by Anne Calder | Photo by Robin Ritoss
The 2017 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships were held in Gangneung Ice Arena in the Republic of Korea February 14-19. The Championships served as a test event for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
Sixteen ice dance teams from six countries competed for prize money. Four former gold medal teams, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje, and Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, plus the defending champions, Maia & Alex Shibutani, returned to participate in the event.
Canadians Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir topped the short dance leader board, followed by Americans Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani, Madison Chock & Evan Bates, and Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue in second, third and fourth places.
Virtue & Moir brought the music of Prince to life with a seamless weaving of the level 4 footwork, curve lift, twizzles and blues pattern. The program opened to “Kiss” with a solid 11.90 GOE hip-hop step sequence and closed with a spectacular spread eagle/curve lift to “Purple Rain”. Moir did have a slight stumble, but they pushed through and earned 79.75 points.
“We made a little bit of a technical error in the middle of it, so it’s not ideal obviously, especially in the short program where we really have to capitalize on those technical points,” Moir explained. “But we kind of came out and felt like we attacked it.”
The Shibutanis used two versions of “That’s Life” – Frank Sinatra’s solo for the blues and a Sinatra/Jay-Z mix for the hip hop. The pattern and step sequences were Level 3; the rotational lift and fast-paced, in sync twizzles earned Level 4.
The confidence earned after winning a second straight US Nationals title was evident from the opening pose to the final lift. The program scored 76.59, just three points off the top.
“We’re really happy with how we skated today,” Maia said. “A year out from the Games, it’s so exciting and inspiring to be competing in this venue. I think that we really kicked it up a notch today with our program.”
The third place team, Chock & Bates, skated a strong dance to blues and hip-hop. The Rohene Ward choreographed program used “Bad to the Bone” and “Uptown Funk” to achieve their 74.67 score. The opening curve lift, pattern and twizzles earned level 4, with the footwork scoring level 3. The team went all out with great intensity in their performance and got the crowd involved.
“Our program felt like it had a really good energy through the beginning and the end,” Chock said. “We felt like the audience responded really well to our program, and we had a ton of fun.”
Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue danced a tender blues pattern to Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” and funky hip-hop moves to top rap hits. The pattern, twizzles, and straight- line lift earned level 4 with the footwork scoring level 3. The program received a 73.79 personal best score.
“We’re really pleased with our performance,” Donohue said. “We really had fun.”
Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje (CAN) were fifth (71.15) and Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu (CHN) were sixth (61.45). An unfortunate fall in the side-by-side footwork landed Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier (CAN) in seventh place.
Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir won their seventh Four Continents medal. The Canadians now have two bronze, two silver, and three gold medals from the international event. After Sochi, the 2014 Olympic silver medalists took a two-year sabbatical from competitive ice dancing. Since their return to the sport this season, they have won every event they entered.
“In coming back, we obviously wanted to win,” Virtue said. “I think every athlete enters every competition with that goal in mind, and the Olympics in 2018 were the ultimate goal.”
“More than that after two years away from competition, we realized what really was important to us,” Virtue continued. “We were very process-driven; we wanted to create art and programs that we loved and connected with. We wanted to enjoy being athletes again. Our focus has not really been the results. That’s a confidence boost for sure. It adds a little extra pressure, but it’s nice to know that we are on the right track.”
The gold medalists danced a seamless interpretation of “Pilgrims on a Long Journey” and Sam Smith’s “Latch” for a personal best 117.20. They earned six level 4 marks for their technical elements and nine 10.00 program component scores. There were a few slight bobbles, but their overall fluidity and consistency dominated the performance.
The Shibutani’s program is called Evolution. It opens with a mesmerizing violin (Anne Akiko Meyers) and piano (Akira Eguchi) piece called “Spiegel im Spiegel” or “mirror in the mirror”. The second section is an original collaboration between Alex Shibutani and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.
The silver medalists earned six level 4 technical element marks and three 10.00 program component scores. The 115.26 free dance and 191.85 total were personal best scores.
“Today was our best free dance performance of the entire season,” Maia said. “That’s really encouraging for us, especially competing in the Olympic venue. There’s a little extra thrill to be able to imagine how it could be in a year after having two great skates.”
