Earlier this month, Team USA figure skaters got a taste of the 2018 Winter Olympics: the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, held in Gangneung, South Korea, were located just a few hours away from the 2018 Olympic site of Pyeongchang.
The Americans did not disappoint, medaling in three of four categories. Nathan Chen placed first in the men’s division, Mirai Nagasu was awarded the bronze in the lady’s division, and Maia and Alex Shibutani placed second in the ice dancing division, while Madison Chock and Evan Bates placed third.
Chen’s performance was particularly notable; the 2017 U.S. champion, who underwent hip surgery just last year, defeated reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. Even more notable is the fact that Hanyu has not been defeated by an American man since Jeremy Abbott took the gold at the 2011 Cup of China. Chen’s short program to the soundtrack of ‘“Corsaire” was beautifully executed — he completed a quadruple lutz, a gorgeous triple flip, and a triple axel without a hitch. The performance earned him a score of 103.12, placing him in first after the short program.
However, Chen’s free skate program (which is longer and allows for more jumping passes and spins) was shakier. Chen turned out of a quadruple toe jump and a triple axel combination, and stepped out of another triple axel to steady himself, recieving a score of 204.34. Fortunately for Chen, his combined score of 307.46 was high enough to top Hanyu’s, earning Chen his first international gold medal. Coincidentally, he also became the first man to land five quads in an international free skate.
Watch his short program here:
However, Chen and his jumping prowess were not the only stand-outs of the competition. Team USA veteran Mirai Nagasu set a new personal best with a score of 194.95, attacking both of her programs with passion and focus. She exhibited not only grace but athleticism, keeping her power and speed steady throughout her free skate program. She also showcased her flexibility with a beautiful Beillmann spin at the end of the long routine.
It was also a vindicating performance for Nagasu; in 2014, U.S. Figure Skating made the controversial decision to keep her off the 2014 Olympic team, even though she qualified at the U.S. Nationals. Despite the heartbreaking decision, Nagasu made the choice to continue training for the 2018 Olympics rather than retire, and it appears that her hard work is paying off. Consequently, her free skate music choice, “The Winner Takes It All,” is quite telling. “It’s an obvious statement, but I feel like with every person, sometimes you’re not the winner and you have to keep going,” said Nagasu in an interview with IceNetwork. “It’s about persevering. It’s an emotional kind of performance.”
Watch Mirai’s free skate here:
Skaters from the men and ladies events were not the only ones to dazzle the crowd. Sibling duo Maia and Alex Shibutani are the reigning ice dancing U.S champs, and their Four Continents performances delivered as expected. The Shibutani’s short program is an unconventional breath of fresh air, from the music choice (a Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z remix created just for the team) to the clothing (Maia sports a sleek black bodysuit instead of a dress), and audiences love it. Their long program to “Evolution” flowed effortlessly across the ice and featured dizzying lifts and a perfectly in-sync twizzle sequence. The brother and sister finished the competition with score of 191.85 and a silver medal, finishing a place behind Canadian champs Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.
Watch the Shib Sibs here:
While we’re sad that Four Continents is over, there’s still time to get your fix of figure skating: the 2017 World Championships begin on March 30. The U.S. has earned three spots for the ladies division, three spots for the ice dancing division, two for the men’s division, and two for the pairs division, so the event is sure to be worth your while.