by Melanie Hoyt

Although Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir’s triumph at the 2008 BMO Canadian Championships was never in question, the rising team gave classy, exquisite performances every time they took the ice. In the end, their victory was by an astounding margin of 33.48 points, and the real battle was for the remaining two spots on the podium. The teams that finished second through fifth were only separated by 3.33 points, and some of the strongest free dances came from the underdogs.

Without earning any negative GOE, Virtue & Moir set a mood with their free dance to “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” that was not broken until the crowd rose after they hit their final position. Skating with confidence and security, Virtue & Moir proved with this performance that they are bouncing back after a less stellar performance at the 2008 Grand Prix Final in December. All of their elements received level four, except for their combination spin that hits four different positions, which was called a level three. Their lifts have become real highlights for them this year — they were innovative and effortless. Their score of 103.76 points easily won them their first national title.

“We’re extremely thrilled to be Canadian champions,” Moir said. “Our free dance went very well tonight. We’re very happy with all three skates we had this week, and we’re looking to build up momentum into Four Continents and Worlds.”

Marina Zoueva, one of their coaches, could not say enough positive things about Virtue & Moir after their performance, even making several bold statements that assert their position among the best in the world.

“They deserve to be Canadian champions,” she said. “It’s not just because the first team is gone, but because they are Canadian champions.”

Although their fourth-place effort in the free dance was enough to keep last year’s surprise medalists in second place, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje’s free dance was marred by Poje’s freak fall between elements. They still received all positive GOE for their elements, but they had a one-point deduction for the fall, and their components marks probably suffered slightly. Their “Blues for Klook” program is mature and sultry, but they lost a lot of intensity after the fall. Although they continued fighting for the program, it seemed like the mistake shook them. They received almost all level fours, with level threes on their midline step sequence and their spin. Weaver & Poje scored 87.47 points in the free dance.

Weaver remained upbeat about their performance and focused on what comes next.

“The free dance was pretty good for us,” she said, “not our best, but we’re definitely proud of what we did, and how far we’ve come since the Grand Prix circuit. We’re looking to build off of it through Four Continents and Worlds.”

Allie Hann-McCurdy & Michael Coreno achieved one of their long-term goals by winning the bronze medal, despite only placing fifth in the free dance. Their program to “Rhapsody in Blue” was energetic and fun, but it seemed to lack the choreographic flow that their original dance had. The program did play to their strengths, though, and Hann-McCurdy & Coreno obviously enjoyed performing it for a hometown crowd. Although they received all positive GOEs, compared to other teams, their technical mark suffered from having two level three elements, as well as a level two midline step sequence. They earned 86.64 points, and the fact that this score was only high enough for fifth place says a lot about the depth in Canadian dance right now.

“When we finished, we saw people standing,” Coreno said, still sounding a bit incredulous. “That’s never happened before. I think that was one of the nicest things I’ve ever seen in our career.”

Hann-McCurdy interrupted her partner and said with a big grin. “Yeah, I want another standing ovation!”

Less than a point from the podium were Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier, who were competing in their first event on the senior level. Last year’s junior champions came into this competition with a lot of momentum, having recently finished fourth in their first appearance at the Junior Grand Prix Final. With their tango free dance to “A Los Amigos,” Crone & Poirier proved that they are ready for the senior level. They were the only team to receive level four on every element, and they earned all positive GOE. Furthermore, the passion and maturity with which they skated their tango was far beyond their years, and they even displayed originality in elements like a level four stationary lift. They have been skating together for almost seven years, and it showed in their confidence and secure elements. Their score of 88.60 points was enough for a surprising–but certainly deserving–second place in the free dance.

The final team in the battle for the podium was Mylène Girard & Liam Dougherty. With only one element called less than a level four–a level three curve lift toward the end of their program–Girard & Dougherty’s free dance was a blend of technical difficulty and subtle artistry. Skating to an arrangement of music from “The Mission,” this first-year team’s only sign of weakness was a slight loss of speed on their reverse rotational lift. Although the team did not reach their goal of stepping onto the podium at this year’s Canadian Championships, they left quite an impression on the audience and judges alike. With a score of 87.69, their free dance was the third-best of the night, although they finished the event in fifth place overall.

Siobhan Karam & Kevin O’Keefe finished in a solid sixth place in their first year together. After a fourth-place compulsory, minor mistakes in the original dance dropped them into the penultimate flight. They did remain within striking distance, though, especially if the teams ahead of them faltered, and overall, they gave a strong performance in the free dance to music from Notre Dame de Paris. However, there were a few difficulties, particularly in a loss of unison on the twizzles, but their lifts were fantastic, and their skating had good speed and flow. Their score of 83.15 was ranked sixth in the free dance.

