Home Figure Skating News Team USA takes fifth World Team Trophy

Team USA takes fifth World Team Trophy

by Maria-Laura Mitsuoka
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2023 World Team Trophy | Day 3

The 2023 ISU World Team Trophy concluded on Saturday with the Pairs’ and Men’s Free Skate in Tokyo, Japan. Team USA won their fifth title at this event since it’s biennial inception in 2009. Team Korea finished second, just one point ahead of Team Japan.

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Team USA (120)

World silver medalists Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier again claimed first place on the last day of the competition, bringing the lyrics of the songs “Sign of The Times” and “Healed Broken Wings” to life on the ice. Starting with a solid triple twist, they received especially huge applause for the following triple toe-double toe-triple toe. They pocketed very high grades of execution (GOE) for the throw triple loop, as well. However, Knierim took a fall on the triple Salchows, costing them precious points. Nevertheless, they didn’t let themselves be deterred and ended the season with a firework of emotions, showing a solid throw triple flip and level-four lifts. In the end, they picked up a new personal best of 147.87 points.

Knierim felt the performance went a little too fast.

“Normally when you do a free skate, towards the end you want it to be over as you’re tired,” she explained. “But today, I felt like I had all the energy. We were emotional in a good way, especially the second half of the program, feeling every moment.”

Rumors spread that the two-time national champions might announce their retirement as Knierim mentioned this would be her last World Team Trophy. However, neither of them confirmed or denied.

“Alexa and I didn’t announce anything,” said Frazier. “We are just enjoying every moment, but it’s safe to say that we soaked up every second of the competition this week.”

Ilia Malinin pulled out the big guns for his free skate to “Euphoria” by attempting five quads, including the quadruple Axel. Unfortunately, he took a costly fall on the quad Axel in the first half, but landed a quad toe, quad Lutz and quad Salchow which garnered many GOEs. However, he seemed to have lost speed in the second half of the routine, and fell again on a quad Lutz attempt that was supposed to be a combination. He also slightly underrotated the second jump in a triple flip-triple toe-double toe, but all three spins were graded a level four. The world bronze medalist scored 173.64 points.

While Malinin has committed himself to landing the quadruple Axel this season, going into the summer break, he has other plans.

“For next season, my goal is to start pushing my artistic side.”

On the last day of the competition, he commented, “At first, I was really excited when I heard that USA was going to win, no matter what. It just made me feel relieved that everyone tried so hard.”

Jason Brown proved once again that he is blessed with the talent to paint pictures on the ice with each of his elements. His routine to “The Impossible Dream” featured eight triple jumps, but he stepped out of the first triple Axel. That was the only mistake made in an otherwise beautiful routine. He scored oodles of high GOEs for all jumps, except the solo triple Axel, as well as the level-four spins and footwork. The program ended to a standing ovation and a sea of American flags, and the 2020 Four Continents silver medalist scored 183.43 points. He also had the highest program component scores of the 12 men.

Looking back to the event, Brown again showed his love for team competitions.

“I love this event, it was so much fun!” he exclaimed. “I love being with a team and how we are all cheering each other on!”

Next week, he plans to see two best friends in Chicago and wants to spend more time with his family.

“I loved the six weeks in Japan, but it’s always nice to come home after such a long time,” he summed up.

Team USA Captain sums up event

Jason Brown, the team captain, said he wanted to “let the skating talk for itself.”

“It’s been so fun getting to talk on behalf of my team the last few days, but I’m just going to let the skating from Team USA to speak for itself, he said. “I’m really proud of them and what they put out, and I feel like they all left it out on the ice.”

After Shoma Uno withdrew prior to the event, it appeared that there would be a clear win for Team USA.

“I think that the beauty of sport is that anything can happen at any moment,” Brown pointed out. “Nobody has a result in the bag. There’s no guarantees. And I think so many times, we as athletes walk into events and people predict what’s going to happen, and they say, ‘oh, these are the odds, and this is how it’s all going to unfold.’ I felt that a lot throughout my career. That I’ve been counted out so many times, and I think that the beauty of the sport is you walk into an event and it’s a clean slate. Anything can happen on the day, anyone can compete. Anyone can have a bad day, and I think you just never know how the chips will fall.”

“So each day we came into this event,  I think all teams came into this event giving it their all,” he continued. “The results ended the way they did, and they added up to what they added up at this particular event. But I think the most important thing is to never give up on yourself and to always believe that you have a shot no matter what.”

Brown felt this was an “amazing” way to culminate the year, and the team event is special in that it brings out the best in everyone.

