Buoyed by strong performances from its three men, Team Asia won the singles competition as the 2016 Kose Team Challenge Cup opened at Spokane Arena Spokane, Washington.
The unique competition format divided the competitors into three teams: Team North America, Team Europe and Team Asia. On Friday evening, the men and ladies squared off, skating their short programs in head-to-head-to-head battles. Each team fielded three men and three women, one in each of three rounds, with the highest score of each round earning that team 12 points. Second place in the group gained 10 points and third earned 8. At stake was more than $100,000 in prize money.
The scoring system dampened what could have been a runaway score by Team Asia’s talented men’s jumpers, led by Japan’s Shoma Uno. The 18-year-old earned a score of 105.74 by becoming the first skater ever to land a quad flip in competition.
“I was not sure if I could make it tonight,” said Uno of the historic quad flip. “Since I made it I’m really confident for next season. To land that flip successfully is making my other jumps better.
As dramatic as his performance was in the second round, it still earned only 12 points for his team, but it also earned Uno the men’s individual title and a $5,000 prize. The women’s individual title went to Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva, the newly crowned ladies’ world champion.
“The support of my team was very important to me,” said Medvedeva, “because this was my first experience being part of the team and being supported by a team. I thought it was going to be a burden, but to the contrary, it was motivating me.”
At the halfway mark of the competition, the score was tied with each team earning 30 points. Uno’s performance spotted Team Asia a two-point lead over Team North America entering the fifth round, where 2016 world bronze medalist Boyang Jin laid down his usual athletic performance to complete a Team Asia sweep of the men’s groups. Jason Brown, a bronze medalist in the team event for the U.S. at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, returned to competition after being sidelined by injury and clearly relished the opportunity to be on the ice, taking second in his group behind Jin.
“Going out there and being healthy and being able to be part of this event is a victory in itself,” Brown said afterward. “Going out for that short, I was more nervous than I can remember being. It was that first time back, I was doing a new program for the first time. I wanted to do well and wanted to help the team out. I was definitely anxious and nervous, but I am so glad to have gone out there and trusted that training and committed to everything.”
Team North America’s men placed second in each of their groups, with reigning U.S. champion Adam Rippon trailing Team Asia’s Denis Ten in the first group of the evening. Canadian Nam Nguyen was second to Uno. Team Europe’s men were plagued by falls throughout the night, and their performances held back the team’s overall score.
As the final group took the ice, Team Asia held a four-point lead over Team North America, 54-50. It would take a strong performance from newly-minted world silver medalist Ashley Wagner and a last-place finish by Team Asia’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva to keep hopes alive for a possible tie in the team scores. Wagner delivered with a strong skate to claim the 12 points for the best score in the round, but the second-place finish by Tursynbaeva was enough to give her team the win with 64 points, earning them a $60,000 prize. Team North America was second with 62 points, buoyed by group wins by Wagner and Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman, while Team Europe finished third with 54. Gracie Gold was third to Medvedeva and Satoko Miyahara.
“This is more of mental practice for me,” said Wagner, “just sticking to that technique that Rafael (Arutunyan, her coach) and I have been training so hard for under pressure. I am way out of shape, and I’ll be the first one to admit it. I don’t know what to expect (Saturday), but for tonight I’m happy with what I did.”
Competition continues Saturday with all four disciplines taking the ice for their free skates/dances in an aggregate scoring format that will determine the Team Challenge Cup champion. Saturday’s prized purse totals nearly $500,000, giving the event a total prize purse of $617,000.