All four champions from last season are back to defend their titles at the 2019 Four Continents Championships, which are taking place in Anaheim, California, this week
The ladies were the first to take to the ice. Bradie Tennell of the U.S. skated her best short program of the season, fending off a strong charge from defending champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan to take the lead.
The American landed a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, a double Axel and a triple flip in her “Rebirth” routine to earn 73.91 points.
Tennell capitalized on the quality of her elements, and was rewarded with strong Grades of Execution scores. But with Sakamoto less than one point behind, Tennell will need to be flawless in the free skate if she hopes to win the title.
“Things went really well today,” Tennell said. “I’m really happy with how my skate went — it was exactly how I practice at home, so I am very happy and excited for tomorrow.”
Sakamoto was ethereal in her “From My First Moment” program, seamlessly and effortlessly weaving difficult elements with world-class edge work and transitions.
The newly minted Japanese champion executed her jumping passes with ease — a triple flip-triple toe loop, double Axel, and an easy triple loop were all landed with precision and flair. Sakamoto earned 73.36 points for her short program, a season’s best, but still, wanted to do better.
“I went too sideways on the last spin” she said. “Other than that, I can say that my jumps were very good, so I am very satisfied with my performance. Other than elements, I can see my improvement for my steps other than elements. The score showed my improvement, too. I am glad I work very hard. I don’t feel any particular pressure (to defend the title). But as a Japanese champion, I feel the responsibility to perform that best that I can.”
Mariah Bell, the 2019 U.S. Championships bronze medalist, finished in third place. Plagued by errors in each of her previous outings this season, Bell seemed content with her first clean her “To Love You More” short program of the season. She was in top form, and landed each of her jumping passes with confidence. Her triple Lutz-triple toe loop was a particular highlight. She equaled her season’s best score of 70.02.
“I’m really excited; it felt good. I think it’s the first time I’ve put out a really solid short program and I have so much more room to grow. I think it was better today,” Bell said of the combination. “It felt like it had better flow and it was better than the ones I did in the Grand Prix (series this past fall) so that was exciting.”
South Korea’s Eunsoo Lim finished solidly in fourth place with 69.14 points while pre-event medal favorite Rika Kihira sits in fifth after popping her trademark triple Axel. She earned 68.85 points.
In the day’s finale, the men took to the ice and put on quite a show for the sparse Anaheim audience. While pre-event favorites faltered, new faces emerged at the top of leaderboard after the short program.
Vincent Zhou, the 2019 U.S. silver medalist, put his early season under-rotation woes behind him – for now at least – and stole the lead with a career-high 100.18 points. He was the only competitor to successfully complete two quadruple jumps — a Lutz in combination with a triple toe loop and a solo Salchow. Zhou also showed improvement in his on-ice connection, and received a spirited response from the home audience for his “Exogenesis” routine. Overall, he was very pleased with how everything unfolded, and is looking forward to the long program.
“This is my first time breaking 100 in the short in international competition. I am very happy with this result,” Zhou said post- competition, adding he was encouraged by acknowledgement of his hard work to improve his rotations. “It is a reward and a testimony to the hard work I’ve been putting in. I’m becoming more confident in my abilities. I did my jumps with better quality than before I’ve been working on them. I’m proving to myself I can do clean jumps.
“It’s my first time being the first place after the short program. “It definitely does add pressure but at the same time, the free skate has nothing to do with the short program. And regardless of my placement in the short, my free skate should remain the same. I’m going to focus on getting my job done, just as I did for the short.”
Sitting in second is South Korea’s Jun-Hwan Cha, the 2018 Grand Prix Final bronze medalist, with a season high score of 97.33. Although Cha was unable to keep pace with Zhou on the technical elements, he was impressive nevertheless. Cha opened his “Cinderella” program with a solid quad Salchow and followed it up with a masterfully executed triple Lutz-triple loop combination.
“I’m really happy about my performance today,” he said. “It was my first Four Continents Championships so I really wanted to enjoy my performance and I did. I was nervous, but I think I really tried my best. I’m feeling really good now, the score makes me happy, but I also look more at the performance I did.”
Reigning Four Continents champion Boyang Jin finished third. He looked more like himself after a rough start to the season in the fall. Despite the improvements since his last competition, Jin was disappointed with his performance. Jin faltered on an opening quad Lutz attempt, but recovered well to salvage his “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” program. Jin landed a quad toe loop-double toe loop combination and a triple Axel to finish with a season’s best of 92.17 points.
“I’m not quite satisfied with today’s performance,” he said. “I’ve been doing pretty well in practice, so it may be due to my physical condition or the jet lag – it’s already 10 p.m. and I’m actually kind of sleepy now. I did not execute really well two jumps today, and the performance wasn’t ideal for me either. I hope I can clean up all my jumps in the free skate. After my last international competition, I did a lot of adjustment to my physical condition and overall feeling about the program.”
Shoma Uno of Japan, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, struggled with his first two jumping passes, and finished in fourth with 91.76 points. Canada’s Keegan Messing was fifth with 88.18 points.