Team Challenge Cup 2016

April 25, 2016
By Anna Zeitlin
Photos © Anna Zeitlin

This weekend the city of Spokane, WA has welcomed an inaugural event of Team Challenge Cup. TCC is a brand-new event showcasing the top skaters from around the world competing as part of one of three teams - Asia, Europe and North America. Its format differs from other team events like Japan Open and World Team Trophy. The competition is broken into three segments - Men’s and Ladies Head-to-Head competition, Team Free Skate (with Pairs and Ice Dance couples performing their free dances) and Singles Free Skate (with Men and Ladies skating their free programs). We will take you through the rules for each segment and the competition itself.

Men’s and Ladies Head-to-Head competition

For the Head-to-Head competition, the team captains (Shizuka Arakawa, Christopher Dean and Kristi Yamaguch) needed to seed their singles skaters into three groups, with skaters from each group competing against each other and scoring points for their teams. First place in a group would score 12 points for the team, second 10 and third 8. The team with the most points at the end of the evening would receive a prize of $60,000, and a man and a lady with most points overall would also receive an individual prize of $5,000 each.

The team spirits were high at the rink! Teams assembled in the team boxes were cheering and welcoming each of their competing athletes, singing, clapping, raising signs and using props (team North America was especially well-stocked on props, featuring colourful wigs, orange peaks, red-blue-white boas and a gigantic hat). It was really fun to watch and a lot of skaters commented afterwards on the great experience competing as part of the team.

The highlight of the evening for the ladies were definitely the performances of Evgenia Medvedeva, the freshly crowned World champion, and her runner-up at the Worlds Ashley Wagner. Both ladies nailed their jumps - 3F+3T, 2A and 3Lo - and the rest of the program. I really liked Ashley’s performance to “Hip Hip Chin Chin” - she completely rocked the house! Evgenia’s dance was more reserved and classic, but she delivered an absolutely brilliant performance and won the individual prize for the night. She said at the press conference following the competition that she thinks it was really important for her to get the experience to compete as part of the team, as she believes working as part of a team is a skill that everyone should possess, and it is something that brings benefit not only in a competition, but in real life as well.

Satoko Miyahara also delivered a very inspired performance of her “Firedance”, with 3Ltz+3T combination, 3F and 2A. I also liked Gracie Gold’s performance, even though she didn’t manage a triple-triple combination (just a 2Ltz+3T), but she skated beautifully and said afterwards that having a team support was really special.

As for the men, the competition saw some amazing performances as well. Team Asia owned this one, winning all three groups, with the main highlight being Shoma Uno going for and nailing the quadruple flip (first one in history!), as well as the 4T+3T combination and a 3A. He won the individual prize with that performance, saying at the press conference afterwards that he did not know himself if he could land it tonight, but he was already training and preparing for the next season, so now he can feel more confident about the jump in the season to come.

Boyang Jin delivered another impressive performance of the night, nailing a 4Ltz+3T combination (although almost smashing into the boards on the landing of the second jump), 3A and (somewhat wobbly) 4T. Denis Ten also had a great skate, with 4T+3T, 3A and 3Ltz. He said after his program that his skate broke just before the warmup, so instead of warming up he had to go and fix his boot with some tape! Denis said that it was an interesting experience, but we sure hoped he wouldn’t need to draw on this experience in the future!

Team Europe didn’t do very well this evening, with disappointing performances by Kolyada, Brezina and Voronov, but they were all very graceful about their faults, the team welcomed them with consolations after the skates and the audience was really great at supporting the skaters even louder after any falls and flaws.

Team North America saw not flawless, but very inspiring performance by Adam Rippon and a great new program from Jason Brown (very happy to see him recovered from the injury!). Nam Nguyen had two falls in his skate but could still secure a second place in his group and 10 points for his team.

But the team with the highest number of points was clearly Asia, and they received the $60,000 prize money and praise of their captain Shizuka Arakawa.

Team Free Skate

Saturday afternoon saw the team free skate first, with pairs and ice dancers skating their free programs. Unlike the singles Head-to-Head event last night, pair and ice dance teams were set to compete in an aggregate scoring format - each performed their routine, and the highest points scored in each discipline were added to the total team score carrying over to the Singles Free Skate competition.

The pairs event was completely dominated by Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who delivered a spellbinding performance featuring a throw quad Salchow (which was initially evaluated as a triple) and secured the individual prize of $10,000. Xsenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov had a few problems with their skate and were visibly disappointed with their performance, but their program still looked good nevertheless.

In ice dance section, Madison Chock/Evan Bates and Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte delivered two brilliant dances, but Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje were absolutely unbelievable in their last dance of the season, and, getting a season’s best, they finished on top and also received an individual prize of $10,000.

Duhamel/Radford and Weaver/Poje’s wins allowed Team North America to have a comfortable lead of almost 20 points going into the evening session and the singles free skate.

Singles Free Skate

Saturday evening it was men’s and ladies turn to take the ice again, competing in the same aggregate format as the pairs and ice dancers earlier that day, with the two highest scores of the three competing athletes in each discipline being added to the total team’s points.

The pressure was definitely showing on the skaters, as some performed well under the expectation, and none avoided mistakes. Probably most surprising of all men’s performances was Boyang Jin’s skate, with a fall and multiple jump step outs. Shoma Uno scored the highest amount of points, nailing the quad flip again, but he double-footed the quad toe and had a hand down on another 4T, only being able to add a single toeloop to it. Still, his performance was impressive.

Unfortunately, Adam Rippon could not skate his magnificent free program to Beatles medley at the top of his ability, under-rotating and falling on a quad Lutz and messing the landing on a couple of other jumps, but his program still rocked the house. However it was his teammate Jason Brown who had the audience on their feet at the end of his skate, performing a program that had not had as strong jump elements as some from other skaters, but was a practical perfection from a presentational perspective and earned a second place among the men’s performances of the night.

The ladies definitely handled the pressure better than the men, although there was a large number of mistakes in their performances too. Evgenia Medvedeva skated another practically flawless program, finishing the top lady of the night again. Satoko Miyahara finished second, with another very impressive performance.

But my favourite programs of the night, though not receiving the highest points, were performed by the American ladies, both of them receiving standing ovations from the audience. Gracie Gold was on fire performing to “Firebird”, and Ashley Wagner delivered - although not without flaw - an absolutely wonderful skate to “Moulin Rouge”.

Ashley’s performance was last, and it cemented the clear advantage that Team North America had over Asia and Europe in the Free Skate event, securing for them the title of the champions of the inaugural Team Challenge Cup as well as a check for a hefty sum of $210,000.

This concluded the competition part of the first Team Challenge Cup event in Spokane, WA. I think it can be considered a roaring success and I really hope the event will continue in the years to come and will give us the spectators the opportunity to see the top skaters and their programs once again before the season ends.


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