2009 CANADIAN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (SENIOR)
The last time that the Canadian Figure Skating Championships were in Saskatoon, it was 2003, and the dance competition was completely predictable. For the third year in a row, the top four teams were exactly the same—Shae-Lynn Bourne & Victor Kraatz, Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon, Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe, and Josée Piché & Pascal Denis. While Canadian teams certainly improved from year to year, the static placements were not often challenged.
Six years later, things are different. Canadian dance teams are shaking up the rankings, both domestically and internationally. Rankings are expected to change from dance to dance, and the competition is stiff. Up to nine teams could be battling for the five places on the national team this year, and predictions for the silver and bronze medals are not nearly as easy as they used to be.
One thing remains the same: no one predicts a fight for the gold medal. Despite missing the entire fall due to a leg injury, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir are expected to win their second national title. Of course, things have changed for them since their last competition in Saskatoon. In 2003, they were competing in their first Canadian Championships at the junior level. Although they piqued the interest of some ice dance fans, their seventh-place finish did not create much buzz, and it is doubtful anyone thought that six years later Virtue & Moir would be world silver medalists competing to defend their national title!
Virtue, who had surgery to repair chronic external compartment syndrome in September, has been back on the ice since November and training full-time since the second week of December. Although their official season debut occurred at a closed Skate Canada monitoring session, their first public performances of their programs were at an exhibition at Arctic Edge Ice Arena on December 27. Initial reviews of their Pink Floyd free dance were mixed, but most agree that they looked strong for having had only a few weeks of training. While they are not expected to be at full strength in Saskatoon, their consistency and experience should help them delight the audience and become repeat champions. It will also be a great to way to introduce their programs to competition before they gear up for the Four Continents and World Championships.
Last year’s silver medalists, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje, will certainly be hoping to repeat, but they have not had the most successful season so far. Their sixth- and seventh-place finishes at Cup of China and NHK Trophy were respectable, but they were hoping for a little more. They were held back by both low difficulty levels and program component scores. Their Doctor Zhivago free dance is beautifully choreographed and shows improvements from last season, but the advances were not reflected in the PCS. Weaver & Poje know what it takes to stand on the Canadian podium, and have undoubtedly spent the past month working on increasing their difficulty. Perhaps things will fall into place for them in Saskatoon.
Allie Hann-McCurdy & Michael Coreno were bronze medalists at the Canadian Championships last year. It was their first senior podium finish, and it earned them their first trip to the World Championships, where they placed 19th. They have not had the easiest time on the Grand Prix circuit this season either, earning a pair of ninth-place finishes at Skate America and Cup of Russia. Hann-McCurdy & Coreno are more involved in the creative process this year, trying their hands at choreography for their free dance, with the assistance of coaches Victor Kraatz and Maikki Uotila-Kraatz.
One of the biggest threats to last year’s medalists will be Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier, who stunned the ice dance world in November by opening their first senior international season with a silver medal at Skate Canada. Skeptics pitched the silver medal as a fluke brought on by a weakened field and unprepared competitors. Perhaps this was true to an extent, but Crone & Poirier proved they really are ready to make a mark on the senior ranks by finishing a strong fourth two weeks later at Trophée Eric Bompard, scoring almost 10 points higher than they did in Ottawa. Last year, Crone & Poirier were fourth in Canada at their first senior event, just off the podium. Although the Viennese Waltz is probably not the best compulsory dance for them, look for their creativity to shine in the original and free dances as they make a run at their first podium finish.
Crone & Poirier’s training mates, Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill, are last year’s junior champions and could follow Crone & Poirier’s example by making a big splash in their first year on the senior level. However, because they qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final and, therefore, did not compete at Senior Challenge, it is hard to predict how they will stack up against the other senior teams this year. Ralph & Hill are not known for strong compulsory dances, but could come back with well-executed and difficult elements in the original and free dances.
Andrea Chong & Guillaume Gfeller are the final team that qualified to the Canadian Championships on a “bye” and are a question mark for podium predictions. Based on their performance at Nebelhorn Trophy, last year’s ninth-place team was given a chance to compete on the Grand Prix circuit at Skate Canada. They finished eighth in Ottawa, and their understated and elegant free dance made them appear mature beyond their two-year-old partnership.
