2009 Four Continents Championships

Vancouver, BC

Bringing you the best skaters from five continents!


Competition Reports

Ladies Report     Men's Report    Pairs Report    Dance Report


Sunday, 8 February

It's all over except for the exhibition, which begins at noon.

This has been the best Four Continents Championships ever, thanks to this being the venue for next year's Winter Olympic Games.  We are unlikely to see the best skaters for each country competing in a 4C anytime again soon.  Attendance was very good, by current standards, though one would have thought with gold medal contenders in every event, the competition might have drawn even better than it did.  Only the Ladies final had a stand-out crowd; and then for that event, there seemed to be more people in the building  rooting for Yu-Na Kim than Joannie Rochette.

The competitors now have six weeks to lick their wounds and plan their final strategies for the World Championships in Los Angeles.  Patrick Chan leaves here the new favorite in the Men's event.  Though he does not have a quad, he gets big component marks, and his programs are held out as the epitome of how programs should be constructed under IJS.  Evan Lysacek restored some of the luster to his current reputation by placing second here with two strong skates, and landing a nice quad toe loop in the process -- something he had supposedly give up on.  (So, was that a change of heart, or pre-Nationals head games?)

The three Ladies medalists here should all be in the mix at Worlds, with the addition of Lepisto and Kostner.  There is no good reason for it that we can see, but Mao Asada displayed the least confidence here in mental attitude, even though she has the tools to win if she puts them to good use.  It has not gone unnoticed that the best placing U.S. Lady here will not be competing at Worlds.  Czisny and Flatt are now under even more intense pressure to earn three Olympic berths for the U.S.  Caroline Zhang returns to Junior Worlds where she has won a Gold and Silver in past appearances.

Of the non-European pairs, Pang & Tong leave here seemingly the most prepared for Worlds.  The U.S. teams, on the other hand, leave here with plenty of homework.

In Dance, Davis & White enhanced their reputation by winning here.  Nevertheless, Virtue & Moir, are still contenders for Worlds, since Virtue was competing while still recovering from surgery on her legs, and she now has six more weeks to get back into top form.  The response to Samuelson & Bates was also encouraging.  Belbin & Agosto are being monitored, and if they are not healthy enough to place at least as well at Worlds as might Davis & White, or Samuelson & Bate, there is a good chance they may miss Worlds this year.

The competition was well run with generally good ice, good lighting, and good backstage facilities.  Still, it is a good thing VANOC has another year to prepare, since much will be different next year, and many secondary (but still important) aspects of the competition did not go smoothly.  They have yet to try out the facility will full size ice, and the configuration of the arena will be significantly different when an Olympic size surface is put in place.  How all that will be tested before next February is not clear, since no skating event is scheduled for this building between now and the Olympics.

One final lesson learned from this competition, is that when it comes to Program Components when competing under IJS, the Canadian skaters get it.  Their entire World Team in all disciplines gets it.  And the U.S. doesn't.  A few individual American competitors get it, but only a few.

Decent attendance for the exhibition -- about 6000.

Saturday, 7 February

The Championship events finished up with the Free Skate for the men, with the last warmup group turning in a thrilling set of performances.  Patrick Chan gave a nearly flawless performance winning the gold medal by a 12.04 point margin.  Even Lysacek gave a season best performance to win the silver.  Takahiko Kozuka was fourth in the Free Skate but held on for the bronze overall.  Lysacek landed a clean quad toe loop, as did Chenjiang Li, who combined it with a double toe loop.  Brandon Mroz got credit for getting around on a quad attempt, but put a hand down.  Weirdest program of the day goes to Chenjiang Li who skated to a mix of Queen combined with ...  wait for it ... wait for it ... Beethoven.  Estimated attendance: 4200.

Following up on our comments two days ago about how every event seems to have the last place skaters consistently get component marks in the mid threes and the first place skater got marks in the mid sevens, regardless of the event size, we note that the pattern held true for the Free Dance and the singles Free Skates.

