World Team Trophy 2015

Yoyogi, Japan

April 30, 2015
By Atsuko Kuryu
Photos © Keiko Kasai

The World Team Trophy 2015 started on April 16th, 2015 with an exciting opening ceremony at 2:30 pm in Yoyogi, Japan. The venue was 80% full, even though the tickets were sold out. The skaters seemed to be relaxed and enjoying the event even before it started, taking selfies and sharing them on the internet. The event opened in a cheerful atmosphere and young skaters skated out with flags of all 6 competing countries, ISU, JSF, and WTTs. The competitors stepped on to the ice wearing hats; some of these were funny and others represented skaters’ countries.

 

Day 1

Short Dance

The competition started with the short dance. Elena Ilinykh & Ruslan Zhiganshin (Russia) gave a powerful performance and got the audience in the mood. Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu (China) skated second. They were quiet and tender dancers and showed a wonderful unison in their skating. Japan’s leading ice dance couple Cathy Ree & Chris Reed looked more solid than at the Worlds, where they couldn’t qualify for the free skate, and unfortunately Cathy stumbled at the end of their step sequence, so they finished 6 th in the short dance. Following a warm-up, there was a very interesting battle between the remaining duets.

The couple who surprised the figure skating world when they won the World Championships, Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron (France), came on to the ice first. I knew it was different to watch a performance on TV rather than live. I certainly reaffirmed this assumption that night. Gabriella and Guillaume’s energetic and fabulous short dance moved the audience’s heart so much that they showed their appreciation with a standing ovation. Madison Chock & Evan Bates (USA), looked very classy and dramatic at the same time. Regarding the impression of their performance, they looked perfect with their speed, smoothness of movements and wonderful unison, and scored 71.7; however, they received only two level 4s.

The last couple, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje (Canada) gained the highest score of 73.14. They seemed to be more cautious than usual - their performance seemed to lack the flare which always characterized them. They failed to get a level 4 with their no touch step sequence and partial step sequence; however, their overall performance was really gorgeous.

 

Ladies’ Short Program

Gracie Gold (USA) gave the best performance of this season and finished first in the short program. She left nothing on the table. She had good speed, musicality, dynamism and gracefulness. The audience stood up for her to give a generous applause as soon as her performance had finished. She received 71.26 points which was her season’s best. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (Russia) bravely attempted a triple Axel and fell at the opening of her short program, but she skated the rest of her program flawlessly and got 70.93 points. The flow of the program from the step sequence to the end was magnificent, performed to the sounds of Bolero.

The youngest skater of this discipline, Elena Radionova (Russia) seemed a little timid skating right after Gracie’s fantastic performance. She skated without any mistakes but was less speedy than usual. The mature skating of Ashley Wagner (USA) illustrated a grown-up performance with speed and great musical representation. Her only mistake was the under-rotation of a triple flip. For the Japanese ladies, it was just not their day despite their satisfactory performances. Kanako Murakami (Japan) skated brilliantly but proved still has her problem of under-rotating the triple flip. Satoko Miyahara (Japan) fell on the landing of the opening triple Lutz and consequently had to double the second jump of her combination. The Japanese audience also loved Mae Berenice Meite (France) for her power, Zijun Li’s (China) gracefulness and the up-and-coming Canadian power - and all the other skaters.

 

Men’s Short Program

Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan) who stood out with his speed and power received 96.27 points despite falling on the triple Lutz-triple toe combination. He said he wanted to avenge his defeat at the World’s and prove to himself how strong he was. He may not have been satisfied with that night’s performance, as he fell on the second jump of his combination, which had been an issue throughout this season for him, but other than that, he was the best. Adding to his gorgeous quad toe and triple Axel, he collected level 4s for all the other elements.

Han Yan (China) stepped out on the landing of his quad toe but gave a solid performance to gain 87.13 points. His gigantic triple Axel and wonderful skating skills always make figure skating fans happy. The skater who didn’t give the audience any time to rest during his performance was Jason Brown (USA). He always has some transitions or moves while skating unless he has to do the elements. What a skater he is! He nailed a flawless performance and got 86.48 points without a quad toe. Takahito Mura (Japan) included a quad toe-triple toe combination in his program and also his trademark high and solid triple Axel, but he stumbled on both jumps and finished only 4th. In spite of these mistakes the overall impression of his program was really good, especially with his step sequences. He also got more than 80 points (82.04).

Sergei Voronov (Russia) tripled his planned quad toe and this was the only mistake from him. He showed a nice performance featured with heartfelt step sequences. The differences between 6th to 9th places were small. Nam Nguyen showed a flawless short program, Max Aaron, Maxim Kovtun and Florent Amodio all attempted a quad Salchow and landed it. They will commit themselves to show a better free skate as well as Jeremy Ten, Romain Ponsart and Nan Song who couldn’t show their potential tonight.

As a result, the ranking of the team of day 1 is as follows:

1. Team USA 48
2. Team Japan 43
3. Team Russia 43
4. Team Canada 31
5. Team China 27
6. Team France 21

Team USA Captain Evan Bates said, “It was a wonderful day for team USA but the competition continues and we would like to deliver better performances from now on.” He admitted that it was difficult for all the skaters to prepare for this event because it was just two weeks after the World Championships. It meant they had to go home to their own countries from Shanghai and then back to Japan, but they encouraged each other which made the team stronger.

