Golden Skate

Sui and Han take second World gold after record-breaking free skate

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han

China’s Wenjing Sui and Cong Han perform their Free Skate at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships.

The Pairs event concluded at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships with the Free Skate on Thursday. China’s Wenjing Sui and Cong Han moved up from second to win their second gold medal at this event after a record-breaking free skate. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia earned their second consecutive silver, while teammates Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert moved up one spot to win the bronze—their first world medal.

Sui and Han mesmerized the audience with their haunting and ethereal routine to “Rain, In Your Black Eyes.” The 2018 Olympic silver medalists were solid, giving the best performance of their short season with a record-breaking free skate score of 155.60.

The five-time and current Four Continents champions opened with a triple twist followed by side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double toes and throw triple Salchow. They also produced solid side-by-side triple Salchows, a throw triple flip, and their triple twist was graded a level 4 as was all the lifts. The moved up from second after the short to first overall with a total score of 234.84.

“First of all, I want to say thank you,” said Han. “Thank you to the audience that supported us so well. We also want to show our appreciation to our team and the coaches. This season we had to overcome a lot of difficulties, but thanks to their support, we were able to overcome it.”

“We are very delighted to skate in Japan, especially within this crowd,” said Sui. “Our team and coaches supported us and encouraged us to skate better. During the short program, we performed well, while we had a few areas that didn’t go well. For the free program, we pulled everything out, and we won the competition because of the great support from the audience. As athletes from China, we represent the country and work hard to overcome the difficulties.”

Tarsova and Morozov delivered a powerful routine to “The Winter” by Balmorhea in which when Morozov put a hand down on the side-by-side triple Salchows as well as after the first jump in the side-by-side triple two-double toe-double toe combo. Those were the only two mistakes, but they were costly. The European silver medalists otherwise landed a throw triple Salchow and throw triple loop and earned a level 4 on all elements, including the triple twist. They earned a earned a new season’s best of 147.26, finishing second in the free skate and overall (228.47).

“We did everything that we wanted to,” said Tarasova. “We skated both programs clean. There were some minor mistakes in our free program. It was difficult to skate today, I had to fight with myself. I managed to perform all the elements and I was happy for that. To tell the truth, I felt the same as during the Olympics Games. I had some mistakes at the training session, and I felt rather the same. I managed to overcome my emotions and skate well.”

“We are very tired,” said Morozov, echoing what other skaters and teams have said after a long season. “We had to skate two days in a row, and the morning training session was really early. We are satisfied with our performance, we did a great job. In the free program, it was tough and we had to fight for every single element. It was totally different compared to yesterday. We were struggling to get everything right. I touched the ice once at the toe loop, but as for other elements, we did well.We fought till the end and were glad to give a clean performance.”

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France bounced back after a subpar short to finish third (146.52) in the free skate after their dramatic routine to “Wicked Game” and “The Last Feeling.” The 2019 European champions were not perfect as James doubled the first jump in the side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double toe combo and later put a foot down on a throw triple Salchow. However, they produced solid side-by-side triple Salchows, a triple twist and a throw triple flip while displaying difficult level 4 lifts and spins which was reflected in their component score. With a total score of 215.19, they rose from seventh to fifth overall.

“Although we had a hard time yesterday, I’m proud of myself and of my team overcoming this combat,” said James. “I think this (crash in the six-minute practice yesterday) was a big test for us. I feel like every year we have one (accident), but when we come back, we are stronger. We know how to repair ourselves when we get rough.”

“Worlds hasn’t been our best friend,” she added. “I fell on the twist in the short program once and I fell on the triple Salchow before, but we know that each time we are getting stronger.”

“We really wanted to reach the medal, but I already knew during the short program that getting a medal was almost impossible,” Cipres pointed out. “But I think we did our job today and we are never giving up. We won’t give up until we get the world title.”

Zabiiako and Enbert produced a dynamic routine to “Toi et Moi” which featured solid side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double loops and triple Salchows, a throw triple flip, and a throw triple loop. The 2018 NHK and Helsinki champions also earned a level 4 on all elements except for a level 3 triple twist for a new season’s best of 144.02, finishing fourth in the free skate and third overall (217.98).

“We really liked skating here,” said Enbert. “We are in great condition, both mentally and physically. Everything went well and we felt a great support from the audience from the training sessions onwards. Maybe it seems that we have made a big progress, but actually we are training hard and improving every day.”

Missing the 2019 European championships was disappointing but served as motivation for the Russian silver medalists who teamed up in the spring of 2015.

“We started working together with Natalia three years before the Olympics, and now it has become vivid for the public that we are gaining medals and making progress,” said Enbert. “We never skipped our training sessions, we tried to keep our condition before the World Championships, but we were progressing gradually, there is nothing special about it. As for our future plans, we are aiming to be the first in the World. Now we know that we are able to do so.”

Cheng Peng and Yang Jin of China, who stood in third after the short, were were nearly solid with the exception of a underrotated triple jump by Peng on the side-by-side triple Salchows. Their routine to “La Vie en Rose” othwerwise featured side-by-side triple toe-double toes, a throw triple loop, throw triple Salchow. The 2019 the Four Continents bronze medalists 140.33 for a fifth-place in the free skate and fourth overall (215.84).

