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Four Continents skate doesn't boost U.S. slim medal chances for worlds

February 21, 2011 |  3:28 pm

So what did the Four Continents Championships reveal about U.S. chances at next month's World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo?

Precious little more than what I already knew after last month's U.S. Championships, and that wasn't good.

The results from the Taipei meet that ended Saturday only reinforced my feeling that ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White will be the lone U.S. medalists at worlds.  Davis and White took Four Continents gold in a walkover after reigning world and Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada withdrew after winning the short dance because Virtue had a thigh injury.

I'll make a few more observations, now that I have had time to look at some of the Four Continents video posted by the dedicated fans on the newsgroup Figure Skating Universe

Those fans snagged the video from Asian television networks, since there was not even live Internet coverage of the event in the United States.   Shame on U.S. Figure Skating for not spending the pittance it would have cost to get Four Continents live feed rights for its own web property, icenetwork.com.

Mirai The top finishers of every event at U.S. nationals but men's singles went to Four Continents, where the opposition included many of the leading skaters from China, Japan and Canada -- but none from Europe, which has its own championships.

Women's singles had the best field, including two skaters with world titles (Miki Ando and Mao Asada of Japan), three with U.S. titles (Mirai Nagasu, Rachael Flatt, Alissa Czisny)  and the reigning Canadian champion (Cynthia Phaneuf).  So I'm confining my comments to that event.

Both Ando and Asada skated impressively and deserved the top two places, although Ando's utter emotionlessness in the free skate was in jarring discord with the romanticism, intensity and passion of her music, Grieg's "A Minor Piano Concerto."

Reigning world champion Asada showed she has recaptured her jumping skills after a decision to rework technique under a new coach had turned the Grand Prix portion of her season into a messy exercise.  Not only that, but Asada's feathery footwork sequence in the long program perfectly captured the essence of her music, Lizst's "Dreams of Love."

Nagasu, who finished third, made it abundantly clear she is the best U.S. woman skater, her third place at nationals notwithstanding. 

How Nagasu must rue the brain cramps on two no-brainer elements at the end of the free skate at nationals, a spin she botched so thoroughly it was worth zero points on the scoresheet and a double-axel jump so poorly executed it earned just 2.63.

Nagasu scored 8.34 points on those two elements at Four Continents.  At nationals, she had lost second place (and the final spot on the U.S. world team) to Rachael Flatt by just 6.12 points.  Given that the impression left by those two mistakes also should have impacted her program component scores, they likely kept Nagasu from the world team.

"It was a hard season for me, and I'm glad it ended the way it did," Nagasu said Saturday. "After nationals, I didn't want to train any more. I was ready to go back to the drawing board and start a new season."

Flatt, who has struggled since winning the 2010 U.S. title, came away from Four Continents justifiably encouraged by having her reworked programs produce her best international score of the season,  even if it still left her nine points behind Nagasu, 16 behind Asada and 20 behind Ando.

And what to make of Czisny?  Every time she seems to have turned a corner, as her strong performances in winning back-to-back titles at the nationals and Grand Prix Final had suggested, Czisny suddenly wanders into a blind alley on the other side. 

The day after her triumph at nationals, Czisny landed on her butt on both jumps in the exhibition gala.  She went on to fall twice more at Four Continents, once in the short program, once in a free skate also marred by a different jump that was downgraded and another judged under rotated. 

Czisny finished fifth, 21 points from third.  A similar performance probably won't crack the top ten at worlds, where the field will be significantly deeper.

"I have a lot of things I want to work on considering I didn't come to this competition as well prepared as I wanted to be since it was so close to the U.S. championships," Czisny said.  "I have a month before worlds."

Many skaters have had similarly up-and-down performances in this era when the demands of the sport's new judging system make performances without significant errors sadly rare.  But Czisny's history of inconsistency still is stunning: over the last six seasons at nationals, for instance, she has finished 7-3-9-1-10-1.

Czisny's exhibition skate at Four Continents included two jumps, both shaky but finished upright, and a belly flop.

The last, at least, was planned.

Photo: Mirai Nagasu executing the Ina Bauer movement in her short program at Four Continents.  Credit: Sam Yeh / Getty Images

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