“We just came off the most stressful event, the World Championships, and everyone’s just really excited to be here,” he said. “It almost feels like this is a bonus event where we all get to come together and do our programs one last time. And you can never beat skating in Japan and to be in front of such an audience. It’s so cool to get to skate, not only in front of my teammates, but to be supported by all the other countries. You’re just excited to share your passion, share what you love.”

“Obviously, there’s extra stress and a little extra pressure, because you want to so badly do well for your team,” Brown emphasized. “But it’s almost the excitement of just getting to be out there one more time to wrap up the season. Kind of overtakes the stress and pressure of worrying too much about the anxiety of performing well for your team. There’s that excitement and you just can’t wait to get out there and take part.”

Brown noted that most athletes don’t know what to expect if they haven’t competed in this event or format.

“They don’t understand the level of excitement and the camaraderie and the support,” he observed. “After the World Championships, Isabeau (Levito) really didn’t want to compete here. She was like, ‘I’m done for the season, I worked so hard.’ We’re like, ‘no, no, no, you don’t understand. World Team Trophy is such a fun event every other year.’ We convinced her. She was really exhausted after the year, as we all are, but the ones that have done it before, know how exciting and how much energy we get from this event. So to see her just absolutely shine this week … and just she’s glowing! I think that just speaks volumes to what this event means to us athletes and how much we love and are so grateful to Japan and TV Asahi for hosting an event like this, because we always look forward to it!”

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Team Republic of Korea (95)

New-commers Hyejin Cho and Steven Adcock opened the pairs’ competition with a classical number to “Piano Concerto No. 3” by Rachmaninoff. While not as experienced as the other teams, they made a good effort and showed a triple twist, throw triple Salchow, and two good lifts. Cho fell on the triple toes and the team aborted a reverse lasso lift. Cho also stepped out of a throw double Lutz, but the pairs spin was graded a level four and the Axel lift received high marks. They scored 102.27 points.

“We are very happy to be done, today was easier a bit because we knew what to expect. For next season we will keep probably one of our programs and will change the other.”

Next season, they want to get a second throw triple jump under their belts. For now, they plan to work on the basics, components, and skating skills in general.

Worlds silver medalist Junhwan Cha gave a strong performance with his routine to “No Time To Die,” racking up positive GOEs throughout for 187.82 points. He nailed his opening quad Salchow and quad toe, and went on to land a triple Lutz-triple toe and triple flip. The only mistakes came when he popped an Axel and slightly underrotated a triple Lutz-Euler-triple Salchow. All spins and footwork were graded a level four, and his triple Axel-double Axel received high marks.

“I really tried my best,” said the Korean team captain. “I made a mistake in the second half, but I’m satisfied and happy to finish with one more great performance. I was a little unsatisfied about the Axel. This gave me the feeling that I’ve not skated cleanly, but apart from that, I’m satisfied.”

Sihyeong Lee struggled with nearly all his jumping passes in his routine to “Cyrano de Bergerac.” The 2022 Nebelhorn Trophy silver medalist underrotated and fell on his opening quad toe, as well as triple Axel and triple Lutz. However, the spins were all graded a level four and he received positive GOEs for a solid triple Axel-triple toe. The mistakes were costly, though, and he ended up with 124.82 points.

“To be honest, I kind of thought already that my season had been over, and then as a surprise, this competition came in,” said Lee. “I really enjoy being here though, and I gave my best!”

Going into the next season, he wants to work on his skating skills and jumps.

Team Korea Captain sums up event

Junhwan Cha was very proud of his team as he felt they showed spirt and passion about what they love.

“I’m so proud and thank you for my teammates and thank you for all the teams for what they showed us!” he said. “I keep saying I’m so proud of Team Korea, but not because of results. I’m just really happy that our Team Korean skaters really enjoy the skating. They were fully into this competition. That’s what I’m really proud of. And I was so happy to cheer here, because it’s our first time competing.”

Cha also felt that they learned a great deal, citing what Brown said about never giving up. He acknowledged there was a bit of pressure, but enjoyed cheering on his teammates, as well as the other teams.

“For Team Korea, again it’s our first time here,” he said. “We gave everything at the World Championship, so we are a bit tired, but we were really excited and happy to attend the World Team Trophy. We were just kind of getting recovered for that in two weeks. Then being ready, preparing how we’re going to decorate (the team box) or being ready for the videos and how we’re going to be enjoying the competition and the time. Then we just came here and we performed. We cheered and we just enjoyed this competition.”

