I saw Chicago’s first snowflakes of the year on Monday night. It was only a brief flurry as I walked to the train station, and at first, I wasn’t sure if it was snow or random soot, but then I looked up and saw the tiny white specks dotting the dark blue sky. It’s always a little sad when autumn ends and the leaves fall, but I do love the feelings that the first snowflakes evoke. Like one of my co-workers said yesterday, “Snow in November and December is great. It’s romantic, it reminds you of all of your best Christmases. It’s snow in February and March that I could do without.” Very true. Anyway, I know that some Canadian cities have already had their first serious snowfalls, and a couple will be lucky to get snow by Christmas. So maybe it’s not the most universal measure, but for me on Monday night, those first snowflakes meant the start of the winter season, which is my favourite part of the skating year, of course! And with sectionals complete, I’m ready to usher in Challenge and start thinking about Nationals. First, though, let’s look at what happened in Russia last weekend.

2012-1114-1Virtue & Moir Easily Secure Second Gold
As expected, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir (pictured, right) won their second gold medal of the Grand Prix at Rostelecom Cup, increasing their Skate Canada score by a few points to end up with 173.99 points. They fared much better in the short dance with a different lift (called level 4) and a level 3 midline sequence. The Yankee Polka still has room for improvement, as they earned level 2 and level 3, but no one is putting down level 4 sequences consistently, so it isn’t like they are falling behind the curve. I was glad to see some technical improvements, even if they had to abandon their new lift.

In the free dance, their mark actually went down a smidge from Skate Canada, landing at 103.44. Their lifts, spin, and twizzles were all level 4, and their circular steps were level 3, but their diagonals steps remained level 2. In fact, all of their levels were identical to the Skate Canada outing, with GOE contributing to a slightly lower technical mark this week. I thought that the performance was stronger than the début, overall, as it should be. In Skate Canada, I noticed a few signs of weakness, particularly towards the end. I think they’re still looking a little more sluggish in the final minute, but that’s fine for this point in the season. I was pleased that the second outing of this free dance was, for me, just as exciting and captivating. 

Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams made their Grand Prix début in Moscow, finishing eighth with a total of 124.96 points. Aside from a mistake in their free dance, they performed well and handled the big stage like pros. I thought that their short dance, in particular, was terrific. They earned level 3 on both Yankee Polka sequences, better than most of the teams on the roster, their twizzles and lift were level 4, and their midline steps were level 2. They still have room to improve the program and make it more polished, of course, but their energy level was sky-high and I just loved watching them skate this dance. I didn’t think that their free dance was quite as strong—they don’t seem to connect to the program quite as easily, and the structure of the music cuts seems to push and pull, instead of building momentum. They have a couple of opportunities for tweaks, including a level 3 spin that can be pushed to level 4, and level 1 diagonal steps, which was where they had the stumble. The twizzles looked great though, and their PCS went up, compared to the short dance (even though the SD was the better skate), which is usually a sign that the judges liked what they saw in the SD. They have another chance to impress at NHK Trophy in a week.

Gilles & Poirier in Paris
Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier are in the Paris this week to compete at Trophée Eric Bompard, their first international event outside of North America. They will face most of the same teams that they saw at Skate Canada, so it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their fourth-place ranking. Beyond the usual new-team problems of lines and unison, they saw their free dance levels decrease, overall, between the U.S. International Classic and Skate Canada, so I’m sure that they have been working hard at addressing those issues. I hope that they will skate well, engage the crowd, and get those levels back up. And have a bit of free time to enjoy the delightful French bakeries, of course.

On another note, Gilles & Poirier unveiled an official website this week. I am looking forward to hearing from them on this platform, especially if they really keep it updated as often as they say that they’re going to.

This makes Gilles & Poirier the fourth team in Canada (that I know of!) to have an official website. Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew PojeTessa Virtue & Scott Moir, and Melinda Meng & Andrew Meng also have sites.. I think that official websites are a great way to expand a fan base and to show off all of the hard work that you put into you’re skating, so if you skate at the junior or senior level and would like more information about starting a website, feel free to ask me about it. For those that aren’t aware, we host a wide variety of official sites at IDC. They are mostly from the U.S. and Great Britain, but I’d love to see more Canadians join us!

2012-1114-2Final Weekend of Sectionals
It’s hard to believe that sectionals have wrapped up already. Last week didn’t have any big fields, but some of the Nationals frontrunners did compete.

British Columbia/Yukon sectionals were held in Parksville, BC. Only seven dance teams competed across the levels, which worries me just a little bit. BC has exploded onto the dance scene in the past few years, but even accounting for a couple of byes at the junior and senior levels, I think that their numbers are down a bit from last year. They did not have any juvenile teams compete, as compared to the huge juvenile rosters in a couple of the Ontario sections.

Caelen Dalmer & Shane Firus (pictured, left) have a bye to Challenge, but chose to compete at sectionals anyway. They easily won the junior level with a season’s best score of 121.30. The JGP competitors had solid performances and appear to be building well towards Challenge. Jessica Jiang & Eric Streichsbier finished second with 94.30 points in their competitive début. They have been skating together since August.

