Close Call for Virtue & Moir in the Short Dance
by Melanie Hoyt

Everyone knew what would happen in the senior short dance at the 2012 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. Everyone knew that Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir would top 70 points, blow away the field, bring the crowd to its feet, and make all the unlucky teams that had to skate after them look silly in comparison. Everyone knew that Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje would close the event with an electrifying short dance, earn great marks, and settle comfortably into second. It was practically a done deal, weeks before the competition even opened. But everyone was almost terrifically wrong.

Dance fans around the world collectively gasped when Virtue’s feet got tangled on the first twizzle of their sequence. Her partner’s sharp reflexes allowed him to nearly freeze for a couple of seconds, waiting for her to get back in place so that they could complete the sequence in perfect unison, minimizing the damage to their score. The twizzles earned level 2 and one judge even gave the element +1 GOE, but they ultimately netted -.50 GOE.

Twizzles were not the only issue for Virtue & Moir, who had revamped their program in the weeks since the Grand Prix Final. Citing excitement as the reason, they developed a new lift with a twisting entry, but despite the “wow” factor, it only earned level 3, as did their opening Rhumba sequence. All of the small issues added up to a score of 68.41, at least three or four points below the mark expected for the Olympic champions at their own nationals.

Last year’s results are a factor in determining the short dance start order, and since Virtue & Moir did not compete at this event in 2011, they led the final flight. Four teams later, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje (pictured, left) closed the night of competition. The short dance has been a strength for them this season, and they had the ability to do the unthinkable—dethrone Canada’s standard of perfection, at least in the initial segment in competition. A squeaky-clean performance would have done it, but Weaver & Poje’s dance was not their absolute best, either.

Their Rhumba sequences earned level 2 and 3, well below the standard that they had set for themselves, and their twizzles, although level 4, did not sing like the rest of their elements did, perhaps losing them a few tenths of a point in GOE. A few tenths are not always a big deal, but in this case, since they scored 68.27, a few tenths would have given them first place.

The close call did not appear to cause any sour grapes for Weaver & Poje, though. They did not enter this competition expecting a win in either segment.

“It was kind of a shock, really,” Weaver said. “We’ve gotten two level 4s in the Rhumba already this season, and we got level 2 and 3 here—which we’re not really that happy with—so even if those were a little bit higher, we would be ahead, which is just really creepy to think about. But knowing that we were that close certainly gives us a boost of confidence and of course we’re going to go home and work on those Rhumbas, because we don’t ever want to be lower than 4.”

“We practice every day trying to better ourselves and to better our performances,” Poje added. “We knew that we had a great performance at the [Grand Prix] Final of the short dance and we just wanted to build on that, to go out there and to get the audience moved and get them to enjoy the program.”

Being within 0.14 points of one of the reigning Olympic Champions only fuels the fire that Weaver & Poje have this season.

“It makes it feel more possible to do anything,” Weaver said, while donning a tee-shirt that read “Nothing is Impossible.” “We’re setting our goals way high, knowing that anything is possible.”

Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier were over five points behind the leaders, with 62.78 points, but their third-place finish and 60+ score helped them to make a statement of their own. The duo has only been training together since last summer, and before then, Gilles had sat out a year of competition, but they kept pace with teams that had been together for a decade or more.

Their “Put It in a Love Song” and “Magalenha” program was spunky and energetic, and even though they skated in the first group, Gilles & Poirier really won the crowd over, getting some of the audience members out of their seats. Their twizzles were one of their best elements, but the caller only found them to be worth a level 3, and their opening Rhumba was a level 2, so their score still had potential to be even a bit higher.

Gilles, a former junior-level medalist in the United States, will not be released from U.S. Figure Skating until May, so berths at the Four Continents and World Championships were out of the question for her and Poirier.

“I think that’s allowed us to really enjoy this competition,” Poirier said. “Nothing depends on our placement, so we could really just go out there and enjoy our performance and skate our hearts out.”

