Smooth Canadians open Four Continents in styleDaleman, Osmond hold top two ladies spots; Virtue, Moir lead dance field
The 2017 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships kicked off Wednesday night in Gangneung, South Korea, and several of the competitors expressed delight at being able to compete in the same venue where the 2018 Olympic Winter Games will be held.
Canadians take charge in ladies field
Maybe it was due to the over-excitement and pressure of competing at the Olympic venue, but a majority of the ladies didn't skate to the best of their abilities, with multiple skaters enduring bumpy performances in the short program.
Gabrielle Daleman from Canada vaulted into the lead with a rather complete performance, minus a weak landing on her triple lutz. Despite that hiccup, the 2017 Canadian silver medalist delivered on her additional planned elements and was awarded 68.25 points.
"This short program was a little bit of a fight," the 19-year-old said. "Overall, I'm very happy with it. I'm just thrilled that I fought for everything and that I didn't give it up."
According to the talented skater, her emotional level was kicked up a notch due the opportunity to compete at the same venue that will host the upcoming Winter Olympics.
"It is just so motivational and inspiring to compete in the Olympic rink," Daleman said. "Just competing here where the Olympics are going to be one year out is so inspiring, and it just wants to make you push even harder for the next year so you can be back in February."
Her compatriot, Kaetlyn Osmond, who landed in second place with 68.21 points, shared the same thought.
"On the whole, the performance went over pretty well, but there are lots of things I wish I would have done better, to be more stable on my feet," Osmond said. "But it felt great to compete in this venue and to get my first program here under my belt. I'm looking forward to my long program."
Despite the long flight from Canada to South Korea, and another long bus ride from the airport to the arena, the Canadian champion still valued the travel experience.
"Just learning the travel and learning the layout of the rink is definitely a great advantage," Osmond continued. "Just feeling comfortable with where everything is in the building, where you want to warm up and where you want to go between the warm-up and your skate, it's just learning all the things you feel comfortable with. It's also a great motivation for the next year. It's feeling the atmosphere and feeling the Olympic buzz, even though it is still a year away."
A rookie in this competition, Kazakhstan's Elizabet Tursynbaeva surprisingly took third place after the short program, with a clean performance that yielded 66.87 points.
For the 17-year-old, being at Four Continents for the first time means a lot.
"It's my first Four Continents, and I'm glad that I could do what I did," she said with a smile. "Last year I couldn't compete because I was at the Youth Olympic Games at the same time of this event. This year, I'm glad I came. It's a really big event, and I'm glad to compete here with all the amazing skaters. "
Many other ladies shared the same excitement about being in this coastal South Korean city, including Japan's Mai Mihara, who stands fourth after the short.
"I was so happy to deliver a good performance at the Olympic venue," said Mihara, who is making her Four Continents debut this week. "I saw a lot of the audience, and I just imagined what it must be like to skate here at the Olympics."
Mirai Nagasu, who finished fifth after the short, also expressed an interest in returning to the venue this time next year.
"It's nice to see what [the Olympic Games] is going to be like," the U.S. pewter medalist said. "It gives me more motivation to work harder because, of course, along with all the other skaters, I want to make the Olympic team."
Sui, Han in position for pairs gold
Despite being away from international competition for 10 months, three-time and defending Four Continents champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han displayed a strong comeback, winning the segment with 80.75 points, just 0.10 points off their personal best.
"We showed our level," said Han, who noted that he was happy to get a taste of what the Olympics could feel like. "It was our first competition of the season, and we were nervous. There are lot of things we still could improve, but overall we are very satisfied with what we did today.
"It is the first time for us coming here, and we feel very comfortable skating on this ice," he continued. "Everything here is nice for us. We just want to try to feel that this is the Olympic Games, but I found this is Four Continents and this is easy for us. At the Olympic Games, I will also feel like this is new."
Sui, who went through a significant operation on her foot in May, told an emotional story about her return to the ice and what it means to compete once again.
"First of all, I am lucky to be back," she said. "This is the first time we're going to tell our story in the program. When we chose the long program, everybody loved it; the coach and (choreographer) Lori [Nichol] loved it. The lyrics describe our experience after the operation as it was such a hard time. My life was very painful, and I was crying every day. My partner helped me a lot and encouraged me. When I came back to ice rink, he was afraid that I was in pain, but I said everything was OK."
Their teammates -- Grand Prix Final silver medalists Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang -- placed second, five points off the pace set by the talented Chinese pair.
"I think we showed our level today and skated better than I thought we would, because there were some mistakes in practice," Yu said. "The atmosphere here helped me to do better in competition. We are happy to come here and glad we had ample time to practice in the rink. I think the conditions here at this ice rink are very good. We are very satisfied with the organization and, hopefully, we can come back and do our best at the Olympic Games."
Two-time and reigning world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford made an uncharacteristic mistake on their side-by-side triple lutzes -- on which Radford fell -- but still landed in third place after the short program with 74.31 points.
Despite the fall, Duhamel was satisfied with how the pair rebounded to piece together a strong outing.
"Obviously, we made a mistake today in the short program but recovered very well and kept the energy level very high," she said. "Delivering a strong throw and lift after such an uncharacteristic mistake was a nice way to regroup.
"It was a high-level competition today, and all these teams skated very well, as they always do. The venue here is beautiful, the ice is excellent, and the energy is great. I think it's already feeling very comfortable for all the skaters, and we are all looking forward to coming here for the Olympic Games."
Virtue, Moir impress en route to dance lead
As many expected, Grand Prix Final champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir dominated the dance field by collecting 79.75 points.
"Tessa and I were pretty happy actually with our performance," Moir said after the performance. "We made a little bit of a technical error in the middle of it, so it's not ideal, obviously, especially in the short program, where we really have to capitalize on those technical points. But we kind of came out and felt like we attacked it."
Rather than focus on their score or even the performance, the 2010 Olympic champions were more excited about competing at the venue where they could capture another gold medal in a year's time.
"Scott and I came in a day early and practiced here on Monday in the rink below," Virtue said. "But then we had the opportunity to come upstairs and to take in the venue. We were really the only ones here, and we were like children. We were so giddy with excitement. It is everything you wish for in an Olympic venue. Everything you dream about, this rink has it.
"It's huge, but it still feels so intimate," she continued. "It makes such a difference going home and being able to visualize our Olympic moments, hopefully, knowing that we skated here and that we really can take it in. It's just been magical."
Defending Four Continents champions Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani of the United States secured 76.59 points, which placed them just over three points behind the Canadians.
"We're really happy with how we skated today," Maia said. "A year out from the Games, it's so exciting and inspiring to be competing in this venue, and I think we really kicked it up a notch today with our program."
"I think that this year marks an incredible opportunity for all the athletes in attendance at this competition," Alex added. "Like Tessa mentioned, to really get a sense for the vibe of this venue and a feel for what the Games might be like for some of us in a year is vital. That's really exciting."
Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the second team from the U.S. to land in the top three, once again find themselves in medal contention with 74.67 points. Their performance of their "Bad to the Bone" and "Uptown Funk" short dance entertained the audience from start to finish, leaving the duo incredibly confident entering the free dance.
"We really enjoyed skating today," Chock said. "Our program felt like it had really good energy throughout, and we really felt like the audience responded well to our program. We had a ton of fun, and we're excited to skate tomorrow."
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who sit in fourth place, were also more than happy to share their thoughts on competing in Gangneung.
"This is the Olympic venue," Donohue said. "So it's like a dream come true to be able to perform a bit of a simulation of all of our hopes. We're really pleased with our performance, and we really had fun."