Four Continents Championships

Yuzuru Hanyu wins Four Continents; next: world championships and Nathan Chen

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Yuzuru Hanyu overcame an unspecified problem before taking the ice to win the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, a tune-up event for next month’s world championships.

Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion, totaled 299.42 points — a world-record 111.82-point short program followed by Sunday’s 187.60-point free skate with four quadruple jump attempts (and a fall). He distanced silver medalist Jason Brown of the U.S. by 24.6 points in Seoul.

“Before taking the ice, there was something not as usual happened, so it was difficult for me to concentrate,” Hanyu said through a translator, adding, according to the International Skating Union, that there was “a problem with the ice.” “To be honest, I wasn’t able to let myself really, really get into the program.

“I’m not able to say happy with my performance today, but I really wanted to get the win, so actually I am glad.”

Hanyu’s total score was 23.1 points shy of his season’s best and 35.88 points shy of American Nathan Chen‘s total at December’s Grand Prix Final. Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, outscored Hanyu in their last five head-to-head programs starting with the Olympic free skate.

Chen skipped Four Continents to focus on Yale sophomore studies.

Hanyu completed a set of major championship titles with his first Four Continents crown. The event invites the top skaters from the Americas, Asia and Australia. Hanyu earned his first international medal at the event in 2011 at age 16, a silver.

Brown, the U.S. silver medalist, posted his highest-scoring free skate and highest total score of his senior international career. His free skate — to music from “Schindler’s List” — was strong save doubling a potential quadruple toe loop. He has yet to land a clean, fully rotated quad in competition, but Brown is now ranked fourth in the world this season.

“Overall, I’m really happy with my performance,” he said. “I had a little blip, which I would have loved to have tackled. I would have loved to skate completely clean. But I guess I have to leave a little left over for worlds.”

Earlier, Japanese favorite Rika Kihira won the women’s Four Continents title as one of three skaters to attempt a triple Axel in the free skate. She won by 11.11 points over South Korean 15-year-old You Young. U.S. Olympian Bradie Tennell took bronze.

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Yuzuru Hanyu breaks world record at Four Continents; Chock, Bates win ice dance

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Yuzuru Hanyu skated the highest-scoring short program in history, breaking his own record at the Four Continents Championships in Seoul on Friday.

Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion, tallied 111.82 points with a quadruple Salchow and a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination. Hanyu reverted to his 2018 Olympic season short program for the first time. He held the previous short program record of 110.53 from November 2018.

“Today’s performance was the most perfect performance I’ve ever done,” Hanyu said, according to the International Skating Union. “I set as a goal a score higher than 110 for myself.”

Hanyu leads China’s Jin Boyang by 15.99 points going into the free skate. American Jason Brown is in third.

Four Continents features top skaters from North America, Asia (but not Russia, which is part of Europe in Olympic sport) and Australia. A TV and live stream schedule is here.

Hanyu and other skaters are preparing for March’s world championships in Montreal. That’s where Hanyu will next face Nathan Chen, who is skipping Four Continents to focus on sophomore studies at Yale. Chen beat Hanyu in their last five head-to-head programs starting with the 2018 Olympic free skate.

Earlier, U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates extended their resurgence, repeating as Four Continents ice dance gold medalists despite a free-dance fall. Chock and Bates, eighth and ninth at their two Olympics, totaled 213.18 to beat Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier by three points.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, the top U.S. couple the previous two seasons, dropped from first after the rhythm dance to third. Donohue erred on a twizzle in the free dance.

Chock and Bates bettered Hubbell and Donohue in all three head-to-heads this season. Chock and Bates rank third in the world going into the world championships, trailing four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia.

At the European Championships last month, the Russians handed the French their first defeat since the PyeongChang Olympics.

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Can U.S. pair Calalang and Johnson repeat their shining moment?

Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson
AP
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Recent results would dissuade anyone from getting carried away over what seems a breakthrough performance by a U.S. pair.

Such performances have happened off-and-on in the past few decades, but not since 2011 has a U.S. pair finished in the top six at the World Championships. And not since 1996 has a U.S. pair won a world medal in a non-Olympic year. (Post-Olympic fields at worlds generally are watered down by the absence of the new Olympic medalists.) And not since 2002 has a U.S. pair won a world medal in any year. And only once (2015) since 2007 has a U.S. pair made it to the Grand Prix Final.

Even with those historical caveats, there is reason to be hopeful about Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson.

Their free skate at nationals was error-free (rare for a top U.S. pair), and it included difficult elements executed well: throw triple Lutz, two sets of triple jumps (one in combination with a double). The only (minor) ding from the judges was a triple twist given a Level 3 instead of a Level 4.

Their skating had suppleness, flow, speed and a bit of the spectacular in a final lift that covered two-thirds of the outer edge of the rink. They have eschewed intricate choreography to emphasize security on elements, a wise choice at this point in a partnership in only its second season. They have improved substantially in a year.

