AP

Four Continents Reporter’s Notebook Day 1: Can U.S. Figure Skating’s junior world team help improve results?

Leave a comment

The next time you complain about working overtime, think of Timoki Hiwatashi and Ting Cui.

The young skaters distinguished themselves at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Mich., placing fourth and fifth, respectively, in the senior men’s and ladies’ divisions. Cui finished up her event the night of Jan. 25; Hiwatashi, on the afternoon of Jan. 27.

Both are age-eligible for the 2019 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Zagreb, Croatia Mar. 4-10, and both were invited to U.S. Figure Skating’s first-ever World Junior Team Camp, held Sunday and Monday in Strongsville, Ohio. To no one’s surprise, they were selected for the U.S. World Junior Team.

From there, Cui and Hiwatashi journeyed to Anaheim, Calif. for the 2019 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. Three major competitions and a monitoring camp, all in the space of six weeks.

MORE: Bradie Tennell, Vincent Zhou lead Four Continents after short programs

“I flew straight here, so it’s kind of been a crazy week after nationals,” Cui, 16, said.

The 19-year-old Hiwatashi, who wasn’t expecting his fourth-place finish and subsequent Four Continents’ assignment, is glad to be here but admitted the schedule was tough.

“Originally I was planning to go back (home) to Chicago, take a rest, I wasn’t expecting fourth,” Hiwatashi said, adding, “I guess I may be a little fatigued, but I try not to think about anything. I try to do the best recovery I can, the best warm-up I can, to come here and not get injured.”

Neither Cui nor Hiwatashi looked fatigued during their short programs at the Honda Center on Thursday. Cui skated clean, earning 66.73 points and seventh place for a Rachmaninov short that included a triple lutz-triple toe loop combination; Hiwatashi touched down his free leg on the landing of his triple Axel, but shone in the rest of his jazzy “Cry Me a River” program, earning 76.95 points for ninth place.

“I was just trying to be focused and do what I do in practice,” Cui said. “When I landed (the triple-triple) I was happy to be able to complete it. It wasn’t my best one but I was happy I did it.”

Tom Zakrajsek, who coaches Cui in Colorado Springs, Colo., doesn’t think his skater is overdoing things.

“She practices so intensely, I told her to just think of it as how you practice every day,” Zakrajsek said. “She likes to have an intense workload, so nationals with the Junior Worlds Camp and then (Four Continents) is just like three weeks of hard training. If anything, it’s made her do less than she normally does in training.”

Cui, Harrell hope to end Junior Worlds’ medal drought

The camp, which included singles’ skaters only, simulated competition of both the short programs and free skates, with skaters receiving protocols complete with element levels, grades of execution and program component scores. Zakrajsek was uncertain if the process helped Cui.

“Well…I’d guess yes,” he said. “I think competing here in Anaheim is really helpful for Ting. We do what we are told we have to do (by U.S. Figure Skating) and the camp is not negotiable.”

No U.S. lady has earned a medal at Junior Worlds since Gracie Gold took silver in 2012. In the six seasons since then, Russian and Japanese ladies have claimed all of the medals. The last U.S. lady to win the event was Rachael Flatt in 2008. Cui, the top U.S. finisher last season, placed seventh.

At the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, Russians Alena Kostornaia, Alexandra Trusova and Alena Kanysheva claimed the top three spots. No U.S. lady qualified.

Results like this helped give birth to the camp, said Justin Dillon, U.S. Figure Skating’s Director, High Performance Development.

“The data over the last couple of years has shown our skaters are not as consistent as we would like them to be,” Dillon said, attributing some of the deficit to lack of direct head-to-head competition.

“We want to put these athletes together for a little bit of training, and also competition,” he added.

Differences in event types – some of the skaters competed on the Junior Grand Prix, while others had their best performances at senior events – make direct comparisons difficult.

“For example, the energy was different for Gabriella Izzo, who won juniors in Detroit, than it was for the ladies competing as seniors,” Dillon said. “I would like to see them do junior programs side-by-side…Apples to apples is a better way for U.S. Figure Skating to evaluate the athletes.”