Danielle Wu & Spencer Soo won the novice level, as I expected, with a score of 83.91. They were actually second in the free dance, due to some level downgrades, but an outstanding Blues in the first segment of the competition had put them out of reach. Their training mates, Alexa Linden & Tyler Miller, won the silver medal, scoring 78.35 points. Their free dance was particularly strong, but the pattern dances are an opportunity for improvement for this first-year partnership. Still, they are clearly doing very well, increasing their season’s best score by over 12 points since BC Summer Skate. Andie-Lynn Gingrich & Liam Kinrade won the bronze medal in their second year together, earning 66.77 points. I had expected to see Brianna Delmaestro & Graeme Gordon at this competition, but they did not compete. Gordon competed in senior men, though, so I am wondering if Delmaestro has been injured. I hope to see them back on the roster at Challenge.

At the pre-novice level, the new sectional champions are Olga Kubliy & Thomas Bogdanov, who improved from a fourth-place finish last year. They earned 51.65 points, and I believe that this was their first competition of the season. Two teams that moved up from juvenile rounded out the podium. Karlissa Lem & Le Vu were second with 45.44 points and Ravie Cunningham & Cedar Bridgewood were third with 44.00 points.

In Western Ontario, the rosters were thin at the levels heading to Challenge, but they have a lot of dancers in the pipeline, with seven teams at the juvenile level and six at the pre-juvenile level.

Jade Marrow & Benjamin Mulder were the only junior team, and they earned a total of 95.90 points. Likewise, only one team competed at the novice level. Ekaterina Fedyushchenko & Jean-Luc Jackson scored 67.95 points.

Laura Emery & Dean Holbrough won the pre-novice level with 53.48 points over Nicole Suszek & Matthew Korkoian. Suszek & Korkoian were leading after the pattern dances and scored 50.04 points.

Paige Nobbs & Andrew McDonald won the juvenile level and Angela Ling & Everest Zhu are the pre-juvenile champions.

2012-1114-3In Eastern Ontario, Samantha Glavine & Jeff Hough were the only team to compete, earning 92.55 points. Oddly enough, their rotational lift was only called level 1 in both programs, and they were hit with an illegal element deduction (two points) in each program. I’m not sure if the two issues were related, or not. Either way, it’s probably good that they chose to compete, despite the thin roster, so that they can address those problems before Challenge.

Vanessa Chartrand & Christian Reekie (pictured, right) won the novice level with a score of 57.60. The new team of Abby Savoie & Tanner White stayed close behind them, ending up with 55.75 points and the silver medal. Emily Allen & Jake Richardson were third with 52.91 points.

Emily Pike & Andrew Wildey and Talia Rancourt & Alex Gunther competed at the pre-novice level, but results were only uploaded for the second pattern dance, which Pike & Wildey won by a narrow margin. I don’t know how the competition ended.

Emily Rowan & Nicolas Znameski won the juvenile level in their season debut in a close contest over Ashley Ingram & Dominic Tremblay.

In Saskatchewan, Nevada Smith & Addison Voldeng were the only team at the junior level. They scored 91.14, with a solid short dance, but struggled in the free dance. Jocelyn LeBlanc & Wyatt Cowell were the sole novice team, scoring 46.93 overall. They also had a rough free dance. No pre-novice teams competed at this sectional. Madison Tocher & Marty Haubrich were the juvenile champions and Erika Howlett & Aidan von Holwede won the pre-juvenile level.

Congratulations to all of the sectional competitors. I will be putting together an expected roster for Challenge in the next week or two, if Skate Canada doesn’t release the roster before then. If you didn’t compete at your sectional (and didn’t have a bye due to an international assignment), but still plan to skate at Challenge, please let me know. Thanks!

Remembering Gérard Châtaigneau
The skating world lost one of its best photographers on Monday, when Gérard Châtaigneau passed away after a massive heart attack. I didn’t know Gérard well, but I respected and admired him immensely. His books were on my shelves and pages from his calendars hung from my walls long before I knew that I’d be working alongside him at events. He was my first favourite photographer, before I knew anything about photography. I always liked sitting at his table in the press room, because he worked hard and he worked quietly. On dance practice sessions, we were often the only photographers in the arena (especially at the early ones!), and I loved watching him move around, working on getting different shots. 

At my first Canadians as an accredited photographer when I felt very much like the awkward new kid, I was shooting a dance practice, and when the run-throughs were done, and I wanted to head downstairs to switch memory cards, I realized I was blocked into my row. Gérard was sitting on one end, and he was still shooting. I didn’t want to disrupt him, so I climbed over the row as quietly as I could and walked behind him. As I walked by, he stopped, turned around, and said, “I would have moved for you.” I couldn’t believe that such an amazing photographer had acknowledged my existence, but that was the sort of person that he was. Nearly everyone described him as gentle, kind, 

Just a few weeks ago at Skate Canada, some of the other photographers and I were joking about Gérard’s timelessness. No one knew exactly how long he’d been shooting skating, just that he’d always been around. It doesn’t seem possible that we won’t see him again.

Messages of condolence can be left at this website.