Vincent Zhou competes in the men's championship free skate at 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 27, 2019 in Detroit.
With barely time to unpack and regroup from the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Team USA glides into the Four Continents Championships this week. At least the skaters don’t have far to travel, enjoying home ice in Anaheim, California.
While European figure skaters have a long history of staging their own event, Four Continents began in 1999 to give skaters from the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania (OK, that’s actually five continents) an additional international competition before the world championships (March 18-24 in Saitama, Japan).
The event is being held in the United States for the first time since 2012, when it took place in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Competitors from 12 nations compete in the men’s and women’s events, while there are only three countries (U.S., Canada and China) in pairs and five (U.S., Australia, Canada, China and Japan) in ice dance.
Here’s a look at some of the top storylines:
No Nathan Chen, But Here’s The U.S. Men
Chen, the reigning world champion, gave a master class in Detroit at last month’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships. This week, though, he’ll be in class. Chen decided not to compete so he could concentrate on his studies as a freshman at Yale University. Luckily, worlds falls on his spring break.
Vincent Zhou, a 2018 Olympian, won the silver medal at the U.S. championships, and is riding some momentum. “I’m very proud of myself for coming so far this season, because I had a late and rough start,” said Zhou, who was fifth at Skate America early in the season, progressing to a silver medal in an international event in Tallinn, Estonia, in late November.
Jason Brown, who won the bronze medal at last year’s Four Continents, has had a resurgence this season after missing a spot on Team USA at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. He led Chen after the short program in a grand prix event in France and went on to win the silver. Brown, whose artistry compensates for his struggles with landing a quadruple jump, has made a grand prix podium in all six of his senior international seasons.
Tomoki Hiwatashi, a world junior bronze medalist, rounds out Team USA after his fourth-place finish at nationals.
Japan Leads International Men’s Contenders
Nope, Yuzuru Hanyu won’t be in Anaheim, either. The Olympic champion from Japan is recovering from a right ankle injury and did not compete at the Japanese national championships in December. While he was selected to represent his country at worlds, he is not on the Japanese team for Four Continents.
Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan, who has won the last three Japanese titles in Hanyu’s absence, is the favorite. Statistically the odds are also in Uno’s favor. In the previous Four Continents championships going back to 2015, Uno placed fifth, fourth, third and second.
The man who beat Uno last year at Four Continents, Boyang Jin of China, is back to defend his title. His best grand prix result this season was fourth in Helsinki.
In Lieu of Alysa Liu…
Teen phenom Alysa Liu, who wowed the world and performed three triple axels in winning her first U.S. title at age 13, is too young to compete at Four Continents. Bradie Tennell, the 2018 national champ and Olympic bronze medalist in the team event, leads the U.S. women. Tennell will try to improve on a nationals free skate in which she had an uncharacteristic fall on her triple lutz.
“Mistakes happen and it’s important to learn from them,” said Tennell, who scored high marks on her presentation.
Mariah Bell, who also fell on her triple lutz at nationals, was third. She is the only U.S. women’s figure skater in the field with Four Continents experience, placing sixth in 2017 and fifth in 2018.
Ting Cui, seventh at world juniors last season and second in Tallinn this season, will compete in the largest international event of her career. She was fifth overall at nationals and third in the free skate.
Japan Again A Threat In Women’s Field
Japan also has the top contenders in the women’s field. Kaori Sakamoto and Mai Mihara went 1-2 last year at Four Continents. Mihara also was the champion in 2017 and won the silver medal this season at the grand prix event in Grenoble, France. Sakamoto was sixth in PyeongChang, second at Skate America and third at the grand prix in Helsinki. And then there’s 16-year-old Rika Kihira, who defeated Olympic champion Alina Zagitova of Russia at the Grand Prix Final. Kihira will be hoping to rebound after losing to Sakamoto at the Japanese nationals. Elisabet Tursynbaeva of Kazakstan was 11th at the Olympics and has been top 12 at the last three worlds.
Pairs A Team USA Strength
Team USA dominated the 2018 Four Continents pairs competition. Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, who won the gold, and Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, who secured the silver, return to defend their podium positions. However, Cain and LeDuc come in as U.S. champions, returning to form after Cain was injured in a competition in December. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier were second at nationals. Although Kayne and O’Shea placed fourth in Detroit, they got the nod for the final Four Continents berth, thanks in part to winning the short program.
Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China, the reigning Olympic silver medalists, have not competed internationally this season. They returned to training in July after a break to treat Wenjing’s injured right foot, which was diagnosed with a bone fatigue fracture. Kirstin Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro of Canada, who were sixth at last year’s worlds and 11th at the Olympic Games, are podium contenders.
Ice Dance Another Golden Opportunity For Hubbell And Donohue
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are undefeated this season and hope to return to the top of the Four Continents podium for the first time since winning the title in 2014. They were fourth in 2016 and 2017 and did not compete in the event last season. Hubbell and Donohue won Skate America, Skate Canada and the Grand Prix Final in addition to winning their second straight U.S. title.
Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who won the ice dance title last year at Four Continents, were third at the U.S. nationals.
Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the silver medalists at nationals, will be making only their third appearance of the season. “I’m just so happy to be healthy and to be able to skate,” Chock said, adding that she gets to “continue to do what I love with the person I love and coaches that are so wonderful and nurturing of this emotion. It’s the happiest I have ever been and it’s only going to get better.”
Canadian Experience A Plus
The three Canadian ice dance couples combine for the most international experience in the field. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Canada, who were eighth at the Olympic Games and sixth at worlds last season, have competed in every world championship since the 2012-13 season. They have also participated in five Four Continents events, with their best finish the silver medal in 2014. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje have competed in 10 world championships. Among their eight Four Continents appearances, they won gold in 2010 and 2015. Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen represented Denmark through last season, with five European Championship appearances. They switched to Canada when Fournier Beaudry was unable to get Danish citizenship. This is their first Four Continents.