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2010 Four Continents Championships Preview

Jeonju City, Korea

Ask any of the American ice dancers or ladies singles skaters competing at the ISU Four Continents Championships this week in Jeonju, South Korea about the glamour of international competition, and you will probably be greeted by a bit of a smirk. Not that they aren’t excited for the opportunity. It has just been a whirlwind since they received their free dance/skate scores. After competing Saturday in the U.S. and hitting the competitors’ party, they were on a shuttle to the airport at 7 a.m. Sunday morning for 15+ hours of flights that would not touch down in Seoul until 5:35 p.m. Monday. After a four-hour bus ride, the long journey to Jeonju came to an end just after midnight Tuesday. The third practice session (they had missed the first two while traveling) started 11 hours later. Competition begins 24 hours after that. All three of the U.S. dance teams train in the Eastern time zone, so that was three hours back to Pacific time for the U.S. championships and then 17 hours ahead for Four Continents. 

All three of Team Canada’s entries also train in the Eastern time zone, but their national championships (which were also in EST) wrapped up January 17. 

A week and a half ago, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje were clearly disappointed after missing the silver medal at the Canadian Championships — and a berth on the Olympic Team — by just one-third of a point. While, of course, their disappointment is understandable, they have an opportunity to bounce back and regain lost momentum if they skate well this week in Korea. As the only Grand Prix medalists in the field, Weaver & Poje are the clear favorites in the dance event, a position they have not experienced before in a major competition. Fifth at the past two Four Continents Championships, a medal here would be their first at the senior ISU championship level. Weaver & Poje’s international personal best of 174.36 was set at the 2008 Four Continents Championships; and at this event last year, they ended their season on a high with one of their best free dance performances to date. This year, their international season’s best of 165.64 was set with their bronze-medal-winning effort at Skate Canada. 

Because U.S. pewter medalists Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentre declined the invitation, first-year seniors Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein are the highest-ranked Americans in the field. Coming off of a fifth-place finish at the U.S. Championships, the 2009 World Junior Champions hit the senior Grand Prix circuit this year and finished eighth at Cup of China, two places below Weaver & Poje, and sixth at Skate America, where they set a season’s best of 153.92. Chock & Zuerlein have proven in the past that they can skate well under pressure and are certainly medal threats. 

Last season, Madison Hubbell & Keiffer Hubbell also competed internationally as juniors. Like Chock & Zuerlein, they have made the jump to the senior Grand Prix circuit this year. An eighth-place finish at Trophée Eric Bompard with a score well below their personal best was a disappointment for the siblings, who made a quick coaching change just before Skate Canada, where they finished sixth. Their international scores this season are a notch lower than the leaders of the field, but they raised quite a few eyebrows — and earned a standing ovation for their free dance — when they showed up to the U.S. Championships looking refreshed and polished. In Spokane, they took sixth, just behind Chock & Zuerlein, but finished ahead of them in the compulsory dance and had the edge in Program Component Scores in both the OD and FD. Their long legs accentuate a mature look, and the momentum from Spokane could continue to propel their performances in Korea. 

Canada is sending its fourth-ranked dance team, Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill, to compete in their first senior international event. They have placed in the top five at their two appearances at the senior domestic level, but have elected to maintain junior eligibility internationally because they are just 17 and 18 years old, respectively. Their fourth-place finish at the Junior Grand Prix Final was two places higher than last year, and their international personal best score of 159.85, set in the fall at the JGP in Croatia, is in line with scores earned this season by the other top competitors in the field (even though the junior free dance has one less scored lift than the senior free dance). They are sure to make a mark with their crowd-pleasing African folk OD, which earned them the BMO Possibilities Award for dance at the recent Canadian Championships. 

Finishing fifth at the Canadian Championships to earn the final spot on the national team and the assignment to Four Continents were Allie Hann-McCurdy & Michael Coreno, who have had a tumultuous ride since their surprise bronze medal at the 2008 Canadian Championships. Disappointing results in 2008-2009, including losing their place on the national team, prompted a coaching change over the summer. Now training with Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, most agree that the team has made significant improvements to their skating, but they have still struggled to make their mark in deep fields. At their lone Grand Prix assignment, NHK Trophy, Hann-McCurdy & Coreno finished eighth and their score of 145.32 was nearly twenty points lower than their international personal best, set at 2008 Four Continents. Energetic performances helped them fend off up-and-coming talent at the Canadian Championships, and with a week to rest between events, they could deliver a strong effort this week. 

Jane Summersett & Todd Gilles round out the American team for this event, earning their place based on a seventh-place finish at the U.S. Championships. Like the Hubbells and Hann-McCurdy & Coreno, Summersett & Gilles also made a Detroit-area coaching change this year. Working at the Detroit Skating Club since the late summer with Anjelika Krylova & Pasquale Camerlengo, the team looked more confident in Spokane than they had at NHK Trophy, where they finished in tenth place. 

Although it is traditionally the U.S. and Canadian teams that take the top spots at Four Continents, a spoiler could be China’s Xintong Huang & Xun Zheng, who have made significant improvements this year. They also have a major advantage not having to battle jetlag like the North American-based teams. Huang & Zheng finished seventh at Cup of China this fall, just ahead of Chock & Zuerlein, then followed that up with a career-best Grand Prix finish of fifth at NHK Trophy, where they defeated both Hann-McCurdy & Coreno and Summersett & Gilles, setting a personal best score of 154.90. This will be Huang & Zheng’s fifth consecutive appearance at Four Continents. Their highest finish was last year, when they placed seventh. 

Xiaoyang Yu & Chen Wang have not seen the international success this season that their Chinese teammates have, but it should be noted that they often edge out Huang & Zheng domestically. Only in 2007 did Yu & Wang finish behind Huang & Zheng at the national level. 2010 will mark Yu & Wang’s eighth consecutive trip to Four Continents. Their highest finish was seventh in 2006. 

Xueting Guan & Meng Wang, China’s top junior team, will make their senior international debut at Four Continents. Corenne Bruhns & Andrew Lavrik will make their international debut as a team, representing Mexico. Australian teams Danielle O’Brien & Gregory Merriman and Maria Borounov & Evgeni Borounov round out the field. 

Competition begins Tuesday evening at 9:20 p.m. EST/11:20 a.m. Wednesday morning local time with the Tango Romantica compulsory dance.

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