Japan Wins Second Title at the World Team Trophy

Japan edges Russia out to claim the title; United States wins bronze.

The World Team Trophy, started in 2009, when the International Skating Union was first trying to establish team events as enough of a thing to get one into the Olympics, has mostly happened every other year in Tokyo, though the 2011 edition got delayed to 2012 thanks to the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan that year. After they had an alternate team event in North America last year, there was concern it might go under. It has always relied on figure skating’s immense popularity in Japan, and the willingness of Japan’s TV Asahi to more or less foot the bill. But it seems they’re still willing to, especially with the success of their anime series Yuri on Ice last fall. (There was even accompanying artwork at the event). The 2017 edition went on this week, officially closing out the 2016-2017 international skating season.

Since it’s so dependent on Japan, the rules are semi-rigged to make it easier for the Japanese team to win. Namely, the six countries that qualify in accordance with their international results that season each send two men, two ladies, one pair, and one ice dance team to compete. All skaters/teams skate both their programs, and get points in accordance with their placements in each segments. This allows Japan to field more of their strong singles skaters while not worrying about their pairs and ice dance weakness. Nonetheless, the U.S had won three of the four Trophies, Japan winning before this year only in 2012.

As is usual, Canada, Russia, the U.S., Japan, China, and France qualified. Although in theory everyone’s supposed to send their highest-ranked skaters, said skaters often manage to bail. Still, enough of the top Japanese, Russian, and American skaters showed up to battle, and going into the last day, the standings were very close between the three countries. In the final two segments, the U.S. fell away, but between Russia and Japan it was a fight to the finish. It culminated in a spectacular ladies free skate where six of the top seven skated the best they had all season. In the end, Japan triumphed, winning their second title by four points. Russia had to settle for the silver, while the U.S. took the bronze.

Perhaps the World Team Trophy is not as important an event as the ISU would like it to be. There’s a general thought that the important stuff all happened at the World Championships, and this is a pleasant season’s epilogue. Often the skaters who do show up don’t skate their best, exhausted from the season. This year, half the men’s field faltered. But as well as the ladies, the pairs skated more well than not. Participants who came through were handsomely rewarded, often with new personal bests; scoring at the World Team Trophy is on the inflated side. And however they skated, everyone had fun goofing off and engaging in patriotic wear and displays in the event’s famous penthouse-style kiss and cry area when the scores came up.

Team Japan

Team Japan won almost entirely on the efforts of their four singles skaters. Although Shoma Uno and Yuzuru Hanyu did not skate their best in either segment, they won the short and free skates respectively, and Uno was second in the latter, if only because everyone else failed to beat them. Uno especially wasn’t too far off his best. He broke 100 in the short by holding on to a quadruple flip jump and landing an okay quad-double jump combination. He didn’t quite break 200 in the free, mostly because both his quad flip attempts went wrong, the second especially. But he landed two other quads, including a loop, and was strong throughout.

Hanyu struggled a bit more, having his worst short of the season, which actually left him all the way down in seventh. In the free, he went for five quads. His quad salchow attempt was one of two singled jumps, but he landed the other four, three in the program’s second half, which makes history. They included not only his loop, and a quad salchow in combination in a triple toe, but even a crazy quadruple toe-loop-triple salchow combination! In between the two singles, the middle of his program was good enough it allowed him to break 200, if barely.

Mai Mihara and Wakaba Higuchi had no such struggles in either program, both delivering two clean skates with triple lutz-triple toes galore, Higuchi pulling hers off three times this week. In the short program that was good enough for third and fifth respectively. But it was in the free skate that they both especially shone, their performance abilities rising to match their technical contents. Mihara actually had the higher technical content, including her three-jump with a triple lutz, which helped leave her a point ahead of Higuchi, as they both blew away their personal bests to go 2-3 in the segment.

Their pairs team, Sumire Suto & Francois Boudreau-Audet, struggled in both programs and were last in both segments. Kana Muramoto served as team captain, and she & Chris Reed at least avoided that fate, a higher technical tariff than half the field helping get them to fifth in the short dance. But when their free dance had weakness in their early twizzles and steps, they ended up sixth there. Luckily for the home team, coming in last in pairs and dance at the World Team Trophy gets you as many points as making the top half of the singles, so Japan survived this misfortune.

Team Russia

After her short, her teammates in the kiss and cry bowed down to Evgenia Medvedeva, and with good reason. She skated two perfect programs. She even maxed out the score for her solo triple flip in the long program. Medvedeva also came close to maxing out the score of several more elements, including her triple flip-triple toe in both programs, and her long program’s second triple-triple. That combined with traditional World Team Trophy scoring, and she not only broke 80 in the short, as everyone expected. Instead, things went up to ridiculous as she also broke 160 in the free, skipping over the 155 mark one might have assumed she’d break first, which she’d fallen just short of back at Worlds.

