Four Continents takes place this week in Taipei. It's essentially the rest of the world's answer to the European championships. We're going to be seeing some of the major world championships medal contenders and this could actually be a very good competition. Unfortunately, you can't watch it on Icenetwork and Universal Sports does not appear to be showing it.
So, ice dancing is a very big deal here. It's the first competition for reigning Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, who missed the start of the season while Virtue recovered from another shin surgery. They are trying out their dances for the first time here. If Virtue and Moir can somehow come into their first competition of the season and beat America's Meryl Davis and Charlie White, it will be fairly devastating for the Americans.
Davis and White have been tweaking their tango free dance all season, and they made some changes between Grand Prix Final and Nationals, so it will be a first chance to see what the international judges think of the new product. I am going to assume that their dance will be more technically demanding than the other teams' (I believe their free last season was as well), but I also assume that Virtue and Moir will receive level fours on everything like Davis and White, so, unless there is a major error for the teams, the scores will come down to program components and grade of execution. The tango dance has not won over the judges as well as I think Davis and White had hoped - will Virtue and Moir's dances be preferable?
As for the rest of the field, Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier of Canada did not win the Canadian nationals by as many points as I might have expected over Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, but they have scored much better internationally this season and I think they are likely to medal over Weaver and Poje.
As for the other Americans, I am not sure Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are yet ready to beat out the Canadians and medal, but if they do come close, that will be a victory, I think.
1) Davis and White (USA)
2) Virtue and Moir (Canada)
3) Crone and Poirier (Canada)
I just have to pick Davis and White. They look like they need an IV drip by the end of their program and I really give them credit for reworking this program so much and just continually improving it. That, combined with not knowing at all how Virtue and Moir are doing with their new programs, makes me give them the edge.
Mao Asada of Japan is the reigning world champion. She had a rough Grand Prix season, and somewhat of a comeback at the Japanese Nationals. However, she still could not beat countrymate Miki Ando at that competition, and if she can't beat Ando, she won't be able to beat the rest of the contenders. So I think a very clean and very powerful Mao Asada is essential here in order for her to truly strike fear into the hearts of the other skaters at worlds. I would never count her out, but I don't necessarily think she's the favorite here.
Not sure who I would give that distinction to. Miki Ando can wrack up the points technically and, at times, scores much higher on program components than she ever deserves, but sometimes the judges do seem to zone out on her and score her pretty low because she doesn't really "skate to the music" or "exhibit any feeling." Her short program doesn't do her any favors, either. It's her second one of the season.
Then there is the Grand Prix Final champ, Alissa Czisny. Czisny took advantage of some amazing personal performances and a lot of mistakes by other skaters in order to win that competition. Still, she will receive high components and if she skates clean, she will medal, it's just a question of the color. I am kind of hoping she peaks at worlds, and I'm wondering how she will recover from that emotional Nationals. I am not sure I would be devastated if she didn't do great here...not sure I would expect that it would have any world championships resonance...but obviously I want to see Czisny do well...just not wear herself out.
Rachael Flatt is not going to get the program components scores here that she did at the U.S. Nationals. And if she skates the way she did at Nationals, she is going to find herself way out of the money. She has to turn in some amazing clean performances. And I really want to see her do a triple/triple. I'm tired of hearing about how many she has and how much she trains them - it's time to produce now before worlds. Technical elements are the only way for Flatt to get ahead so she needs to show she has what it takes.
And we have a last chance dance for Mirai Nagasu of the US and Akiko Suzuki of Japan, who will not be at the world championships. I might be wrong, but I feel like the lack of worlds pressure might be great for Nagasu - I would not be surprised if she comes out and skates like we know she can, and wins this whole competition. BUT I would also not be surprised if she flakes and doesn't put her heart in it. I'm excited to see which Nagasu we get - she still hasn't performed Memoirs of a Geisha well this season, in my opinion, and I'd really like to see her do it justice, although I don't like the program. I'd like to see what it can be like if she really focuses.