After their skate, the excited new pair talked over each other and finished each other’s sentences, perhaps pointing to one of the ways that they work well together and were able to achieve success quickly.

“It only took us five minutes to decide that we wanted to skate together,” Gilles said. “Our personalities are pretty similar.”

“We mesh well,” Poirier added, “and we’re always learning stuff about each other, every day in training. It’s a fun experience.”

Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill (pictured, right), who train with Gilles & Poirier in Scarborough, Ont., finished fourth in the short dance with a score of 58.92. Their program, which jumps from Michael Jackson to “Harlem Nocturne” to a track from the “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights” soundtrack, had plenty of energy, but all of the changes in the program made it feel a little frantic. Ralph & Hill earned level 2 on the circular steps, level 3 on both of the Rhumba sequences, and level 4 on the lift and twizzles.

A stumble on their level 2 circular steps kept Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam in fifth place with 57.30 points, just enough to keep them in the final flight for the free dance, as well as within striking distance of the final berth to the World Championships. They only earned level 2 and 3 for their Rhumba patterns, but received level 4 for their lift and twizzles. Their short dance began with a sensual rhumba, before switching gears to “The Havana Slide,” an energetic selection.

“It wasn’t our best performance,” Paul said. “I had a slight stumble in the footwork, but we’ve been working really hard on the short dance, and it’s better than we’ve competed it before, definitely.”

Paul & Islam had a rough 2011-12 season after a bit of a breakout in 2010-11. Paul began the season fighting injury, and then collided with another skater at NHK Trophy, resulting in 20 stitches and surgery to have an artery cauterized. They were happy to enter in the Canadian Championships in top form, finally, and ready to skate.

“It was a rough fall for us and we had a lot of changes that we had to make in the last month and a half since NHK,” Islam said. “We came here with a lot of confidence, and we’ve been working really hard. Like Alex said, it was a little flat for us tonight, but we still have tomorrow. It’s close enough, so we will hopefully get the job done tomorrow.”

Just .72 points behind Paul & Islam were Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams (pictured, left), the 2011 Canadian junior champions. Their score of 56.58 was a season’s best for them, but unfortunately, the gap between sixth and fifth was predetermined to feel much wider on free dance day, since the final flight would skate in isolation on Saturday evening.

Orford & Williams did all that they could in the competitive debut of a program that was only five weeks old and were obviously pleased with their efforts. Their twizzles and lift were level 4, their circular steps were level 3, and their Rhumba patterns were called level 2 and 3. After Skate Canada Challenge in December, the duo changed the first half of their program from a mambo to a traditional rhumba. Since they compete internationally on the junior level this year, this brought their short dance program count for the year up to three.

“We got back [from Challenge],” Williams explained, “and our coaches put on a rhumba, a slower piece, and they said, ‘Go do a pattern of the Rhumba to this,’ and I asked why, and they said, ‘Just go do it.’ So we did, and they said, ‘Great! It totally suits you. This is your new music.'”

“It’s been five weeks of this one now,” Orford said. “And we’ve still been training the junior one too, because we hope to get Junior Worlds.”

Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon, training mates of Orford & Williams, finished close behind them with 53.87 points. Their dance was done so well and was probably their strongest performance of the season, but levels kept the National Team members from staying in the top five. Only their rotational lift was a level 4, with both Rhumba patterns and their twizzles earning level 3. Their circular step sequence had excellent unison and was rewarded with +1 GOE from each of the eight judges, but the caller only saw it as a level 2. Harvey & Gagnon’s seventh-place score opened a gap of 11 points between them and the next closest team.


Virtue & Moir Take Fourth Canadian Title
by Melanie Hoyt

The competition may have been close in the short dance, but in the free dance at the 2012 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir (pictured, below) reminded everyone that they are the golden standard in Canada. The champions sailed easily to their fourth national title, earning a total of 180.02 points after scoring 111.61 for their “Funny Face” free dance.

