The highlight of day one at Four Continents, the test event for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang?
At least among the Canadians, it was Gabby Daleman, a 19-year-old with the mental strength to clobber an apparition, a negative thought, a potential bad day at the office. With all the will she could muster, she landed a triple Lutz. Just refused to let it go. Wouldn’t fail. The fumble on the jump ended up costing her very little and was just enough to put herself into the lead in the short program with 68.25 points, only .04 points ahead of Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond. Her attitude popped her on top.
Osmond delivered all the big tricks, but fell on a double Axel. Elizabet Tursynbaeva, of Kazakhstan, just turned 17, but who looks 12 on a good day, is third after ripping off all the big tricks, including a triple Lutz-triple toe loop, but just not maximizing her GOE. Mia Mihara of Japan landed the same combo but was more efficient with the GOE and ended up getting 11.70 for it, .70 more than the Teensy One. Good enough for fourth. The top four skaters are separated by only 1.74 points. In this game, every zillionth of a point matters.
Daleman’s coach, Lee Barkell, smiled broadly when the marks came up, showing the placing of his student. Daleman allowed herself only a moment of glee. The job is far from over.
Daleman admitted that her short program was “a bit of a fight.” Yet she fought, even though she felt herself slipping before her magnificent triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination and again, going into her flying camel. Although her combo is deemed less difficult than the others at the top, Daleman goes into it like a freight train. It’s a thing of beauty. She received +3s from five of the nine judges and that gave her 10.30 for that element. Osmond’s triple flip – triple toe loop netted her 11.00 points, while Tursynbaeva got only half a point more, and Mihara 1.10 more.
“I’m just thrilled that I fought for everything,” Daleman said, and well she should be. “It’s just an amazing feeling. I felt so comfortable and I got into my knees.” She said it helped that Osmond skated before her. It gave her the semblance of skating at home, in front of Canadians. It kept her calm. She was patient. That was key.
About 2 ½ years ago, Daleman (and other members of the Canadian team) came to a plot of land that was to become the 2018 Olympic figure skating arena and saw only a pile of dirt. Now it has been transformed into a modern arena seating 12,000 people. The chills are not lost on her, but she sees Four Continents as merely a stepping stone to the world championships in another month and a half.
Osmond said there were lots of things she could have done to be more stable on her feet. The short program had been clean all season. She’s not 100 per cent sure about what happened on the Axel. “It was just a little fluke thing,” she said. “I don’t remember the last Axel that I missed. It is just a little mistake that I will fix.”
Most of the rest of the women struggled through the short program and underperformed. Mirai Nagasu, the 2016 Four Continents silver medalist, underrotated and two-footed a triple loop to be fifth; Mariah Bell, who stunned everybody by coming from the shadows to win silver at Skate America last October, was seventh after stepping out and landing in a crouch from a triple flip , and doing only a double toe loop after her triple Lutz, is seventh; the usually consistent Rika Hongo of Japan – winner of the 2014 Rostelecom Cup – is ninth after messing up her combo (double flip – underrotated triple toe loop) although she did maximize all levels on her elements; promising 16-year-old Wakaba Higuchi of Japan fell on her combo and is tenth; reigning U.S. champion Karen Chen fell on an underrotated triple loop, two-footed a double toe loop at the end of her combo and sits 12th ; and Canadian bronze medalist Alaine Chartrand who unravelled in the rink of dreams after missing her combo and falling on a triple loop. She’s 14th. It wasn’t a good day for most.
All of these women need to step it up when they meet a blast of Russians at the world championships and Olympics, such as Evgenia Medvedeva, who set the world record of 79.21 for a short program at the Grand Prix Final last December. Medvedeva chalks up points like an expert pinball player by upping her GOE with a flying hand on most of her jumps. Not pleasing to watch that repetitive motion, but in this game, it works. The rules made by the International Skating Union produces results like this.
If there was another highlight to the day, it was by 2010 Olympic ice dancing champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who clearly attacked and sold Prince in their short dance. They danced on the edge, so much so that they made an error in the partial footwork, which earned them only a level three. “There’s parts today where I felt like swimming upstream, but we kind of bring it back together and don’t let it get to us,” Moir said. “Obviously our strategy is not to let them happen, not make any mistakes, even, but it’s not realistic.”
Even so they finished with79.75, which is only .75 short of their world record, and they are 3.16 points ahead of second-placed Maia and Alex Shibutani with 76.59. Chock and Bates were third with 74.67, behind the Shibutanis in both technical and component content.
While Virtue and Moir received four marks of 10 in components (by two different judges), the Shibs got two of them from the same judge.
Former world silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are fifth with 71.15, short of their best, after he hesitated on the second of three twizzles. And they lost levels on all of their elements but their straight line lift.
Canadian bronze medalists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, relentlessly pushing to make that top group, dropped to seventh after Gilles fell during their not-touching midline step sequence. They also got a level two for their partial step sequence. Truth be told, nobody got a level four on this element.
Poirier said they have had a hard time all season pacing the disco rhythm in the second half of their routine and it leads to “a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes.” They get excited during the crazy disco. Perhaps it’s the beat, the moustache that Poirier so painstakenly grows, those rust-coloured bell-bottomed pants, the woolly hair. It gets away from them. It could do the same for anyone.
Gilles said she felt great going into the midline sequence, but caught a heel and went down. “It was a mistake I don’t think I’ve even made in practice,” she said. “You get excited and you do things that aren’t normal. We lost a lot of levels today.”