David Bowie and Freddy Mercury’s rock music and raging lyrics to “Under Pressure” shook the rafters during the Madison Chock & Evan Bates’ bronze medal performance.
“This is such a fun program for us,” Chock said. “We love skating it, and I felt like we really connected with each other. It feels especially good to do that in competition. I think the audience really enjoyed it, so that makes us really proud.”
The lifts, spin and twizzles earned level 4; the footwork was again level 3, which brought a comment from Bates about strategic tweaking before Worlds.
“Most of our attention will be on footwork, where we didn’t get levels today. We also got level 3s yesterday, so there’s room for improvement. That will be our main focus.”
The program scored 110.91 points and the total was 185.58.
Americans Madison Chock & Zachary Donohue were only .88 out of third place after the short dance. Unfortunately, a few mishaps lost them points for a sixth place (107.03) free dance finish, but fourth over all with a personal best 180.82.
“I made two pretty costly mistakes, both in level and in GOE,” Donohue acknowledged. “The overall performance was pretty good, but not as strong as we’ve been practicing at home. It was a little more reserved.”
Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje (CAN) were fourth in their dramatic free dance to Concierto de Aranjuez composed by Joaquin Rodrigo and choreographed by their new coach Nikolai Morozov. The program had a few glitches, but scored a personal best 108.94. The 2015 Four Continents Champions finished fifth with180.09 points.
“We know we’re having some ups and downs with some of our technical things, but we feel like with every competition we’re really growing a lot of our emotions and performance,” Poje said.
“I think I did one less twizzle; it seems to be a twizzle mistake competition, but we love what we do, and we enjoy it,” Weaver added.
Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier (CAN) danced a fifth place clean and solid Latin program to Con Buena Onda that scored 108.93 – just .01 behind their countrymen. The total 170.14 moved them up to a sixth place finish.
Poirier reflected on their short dance that had dropped them into seventh place before the free program.
“We’ve had some trouble with the short dance this season. We don’t feel like we performed that program to it’s potential any competition this season.”
“We need to rethink our strategy making sure that the choreography is set up so that we can perform it successfully and secondly just re-evaluate how we’ve been training it because we can’t afford to make another mistake at the World Championships,” Poirier concluded.
Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu (CHN) set new personal best scores in both performances to finish seventh. The team has been working with Anjelika Krylova and Pasquale Camerlengo in Detroit, Michigan, and moved up two placements from their Four Continents result in 2016.
Yura Min & Alexander Gamelin (KOR) nearly matched their personal best score in the short dance with 59.01. In the free dance, their spin, twizzles and all three lifts were graded level 4 and the performance scored 85.68 giving the team 144.69 points and an eighth place finish.
“We came here to skate our best programs and I think that is what we did,” Gamelin said. “How we skated sets us up for Worlds. It’s our first Worlds. I think there’s a ton of expectations on us so I think what we want to do is again to skate our two best programs and show that we can compete with the better teams.”
GANGNEUNG ICE ARENA
The new facility seats 12,000 with two international size ice surfaces located on separate levels for competition and training. The arena will house the 2018 Olympic figure skating and short track speed skating venues.
The ice dancers commented on the excitement generated by competing on the 2018 Olympic ice…
Tessa Virtue: “Having the opportunity to simulate things here in this venue was really important to us and really magical. This will help us a lot moving forward, getting home, and being able to visualize the venue and the surrounding areas. It’s a great advantage.”
Alex Shibutani: “This year marks an incredible opportunity for all the athletes in attendance at this competition to really get a sense for the vibe of this venue and a feel for what the Games might be like for some of us in a year. That’s really exciting. Maia mentioned to me the other day that the color of the seats (light blue) in this arena are so calm, so welcoming and friendly.”
Evan Bates: “We got a chance to arrive well before the sun came up, and it was beautiful. The building was lit up from the outside, and it was really special. On the ice, I really love it. It’s got this calming vibe out there, and it feels easy to get in the zone and focus and perform, which is always welcomed in an Olympic venue.”
Zachary Donohue: “This is the Olympic venue. It’s like a dream come true to be able to perform a bit of a simulation of all of our hopes.”
Madison Hubbell: “We want to create a moment on this Olympic ice to take with us to next year as we try to make the Olympic team.”