The dance was a crowd-pleaser, but the outing was not a season’s best for them, and the duo will certainly be looking at their protocol before they take the ice against their primary rivals, Americans Meryl Davis & Charlie White, at the Four Continents Championships. They earned +3 for 44 of the 56 individual GOE marks, and the remaining 12 were all +2, but the duo is aiming for all level 4 elements by the World Championships, and they fell short on both step sequences and the rotational lift, all judged a level 3. They also received a one-point deduction for an extended lift.

“We’re very happy with our skate today,” Moir said. “It was definitely one of our goals this year, to get our title back. It was a little bit of a grueling week for us, we had a lot of new stuff in our programs, and the pressure of competition was actually pretty intense for us this week, but we came out today and we skated really well. We’re extremely happy with the growth of that program.”

As in the short dance, Virtue & Moir had made changes to their free dance after the Grand Prix Final, taking into consideration the criticism that parts of their program did not continue moving. They cut down on the posing, concentrated on maintaining a good flow, and incorporated a new lift.

“We’re happy to be where we are,” Virtue said. “We’re right on track, we’re healthy, and we’re training really well. I think we have a whole plan in mind and we’re going to peak at the right time. There’s a lot of strategy behind that. We’re excited, it’s fun, this is what we love. We’re in the middle of the season, we’re just coming upon our favourite time of year, when it just comes to perfecting the programs and letting them grow.”

“We’re constantly reminding ourselves that the final goal is Four Continents and Worlds,” Moir said.

Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje could not maintain the narrow margin that separated them from Virtue & Moir in the short dance, but that was not their goal for this event. They were thrilled with another brilliant performance of their “Je Suis Malade” free dance, en route to a season’s best free dance score of 106.26. Their final score of 174.53 was also their best mark of the season.

“We’re definitely happy with the performance,” Poje said. “It felt better than the Final was. Different, but definitely good.”

Poje compared their Canadians performance to their lights-out skating at the Grand Prix Final. By achieving such an emotional high in only December, Weaver & Poje could have set themselves up for disappointment, but they have continued to push themselves to create something even better as they continue to look toward the World Championships.

“We put it all out there today,” Weaver said. “We did exactly what we wanted to do. We just checked off each element. Each moment we had, we shared. I think we can go home very proud of this week here.”

Weaver & Poje’s program earned slightly better levels than Virtue & Moir’s—Weaver & Poje received level 4 for all of their elements except the two level 3 step sequences, but they drew more +2 GOE than +3s, so their technical elements score (TES) was about two points back. Even so, finishing within six points of the leaders was a terrific milestone for them. The ultimate goal this year, though, would be to stand on the World podium. This is the first year that the team truly believes that this is a realistic possibility.

“I believe that anything is possible,” Weaver said. “We train with the French team, Nathalie [Péchalat] and Fabian [Bourzat]. We’re both going for the same thing and we push each other every day and I think it’s going to come down to whoever has the best skate—hopefully—and of course we hope to be contending for that, but it all comes down to what we put on the ice.”

Not heading to the World Championships, but still thrilled with their placement, were Canada’s new bronze medalists, Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier (pictured, left). The duo had to rush to even get programs ready in time for this season—Gilles had to test her senior free dance only a couple of weeks after choreography—but they skated incredibly well and delighted the crowd with their “Imagination” free dance, which earned 100.76 points.

“I’m so excited, I can’t stop smiling,” Gilles said. “This event was so much fun. Everyone here is so nice and so inviting, and it just helped us feel comfortable here to lay down two awesome programs.”

“We came here and wanted to focus on our own performances,” Poirier said, “and I think we were able to do that because the results don’t mean too much. We’re not fighting for a spot on the World team, nothing like that. We were able to come here and just skate our hearts out. I think we did that, and that’s what made the competition so much fun.”

