On a day where moments of skating brilliance shown through, it was the consistency of Team North America, powered by its results in the pairs and ice dance portion, that gave the skaters from the United States and Canada the victory at the inaugural Kosé Team Challenge Cup Saturday night in Spokane, Washington.
Team North America won the competition with a score of 892.42, claiming the first-place prize of $210,000. Team Europe was second with an aggregate of 848.06, while Team Asia finished third with 820.22.
The North American side was spotted to a healthy lead entering the evening singles session, thanks to the performances of its pairs and ice dance members Saturday afternoon. The top scores for each team in each afternoon discipline were added to determine overall team standings. It was Canadian products Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (111.56 in free dance) and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (147.48 in pairs) who combined to give North America a score of 259.04, nearly 20 points ahead of Europe’s 239.42, while Asia sat a distant third at 201.96.
“This is a great way to close the season,” said Duhamel. “We aren’t trained the way we were going into the world championships. Maybe we were a little bit slower, a little bit more cautions, but we knew that today that’s how we had to approach this program. We had to be slower, we had to focus on breathing more.”
The highlight of their program was a throw quad Salchow, of which Radford said, “We only missed it once this year. We’ve been able to make it work at competition, which you have to do if you want to win.”
Poje agreed with Duhamel that the event was something needed as their season closed.
“After worlds being a bit of a letdown from where we had trained all season, we were looking forward to this competition and going out there and doing a performance that we could be proud of,” he said. “Even though we couldn’t train properly going into this competition, we went out there and just had fun with it and really enjoyed it.”
U.S. teams of Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim (pairs) and Madison Chock and Evan Bates (ice dance) won their respective groups with scores of 122.15 for Scimeca and Knierim and 111.30 for Chock and Bates.
The singles skaters took the ice in the evening for the free skate, with the top two scores from each team’s men and ladies counting toward the aggregate score.
After Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman and Nam Nguyen struggled in the first round, both coming in third, Team North America added to its lead in the second, when U.S. national champions Gracie Gold and Adam Rippon posted scores of 142.00 and 166.68, respectively, to win their groups. Team Asia was not able to close the margin by any considerable amount after China’s Boyang Jin stumbled twice during his skate, ending with a 156.71.
“I knew I wasn’t the most trained as I could be coming into this competition,” said Rippon. “My coach told me, ‘Just do your job.’ That meant doing each element the best I could. I went for everything. That’s what I’m proud of. I didn’t give up on any of the levels. I tried to fight my hardest right through to the bitter end. I’m so happy I could help my team stay in first place heading into this final group.
The men led off the third round with Team Asia’s Shoma Uno of Japan first up. The athletic teenager hit a quad flip for the second time in as many nights after becoming the first in history to complete it in competition the night before. His performance earned him the highest score of the night, 192.92, putting pressure on Jason Brown to come close to that score to keep North America on top. Showing that he’s fully returned from a back injury that sidelined him virtually all season, Brown was not as athletic as Uno, but his artistry and seamless form propelled him to a 181.50, enough to keep Team Asia at arm’s length going into the evening’s final three skaters.
“I had really high expectations coming back,” said Brown, a bronze medalist in the team event at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. “I was super, super nervous going in because I had set such a high bar. I had been off for so long (since October) and I wanted to make a splash, I wanted to make a statement when I came back. I didn’t want to be forgotten. I wanted to prove myself at the end of the season. I worked so hard to get healthy and back into shape. To be able to put out those two programs and meet my expectations and, in some places, exceed them, I’m so thrilled and proud to add two personal bests and add to the team points.”
As the evening wound down to the final three skaters, it became more apparent that Team North America had locked up first place. Japan’s Satoko Miyahara led off for Team Asia, giving them a 145.02, followed by newly-crowned world and European champion Evgenia Medvedeva for Team Europe, who scored 151.55. When world silver medalist Ashley Wagner took the ice, the standings were set, but her 143.20 would be the second ladies score used in the Team North America final aggregate total.
“Tonight, I really had to fight because I’m absolutely exhausted,” Wagner said. “Coming off such a great worlds I knew that I had set the bar really high for myself and I wanted to end this program off on a very strong note. The triple-triple in the second half for me was amazing. I pulled that out of somewhere very deep inside of me, so I was happy that I was able to pull that off when I needed to. The jumps were not perfect, but I got the job done.”