Cup of China is its Usual Trainwreck


Two stacked singles fields turned out disappointing competitions; home team claims gold in pairs; ice dance by far best show.

Cup of China is also known to skating fans as #CupofDisaster, because things tend to not go well there, with the ice quality typically suspect. This year trouble came from more than one source. The sound quality during the ladies short at one point got so bad one of the skaters asked to restart her program and was allowed to without penalty. The camera work during the pairs free was so bad that when two Chinese pairs got a little far apart during their side by side jumps, the man ended up jumping out of the screen. When the much-loved Canadian team of Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam had a fall in practice which sprained her knee, forcing them to pull out, the announcer at the short dance apparently didn’t even know it, awkwardly introducing them to empty ice.

The competition should have been a showdown between multiple top skaters, especially in the singles fields. The skating that instead ensued wasn’t all bad, but a lot of it was.


(Photo by Lintao Zhang – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)

The men’s field consisted of eight men who had at least medaled on the Grand Prix circuit before, plus two more up and comers who definitely had a chance. Naturally, half of them blew it. Home skater Boyang Jin was the only one to skate his short clean, and even his jump combination was a little shaky. But when it was a quadruple lutz-triple toe loop, and he also landed a quad toe, he still led by nearly thirteen points over young Israeli Daniel Samohin and veteran Canadian Patrick Chan. Samohin fell on a quad toe, but landed a quad salchow-triple toe, if with a stutter. Chan landed a quad toe-triple toe with a hand down, stepped out of his axel, and doubled his lutz.

In the free, Jin landed the a wild quad lutz, a better quad salchow, and a quad toe-double toe, but underrotated and fell on the solo quad toe. Chan landed a quad toe-triple toe and solo quad toe, and fell on a rotated quad salchow. He also did all his clean jumps beautifully, as well as everything else. Jin’s clean jumps weren’t as pretty, and all he had to sell his program with was cheek. That was so unable to compare to Chan’s superior skating technique and artistry that when their technical scores more or less matched, Chan’s presentation scores were so much higher they actually made up the gap. When the numbers crunched together, Chan won by a point. Samohin had an utter disaster of a last-place skate, on a day where that took some doing. He ultimately finished eighth.

(Photo by Lintao Zhang – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)

This left bronze a battle between the other two skaters who kept it relatively clean. In fact, Sergei Voronov and Max Aaron both got through their short programs with only stumbles. They both landed quad-triples too, a toe for Voronov and a salchow for Aaron. But while Aaron’s jumps were more difficult, his program in general was shakier and weaker. Voronov took a point lead that ultimately won him the gold. He landed his quad-triple again in the free, but followed it with a (stumbly) triple toe-triple. That got him penalized for doing too many of that triple. Aaron landed the quad salchow, both solo and in combination with a double toe, in a free with no major errors. But he made a handful of smaller ones, which cost him the medal; he beat Voronov in the free, but only by .24.

Jin’s elder Han Yan landed a quad toe but completely failed to do his combination in the short. On his free he had a hand down on the quad and landed most of his triples, but popped his second axel to lose another combination. This was good enough for fifth. Voronov’s fellow Russians Alexander Petrov and Maxim Kovtun were left in the back by shorts which were, respectively, quad-less and triple-triple-less, and just about combo-less. They came back with somewhat better frees, and Kovtun even landed good solo toe and salchow quads. But it was only enough to pull up to sixth and seventh. Aaron’s fellow American Ross Miner and spiraling Czech Michel Brezina fared worst of all; too much singling and doubling in their frees left them at the bottom of the leaderboard.


(Photo by Lintao Zhang – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)

The ladies field, though not quite as stacked as the men, was pretty close. Sadly, they mostly disappointed too. It didn’t help the competition that the notoriously downgrade-happy Shin Amano was head of the technical panel. The only ladies to deliver in both segments were the Russians. The only one to do so with enough content to win was Elena Radionova. Although even she fell failed to get her triple lutz-triple toe ratified in either program. Otherwise she landed everything, though she had to hold on to some of her jumps in the free. In the short she came in second to Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond, but when the dust cleared after the free she ended up with a winning margin of nearly ten points.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, like at her last event, proved immune to all the underrotating and downgrading going on around her, but this was because she wasn’t doing as much. Her triple-triple in both programs was the easier triple toe-triple toe, and she turned out of it in the short. In the long it was clean, but later she doubled a lutz. By the day’s standards, that was pretty good, but while she was second in the free, she was unable to overtake Osmond. Osmond won the short by pulling off a triple flip-triple toe, though she turned out of her double axel. She pulled if off again in the free, only to suffer a fall, a near fall, a double, two underrotations, and a full downgrade. Ultimately an eight-point lead over Tuktamysheva allowed her to hold on to silver by three and a half points.

(Photo by Lintao Zhang – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)

In fact, Tuktamisheva was lucky to even nab the bronze. In the short she was in fourth, behind the young Japanese girl who had beaten her earlier this season. Mai Mihara had a very good short, complete with a triple lutz-triple toe. She was in fact the only skater besides Osmond to land a difficult triple-triple, and like Osmond she did it again in the free. But, also like Osmond, after a strong start she started struggling. She had no underrotations, but a single, a jump she was lucky not to fall on, and only two combinations. Lacking Osmond’s presentation or large lead, she slipped behind Tuktymisheva by half a point to fourth.