The results may not have meant much to them, but they say a lot about the judges’ confidence in their future prospects to represent Canada internationally. Gilles & Poirier’s program was packed with plenty of tricks and difficult elements—they received the same levels as Weaver & Poje—but the strength of their lines and their natural unison still need time to develop. The step sequences had a bit of push-and-pull feeling to them, evidence of the partnership’s newness. But with a score of 163.54, Gilles & Poirier’s bronze medal outing was 16 points ahead of anyone else in the field, which solidly establishes them as Canada’s #3 team heading into next season, when they will be permitted to compete internationally for Canada.

Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill maintained their fourth-place ranking from 2011 with a season’s best total score of 147.51. This year, though, fourth place was a little bit sweeter, since it came with a trip to their first World Championships. The duo’s step sequences only earned level 2 and their twizzles were level 3, but they skated their tango with plenty of attack and feistiness. Ranks four through six were incredibly close, though, and although their 88.59-point free dance was only ranked sixth, they just barely held on to their ranking.

Just over a point back, with 146.48, were Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam, last year’s Canadian bronze medalists. They had to have been disappointed to slip to fifth overall and miss out on making the world team, but the duo recorded a season’s best by over 30 points, a testament to the rough season that they had to overcome. Their fourth-ranked free dance to Elton John’s “Tonight” featured gorgeous lines and lifts that seemed to float out of their choreography. Their step sequences, rated level 2 and level 3, were their only elements not given level 4. Fortunately, they will have one more chance to score a stronger ISU season’s best. Skate Canada split the two final competitions between Ralph & Hill and Paul & Islam, with Ralph & Hill getting the nod for the World Championships and Paul & Islam heading to the Four Continents Championships.

Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams wanted to make the national team in their first year at the senior level, and came quite close. With a total score of 145.53, they were less than a point out of the top five. Although they had to skate in the early portion of the competition, seven hours before the final flight took the ice, they made an impression with the afternoon audience in their free dance to “Gone with the Wind.” They achieved the popular benchmark of having all level 4 elements except for level 3 step sequences, and their flipping, twisting rotational lift snagged +3 GOE from half of the judges on the panel.

This season has been a challenging one, since they are the only team in Canada that skated at the junior level internationally, but at the senior level domestically. A few European teams from smaller federations have gone this route since the introduction of the short dance, but Orford & Williams were the first team from one of the “big” federations to try it.

“We had to keep training the junior programs, and it’s hard because everyone was done their run-throughs, and we still had another whole program,” Orford said. “We’re really lucky to be competing in both [levels], and we’re not complaining, but once everyone is done their training and we’re the only ones left on the ice and we’re still going, sometimes it’s like—”

“You just wish that you had someone out there training with you,” Williams finished for his partner. “It’s always nice to have at least one other team on the ice with you, and lots of times this year, we were alone.”

“It seems like we’re always the first ones on the ice, and the last ones off,” Orford said.

The ultimate prize for them this year, though, is something that they are still chasing. Since deciding to remain at the junior level for international competitions, they have had their eye on returning to Junior Worlds, with hopes for a much stronger showing than last year’s respectable eighth place. Although everyone pretty much expected that they would get the assignment, they did not know for sure that they would be going until the final day of competition in Moncton.

“Our main goal this year has been Junior Worlds,” Orford said, glancing at her partner. “And…top five? Top three?”

“Top three. We want a medal,” Williams said with a smile. “And we want to help out the juniors for next year, because we want as many spots as possible.”

With 137.41 overall and 83.54 points in the free dance, Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon (pictured, right) also picked up a pair of season’s best scores for their efforts at the Canadian Championships. After flying through opening twizzles that only earned level 3, but also picked up a +3 from one of the judges, Gagnon stumbled in their circular step sequence. He caught himself quickly, though, and was immediately back into the pattern. Even with the small mistake, Harvey & Gagnon performed their Rolling Stones free dance better than they ever had before, and were thrilled with what they put on the ice.

“I feel awesome,” Harvey said after they skated. “That free dance felt so good. I think we were really in the moment, and it was just a lot of fun. I had so much fun out there.”

