The ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series continued with Cup of China, the third of six qualifying events. The event was held November 9-12 at the Olympic Center in Nanjing, Jiangsu, China. Over 60 skaters from 18 different countries competed for points and monies totaling $180,000 in U.S. dollars. The points go toward qualification for the Grand Prix Final, to which the top six competitors in points standings from each discipline will be invited to compete for a total purse of $272,000 U.S. dollars. The Grand Prix Final will be held Dec 14-17, 2006, in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China easily captured their third Cup of China (COC) gold, while teammates Qing Pang and Jian Tong won their second consecutive COC silver. Germany’s Aljona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy settled for bronze in their first appearance at this event.
Shen and Zhao opened their stirring routine with solid side-by-side triple toeloops, followed by an excellent throw triple toeloop. The triple twist wasn’t their best and was awarded a level two, but the two-time and reigning Olympic bronze medalists also produced a difficult one-armed lift and a good level four spiral sequence, placing first after the short with 68.90 points for their skate to Romanza by Salvadore Bacarisse.
“This was our first competition and we skated quite well for it,” said Zhao, “but tomorrow’s free skating is even more important.” The 33-year-old went on to explain that he was 80-90 percent recovered from the ruptured achilles tendon he suffered in August 2005.
Teammates Pang and Tong delivered a good triple twist, a good throw triple loop, an excellent throw triple loop, and a difficult lift in their routine to O Doux Printemps d’Autrefois by Jules Massenet. However, Pang underrotated her jump on the side-by-side triple toeloops and the pair lost sync during the side-by-side flying camel spin. Despite the mistakes, the 2006 World Champions earned a score of 62.00 points for a second place finish after the short.
“We skated really well today considering the circumstances,” said Tong, referring to the recent illness [nephritis] of his partner. “I am fine now,” said Pang, “but a little bit tired. I’m not yet at my best.” Pang added. The team had withdrawn from Skate America two weeks ago due to her illness.
Skating to Once Upon a Time in Mexico soundtrack, Savchenko and Szolkowy opened their routine with a very good throw triple flip, however, Savchenko underrotated and stepped out of the landing on the side-by-side triple toeloops. The German National Champions recovered to produce a difficult lift and good spins, earning 58.64 points for a third place finish after the short.
“We are disappointed with our short program,” said Szolkowy, referring to the mistake they made on the side-by-side triple toeloops. “Tomorrow in the free skating we will skate without any pressure.”
Canada’s Valerie Marcoux and Craig Buntin landed their side-by-side triple toeloops, but Marcoux fell on the throw triple loop. The Canadian National Champions placed fourth with 56.68 points.
Dorota Siudek and Mariusz Siudek of Poland were fifth after the short with 50.74 points, followed by USA’s Julia Vlassov and Drew Meekins who finished sixth (43.76).
Shen and Zhao opened their Meditation routine with solid side-by-side triple toeloop-double toeloop combination, followed by good side-by-side double Axels, a very good triple twist, a very good difficult lift, and a rare forward-outside death spiral. While the 2005 Grand Prix Champions also produced a very good throw triple Salchow and an excellent throw triple loop, their last lift didn’t take off (no credit was given). The veterans earned 124.69 points for a first place finish in the long and overall (193.59 points) to easily win the gold.
“This was our first performance [in competition] since the Olympic Games, and we’re very happy with it,” said Zhao said. “Last year, I was watching this event in Beijing from the boards as we couldn’t take part because of my injury. So I really appreciated that we were able to compete today.”
Skating to music from The Mission soundtrack, Savchenko and Szolkowy opened with a good throw triple flip, followed by a solid triple toeloop-triple toeloop sequence, a triple twist, two good level four lifts, and a throw triple Salchow. However, Savchenko later singled her jump on the side-by-side double Axels. The Germans also experienced a brief separation in their pair combination spin which led to the element being separated into two spins (no credit was given). The 2006 European silver medalists still earned a respectable 112.99 points for a second place finish in the long, placing third overall with a total score of 171.63 points.
“We’re more satisfied with today’s performance than with yesterday’s,” said Szolkowy. “We wanted to fight for it and that’s what we did. Our program, our costumes, and the music are all teamwork of us and our coach. We tried a lot of things and we haven’t yet come to an end.”
Pang and Tong opened their routine to Phantom of the Opera and Music of the Night by Andrew Lloyd Webber with a side-by-side double Axel-double Axel sequence, however Pang then doubled her jump on the planned side-by-side triple toeloops. The team went on to deliver a triple twist, a throw triple Salchow, two good lifts, and an excellent throw triple loop, but struggled on their last lift, ending it prematurely. The Olympians scored 110.56 points for a third place finish in the long while maintaining second overall (171.63) to win the silver.
“We were still a bit tired and we aren’t yet in top shape,” said Tong. “I hope that Qing will soon recover completely from her illness and that we will be able to give our very best at the World Championships.”
Marcoux and Buntin had a good skate to L’Amour by Osvaldo Montes which included a triple toeloop-double toeloop sequence, side-by-side double Axels, two good triple throws, and difficult lifts. The 26-year-olds earned 108.43 points for a fourth place finish in the long and overall (165.11).
Siudek and Siudek placed fifth (100.91) in the long and overall (151.65), while Vlassov and Meekins finished sixth (81.79) in the long and overall (125.55).
Shen and Zhao picked up 15 points and will compete again at NHK Trophy in three weeks. This was a sole Grand Prix appearance for teammates Pang and Tong who earned 13 points. Savchenko and Szolkowy pocketed 11 points and will compete again at Cup of Russia along with the Siudeks (7 points).
This was a non-scoring event for Marcoux and Buntin (who have 11 points from Skate Canada) and are set to compete later this month at NHK.