COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The primary objective for the top U.S. skaters at Four Continents Figure Skating Championships is to get through two injury-free performances. There is nothing at stake here and little to gain except for more competitive ice time before the World Championships in Tokyo next month.
That was brought home yesterday during the pairs long program, when Canadian champion Jessica Dube was struck under the left eye by the blade of her partner Bryce Davison during side-by-side flying camel spins. She fell face forward on the ice sobbing as Davison dropped to his knees to comfort her and signal frantically for help.
Dube was taken from the ice on a stretcher as the audience, coaches and other skaters watched in silent shock. Replays seemed to indicate that Davison had drifted into her path.
U.S. champion Evan Lysacek took no chances Wednesday night in his short program, finishing fourth, more than 10 points behind the leader, Canadian champion Jeffery Buttle.
Reigning world champion and U.S. title winner Kimmie Meissner, who skated late last night, was expected to follow Lysacek's lead and skate a conservative short program good enough to keep her near the top of the field of 26 women.
Even the surprise U.S. pairs champions, Brooke Castile and Benjamin Okolski, seemed to take a laid-back approach to the event. After a seventh-place finish in the short program, they finished fifth overall, well behind pairs champion Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China.
"We are just enjoying the moment," said Brooke Castile. "Its about the skate, not about the title."
Yesterday afternoon, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, the top U.S. ice dance team, eked out a first-place performance in original dance, barely a point ahead of the Canadian team of Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. The free skate is today.
The top Japanese men and women didn't come to either Four Continents or the recently completed Asian Winter Games in China, choosing, instead, to continue training for Worlds.
All of the top Americans agreed to participate hours after the U.S. Championships ended. Adding Four Continents meant changing long-established training schedules that included a tapering off period before intense sessions leading up to Worlds.
"We had less than a week to prepare because Kimmie had commitments in New York City," said coach Pam Gregory of Meissner's appearances on the Today show and taping of a Subway TV commercial. "It was more maintaining what she had done before Nationals. There was no additional preparation for this competition."
Also weighing on the athletes' minds is the altitude and dry air that can lead to dehydration. Sitting in the shadow of 14,115-foot Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs has the thin air of a city more than a mile high. Some skaters labored in practice early in the week and many were winded after their practices. Meissner, who is known for her intense cardiovascular workouts, seemed fine.
"She's in great shape," said Gregory. "She got through her long program fine, and I think it was a relief for her to know that wasn't going to be a problem. Mentally, when kids hear 'altitude,' it can do a number on their heads. But that psychological burden for her is gone now."
So far gone that Meissner took off the afternoon to visit Cheyenne Mountain Zoo to see the tigers, giraffes and hippos.