with the exhibition gala – and overall 38,000 spectators came. The organizers could have sold even more tickets, the demand was so high that fans had to take part in a lottery in order to get tickets. The enthusiastic crowd, the great atmosphere, the decorated team boxes and the creative outfits of the skaters in the Kiss & Cry made the Team Trophy to a celebration of figure skating that spurred some skaters to excellent performances.
Probably the judges were carried away a little bit, as 21 out of 36 skaters or couples set a new personal best or seasons best score. Two-time World Champion Evgenia Medvedeva once again topped it all by achieving two new record scores – 80.85 points in the short program and 160.46 in the free skating – surpassing her own record scores. The six top ladies all gave excellent performances. Four out of the six team captains were women: Kana Muramoto, Ekaterina Bobrova, Kaitlyn Weaver and Ashley Wagner. France and China had male captains with Morgan Cipres and Yang Jin.
Russia had a good chance to win the Trophy as they had the most balanced team, however, Elena Radionova, Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov and Maxim Kovtun would have needed to place a little bit higher. Japan won thanks to their great single skaters, but their pair and dance team ranked last. The results of the Team Trophy cannot be compared to the Olympic team event next year, as the modus is different. At the Olympic Games, only one skater per discipline will be taken into account. The Team Trophy, initiated and sponsored by the Japanese TV channel Asahi prefers single skaters, as the host is strong in these disciplines. As of now, Japan is not even part of the Olympic team event, first their dance or pair team needs to qualify in Oberstdorf for the Games. A country needs to have qualified skaters in at least three disciplines in order to take part in the team event. If necessary, the fourth discipline can be added, but this skater will then only compete in the team event like Matthew Parr (Great Britain) in Sochi.
At the World Team Trophy everyone is skating a short and a free program and gets points for their team according to their placement: 12 points for first place, 1 point for last place in singles and seven points for last place in dance and pairs. Who finishes first in both programs, earns 24 points for the team. It is a little questionable maybe that the short program is worth as many team points as the free skating. The results of short and free program are not added, there is no ranking with the combined result. However, the points (also the total score) count for the statistics such as personal best, season's best and highest score.
As always in Japan, the organization of the event was perfect, the skaters and officials loved everything. At this point it is not clear what will happen in two years. In 2019 the World Team Trophy could not take place at Yoyogi Stadium as it will be renovated for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Japan: Gold thanks to the single skaters
Japan’s stars made it possible that their team won the title for the second time. Japan even took the lead from the very beginning and never relinquished it. However, Yuzuru Hanyu messed up his short program. He was only seventh in this segment after popping his planned quad loop and stumbling on the quad Salchow. He had no combination jump. The two-time World Champion produced a much better free skating, landed four quads and ranked first. Shoma Uno was basically the match winner for his team by finishing first and second in his programs. The short was good with a quad flip and quad toe-double toe. The world silver medalist crashed on his second quad flip that was downgraded. He landed the quad loop and the triple Axels. Uno said later that he felt maybe too relaxed. In general, he receives too high GOEs especially for his quads as the landings are often tight. The 19-year-old needs to improve his technique. It is also strange that his component score was almost as high as Hanyu’s in the free skating.
Mai Mihara and Wakaba Higuchi turned in clean performances. Both competed for the first time in the Team Trophy and enjoyed it. Mihara was especially happy about landing the triple flip in her short program. She had missed that jump in the short at Worlds which might have cost her the bronze medal (SP 3rd/FS 2nd). The dynamic Higuchi landed even triple Axels in practice. She plans to do it next season in the free skating, as she said (5th/3rd). The battle for the two Olympic ladies spots will be tough. Not only Mihara and Higuchi will vie for it, but also Satoko Miyahara, who missed Worlds due to a stress fracture in her hip, as well as 2017 World Junior silver medalist Marin Honda and 2017 World Junior bronze medalist Kaori Sakamoto.
Pair skaters Sumire Suto & Francis Boudreau-Audet had some problems with the solo jumps and the throws (6th/6th). They are in a tough situation right now. “Probably we will try to get that Olympic spot at the qualifying competition, but we will not be able to use it ourselves. It is a difficult situation, but I knew from the beginning that I will not get citizenship,” Canadian Boudreau-Audet said. He is studying Japanese, but that is not enough to fulfill the strict requirements. Japan has two other pairs without a foreign partner, but they are significantly weaker.
Ice dancers Kana Muramoto & Chris Reed do not have citizenship problems. They skated clean and had good levels, but they earned less on the GOE and got a little less in the component scores than their direct competitors (5th/6th). Muramoto hopes that the World Team Trophy will spur interest in the pair disciplines in Japan. “I heard that usually pair skating and ice dance is not shown on the main channels, but this time everything was broadcasted at prime time. Hopefully interest will grow when people can see pairs and ice dance on TV. But in order to get to a high level you have to go abroad to train which is expensive and problematic because of school,” she explained.
