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. This year’s event was held Jan 19-25 at the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ont. with 81 skaters participating from 11 different countries.
Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto (USA) were the winners in the ice dance event, capturing their first Four Continents gold medal. Canadians Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon won the silver for the second time (first was in 2000), while teammates Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe won the bronze for the second time (first was in 2002).
The Compulsory Dance (CD) of the event was the Yankee Polka, worth 20 per cent of the overall score. This fast-paced dance consists of two sequences. The Yankee Polka was created by James Sladky, Judy Schwomeyer and Ron Ludington. It was first performed in 1969.
Dubreuil and Lauzon took the lead in the CD with a 5-4 ordinal split in their favor, ahead of Belbin and Agosto. Wing and Lowe were in third followed by Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov (USA).
The ice dance event continued with the Original Dance (OD). The theme this season is the “Swing Combo,” whereby couples can choose any two or three of the following rhythms: Blues, Jive, Rock’n’Roll, Jitterbug, Boogie Woogie and/or Swing. The OD was worth 30 per cent of the overall score.
Moving well together in their Jitterbug and Blues routine, Belbin and Agosto executed difficult diagonal steps with lots of position changes while maintaining closeness and speed in their OD. The 2004 US champions also produced a nice change of edge lift with Agosto in a low spread-eagle changing to a shoot-the-duck position. Their twizzles were in great synch and there was good movement into the final lift. The team won the OD with marks ranging from 5.4 to 5.9, moving them into first place position overall.
“We skated this great at Nationals and it feels good to lay down a strong second performance today,” said Belbin. “We did the midline well at Nationals and we did it well here. It is our first 5.9.” Agosto added: “It feels great. Our program has gotten better every time we do it. We try and focus on our own skating and think happy thoughts.”
Using Americano and Why Don’t You Do Right for their OD, Dubreuil and Lauzon performed an impressive lift in which Lauzon whirls his partner around his body, a nice dance spin with change of position, as well as a fast rotational lift. While they displayed good side-by-side straight line footwork, Lauzon stumbled and fell in the diagonal step sequence near the end of the program, causing his partner to go down with him. The 2004 Canadian champions earned marks ranging from 4.9 to 5.7, dropping to second place overall.
“I don’t know what happened,” said a shocked Lauzon. “I felt the edge wasn’t right and I was on the wrong edge. We have never fallen in the Original Dance.”
“Only a few seconds left and it was a big surprise to fall,” Dubreuil added. “There was nothing I could do and I had to fall over him. I felt the performance was good and we did all the elements. It is alright. We will move forward.”
Performing to Blues and Rock’n’Roll, Gregory and Petukhov exhibited a good diagonal step sequence as well as a nice dance spin with Gregory in a camel position. Though there were a few breaks in unison during the midline footwork, the team finished off with a nice lift and earned marks ranging from 4.4 to 5.6. The 2004 US silver medalists moved up one spot to third, overtaking Canadians Wing and Lowe.
“It feels great today,” said Gregory. “We skated really strong. We’re excited about being in third, but we just have to concentrate for tomorrow’s free dance. For American skaters, Nationals is very prestigious. We really want to perform well, not only for ourselves, but for our country. I talked about it to other skaters, and everybody said the same thing. It’s very nerve-wracking at Nationals. Once we go out to other competitions that’s much easier and more relaxed. We can perform with lots of energy.”
“We still have to skate tomorrow,” Petukhov added, on moving up one spot. “I thought it was better than at Nationals. Nationals was the most difficult competition for us. I don’t know why. But now we’re back, it feels good now.”
Wing and Lowe had skated energetically in their Swing and Blues OD, moving right into diagonal steps with good position changes, speed, and closeness. Their midline had very great synch and speed throughout, though they were a bit out of synch on a twizzle. The 2002 Four Continents bronze medalists earned marks ranging from 4.8 to 5.5 four an overall fourth place finish.
“I think at Canadians (versus the Grand Prix circuit) we worked on speed and had a little more speed, but I made a small error,” admitted Wing. “I’m glad I didn’t do that today.”
Lowe added, “It felt great this time, even stronger (than at Canadian Nationals). Two good days in a row after such a quick turn around from the competition is good so far. We’re very pleased.”
Nozomi Watanabe and Akiyuki Kido of Japan were in fifth after their OD to a Rock’n’Roll Roll and Blues routine.
China’s Fang Yang and Chongbo Gao came in sixth followed by Josée Piché and Pascal Denis of Canada.
“We’re really happy with how we skated and how it went over,” said Piché. ” We enjoyed the program and the key word was to have fun which I think we managed to do. It’s a program that seems to go over very well with the audience, and here was no different.” Denis added, “For the marks, we always want more, but we’re very happy. The only other couples we watched were Wing and Lowe and Dubreuil and Lauzon, our compatriots, and overall we’re happy with how things have gone today.”
Loren Galler-Rabinowitz and David Mitchell (USA) were in eighth place after their OD to Blues and Rock’n’Roll Roll.
“We had a good skate today and it felt great, said Galler-Rabinowitz. “We were more relaxed than yesterday and enjoyed it more. We are just aiming to enjoy the continuation of the season. We have nothing to loose and we now feel like we belong.”
On their front page picture in the Hamilton Spectator, Mitchell added, “We are thrilled, it is just the greatest and that has never happened to us before so it is fantastic.”
