SPOKANE, Wash. — You could chalk it up to “home-ice advantage,” but there was probably more to it than that.
Team North America was surely the crowd favorite at the Spokane Arena in the first Team Challenge Cup, but that kind of support only intensified among the members in the team’s box — and produced a powerful momentum that resulted in a comfortable, yet exhilarating, victory Saturday night.
Even in a competition that didn’t produce gold medals or familiar titles.
“It’s a whole different kind of feeling, and it’s amazing,” said Jason Brown, whose own comeback performance in the final competitive session had an amazing feeling to it. “And I couldn’t be more thrilled to have helped and feel like I contributed.”
Staked to a big head start thanks to strong performances Saturday afternoon by Canadian pair Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, the North Americans nailed down the cup with superior depth and a whole lotta heart.
“This is an incredible group of skaters,” Team North America captain Kristi Yamaguchi said. “They’re not only talented but have so much fight. I’m really proud of them.”
Their performances weren’t the best of the final session, witnessed by a crowd of 5,919. Once again, Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva and Japan’s Shoma Uno produced the highest scores and, in the latter’s case, the most spectacular performance.
For the second night in a row, the 18-year-old Uno landed a quad flip — the first in history happened during Friday’s short program — and blew away the field with a 192.92-point total.
“I feel confident in it,” Uno said through an interpreter, “even if I was lucky that I made it twice.”
Medevedeva was just as impressive as she was at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships in Boston three weeks ago. She broke her own world scoring record with a mark of 151.55 that left her more than six points clear of Satoko Miyahara of Japan.
But maybe the most impressive thing about the evening was the North American momentum.
It resulted in an overall total of 892.42, well ahead of runner-up Team Europe’s 848.06. Team Asia was a distant third at 820.22.
The home team actually lost its lead briefly after the first groups of men and ladies. Then it got a boost from perhaps an unlikely source: Gracie Gold, whose dramatic comedown in her free skate at worlds seemed to carry over into Friday night’s short program.
But not this night. Though she put a hand down on her triple loop and shorted herself on a double-triple-double combination midway through her skate, she stayed upright and put together a 142.00-point effort — restoring Team North America to a lead it never relinquished.
“That was huge for Gracie — not just for the team but personally as well,” Yamaguchi said. “She really went out there and skated like she knows how she can skate. And she really did start that momentum for Team North America.”
Gold acknowledged that she was motivated by another subpar performance on Friday, when she wound up third in her group and cost her team two points that could have given it a tie against Team Asia in the separate short program competition.
“It was redemption tonight in that sense,” Gold said. “That’s what I felt worst about yesterday — everybody else pulled their weight and I feel like I dropped the ball for them. And that put some extra fire in me.”
Fellow American Adam Rippon followed with a 166.68-point performance in the men’s second group, despite a tumble on his opening quad lutz and a couple of other deductions.
“I knew I wasn’t the most trained as I could be coming into this competition,” Rippon said. “My coach told me, ‘Just do your job.’ That meant doing each element the best I could. And I went for everything — that’s what I’m proud of.”
Then the real fireworks began. Uno electrified the crowd not only with three quads in his program but with the cantilever he executed with grit to conclude the routine. Brown, performing his first competitive free skate in 5 1/2 months, followed with a splendid effort.
“I had really high expectations, and I was super, super nervous,” he said. “I’d been off for so long, and I wanted to make a splash. I wanted to prove myself at the end of the season. To be able to put those two programs together and meet my expectations — and in some places even exceed them — was amazing.
“Next season, I’m going to be more hungry than ever.”
His score of 181.50 officially settled the team title, as Medvedeva would hardly be expected to make up that much ground against world silver medalist Ashley Wagner — who wrapped things up with a 143.20-point skate herself.
“That was amazing. I pulled that out from somewhere very deep inside me,” said Wagner, who pronounced herself “absolutely exhausted.”
Yamaguchi noted how the competitors upped their intensity as the stakes got higher and higher.
“As the two nights went on, they started to get more and more invested in the results,” Yamaguchi said. “I saw that coming out of them. It’s been a long weekend, but they left it all out there.”
And then picked something up. First place earned each North American skater $15,000, with the runner-up Europeans collecting $10,000 and Team Asia skaters $7,500.