Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon


Article By Melanie Hoyt

harvey-gagnonFor Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon, the approach to the 2007-2008 season began because of a chance to skate at home. After struggling with achieving the results that they wanted to see in prior seasons, the young Canadians—who recently celebrated their 10th anniversary as partners—were not even sure that they wanted to continue.

But the 2008 BMO Canadian Figure Skating Championships were in Vancouver.

And Harvey & Gagnon train at the BC Centre of Excellence in Burnaby.

They made a commitment to give everything they had to the season, to see how far it could take them. The strategy paid off. After two consecutive years in 13th place on the junior level at the Canadian Championships, Harvey & Gagnon moved all the way up to fourth in 2008.

Last spring, the teenagers heard that ten-time Canadian medalists Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe were returning to Vancouver to coach. While preparing for the 2007 Canadian Championships last season, Harvey & Gagnon had briefly worked with Wing & Lowe. Thinking that this might be the change that they needed to make in their skating, they contacted the 2006 Olympians and decided to make the switch from longtime coach Rod Mackie.

“Their training methods were so different,” Gagnon said. “It was really motivating for us to go out there and try it.”

Under Wing & Lowe, Harvey & Gagnon spend three hours on the ice every day, Monday through Friday, and they also participate in off-ice training and dance classes. Harvey also credited their success to making the most of their training time.

“Each week, Megan and Aaron make structured training plans for us, so we know exactly what we need to do every day and don’t waste any time,” she said.

With Wing & Lowe, changes were made to their day-to-day training as well as to their competitive strategies. Dance teams in Canada often have the opportunity of choosing to skip Challenge, the qualifying competition for the Canadian Championships. Because they skipped the 2007 event, Harvey & Gagnon had only competed twice in the 2006-2007 season. According to Lowe, this was something that had to change immediately. When asked what their strategy was for the season, Lowe emphasized that they wanted to get their choreography done early and then make sure they were competing right away.

“The main thing,” Lowe explained, “was to train them, get them conditioned, and get them out.”

For Harvey & Gagnon, the opportunity to train with new coaches was a big motivator, but it was also important that they were able to remain in Vancouver. They were the only dance team at the 2008 Canadian Championships who had trained in Vancouver for their entire careers—a true hometown team. The idea of leaving Vancouver and training elsewhere had come up, but staying at home has always been a priority for them.

“We’ve always said, ‘We can do it here, so let’s stay here,’” Gagnon said. “And you know, there is something for representing the place that you’ve grown up in, and you’ve always been from.”

Harvey & Gagnon kicked off their season at the 2007 Lake Placid Ice Dancing Championships, where their strong performances in the original and free dances prompted Skate Canada to assign them to a Junior Grand Prix event. Unfortunately, the team also began a season-long struggle in the compulsory dances. Placing near the bottom in each compulsory dance in Lake Placid, they also had to come from behind after the compulsory at the 2008 Skate Canada Western Challenge. There, a seventh-place compulsory kept Harvey & Gagnon from finishing on the podium.

The Canadian Championships, however, were another story. Their sharp, strong, and much-improved fifth-place Cha Cha Congelado put Harvey & Gagnon in an excellent position for the rest of the competition.

“I am very happy with how we skated,” Harvey said after the event. “Our Cha Cha went well.”

“After the compulsories, we were both holding our breath,” Gagnon admitted. “The Cha Cha [at Nationals] was huge for us.”

Although a small mistake in the original dance cost them an opportunity to make up some ground in what is usually their best dance, Harvey & Gagnon closed the competition and the season on a high note with one of their best performances to date.

“Our free dance felt amazing,” Harvey said. “I think that was the best run-through of the free dance we ever did! It felt so good!”

“The free dance was amazing,” Gagnon agreed. “The free dance was also kind of a blur.”

Their free dance, ranked third among the Canadian juniors in Vancouver, was nearly enough to get them onto the podium, but they fell short by less than three points. As soon as the competition was over, the hometown team was already thinking about next year.

In the 2008-2009 season, Harvey & Gagnon will once again compete on the junior level. After a successful year, they are eager to see how much they can still achieve. They plan to compete at the Lake Placid Ice Dancing Championships again and are trying to work out another summer competition as well.

As for the team’s second-year coaching strategy, “Next year will be the challenge, to see how well they can do,” Lowe said. “Now they’ve developed a really good sense of what they can do.”

“They’ve improved a lot this year,” Wing added. “They seem like they’re having fun, and it makes training easier when you’re enjoying it.”

Once again, Harvey & Gagnon got a jump on the season, already having completed choreography for both their original and free dances for ’08-‘09. By using some of the same approaches that helped them find success last year—choreography learned early and tough competitions competed as often as possible—they hope to continue their upswing.

Harvey & Gagnon still find it hard to believe that it all began on a whim of a coaching change last year, simply because the circumstances seemed right.

“We looked at each other and said, ‘Why not? We’ll give it one last try, and we’ll see how we do with them, just roll the dice, and see how it goes,’” Gagnon said with a wide grin and a shrug of his shoulders. “And we won!”

Sometimes, fourth place is just as good as gold.