Four Continents heads to Seoul

15CdnNat-SrFD-9629-WP-MH 595This week, 13 teams from seven countries head to Seoul for the 2015 Four Continents Championships. This marks the fifth time that South Korea has hosted Four Continents, though it is the first time the competition will take place in Seoul. Since its inception in 1999, all of the ice dance medals have been won by teams from Canada or the United States. In fact, in most years, teams from the U.S. and Canada have occupied the top six spots. The field in Seoul boasts past Four Continents champions and medalists.

Each year, this event follows the European Championships and features skaters from countries in the continents of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. Each nation is allowed to send up to three competitors per discipline, as long as they have reached the minimum technical element scores (TES) in both the short and free programs at a prior international event this season or last season. The minimum scores are currently set at 19 and 29 for the short and free dances, respectively. 

The fight for gold will most likely be between Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje of Canada (pictured) and Madison Chock & Evan Bates of the United States, newly-crowned national champions of their respective countries. Weaver & Poje won this event in 2010, while Chock & Bates took home the bronze medal in 2013. The teams have faced off twice this season, with the Canadians taking the top spot on both occasions. In December, Weaver & Poje topped the Americans by 14 points at the Grand Prix Final.

The battle for the bronze will be just as intense as the fight at the top. Siblings Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani of the United States finished less than one point ahead of Canadians Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier at the Grand Prix Final.

Between the Final and U.S. Nationals, the Shibutanis made changes to their short dance, which resulted in a much higher score that placed them just .11 behind Chock & Bates. It remains to be seen if the international judging panel will view the program in the same fashion. Gilles & Poirier set a new personal best for their short dance at the Final and have been on a steady climb this season.

The 2014 World Junior Champions, Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker, finished fourth at the recent U.S. Championships. They were assigned to compete at Four Continents, while the bronze medalists, Madison Hubbell & Zach Donohue, will compete at the World Championships. Hawayek & Baker had a solid debut at the senior level this season, finishing sixth and third at their Grand Prix events.

Alexandra Paul & Mitch Islam are Canada’s third entry at this event. The 2014 Olympians have had an inconsistent season, finishing fifth and sixth at their Grand Prix events. At nationals in January, Paul & Islam debuted a new free dance to “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. The program seemed to work for them, but they still had some technical issues to address.

Korea’s Rebeka Kim and Kirill Minov also debuted at the senior level this season. The team won a bronze medal at the Volvo Open Cup in Riga, Latvia.

Veterans of the Four Continents Championships include Emi Hirai & Marien de la Asunción of Japan (11th in 2013 and 2014) and Pilar Maekawa Moreno & Leonardo Maekawa Moreno of Mexico (13th in 2013 and 2014).

China will send three teams to this nearby event, Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu, Yiyi Zhang & Nan Wu, and Yue Zhao & Xun Zheng. Wang & Liu and Zhang & Wu competed at Four Continents in 2014. Zhao & Zheng are a new team this season, but Zheng has plenty of international experience as a two-time Olympian.

The roster is rounded out by Karina Uzurova & Ilias Ali of Kazakstan.

The ice dance event will kick off the 2015 Four Continents Championships on Thursday, February 12, with the free dance following on Friday.