“I am happy and surprised that we ended up in first place and I am very grateful. I am too happy for words actually. I think team Japan was able to grasp this event together as a team and we were able to make a statement as a new team Japan,” she said.
Russia: Medvedeva tops them all
Russia again could mostly rely on their ladies and especially Evgenia Medvedeva was phenomenal. She did not miss a single element in practice or in competition. Only the double Axel in the short program was bit shaky and perfectionist Evgenia was not completely satisfied with herself. But that was quickly forgotten when she saw her new record score. “I just enjoyed this season and I hope the next one will be as good. I still can improve something and I do not have the most difficult technical content. I can do harder combinations and I can fix my triple Lutz,” the 17-year-old noted. So far, what she does is more than enough, though. The judges showered her with +3 GOEs and 17 times a perfect 10.00 in the components for her expressive long program to “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” (1st/1st).
Elena Radionova skated also very well, but a stumble on the double Axel was enough to finish fifth in the free. “I need to work more and harder on my free program,” Radionova stated. She came second in the short. Mikhail Kolyada impressed with his clean jumps and excellent spins, and he only missed his quad Lutz. “It will happen next season. I have changed something in my training to achieve more consistency,” he revealed (4th/5th).
Maxim Kovtun did not have his best competition. He doubled the Salchow and the Axel in the short and several jumps were wobbly in the free (11th/10th). Pair skater Evgenia Tarasova fell on the triple toe and the throw triple loop in the short program, but in the free things went better for her and partner Vladimir Morozov (5th/2nd). Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev came third in both segments. In the short dance he struggled with the twizzles and the also looked a bit tired in the free dance. Bobrova thrived on her role as team captain. “I like to take responsibility. I set up a whats app group and I am the administrator of the group. In the group I inform everybody about where they have to go and what to do, what to wear and so on. The Russian skaters had many original ideas for the Kiss & Cry and won the “team spirit award.”
As captain, Bobrova took part in the press conference and analyzed the performance of her team.
“Our team did not perform to their maximum, but we really felt the festive atmosphere of this competition. We enjoyed our skating as much as we could and we were very happy the season is over. We congratulated each other and think we ended the season on a high note,” the ice dancer commented. The level of competition at the Olympic Games will be totally different. Here at this event not all top skaters of the teams were here, there were some new ones like the American pair (Cain & LeDuc). I think it will be very interesting, because it is a 100 percent likely that the best of the best will compete. The top three can be totally different and you cannot say what the outcome will be. We should not forget the Canadian team was not with their top skaters here, but Canada is strong in all disciplines, differently from some other countries,” Bobrova answered when asked about the Olympic team competition.
USA: Defending champions take bronze
The USA have won the World Team Trophy three times – in 2009, 2013 and 2015 – but this time they settled for the bronze. The Americans won one segment of the competition – the short dance with an excellent outing by Madison Chock & Evan Bates. The dancers again were the highest scoring team members in the free program where they came second. Bates stumbled in the serpentine step sequence, but the program to “Under Pressure” was still very good. “We need to work on being more consistent every time that we go out [on the ice]. We’ve had some great performances but also some ups and downs so we’re really going to work on consistency,” Chock admitted. “This has been a very long and challenging year for us. There have been a lot of highs and some lows as well. It has been up and down and it makes you tired by the end of the year. We are ready to start our new programs and have a clean slate. We are ready to go through that creative process again which is one of the reasons that we love this sport so much“, Bates added. The couple already has announced that they will skate to “La La Land” in the free dance next season.
Nathan Chen put out a strong short program, but he decided to take out the quad Lutz due to a sore ankle. “It will be back next season,” the “quad king” promised, but he also want to express the music more and have more connection to the audience. He made a few mistakes in the free skating (2nd/4th).
Jason Brown proved once more that you can be competitive without a quad as long as all your other elements are strong, but it is still not enough to get to the very top if the others don’t make mistakes. Brown’s programs were a real pleasure to watch, even though he singled a loop in the free. “I was super excited with my performance. I’m bummed about messing up my loop, but other than that I’m very pleased. I felt like it was clean, polished and it was a nice farewell to the program. To do that here in Japan with this incredible crowd in front of my teammates, is a great feeling. I’m really proud of our team,” Brown told the press (5th/6th).
Ashley Wagner skated really well, too, but since she under-rotated her triple-triple combinations she did not get into the top three. “This has been a turbulent season for me so to finish with such a strong performance was really nice. That wasn’t perfect, but I fought for every single thing“, the 2016 World silver medalist shared. “This competition is really special because it really is a chance to go out and enjoy your programs. There is pressure, but everyone has a really relaxed mindset. We’re able to go out on the ice and be a little more free and I enjoy that. This was a competitive field and I’m proud that the United States is bringing home a medal. This is a great event to end the season with“, she added (6th/6th).
