I have to give credit to the ISU for trying to come up with something new and different for skaters and fans alike - the World Team Trophy.
This is an event that is supposed to be held every two years in which six teams of figure skaters go head to head. It started in 2009 but in 2011 the competition had to be postponed a year as a result of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan.
For this third edition, there was a substantial total purse of $1 million US to be divided among the skaters.
"The timing for the skaters may not be ideal in terms of their training calendar having just finished the ISU Worlds Championships a couple of weeks before," the ISU's vice president for figure skating David Dore told me in a telephone interview. "On the 'plus' side is the chance for the fans to get another look at some of their favourites and the skaters get the opportunity to earn prize money which can go to offset their training costs for example."
The World Team Trophy is the template for the Team Figure Skating Event that will premiere at the upcoming 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
A welcome change
In a solo sport like figure skating, to have the chance to be part of a team makes a refreshing change. To make up the teams, the standings from the major ISU events were taken into account and the six teams with the most points were invited to compete. The teams included two men, two women and one each of ice dance and pair teams. The countries represented were Canada, United States, France, Russia, China and the host country Japan.
Canada's top-ranked team included three-time World champion Patrick Chan, Kevin Reynolds, World bronze pair medallists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Dalemen in the women's event.
The idea is that there are points awarded for the skaters' placings in the short and free programs that are added together. The team with the most points wins.
Team challenge spoke to individual performances
As interesting as the final standings with the American team capturing gold, the Canadians taking silver and the Japanese earning bronze are, what interests me more is what the individual performances indicated about the skaters.
Canada's silver medal was ultimately decided with the points awarded for the second place finish from Canadian pair champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.
I am impressed that Canada's two women were as competition-ready as they were. Neither Kaetlyn Osmond nor Gabrielle Dalemen has much experience in the senior ranks. I see their appearance in Tokyo at the team Trophy event as another opportunity to build up a reservoir of knowledge for how to handle top level competition. Osmond and Dalemen finished their event in seventh and eleventh place respectively.
Any chance for Weaver and Poje to get their feet under them is one that they are willing to take. I was as surprised and delighted as anybody to see them at Worlds in London. Kaitlyn suffered what some thought would be a career-ending ankle break that required surgery in December. Not ever ones to have their skating career defined for them, Weaver worked at her recovery like a champ and the team was able to compete at Worlds and finished in fifth place.
In Tokyo, Weaver and Poje ended up with a second place finish behind American ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates.
Rough go for Patrick Chan
There were some tough moments for the men. Russia's Konstantin Menshov was third after the short program and ended up withdrawing during the free program. Menshov couldn't finish his program when he suffered an awkward fall in his triple Axel attempt and dislocated his shoulder.
Patrick Chan also had a tough time. He was the leader after the short and finished in second overall. Falling three times in the free program and finishing in fifth in that segment could not have been the way Chan wanted to represent himself at his event.
He admitted in a post-event interview that he found it tough to be motivated in competition so quickly on the heels of Worlds. He wasn't the only one, as teammate Kevin Reynolds also struggled in the short program, finishing ninth but rising to second in the free and third overall.
Japan's Daisuke Takahashi took the top honours in the men's event, a feat that went a long way to help Japan win the bronze. Takahashi won the men's free and with the exception of a stumble on his quad was characteristically excellent.
Takahashi ended up with a substantial nine point lead ahead of the Chan in the final score. In the post- event interview on the ISU website though, this wasn't the performance he had hoped for: "I am not satisfied with my performance. I wanted to end the season with a good program. I finished first because of other peoples' mistakes. So it feels not perfect to be in first, but it feels nice."
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