The ISU created the Four Continents Championships to give non-European skaters an additional opportunity to compete and to earn prize money. The event is also supposed to promote skating in countries where the sport is not as developed yet. The inaugural event was held in 1999, and the championships have continued to grow year by year. Of course the event has not yet reached the level of the European Championships, but this just takes time. However, it is sad that the top US single skaters skip the Four Continents each year. None of the three US ladies medalists showed up, and in the mens’ event only US bronze medalist Ryan Jahnke made the trip to China. Kwan, Hughes and Cohen have never competed in the Four Continents. Weiss and Goebel were only present when they hadn’t qualified for the World team or weren’t at the top nationally.
China hosted an ISU Figure Skating Championship for the first time, and it was a success for the organizers. The attendance could have been better, but the event was well run thanks to experienced international event organizers in the background. Asian competitors dominated the event, capturing nine out of twelve medals.
China is establishing itself as a new power in pair skating. Reigning World Champions Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao were the clear winners in Beijing. They took the lead in the short program with a clean and dynamic performance to “Beethoven’s Last Night” and never relinquished it. Skating to excerpts of Puccini’s opera “Turandot”, the couple landed a side-by-side double Axel/triple toe loop sequence, two huge triple throws (Salchow and loop) as well as double Axels out of a spread eagle position, and a triple twist. Their lifts and spins were less spectacular, nonetheless, their program was very powerful and it is evident that they have progressed artistically. The performance earned them high marks up to a 6.0 for technical merit and two 6.0s for presentation.
Qing Pang and Jian Tong are the apparent heirs to Shen and Zhao, and they continued in the footsteps of their team mates. The 2002 Four Continents Champions executed solid side-by-side jumps and throws, but they struggled with their side-by-side spins in both the short and long program. Pang also had to fight for the landing of the throw triple Salchow in the long program to Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Piano Concerto No. 2”, but the triple twist and the throw triple loop were high.
The second place for this team was justified, although 2001 World Junior Champions Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang (who are not related) had technically superior programs. Their short program to “Victory” by Bond and their long to Emmerich Kalman’s operetta “Gräfin Mariza” both featured an impressive throw triple Salchow immediately followed by a side-by-side triple toe loop. The young team also hit an enormous triple twist, side-by-side triple Salchow, a double Axel-double flip sequence, a throw triple loop in their long program, and performed one armed lifts. The presentation isn’t quite there yet as the performance was too technical and lacked emotion. The athletes know this and are willing to improve this side of their skating.
With these top performances, the Chinese pairs swept the podium, which was a first in figure skating history. Canadians Anabelle Langlois and Patrice Archetto have the ability to challenge Pang and Tong and Zhang and Zhang, but their mistakes on the side-by-side triple toes in both the short and long program led to a fourth-place finish. US Champions Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn continue to gain consistency and finished 5th with two solid performances.
While the Chinese are becoming a force in pairs, the Japanese are having success in the ladies discipline. Although Yoshie Onda, who would have been a top contender in this event, was forced to withdraw because of an ankle injury, the Japanese still clinched all three medals. Fumie Suguri held off her up-and-coming team mate, Shizuka Arakawa, and Yukari Nakano captured the bronze. Suguri won the short program but her flip was shaky and she seemed to lack confidence overall. She stepped out of her first triple Lutz in the beautiful long program to “Swan Lake”, and doubled the second Lutz. However, she completed all the other triples and had strong footwork. The choreography was superior to Arakawa’s, and Suguri’s victory was almost unanimous. Arakawa’s jumps are lower, but she pulls them off. She made no major mistakes in the short and long program, but she looked slow and doubled the last jump on her two planned triple/triple combos. The 21-year-old had a competition marathon behind her, with the Four Continents being her fourth event in as many weeks.
