by Jacquelyn Thayer
With the close results established after the short dance, the stage was certainly set for an exciting contest in the free dance. What may have been less anticipated was the degree and nature of that excitement. The competition between well-matched top teams was strong as ever, while some lesser-known teams made positive showings. Altitude, ailment and technical woes, however, played a centerpiece role in the day’s events.
After second-place finishes in their most recent match-ups at 2011 Worlds and the Grand Prix Final, Canadian champions Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir regained an edge on rivals and short dance leaders Meryl Davis & Charlie White, winning the 2012 Four Continents Championship with a total of 182.84. While Virtue & Moir’s free dance score of 111.24 was a point below their season’s best, their technical element score of 54.07 was the best in the event, and the couple achieved level 4s on every element except the circular step sequence. Each element also received strong positive grades of execution, with their sweeping, cinematic combination lift netting the maximum +3 GOE, a first for the team this season.
While the victors appeared slightly less impacted by the altitude than their training mates, Moir stated otherwise.
“You definitely think about it when you take just five or six stairs, and already you’re out of breath,” Moir said. “How you’re going to get through the free dance is a bit of a challenge. We felt like we worked really well together. Our goal this week was really to just skate for ourselves, and we felt like we did today. It was a great skate, so we’re looking forward to six weeks back at home and really building the programs that much more, and having a good World Championships.”
For U.S. champions Davis & White, levels decided the day and their silver medal finish. While their program component score of 57.24 edged out Virtue & Moir’s by a slim .07, their TES of only 50.01 was the lowest the team has received this season. Though their lifts earned level 4s, all other elements achieved just level 3s, another season’s first. Their total competition score of 179.40 was more than nine points below the high mark set at the Grand Prix Final, and the team’s windedness post-skate reflected the particular on-ice challenges presented by environmental conditions.
“We definitely fought through both programs and were pleased when we got off the ice,” Davis said. “We’re not necessarily pleased with where we’re sitting in the results and also our technical score, so we know we have a lot to work on when we go home. But we have six weeks going into the World Championships, so we’re looking forward to going home and working hard, definitely.”
Canadian national silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje succeeded in maintaining their third-place spot after the short dance, earning bronze here with a free dance score of 99.03 and overall total of 163.26. While the duo earned level 4s on most elements, their step sequences were less successful, with the circular achieving only a level 2. However, they attained a new international season’s best PCS of 51.61 with an audience-engaging skate.
“Andrew and I are very happy to have finished the free dance with energy and expression,” Weaver said. “The most important thing when we were taking the ice was to feel the emotion of the music and we knew that that would carry us through, and it did. We’re thrilled to be here among the top two teams in the world, and we’re happy that we’re gaining this momentum this season.”
Few teams put out so fast-paced a performance as U.S. silver medalists Maia & Alex Shibutani, and rendering their energy more impressive was the subsequent revelation that Alex was suffering from a viral infection. In a concerning moment at program’s conclusion, Alex basically collapsed, clearly having difficulty regaining his breath; the team would later withdraw from that evening’s Skating Spectacular. Despite the health issues, however, the Shibutanis posted a solid score of 94.91, including an international season’s best 48.85 in the PCS, for a competition total of 158.29.
“Alex has been fighting a cold all week so it was definitely challenging today,” Maia said. “I’m proud of the way we fought through the performance and I’m proud of Alex for skating the way he did when he’s not feeling his best.”
Americans Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue sought to deliver a clean performance of their sexy “I Put a Spell On You” free dance. Unfortunately, Donohue fell again, although it was not on a required element. A stumble during the circular step sequence and synchronization problems in the twizzles resulted in negative GOEs for each element. Despite the errors, though, the couple was able to maintain their fifth-place position with a score of 79.27, for a competition total of 129.20.
“We’ve been riding a high the whole season,” Hubbell said. “To work as hard as we could for Nationals to get this opportunity, the emotional of getting third and getting named, it was hard to work through the last week and come here still prepared. I think our bodies are a little burned out. We’ve definitely learned from this experience. This is the first time we’ve had two rough skates and worked through it together.”
For Canada’s Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam, Four Continents presented an opportunity to set a new season’s best score in preparation for 2012-13’s assignments. Unfortunately, the free dance would present its challenges to that goal. Islam fell on the first twizzle and was not able to get back in time for the second, resulting in no score for that element. on the first set of twizzles and issues in the second resulted in the element’s receiving no credit. This automatically eliminated a significant number of points from their total and held their TES to 33.07 even with level 4s on the lifts and dance spin. Their free dance score of 69.45 was nearly five points below their previous international season’s best established at Skate America. Their total competition score of 117.97, however, was more than six points above that set at that only other full international event of the season, thus providing the team with a new season’s best and rendering the outing successful in one most basic goal.
Though still finishing in seventh overall with a total of 115.05, China’s Xiaoyang Yu & Chen Wang took sixth place in the free dance with a lyrical performance of their program set to music from Howl’s Moving Castle. The team’s free dance score of 69.63 was their new ISU season’s best.
Anna Nagornyuk & Viktor Kovalenko from Uzbekistan moved up from ninth place in the short dance to eighth overall with free dance score of 67.68, for a total of 107.61. Though Four Continents marked the duo’s first international senior competition, they delivered a confident, crowd-pleasing free dance to the soundtrack of Peter Gunn. Their TES of 38.07 was also a new ISU personal best.
Australians Danielle O’Brien & Gregory Merriman, who sat in eighth after the short dance, moved down to ninth with a free dance of 65.81, with level 2s on both step sequences and a level 1 on a stationary lift impacting their technical marks. The team’s competition total of 105.91, however, establishes their season’s best going into Worlds.
Corenne Bruhns & Ryan Van Natten, who represent Mexico, earned a score of 55.64, for a competition total of 91.57. Rounding out the field were Kazakhstan’s Cortney Mansour & Daryn Zhunussov, whose free dance score of 53.13 was a new personal best.