 

Day 2

Pair Short Program

Opening their program with the gorgeous side-by-side triple toe, Wenjing Sui & Cong Han (China) piled up solid elements and remained in 1st after all six pairs finished their performances. Skating to dancy music, they moved vividly and pleasantly, which made the audience happy. Their score was 71.20 points and they were the only pair to score over 70 points. The big favorites,

Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford (Canada) made some serious mistakes in their program. Meagan made a wry face after she sat down in the kiss & cry because she doubled her attempted triple Lutz and knew they lost some points needed to get first place, but they bounced back and did the rest flawlessly. They were 1.58 points behind Sui and Han. They looked a little less powerful than usual, maybe because Eric had suffered from a sore stomach from the day before the event started.

Yuko Kawaguti & Alexander Smirnov (Russia) looked very graceful and classy during their short program, Meditation from Thais, which featured a stunning step sequence and combination pair spin at the very end of the program where they gradually slow down to the end intentionally, which was emotionally very effective. Alexa Scimeca & Chris Knierim (USA) made a strong impression and showed how much promise they have. The newcomers from France, Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres enhanced the audience with their step sequence which matched the music very well and juniors Ami Koga & Francis Boudreau Audet (Japan) were very fresh and brisk.

 

Free Dance

Gabriella & Guillaume were outstanding! I had watched their performance at the World’s on TV and thought it wonderful but felt that their score was a bit too high. However, to watch their free skate live completely changed my impression. They definitely deserved to be World champions. Their free dance to Adagio had everything - artistry, musicality, technique, skating skills and choreography. The program suited them perfectly. It might be their last performance of this program in competition this season and the figure skating fans who witnessed it here in Yoyogi were the luckiest people. Gabriella and Guillaume scored 111.06 points and won the free dance.

Kaitlyn and Andrew enchanted the audience with their stunning performance. They changed their speed effectively throughout the program, especially in the step sequences, and all the lifts were fast and beautiful. Their dynamism was really impressive. The audience gave them a huge standing ovation, as well as Gabriella & Guillaume. Kaitlyn’s dress, which reminded me of the vase of Emile Galle, suited the music from Four Seasons by Vivaldi and Kaitlyn herself. Madison’s fall during their diagonal step sequence cost them a place on the podium. Otherwise their performance was beautiful. Perhaps skating straight after the French couple’s performance of a lifetime and the huge applause that followed might be difficult even for an experienced ice dancer like her. They nailed other elements solidly, featured with a well-planed curve lift where Madison’s position showed off the beautiful lines of her body.

Elena & Ruslan delivered a powerful free dance but looked like leaving something on the table. Elena’s dynamism and Ruslan’s tenderness did not yet seem to combine, but this was only their first season. They are both talented ice dancers and we can expect more next season. I took a special notice of the Chinese couple. They had good speed and liveliness. In spite of their gap in height their unison looked very good. Cathy & Chris unfortunately had two big mistakes and finished last. After they changed their coach they gained more expressiveness and elegant movement but didn’t improve pointwise. I had hoped they would regroup themselves but later Cathy announced her retirement…

 

Men’s Free Skate

Yuzuru won the free skate overwhelmingly. He landed the opening quad Salchow but popped his next quad toe into a triple. He wisely doubled the second jump after the triple Axel combination to avoid getting a jump violation. He regretted afterwards tripling the attempted quad toe as it meant losing more points than the margin between quad toe and triple toe. It might cost almost 10 points. Just think, if he landed all his planned jumps successfully, how high his score could be! Despite his mistakes he piled up lots of positive GOEs, adding to high base values.

I would say that Jason’s performance was the best of the night, as well as Gabriella & Guillaume’s free dance. The audience couldn’t wait to applaud and even before his performance was finished, the roar of praise for him echoed through the venue. His score was amazingly high for a skater without quads. Takahito showed his spirit as the captain of team Japan, delivering an inspiring performance. After a two-footed opening quad toe, he landed quad toe-triple toe combination solidly and nailed two gorgeous triple Axels. Finishing his performance, he showed relief on his face. He said Yuzuru would be more eligible to be the captain but it was not true. As Yuzuru admitted in the interview afterwards, the elder skater showed his spirit and it inspired him a lot.

Despite some mistakes, Han’s skating skills and huge triple Axels enchanted fans. When he skates, his strokes are so smooth and one stroke goes a long way. He was a pretty good jumper but he was better at skating skills which is pleasing for figure skating fans. I was surprised that Sergei was pretty popular in Japan, since he received as much cheering as most of the Japanese skaters. His free skate was nicely nailed, featuring dynamic step sequences. His teammate Maxim landed two gorgeous quad Salchows to score 28.53 points just for these two jump elements and came 6th. The two Canadians’ performances were unforgettable; Nam Nguyen’s lovely and strong performance and Jeremy Ten’s step sequence made people feel his pride and emotions.