With excellent lifts and high technical content, Mylène Lamoreux & Michael Mee performed well in their free dance to a vocal arrangement of “Romeo & Juliet.” The highlights were their first element, a level four straightline lift, and their final element, a level four rotational lift. Their only difficulties came on the twizzles, which earned a level three and negative GOE. They carried the energy of the program through until the end, and they seemed very happy with their performance. It was enough for 81.82 points, placing them seventh in both the free dance and the overall standings.

A somewhat disappointing free dance left Lauren Senft & Augie Hill in eighth place at the end of the day. While they had mostly level four elements and only two negative GOE marks, their free dance did not seem quite secure. They appeared to be reaching for each other, and they lacked the speed of the couples that finished ahead of them. It is obvious that they have been working hard on this free dance to music from Chicago, and they added some new lifts since finishing third the 2008 BMO Senior Challenge. Over the course of their season, Hill has improved his presentation and sold the program well, although it is still Senft who really shines with this music. Their score of 78.54 points meant that they were ninth in the free dance.

Andrea Chong & Guillaume Gfeller finished in a solid ninth place, but they were eighth in the free dance. Skating a bluesy program to “Baghdad” and “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” they displayed impressive maturity for a first-year team. Their only visible problems came on the twizzles, where they lost unison and were given a -1 GOE from every judge. Some of their lifts were excellent, including the reverse rotational lift that opened the program and their curve lift, both of which were called as level fours.

Bethany Puttkemery & Kevin Gallagher skated a fun program to music from Swing that secured their tenth-place finish. They only received five negative GOE marks, primarily on the twizzles, which were a bit shaky. Their choice to include a non-touching midline step sequence was a good one, since they skated this element well and earned 6.20 points for it. It appeared that they slowed down quite a bit in the last part of the program, but the energy in their expression did not suffer, and they sold the program until the last note of the music. Their tenth-place free dance earned 74.89 points.

With an 11th-place free dance score of 72.11 points, Christina Bourgeois & Jonathan Pelletier finished just out of the top ten. Skating to “The Angel and the Devil,” Bourgeois & Pelletier’s performance was dramatic and expressed the music well. Their choreography by Tyler Myles and J.P. Boyer featured some nice highlights between the elements. Their only negative GOE came on their level four twizzles. Everything else was performed confidently, and they looked happy with their performance.

Skating to music from Schindler’s List, Lisa Johnson & Joseph Scott’s 12th-place free dance kept them in 12th place overall. They have a good program, but mistakes cost them several points. Their twizzles were fast but messy and were awarded only a level two. They also earned a level two for the rotational lift after the twizzles, when Johnson did not get into the correct position. They covered their mistake well, but the damage to the lift’s difficulty had already been done. After those mistakes, they appeared to lose a bit of steam, but came back strong with a great combination lift toward the end of their program. Their score for the free dance was 65.58 points.

After a disappointing original dance, Megan Wilson & Garett Goodman had a much better effort in the free dance. Their program, set to music from The Corpse Bride and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” was a lot of fun for the audience, and they skated it well. Although their twizzles were a touch slow, and they had a small mistake at the end of the diagonal step sequence, they kept up their energy and expression all the way through the program. With 64.76 points, Wilson & Goodman were 13th in the free dance and in the overall standings.

Claire Tannett & Wendell McGrath were 14th in the free and overall with their program to music from The Mission. Their biggest struggle came on their final reverse rotational lift, but other than that, they had a great, clean skate. Their twizzles, in particular, had excellent unison. Unfortunately, Tannett & McGrath were held back by lower difficulty levels than their competitors. In the future, they could also use more speed and push from their knees, but they were obviously very pleased with their performance. They earned 60.38 points in the free dance.

Rebecca Fowler & Michael Olson had a rough skate in the free dance. They had a fall between elements, and it seemed like they missed a hold in their rotational lift, resulting in a level two for this element. They did well, though, with several of their lifts, including an excellent straightline lift that opened the program. Like Tannett & McGrath, Fowler & Olson’s marks also suffered from low levels, but even with the mistakes, they remained committed to their program until the end. Their free dance score was 53.67 points, which placed them 15th overall.

The depth in the dance event in Canada is stronger than ever, with this year’s scores noticeably higher than last year’s. Virtue & Moir, Weaver & Poje, and Hann-McCurdy & Coreno will represent Canada at the Four Continents Championships and the World Championships this season. The top five teams have earned a place on the senior national team.