“There are several areas that we could have been better in the free program,” pointed out Peng. “From day one at Worlds, we together with coaches, analyzed our program and tried to make our GOE at higher level. We actually made adjustments until the last minute, because we couldn’t do everything clean.”

“With the support from the team and coaches accompanying,” said Jin. “We are able to perform til today. We are satisfied with overall performances. We could pull out what we can. Of course, for some details, there are some areas to improve. The biggest accomplishment this season is to get our names out so that judges recognize us. For next season, we continue to improve our performance.”

Russia’s Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii put out an enchanting routine to The Nutcracker to earn a season’s best of 140.31 in the free skate. The 2019 European bronze medalists landed side-by-side triple Salchows and triple toe-double toe-double toes, a throw triple Salchow and throw triple loop. With a total score of 210.30, they finished sixth overall in their debut at this event.

“It’s the magic of figure skating,” said Kozlovskii. “We will keep these emotions in our hearts for a long time. This is wonderful that we were lucky to start our first World championships with such a performance. We are glad that we will remember these moments till the end of our lives.”

“We are just starting our career,” he explained. “Our coach, Tamara Nikolaevna Moskvina, is a distinguished person, both as a coach and as an athlete. She makes us full of motivation. She would never take the athletes to the World championships just to practice. We are very grateful to our coaching staff. It is their achievement, their victory. Now we can relax and spend the rest of time in Japan playing around.”

“Both we and our coaches have done a great work to be able to stand in here now,” agreed Boikova. “We did our best, and now we can relax and go to Disneyland tomorrow.”

The Russian bronze medalists would also love to be invited to the exhibition.

“We want to say farewell to this championships beautifully and to thank the wonderful Japanese crowd for their great support,” said Kozlovskii. “It felt like home here.”

Italy’s Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise had a step-out on the side-by-side triple Salchows, as well as a turn out in the triple toe-double toes, but the 2018 Rostelecom silver medalists produced a triple twist, throw triple loop and throw triple Salchow in their “Tristan and Isolde” routine.  They finished seventh in the free skate (128.45) and eighth overall (195.74).

“We feel much better now that it is finished,” said Della Monica. “We felt actually quite good this morning in the practiсes and now for the free skating. It is always harder than the short program, because of course there are more elements, but I think we skated it quite well. We did small mistakes on the side-by-side Salchow and he doubled the toeloop, so we lost too many points, but we are happy that we kept the eighth place overall.”

“Now I feel very good,” said Guarise on recovering after the collision with James in practice yesterday. “I talked with Vanessa (James), and we are lucky to skate here today together and have fun in front of the public, because yesterday was a big crash. At first we did not feel so much pain, but as soon as I got to the hotel, my ribs, hips and knees were in pain. I went to my doctor and they were great, and today I was able to come here. Maybe a little bit unstable on the jumps, but it is okay. See how she is smiling, I am smiling and that is it.”

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro of Canada struggled on their side-by-side jumps, and Moore-Towers put a hand down on a throw triple Salchow in their performance to selections from Pink Floyd to finish eighth (126.94) in the free skate. With a total score of 200.02, the Four Continents silver medalists slipped from fifth to seventh overall.

“We were so prepared, our mindset was perfect all week and we were so ready and excited to go,” said Moore-Towers. “Our warm up was perfect. Unfortunately, today was not our day. We believe that it is not necessarily the result you get or the disappointment you have, but it is how you rebound from it and we are prepared to inspire many, including ourselves, and we are ready to come back stronger.”

“We were prepared for this week like we have never been before in our career,” Marinaro agreed. “Our mindset was perfect today and yesterday, we were extremely prepared. But we are just going to learn from this and move on and come back stronger. This week our focus was just on ourselves. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, but we are ready to step it up. As long as you learn from it, it is not defeat. We will be back.”

USA’s Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc and Miriam Ziegler and Severin Kiefer of Austria rounded out the top ten.

“We have accomplished all our goals for this season,” said Cain. “It was to win the national championships and to get two spots for team USA at worlds. We had mistakes, but it was such a relief because that was what we built up this whole season for and we did it.”

“It has been a roller coaster this season coming back from the bad accident (at Golden Spin in Zagreb in December),” said LeDuc. “To finish this all off by getting the two spots for the US is amazing. I cannot even put it into words. It is a wonderful feeling (to be here as US national champions). I will never get used to being announced that way, it feels so good. We had a lot of pressure here. We really wanted to get those spots for USA and that was our goal number one.”

“This being our first World Championships,” Cain added. “We didn’t really know what to expect. There was pressure to get two spots for USA, but it was also our first Worlds. We didn’t have the experience. We took it as a responsibility to get this job done and we accomplished it and it feels really good. We don’t know what to do with ourselves now because our season has finally come all together.”

“I am very disappointed with my performance,” said Ziegler. “I know that everything that we have in our program I can do. That’s why it was mentally difficult in the end, because I know that I can do it easily. I was really shaky, but I’m happy that I was fighting. I didn’t do the jumps perfectly, and it was a good learning experience for me.”

“I would like to take some time off to leave everything behind,” she summed up. “This season was really difficult and exhausting, and we need some time to put all the pieces back together. Then we can start training again, hopefully, improve and be here again soon.”