Virtue and Moir went to Pyeongchang like kids in a candy store, hoping to relive their 2010 Olympic victory a year from now. They arrived a day early and practiced in the practice rink on Monday. Then they ran upstairs to drink in the scene. “We were really the only ones here and we were like children,” Virtue said. “We were so giddy with excitement. It is everything you wish for an Olympic venue. Everything you dream about, this rink has it: something really special and tangible. It’s huge but it still feels so intimate.
“It makes such a difference going home and being able to visualize our Olympic moments, hopefully, know that we skated here and that we really can take it in, picture the behind-the-scenes and everything. It’s just been magical.” (The Europeans don’t get this opportunity.)
It wasn’t all so magical for two-time world pair champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. Duhamel arrived after the very long trip to Korea without her skates, although she received them in time to get a practice in. But Radford fell uncharacteristically on a triple Lutz in the pair short program. That set them back to third place behind a Chinese team competing internationally for the first time this season.
Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, current world silver medalists, hadn’t competed this season at all as Sui took months off after surgery to correct an ankle problem. Despite their absence, they were brilliant in Pyeongchang, skating to “Blues for Klook,” a distinct departure from anything they had ever done. “We enjoyed being back and feeling the vibe of the competition,” said Sui, who also admitted to nerves.
“I think we could have skated better than we did,” she said.
Better? They finished with 80.05 points, their best score ever, higher than Duhamel and Radford’s best score (78.39). They maximized all of their levels, except for the flying camel combo spin. During their entire routine, they had only three GOE bonus points lower than +2. Their element score of 44.83 points easily exceeded their component score of 35.92. If they can improve off this, they will be deadly. In fact, they already are.
“There is a lot we still can improve,” Han said.
Sui admitted that she was lucky to be back at all. They will do a long program to “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” which they say is really their story, coming back from injury. “So it is very emotional for us,” Han said.
“When we chose the long program, everybody loved it, the coach and choreographer [Nicholl] loved it,” Sui said. “The lyrics describe our experiences after the operation. It was such a hard time. My life was very painful and I was crying every day.
“My partner helped me a lot and encouraged me. He said things will get better and you’ll be back soon.
“When I came back to the ice rink, he was afraid that I was in pain, but I said: ‘That’s okay.’ It’s just like the lyrics said: we help each other and we work together.”
Sui and Han finished first in the short program, but their training mates, Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang were second, 5.55 points behind. (Duhamel and Radford are 6.44 points behind the leaders). Yu and Zhang, the May-December partnership (she is 21, and he is at least 32 and probably 34 or 35), didn’t put a foot wrong, although they had only the fourth highest components (Duhamel and Radford were second highest). Their huge triple twist is their big money maker and their throw triple loop helped out, too.
“We felt some pressure, but we were able to overcome it,” said the elegant Yu.
“We skated better than I thought I would, because there were some mistakes in practice,” she said. The solo jump had not been going well and she said her “condition” wasn’t so good, either. The atmosphere lifted them to this performance.
The Chinese may be the greatest threats to the Canadian world champions (as well as Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot) and a third Chinese team – Cheng Peng and Yang Jin, who in their first year together had finished second at both Cup of China and NHK Trophy – dropped to seventh after Peng fell on a camel spin, and just could not get back into the following sit spin, either. They received no marks at all for that element.
Still, Duhamel and Radford always have a plan, and know what they need to do. Radford said their performance was a step up from the Canadian championships. “It’s unfortunate about the Lutz,” he said. “But it can’t be perfect all the time. They’ve been really, really good for me for the last month.”
Radford says he thinks his focus was a bit in the wrong spot. “Usually I go in with a specific sort of direction, internal direction,” he said. “I was just trying to let it happen. But I think I was a little bit too much letting it happen as opposed to making it happen.”
Duhamel acknowledged that it’s always hard to sell a routine with high energy (“Killer” by Seal) but felt they had done a good job of this. “It’s been years since Eric fell in the short,” she said. “He doesn’t normally. It actually took me, I was surprised.
“The whole program, I was thinking: ‘What could have happened? That’s so strange. It’s so uncharacteristic.’ But it happens. It’s sport. “
It was disappointing, because they had worked hard to get a level four twist (worth a base point of 6.60), but they got only a level three on it in the short program (worth 6.20 points, and with GOE, they got 7.60 for it.) The two top Chinese teams did get level four for it. Sui and Han received a total of 8.20 points while Yu and Zhang got 8.40 for their twist which flew into the heavens. These two Chinese teams were the only ones that achieved a level four on the triple twist.
“Our coaches said we were a bit slow today on it,” Duhamel said. “”Something we’ll try to achieve in the long is the level four twist.”
Canadian pair teams finished third, fourth and fifth, with the other two bubbling at their success. Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch finally broke through with a fourth place finish and a season’s best score of 73.04 points. In fact, their component score outdid that of the second Chinese team.
“We’re happy with that short,” Moscovitch said. “We did a good job of staying in the moment and staying present throughout the program. Each piece of the choreography and each element had a similar level of effort and focus.”
Best of all, it puts them in the last group for the free skate. “That’s perfect to be there,” Ilyushechkina said. “It’s good to recognize that we are treated as one of the best teams in the world.”
Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro were competing in their first international competition of the season after she suffered a concussion during the summer. And with a score of 70.89, it was their first score better than 70 points since they joined forces as a team two years ago. “So we’re really thrilled,” she said. “”After the injury in the summer, we had to learn how to train a little bit differently but I think because of that, our communication and our connection as a team has grown. It has really proven beneficial for us in our skating.”
“We’re showing that stride forward we’ve made since last year and quite a big jump in our score also,” Marinaro said.
American teams were sixth, eighth and ninth of 15 teams.
The highlight of day one at Four Continents, the test event for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang?