2008 Canadian National Championships – Junior Free Dance Report


by Melanie Hoyt

The junior free dance began the second day of competition at the 2008 BMO Canadian Figure Skating Championships. The teams skated all three portions of their competition within a span of just over 24 hours, but junior dancers tend to be used to getting the brunt of the schedule. Hopefully, this will change in years to come, since the junior dancers proved here that they are one of the highlights of the Championships.

Last month, Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill were a solid second behind Karen Routhier & Eric Saucke-Lacelle at the 2008 BMO Eastern Challenge. However, this time it was Ralph & Hill who secured the victory with wins in all three dances.

In the free dance, Ralph & Hill’s innovative choreography–which is quickly becoming their trademark–was backed by good skating and strong elements, but they depended on their components marks to keep them in the lead. While their diagonal footwork sequence was very well skated, they only earned a level two for this element, and will probably work on improving this before their next event. The modest crowd responded well to their “Rainforest” free dance, but it did not have quite the impact that their original dance had the previous day. Still, with a score of 69.63, Ralph & Hill remained in first place and took home the title, just one year after winning the novice title.

Immediately after the junior free dance, Hill had to begin warming up for the junior men’s short. His partner laughed when she was asked about maintaining their hectic schedule, and affirmed that she supports his efforts to excel in two disciplines. “It’s been hard for him to keep his energy up,” she said, “so I was really proud of him.”

Routhier & Saucke-Lacelle were the final skaters in the event, and had a slight chance of pulling ahead of Ralph & Hill. They gave a fantastic performance to “My Sweet and Tender Beast” with delicate choreography by Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova, but they could not defeat their younger rivals. They received level three on both of their step sequences and their final lift, and level four on the other elements. Only one judge gave them negative GOE for one element: a -1 on the twizzles. Their fluid and confident performance earned them 68.87 points, and it appeared to be their best dance of the competition.

After the event, Routhier & Saucke-Lacelle were all smiles. “It’s been great,” Saucke-Lacelle said. With the assistance of a translator, his partner agreed. Both seemed genuinely pleased with their experience.

The bronze medal went to Sophie Knippel & Andrew Britten, although their score of 65.53 left them fourth in the free dance. Their program to “Bolero for Strings” had good choreography and difficult elements. All elements besides their step sequences, which received level three, were awarded a level four, and their only negative GOE came from their twizzle sequence that opened the program. However, after such a dynamic and charming original dance, this free dance seemed flat, and it was apparent that they are a new team this year, especially when compared to the teams that placed ahead of them in the free dance. Knippel & Britten were thrilled with their results, though. Knippel was a bronze medalist on the junior level last year with Matthew Doleman, so repeating this placement was exciting for her.

“It’s been great just to be able to come here and put down our programs that we’ve worked so hard on,” she said.

In contrast to Knippel & Britten, who have only been skating together for eight months, Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon have been together for almost ten years. This championship has been their best competition yet, and in the free dance, their third-place score of 65.88 was enough for fourth in the overall standings. They showed excellent precision and unison on their step sequences, both given a level three, which each received +1 GOE from several judges. Their free dance to “Happy Valley” achieved great flow and they carried their energy to the last note of the music. Although they did not win the free dance, or even a medal, this hometown team won the crowd and earned the loudest ovation of the event.

Before finishing fourth this year, Harvey & Gagnon were 13th in the two previous years, and it was apparent that skating so well in front of their friends and families meant the world to them.

“The free dance was amazing,” Gagnon said. “Just amazing. It was also kind of a blur.”

Anna Stanislavska & Dylan Fieldhouse, who started the day in fourth, dropped a place in the free dance. Although their program to the soundtrack from Bombay Dreams had a distinct character to it, their score suffered slightly from a level two step sequence and a loss of speed throughout the program. However, their lifts were excellent, and this new partnership appears to be a good match. With 63.13 points, they were fifth in the free dance and fifth overall.

Despite an eighth-place showing in the free dance, Sarah Arnold & Christopher Steeves held on to sixth place overall. In their program to “The Feeling Begins,” they skated with commitment to their choreography and the flavor of the music, but they had problems on a few of the elements. After a bobble on their twizzles and a rough spin, they earned 59.84 points for their free dance.

After a disappointing placement in the original dance, the young team of Maja Vermeulen & Andrew Doleman turned in an excellent effort in the free dance. “Art of War,” Vanessa Mae’s version of “Romeo & Juliet” provided the backdrop for their program, in which they earned level four for three elements and very few negative GOE marks. Vermeulen & Doleman, who have been skating together for five years, had good choreography, but they lacked the speed of the top teams, especially on their step sequences. Their score of 61.89 was enough for sixth place in free dance, and they finished the competition in seventh overall.

Patricia Stuckey & Christopher Mior maintained their eighth-place position from the original dance with a smooth program to Josh Groban’s “Alla Improviso Amore.” This new couple has turned into a great match, especially since they have only been together for six months. Although their circular step sequence was skated well, it was only awarded a level two, so they lost some points there. Mior’s presentation is a bit rougher than his partner’s, and this program seemed to highlight the gap between their levels of polish, but they earned 60.93 points for their strong effort, which also put them in eighth place overall.

