North Americans Expected to Fight for Medals in Taipei

144cc-hubbelldonohueby Katie Tetzloff | Photo by Robin Ritoss

This week, 15 teams from nine countries will meet in Taipei, Taiwan, for the annual Four Continents Championships. Every year, this event follows the European Championships and features the skaters who come from countries outside of Europe. Each nation is allowed to send up to three competitors per discipline, as long as they have reached the minimum technical element scores in both the short and free dances at a prior international event this season or last season; the minimum scores are currently set at 18 and 28 for the short and free dances, respectively. 

Since this is an Olympic year, most of the federations chose to send their second-tier skaters in order for the Olympic competitors to continue training. However, many of the competitors this week have still had extensive international experience, and therefore, the competition should be fierce.

The fight for the gold will most likely be between Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier of Canada and Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue of the United States. At 2013 Four Continents, Gilles & Poirier were fifth, but none of the teams who finished ahead of them will be present this year. Hubbell & Donohue (pictured, right) could give them a tough battle, though, as they placed third and fourth at their two Grand Prix events earlier this season, compared to Gilles & Poirier’s fifth- and sixth-place outings. Hubbell & Donohue’s score at the U.S. Championships was higher than that of Gilles & Poirier at the Canadian Championships, but it is very hard to compare scoring from two separate national meets.

Both teams are coming off of heartbreaking national championships, when they each missed the Olympic team by narrow margins. It is worth noting that the 2010 Four Continents Champions, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje, were in a similar situation. Their Four Continents title in 2010 set off a terrific acceleration in terms of development and results.

Hubbell & Donohue will be accompanied by a couple of their training mates, Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton, who also represent the United States, and Danielle O’Brien & Gregory Merriman of Australia. This is Aldridge & Eaton’s first season competing at the senior level, but they have turned in solid results, placing fifth at both Cup of China and at the U.S. Championships. Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt are the final American team at Four Continents; they were sixth at the recent U.S. Championships.

Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill, who train alongside Gilles & Poirier in Scarborough, Ont., will also represent Canada in Taipei. Canada is also sending Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams, who placed sixth at last year’s event and are looking to improve on that placement this time around. Orford & Williams were fifth at last week’s Canadian Championships, while Ralph & Hill were sixth. 

All of the American and Canadian teams could be potential podium contenders, as they have the most international experience and competitive success. In most years at Four Continents, the teams from the United States and Canada take up the top six spots, and the pattern should hold this year if all teams skate to their potential. 

Other veterans of the Four Continents Championships include Emi Hirai & Marien de la Asunción of Japan (11th in 2013) and Pilar Maekawa Moreno & Leonardo Maekawa Moreno of Mexico (13th in 2013). Daryn Zhunossov of Kazakhstan (11th in 2012) will be returning with a new partner, Ksenia Korobkova, and Viktor Kovalenko of Uzbekistan (10th in 2013) also has a new partner, Elizaveta Tretiakova. 

China will send three teams to this nearby event, and all teams will be making their Four Continents début. Their teams include Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu, Yiyi Zhang & Nan Wu, and Yue Zhao & Chang Liu. Of the three, Zhang & Wu have the most international experience, with four appearances at the World Junior Championships from 2010 to 2013.

The final new team on the roster is Yura Min & Timothy Koleto, competing for Korea. This is the first Four Continents appearance for both skaters.

The ice dance event will kick off the 2014 Four Continents Championship on Wednesday, January 22, with the free dance following on Thursday.