Article & Photos by Melanie Hoyt
On the second night of the 2014 Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships in Ottawa, the stakes were higher than usual, and a buzz permeated the packed Canadian Tire Centre. All eyes were on center ice as the best figure skaters in Canada competed for berths on the 2014 Winter Olympic team. The final flight of pairs, men, and dancers skated back-to-back-to-back, separated only by a short break for a pair of Zambonis to clear the ice at a blistering pace.
Of course, the top two teams were never in question. As predicted, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir danced away with their sixth Canadian title, en route to their second Olympic Games. Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje (pictured, right) also eased their way into second place, a far cry from their situation four years ago. They will attend their first Olympics next month. The real battle was for the bronze medal. Although the Olympic Team announcement would not come until the next day, it was reasonable to expect that the bronze medalists would nab the third spot.
Not long after the Canadian record was broken twice in the pairs event, Virtue & Moir closed the evening with a record-setting performance of their own. They scored 194.03 overall and a sky-high 117.87 in the free dance, a score which could have been even higher if not for a small error on the twizzle section. Virtue stumbled slightly on the element that has plagued them most often this season, resulting in a level 3 and less positive GOE than their other elements. In the short dance, level 3 on both Finnstep sections reveals another weakness that they will need to address during these last weeks of training.
The quality of skating in both of their programs was superb, though, and the decisive victory was a well-deserved sendoff as they aim to defend their Olympic title in Sochi.
Four years ago, a footwork mishap derailed Weaver & Poje’s first Olympic bid by a heartbreaking three-tenths of a point. This year, their Olympic bid was never in doubt, and the team was able to perform with confidence and freedom in both programs, earning a new personal best score of 183.54. They have a couple of a levels to look at—most notably, their level 3 rotational lift in the free—but their performances were very strong and indicative of their resolve to fight for a medal in Sochi. The contrast between the effervescent quickstep and the passionate tango free dance shows off their versatility. Devastated after the Canadian Championships four years ago, they are now an inspiring example of what can come from determination and dedication.
Heading into the free dance, Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam had a small lead over Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier, 67.67 to 65.11. Both teams skated well in the short dance, but Paul & Islam’s pair of level 4s on the Finnstep was worth two points more than Gilles & Poirier’s level 2 and 4. In past pressure-filled situations, Paul & Islam have not fared well, but they showed a new fierceness when they followed up Gilles & Poirier’s 99.41-point free dance with a 102.97-point effort of their own.
Gilles & Poirier’s “Hitchcock” program has been heralded by fans and critics alike this season. It is highlighted by innovative elements at a time when many programs look the same, and it is an excellent example of what creativity can do even within the rules of the International Judging System. At the Canadian Championships, though, Gilles & Poirier seemed a little hesitant, with a touch of stiffness to their upper bodies, as if they were worried about what was at stake.
Paul & Islam, on the other hand, skated with the freedom of a team that had nothing to lose, in stark contrast to last year’s Canadians. Their dance to music from “W.E.” is more traditional than “Hitchcock,” but it also features more dance holds and shows off sections of greater flow. They picked up 1.5 points on Gilles & Poirier in base value for having one level 4 footwork sequence (as opposed to both being level 3), but they also were a nose ahead in both GOE and PCS, overall.
Looking at the judges individually, the result was even closer between third and fourth place, with some judges preferring one team to the other on both marks, and some judges splitting nod on TES and PCS between the two teams. All in all, the final results had Paul & Islam with 170.64 points and Gilles & Poirier with 164.52 points, about six points apart, but it somehow seemed much closer.
Last year’s bronze medalists, Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams, went into the event hoping for a shot at the third Olympic spot as well, but ended the event in fifth, about 18 points back from third, with 152.08 points. They shone in their short dance to Sinatra tunes, but their free dance to music from “Love Never Dies” seemed overpowered by the curious music choice. They were rewarded in their 90.11-point free dance for their long lines, their speed even in dance holds, and their strong lifts, but footwork is still an area of opportunity for them. They have improved on their footwork elements during the season, but earned only level 2 for one of the sequences in the free dance. Still, they showed big improvements over their Grand Prix outing in the fall, and their dances were enough to secure their spot of the national team for a second year.
Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill finished sixth, one place down from last year’s finish, with a total score of 150.30. Like Orford & Williams, they significantly improved upon marks received internationally and fared pretty well with levels, although a few differences ended up making the difference between fifth and sixth place. Ralph & Hill had three non-level-4 elements in the free (compared to Orford & Williams’s two), and they also lost a level on the Finnstep. Their Brazilian samba free dance was a crowd-pleaser at the end of the early session of the free dance, but it was a shame that Skate Canada split up the event, separating it from the final flight by several hours.
Gilles & Poirier, Orford & Williams, and Ralph & Hill all accepted invitations to compete at the Four Continents Championships, with a quick turnaround time after the Canadian Championships.
In their senior-level début, Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang had to overcome several obstacles to finish seventh with 143.90 points. Besides the difficult task of competing the Finnstep for the first time at the Canadian Championships, Edwards had been battling Achilles tendinitis for several months before coming to Ottawa. The injury reduced their training time dramatically and made it impossible to complete the traditional double run-throughs that usually occur before a major event. Their competitive spirit shone as they delivered clean outings of both dances at the event, earning strong levels and displaying a high performance level. Edwards is finally on the mend from her injury, and the team hopes to be even stronger at the World Junior Championships in March.
With their fifth-place free dance, Élisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette (pictured, left) made a statement that they are ready to move up in the rankings, although their total of 143.80 points kept them in eighth, maintaining their short dance rank. Paradis & Ouellette’s memorable free dance to music from “The Godfather” was equally passionate and well-trained, earning 91.21 points. Their major opportunity to improve comes in the short dance, where levels held them back. They had to change part of their short dance music late in the season, from “Ballroom Blitz” to the more traditional “Dancin’ Fool,” after they incurred a deduction at Coupe de Nice.
Mariève Cyr & Benjamin Brisebois Gaudreau moved up a rank in the free dance to finish ninth with 132.89 points. They really captured the moment with a terrific performance of their gospel-tinged free dance to “Let It Be” and “Happy Ending.” The music choice was unexpected yet delightful, and Cyr & Brisebois Gaudreau skated very well, earning level 4 for all elements besides their two level 3 footwork sequences. The unique program was choreographed by Shae Zukiwsky, just one of several standout programs that he crafted this season.
Victoria Hasegawa & Connor Hasegawa finished tenth, earning 124.12 points overall. They have improved steadily this season with their “Polovetsian Dances” free dance, gaining consistency with each outing. Unfortunately, their feet got tangled at the end of the Finnstep pattern in the short dance, sending Victoria tumbling to the ice. They earned solid levels in both programs and as they continue to grow at the senior level, an area that they can improve is to skate with more conviction and power, especially with dramatic music like in their free dance.
Finishing 11th was the new team of Mélissande Dumas & Simon Proulx-Sénécal. They struggled a bit in the short dance, making a major error on twizzles, but came back strong in their free dance that combined music by Ingrid Michaelson and Florence + the Machine. They earned 72.99 points in the free and 116.94 points overall.
Bianka Gadosy & Benjamin Smyth finished 12th with a total of 110.56 points. They also had a few technical snags in the short dance, but bounced back with a well-skated and clean free dance. They used music from the television series “Spartacus,” which seemed to help them attack the program.
Overall, the senior dance event at the Canadian Championships was excellent throughout the ranks. The development of the discipline in Canada has been strong for quite some time, and now as many of the junior dancers from the past several years are moving up, the level should continue even after the top teams decide to move on.