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2019 Four Continents Championships, Ladies

by Klaus-Reinhold Kany








(11 February 2019)  The ladies event was the first competition of the Four Continents Championships 2019 which took place in the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Skaters from the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania may participate in this ISU event which was founded 20 years ago as continental championships for all non-European skaters as a counterpart to the European Championships.

None of the top three ladies of the short program won a medal. Rika Kihira from Japan, winner of the Grand Prix Final two months ago, was only fifth in the short program. But finally she took the gold medal, gaining 221.99 points. In the short to “Clair de Lune“ by Claude Debussy, she popped the Axel which was planned triple. This cost her more than ten points. Her combination of triple flip and triple toe loop as well as her triple Lutz, the spins and step sequence were excellent and had mainly GOEs of +3. Her components were around 8.3. She said, “I hesitated doing the triple Axel, but I ended up including it into the program. Although the performance was not great, there is tomorrow.“

She started the free program with a huge triple Axel, followed with a combination of double Axel and triple toe loop, a shaky triple loop and five more very good triples. Skating to "Beautiful Storm“ by Jennifer Thomas, her spins and steps were excellent again and she skated with high speed. “I really wanted to give my best to today’s performance“, she explained. “I was able to leave yesterday’s mistake behind. I was hardly able to practice my triple Axel in this rink. The rink here was different from the practice rink, so I decided to do a double and no second triple Axel in my combination.“

Elizabet Tursynbaeva from Kazakhstan won the silver medal with 207.46 points although she was sixth in the short and third in the free program. In the summer, she had moved back from Toronto to Moscow where she had trained as a child. In the short, her triple Lutz and her combination of triple flip and triple toe loop were very good, but she stepped out of the double Axel and one spin was a bit shaky.

In the free program, Tursynbaeva tried the quad Salchow as first element, landed backwards, but fell. She recovered quickly and performed seven good or very good triple jumps, excellent spins and steps. Her components were around 8.0. Afterwards she said, “I feel really happy. The medal means a lot for me because I had hard times and I’ve been working hard with my new coaches. I tried the quad Salchow for the first time in competition. I started working on the quad Salchow a long time ago, and then I stopped because of the injury. Now I was feeling physically ready.“

The second Japanese skater Mai Mihara took the bronze medal with 207.12 points and the second best free program after being only eighth in the short program. There, she landed the triple toe loop forward after the triple Lutz of her combination. The other elemens were very good. “I made a mistake on the triple-triple that I wouldn’t even make during my practices“, she said.

She began her free program with a combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop, but the toe loop was under-rotated. Five other triple jumps, two double Axels and the spins were very good, the steps and her style even excellent. Her components had an average of 8.4. She said, “I think I skated today’s free program well and solidly. Before my practice, I felt this is America because a lot of audience are cheerful, and I appreciated being in this big event.“

Kaori Sakamoto from Japan, the Four Continents Champion last year, finished on fourth position, earning 206.79 points, after being second in the short program. There, his combination of triple flip and triple toe loop were excellent, the triple loop even outstanding. In the free she dropped out of a medal position although she did not fall. Her triple Lutz got a small edge call, she singled the second double Axel and doubled a toe loop which was planned triple. She said, “From the start, I was not able to skate my skate. I was very nervous, and I missed some elements. It was such a disappointment, but I learned from this failure.“

For all three US ladies, this Four Continents Championship in their own country was a big disappointment. Two of them were in a podium position in the short, but dropped in the free program. Bradie Tennell from the Chicago area, second at Nationals two weeks before, had taken the lead in a flawless short program with seven excellent elements, including a combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop. The two last spins even got a few GOEs of +5 and she had more sparkle and expression than in previous competitions. She explained, “I feel like I performed very well, I’m extremely happy with how I did. It’s exactly how I train at home and what I wanted to do here, to go out there and trust myself and trust my training. I love my free program to Romeo and Juliet, I’ve loved the music for a long time.“

But in her free program, she did not look as fresh any more and dropped to fifth place with 202.07 overall points. After a good double Axel she added a single loop instead of a triple one to the triple Lutz. Four of the next triple jumps were under-rotated and only one other triple jump, a Salchow was good. The spins and steps were as excellent as usual. She commented, “I have been hitting the combination every time all week, the only place I’ve been missing it is in competition, so it’s very frustrating. Maybe I am a little bit exhausted after Nationals but that’s not an excuse for the way I performed.“

Mariah Bell from the training school of Rafael Arutunian ended up on sixth place with 193.94 points after beeing third in the short program. Here, all elements were at least good, including a combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop. She said, “I’m really excited. It felt good, I think it’s the first time I’ve put out a really solid short program and I have so much more room to grow.“

But in the free program, after a very good combination of double Axel and triple toe loop she fell on the triple loop, doubled the toe loop after the triple flip and also doubled the first Lutz. Two more triple were good, steps and spins even very good.

She explained, “I’m nervous all the time, but if was going to make any excuse I think it would be that we had a really quick turnaround from our Nationals. I didn’t have quite the amount of time that I wanted to train in between competitions. There were silly mistakes today. I was surprised by the fall on the (triple) loop and then I kind of had a hard time re-focusing after that.“

The two South Korean skaters Eunsoo Lim and Yelim Kim finished seventh and eighth with 191.85 and 187.93 points. They did not fall but made several smaller mistakes. The two Canadian ladies Veronik Mallet and Larkyn Austman took the ninth and tenth place with 170.46 and 165.21 points.

The third US skater Ting Cui of Colorado Springs ended up eleventh with 164.84 points, after being seventh in a short program with a good combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop, but only a basic level for one spin. She said, “I was a little bit shaky on some things but I’m just happy I was able to go out there and get my jumps done. It was so much fun skating for the crowd, especially during my footwork, that was great.“

But in her free program, which was only the 14th best, she was exhausted, fell on three triple jumps and made other small mistakes. She said, “I don’t really know what happened. I’ll have to go back and watch and analyze my performance but it just kind of got away from me. I think I was a little hesitant. I was trying to regain my focus after the mistakes but that was just a rough program.“ Maybe she was exhausted because she just came from a team camp in Ohio for the participants of Junior Worlds. It was not a good idea to hold this in the ten days between Nationals and Four Continents even for those Juniors who were nominated for Four Continents. Her coach Tom Zakrajsek had told NBC, “We do what we are told we have to do (by U.S. Figure Skating). And the camp was not negotiable.”

Brooklee Han from Australia withdrew before the free program after aggravating an injury to her left foot in practice.