By Johanna Bear
As the dust settled in Shanghai, China after a long week of thrilling figure skating action from the 2015 World Championships, four first-time champions were crowned. Though the lone U.S. medal came in ice dance with Madison Chock and Evan Bates bringing home the silver, all U.S. skaters showed grit and determination and put out performances to be proud of in this first year of a new Olympic quadrennial.
After blowing away the field in the ladies short program with a gorgeous triple Axel that earned 10.07 points by itself, Russia’s Elizaveta Tuktamysheva was able to put aside a shaky start to her free skate to win her first World Championship title. After failing to make the Olympic team last season, Tuktamysheva put together one of the strongest single seasons in recent memory with seven total wins leading up to Worlds, including the Grand Prix Final and European Championships. She finished the competition with 210.36 points, which was more than enough to hold off the other medalists for her eighth win of the season.
Japan’s Satoko Miyahara made up for her small stature by putting out an incredibly consistent and soulful interpretation of her “Miss Saigon” free skate. The Japanese national champion earned a competition total of 193.60 to move up from third to second and win the silver medal at her first World Championships. A well executed double Axel triple-toe loop combination helped boost her technical score as she showed her lovely lines and flexibility throughout her program.
Tuktamysheva’s compatriot Elena Radionova slipped from second to third after the free skate to win the bronze medal. Despite an underrotated triple Salchow in her triple loop-half loop-triple Salchow combination and an edge call on her triple flip, she fought through to the end to maintain a spot on the podium with a score of 191.47. The sixteen-year-old Russian national champion had placed first at Skate America and Trophée Éric Bompard earlier this season, and the bronze medal in Shanghai capped off her best year to date at the senior level.
The American ladies Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner, and Polina Edmunds put together a comprehensive resurgence in the free skate after starting out in eighth, eleventh, and seventh place to finish in fourth, fifth, and eighth, respectively. Gold and Wagner placed second and third in the free skate to end up just off the podium, but showed incredible determination after both experienced rough short programs.
“That is what I had trained for – to come here and do my job for myself, Frank and the United States,” Gold said of her free skate, “After a rough short program, it’s tough to come out with your guns ablazin’. It was a good feeling to skate a great program.”
“Today was a huge accomplishment for me,” Wagner enthused. “It might sound silly because I’m 23-years-old, but I’m still learning in this sport. I was a late bloomer. To go out there under such immense pressure, to redeem myself in a way, that’s something I’m very proud of.”
Gold and Wagner’s fourth and fifth placement ensured that the U.S. would again have three spots available for the World Championships in Boston next season. Polina had two solid performances as well, and scored a 177.83 to finish in eighth place.
“I’m feeling happy that I skated a clean program,” Edmunds said of her performance, “It could have been a little stronger for sure. I’m happy that I fought through off of my elements. I’m kind of disappointed in my score. I feel it was low for what I executed. But I’ll keep working and be better and better every year.”
In the men’s event, Spain’s Javier Fernandez rose from second after the short to win the first-ever World Championship title for his home country. Fernandez surpassed his training mate and reigning Olympic and World champion Yuzuru Hanyu for gold despite a fall on his first attempted quadruple Salchow. With the assistance of a clean quadruple toe loop and a quadruple Salchow-double toe loop combination, Fernandez accumulated 273.90 points, only a little more than two points ahead of Hanyu. His effervescent “Barber of Seville” program brought the crowd to its feet as he celebrated his maiden World title.
Reigning World and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu came into the free skate in first place, but a fall on his quadruple toe loop derailed his hopes of defending his crown. He scored a total of 271.08 in his “Phantom of the Opera” program and had the audience throwing down myriad stuffed animals in support. Though he wasn’t able to win his second consecutive World title, it was an impressive effort considering all of the injuries that have plagued him throughout the season.
Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten finished out a strong season by winning the bronze medal in Shanghai. He placed first in the free skate, but several shaky landings in both programs prevented him from a higher finish. His enormous quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination earned 16.11 points on his way to a total score of 267.73 points. Ten, who has been a large part of the effort to get the 2022 Olympic Games to his hometown of Almaty, Kazakhstan, will look to better this result next season and further improve upon his steadily growing consistency.
All three American men rose in the final standings with their respective free skates. Newly minted U.S. champion Jason Brown put up an international season’s best and personal best combined score of 248.29 to finish just off the podium in fourth place. A downgraded second triple Axel was the only blemish on his protocols as he landed seven clean triple jumps and showed incredible mental fortitude in his Worlds debut.