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Team Japan (94)

Although World champions Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara gave a solid performance to the hopeful song “Atlas: Two Shared Tenderness,” they looked rather disappointed after the competition. Originally, they had planned to break the 145-point mark, however, due to some mistakes on Miura’s part, they only scored 143.69 points. They started with a strong triple twist, but then Miura doubled the side-by-side triple toes. However, that was the only error in an otherwise solid routine. The team went on to land triple Salchows, a throw triple Lutz, throw triple loop, and earned a level four on all three lifts. They scored 143.69 points to cap off a memorable season.

“Worlds was our peak, so it was difficult to aim much higher,” Miura reflected on the result. “However, at Worlds I had mistakes in my Salchow and throw loop, so this time I really wanted to nail them. Of course, we had some mistakes, but overall, we were able to perform the other elements well and I feel I’ve made some progress.”

After a rather disappointing short program, Shun Sato fared better in his free skate to “Red Violin,” for which he scored 164.86 points. He nailed the first jumps, a triple Lutz, quad toe-triple toe and triple Axel-Euler-triple Salchow. Things got a bit shaky in the middle section, where it rained minus points after he stepped out of a quad Lutz and underrotated a quad toe. After these challenges, however, he finished his passionate program with a level-four combination spin.

“I was very nervous,” Shun revealed, “but after receiving my groups support, I was able to pull through until the end. It was a different kind of nervousness than at usual competitions. That’s the reason why I was so nervous doing my short program. But for the free, the second half of the competition I was able to recover.”

As usual, Kazuki Tomono presented an unbelievably entertaining performance, conducting an imaginary orchestra like a maestro swinging his baton in his routine to “Die Fledermaus.” It wasn’t clean, however, as he underrotated and stepped out of a quad Salchow and stepped out of a tripe flip. He also popped a triple Axel in the second half, but he landed a triple Axel-Euler-triple Salchow and showed very good level-four spins and footwork. The 2022 Four Continents silver medalist scored 164.55 points.

When asked about his secret for the improvement over the last season, Tomono simply replied, “Training is everything. When it comes to big competitions, my weaknesses still influence my performance. That’s why I need to become much better and train more.”

Team Japan Captain sums up event

Kaori Sakamoto was impressed and moved by the passion all the athletes gave.

“I think it’s really about going beyond the expectation and it’s all about giving the result,” she said of the unexpected results. “I’m really happy to compete, and we do the best of the best and then the results come. We’re competing this time as a team, and I’m very proud of everyone who was fighting in the competition.”

“It is something rare that we have our team mates together at the rink side,” Sakamoto said, on what makes World Team Trophy different from other events. “Usually, there are our coaches, judges, the audience and that’s all. But this time, we had our teammates and also athletes from other countries cheering for us.”

Sakamoto acknowledged that it was difficult for all the athletes to adjust their condition after the Worlds two tweeks ago.

“Mentally, it’s tough,” she said. “We were grateful that there was no illnesses or accidents within the team. And actually, Shun Sato was the last member to join this competition. I’m really impressed with how he adjusted his condition. He actually changed his layout and landed a quad Lutz that was not planned at this point in the program. He really gave his all for our team and I‘m so grateful for him that he made it through this competition!”

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Team Italy (83)

World bronze medalists Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii turned the rink into an Italian movie screen with their program to “Cinema Paradiso.” They received lots of  applause and high points for the triple toe jump sequence, triple Salchows and throw triple loop. Nearly all spins and lifts were rated a level four, however, Conti fell on the throw triple Salchow and the team also received  another deduction for a time violation. They finished with 130.22 points.

“We are so happy and relieved the long season is done,”  Macii stated with a big smile. “Usually Sara never ever falls on that throw, but it’s okay, we were tired. It’s the end of a long season and we achieved more than we ever would have dreamed of!”

European silver medalist Matteo Rizzo rebounded from a weak short program on the first day of the competition, scoring a whopping new personal best of 187.35 points in his free skate to “Talking to the Moon” and “That’s What I Like.” In fact, the only major error was a turn out on a solo triple Axel. He landed quad toe, quad loop and six clean triple jumps. The skater also fired up the audience with his level-four spins and footwork, racking up may GOEs throughout his routine.

“I am disappointed with my triple Axel,” said the two-time national champion. “The triple Axel is usually my best jump! So close to 100 points TES, but overall, I am very happy and satisfied.”

This competition revealed that Rizzo was accompanied by Japanese superstar and former World champion Miki Ando.

