Four Continents converge in South Korea
Top skaters will be from Japan, Canada and the U.S.
|Daisuke Takahashi is out of the Cup of China after suffering a knee injury. (Getty Images)|
Japan's top stars, 2007 world champion Miki Ando and world silver medalist Mao Asada, are the favorites in the ladies competition. They will be facing off for the second time this season. In December, Asada edged out Ando at Japanese nationals. Ando won the free skate but wasn't able to overtake Asada, who had a considerable lead after the short program.
Ando also wants to make up for her less-than-stellar Grand Prix season. She finished only fourth at the NHK Trophy and failed to qualify for the Final. Both Ando and Asada will compete at Four Continents for the first time.
The Japanese women head the list in Seoul, because world bronze medalist Yu-Na Kim of Korea unfortunately had to withdraw. It was a tough decision not to compete in her home country, but she is suffering from a hip injury and will instead try to recover in time for worlds.
Canadian champion and reigning Four Continents bronze medalist Joannie Rochette hopes to be back on the podium again this year. 2007 world junior bronze medalist Ashley Wagner of the U.S. will make her debut at the Four Continents Championships. She hopes to follow her strong, bronze-medal performance at the 2008 U.S. Championships with a solid showing in South Korea.
Other contenders will include Americans Bebe Liang, who was a bronze medalist at this event in 2006, and Katrina Hacker, who finished sixth at the U.S. Championships and will be appearing in her first ISU Championship. Other challengers are Japan's Fumie Suguri, who is a three-time Four Continents champion and 2006 world silver medalist, and Canadians Mira Leung and 2004 Four Continents silver medalist Cynthia Phaneuf.
Reigning world silver medalist Daisuke Takahashi of Japan is aiming for his first title at Four Continents, but two-time and defending champion Evan Lysacek of the U.S. is going to have a word with him about that. Takahashi is coming off a successful Grand Prix season with two wins and a second place at the Grand Prix Final in December. Lysacek won the bronze at the Final.
Canada's Jeffrey Buttle, a two-time Four Continents champion and silver medalist in 2007, wants to prove that he is still a force to be reckoned with. Buttle missed qualifying for the Grand Prix Final and then lost his national title in January to youngster Patrick Chan.
The men's competition also has several other competitors who have a chance to medal. American Jeremy Abbott won the bronze medal last year in his hometown of Colorado Springs, Colo., and he would like to be on the podium again. 2007 world junior champion Stephen Carriere of the U.S., who is appearing at his first Four Continents Championships, is also hoping to make the podium. Other challengers include 2006 world junior champion Takahiko Kozuka of Japan, veteran Chengjiang Li of China, Kensuke Nakaniwa of Japan, Vaughn Chipeur of Canada and Shawn Sawyer of Canada.
The pairs event shapes up as a duel between China's two top teams -- Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang and Qing Pang and Jian Tong. Zhang and Zhang were silver medalists at the Grand Prix Final, where Pang and Tong took the bronze. Both couples are multiple medalists at Four Continents and have won the event before.
The other top contenders for the podium are 2006 Four Continents champions and 2007 bronze medalists Rena Inoue and John Baldwin. They are competing in their first international event this season after sitting out the Grand Prix series. They came back for the U.S. Championships, where they placed second.
U.S. bronze medalists Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski were handicapped by injury and didn't compete in the Grand Prix Series either. Americans Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent hope to land their quadruple throw Salchow at Four Continents en route to the podium. They became the first skaters to perform this quad throw in international competition when they landed it at the Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris last fall.
Canada's top team in Seoul will be Jessica Miller and Ian Moram, who only finished sixth at the Canadian championships in January. Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay, the new Canadian champions, withdrew from the Four Continents due to illness.
After taking the bronze in 2006 and 2007, Canada's rising ice dancing stars, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, are now aiming for the gold and their first title at an ISU senior-level championship. They will be the favorites this week.
Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who are training together with Virtue and Moir and have been competing against them since they were in juniors, ranked fourth at the 2007 Four Continents Championships. They hope to improve upon that finish this year.
The battle for the bronze medal should focus on Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre of the U.S., Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada and Allie Hann-McCurdy and Michael Coreno of Canada. Others to watch are Jennifer Wester and Daniil Barantsev and Cathy Reed and Chris Reed.