Hanna Harrell, fourth at the 2019 U.S. Championships, will join Cui in Croatia. Alex Krasnozhon, who placed fifth in Detroit, and Camden Pulkinen, who was 12th, round out the U.S. junior men’s team.

Other skaters considered at the camp were: on the ladies’ side, Starr Andrews (eighth in Detroit); Emmy Ma (ninth) and Izzo, the 2019 U.S. junior ladies’ champion. Andrew Torgashev, seventh in Detroit, attended the camp, as did the top two junior men’s finishers, Ryan Dunk and Dinh Tran.

U.S. men have fared better on the junior circuit than U.S. ladies. In recent years, Nathan Chen and Hiwatashi have earned medals at Junior Worlds, and Vincent Zhou won the event in 2017.  But while Pulkinen, Hiwatashi and Torgashev all qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final this season, none of them earned medals. (Torgashev withdrew from the event due to a fractured right big toe.)

According to Zakrajsek, while Pulkinen was disappointed by his programs in Detroit, his performances at the camp helped lift him to the team.

“At this camp, everyone stands around and watches you, including your competitors,” Zakrajsek said. “Eyes are on you the entire time, and Camden went out and did clean programs. He threw down a clean long program when he had to.”

The U.S. Championships and World Junior Team Camp are not the only criteria considered. The International Selection Committee also looks at performances on the Grand Prix circuit; placements at past World Junior Championships, and ISU Challenger Series’ performances.

“Camden did very well in Tier 2, 3 and 4 of the criteria, but in Tier 1, nationals, he didn’t,” Zakrajsek said. “At camp, we did some things a little different than we normally do, to help bring out his best.”

As for Cui, Zakrajsek thinks she’s capable of scoring an upset at the World Junior Championships.

“She has a maturity and a complete performance (quality) not all of the top girls have,” he said. “We know she can break 70 points in the short program, she did that at the Junior Grand Prix at Ostrava (in September; Cui placed seventh overall). She’s even stronger now. If she can break 70 in the short at Junior Worlds, she will be right in the medal hunt.”

MORE: How to watch Four Continents

Anna Shcherbakova lands two quad Lutzes to win Skate America in Grand Prix debut

Getty
Leave a comment

15-year-old Anna Shcherbakova of Russia became the first senior lady to complete two quadruple Lutz jumps in international competition en route to winning her first ever senior Grand Prix title in Las Vegas on Saturday at Skate America.

In her senior Grand Prix debut, Shcherbakova opened her free skate with a clean quad Lutz, triple toe combination followed by a clean solo quad Lutz. She also included two triple-triple combinations in her free skate — a triple Lutz, triple loop (where the loop was called under-rotated) and a triple flip, Euler, triple Salchow (where the Salchow was called under-rotated) — which scored 160.16 points. She won gold with a total score of 227.76 points, vaulting from fourth after the short program to land atop the podium.

“I was really excited to skate my first time at senior Grand Prix. I was little bit nervous, too, but it was OK and my coaches helped me to do my best,” Shcherbakova said in English following her victory. “We work on this jump a lot and we jump it every day, every training. I’m so happy I can show that I can do quad jumps. I’m really happy today that I did two quads.”

Another notable feature of Shcherbakova’s free skate? A mid-program, mid-ice costume change.

Shcherbakova trains alongside reigning world and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova in Moscow under coach Eteri Tutberidze, known for training a host of burgeoning Russian skaters. She’s next scheduled to compete on the Grand Prix circuit at Cup of China in November.

Despite competing at the junior level at the time, Shcherbakova won the Russian national title ahead of skaters like Zagitova and Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva. She also won silver at last season’s world junior championships.

MORE: A quad revolution coming to ladies’ skating

Bradie Tennell, who led after Friday’s short program, wound up in second place after a clean free skate that scored 141.04 points for a total overall score of 216.14 points. That left her sandwiched between the Russians. It’s her first silver medal on the Grand Prix series after winning bronze at Skate America in 2017 and bronze at Grand Prix France in 2018.

