Wednesday, February 23, 2011

2011 Four Continents Wrap-Up

Well another major figure skating event is in the books and the 2011 Four Continents Championships was a pretty good one at that. Unlike previous seasons, we saw primarily the top teams from Canada, China, Japan, and the US which made for some pretty stiff competition.

The first event to kick off was ice dance, which marked the season debut of Olympic and World champions Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir. While it took most top dance teams a few competitions to get used to the short dance and what the judges wanted, Virtue & Moir sailed through and took the lead over training mates Davis & White by 0.40. Weaver & Poje of Canada received all level 4s, the only team to do so, and finished the event in 3rd while the young Shibutani siblings finished a strong 4th. The short dance is the weaker dance for Crone & Poirier as well as Chock & Zuerlein and they finished 5th and 6th respectively. But the real drama came in the free dance as Virtue & Moir abruptly stopped skating about a third of the way through their program. Everybody assumed it was related to Tessa's injury, but we found out later that it was simply a strained quad muscle and she didn't want to risk more damage. The beginning of their free dance was quite fantastic, though it was a bit rough around the edges for me and I think Davis & White still would've won. The withdrawal of Virtue & Moir means we'll have to wait until worlds (how dramatic) to see the epic showdown between training mates to steal the top step of the podium. A mistake-filled free dance by Weaver & Poje allowed the incredible Shibutani siblings to slip past for a well deserved silver medal. Crone & Poirier also slipped by for the bronze while Weaver & Poje fell to 4th and Chock & Zuerlein finished 5th.

Pairs got off to an equally dramatic start. The short program was a bit of a splat-fest with mistakes from just about everybody but Pang & Tong, Duhamel & Radford, and Lawrence & Swiegers, who landed 1st, 2nd, and 3rd respectively. Then there was the drama from Mark Ladwig who ended up with a broken skate boot and Rudi Swiegers who lent him his to finish the short program. The free skate was a bit anticlimactic as the top three skated clean and held their places while skaters in 4th-9th went on to make more small mistakes and the rankings stayed primarily the same. Americans Yankowskas & Coughlin and Evora & Ladwig as well as Canadians Moore-Towers and Moscovitch and Japan's Takahashi & Tran all looked quite tired during this event, but then again its such a long season and the Americans haven't even had a month break since nationals. The month between this event and worlds in March will do them good and they'll be able to get some much needed rest. At this point the programs have been completely committed to muscle memory and teams need to focus on the mental aspects of competition. What this competition showed for me is that these teams can still pull competitive scores even when they aren't perfect so the world better watch out for them next month if they skate they way they did at their respective nationals.

The mens competition gave viewers exactly what they expected as the Japanese stole the show with a few Americans sprinkled in. The old Takahashi that we know and love can back to us with two stellar programs to win the title. Jeremy Abbot put up a valiant effort in the short to reach second, but fell to third after a fall on a quad toe in the free. Though he was hoping for a perfect competition, this event proved to judges and to Jeremy himself that he is still relevant and that he still has a lot to skate for though he isn't going to worlds. Rising Japanese star Kozuka faltered in the short program and though he put up a great effort in the free skate, he couldn't quite make it to the podium and finished in 4th. The guy who took everybody by surprise was Hanyu, the 4th place finisher at Japanese nationals, who finished 3rd in each segment but took the silver medal overall. Americans Adam Rippon and Armin Mahbanoozadeh finished in 5th and 7th respectively while  China's Jinlin Guan snuck between them for 6th.

And now to the crown jewel of any figure skating competition, the ladies event. For some reason the ladies event always makes me more nervous than any other, but this competition actually was less dramatic than most. Miki Ando skated first of the major contenders in the short and put up a huge score that put her in the lead and she held onto that lead until the medals were awarded and hers was gold. Rachael Flatt (sorry if I sound partial) skated a phenomenal short program and while it was a bit more reserved than it was at US Nationals last month, it was still quite spectacular and filled with passion. The judges awarded her with a score that was, I believe, about 9 points higher than her season's best and both her technical elements and program components were comparable with the other top ladies. She clearly made the right decision to change her short program and if she performs it like this at worlds, it will set her up to place very high and perhaps even medal. Alissa Czisny fell on a lutz early in her program, but she did not fall apart and finished a respectable 5th, which tells me she has changed because "old Alissa" would have melted down and finished the short program out of the top group. Akiko Suzuki also struggled and finished the short in 6th. Reigning world champion Mao Asada came back with a vengeance from a disappointing fall season to finish her short in second place, though I would have placed her behind Flatt because of her truly hideous landing on her triple axel. Mirai Nagasu also delivered a strong short, though her jumps were a bit tight and finished in 6th. Not much movement happened in the free skate as Ando and Asada skated flawless programs to finish first and second, while Nagasu also skated a near perfect program to finish third. Rachael Flatt had a few negative GOEs on jumps which dropped her to 4th, but I'm not worried because she is going to peak at worlds and be perfect. Alissa had another fall in the free, but again, she showed her poise and held the program together to finish fifth.

Overall I was please with this competition (no thanks to Universal Sports) and it was great to see some rematches of old rivalries as well as a preview of what will happen at Worlds. Take out the skaters who won't be competing in Tokyo, throw in some Europeans, and Worlds is shaping up to be one epic figure skating competition!

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