Road To The Olympic Games

Figure Skating·Analysis

Four Continents: It's all about how you finish

The free skate is what makes figure skating so compelling. For Pj Kwong, it's not what you did yesterday, but what you and everyone else in the field is doing in the long program that propels you — or not — towards a spot on the podium.

In the end, the favourites just knew how to get the job done

China’s Wenjing Sui, left, and Han Cong showed why they are one of the best pairs teams in the world at the Four Continents competition over the weekend in Anaheim, Calif. (Chris Carlson/Associated Press)

The look on the skaters' faces says it all.

It's a look of total satisfaction at unexpectedly winning the short program at an important competition like the Four Continents event. In all but one of the four disciplines (ice dance) there was someone other than the favourite in the lead heading into the free program in Anaheim, Calif., over the weekend.

American Vincent Zhou was dominant in the short program with a quad Lutz combination and nuanced presentation that can go toe-to-toe with the best of them. Zhou's performance was at the expense of the Olympic, world and Four Continents silver medallist Shoma Uno, who sat nine points back in fourth.

Canadian pairs champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro were flawless in their short program, taking a narrow lead of 0.47 points ahead of Olympic silver medallists and 2017 world champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han.

Former American champion Bradie Tennell delivered on the promise that she showed at the beginning of the season by knocking it out of park in her opening program. Tennell captured the lead ahead of this year's ice darling, the seemingly unbeatable Rika Kihira, who sat five points back in fifth.

For a brief moment, I can imagine there were visions of "it's my time," dancing through the skaters' heads. And then reality: the free program.

This is what makes figure skating so compelling. It's not what you did yesterday, but it's what you and everyone else in the field is doing in the long program that propels you — or not — towards a spot on the podium.

Back in the day, a skater moving from 17th place after the short to fifth-place overall was unheard of, but that's just what happened with American Nathan Chen at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. It's exactly that kind of possibility that has me on the edge of my seat every time.

WATCH | Moore-Towers and Marinaro's free skate:

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro finished in 2nd place, just 0.06 points less than the winning pair of Wenjing Sui and Cong Han. 7:23

For the women and men, the favourites were not to be out-manoeuvred for their respective crowns with Kihira remaining undefeated in her senior international competitions this season and Uno claiming his first Four Continents title.

The pairs event unfolded with the Canadians capturing the technical score in the free program but losing the overall title to the Chinese team of Sui and Han.

WATCH | China's Sui and Han skate to gold:

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China win the pairs event with a total score of 211.11 points. 7:47

As crushing as losing the gold by a margin of 0.06 must be, it had me wondering if there was any up side to the disappointment. In my mind, it must bode well to be in a virtual tie with a team as highly ranked as Sui and Han, who clinched their fifth Four Continents championship in Anaheim.

"It's a confidence booster for sure to be so close to winning the title here but it won't affect or change our training.  We'll still go in day in and day out do the same thing with the same focus and hopefully we will have better results next time," said Moore-Towers.

For Marinaro, being practical in advance of the upcoming world championships is key.

"With the marking being so tight we're going to need to grab every single point we can get in Japan so we're going to be working on maximizing every single element to the best of our abilities, because we know it's going to come down to pretty tight in Japan," he said.

I am counting the days.

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