Karen Chen was not able to continue the momentum from Worlds where she had finished fourth. She popped some jumps or fell (8th/9th). Ashley Cain & Timothy LeDuc are still a very new team, they need to gel more and improve their pair elements, but they landed a triple loop in the free (5th/5th).
Team captain Wagner was pleased with how the team did. "I think it was a fantastic event for team USA to have some rookies to perform as well as they did and everybody working together to get to this third place. I think that we definitely could have been stronger in some areas, but understandably though I think that what we created together and this accomplishment is something that I’m very proud of. Team USA worked very hard and I think this was a very successful competition for us“, she said.
Wagner agreed with Bobrova that the team event will be different. “There are going to be more top players involved. For the US particularly, we’re not going to have Meryl (Davis) and Charlie (White) to rely on, so it’s going to come down to a lot of strategizing. Beyond that I think that we’ll have a little bit more of an experienced pairs team competing for us. As for the dance we’ll see how things shake out, but I think that our men are continuing to build and hopefully continue that momentum into the next season as well as for the ladies. I think that going into this Olympic season this was a great experience to compete together as a team, because it is important to have a reminder of what that kind of pressure feels like. At the end of the day, we have a lot of work ahead of us and I know it’s going to be a very competitive team event,” she said.
Canada: The Olympic Games will be a different story
Canada led the team standings this season, but they came to Tokyo without Kaetlyn Osmond and Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford. Radford is still recovering from the muscle injury that handicapped him at Worlds. Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir were not the highest ranked Canadian dance team in the ISU World Standings while Kaetlyn Osmond had decided beforehand that she would take a break after Worlds. Even without Virtue & Moir, ice dance was the highest scoring discipline for the Canadians. Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje delivered two excellent performances, were second in the short dance and first in the free dance. Patrick Chan wanted to risk for the first time a second quad in the short, but the Salchow became only a wobbly triple and then he also fell on the triple Axel. Chan recovered in the free and completed three quads and he only singled an Axel and touched down on the triple Axel. “I feel good, because it’s the first time I did all three quads in the long program. Of course there still were some mistakes. Even yesterday’s experience is part of the process, but that’s the plan for next year – to do two quads in the short,” Chan said (6th/3rd).
Gabrielle Daleman made not major errors (4th/4th) and pair skaters Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro convinced with solid skates (3rd/4th). Alaine Chartrand still struggled with consistency (10th/11th). Lubov Ilyushechkina & Dylan Moscovitch were unable to come as her – still Russian – passport did not have two free pages left that she would have needed for the visa and stamp. It apparently takes long to get a new passport from the Russian embassy in Toronto. The Canadian team will play a bigger role at the Olympic Games when they have all top skaters on board. Then they are gold medal contenders.
China: Pair skating remains the strength
Like the Canadians, the Chinese did not have all their top skaters competing. World champions Wenjing Sui & Cong Han were in Toronto to work with choreographer Lori Nichol on their new programs and Han Yan is still recovering from his shoulder surgery. World bronze medalist Boyang Jin was not in top shape and struggled with some jumps, but his „Spiderman“ short program was popular again (3rd/7th). Cheng Pen & Yang Jin are number three in China, but they belong to the best in the world and shone especially in the short program. She fell on a double Axel in the free, but all the other elements were strong (2nd/3rd). Zijun Li (9th/7th)and Xiangning Li (8th/8th) turned in solid performances, but they are not quite at the top as they are still lacking consistency. Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu confirmed their position as the top Asian dance team, skated with good flow and had strong levels (4th/4th).
France: James & Cipres impress
Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres finished the best season of their career so far on a high note in Tokyo. They gave two strong performances and achieved two personal best, winning both segments. James landed the quad throw Salchow in the free on two feet, but that remained the only glitch. “It’s something you dream about doing, but when it actually happens it still feels like a dream. We are very happy and proud, but it was not easy. But it shows the work pays off,” James said. “It was just amazing today. All the teams in the boxes stood up for us, that really touched me,” Cipres shared.
However, France was significantly weaker in the other disciplines and therefore finished clearly in sixth and last place. Chafik Besseghier showed almost everything he can do, but his skating is rather unpolished does not get many points on the GOE (8th/8th). Kevin Aymoz, who landed his first quad toe in practice in Tokyo did not have his nerves under control and made some mistakes (9th/11th). Neither Laurine Lecavelier (11th/10th) nor Mae-Bérénice Meité (12th/12th) were able to skate their best. Marie-Jade Lauriault & Romain Le Gac put out two good dances, but compared to the other teams they still look a bit like juniors (6th/5th). Two-time World Champions Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron did not come as he had to have new stitches on his hand that he had cut in the short dance and Worlds, as coach Romain Haguenauer said.