By Laura S. Marshall
Competitors had better bring boxing gloves for next week’s Canadian Figure Skating Championships, held Jan. 16-22 in Moncton, N.B. On all levels, the ice dance teams will be fighting for points, pushing for podium positions, and battling for new personal bests, while lucky spectators enjoy top-notch skating across the board.
How much have the Grand Prix Final results—and the recent ISU announcement about the judging system’s scoring error—fueled Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir’s hunger to win this year’s world title? How much have they tweaked their programs? How much will they wow us this time?
The question is not whether Virtue & Moir will win their fourth Canadian title next week. The question is only how high they will score.
No offense is meant to Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje, who are stronger this season than ever. Their performance at the recent Grand Prix Final was dramatic and inspiring, and it seems that their partnership is stronger than ever as they have become a real force on the world stage. But even their prowess in the short dance and the exquisite drama of their free dance do not quite reach Virtue & Moir’s level, not yet.
The 2010 Olympic champions have the advantage of time, after all, and a history of international record-setting in their 15 seasons of skating together. At home, they have won titles at every level except novice. And this season, with Virtue’s injury apparently in the past, their skating has been strong—even with Moir’s fall in the short dance at the Grand Prix Final.
Weaver & Poje have been together about a third as long, but they have their own list of accomplishments, including a fourth-place finish at this year’s Grand Prix Final and silver medals at Rostelecom Cup, NHK Trophy, and Skate Canada in 2011. They placed fifth at the World Championships last spring, improving upon their 2008 ranking by 12 places.
In terms of history, Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier may only have teamed up this past summer, but they have gathered several domestic titles, coming in first at 2011 Octoberfest, Central Ontario Sectionals, and Skate Canada Challenge. Both partners brought plenty of experience to the table—Gilles medaled at the U.S. Championships on the junior level with Timothy McKernan and Zachary Donohue; Poirier and 10-year partner Vanessa Crone, Olympians in 2010, won a Canadian title just last year and took bronze at the 2011 Grand Prix Final.
Gilles & Poirier need some more time together to jell as a team, but both are skilled ice dancers, and they appear to complement each other’s strengths. Their season’s best score of 153.45, from Skate Canada Challenge, puts them firmly behind Weaver & Poje. If they can maintain that mark on a more prestigious stage, they could be the bronze medal favorites in their first season.
The whirlwind known as Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams has a shot at fourth place in their first senior season. They began skating together in spring 2010 and seven months later, they won the junior Canadian title, where their total score set a post-CD national record. Because of that win, they are now competing on the senior level in Canada, which means that they had to learn two short dance patterns this season, since they still competed as juniors on the international circuit. To hold their own on the senior level, they need to work on their timing and synchronicity, but they are definitely a team to watch.
Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill (pictured, right) have 10 years of history and three national titles—pre-novice in 2006, novice in 2007 and junior in 2008—together. As seniors, they have grabbed the fourth-place spot the past two years. If the field were less deep, they and Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon would be podium favorites, but it seems that this year, both teams will have to fight to maintain their national team status.
With 14 seasons behind them, Harvey & Gagnon made the national team and competed in the Grand Prix for the first time in 2011. Their years together and the fun they have on the ice come through in their programs, though their lifts could often use just a little more strength and polish.
The race is much tougher to call for the juniors, where the podium lineup is completely up in the air. Based on results this season, it seems likely that the gold medal could go either to Élisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette or to the sibling team of Victoria Hasegawa & Connor Hasegawa. Although an official announcement has not been made, it is likely that Skate Canada will assign Orford & Williams to the World Junior Championships. In that case, the junior champions will probably be the second team.
Paradis & Ouellette (pictured, left) have a slight edge in terms of scoring; their season’s best total score of 129.56 is 0.13 points higher than that of the Hasegawas and it was set at a national competition, as opposed to a provincial one. With their good unison, solid on-ice connection and bright energy—they really look like they have fun with each other—Paradis & Ouellette could well skate away with the gold. They did at Skate Canada Challenge this year, and at Québec sectionals too, finishing ahead of the Hasegawas, their training mates, both times.
The Hasegawas are a little more polished than Paradis & Ouellette, though, and they have the advantage of international experience. The sister-and-brother team are very strong skaters: They came in fourth at Challenge in spite of illness, and their “Swan Lake/Black Swan” free dance shows off their sophistication, while providing a stark contrast to their playful short dance. With recent second- and fourth-place finishes, the Hasegawas could very well have the motivation to fight a bit harder this time around for the top step on the podium.