Although they have been skating together for almost eight years, Mylène Lamoreux & Michael Mee have yet to make a national team. They look like they have a great shot this year, though, based on the way that they blew past the field at Senior Challenge. Their victory in Mississauga was a bit unexpected–but well-deserved–since they skated cleanly and performed their programs with a conviction they have lacked in the past few seasons. Lamoreux & Mee should have a lot of confidence heading into Saskatoon. Their score of 160.92 at Senior Challenge is on par with what Weaver & Poje have scored this season, even accounting for domestic inflation.
The new team of Mylène Girard & Jonathan Pelletier may have finished about 11 points behind Lamoreux & Mee at Senior Challenge, but the competition at Québec Sectionals was much closer. Girard & Pelletier’s free dance at Senior Challenge really started to close the gap between the two teams. They have come a long way in a very short amount of time and will probably surprise people at the Canadian Championships. Depending on what happens to the other teams, Girard & Pelletier could have an outside shot at finishing in the top five.
Early in the season, Siobhan Karam & Kevin O’Keefe, last year’s sixth-place finishers at the Canadian Championships, looked like they would make a strong case for the national team in their second year together. They defeated Hann-McCurdy & Coreno in the free dance at the summer competition in Thornhill and were sent to Nebelhorn Trophy to skate-off against Chong & Gfeller for the final Skate Canada Grand Prix spot. A missed lift that was also called an extra element left them in eighth place at Nebelhorn. Then while training this autumn, Karam suffered a fairly serious hand injury. Unable to secure a medical bye, they skated at Senior Challenge with downgraded elements. O’Keefe was forced to hold onto Karam’s wrist instead of her hand for their original and free dances. They finished third–a great effort considering what they had been through–but the momentum that began their season is gone. At the Arctic Edge exhibition in late December, O’Keefe was still holding Karam’s wrist. Her recovery status heading into Saskatoon is unknown.
Karam & O’Keefe’s training mates, Patricia Stuckey & Christopher Mior, placed ahead of Karam & O’Keefe in the free dance at Senior Challenge, but finished fourth overall. They appear to be making a solid transition to the senior ranks after finishing eighth on the junior level last year.
The only other returning team is Claire Tannett & Wendell McGrath, who finished 14th in 2008. In their second year on the senior level, Tannet & McGrath have moved to British Columbia to train with Victor Kraatz. They were fifth at Senior Challenge.
The remaining four teams on the roster at the Canadian Championships are new partnerships. Megan Wilson & Marcus Connolly, Sarah Flesher & Jamie Forsythe, Rebecca Fowler & Iliya Koreshev, and Helen Ramful & Garett Goodman qualified to skate in Saskatoon by finishing sixth through ninth at Senior Challenge, respectively.
Of the 30 competitors in the senior dance event, seven were juniors in Saskatoon in 2003. Virtue & Moir are the only team that is still together. Mylène Girard was the silver medalist in junior dance with Bradley Yaeger, finishing just ahead of Siobhan Karam with Joshua McGrath. Jonathan Pelletier was fifth with Magali Charpentier, Andrew Poje was sixth with Alexandra Nino, and Allie Hann-McCurdy was 21st with Paul Bauer.
Members of five of the top six senior teams from 2003 will also be present this year in Saskatoon, though none are still competing. Shae-Lynn Bourne, Victor Kraatz, Megan Wing, Aaron Lowe, Pascal Denis, and Tyler Myles are all coaching teams in Saskatoon. Shae Zukiwsky is the technical specialist for the senior dance event and assistant technical specialist for the junior dance event.
The event begins on Wednesday evening with the Viennese Waltz. The original dance is on Friday morning and the free dance is Saturday evening. The top three teams are expected to be sent to the Four Continents Championships–the test event for the 2010 Olympic Games–which will be held in Vancouver, BC, February 2-8. Skate Canada has announced that it will not name the World Championships team until after the Four Continents Championships. Two dance teams from Canada will compete at the World Championships in Los Angeles, CA, March 22-29.