MORE: Bradie Tennell’s personality shines through at Skate America

Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva, the 2015 world champion from Russia, was fifth after the short program but executed two clean triple Axels (one in combination with a double toe) to start off her free skate. She scored 138.69 in the free skate and ultimately finished with a bronze medal with 205.97 total points.

Japan’s skaters were in second and third place after the short program on Friday, but Kaori Sakamoto slid to fourth and Wakaba Higuchi fell to sixth. Sakamoto finished with silver medals at Skate America for the past two years, and Higuchi won silver at the 2018 World Championships.

Skate America results are here.

Karen Chen, competing in her first major international event since the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, fell three times and finished eighth. She scored 99.64 in the free skate for 165.67 total points. The Cornell University freshman called this year her “comeback year” after a foot injury and is also slated to compete at NHK Trophy in Japan in November.

The third American in the field, Amber Glenn, totaled 104.92 points in the free skate and finished in seventh place with a total of 169.63 points.

The Grand Prix season continues next weekend with Skate Canada, taking place in Kelowna, British Columbia. Coverage will be available to NBC Sports Gold “Figure Skating Pass” subscribers and televised. Check out the 2019-20 season broadcast schedule for more details.

Skate America: Nathan Chen, Jason Brown 1-2 in men’s | Hubbell, Donohue defend ice dance title

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Hubbell, Donohue defend Skate America title to extend U.S. dance legacy

Getty
Leave a comment

Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue extended the U.S.’ ice dance legacy Saturday evening at Skate America in Las Vegas, winning their second straight title at the event.

Hubbell and Donohue, two-time and reigning national champions, performed their free dance to selections from “A Star is Born,” scoring 124.58 points, for a total score of 209.55 points. It was their season debut and the duo are slated to compete next weekend at Skate Canada to lock up a spot in December’s prestigious Grand Prix Final.

“We were happy to put it out for the first time and looking forward to getting a lot of feedback,” Hubbell said afterward through U.S. Figure Skating. “There were good things and not so good things, and we feel like we can make a lot of progress for next week. There was a nice crowd reaction and there was a good connection between the two of us and that’s a great place to start.”

“I’m hoping to have two working lungs by Skate Canada,” added Donohue, who revealed he has bronchitis.

U.S. ice dance teams have now won 15 of the last 17 Skate America titles, going back to 2003.

Aleksandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, who sat fourth behind Hubbell and Donohue at the 2019 World Championships, finished runner-up by a 2.98-point margin. Their free dance to Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” won the phase with 124.66 points, but their overall score of 206.57 landed them in second place.

Canada’s Laurence Fornier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen claimed the bronze medal. Their free dance tallied 118.36 points and they earned an overall score of 197.53 points. Until January 2018, the team represented Denmark. This Skate America bronze is their first-ever Grand Prix medal.

Skate America results are here.

The other American teams in the field finished sixth and seventh. Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko earned 180.55 total points, while Caroline Green and Michael Parsons scored 173.03. Green and Parsons were skating in their Grand Prix debut as a new team this season. Green formerly danced with her brother and Parsons was previously partnered with his sister.

“I’m very pleasantly surprised at how well she has adapted to senior,” Parsons said of Green, who last year competed on the junior level. “She has done really well and I couldn’t be happier.”

“I think that it is a challenge that I am ready for,” Green said of the change. “I’m happy to see that. I think this competition sort of solidified in myself that I’m capable of competing at the senior level. It was definitely a little confidence boost there.”

U.S. ice dance wins at Skate America:

  • 2003: Tanith White and Ben Agosto
  • 2004: White/Agosto
  • 2005: White/Agosto
  • 2007: White/Agosto
  • 2009: White/Agosto
  • 2010: Meryl Davis and Charlie White
  • 2011: Davis/White
  • 2012: Davis/White
  • 2013: Davis/White
  • 2014: Madison Chock and Evan Bates
  • 2015: Chock/Bates
  • 2016: Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani
  • 2017: Shibutani/Shibutani
  • 2018: Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue
  • 2019: Hubbell and Donohue

MORE: How to watch Skate America | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown atop men’s field | Shcherbakova lands two quads to win ladies’ event

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!