The pairs free skate at the 2019 Four Continents Championships was a nail-biter with the title being decided by a mere 0.06 of a point.
China’s Wenjing Sui and Cong Han eked out the win in what was their international debut this season. Sui, who was sidelined with a foot injury for the first half of the season, was emotional about the victory.
“Yes, I cried immediately,” Sui said. “I really wish all skaters could stay healthy and keep skating because we love it. I think that we have a really strong team and we are very encouraged. I think this helps us to try our best.”
Sui’s fall on the side-by-side triple Salchows was the only mistake in an otherwise inspired performance of the “Rain, In Your Black Eyes program.” Though the duo has had limited training time leading into this competition, they seem poised to regain their place among the international leaders by the time the World Championships roll around in March.
So impassioned was the performance, that Sui could be heard encouraging her partner before their final lift. The program was jam-packed with strong technical elements, but it was the manner in which they sold the program that perhaps made the difference between first and second. The Chinese team finished with 211.11 points.
“We were pretty nervous,” Sui admitted. “I’m really happy we can show what we have today on ice, but honestly we are not the best of us. We will do the best we can and continue training hard. For us this is our fifth Four Continents title, but it was my third time coming back. It’s very different every time I come back. I want to thank people who helped me and stood by me — my opponents, my partner, and my coaches. They really helped us a lot. I also hope in the remaining time every athlete can perform well and present the best of themselves.”
Leading after the short program, Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro had to settle for silver. Though they made no major errors, the couple did struggle on the rotational life midway through their program set to a Pink Floyd medley. Moore-Towers and Marinaro finished the competition with 211.05 points, a new season’s best, outscoring the champions on the technical mark. The Canadians were happy to stand on the podium, but also slightly frustrated to be so close to victory and lose by such a small margin.
“We’re disappointed in the lifts today,” Marinaro said. “We’ve been focusing on that all season and we’ve been progressing pretty well on them, and for that go that way today was a pretty big disappointment because it’s been so tight. But we did a lot to be proud of today and we have our biggest score by a lot.”
“I think the result being so close to winning is a little bit bittersweet for us,” Moore-Towers added. “We’re proud of ourselves, but we know we left some good points on the table that maybe would have made for a result that we were more happy with, but if you would have told us last year we would have been disappointed at second, we would have called you crazy.”
Cheng Peng and Yang Jin from China rounded out the podium in third, earning their first ISU championships medal as a team. Jin doubled an intended side-by-side triple Salchow, but recovered well to skate the rest of the “La Vie en Rose” program without mistake. They finished the competition with 205.42 points.
“We’re not very satisfied with the performance today. We need to keep improving the quality,” Peng said of their triple jumps. “Despite the success rate of the triple jump in the training, we want to try that and challenge ourselves, and show what we have done in our training.”
“This competition is a good learning experience and a wake up call,” Jin said. “We have done the throw jump of good quality many times before and never had such mistake in the short program. This lets us know that in the future when competing in a smaller rink we need to pay more attention to the elements.”
American champions Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc finished in fourth place with 196.82 points. Cain struggled with the side-by-side jumps in their “W.E.” program, under rotating the triple loop attempt and doubling an intended triple Salchow attempt. The rest of the program, however, was a step forward for this team, and they eclipsed their season’s best score by more than 15 points.
“I wasn’t feeling great this morning, the practice was really rough for me and I was really dehydrated. So I went back to the hotel to rest and hydrate, and when I woke up I felt like a whole new person,” Cain said. “That’s how I wanted to come into the area, forget about what happened this morning and be as strong as I can be.”
Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier finished in fifth place with 184.18 points, ahead of teammates Tarah Kayne and Daniel O’Shea who finished in sixth with 180.36 points.
SHORT PROGRAM REPORT
Eight teams representing three nations skated in the pairs short program. This competition marked the return of 2018 Olympic silver medalists Wenjing Sui and Cong Han to the international scene after a hiatus due to Sui recovering injured right foot in late 2018.
It is not this team, however, that sits atop the leaderboard. The Chinese duo sits second behind the surprising leaders, Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro.
Skating to Leona Lewis’s version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” the Canadians connected with the program from the first note of the music, finishing the segment as the only team to skate mistake free. The result was a happy one for Moore-Towers who was also sidelined by an injury over the summer. The Canadians finished with a season’s best 74.66 points.
“The beginning of the season we felt like we were always trying to catch up,” Moore-Towers said. “The ankle itself is healing nicely; by now it’s a product of me being old and him throwing me a lot. We’re smart about it and how to keep healing and keep our skating growing.”
Sui and Han performed with the confidence one would expect of former World Champions, but they could not connect the side-by-side triple toe loops. Sui’s fall marred their otherwise superb “No One Like You” program and earned 74.19 points for their efforts. Sui and Han trail the leaders by less than half a point despite the mistake, and are looking to be stronger in tomorrow’s free skate.
“The fall hurt a lot,” Sui admitted. “This is our first competition, so I think we were a little too excited. I think we didn’t adjust our condition too well because in our practice we were normally able to skate clean in the short program. The mistake today was pretty unexpected, and I hope that we could adjust better toward tomorrow’s competition. We just want to skate the best we could and see where it takes us.”
“It’s been a long journey for us to be here today, so we look more at the overall performance in the free skate rather than a single element’s (Grade of Execution),” Han added. “We want to skate to our best and continue to work hard.”
A second Chinese team, Cheng Peng and Yang Jin finished in third place with 69.48 points. The duo performed well in their “Ophelia” short program, but Peng fell on the throw triple loop. The Grand Prix Final silver medalists also made some small mistakes on other elements, keeping them from challenging the top two.
“Today we missed the throw and death spiral level and spin level, we lost so many points,” Jin said. “We noticed the rink is a little smaller, so maybe tomorrow we’ll try to skate a little slower. We hope that we will do our best tomorrow.”
American champions Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc sit in fourth with 67.49 points. After skating what they thought was a clean program, Cain was visibly upset in the kiss and cry. In the end, the duo was charged with an under-rotation on the side-by-side triple loop jumps.
“We really want to be on the podium but we also want to put out two strong performances backing up our nationals performance to show we are here to play,” Cain said. “We hold ourselves to a really high standard so we’re going to try and do a clean performance tomorrow. We know coming in to this that we’re trained and we can do all of these elements pretty easily.”