U.S. sweeps Japan in Counter Match
Johnny Weir leads men; Bebe Liang clinches it for ladies
|Johnny Weir's 73.90-point short program led the U.S. men to victory in Yokohama. (Getty Images)|
Skating at the 2,000-seat Shin-Yokohama Skate Center, the format for the Counter Match had a men's and ladies competition, each including one junior free program, followed by two senior short programs and culminating in a senior free program. The scores of each team's performances are then added up for the respective team score. The team with the highest score is declared the winner.
The junior men got the competition rolling. USA's Stephen Carriere skated solidly, landing a triple Lutz-triple toe combination after the midway point of his program. His only significant error occurred when he stepped out of his triple Axel. He amassed a score of 122.39.
Next up was Japan's Tatsuki Machida. He landed two triple Axels near the beginning of the program, but he doubled his Salchow and singled another Axel. His score of 102.34 meant the U.S. had a lead of over 20 points heading into the short programs.
Of the four short programs, the USA's Johnny Weir's was by far the best. His only mistake was putting his hand down on his triple Axel, but the rest was excellent. He scored 73.90 points, 15.66 more than that of his next-closest competitor, Kensuke Nakaniwa. Nakaniwa landed his quadruple toe-double toe combination, but he touched down on his double Axel and missed his triple Lutz.
"Johnny looked well trained," said Mitch Moyer, U.S. Figure Skating senior director of athlete high performance. "He skated like he had more confidence in himself."
The other two men's short programs, skated by Japan's Yasuharu Nanri and the USA's Ryan Bradley, were more error-filled. Nanri was marked down on his triple Axel and singled both a flip and a toe loop. Bradley's attempt at a quad toe-triple toe combo ended up being a triple-triple, and he doubled both his Axel and his Lutz.
Going into the senior free skates, the U.S. held an insurmountable 34-point lead. Daisuke Takahashi's skate didn't narrow the gap much as he stepped out of his first quad toe, fell on his next one and stepped out of a triple Axel.
Jeremy Abbott's program went somewhat smoother, though less technically challenging than Takahaski's. He landed his triple Axel-triple toe, a triple flip, a triple loop and a triple Salchow-double toe. He fell on his quad toe attempt, singled an Axel and fell on his triple Lutz-triple toe combination. Takahashi bested Abbott's score, 122.83-116.96, but it was not nearly enough to overcome the large deficit.
Then it was the ladies' turn. Skating in the junior portion of the competition were USA's Mirai Nagasu and Japan's Rumi Suizi. Nagasu -- fresh off her second convincing win in the Junior Grand Prix Series, this one coming in Croatia -- had a relatively subpar performance, falling on both a triple Salchow and a triple Lutz. She received a score of 85.96.
Suizu, on the other hand, skated a personal best, scoring 87.79 points for Team Japan.
Mao Asada executed the best of the four ladies short programs. Though she left the combination off her intended triple flip-triple loop (performing those elements separately), the rest of her program was sharp. She was rewarded with a score of 60.42.
Countrywoman Miki Ando had a memorable skate, but not necessarily for the right reasons. She fell on her triple Lutz, then wandered around the ice for about a minute. The judges allowed her to pick up her program from the Lutz, but the damage was already done, and a score of 46.54 severely hurt her team's chances.
On the U.S. side, Rachael Flatt performed nicely. She slipped going into one of her spins, for which she received just a level one, but she made a strong recovery and scored 53.78. Teammate Caroline Zhang also skated a sound program. She had a step out on her triple flip-triple toe combination but still received 56.78 points.
With the U.S. ladies leading by less than two points (196.52-194.75) heading into the senior free skates, it came down to the USA's Bebe Liang and Japan's Fumie Suguri. Suguri skated first, and she fell on both her triple flip and triple Salchow. That performance added 90.15 to Japan's total, meaning Liang had to score at least 88.38 points for her free skate to give the U.S. the sweep.
Though she wasn't perfect, falling on both her triple Lutz and triple flip, Liang fought through her program and earned 92.48 points, securing the victory for the Americans.
"We had a very young team that knocked off the Japanese women," Moyer said. "I think it was as big a surprise to the Japanese as it was to us."
Being the "visitors" in this competition, the Americans had several obstacles to overcome, but they pulled out the victory.
"A lot of skaters learned a lot from being here. There was very little free time between the travel and the competition -- plus they had to adjust to the time change quickly," Moyer said. "It was a great learning experience for our ladies, to be on the ice with the world champion (Ando) and hold their own."