The ice dance concluded with the Free Dance (FD) which is worth 50 per cent of the overall score.
Belbin and Agosto defended their overnight lead, skating to excerpts from Westside Story. The two-time reigning Four Continents silver medalists produced a nice rotational lift with Belbin draped over Agosto’s arm followed by a very difficult and fast straight line step sequence. Their side-by-side twizzles were in synch but Agosto had a slip and fell out of one in the second set. The team earned marks ranging from 5.3 to 5.9 placing first in the FD and winning the event.
“We’re happy to have yet another title,” a smiling Belbin said. “Now we have Junior Worlds, Nationals and Four Continents. It’s great to start building those up. Obviously it wasn’t our strongest performance out there, not focusing only on the bobble, but emotionally, maybe performance-wise we felt like we’ve done better than that. We certainly know what we need to work on. We look forward to going home and working on the speed, the performance and everything we need for worlds.”
It wasn’t my best skate, obviously,” admitted Agosto. “It’s something I’ve been trying to work on. Maybe I just got nervous. The twizzle. . . I think we’re going to try to rework the entrance into that twizzle, maybe have a little bit more speed. I did it well at the National Championships, but I’ve got to do it every time.”
With attitude, Dubreuil and Lauzon produced a sensuous Tango routine (Des Tours de Vise, Santa Maria, Vuelvo al Su, and Tango Inna Babylone) which featured a very fast rotational lift, and swift footwork with lots of position and hand-hold changes. During a softer segment, Lauzon appeared to go down sliding on one knee while in the midst of a lift (as opposed to a shoot-the-duck position). The program had a nice ending in which the Dubreuil is held by her partner with one arm in a final rotation lift. The Canadian team earned marks ranging from 5.2 to 5.9, placing second in the FD and winning the silver medal.
“That intro puts us into the mood of the dance, it gets us into character,” said Dubreuil of the beginning of their routine. “It’s a punky-Spanish theme. The dance is about domination.” Referring to the OD, she added, “Patrice is not used to falling, it’s usually me, so it was harder for him. Better to have a mistake here than at Worlds, but the skating went well in the free dance and our confidence is gaining. For me personally, I enjoyed this skate better than at Nationals. It wasn’t our best, but we have to focus on Worlds now and keep training hard.”
“It was a pretty good performance,” Lauzon agreed about the FD. “Not as good as Nationals. It’s hard to be in the moment when you’re performing, especially both at the same time.” Commented the possibility of the mistake in the OD costing them the title, Lauzon said, “Maybe. I don’t know. Probably, will never know, because we won’t have the exact details.”
Their teammates, Wing and Lowe, were in fourth going into the FD. They skated to selection of soundtracks by Nina Rota which began immediately with a lift right into a dance spin that had good positions in character of the music. Their twizzles had perfect sync and the team seemed to be at ease with this program which had an overall good flow. The 2004 Canadian silver medalists earned marks ranging from 4.9 to 5.6, taking third place in the FD as well as moving up one spot to win the bronze.
“We had a really good skate yesterday and today was great,” enthused Wing. “It’s just awesome to have two good performances. We had to fight through all the way. We’re not the bridesmaids this year.”
Lowe agreed about their FD, adding, “In fact, Megan was probably more on than me today. The coaches have been great getting us ready. It was nice and strong right through the ending. We made a change since Nationals and it really paid off. It sets us up for Worlds. We’re going for 10th in the world. Finally we had our moment in the Kiss & Cry. We visualized and capitalized on it. It’s so good to get out of fourth place.”
Gregory and Petukhov produced an ethereal dance to Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D Minor and Air, beginning with a nice rotational lift into side-by-side twizzles which had good unison. Though the husband-and-wife team had good flow and energy throughout their routine, their holds were a bit far apart and Gregory had a small slip during the straight line step sequence. The 2004 US silver medalists were unable to hold onto their third place position, earning marks ranging from 4.8 to 5.5 for a fourth place finish in the FD and overall standings.
Petukhov said, “It felt good tonight. We were really strong. We had a slight misstep, but otherwise we were very happy with tonight. We were really confident going into it tonight. We’ve both been sick all week, but we’ve just tried to push through it, and we managed.”
Watanabe and Kido maintained the same position throughout the event, as did the next five teams, placing fifth followed by Yang and Gao.
Piché’s partner Denis commented on their program after finishing seventh overall. “It was another couple’s music from last season, we used a different cut and worked with a theatre teacher,” he revealed, referring to the music that French pair team Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis used. It’s something different, playing different roles. Regarding their their fifth place finish at the Cup of China, he added, “We were in 5th place throughout the whole competition, we beat the 15th world ranked team. Today was pretty close to our skate in China, it was definitely better than Nationals where we felt a lot of pressure.”
Galler-Rabinowitz and Mitchell, the 2004 US national bronze medalists, also commented on their FD. “It speaks a lot to my personality which is very passionate and fiery,” Galler-Rabinowitz offered. “So we thought it was a good choice for our first season in seniors to look strong and show how much we love to do ice dance.”
Of their performance, Mitchell said, “I felt it was strong from the beginning to the end. Our goal was to go out, attack the whole thing, and I think we accomplished that well. It was better than Nationals, but I think probably second to Bofrost (Cup). Our focus this year was to continually improve our expression and try to do a little more acting as we skated and the Tango certainly suits us. We thought it would be a good development to improve this aspect of our skating.”