She did, however, decisively beat her countrywoman Rika Hongo, who finished fifth. Hongo’s short looked decent, except she only went for a triple toe-triple and then didn’t get that ratified. In the free she attempted no triple-triples, but still had one underrotation on a triple and another in her opening three-jump. She also had a blown loop and a bad flip. Perhaps the most painful margin of the competition was the less than half a point that separated her and Ashley Wagner, who lost whatever chance at the Grand Prix Finale she had left in sixth. Wagner didn’t have a good short, failing to do the second jump in her intended triple-triple and only doing a triple-double later on. In the free, she only got credit for rotating one triple and two double axels.

Her two fellow American ladies didn’t fare well either. Courtney Hicks followed up her bronze in Russia with a ninth place finish here. Trying for a triple flip-triple toe, she failed to even partially rotate it in the free, and throughout the competition she landed only one clean triple. Karen Chen also had underrotations on both her triple lutz-triple toe attempts, and falls in both programs. Although despite a second underrotation she did have a relatively decent fifth place free skate. She finished seventh, just ahead of home skate Zijun Li. Li attempted only a triple toe-triple toe in the short, failed to rotate it, and had two underrotations, a fall, and other mistakes in her free.


(Photo by Lintao Zhang – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)

Given the reputation of both Cup of China and pairs events, for the top three pairs, the short program went surprisingly well. Leaders Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang did beautifully through most of theirs, though he still lags behind her in the spins. Their former partners Cheng Peng & Yang Jin also skated clean, though they had slightly less quality. They ended up in third, just behind Lubov Ilyuschechkina & Dylan Moscovitch. The Canadians made up for a stumble on their side by side toes with a splendid throw triple lutz; the Chinese pairs had both done the easier throw triple loop. They also had the highest presentation scores. Also doing fairly well in the short were fourth place Xuehan Wang & Lei Wang with their lively, good-looking program, though their toes were underrotated.

Yu & Zhang won easily by also having the cleanest free. They lost their combination when he fell, but none of the eight teams competing pulled off their combination anyway. They then were clean through the rest of the program, though they showed some fatigue by the end and finished behind the music. Things again went similarly for Peng & Jin, except while they only stumbled to lose their combination, they still didn’t do everything else as well. They move up to silver when Ilyuschechkina & Moscovitch had a bit more trouble. The Canadians went for a combination with salchows only to underrotate them, and then she singled and he fell on solo salchow attempts. They manage their throws, including another throw lutz, but barely. They held easily onto bronze, though, when Wang & Wang too struggled with their side by sides and didn’t even manage both throws clean.

(Photo by Lintao Zhang – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)

Elder Russians Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov suffered worse disappointment for the second event in a row. In the short, she fell on their side by side toes, and their other elements weren’t their smoothest. In the free, like Yu & Zhang, their jumps were fine outside their combination attempt. But those elements were neither the hardest tried here nor done especially well, and any points they got for them they lost when they botched a lift. In a back half of the field that was more the mess one would expect, they finished sixth.


(Photo by Lintao Zhang – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)

The gold in ice dance proved a North American battle. The short dance ended with Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Pojé half a point ahead of Maia & Alex Shibutani. They might have even been ahead by more if he had been a mite more stable on the twizzles, though they did get through them. As it was, they took the edge in technical tariff and combined it with the day’s sultriest performance. The Shibutanis might have been a bit more technically superior, but, being a brother and sister team, simply couldn’t match that.

In the free dance, however, the Shibutanis brought their memorable program, and matched Weaver & Pojé in the tariff. This time, both teams turned out emotionally brilliant as well as technically brilliant skates. The Shibutanis, however, were slightly more unique. They were also slightly better technically on just about everything, but especially on their spins and lifts. When the Canadians also held their final lift a little longer than was allowed, the margin in the free dance was a decisive four points, and the Shibutanis took their second gold of the series.

(Photo by Lintao Zhang – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)

It was a testament to the skating and performance ability of both teams that they beat the two Russian teams below them in both segments, even though the latter got higher technical tariffs than them in both. In fact, Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin beat both teams technically in the short, and Weaver & Pojé in the free, though only by a hundredth of a point. The Russians matched each other in tariff, but execution was another matter. Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov fumbled their twizzles in the short, and had a handful of stumbles in the free. Not only were Stepanova & Bukin cleaner, but when both teams skated their frees to Astor Piazzolla tangos, it became very clear the younger team have now become the better performers. They took bronze, and also signaled a possible shake-up in Russia’s ice dance pecking order.

View full results here.

Series Standings

Two wins on the circuit makes Patrick Chan the third man to qualify for the Grand Prix Finale. Boyang Jin & Sergei Voronov enter the top six as well, but are almost certain to be knocked out next week. There may be up to three qualifiers out of the NHK Trophy, but American Adam Rippon’s two bronzes have suddenly left him with a real chance at being an extremely unlikely qualifier. View full men’s standings here.

Elena Radionova also qualifies, as does Kaetlyn Osmond. The final three qualifiers in this field are almost certain to come out of the NHK Trophy. Though Ashley Wagner and Elizaveta Tuktysheva currently sit in the top six, it would take a crazy set of events for even the former to stay in. Full full ladies’ standings here.

Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang become the highest pair to qualify without a question mark about their injury status hanging over their head. It has now become impossible to knock Russians Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov out of the top six. It also now looks like Canadians Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau should make it after all, especially since they will be first alternates at worst. View full pairs standings here.

Next: Your Week in NHL Hockey, November 20-26: Thanksgiving Day Hockey

Maia & Alex Shibutani did quite a favor for U.S. ice dance by pulling out this win. The events of this week mathematically locked not only them, but also both the other two top three American teams, Madison Chock & Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue. If things go the way they will in all probability go next week, poor Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Pojé will just miss. View full dance standings here.