The result after 6 of 8 events was as follows:

1. Team U.S.A. 83
2. Team Japan 79
3. Team Russia 77
4. Team Canada 63
5. Team China 59
6. Team France 44

At the press conference on the second day, Evan, Takahito, and Alexander were asked why and how they were selected to be the teams’ captains. They answered that all of them were selected by the national federations and that they felt honored. Alexander joked that it might be because he had the longest beard and made the press laugh. Evan said it was a very exciting day with some exceptional performances and that he thought the audience must have enjoyed it.

 

Day 3

Pair Free Skate

Opening their free skate with very high throw twist, Meagan & Eric piled up consistent elements except for Meagan’s hand down on her triple Lutz and a fall at the throw quad Salchow; they won the free skate. Their performance was so amazing that the audience started clapping their hands to cheer them right after their step sequence and it lasted to the end. Even though being second, Weijing & Cong’s performance was stunning. All the elements were done flawlessly and their speed and ease were outstanding. They were always great technically but thanks to their coaches, Hongbo Zhao and others, their artistic impression became better and better.

The performance that made the audience’s eyes open wide was Alexa & Chris’s An American in Paris, featured with the opening quad throw twist, coincidentally the same music as their ice dance teammate’s Madison & Evan. After finishing their brilliant performance, Alexa jumped with joy several times. Every element was done wonderfully, and all of their lifts were superb. Their throw twists were amazingly high and the bright atmosphere they created made the crowd happy. Yuko & Alexander’s Manfred Symphony is a masterpiece but unfortunately Yuko fell on their side by side triple toes and stepped out of the throw loop, so they were only 4 th; however the drama they played during their performance touched the audience’s heart. Vanessa & Morgan had many mistakes and stayed 5th while Ami & Francis had a great experience in their first senior competition.

 

Ladies’ Free Skating

Landing the triple Axel easily, Elizaveta skated an almost flawless free program except popping her triple loop. I wondered if it was really the last competition of the season after the World’s. She was just terrific! The crowds were so excited that they couldn’t help clapping through almost all of second half of her performance. As soon as her last combination spin finished they burst into applause. Her teammate Elena skated perfectly until her second double Axel and had some mistakes after that. Still she got 129.73 points and stayed second. She moved as if her skates were floating on the ice and her spins were fabulous as usual.

Just 0.61 behind, Satoko Miyahara came in third. Her performance was seemingly perfect even with under-rotation. We saw lots of brilliant Miss Saigon performances from her this season and this was one of the best. After she finished her performance, to our surprise, she raised her arms triumphantly. She is a shy girl and usually never does such a thing. She admitted she could break some of her self-protective barrier by showing her joy to the public so that we might expect more expressive performances from her next season.

Ashley showed a mature performance which reminded the crowds of both happy and sad sides of women’s urban life. It was seemingly flawless but she was not completely happy, maybe because she knew there was an under-rotated jump and edge errors. Gracie made some mistakes and placed 5th. Despite those mistakes her skating was great to see. Kanako has had trouble with her jumps throughout the season and still didn’t solve them. She denied her retirement so hopefully she bounces back next season. Zijun was just lovely and adorable. She creates a seraphic atmosphere during her performances but this angel made some comical faces in the kiss & cry with her teammates. Interestingly, the Canadian team has two favorable skaters, and the French ladies’ skating styles are completely in contrast with each other.

After 3 days of enjoyable but serious competition, team USA has won the World Team Trophy 2015 with the total of 110 points. Team Russia followed, with just 1 point behind (109). The overall result was as follows:

1. Team U.S.A. 110
2. Team Russia 109
3. Team Japan 103
4. Team Canada 82
5. Team China 77
6. Team France 59

Evan commented at the press conference, “It is just thrilling to experience that as a team and to have our fates tied together and to rely on one another is really the essence of this event. It’s wonderful”. Evan and Alexander admitted that watching all the performances in the team seat was stressful but at the same time it was exciting and fun; that they had some very precious moments there. Asked who the most valuable cheerer was, Evan said that it was definitely Jason Brown since he was the noisiest. Takahito, after wavering for a moment, said it was Satoko - the shyest teammate tried to cheer as much as she could. Alexander half-jokingly named himself .

The Team Trophy 2015 finished successfully. Some say this is just a festival and not a competition and others say it must be a heavy burden for the skaters after using all their strength at World’s just a few weeks ago. Maybe both are right in some ways, but when you saw the skaters here at the event, they looked very relaxed. They enjoyed cheering for each other, deepening exchanges between teammates and foreign skaters, and skating in front of the teammates’ huge cheering. At the same time they were serious when they competed. There were skaters who showed exclusive performances such as Gracie’s short program, Jason’s free skate, Gabriella & Guillaum’s free dance and many more. Some of them wanted to recollect themselves for the next season while others would show their very last performance in competition like Jeremy Ten or Cathy Reed. It was heart touching to see some deep emotion on their faces. Then there were others, like Ami & Francis who attended their first senior competition.

So I think it is good to have such events at the end of the season and if possible, I hope we can see WTT in other countries in the future as ISU originally had planned.

 


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