“The little stumble brought me right back,” Gagnon said. “All of a sudden, the brain turned on, and I thought, ‘Okay! Time to focus!'” We recovered so fast that by the time we were in the second piece, I was already back to just focusing on Tarrah and what we were doing. If something goes wrong, you try to make it so—”

“—nobody remembers,” Harvey finished for him.

The mistake likely cost the team only about two points, not enough to make a difference in the standings, and the audience seemed to forget about the early bobble. One of the biggest cheers of the afternoon was for their final lift, when Harvey lifts Gagnon and travels across the middle of the ice. That element, along with their crowd-pleasing programs, has made them audience favorites at the past few Canadian Championships, although they have never come close to the podium.

“It’s something that I strive for,” Gagnon said about the audience’s approval. “I know that part of my personality is to try and draw people to me. This year, with Mick Jagger, it’s so easy. He is that person, except times a hundred thousand. You watch him go out on stage and he’s flailing away, but it’s beautiful because the guy is absolutely arrhythmical and totally spastic, but he doesn’t care. That’s what draws people to him.”

Harvey has not always been as much of an extrovert, but this program helped her settle into that role. “I feel like this year, I kind of grew into being the sassy rocker chick,” she said. “This year has definitely been that step up for me, whereas in past free dances, it’s been Keith being the showboat, and I have been the innocent girl behind him. I really enjoyed the program this year. I feel like I came out of the box a bit.”

Close to 30 points separated seventh place from eighth place, but the teams on the lower tier delivered a great competition as well, with plenty of movement between the short and the free dance. Larissa Van As & Troy Shindle, training mates of Orford & Williams and Harvey & Gagnon, came out on top of tightly-contested pack between eighth and 12th, finishing the competition with 109.80 points. A fall in the short dance seemed to give them a bit of extra determination and attack in their audience-friendly free dance to ’60s music. The crowd loved the program, and Van As & Shindle moved up three places to finish their season on a strong note.

Mélissande Dumas & David Mackay-Perry were also thrilled with their efforts, leading to a ninth-place finish in the first year of their partnership. Last year, neither partner qualified for the Canadian Championships at the junior level with past partners, so just being in Moncton meant that they had already made their goal for the season. They skated their tango free dance with plenty of attack, earning 66.82 points in the free and a score of 106.22 overall, a season’s best by almost over nine points.

Also in their first season together, Shanna René de Cotret-Laporte & Alexandre Laliberté (pictured, left), skating to a pair of French songs, nearly matched their score from Skate Canada Challenge exactly. They earned 106.02 points to finish tenth. René de Cotret-Laporte & Laliberté did not have the intricate choreography of some of their peers, but their performance was highlighted by a couple of lovely level 4 lifts.

In 11th place with 105.15 points were Anoushka Ritchie-Hervieux & Philippe Massé. Their total score was a few points shy of what they had earned at Sectionals, but their free dance score of 66.13 was a season’s best, and they gave a very strong and sharp performance of their tango program. The duo did not qualify for the Canadian Championships last year at the junior level, but they made big improvements to their skating during the off-season and delivered strong skates this year in Moncton.

Olga Lioudvinevitch & Benjamin Mulder were ranked 12th overall with 104.49 points. Their free dance score of 66.12 was just .01 behind Ritchie-Hervieux & Massé, and Lioudvinevitch & Mulder also had a tango program, although theirs was a more traditional and lyrical interpretation of the dance. They also reached a season’s best in the free dance with a solid performance. After some consistency problems throughout the season, it was evident that they were happy to end with a strong outing.

Hélène Létourneau & Kevin Boczar’s flamenco free dance helped them achieve a total score of 96.51 points in their final competition. One of the highlights of their program was an excellent straightline with Létourneau standing on her partner’s thigh. The team competed together for six seasons, but decided before the championships that they were ready to end their competitive career.

On the opposite end of the partnership spectrum are Jazz Smyl Joly & Nicholas Jesionek, who had barely begun, having teamed up in July. They earned 86.35 points to finish 14th. The team seemed more comfortable in their free dance to “Someone Like You” and “Rumors” by Adele than they did in their short dance.