by Melanie Hoyt | Photos by Robin Ritoss and Daphne Backman
A century after staging their first national championship, Skate Canada will celebrate “100 Years of Champions” with the Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships in Ottawa. Skate Canada has been promoting this event for a year, hoping for a reunion of as many of its living champions as possible. The city of Ottawa will also celebrate, with programming on the Rink of Dreams outside City Hall. Of course, this year’s championships also hold significance because they serve as the final step in naming the 2014 Olympic team. The Olympic team members will probably not attend the Four Continents Championships, so up to three additional championship assignments are on the line, along with two spots to the World Junior Championships. With the senior events occurring before the novice and junior events for the first time, the whole event is sure to have a new kind of energy.
At the senior level, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir (pictured, right) are expected to secure their sixth national title and enjoy their send-off to Sochi in what seems likely to be their final Canadian amateur competition. Although the 2010 Olympic champions have not officially announced that they will retire following the season, they have hinted strongly that they will be leaving the amateur ranks, particularly in the premiere of their reality show, “Tessa & Scott,” which aired last week. At any rate, they will certainly be using this event to build momentum before the Olympic Games after winning yet another silver medal at December’s Grand Prix Final.
Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje have all but punched their ticket to Sochi as well after a strong first half of the season. In 2010, they were a heartbreaking three-tenths of a point from the team, but they should not have any trouble finishing in the top two teams this year. Weaver & Poje earned sky-high scores at Skate Canada International this season and should expect the same at Canadians if they hit their elements. They missed last season’s Canadian Championships due to a mid-season injury that could have ruined their year, but they have been strong ever since returning to the ice at the 2013 World Championships.
Last year’s silver medalists, Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier, have been campaigning hard for their spot on the Olympic team all season long. One of the essential pieces fell into place when Gilles received Canadian citizenship in December, under the same provision which benefitted Weaver in 2009. Poirier was sidelined all summer with a broken ankle and the duo had a late start, but made quite a splash with their striking “Psycho” free dance at NHK Trophy in November. They were fifth at that event, scoring 144.07 points, but dropped one place and 10 points two weeks later at Rostelecom Cup.
Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam have not experienced the same media blitz that Gilles & Poirier have, but should contend for the Olympic spot if they keep their nerves in check. Paul & Islam scored 143.77 points in their fifth-place finish at Skate Canada International, putting them on an essentially even playing field with Gilles & Poirier, internationally. How they perform this weekend will be key; so far this season, they have had an excellent short dance and an excellent free, but not two at the same competition. Their style is very different from Gilles & Poirier’s, too, which could play for them or against them, depending on how the judges feel or who captures the moment.
Also contending for international assignments are Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams, Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill, and Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang. Orford & Williams had several technical snags in their Grand Prix outing this year, but they picked up a bronze medal earlier in the season at the U.S. International Classic. The 2013 Canadian bronze medalists have always showed up looking very prepared for Canadians, and they leapt through an open door last year to wind up on the podium. Their consistency could certainly pay off for them again.
Ralph & Hill were fourth-place finishers and World Team members in 2012, but slipped to fifth last year. This season, they did not have a Grand Prix assignment, but competed in back-to-back European international events and brought home a bronze medal from NRW Trophy in Germany. Last year’s “Barcelona” free dance seemed like it was out of their comfort zone, and this year, their Afro-Brazilian free dance is more in line with what they are known for interpreting.
Last year’s junior champions, Edwards & Pang, will make their senior-level début at this event. Their junior international season saw them named as first alternates to the Junior Grand Prix Final, and they are likely to be assigned to the World Junior Championships. They are a wild card, given that it is their first time out with the difficult Finnstep, but they are usually quite poised under pressure and could shake up the standings a bit.
Six former junior champion teams are competing at the senior level this year, which is a testament to the depth of the Canadian program. Junior champions from 2004 (Virtue & Moir), 2008 (Ralph & Hill), 2010 (Paul & Islam), 2011 (Orford & Williams), 2012 (Andréanne Poulin & Marc-André Servant), and 2013 (Edwards & Pang) are all on the roster in 2014. 2007 junior champion Poirier is also competing, though with a different partner.
At the junior level, Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen have their best chance yet to finally win a Canadian title. Together since 2004, they have medaled at the national level three times, but have never won the gold. They were silver medalists in 2013 and went on to finish fifth at the World Junior Championships. Their 2013 JGP Series started with a bang, when they won gold at the first event in Riga, but at their second event, several small technical errors added up in a big way and they finished seventh. After plenty of time to work on polishing their programs, they were victorious at Challenge last month and should repeat in Ottawa, barring any disasters. The junior champion will almost certainly be assigned to the World Junior Championships, along with either the silver medalist or with Edwards & Pang.
If anyone is able to challenge Bent & MacKeen, it could be one of two teams from British Columbia. Danielle Wu & Spencer Soo (pictured, left) were last year’s novice champions and just won the silver medal at Challenge. Especially for being in their first year at the junior level, they had a excellent showing at JGP Czech Skate in the fall, where they finished fifth.
Brianna Delmaestro & Timothy Lum, who train with Wu & Soo, faltered a bit at Challenge and placed fourth, but they also had a strong JGP showing earlier in the season. After a fifth-place finish at JGP Baltic Cup, they earned a second assignment to JGP Tallinn Cup, and they were also fifth there. Delmaestro won the Canadian novice silver medal last year, and Lum won the Canadian junior bronze medal in 2012. This is their first season together.
Carolane Soucisse & Simon Tanguay won the bronze medal at Challenge and are having a strong season thus far. It is their second season with their free dance, and the extra time spent with the program has paid off. They defeated their training partners, Melinda Meng & Andrew Meng, to win the Québec sectional title this year. Soucisse & Tanguay were sixth at JGP Minsk in the fall.
The Meng siblings underperformed a bit at Challenge, where they placed fifth. The 2012 novice silver medalists were eighth at JGP Baltic Cup earlier in the season. After changing their free dance music in August, they have struggled a little in the free dance, but if they can hit their stride at Canadians, they are capable of finishing on the podium.
Lauren Collins & Danny Seymour also struggled at Challenge; a fall on twizzles in the free dance contributed to their drop to seventh place in the standings. Their gentle, lyrical free dance is a new look for them, and if they can capture the moment in Ottawa, the 2012 Canadian novice champions could leap into the top five.
At the novice level, the race for gold is likely to be contested between Valérie Taillefer & Jason Chan of Québec and Hannah Whitley & Elliott Graham of Central Ontario.
Taillefer & Chan were 10th at Canadians last year, and decided to remain at the novice level this year to see what they could do. What they have done is win almost all of their events this season, including Challenge. They are the only Canadian team to top 90 points this year, and if they are on top of their game in Ottawa, they will be tough to beat.
Whitley & Graham are the only team to have bested Taillefer & Chan this year, which they did at Octoberfest, their home club event. They won the Canadian pre-novice title last year and have been skating together since 2007.
Ceduna Magee & Lucas Kitteridge, who train with Whitley & Graham, have been steadily improving in their first season. They were third at Challenge.
Sabrina Bédard & Zoé Duval-Yergeau won the Canadian pre-novice silver medal last year, but have been a bit inconsistent in their first novice season. With their fourth-place finish at Challenge, they appear to have settled into the season a bit more, and they could challenge for a medal in Ottawa.
The senior events will be contested on Friday and Saturday, with the Olympic team scheduled to be named on Sunday. The novice pattern dances and the junior short dance will be held on Monday. Novice events wrap on Tuesday and junior events finish on Wednesday, January 15.