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Canadian duo becomes surprise leader in pairs event at Four Continents competition

Canadian duo becomes surprise leader in pairs event at Four Continents competition
Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro of Canada compete in the Four Continents competition Friday at Anaheim's Honda Center. (Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese pair skaters Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, the 2017 world champions and 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalists, had to delay their competitive debut this season because of an injury Sui suffered and her subsequent surgery. When they took to the ice at the Honda Center on Friday to perform their short program at the Four Continents championships, they weren’t prepared for the emotions they felt.

“This is our first competition, so I think we were a little too excited,” Sui said. “I think we didn’t adjust [to] our conditions too well, because in our practice we were normally able to skate clean in the short program.”

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Sui fell hard on the pair’s side-by-side triple toe loop jump, a rare mistake. Although the couple had the top artistic marks for the event, the misstep was enough to place them second to an evocative performance by Canadian champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro entering Saturday’s free skate finale. Moore-Towers and Marinaro, who skated to the song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” earned 74.66 points, to 74.19 for Sui and Han. Chang Peng and Yang Jin of China are third with 69.48 points.

Moore-Towers has experienced some ankle problems, but on Friday she was able to joke about her discomfort. “It’s just a product of me being old and him throwing me a lot,” said Moore-Towers, who is 26. Her infirmity wasn’t obvious, as the couple earned the technical elements score, 40.94 points.

Pair skating has been a tough discipline for Americans to conquer. U.S. champions Ashley Cain and Timothy Leduc stood fourth, with 67.49 points, ahead of Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, who have 66.34 points. The third U.S. duo, Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, are seventh of eight teams with 61.71 points. Because U.S. pairs haven’t done well internationally, the U.S. will have only one pairs berth at the world championships in Japan in March and it will go to Cain and Leduc, who train in Euless, Texas, and are coached by her parents, Darlene and Peter Cain.

Cain suffered a concussion in December after she fell while exiting a lift at a completion in Zagreb, Croatia. They were off the ice for several weeks but managed to rally in the long program at the U.S. championships and pass early leaders Kayne and O’Shea. The duo’s bouncy performance on Friday was a crowd favorite, though the judges penalized them for an underrotation of their side-by-side triple loop jumps and for not achieving the highest possible levels on several elements. “It actually shows we can get a much higher score. Overall it was good for us,” Cain said.

Both said they’d continue doing the triple loop instead of trying easier jumps. “I think if you don’t take risks you can’t move forward in this sport,” she said. “There’s only so many places that you can gain points now and doing a harder solo element, solo jump, definitely ups your program score. It’s a big risk but I think that’s what sports is all about.”

Kayne and O’Shea, the defending Four Continents champions, had some mistakes in their performance — including when she stepped out of a triple salchow jump — but were generally pleased that they skated well after ending the U.S. championships on a disappointing note. They led after the short program but botched a lift in the long program and dropped to fourth, keeping them off the team for the world championships. “It’s very nice to be able to have a quick turnaround and leave that in the past and have something to focus on moving forward and attack this week,” O’Shea said.

In addition to redemption, this competition is a learning experience. “I’m super excited to be here with the Chinese teams,” Kayne said. “Just being able to watch them practice is really inspiring. I’ve been looking up to Sui and Han my entire pairs career, even before I was skating pairs as well. So any time I’m at a competition with them I’m just like floored. It’s a pleasure to be around them.

“The best thing is to be able to compete with someone you’re a fan of. It’s inspirational.”

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