Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc did a little fist pump after their playful short program to “Bella Belle” by The Electric Swing Circus at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships Friday.
But they quickly found out it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that full rotation on the side-by-side triple loop.
The U.S. national pairs champions were surprised by their score of 67.49 points, which was a season best yet lower than they expected, because, “It felt really good overall," Cain said.
They are in fourth place going into Saturday’s free skate behind Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro of Canada (74.66 points), Olympic silver medalists Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China (74.19), who lost points when Sui fell on her side-by-side triple toe loop, and Cheng Peng and Yang Jin of China ( 69.48), who had a fall on their throw.
Team USA’s Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, the defending Four Continents gold medalists, are in fifth place with 66.34 points and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier are in seventh with 61.71.
After examining the judges’ marks, Cain and LeDuc saw they’d under-rotated the triple loop, the most difficult side-by-side jump attempted by any couple in the field, and missed a few levels as well.
“So that actually shows that we can get a much higher score, which is good for us,” Cain said.
They’ll try to clean up their errors before next month’s world championships in Saitama, Japan, where they will be the only U.S. entry in their worlds debut. A top-10 finish would secure two slots for Team USA at the 2020 worlds.
Cain and LeDuc were ninth at Four Continents in 2017 and won the silver medal last year.
“This is a really hard competition,” said LeDuc. “Being in the U.S. we feel a pressure being national champions and it being on home ice, also being so close to nationals, the turnaround is really difficult. But we’re very pleased with our effort today. Everything in the program felt very much in line with what we’ve been training and very much in line with the mindset we’ve set for ourselves.”
During the short time at home after nationals, they worked with Nina Mozer of Russia, who coached the 2014 Olympic gold and silver medalists.
Even though the triple loops cost them, they have no intention of switching to an easier jump.
“There are only so many places that you can gain points now,” Cain said, “and doing a harder solo jump definitely ups your program score. It’s a big risk, but I think that’s what sport’s all about.”
Kayne and O’Shea, skating to “Turning Page” by Sleeping At Last, are trying to turn their page on a disastrous free skate at nationals. Although they placed fourth - after winning the short program, they were selected for Four Continents based on their experience.
Despite Kayne’s misstep on her triple salchow, the score was their highest of the season internationally.
“I thought, ‘If I could only have that one jump back,’” she said. “I’ve been very consistent this week, so I’m just kind of frustrated the one that wasn’t my best happened during our program, but overall, I was very happy with how I skated.”
After ending nationals on a down note, they have a chance to end the season on an upswing.
“It’s been very nice to be able to have a quick turnaround and leave that in the past and have something to focus on moving forward and attack this week,” said O’Shea. “It’s been something our coach Dalilah Sappenfield has been hammering into us. This isn’t a week for being careful. It’s for attacking, going all out.”
At nationals, they botched a lift late in the free skate.
“It’s something that has never happened to us before honestly and so that’s why I was so shocked when it happened,” Kayne said. “It was like, ‘What was that?’ Sometimes going up into a jump or a throw it feels a little off on the takeoff, and you go in the air, go, ‘Uh-oh, this isn’t going to be great,’ but we don’t usually have those types of issues on lifts, so it was really surprising to us.
“You can’t sit there going into every lift like, ‘How’s this one going to go?’ We want to leave it behind.”
Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, skating to “Billie Jean” by David Cook, are also trying to finish the season strong.
Because of Denney’s ankle injury, they had to withdraw from their second grand prix event in France last fall. They secured the silver medal at nationals.
“We had some extra fuel in the tank because we didn’t have a full season,” Frazier said, “so it’s playing a little bit of a role right here. I felt better physically in that short than I did at nationals. A little extra juice is always nice.”
Denney said they weren’t bothered by the quick turnaround since nationals two weeks ago. “Your body’s already trained and your mind’s already in that competition mindset mode. It’s just a matter of keeping our energy up. After this we’ll be mentally and physically exhausted, but now we’ll keep the adrenaline going.”