Article and photos by Melanie Hoyt
Next week, Canadian dance teams will convene in Kingston, Ont., to compete at the Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships. Reigning World silver medalists and Grand Prix Final champions Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje are expected to win their first Canadian title, and the battle for the five spots on the national team could be quite exciting. And for the first time since 2012, a full roster of 15 teams will compete at the senior level.
Weaver & Poje are undoubtedly focused on the World Championships as they begin the second half of their season. The Canadian Championships is an excellent opportunity for them to add mileage to their programs and check their levels one more time. They won their first Grand Prix Final crown last month in Barcelona with a new ISU personal best score of 181.14. If they skate well, they could top their domestic personal best score of 183.54, set at last year’s Canadian Championships.
The favourites for the silver medal are Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier, aiming to land on the podium again after a close fourth-place finish last year kept them off the Olympic team. Since then, Gilles & Poirier have worked hard to establish themselves as Canada’s clear #2 team, with two silver medals on the Grand Prix and a fifth-place finish at their first Grand Prix Final. Their new ISU personal best of 158.16, set at the Final, is still quite a ways from the 170-point domestic mark they set in 2013, but given how they tend to score in Canada, they could see the 170’s again this week if they are at their best.
Last year, Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam edged out Gilles & Poirier for the bronze medal and the final spot on the Olympic team, but this season, Paul & Islam have struggled to keep their rank as Canada’s second team. It began last year at the World Championships, when alternates Gilles & Poirier outranked Paul & Islam, eighth to tenth. Then at the Autumn Classic in early October, Paul & Islam’s mishaps in the free dance on home ice in Barrie, Ont., left them in fourth while Gilles & Poirier took the silver medal. The teams faced each other again at Trophée Eric Bompard, and Paul & Islam were sixth, nearly 20 points from Gilles & Poirier’s second-place effort. In the weeks between the Grand Prix and the Canadian Championships, Paul & Islam changed their free dance and will début a new program to “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. At this point, it does not seem likely that Paul & Islam will catch Gilles & Poirier, but it might be an effort that helps them stave off the up-and-comers and remain on the podium and the World Championships team.
After a bit of a breakthrough on the Grand Prix, Élisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette (pictured, above) are looking to make a big move in Kingston. They have a shot at the podium and they are sure to make a mark with their emotional free dance to Ginette Reno’s “Un Peu Plus Haut” if they perform as well as they have all season. After a surprise fourth-place finish when they were fairly late replacements at Skate America, Paradis & Ouellette went on to finish seventh at Skate Canada with similar scores in a tougher field. Their Achilles heel this year has been the short dance—Paradis & Ouellette are lyrical skaters with a terrific connection to each other, and the Paso Doble does not play to their strengths. Even if they do land on the podium at the end of the week, Paradis & Ouellette lack the short dance minimum technical score of 29.00 required for the World Championships, and would have to earn it before they could be named to the World team. They came within a point at Skate America.
Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams (pictured, left), the 2013 Canadian bronze medalists, have hit some bumps this season, but they tend to show up looking very prepared at the Canadian Championships. After winning the silver medal at the U.S. International Classic in September, the duo skated much better at the Autumn Classic in October, but scored 16 points lower and finished sixth. Like Paradis & Ouellette, they have also not yet met the short dance technical minimum score required for the World Championships, but have come within a point several times over the past couple of years.
Challenging the top five senior internationally-competitive teams are a pair of talented junior teams, competing on the senior level at the Canadian Championships. Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang, the 2013 Canadian junior champions, were seventh in their Canadian senior début last year. This year, they qualified for their first Junior Grand Prix Final, where they finished fifth.
Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen, won the Canadian junior title in 2014, and will be making their senior début in Kingston. They also qualified for their first Junior Grand Prix Final this year, where they were fourth. It was one of the few times that they have finished ahead of Edwards & Pang in head-to-head competition.
The challenge facing both teams is the Paso Doble short dance. They have been competing all season with a silver samba short dance, and this will be the first time out in competition for both Paso programs.
Andréanne Poulin & Marc-André Servant, the 2012 Canadian junior champions, could be a bit of a wild card in this event. They missed all of last season due to an injury to Servant. He finally recovered, and the team competed quite well in the summer and fall this season, only to face another injury. Last month at Challenge, Poulin & Servant had to take an injury break (with a five-point deduction) in each of their programs and, therefore, finished just seventh. However, if they are at full strength again, they could be in the mix for a spot on the national team.
Action gets underway on Friday with the short dance. The free dance follows on Saturday night.