2020 Four Continents Pairs Review: A Tale of Three Countries (Almost)

Wow. I still can’t wrap my brain around the fact that it’s already the last big event before Worlds. It feels like just yesterday, I was screaming about Wakaba Higuchi’s clean short program at Skate America. But nope, it’s February, which means it’s time for Four Continents.

The pairs event at Europeans and Four Continents are always a bit unusual because it feels like half of a World championship. While at Europeans, this basically results in three Russians and 20 pairs from small European countries, Four Continents has been recently dominated by the Chinese, with Canada and the United States not far behind. Apart from the fight for the medals, there were a few small battles within the field to watch out for, particularly the skate-off between Walsh/Michaud and Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau for Canada’s second spot on the world team. In fact, this whole event felt like a very odd series of mishaps, from popped throw jumps to botched spins, and the results were a bit surprising for me.

Also, good news! I finally got my mom to download a VPN onto her iPad so we can watch skating together instead of me squinting at a tiny phone screen or the blurry screen on my school computer. It was so nice to be able to watch on a screen that’s decent-sized and clear.

Before it’s time for me to brush up on my factoring, let’s take a look at what happened in the pairs’ event at Four Continents.

Wenjing Sui/Cong Han:
For the past year, Sui/Han have stood head and shoulders above the field, which is pretty amazing considering the quality of the field we’re talking about. However, this season has given them a bit of a surprising challenge. Going into this event, I assumed they would be leading the short program by at least 5 points. However, they made a very uncharacteristic error – apparently his hand got caught on her dress when they were setting up for the throw jump, so they ended up popping the throw triple flip into a throw double flip. They also ended up losing a level on the step sequence and spin, and these mistakes left them in third place after the short. Still, I was surprised to see their PCS were pretty close to the two couples in front of them – they only received seven-tenths more than Moore-Towers/Marinaro. That said, the program itself isn’t my cup of tea, so I think the judges made the call based on the overall impression of the performance, not the basic quality of their skating. Still, they were only three points out of the top slot, so gold was not out of reach for them. (Ironically enough, this same situation happened last year – they lost the short program to Moore-Towers/Marinaro, then passed them in the free skate).

It’s hard to keep a free skate like this when they already delivered it so strongly at last Worlds, but it’s a strong program and they did a great job here. They got level fours on everything and landed all the jumps clean except the pesky side-by-side salchows, which got popped into a double. They were a bit off at the GPF but they looked like their usual strong selves out there. However, I’m still a bit worried for them. They are definitely the best skaters in the world right now, but Boikova/Kozlovskii have been skating clean performances nearly every time they show up, and that’s given them a boost in scores. If Boikova/Kozlovskii give two solid performances at Worlds, Sui/Han will need to be flawless. It’s definitely possible – and Sui/Han tend to peak at Worlds – but it’s making me nervous.

Cheng Peng/Yang Jin:
Coming off the surprise silver medal at the Grand Prix Final (where they actually managed to beat Sui/Han in the free skate), Peng/Jin came into this event as favorites for the podium. Short program: charming. Free skate: pass the tissues. I’m really happy to see the judges finally stopped being so stingy with their short program score. Even with a few missed levels, they managed to rack up almost 76 points and put themselves in a close second place. To be honest, I think I would’ve had them leading the SP.

This free skate is one of my favorite programs of the season, and they delivered it so strongly here. Besides a sliver of GOE shaved off the throw triple loop and two missed levels, it was a perfect performance and in the end, they earned a well-deserved silver medal. I just find this team so endearing. They were underdogs from the start, they were counted out because they didn’t have consistent triples, and now they’re staying relevant even with side-by-side doubles. That said, I think they should swap out the double salchows for double axels. I remember in their first season together, they landed some lovely axels together, so I don’t know why they wouldn’t put them in the program and give themselves a few more points. Long story short, there’s not even one thing I dislike about this team.

Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro:
For the second year in a row, Moore-Towers and Marinaro won the short program at Four Continents. Last year, it was a bit less surprising because Sui/Han were coming back from an injury, but this time, it came as a total shock to me. This season, they’ve really been shimmying up the ranks, and I think it’s thanks to 3 things: 1) good programs, 2) improved consistency, and 3) retirements and splits among three of the top Canadian pairs in the last year. The door’s open for them, and they’re cruising through it. Their twist looks better than ever, their programs work to their strengths, and they’re staying up on their feet when other couples aren’t.
That said, I have a confession. I like this team and enjoy their skating, but I have to disagree with the short program score here. I’m not exactly sure when the judges decided they’re nearly on par with Sui/Han in PCS, but I’m not on board with that. In the free skate, there was a much bigger gap, which was fair, but the PCS for the short program had me scratching my head. Just an observation.
I really like this free skate for them. Kirsten’s new dress is fabulous and gives the program more of a “wow factor”. Well, apparently Mike got so swept up in the wow factor that he tripped on his toepick. It was like the scene in The Cutting Edge when the hockey guy is wearing figure skates for the first time and he falls flat on the ice because he gets caught on his toepick. But it wasn’t the fall that dropped their score, it was the doubled side-by-sides. They don’t have the huge GOE of the top two Chinese teams to cushion them when they make mistakes. However, they still ended up with the bronze medal and I hope they’re saving their two best performances of the season for Worlds.

Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson:
Let’s hear it for Calalang/Johnson! This season, they made my list of underdog teams I enjoy watching. They stayed under the radar on the Grand Prix, delivered a gorgeous free skate at Nationals, bagged the silver medal, and got themselves a ticket to Four Continents. Good job, guys. Their short program here was pretty good. The side-by-side triple salchow has been their trouble spot all season, so I wasn’t surprised that they missed it, but the rest of the elements were solid, and they ended up being the highest-ranked U.S. pair in the short program.
This free skate is such a strong program for them. To be fair, Calalang/Johnson aren’t at the level of an elite pair like Sui/Han. But this program is so stunning that it elevates everything about their performance. Apart from the one major error – the popped salchow – it was a gorgeous skate. They have a nice presence on the ice, good chemistry, and most importantly, good programs. That’s why I’m very disappointed that they weren’t chosen for the World team. As long as they keep improving and staying with the pack, I firmly believe that these two are the future of US pairs.

Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea:
Getting a new short program before Nationals was the smartest thing Kayne/O’Shea have done all season. They weren’t getting anywhere with that “Sweet Dreams” SP they were using. That said, “Clair de Lune” is an upgrade, but I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece. If you’re going to skate to subtle music, you need to have either stunning lines or gorgeous elements. Think of Boikova/Kozlovskii’s short program this season – the music takes a back seat, but it works because they have such high-quality elements and strong lines. Anyhow, it wasn’t their best performance here. I’ve noticed Kayne/O’Shea tend to peak at Nationals, but can’t quite match that level of performance elsewhere (except for 2018 Four Continents, when they ran off with the title while Sui/Han were away winning the Olympic silver medal). The twist was quite rough here, and when it came to the side-by-side salchows, I can only quote the great Aljona Savchenko: “You doubled?” On a good note, they earned level fours on everything except the twist, and the lift was definitely the highlight of the program.
I love Les Miserables, don’t get me wrong, but these music cuts Les Missed the Boat. There are so many great things you can do with this soundtrack and this program is not one of them. They stayed up on their feet, but they were losing bits of GOE here and there that unfortunately added up quickly for them. And is Danny trying to play poor Fantine, the homeless woman who sells her beautiful long hair to support her child? Or did he just watch a marathon of The Fast and the Furious movies with Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, and Jason Statham aka the Bald Tough Guy Starter Pack? I don’t want to sound negative about this team, but I’m just not feeling their vibe this season at all.