Suzuki is a delight to watch skate and I adore her free skate to Fiddler on the Roof. I don't expect her to be perfect here, but she could definitely be a medal threat if she is clean enough and others like Asada and Ando make mistakes.
I also don't completely count out Canada's Cynthia Phaneuf (and maybe not even Amelie Lacoste, either), but both skaters will need performances of their lives to medal, I am thinking.
1) Mao Asada (Japan)
2) Alissa Czisny (USA)
3) Miki Ando (Japan)
At first, I was going to predict Ando to win. But sometimes she really just falls off the radar. And I feel like the improvements that Asada showed at Japanese Nationals may very well have been only the start of her season comeback. I don't feel very confident about these predictions, but whatever. We shall see! Like I said, don't be surprised to see Suzuki or Nagasu up there as well. Or even Flatt, in the right circumstances.
Ok, so China's Pang and Tong are obviously going to win this by like...30 points, right? If not, then they are in need of some sort of major vacation. This should not be a competition for them.
For the silver...my inclination is to believe it will be a battle between Takahashi and Tran of Japan and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch of Canada. The Canadians have been the most successful internationally this season of the other couples outside of Pang and Tong. I would actually be surprised to see them off the podium, considering the competition and how they've done this season. But the Japanese have been impressing the judges (even if I am not a believer quite yet..).
On paper, there's no reason Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin or Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig can't contend at least for bronze here. But paper means nothing when it comes to performing in the big international competitions. This will also be a nice chance for Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker to get some international competition under their belts.
1) Pang and Tong (China)
2) Takahashi and Tran (Japan)
3) Moore-Towers and Moskovitch (Canada)
Patrick Chan of Canada is sitting this one out, which, to be honest, makes it a lot less relevant, because Patrick Chan is steamrolling his way to a world championship. However, this is a great opportunity to see if there is any reason to believe that reigning world champion Daisuke Takahashi and Takahiko Kozuka of Japan will be able to put up a fight against Chan at worlds.
Takahashi has not been up to snuff this season. His most recent troubles have been blamed by fans on a terrible collision with Kozuka during a warm-up...but let's not kid ourselves, he was not so hot before that. I love watching Takahashi probably more than any other male skater, but I'm having a bit of the same reaction to his programs this season as I am to Davis and White. His stuff last year was so above and beyond and this year it's hard to match that, and I'm not really connecting with his choreography. That said, he is the best showman in this competition and he has the best footwork and at times, the most passion. So we'll see if he can get that magic back before Tokyo worlds.
Kozuka has none of the ice presence of Takahashi, but he has had better jumps and more quads this season, and that's been the difference. This is an important competition for him to assert himself as well before worlds.
And then we have our consolation prize winners, Jeremy Abbott, Adam Rippon, and Armin Mahbanoozadeh of the US. I could watch these skaters for hours. I love all three of them, and they are three of the most wonderful skaters out there. They are also coming from a national championships where they all three completely blew it. Jeremy Abbott did so poorly in his free skate that people questioned whether he would continue with the sport. Will the pressure of trying to prove that they are the best the US has to offer (despite the make up of the world team) get to them and take them out of the running here? How will Adam Rippon deal with being the reigning 4CC champ? And will the lower stakes of this competition be agreeable to Jeremy Abbott, who can't really handle the pressure of the world championships? This is a very difficult competition to predict. And very exciting.
And don't count out the entire Canadian contingent of Kevin (quadtastic) Reynolds, Shawn Sawyer, and Joey Russell. They are wild cards. Additionally, Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu has not had his senior breakthrough yet, and should be watched.
1) Kozuka (Japan)
2) Abbott (USA)
3) Rippon (USA)
I just have not seen enough quality skating from Takahashi to think he is ready to contend, despite his Grand Prix wins. But if he has improved since Grand Prix season, he could very well top the podium.