at Four Continents
by Tatjana Flade
(25 January 2014) Japan’s Takahito Mura was one of those athletes at the Four Continents Championships that had to overcome the bitter disappointment of missing out on the Olympic team. But he put that behind him to win his first ISU Championship title in a competitive field. His teammate Takahiko Kozuka was in a similar situation and came back with a solid long program to earn the silver medal. Nan Song of China picked up the bronze medal, his first medal in his fifth appearance at the event.
Mura opened his program to “Shogun” with a quadruple toe and followed up with a triple Lutz-triple toe, two triple Axels as well as four more triple jumps, but the two at the end were wobbly.
Although he is trying to work on his presentation, the program was still very focused on jumps. The Japanese was ranked second in the free with a seasons best score of 158.35 points but defended his lead after the short with 242.56 overall. “I truly was happy after my performance. During the six minutes warm up I was really worried. I had too much power and I tensed up. I was really tired when I did the last two jumps (in the program). Overall I was able to perform well, especially the steps and things I had to be careful about. After Nationals I forgot what it felt like to jump but at Four Continents I was able to accomplish what I wasn’t able to do at Nationals and that’s what I want to do in the future for my career”, Mura noted. And the goal is clear: “Getting this title was the first step towards the next Olympic Games.” However, first comes some time off to attend to important things.
“I want to spend time with my family. Because of lack of time, I didn’t have a wedding ceremony yet, so I would like to have that in the off season”, he shared. The 22-year-old got married last year and is a young father, but he doesn’t like to discuss his private life in public.
Kozuka recovered from a rough short that had left him in fourth place. His quadruple toe loop was landed forward and downgraded, but then the 24-year-old nailed his other jumps - six triples including two Axels and also collected points with his excellent spins. Although his transitions and skating skills are very strong, he is lacking the power and excitement other skaters have. Maybe he try out something new, not classical or jazzy, which is his typical style. The reward for this performance to “Introduction et Rondo Capriccioso” was a seasons best score of 159.53 points and first place in the free skating. Overall he pulled up to second with a total of 236.38 points. “I had a very difficult time after I wasn’t chosen for the Olympic team. I didn’t know why I was skating for all this time. For the Four Continents I was able to come out of it. I kept thinking about my fans. There were so many people that came from Japan and I’m such a happy man to have all these fans. I felt I’m not a man if I can’t perform successfully tonight”, the 2011 World silver medalist shared. “Taka”, so his nickname, was very chatty in the press conference, more so than usual. “After Nationals I had a break and I was thinking why I’m still skating. But I was selected as team member for the Four Continents Championships. I was going to compete, but I was still asking myself why. Because of these feelings I was not able to focus on my practice and I had a bad short program. My jumps were not powerful. But in the next practice I felt my confidence coming back and I got a different feeling. Although I did well in the free skating, I am still not completely satisfied with my performance. I can do better. As for next year, I was thinking about whether I should keep competing or quit. I’m still wondering, but I liked the feeling (at this competition) and want to continue next season”, the skater explained. His fans will be happy, indeed a large number had travelled to Taipei and cheered him on.
It was a happy podium, because Song was thrilled with his bronze. Skating to “The Mission”, the 23-year-old landed a quadruple toe loop, triple Axel-triple toe, as well as another triple Axel and three more triples. He scored 157.38 points and earned his first medal at a senior-level championship with 236.09 points overall. “I made some mistakes on the jumps like I tripled the second quad. So I lost some points there. But overall I feel honored to be on the podium”, Song said. “This is my fifth time to participate in the Four Continents Championships and the second time in Taipei, and finally I could win my first medal at this event. With the Chinese New Year coming up, this is like a New Year’s present to me. It is also a promise for future events. Today’s success is a result of the work of coach and my team. This cooperation is very important and I want to thank my coach. This medal is not only my merit, but also the merit of my coach, my friends and family who supported me. We’ve overcome difficulties”, he pointed out.
World silver medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan finished fourth. He hit a beautiful quad toe right out of the gate into his program to “The Young Lady and the Hooligan”, but fell on a triple Axel and triple flip. He also doubled the Lutz. The Lutz has been a painful jump for him because of a foot injury. Even with the mistakes, this was the best program choreographically and the component score once again was too low (226.37 points). Ten got 78.08 points – only a little over two points more than Mura, Song or Dornbush while the difference should be far bigger. “I am disappointed with my performance. I felt tired and affected by my injury. I am learning how to get through these challenges. But I feel that I am getting more consistent and I learn to recover from mistakes. It used to happen when I made a mistake in the beginning that the program fell apart. I have no expectations for the Olympic Games. Life gives you surprises when you are expecting them the least”, the 20-year-old said.
Richard Dornbush (USA) took a painful fall on a (downgraded) quad Salchow. He did land five triples including a triple Axel-triple toe, but some jumps were shaky, he popped a Lutz and skated basically from jump to jump in his “Beatles” medley. He dropped from second to fifth (224.44 points). “I felt my performance was not so good. It was a really tough program. I’m proud of my attitude. I’ve learned to improve my mental game and to perform no matter what“, he said.
World Junior Champion Joshua Farris (USA) turned in an emotional program to “Schindler’s List” to finish sixth (221.00 points). He crashed badly on the quad toe and singled a loop and a Lutz. “I went into this competition not expecting a whole lot especially having Nationals back to back. It’s really hard to compete that quickly. The long, it was a little embarrassing, the pops. I understand the fall on the quad. I don’t normally pop, I think I was a bit rattled by the fall. My knee is going to be sore tomorrow”, the 19-year-old commented.
A few others also didn’t have quite the performance they were hoping for. Adam Rippon (USA), still disappointed about underperforming at Nationals, placed 8th and made several mistakes. He looked tired. “It was really hard to come here after Nationals and not making the Olympic team. It’s been a kind of nightmarish two weekends in a row, but it’s kind of what you make of it. I felt lucky that I was able to come here and skate one more time this season”, he explained. Like many others, he doesn’t know yet what comes next for him. “Everything kind of happened all at once and everything was so quick. I’m going to go home and kind of have a minute to take a breath and reevaluate everything”, he answered.
Canada’s Jeremy Ten struggled with his triple Axel to finish 9th. He, too, wants to think through everything. “I’m going home and reevaluate where I’m with my life and see whether or not it’s worth to continue one more year. I missed the World score by .56 here. That’s kind of frustrating. I don’t know what’s happening in the future”, he noted.
15-year-old Nam Nguyen, the youngest competitor in the event, on the other hand skated clean in both programs and was happy with his performances and personal best score. He placed 10th in what was his international senior-level debut. “The score was internationally the best I did. Again the (triple) Axel was there. I have to keep this up, my consistency to do clean run-throughs in competition increases. Coming into Taipei I wanted to make a big splash on my first senior international and that’s what I think I did. It’s one of my best performances along with my Canadians performances two weeks ago. I’m happy I was able to keep the momentum in here. My next competition is Junior Worlds. I’m going to sit at home, watch the Olympics, enjoy what I’m seeing and I’m going to learn from what I’m watching and bring it on the ice”, Nguyen commented and admitted that he liked the food best about his stay in Taipei. “Especially the desserts. The French cakes were amazing and I am allowed to have them”.
The popular Misha Ge of Uzbekistan placed 13th. His jumps were not his best, but as usual he really sold his program to dance music including Tango, Swing and Rock’n’Roll and the crowd loved him. He and another show talent, Canadian Elladj Balde who ranked 11th, were invited to the exhibition gala.