For the first time since 2000, a real battle for the Canadian dance title is expected. Since Olympic champions Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir have withdrawn this week from the 2011 BMO Canadian Championships in Victoria, B.C., the title is likely to fall this week to one of two teams. Both Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier and Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje have had a banner season. Both teams collected medals on the I.S.U. Grand Prix Series, and both teams qualified for the Grand Prix Final. Now both teams have arrived in Victoria with a single goal: to end the week as Canadian champions.
In a game of numbers, Crone & Poirier have a bit of an edge heading into the event. They won their first senior Grand Prix title this season at Skate Canada, and capped off a fantastic autumn with a bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final. Crone & Poirier are the two-time and reigning Canadian silver medalists and represented Canada last year at the Winter Olympic Games, where they finished 14th, and at the World Championships, where they finished seventh. Their “Eleanor Rigby” free dance, choreographed by Christopher Dean, is stunning, and if they skate it to its full potential, they may put themselves out of reach.
Weaver & Poje have not beaten Crone & Poirier in a head-to-head competition since the 2008 Canadian Championships, when Weaver & Poje won the silver medal and Crone & Poirier were fourth. During the 2008-2009 season, the gap between the two teams seemed to widen quite a bit, but since then, it has narrowed. Most notably, at the 2010 Canadian Championships, Crone & Poirier squeaked past Weaver & Poje by .30 for the silver medal—and a spot on the Olympic team.
Since then, Weaver & Poje have made noticeable improvements on the technical side of their skating and are here to challenge for the title. After winning the silver medal at NHK Trophy this season, Weaver & Poje were fourth at Skate America to Crone & Poirier’s second, and then again finished two places behind them at the Grand Prix Final. However, this is a new competition and a new week, and anything can happen. Whatever happens, Sunday’s free dance is sure to be exciting to the very last second.
Another battle is expected for the bronze medal, most likely between Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill (pictured, right), ranked fourth in Canada last year, and Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam, last year’s junior champions.
Ralph & Hill had solid results on the Grand Prix this season—a seventh-place finish at Cup of China and a sixth-place finish at Trophée Eric Bompard, but they also chose to compete at Challenge last month to stay in the competitive zone. Their win at Challenge gave their season some extra momentum, and they would love to take home their first Canadian medal at the senior level. Ralph & Hill won three consecutive Canadian titles—pre-novice in 2006, novice in 2007, and junior in 2008. Since moving up to senior, they have never missed the top five.
Paul & Islam hit the senior circuit with a bang at Skate Canada, where they finished fourth. Their “As Time Goes By” free dance was ranked second, though, and they received a standing ovation for their beautiful performance. Forced to withdraw from Cup of Russia due to a muscle injury to Paul, the two have taken time to recover and are feeling strong heading into this week’s competition. In their debut season last year, Paul & Islam won the Canadian junior title and went on to win silver at the 2010 World Junior Championships.
With Virtue & Moir’s withdrawal, a spot opened up on the podium and that also transfers down to the top five. Since the top five teams are named to Skate Canada’s national team, the fight for the last spot will be very important. Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon and Sarah Arnold & Justin Trojek are the top contenders to break into the top five.
The two teams have already faced each other twice this season. Harvey & Gagnon easily won Minto Summer Skate over Arnold & Trojek, but then Arnold & Trojek finished eighth to Harvey & Gagnon’s ninth at Nebelhorn Trophy in the fall. Since Arnold & Trojek received Virtue & Moir’s spot to Skate Canada, they chose to skip Challenge, so the two teams have not met since September.
Harvey & Gagnon bring character-driven choreography to the table, as well as a 13-year partnership, while Arnold & Trojek have the benefit of Grand Prix experience. Last year, Harvey & Gagnon came within a point and a half of the national team, but finished sixth, while Arnold & Trojek were tenth.
Although the senior roster is shorter than it has been in recent years and lacks the draw of the Olympic champions, the competition still promises to be an exciting one. The short dance will be skated Friday afternoon and the free dance is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.