Yukari Nakano landed a triple Axel in both the short and long program (with a double toe combination in the short), but the jump was under rotated both times. The 2002 World junior silver medalist also reeled off a triple flip/triple toe and four more triples. Her spins are very good, and she earned the bronze medal. Ann Patrice McDonough singled her Axel in the short and placed fourth on the first day. The 2002 World Junior Champion wasn’t able to move up as she stumbled on her triple loop and doubled the Salchow in her long program to Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly”.
The USA had only sent two ladies, although they could have entered three. Amber Corwin delivered a good short program with a triple toe/triple toe combination, but she didn’t hold on to that 5th place in the long. Corwin missed a couple of jumps and dropped to 7th in the final result.
2002 World silver medalists Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz of Canada confirmed that they are definitely challenging for the gold in Washington. They turned in three strong performances and were the clear winners in Beijing. Their Quickstep compulsory dance was solid and portrayed the mood of the dance very well. Their original dance to a Waltz “Frühlingsstimmen” and a Polka “Thunder and Lightning” by Johann Strauss Jr. featured excellent footwork and good lifts. Two judges awarded them a 6.0 for their characteristic interpretation of the rhythms. Their free dance is a composition called “Adagio of the 21st Century,,” which is based on Albinoni’s classical piece. Bourne and Kraatz stunned the audience with their difficult lifts, hydro blading moves and intricate footwork. Ice Dancing actually seemed to be the most popular of the disciplines in Beijing. The Canadians received five 6.0s for presentation and naturally were very excited about it.
Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto proved again that they are an up-and-coming couple. The young Americans had to overcome a shaky start into the competition when Agosto slipped for an instant in the Quickstep. They finished fourth in this part of the competition, but as they were second in both the original and free dance, they moved up to take the silver. Both their original and free dance was packed with difficult steps and interesting lifts. Belbin and Agosto beat team mates Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev, as well as the Canadians, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, for the first time in competition.
Lang and Tchernyshev skated well in all three parts of the event, but their original dance to a romantic waltz and polka, as well as their free dance to the Scorpions’ “Still Loving You”, just aren’t as demanding technically. The same goes for Dubreuil and Lauzon, who focus too much on spectacular lifts. Canadians Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe and Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov from the US finished 5th and 6th respectively. Both teams are nice to watch.
Japan’s Takeshi Honda prevailed over Chengjiang Li and Min Zhang of China to recapture the title he had won in 1999. The past two years, Honda finished second. Honda was ranked second in the short because he fell on his quad toe (which was planned to be a combination). Li won the short with a clean and very precise program, while Zhang was third. Zhang had made no major mistakes, but his quadruple toe loop and the flying camel spin were wobbly. Honda then put out his best free skate of his career so far and it took him a while to believe what he had done: three quads (quad/triple toe, quad toe, quad Salchow), all triples (he stepped out of the landing of the Axel), solid spins and footwork. He received two 6.0s for technical merit and three for presentation. The marks were questionable considering the mistake and some empty places in the choreography.
Li let his nerves get to him. He nailed his spectacular quad/triple toe and a triple Axel/triple toe at the beginning of his “Star Wars” program, but then he faltered on the quad Salchow and most of his other jumps looked wobbly. He slipped to third. Zhang’s program to a medley of soundtracks by Michael Kamen included a triple Axel/triple toe, a quad Salchow, quad/double toe, triple Lutz and flip. His spins were average, and the only mistake was a doubled loop. Zhang pulled ahead of Li to claim the silver medal.
Last year’s champion, Jeffrey Buttle of Canada, landed a quad/triple toe loop combination for the first time in competition in the short. Unfortunately, he got overexcited and made mistakes on the triple Axel and Lutz. Buttle struggled with many jumps in the long and finished 4th. His compatriot Emanuel Sandhu was a bit erratic as usual. He reeled off a quad/triple toe combination in both the short and long program, but made a couple of unnecessary mistakes to finish 5th. US bronze medalist Ryan Jahnke came in 6th. His triple Axel has improved, but still isn’t consistent enough.