In 1999, the ISU created the Four Continents Championships as a parallel event to the European Championships that would give non-European skaters an opportunity to win prize money. In the past, top athletes from North America have often declined the event if it required cross-Pacific travel, but this year, all of the top Canadian and American dancers are making the long trip. From February 15-20, 2011, Taipei City in Chinese Taipei will play host to the 12 ice dance teams from five countries. The roster is highlighted by three former Four Continents champions.
The event marks the season debut for the 2010 Olympic Champions, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada. In October, Virtue underwent surgery to reduce lingering pain in the posterior compartments of her shins as a result of Chronic Exertional Compartment Syndrome. Virtue had previously undergone a similar surgery in 2008, which relieved pressure in her anterior compartments. Last autumn, she admitted that she had been skating through pain during the entire Olympic season. Virtue & Moir chose to skip the Canadian Championships in January, but say that they are now ready return to competition. In Taipei City, they will take on training mates and longtime friendly rivals, Meryl Davis & Charlie White. Virtue & Moir have a medal of every color from Four Continents, including gold in 2008.
Americans Davis & White won their third consecutive U.S. national title in January. Although undefeated this season, they actually lost the technical mark in the free dance to Maia & Alex Shibutani at Nationals but posted a PCS mark nearly seven points higher en route to their victory. Davis & White won silver at this event in 2008, their first appearance at the Four Continents Championship. In 2009, when Virtue & Moir were coming back from Virtue’s first surgery, Davis & White edged them for the title on Canadian ice. This year, Davis & White have established themselves as one of the top teams in the world and will be tough to beat, even for the Olympic champions.
Though gold and silver appear to be a battle of two teams, the fight for bronze is certainly beyond a duel.
Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje are the defending champions, taking the title when the top North American teams did not want to travel to Korea just before the Olympics. They are the only returning medalists from last year’s event, and they are also returning to the city that launched their career together. They won the bronze medal at the JGP event in Taipei City in 2006, their first competition together. Over the past two seasons, Weaver & Poje have made vast improvements and significantly closed the gap between themselves and fellow Canadians, Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier. They finished just over a point behind Crone & Poirier at the Canadian Championships last month. Their short dance to “At Last” and “Cheek to Cheek” is their strength and has been very well received by the judges. Prior to winning in 2010, they finished fifth at Four Continents in 2008 and 2009.
Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier finished fourth in at 2008 Four Continents, their only prior appearance at this event. They have consistently defeated the teams in this field (excluding Virtue & Moir and Davis & White) in international competition, but Weaver & Poje finished ahead of them in the short dance at this season’s Grand Prix Final. Their “Eleanor Rigby” free dance is the stronger phase for this team and has grown over this season.
A pair of U.S. teams are also in the medal hunt. Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani won the silver medal at U.S. nationals at the end of January, recording huge scores and looking ready to take on the world. Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein may have finished 19 points behind the Shibutanis at U.S. nationals, but they have had a comparable international season. Both teams won the bronze medal at both of their Grand Prix events this autumn.
China’s Xintong Huang & Xun Zheng (pictured, right) finished just off the podium at 2010 Four Continents. Huang & Zheng have had improved results this season, finishing fifth at both of their Grand Prix events and winning the 2011 Asian Games. China is also represented by Xueting Guan & Meng Wang and Xiaoyang Yu & Cheng Wang.
Two teams will represent Australia in Chinese Taipei. Danielle O’Brien & Gregory Merriman have finished 10th at the last three Four Continents Championships. They are four-time Australian Champions. They are joined by married couple Maria Borounov & Evgeni Borounov whose highest finish at 4CC came in 2009, when they finished 11th.
Corenne Bruhns & Benjamin Westenberger, who are representing Mexico, are competing at their first ISU championship together. Bruhns competed at last year’s Four Continents with her Ukrainian-born partner, Andrew Lavrik, where they finished 11th. Westenberger is skating under his third North American flag, having competed at both the U.S. and Canadian Championships.
With the elimination of the ladies qualifying round, the 2011 ISU Four Continents Championships now kicks off with the short dance on Thursday afternoon. The dance event concludes Friday night.