Then we also noticed this.  In the Ladies Free Skate the last six ladies (who placed 19-24) had an average component score of 3.85, but in the Short Program, where there were 35 competitors, these same skaters (who also placed 19-24) had an average component score of 4.21.  Like, oh my God!  Overnight these poor girls lost 10% of their component skills.  Just gone, in one day.  Where could they have gone?  Those component skill must be hard to retain if 10% of your skills come and go in a day.  Or could it be that maybe by placing the skaters using the components, the components are not entirely about the skills the skaters actually display or have.

And speaking of losing your component skill, comparing the U.S. skaters here with their performances at U.S. Nationals, out of 27 performance, for 23 of them (nearly 90%) the component scores here are less than they received at Nationals.  In a few cases as much as 15% less.  Not even two weeks and 10-15% of their component skills have disappeared!  Clearly the skaters need to pay more attention to were they place their component skills so they don't just go off and disappear when they aren't looking.  Maybe they got lost by the airlines when they traveled here and are now in some baggage claim area on another continent.  The airlines can do that you  know.

Or could it be that the judges collectively remain incapable of marking the components with more that 10-15% consistency on an absolute scale.  Maybe it isn't even an absolute scale at all.  And if the judges can't  mark consistently on an absolute scale to better than 10-15%, as these results show, why are we trying to determine the winners to the nearest 0.01 point which is 1/200 of one percent of the score.  We don't know what a program is really worth to within 15%, but we are going to determine the places to within 0.01 point!

(BTW, as we have noted many times, human judgment is typically only good to 10-15% in an absolute sense, so what we see in skating scores is not surprising to anyone familiar with the characteristics of human judgment.  The problem is not entirely the lack of skill by the judges.  The problem is that the system expects the judges to perform beyond human capability, and is not designed with human limitations in mind.  Not a good design approach.)


Friday, 6 February

Davis & White gave a flawless performance to win the Free Dance and capture the gold medal, overtaking Virtue & Moir, who won the silver medal.  Samuelson & Bates gave an outstanding performance and held third place in the Free Dance to win the bronze medal.  This is Samuelson & Bates' first ISU Senior medal, and well deserved.  It was nice to see the judges do right by the two American couples.  Maybe someone read them the riot act after the Original Dance.  Estimated attendance: 1600.

Mao Asada won the Ladies Free Skate and made up enough ground to move up to the podium and with the bronze.  Yu-Na Kim was third in the Free Skate, but with the huge lead she accumulated in the Short Program, won the event overall.  Joannie Rochette had an excellent skate, and won the Silver.  Mao popped her opening triple Axel, but landed the subsequent attempt.  The best placing American Lady was Caroline Zhang, who placed fourth in the long and fourth overall.  Rachael Flatt was seventh and Alissa Czisny ninth.  Flatt and Czisny will be representing the U.S. at Worlds next month, and earning 13 points between them in Los Angeles to win three Olympic berths looks like it will be a struggle.  Estimated attendance: 9000.  It was a nice sized crowd, with an enthusiastic response for the last warmup group.

During the pause between each skater, the common practice at major competitions is to play contemporary songs to distract the restless natives in the audience. Two days ago one of the songs played (at deafening levels) included an explicit lyric, and I though at the time 'clearly they don't listen to these songs before they play them.'  The song "Girlfirend", by Avril Lavigne, includes the lyric "And hell yeah I'm the mother f******g princess."  Well, they played it again tonight.  Maybe they are just a lot more liberal up here in Canada than back home.

Thursday, 5 February

The Original Dance, Pairs Free Skate and Men's Short Program go off today.  There are 26 entries in the Men's event, two of whom will be cut after the Short Program.