Evelyn Walsh/Trennt Michaud:
At the beginning of the season, I was starting to think Walsh/Michaud were falling off the pace a bit. Their senior B’s were messy and their Grand Prix events weren’t amazing. However, at Canadian Nationals it felt like the Evelyn and Trennt of old had showed up to slay. This new short program has honestly worked wonders for them. Evelyn looks stunning and Trennt has made my shortlist for best-looking pair men. They went out there and gave a nearly clean short program, putting themselves in a great position to nab the second spot for Worlds. They didn’t quite repeat their great free skate from Nationals here, but it was enough to secure the spot. They just had a bunch of small mistakes that I found a bit distracting to the overall impression of the performance. However, I hope they have two great skates at Worlds and bring home three (or at least two) spots for next year!

Lubov Ilyushechkina/Charlie Bilodeau:
After a strong showing on the Grand Prix, Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau had a messy free skate at Canadian Nationals that left their ticket to Worlds in jeopardy. In order to lock down that spot, they needed to beat Walsh/Michaud here. They were probably aware of that when they stepped on the ice for the short program, and nerves got the best of them in that performance. The twist was a bit crashy, they popped the side-by-side triple toe loops into doubles, and then they decided to follow in Sui/Han’s footsteps and pop the throw jump. They also got very little GOE on the lift, which is usually their strong point. Hey, it happens. They’re a new team. Everyone has a day where you try everything and it just doesn’t work.
I was hoping they could pull off a miracle in the free skate and snatch the spot for Worlds, but they just had too many mistakes. They somehow popped yet another throw, and the side-by-side jumps decided to give them trouble. This means the season is over for them, but I think they can still be proud of everything they’ve accomplished this season. They’re a brand-new team and they’re still adjusting to each other’s techniques. The Olympics are still two years away – they’ve got time. And as a hardcore Luba fan, I’ll be cheering like crazy if they make it.

Riku Miura/Ryuichi Kihara:
What a debut season for Miura/Kihara! They stole the show at NHK Trophy, beating several strong teams, and booked themselves a trip to Four Continents, all in a day’s work. Here, a few small mistakes and a doubled toe loop shaved off some GOE and base value from their score, but I still found their performance enjoyable. Maybe it’s her haircut, but she still reminds me of Wenjing Sui. In the free skate, they had two major mistakes that prevented them from moving up in the field: the popped combo jump and a rough landing on the side-by-side salchows. Still, like Ilyushechkina/Bilodeau, they’re a very new team and I think they have a bright future. Also, hi Meagan Duhamel in the kiss and cry! I see you!

Isabella Gamez/David-Alexandre Paradis:
I had never seen this pair before, but they’re representing the Philippines and I can’t help loving skaters from small feds. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: skating to Adele gets you automatic entry into my heart. There’s still a gap between their skills and the rest of the field – in the SP, they only did side-by-side double flips and many of their elements were level 2 – but they’re a nice team to watch.

Alexa Scimeca-Knierim/Chris Knierim:
After Alexa and Chris threw down that clean short program at Nationals and held on for their third national title, I thought maybe there was a chance for a Knierim resurgence in the second half of the season. However, Four Continents just got off on the wrong foot for them. The side-by-side jumps didn’t happen, and then Chris managed to do the wonkiest mistake on the spin that invalidated the whole element. They slotted into fifth place, and honestly I would say that was generous. They have such strong elements when they’re on, but something always seems to go wrong for them. In a way, they remind me of Tarasova/Morozov – a bunch of great elements that never seem to show up on the same day.

They withdrew before the free skate. Originally, they cited a family medical emergency, but then the information was taken down, so I’m not sure what to believe here. If it is indeed a family situation, I wonder if it occurred before the short program and that’s why they were so off. Anyhow, we’ll have to wait and see if they decide to go to Worlds, and if so, how they will perform. If they choose to withdraw, Calalang/Johnson would be called up as first alternates.

I was really looking forward to seeing Feiyao Tang/Yongchao Yang, but I guess they also withdrew – they confirmed it was for medical reasons. Also, what happened to my babies from North Korea, Ryom/Kim? They had these great programs and then they just yeeted into thin air after their Grand Prix event. I miss them.

All right, that’s a wrap on Four Continents! I will probably be on a little hiatus from this blog for a few weeks because I am currently studying for my ACT test, which is one of the major criteria for getting accepted into college. So I will see y’all again in less than two months for…WORLDS!

Happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s