“She has been a very good and secure person for me all my life,” said Rizzo. “She was coached by my dad during the last year of her amazing career. So when my coaches couldn’t come here with me, we asked her and it was great, I think for both of us. So I think we will do this more often in the future, especially when I come to Japan!”

For Daniel Grassl, the last day of competition was quite satisfactory. He opened his emotional performance with a successful quad Lutz and beautiful quad loop. The planned quad flip, however, turned out to be only a double with an edge call and he also underrotated a triple Axel. Nevertheless, he obtained +2.29 GOE for a solo triple Axel, and displayed good level-four spins and footwork throughout. His score was 173.53.

“I am pretty satisfied with my performance today and that team Italy is doing so well in general here!” Grassl commented. “I had one mistake on the flip, but it was an improvement that I put in two triple Axels.”

During the off-season, he plans to go on a trip overseas.

“I will now go America for one month,” Grassl revealed. “I am really looking forward to see my friends there, and also the family that hosted me while I trained there. I will be creating a new free program with Benoit Richaud in New York and I think it will be something big.”

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Team France (80)

Camille Kovalev and Pavel Kovalev blew European wind into the halls of Japan with their free skate to “Caruso.” Their performance started rather weak with a bumpy triple twist and shaky triple toes, but the 2022 Grand Prix de France silver medalists picked themselves up in the second half. The only other error came when she put her foot down on a throw triple Salchow, but the lifts were strong, as was the throw triple flip. They pocketed 114.78 points.

“We are very happy and had a lot of fun,” said Camille Kovalev. “Never sure how it looks on the outside, but we clearly enjoyed ourselves a lot out there today!”

She revealed that they have a French tour and then are looking forward to creating new programs and some vacation time.

Kevin Aymoz intrigued the audience with his performance to Hans Zimmer’s “Gladiator,” scoring 178.85 points. He opened with a quad toe-triple toe, but the next quad toe was underrotated. He also turned out the first jump in a triple Axel-double Axel sequence, but the rest of the routine was pretty solid. He landed five more triple jumps, revealing his warrior side, and rewarded with very high GOEs for his level-four footwork and spins.

“I really don’t want this season to end right now, it’s become so much fun,” said the national silver medalist.” I think Adam and I felt the pressure a bit to keep the fourth place, but I am so proud of my team and so proud of our fight. Afterall, we for a long time weren’t sure if we would qualify here. I am satisfied with my performance today, especially considering how I started the season with programs without any quads.”

Adam Siao Him Fa struggled with all his jumping passes in his routine, scoring well below his personal best with 154.60 points. While he showed good spins and footwork, the skater fell on a triple Axel and stepped out of all the quad jumps.

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Team Canada (68)

Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps told a story of ancient Egypt with their “Cleopatra” routine, earning a new personal best of 129.73 points. They opened with a solid triple twist, but lost a considerable amount of points after Stellato-Dudek turned out a tripe toe. Deschamps also put a hand and foot down on the triple Salchows, but the throw triple Salchow and throw triple loop were clean. The 2023 Four Continents bronze medalists also showed strong lifts and good level -four pair spin in their exotic program.

“We are really happy about our performance today. It was a pleasure to be Cleopatra one last time and now we can leave her at peace,” Stellato-Dudek joked.

In terms of their plans, she revealed, “I love the off-season. It’s the time for creativity and reflection and the time to work on your weaknesses.”

Keegan Messing capped off a long career with his program to “Home” and “Lullaby For An Angel” with 172.99 points. He started his performance with a stellar quad toe-double toe combination, but the second quad was underrotated, as was a triple Axel later in the program. He landed a total of five clean triple jumps, while earning a level four on two spins and his footwork to an appreciative audience.

“I am so overjoyed to go out there and perform one more time for all you beautiful people,” Messing said with tears. “It was very special to have my last free skate with all of my friends sitting in these boxes celebrating this moment with me. When I took the ice, I was terrified, I really want to give everything. It is perfect to end here at World Team Trophy, it’s the the party of everything! I am happy my body was able to hold on for that long!”

Stephen Gogolev appeared cautious throughout his “Spartacus” routine. While he landed the opening quad toe, the Salchow was doubled and he popped an Axel. He also put a hand and foot down on a quad Salchow. However, the second half of the routine went a bit smoother and produced three more triple jumps. Two spins were graded a level four and he posted 125.17 points.

“I have mixed feelings,” said Gogolev. “I am kind of happy that I can prepare now for next season, but disappointed with some of my performance I put out there on the big stage. I think not competing during the last years, due to some issues that I had, threw me a bit off this season. But I want to work on my consistency!”

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