Preparations continue around the venue as they practice for the Winter Games.  Though this is the Olympic venue, this competition is not really a faithful test of the facility.  The plumbing has been put in to make an Olympic sized surface (30 m X 60 m) and the seats can be configured for that size surface, but they have laid down an NHL sized ice surface for this competition.  This is because the hockey team that is the arena tenant (the Vancouver Giants, the number two ranked junior team in Canada) will be playing on the existing surface until three months before the Games.  After the Short Program both Pang & Tong and Zhang & Zhang commented that the narrower width of the arena has presented problems for them.  The other areas where this event is not a full test of the Olympic competition is that the practice arena that will be used in 2010 is not yet ready and is not being used this week. The hockey team will be on the road for the three months before the Games, a sore point for the local fans.

A reader responded to our comments on having school kiddies at U.S. events by reminding us that when Four Continents was in Salt Lake City in 2001 as a test event for the Olympic, Utah-Jazz-great Karl Malone paid the cost of having classes bussed in to see the competition,  We also recall the occasional Nationals many years ago when that was done.  But his has only been an intermittent effort.  As skating works on rebuilding its fan base, it is our view that this should be a standard part of every major event hosted in the U.S.  Skating is only going to have limited success wooing back older fans.  Better to take the long view, and get them while they are young, and then keep them while they grow up.  And maybe some will also end up taking up the sport as a result of it.  Plus, the kiddies also bring an immense amount of energy to the room, which the skaters love.  Every child in these groups is worth 20 grown up fans when it comes to enthusiasm.

Still one group to go on the Ice Dance, but we can tell you now, Virtue & Moir win the Original Dance and remain in first place.  Davis & White's "Happy Feet" certainly gave me happy feet while watching, but they remained in second place,  Third place has yet to be decided.  About 1000 paying customers in the lower bowl this morning.  A hoard of enthusiastic school kids fill the upper bowl.  There were 2200 of them up in the rafters (according to the school board representative I spoke to).

In the last warmup group of the Dance Samuelson & Bates gave a lively, well executed dance that gave them third in the Original Dance and moved them up to third overall.  During the ice cut, the upper bowl went back to school, leaving about 1000 on hand, now waiting for the Pairs Free Skate, which starts in about 1 hour.  It turns out three of nine judges favored Davis & White over Virtue & Moir in components, and one judge had them tied in components.  Davis & White wuz robbed say we.

In the Pairs final the top four maintained their positions in the Short Program for the final standings.  McLaughlin & Brubaker placed third in the Free Skate which moved them up to fifth overall.  Duhamel & Buntin dropped to sixth in the long, but held fourth place overall.  About 1400 paying customers were in the audience and another 900 school kids were in the rafters (school board supplied number).  Men's Short Program is next.

As other favorites faltered, or made the smallest of error, Patrick Chan left the rest of the field no margin for error, racking up 88.90 points in the Men's Short Program.  Evan Lysacek had one of his best skates of the season and lies in second place, over 7 points back.  Estimated attendance for the evening is 2000.  And the Ken Congemi watch continues!  He put on Luis Hernandez from Mexico (and southern California) tonight.

The component marks for the men this evening seemed remarkable stingy.  So we will remark upon it.

The last place man here (26th place) got component marks that averaged 3.37.  That's a pretty low mark.  The 20th place man was still under four.  Only by 13th place did the components averaged near five.  Now compare that to the Ladies Short Program,  The 35th lady got component marks that also averaged 3.37.  The 20th place lady was in the mid fours (vs. under four for the men) an the 13th place lady was in the mid to upper fives (vs. not even five for the men).  At the top of the scale, the best man's components averaged 7.72 and the best ladies' components averaged 7.51 -- virtually the same.

What that means, is either the men (as a group) are distinctly weaker skaters than the ladies, with only the top 12 men able to keep up with the top 12 ladies; or something is fishy with the use of the marks.