The California-based Calalang and Johnson, both 24, began this season hoping to get invitations to two Challenger Series (B level) events and wound up with two Grand Prix (A level) events, beating the 2019 U.S. champs, Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, in one and muddling through the other.

They then had two flawed skates while beating a desultory field to win December’s Challenger Series event in Warsaw and a flawed short program at nationals. Nothing else they had done this season foreshadowed that sparkling free skate in Greensboro, N.C.

“This was our second year together,” Calalang said. “We weren’t skating perfect at every competition, but we were training really hard, day in and day out. It all paid off to have that moment. No one can take that moment away from us.”

Their challenge at the Four Continents Championships this week in Seoul, South Korea, is to prove that free skate wasn’t a one-off.

“We have to prove ourselves still.”

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Rehashing the momentous free skate in an interview the day after was as entertaining as watching them perform it, given their narration of the often-amusing by-play between them during the four minutes of skating and of what they felt waiting for their scores. Here is an edited transcript:

Have you had time to digest everything that has happened?

Calalang: We’re speechless. Every time we get asked, we’re like, “Did that just really happen?”

At the end, what were you thinking and feeling? And how did you keep it together?

Calalang: Well, actually, from the beginning, we did the twist and we were like, “That was a pretty good twist.”

You’re actually thinking that as you go through it?

Johnson: Oh, yeah.

Calalang: I’m making faces at this one [she nods at Johnson]. He tends to get excited, and then things start to change a little bit, and I just wanted him to be calm.

So, continue the narration.

Calalang: So, then we did the toes (side-by-side triple toe loops in combination with double toes). Obviously, we were very focused on just doing our own jump. I heard the reaction of the crowd, and I was like, “I think he did it. I think we both did it.” But we still had another triple (Salchow) right afterwards… I don’t think I was smiling at all for the first minute.

Johnson: I always like to look around at people whenever I’m skating. I remember going out of the toe into the Sal and looking at the judges and going, “Nope… okay… hold on… I’ve got to do it.”

Calalang: So, then we did the Sals. I can see that he landed. I was facing opposite but I was like (she makes a slack-jawed expression). And I turned around and thought, “Now, gotta be calm.”

Johnson: Then going into the lift she’s like, “Calm, Calm.” (I thought), “Okay, okay, I’ve got this.”

Calalang: So, we do the lift, we do the death spiral, and that’s where we have our slow, breather part.

Johnson: We both look at each other like… (takes deep breath).

Calalang: Easy, easy. We did the throw Sal. Great. Go into the lift. Great. Then we have our choreo sequence, and he’s pulling me around a lot. That’s when we realize we only have three or four elements left. Todd and Jenni (coaches Todd Sand and Jenni Meno, three-time pairs world medalists) heard me talking to him, telling him to be calm, easy, gentle. I go into the throw Lutz and it’s like, “Easy.” And then do the throw Lutz. And then, “Okay. Just two more things left.”

Johnson: The last lift, people started standing, everyone was freaking out, it was amazing. And then I went, “I still have a pairs spin left. Hold on. Refocus.”

Calalang: You don’t want to leave any points on the table. We really had to hone in and make sure we got that level four pairs spin. And then in the spin, I was like, “Did you do (land) the jumps?” I just wanted to double check.”

Johnson: (I said), “Did you do them?”

Calalang: We were like, “Yeaaaaaaaaah.” That was what was happening in our program.

It sounds like a full-on conversation.

Johnson: We talk to each other all the time. It’s a lot of one-word stuff. A lot of facial expressions as well, so when she makes a face, I know what that means.

So when you’re finally done, and you don’t have to focus on being calm or gentle, in your ending pose, what was that moment for you?

Calalang: We were like, “We just did that. Oh, my god.”

Johnson: Speechless, excited relief.

You (Calalang) said, “Oh, my god!” about five times when you saw the scores.

Calalang: In my head I’m like, “We got 119 at Skate Canada. We got 120-something at Warsaw.” So, I was like, “Okay, we did both jumps…maybe 130.” Then it’s 140. Oh, my god, I’ve never dreamed of getting this score. I didn’t think it was possible.

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The score, 146.01, is the highest by a U.S. pair in the two seasons of the judging system’s latest incarnation, which has opened the way to higher scores. A better comparison is that it was 26 points higher than their free skate score at nationals in 2019.

For all that, though, they finished second overall, 2.58 points behind Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim, who won their third title. The Knierims also are competing at Four Continents, in which the pairs competition begins with the short program Thursday afternoon at 2:15 (12:15 a.m. ET).

The Four Continents pairs field is strong. It has three teams who competed in the Grand Prix Final, including the top two finishers: Chinese pairs Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, the reigning world champions, and Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, fourth at worlds last year.

Where Calalang and Johnson finish is less important than whether they can show consistent, high-level skating.

“We have to prove ourselves still,” Calalang said.

She and Johnson have had a shining moment.

The question now, as it usually is for U.S. pairs, is whether it will be just one shining moment.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: 2020 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships TV, stream schedule

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.

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