“I feel great,” Brown said after his free skate, “I wish that second Axel could have been a little better. I’m so proud that the U.S. men have three spots going into worlds next year in Boston. It’s crazy to be fourth in the world. I couldn’t ask for anything more right now. I skated the best that I could in those moments and it’s nice to walk away as fourth in the world.”
U.S. silver medalist Adam Rippon moved up from eleventh to eighth overall with a solid performance that featured two clean triple Axels. His score of 229.71 was an improvement from his Four Continents performance last month and an ISU season best total for him.
“It definitely wasn’t my best today,” Rippon acknowledged afterwards. “I had a few troubles with the jumps, but after my short program, I wanted to perform and give a nice long program performance. I felt free out there. Maybe a little bit too free, making that mistake on the quad. I never gave up throughout the program. Coming away, I’m happy to be in the top 10.” (This is the second time Rippon has contributed successfully to the U.S. men’s effort in retaining three spots for Worlds the following year.)
U.S. bronze medalist Joshua Farris had some jumping woes in both of his programs. However, he was still able to showcase his exceptional artistry in his “Schindler’s List” free skate, which helped him place tenth in that segment, garner a total score of 223.04, and place eleventh overall.
“I didn’t want to replicate what I’ve done in past competitions after a bad short program. It was far from perfect, but it was a step,” Farris acknowledged, “The number one thing I need to work on is my mental strength.”
2015 Canadian national champion Nam Nguyen joined his Toronto-based training mates Fernandez and Hanyu in the top five to conclude a successful second trip to Worlds. An impressive triple Axel-triple toe loop combination and clean quadruple Salchow helped the 16-year-old finish fourth in the free skate and fifth overall with 242.59 points.
After finishing a disappointing seventh at the Sochi Olympics, Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford put together a season to remember. On top of their first Worlds gold medal, they also took the top spot at Skate Canada, NHK Trophy, the Grand Prix Final, Four Continents and the Canadian national championships. With strong technical elements including side-by-side triple Lutzes and a throw quadruple Salchow, Duhamel and Radford were able to stay in first place after both portions of the competition and amassed a total score of 221.53, which was nearly seven points higher than their closest competitors. Though they did not have a flawless free skate they showed tremendous resolve and fought until the last beat of their “Muse” program.
China, the host country, showed impressive depth in the pairs event by having all three of their teams finish within the top five. The highest ranked of those teams were Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, who grabbed the silver medal after moving up from third to second in the free skate with a final competition score of 214.12. Sui and Han showcased their beautiful lift positions and lines in their “Francesca da Rimini” program and improved considerably upon their sixth place Worlds finish of last season.
Thirty five-year-old two-time World champions and Olympic silver medalists Qing Pang and Jian Tong made an incredible return to the sport after taking a break from competition and rallied to a third place finish. They were able to help inspire the next generation of Chinese pairs teams with their beautiful artistry and consistency in what they announced would officially be the final competition of their careers. Their stunning throw triple Salchow earned a Grade of Execution of 2.10 on their way to a total score of 212.77.
The third Chinese team of Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang were able to put up strong technical numbers with the help of a beautiful quadruple twist that put up 10.53 points on its own, but they could not quite match the component scores of the other top teams and had to settle for fourth place with 206.63. Rounding out the top five were Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov who made a strong return this season after they were unable to compete last season due to Smirnov’s ruptured patellar tendon. They attempted a throw quadruple Salchow, but a shaky landing prevented them from receiving full credit for the element and ended with 198.91 points.
Both Americans teams put together solid performances that should contribute to growing the popularity and competitive quality of pairs skating in the United States. Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim finished the event in seventh place and executed a beautiful quadruple twist on their way to a combined score of 185.81. They struggled on their side-by-side jumps, but performed their “An American in Paris” free skate with wonderful energy.
“There were good parts but we had some technical errors,” Knierim stated, “The quad twist was great. We are really happy about that. We’re not thrilled about the other errors, but we feel we did represent Team USA well.”
Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier finished twelfth in their World Championship debut after having placed eighth in the short program. Numerous shaky landings and a fall on their side-by-side double Axels kept them from obtaining a score higher than their 172.51 total, but they were able to set a promising foundation for future international success.
“For it being our first worlds, it’s all a learning experience,” Denney said after their free skate, “We are grateful to have the experience of our first worlds. Our skate could have been much better.
For a recap of the ice dance competition, please visit ice-dance.com.
As an incredible week of skating concludes, the U.S. has much to be proud of. Comebacks and consistency abounded and will hopefully set the stage for continued success into next season and the next three years before the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. The last event of the 2014-2015 season will be the ISU World Team Trophy in Tokyo from April 16-19, and the U.S. team for that event will be announced in the coming weeks.