One interpretation is that the two short programs were marked using a midpoint and range, with the first place skater set to an upper bound of about 7.50-7,75 and last place skater to a lower bound of about 3.25-3.50, independent of the number of skaters in the two groups.  Looking further, for the Original Dance, with only 11 couples, the first place couple has components around 7.5 and the last place couple around 3.25.  A similar pattern is followed for the Compulsory Dance.  For Pairs, the upper bound was around 7.5 and the lower bound is at 4.0.

It is hard to accept that the winners in every segment thus far, have nearly the exact same component skills on an absolute scale, and the last place skaters (regardless of group size), have nearly the exact same component skills on an absolute marking scale.  It defies credibility.

Wednesday, 4 February

Events begin today with the Finnstep,  Pairs Short Program and Ladies Short Program.  It will be interesting to see who has properly prepared for the Compulsory Dance and who has not.  Just got a peek at the ladies practice today.  Mao looked hot, Yu-Na semi-hot.

Virute & Moir win the Finnstep, followed by Davis & White.  An audience of about 1000 were on hand.  Several classes of school kiddies were cheering enthusiastically for the home team.  Why doesn't the U.S. do this at its events?  The top six places in the Compulsory Dance were taken by the three American and three Canadian couples.

Pang & Tong won the pairs Short Program before an audience of about 1800.  Best U.S. placement was Inoue & Baldwin in fifth place.

Ladies Short Program is now going on,  For all those in cyberspace who have been wondering what Ken Congemi is up to, he had a lady in the first warmup group, Mary Grace Baldo, representing the Philippines.  Ladies won't get interesting for another two hours, when we get to the fifth warmup group, of six.

Well, this didn't turn at as planned!  Of the favorites, Yu-Na Kim had the best skate of the night and has a solid lead.  Joannie Rochette had a clean skate, ending up second, and Cynthia Phaneuf gave her best performance of the year, and now lies in third.  Mao Asada had the triple loop in her triple-triple downgraded and also missed her triple Lutz, to end up sixth in the short.

About 1000 spectators held out to the bitter end, with the event not finishing until nearly 11:30 PM, down from about 1400 at the start.  The Pairs Short Program was the best attended event today.  Ticket sales total for the day were 3624, but at  no point were there that many people in the arena.  Still, it was a good crowd for the first day.

The arena is very well lit, and the ice was in generally good conditions though it took a long time setting up, and for a large part of the Ladies Short Program there were wet spots in front of the judges, where the arena lights are the brightest.

Tuesday, 3 February

At Tuesday's draw, Canadian champion Joannie Rochette got the prize spot, 36th, the final competitor in the large field from 14 countries who will perform the short program on Wednesday evening. The top ISU ranked skaters drew for the last 12 slots. As top ranked competitor, Mao Asada, was the first to draw - she picked 33rd. Yu-na Kim's name was called next but she did not attend the meeting, possibly because she had practiced several hours earlier. An official made the draw for her - 34th. Caroline Zhang and Rachael Flatt will skate immediately after the second ice resurface in 25th and 26th places, followed by Binshu Xu of China, then Alissa Czisny, Cynthia Phaneuf and Japan's Akiko Suzuki. Fumie Suguri skates 31st, immediately after the last warm-up and then comes Anastasia Gimazetdinova. After Asada and Kim, just before Rochette comes another Korean named Kim. Her first name is Na-Young.

Rochette said, "I feel at 23, I have a second chance with my career. It make me excited for the Olympics coming up. I know Mao and Yu-na are great skaters but they are also human. Anything can happen. We all have a job to do when we get on the ice. I'm landing triple-triple jumps and I'm proud of that. I keep improving. I had a personal best at Canadians. I'm happy with practice after Canadians. I changed the Lutz to the combo rather than the triple flip. Now I do triple Lutz to triple toe combination and a triple flip. I've just done my fifth practice here so the Arena is beginning to feel like home to me. When the Olympics come, I won't feel overwhelmed. I know the atmosphere will be ten times bigger at the Olympics but I'll be ready for it.

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