Looking to make more of a mark with their free dance to “Hana’s Eyes” and “Piano Concerto in A” by Maksim Mrvica, Krista Wolfenden & Justin Trojek rebounded after a mistake in the original dance with a tenth-place free dance that earned 58.69 points. Their only mistake was a loss of unison on their level four twizzle sequence. Although they keep their speed up throughout the free dance, their biggest weakness may be their lack of polish; however, they already have maturity in their skating, especially for a new junior-level team. Wolfenden & Trojek finished the competition in ninth place.

Alexandra Nadeau & Charles-Edouard Bouthillette had a fun-filled program to “Feelin’ Good” and “Black Betty,” but they struggled with their free dance this time. When Nadeau stumbled on the first set of twizzles, Bouthillette then stumbled on the second. Their twizzles were downgraded to a level one and they lost a full point in GOE, resulting in a score of only 2.00 for that element. Their midline step sequence also earned only a level one. The kids on field trips in the audience gave the team the boost that they needed mid-program and they started to regain their spark, ending with a nice combination lift. Unfortunately, their mistakes were costly, and their score of 57.04 was only 13th in the free dance. They ended the event in tenth place.

Natalie Feigin & Jason Cusmariu fought back after a somewhat disappointing original dance. They had a smooth skate in the free dance to “Seul,” and their elements were secure, but they only received level two for both the rotational lift and the circular step sequence. While they did well with the material that they had, the music seemed to be a bit heavy for them in their first year on the junior level. Still, their score of 59.26 was enough for ninth in the free dance, and they finished the event in eleventh overall.

Although their innovative free dance to “Nothing Else Matters” was fluid and well skated, Catherine St-Onge & Alexander Browne did not have the difficulty needed to place higher. They received level twos on both of their step sequences, and level threes on their twizzles, their spin, and their curve lift. The remaining elements were awarded level fours. While their choreography was interesting and they were very smooth, they will need to skate with more speed and power to place higher in the future. With 57.27 points, their 12th-place free dance put them in 12th place at the end of the event.

Lindsey von Bloedau & Stefan Schneider’s free dance was ranked 11th, three places higher than their original dance. They had a strong performance to Khachaturian’s “Masquerade Suite,” and their program was filled with transitions and interesting choreographic highlights. Both step sequences were only given a level two, which contributed to their score, but they also seemed undermarked on transitions and choreography. Areas that they can improve are their connection with each other and the audience and overall polish for a cleaner look. They scored 57.28 in the free dance, just .01 more than St-Onge & Browne.

Tamiko Uyeda & Martin Nickel did not have quite the skate that they had in the original dance, but they still did well and did not make any big mistakes. Their biggest shortcoming was that their program still looked a bit rough, and they struggled with the long combination lift. Their twizzles were impressive because they did not take any steps between them, but a loss of unison hurt their GOE. With 54.96 points and 14th place in this portion of the competition, they also finished the event in 14th.

After a nightmarish original dance, Clara Gosselin & Sebastien Lapointe redeemed themselves with an exuberant performance to disco music including “Knock on Wood” and “How Deep is Your Love?” The couple still had some problems with the elements, but they pushed throughout the program and kept their energy up, which the audience loved. Their score of 52.64 points ranked them 15th in both the free dance and the overall standings.

Mélodie-Tara Tremblay & Jonathan Arcieri were also hoping to bounce back after a rough original dance. They were extremely happy with their free dance “La Notta Etterna,” relief spreading across their faces when it was over. Although their elements were not completely secure, they gave a much-improved performance in this event and earned 51.10 points. They were 16th in the free dance, as well as in the overall standings.

Alicia Williams & Thomas Williams’ Tom Jones medley had a lot of character, but not enough difficulty to survive among their competitors. They received level twos on three elements and level threes on three elements, along with a majority of negative GOE. Their lifts and step sequences looked quite shaky, but between the elements, they looked like they were having fun and really sold the program. Their score of 47.98 points was 19th in the free dance, and they finished the event ranked 17th.

Although Alissa Pettinicchi & Derek Green are another team that lack the difficulty needed to place higher, they have a nice presence on the ice. Unfortunately, a big stumble on the circular step sequence meant -2 GOE from most of the judges on that element, and with only two of their elements given a level four, they could not make up the points lost. With 49.97 points, they were 18th both in the free dance and overall.

Skating to music by Bond, Helen Ramful & Justin Mohr had a much better skate in the free dance than they did in the original dance. They did have a stumble on a non-element, but the elements were completed fairly well, and they earned level fours on two of their lifts and the spin. Their score of 50.52 was good enough for 17th in the free dance, although they remained in 19th at the end of the event.

On Sunday at the competitors’ banquet, Junior Champions Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill were named to the team going to the World Junior Figure Skating Championships. They will join Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier and Joanna Lenko & Mitchell Islam. Karen Routhier & Eric Saucke-Lacelle were designated the alternates.