Next in line is another closely-matched pair of teams, Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang and Noa Bruser & Timothy Lum. Edwards & Pang set the Canadian novice-level total score record at last year’s Junior Nationals. They placed second at Skate Canada Challenge and fifth at JGP Austria, and they won BC Summer Skate this year. Their score in Austria was Canada’s second-highest on the Junior Grand Prix. The youngsters are talented, emotional skaters, and they perform well under pressures—before last year’s novice title, they had also won juvenile and pre-novice in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
The latter team, Bruser & Lum, have been on the heels of Edwards & Pang for years, all while sharing practice ice with them on a daily basis. The teams constantly push each other and often end up with very close scores. Bruser & Lum won the bronze medal at Skate Canada Challenge this year and were second at BC Summer Skate. Last season, they were ranked second nationally as novices; before that, they also placed second in 2010 at the pre-novice level.
As with the seniors, the junior field this year is incredibly deep with polished talent. Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen are part of last year’s novice leaders that made a smooth transition to the junior level this year. Bent & MacKeen are the 2012 Eastern Ontario junior sectional champions and won the Canadian novice bronze medal in 2011. Together for almost eight years, they were also the juvenile national silver medalists in 2008.
Only 0.21 points kept Andréanne Poulin & Marc-André Servant from the podium in their first JGP assignment, Pokal der Blauen Schwerter in 2010. This year, they have struggled with consistency, placing sixth at the 2011 JGP Volvo Cup and fifth at Québec Sectionals. At Skate Canada Challenge, they delivered a strong free dance and ended up sixth. If they can get through their elements cleanly in both dances, they are still a medal threat in Moncton. Poulin & Servant teamed up in 2009.
Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus and Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Yoan Breton were seventh and eighth, respectively, at Skate Canada Challenge. Both are strong teams that could certainly improve upon those rankings next week. Dalmer & Firus are particularly strong in the short dance this year, while Fournier-Beaudry & Breton bring passion and maturity to their free dance.
Less than a point separates the season’s best scores of the top two novice teams. Melinda Meng & Andrew Meng, a sibling team, earned 90.75 overall to win Skate Canada Challenge as novices this year. They also won Québec Sectionals and 2011 Octoberfest. Their strength in the pattern dances won Challenge for them, as the second-place team, Samantha Glavine & Jeff Hough, earned a higher free dance score. Glavine & Hough’s overall score at Challenge was 89.80, bumping their season’s best 10 points higher than before, so they took the silver medal. A new matchup here in Moncton should be very interesting, especially since the two teams trained together two seasons ago.
Katie Desveaux & Dmitre Razgulajevs (pictured, right) should step onto the podium with their modern circus free dance. They have been skating together since 2006 and most recently came in fourth at Challenge; they also won Central Ontario Sectionals for the second year in a row. Desveaux & Razgulajevs are competing in their second year on the novice level and were seventh at Junior Nationals last year.
The next two teams also are separated by just about a point in overall season’s best scores—80.24 for Lauren Collins & Danny Seymour, and 79.17 for Audrey Croteau-Villeneuve & Simon Longtin-Martel, both earned at Challenge. Collins & Seymour have been skating together since the summer of 2009; they came in fifth at Challenge, second at Central Ontario sectionals, and third at Octoberfest. At Junior Nationals last year, they placed eighth.
Croteau-Villeneuve & Longtin-Martel teamed up in 2010; in 2011, they won the national silver medal on the pre-novice level. They placed sixth at Challenge this year and second at Québec Sectionals.
Another pair of teams are less than a point apart in this year’s scores. Jade Robitaille & Dominic Barthe earned 77.64 at Souvenir Georges-Éthier, and Christina Penkov & Christopher Mostert earned 77.38 at Challenge. The two teams came in seventh and eighth, respectively, at Challenge.
2012 Skate Canada Challenge bronze medalists, Jessica Jiang & Nikolas Wamsteeker, had to withdraw from the Canadian Championships due to injury.
Competition begins Monday, Jan. 16, with the novice pattern dances; the novice free dances will be held Tuesday, Jan. 17. The juniors skate Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 18 and 19, and the seniors will skate short dances on Friday, Jan. 20, and free dances on Saturday, Jan. 21.