After the disastrous performances of her two teammates last month, here she was instead joined by Elena Radionova. Radionova made the most of it in the short especially, coming right behind her with a clean skate, though she did a slightly easier triple loop-triple toe. In the free she went for and landed her more usual triple lutz-triple toe, and generally had one of the better skates of her year. But unlike those around her, she didn’t quite have her best, underrotating two jumps and having to fight for landings especially near the end. This was a day where that was only good enough for fifth.

Also not placing as high as they needed to for gold were pairs team Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov. Particularly damaging was the short program, where she fell on both jumps. Even maxing out the value of their split triple twist couldn’t get them higher than fourth. In the free, after maxing out their opening twist again, she doubled their side by side salchows. Then she pulled herself together and they nailed the rest of the program. But when their elements weren’t the hardest of the field, that double ended up costing them the segment; they only finished second.

Team captain Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev finished third in both the short and free dance. That was less surprising, but they had hoped to at least challenge the two North American teams. But their twizzles in the short dance were less than perfect, and their technical tariff in both segments was lower than those earned by the North American teams.

In the men’s event Mikhail Kolyada did decently. He managed a clean short program, though his quad-triple was a little shaky, which left him in fourth. He nearly did the same in the long, but fell trying an opening quad lutz, and his other quad right after a quad toe, wasn’t the prettiest.  Landing everything else got him fifth. But the biggest letdown for Team Russia, all too unsurprisingly, was Maxim Kovtun. A bad short program left him eleventh. Like Kolyada, he barely managed a quad toe in the long and botched his other quad attempt. But he also badly botched a lutz, barely held onto most of his other jumps, and failed to get credit for his closing spin, placing tenth.

Team U.S.A.

The American team generally delivered skates that were good, but not great. The one segment win they got wasn’t one they really deserved. The oddities of the World Rankings are such that they currently make the world’s top ranked team Madison Chock & Evan Bates, meaning they had to be invited over the actually more successful Maia & Alex Shibutani. Their luck with the judges continued in the short dance, where theirs was not the best performance of the night, but they still topped the leaderboard, mostly on their technical tariff. But in the free dance, they only tied for the top tariff, and when he had a stumble in their circular step sequence, they were left in second.

Getting second in the men’s short was Nathan Chen. He accompanied his quad flip-triple toe combination with only a quad toe, which for him is watered-down, but he skated clean. In the free, he went for both quad flips, two quad toes, one in a three-jump, and a quad salchow. The last he doubled. The solo flip he flipped out of, and the other was weak enough he could only attach a double jump instead of his planned triple. But he managed the toes, as well as the rest of the program, which was enough for fourth. Meanwhile, Jason Brown’s sublime but quadless short got him fifth. It featured him maxing out a spin, and he maxed out another one and his step sequence in the free. But thanks to a popped a late loop, that wasn’t flawless, and ultimately placed sixth.

Pairs has typically been the U.S.’s weak spot, and there was some murmuring about whether Ashley Cain & Timothy LeDuc ought to be the pair to go. They made the competition’s only triple loop attempts, and rotated and landed them in the free. Their triple salchow-double toes were the second hardest combination attempted, but they failed to rotate them. They were also only one of two teams trying the throw triple flip, which went roughly in both program. Following it in the free, they then went down hard on a transitional move when a bump of their skates caused them to lose their balance. It was a rough fall which left them shaken for the rest of the program. They were fifth in both segments.

But it was in the ladies that the U.S. proved unable to keep up with the top two. Team captain Ashley Wagner tried. But underrotations left her sixth in both segments. In the short, she got hit with one the triple flip-triple toe. She landed it in the free, only to get hit with two more in one combination, and the second jump of her double axel-triple toe she outright doubled. Meanwhile, Karen Chen put out a pair of program reminiscent of the two miserable ones she’d skated at the Four Continents Championships, rather the ones that preserved the three Olympic berths at Worlds. Her placements were eighth and ninth.

Team Canada

Canada was the top qualifier for the World Team Trophy, but too many of the skaters involved in that bailed for them to be competitive here. Although the loss of ice dance legends Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir proved a minimal one, since team captain Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Pojé were almost as good, getting them their one segment win and playing the biggest part in their getting up to fourth. They really should’ve won both dance segments. Their short and free dances were the ones performed with the most beauty, and the most emotional intensity. But they’d have needed a higher tariff than Chock & Bates to get the judges to give them the short dance, and instead they got a lower one. However, when they matched the Americans’ tariff in the free dance, thanks to the latter’s stumble they would not be denied that win.

When all three pairs teams who competed at Worlds cleared out, Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro similarly skated to the best of their ability. But they had neither the higher technical content nor the superior artistry or skating ability required to get the kind of points Canada would’ve needed to be more competitive. The only harder element they tried were side by side double axel-loop-double salchows in their long program. Ultimately, two clean skaters were good enough for third in the short and fourth in the free.

