Kim takes gold at 2009 Four Continents

In front of a sold-out crowd, the three ladies with the highest scores so far this season went head to head in a competition for the ages.

It was Joannie Rochette’s home crowd in Vancouver, Canada, but it was hard to tell given the number of fans in the house to support Japan’s Mao Asada and Korea’s Yu-Na Kim.

All three ladies received such boisterous applause that one might think that all three ladies were skating in their hometowns.

“I was surprised that there were so many Korean people in the audience,” Kim said. “I was so happy to see so many faces from overseas. It’s good to perform so well for them.”

Rochette added, “The audience was great. It is sometimes stressful to skate in front of a home audience, but I think that this is good practice for the Olympics next year. Tonight I felt them supporting me, and that inspired me to perform well.”

Asada agreed, “I was so happy to see so many Japanese people. They gave me power.”

Because of her almost six point lead after the short program, Kim had some room for error in the free skate. Skating last, all she had to do was skate clean, and the Four Continents title was hers. Though she opened strong with her trademark triple flip-triple toe loop combination, Kim struggled on her next two jumping passes. The first was an underrotated triple loop jump, a move that is somewhat new to the skater.

“I tried a triple loop this time, and it was hard to do this time,” Kim explained. “Maybe I will try it against next time, and it will be better.”

After the mistake on the loop, Kim next tried a triple Lutz-double toe-double loop combination, but again, did not receive full credit because both the Lutz and loop were called short of rotation. However, the Worlds bronze medalist rebounded, and landed three more triple jumps in her Scheherazade program, edging out Rochette for the win.

“It is nice to win, but I never see the short program and freeskate as two events,” explained Kim. “I try to skate my best every time, and see it as one competition.”

Kim did not win the free skate, but her free skate total of 116.83 points, coupled with her significant lead from the short program, gave her a winning total of 189.07 points.

Rochette skated beautifully to Concierto de Aranjuez, and perhaps had the most well-balanced performance of the night, blending strong technical elements with a delicate artistry that drew the crowd into her performance.

“This was a good performance that I can build on for the World Championships,” said Rochette. “I will go home from here and get some good rest so that I can start my preparations for the next competition.”

The five-time Canadian Champion started out strong with a triple Lutz-double toe loop-double loop combination, and landed three more triple jumps before making a mistake. Rochette lost credit for a triple Salchow on the end of a triple toe loop sequence because she had to take too many steps between the two jumps.

“When the triple toeloop wasn’t landed good enough for doing the triple Salchow (for the sequence), I wasn’t sure if the rules allowed to do a Salchow anywhere else,” explained Rochette. “But I just wanted to do it for myself. Now I know that it doesn’t count and I should just do a nice triple toeloop.”

Rochette later singled an Axel in her second jump sequence in the program. In total, the silver medalist lost about 7 points of base mark that would have propelled her to her first international championship gold medal.

“Although I missed points on my sequence and did a jump that was not counted, I was happy with the overall performance,” Rochette said.

Rochette finished ahead of Kim in the free skate with 117.01 points, but her competition total 183.91was not good enough to overtake the winner.

Finishing in third place after a disastrous short program, Asada opened her Waltz from Masquerade free skate with an intended triple Axel that was popped into a single. Immediately, the Japanese Champion set up for the jump again, and this time nailed it. Including the Axel, Asada landed four triple jumps, and won the free skate with 118.66 points.

“I was just planning on trying the Axel once,” admitted Asada. “But I made a mistake the first time, so I tried to do it better the second time.”

Asada skated without expression through most of her program, concentrating on the technical elements as if checking off items on a list. It was wasn’t until the end in the straight line steps that the World Champion seemed to come alive, and by then it was too late to give Kim a challenge for the title.

“This is the best that I have skated my program all season, so I am happy with how it went,” said the defending champion.

Asada finished with a total of 176.52 points, a total far below her personal best.

Moving up from fifth place with a strong performance was USA’s Caroline Zhang. Skating to Ave Maria, Zhang skated a technically brilliant program, with only one glaring error- a slight under rotation of the back half of a triple flip-triple toe loop combination.

“I was watching the whole thing backstage and really didn’t expect to finish any higher than sixth – so I’m totally thrilled,” said the U.S. bronze medalist.

Zhang, who will not be competing in the World Championships in March, bested her fellow Americans, and made a case for the team to be reconsidered. The former World Junior champion’s technical elements score was the highest of the night, but she seemed pleased with her skate, and chose not to focus on missing the World Championships in her hometown.

“It’s really exciting! I didn’t know that until now,” Zhang said about being the top American finisher. “I guess I just wish that I did better at nationals so that I would have the opportunity to compete (at Worlds).”

Zhang scored 113.06 points in the freeskate and a 171.22 points overall, her highest total since the 2008 Grand Prix Final.

Finishing in fifth place after two inspired skates was Cynthia Phaneuf of Canada. The student from Quebec landed five clean triple jumps, and blew away her personal best in the free skate by more than six points.

“I am disappointed about missing a medal,” admitted the Canadian silver medalist, “but I am very happy about my skate. If I skate like this at Worlds, it will be achievable for Canada to earn three spots for the Olympics.”

Though the 21-year-old made a couple of minor errors, Phaneuf attacked her “Cleopatra” program, and skated with such joy that the audience couldn’t help but cheer her on.

“The audience was so wonderful,” Phaneuf gushed. “It was so much fun skating for them.”

Phaneuf earned 108.43 points for her freeskate, and her competition total of 169.41 bettered her personal best by almost ten points.

Japan’s Fumie Suguri had a rough outing, falling from fourth to sixth place overall with a competition total of 167.74 points.

“I just need to practice more and more,” admitted the former World medalist. “My coach knows how to get good results. I trust him.”

Americans Rachael Flatt and Alissa Czisny finished in seventh and ninth place respectively, while Japan’s Akiko Suzuki placed eighth. Amelie LaCoste of Canada rounded out the top 10.

The event concludes with the Men’s Long Program.

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