First off, if you need some post-4CC goosebumps, watch the Shibutanis' free dance.
The 2016 Four Continents Championships was full of great performances - a number of personal best scores, in fact - but they were also full of unwelcome surprises. What was interesting was the trend of subpar performances. We saw them primarily from North American singles and pairs skaters, rather than ice dancers or Asian skaters. Might there be some kind of correlation? Let's have a look.
Who wants a personal best?
But before we get into those not-so-hot performances, let's not forget the fact that we saw a number of personal best scores in Taipei. We already looked at Patrick Chan skating the best free skate of his career. In fact, all of the other gold medalists, Satoko Miyahara, Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, and Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani, won with a complete set of short program, free skate, and total personal best scores. And we aren't even counting all of the other skaters who notched PBs in Taipei.
Overall, 43 of the 71 skaters, pairs, and dance teams at Four Continents notched at least one personal best score, with 13 of them grabbing the complete set of PBs. Now, I don't have a historic perspective of all the competitions and personal best statistics, but my hunch is that it's a bit of an anomaly to have 61% of a competition scoring personal bests. There really was some terrific skating in Taipei.
But rough competitions for others
And so on the other side of the equation were the skaters - singles and pairs - who not only didn't skate well, but skated below expectations. If you go down the list, you'll likely see a pattern of North American skaters not skating well. Max Aaron, Alaine Chartrand, Gracie Gold, Ross Miner, Kevin Reynolds, and the list goes on. Is there a correlation? Certainly. But can we draw any kind of causal link?
One popular theory floating around is the fact that Four Continents was held in Asia, a good halfway-around-the-world flight for the North American skaters. That, plus the fact that U.S. and Canadian Nationals took place four weeks before, leads lots of folks to make that connection.
You don't get this situation much, or at all, really, at the ISU Championships. This year, there were four weeks between Four Continents and US Nationals and Canadians. Comparably, you generally have a similar timeline of 4-5 weeks between Russian Nationals and Europeans. What you don't have at Europeans is the cross-ocean travel, which has historically deterred many of the North American skaters from competing at the Four Continents held in Asia, and vice versa. Nationals championships, particularly one of the Big Four (US, Canada, Japan, and Russia) are extremely taxing physically and mentally, and it's a tough turnaround.
That said, this year's Four Continents had the biggest time gap from US Nationals and Canadians that we have ever seen. It's historically been as short as two weeks, and it was stretched to three weeks last year, and four years this year, much likely because organizers are trying to get as many of the top skaters as possible. And while many of the North American skaters didn't skate as well as they did at their national championships, there were a few who skated lights out (Chan, Nagasu were most notably among them).
It's a tough call. But let's be clear, skaters don't come to competitions looking to skate poorly, so it's not as if they weren't trying to make sure they prepared as best as they could for this event. My guess is that you're not going to see the ISU push Four Continents any later than this, because it will start running into being questionably close to Worlds. Skaters and skating fans are just going to have to brace for the fact that the probability of underwhelming performances at Four Continents will just be just a bit higher for the skaters coming from the other side of the world.
And finally, Wenjing Sui/Cong Han. Enjoy.