Patrick Chan was the only national champion on the team, which might have been why in the kiss and cry he donned a Canadian-themed superhero costume. But his short program wasn’t so super. He held onto a quad toe-triple toe and attempted a salchow, which he tripled badly, and underrotated his triple axel. He placed sixth. In the free, he landed both those quad elements, and went for another toe, one of two jumps he landed with a hand down. His bigger problem there, however, was the singled axel. The mistakes cost him the segment; his technically easier but artistically stunning skate instead left him in third. Meanwhile, Kevin Reynolds’ completely disastrous short program put him dead last. He improved with a long program where he landed a quad salchow, but underrotated two quad toes plus an axel he fell on, ending up ninth.

Gabrielle Daleman was the most successful of Canada’s singles skaters, getting fourth in both segments with two clean skates. In the short she maxed out the value of her signature triple toe-triple toe, though her other two jumps were slightly weaker. Her long was not an all together dissimilar story, with her once again landing everything, including a triple lutz three-jump, if having to hold on to a jump or two. But with Kaetlyn Osmond out, Alaine Chartrand came in, and she didn’t do as well. A full downgrade in her triple loop-triple toe helped leave her tenth in the short. Two attempts at the triple lutz-triple toe in the free left her with a fall, two more full downgrades, and one of two more underrotations. She was only eleventh, though within a point and a half of Karen Chen.

Team China

China is the only one of these six countries that hasn’t qualified for every Trophy, missing out on 2012 in favor of Italy. As they continue to improve their non-pairs disciplines, they may someday become medal contenders. But this was not the year, especially when the top name they sent, Boyang Jin, did not skate his best. He held onto things, including a quad lutz-triple toe and a solo quad toe, in a third place short. But in his free none of his four quad elements were clean, and the hard one, a lutz, he doubled. He quit the stumbling in the second half, but only managed seventh. With Han Yan recovering from surgery, second man Tangxu Li was way out of his league. He didn’t even have a triple axel. Even a clean short could only get him eleventh, and a free with a fall left him last.

The top two Chinese pairs didn’t attend either; that berth instead fell to Cheng Peng & Yang Jin. They made pretty good on the opportunity, and not just because the latter got to be team captain. They got one last lovely skate of their much-loved short program for second in the segment, the highest placement anyone on the team got. Their long didn’t have as good a start, with her going down on their double axels. But they did most of the rest of the program very well indeed. It wasn’t the only Umbrellas of Cherbourg long of the competition; Sumire & Boudreau-Audet used the music too. But even how many of the jumps they pulled off aside, there was no question which was the superior program. It got them third in the segment.

The other Chinese skaters also acquitted themselves well. Zijun Li especially had a redemptive free skate, performing maybe as beautifully as she ever has. She still only finished seventh, but it was a triumph far bigger than a mere placement. And while her triple flip-triple toe attempts were underrotated in both programs, the long still left her with a double axel-triple toe-double toe to her credit. It made up for a ninth place short with two underrotations. Xianging Li claimed seventh in the short instead, rotating that triple in a clean skate. Her eight-place free wasn’t as magical, with underrotated flips and a fall on one, but was still more good than not. China’s rising ice dance team, Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu, did as well as could be hoped for, riding their light-footed style to fourth in both segments.

Team France

Team France was arguably the most creative in the kiss and cry. Highlights included minion outfits, a bicycle tableau, pyramid forming, black and white striped kimonos, and a sign declaring the World Team Trophy the best competition. But of all the teams, they were the ones most firmly in the “just happy to be here” category, especially with their biggest skaters Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron not in attendance.

Not that Vanessa James & team captain Morgan Cipres were going to settle for that. Instead, they went and won both segments of the pairs competition. Their salchows were the hardest successful side by sides pulled off in the short program, and they did them in both programs, as well as their throw flips. When they combined them in the free with a clean three-jump and a throw quad salchow, even a two-footed one (their only mistake throughout), their technical content was way higher than everyone else’s. As if that wasn’t enough, their intensity and power allowed them to even narrowly beat Tarasova & Morozov on presentation scores in the long.

All of the other skaters were near the back of their fields. Though Chafik Besseghier had a relatively good competition, placing eighth in both men’s segments. He even got out a clean short with a quad-triple. His long had clean toe and salchow quads, though it also had a rough pair of combinations. Young Kevin Aymoz wasn’t as lucky. Multiple minor mistakes left him eighth in the short, and an even messier free left him eleventh there. Laurine Lecavelier & Mae Berenice Meite both had bad shorts to go 11-12. Meite proved unable to avoid last place in the long either, despite a triple flip-triple toe, mistakes combining with roughness and the judges never scoring her very high. Lecavelier, more in their favor, got up to tenth despite also making multiple mistakes.

With Papadkis & Cizeron out, France fell back on its distant number twos in dance, Marie-Jade Lauriault & Romain le Gac. A team that didn’t even make the free skate at Worlds, they simply weren’t on everyone else’s level. It didn’t help matters that their short dance was to the same music as Weaver & Pojé’s. They skated as well as they could, but were still last in the short, and barely edged out fifth in the free.

View full results here.

And now the season is officially over. Next, after everybody has caught their breath, choreographed their new programs, and gotten their Grand Prix assignments, comes the Olympic season.


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