US duo Hawayek, Baker win ice dance at Four Continents

American ice dancers Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker took gold at the Four Continents championships in Taipei Thursday, claiming their first victory at an ISU senior championship event. The duo, who won the 2014 World Junior Championships, posted a season’s best of 69.08 points after Wednesday’s short dance.

They sealed the victory when skating to Franz Liszt’s “Liebestraum” for their free dance, bagging 105.21 points to finish with a total of 174.29 points. “It was awesome actually, a new experience for us we hope to do it more often in the future,” Baker told a press conference on winning their first ISU first senior championship medal.

Canadians Carolane Soucisse and Shane Firus finished second with a total of 164.96 points, followed by Japan’s Kana Muramoto and Chris Reed on 163.86 points. The mens’ short program will kick off later Thursday while winners of the pairs and ladies will be announced on Friday following their free skating.

North Korea’s skaters Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik have dominated the spotlight at the event in Taipei ahead of their much anticipated Olympic bid. They were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd who threw them toys and flowers, with one spectator flying a South Korean flag during Wednesday’s short program when they finished fourth.

Interest in the pair has skyrocketed since North Korea made a surprise announcement earlier this month that it was sending a team to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, even though the two sides are still technically at war.

Ryom and Kim are among North Korea’s top athletes and the country’s only competitors to have officially qualified for a place at the February 9-25 Games. While the majority of their compatriots are cloistered from the outside world, the pair have traveled globally to compete.

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