The 2011 Canadian national championships ushered in a new era in that nation’s skating history.
Patrick Chan led the charge, racking up more points than any skater had ever earned. Cynthia Phaneuf captured the second title of her career in a runaway victory, and new champions were crowned in the pairs and ice dance disciplines.
The final flight of the men’s event was electric. The performances of Chan, Shawn Sawyer, Joey Russell and Elladj Baldé each brought the audience to its feet long before the final note of their individual programs had faded.
There was little doubt that Chan would claim his fourth national title after skating into first place in the short program with a score of 88.78 and an 11-point lead over Sawyer, who sat in second with 77.64.
Chan was on fire in the long, executing solid footwork, spins, two quads (one in combination with a triple toe) and seven other triple jumps. His efforts were rewarded with an unprecedented score of 197.07, bringing his overall total to 285.85 points. No man in the world at the national or international level has ever received a score of this magnitude.
At the end of the competition, the 20-year-old ran away with the gold by an astonishing 56.76-point margin over Sawyer. “It was just incredible. I had no thought of breaking any records,” Chan said after the event. “I am really happy about winning. I achieved my goal.”
Apparently, Chan’s performances were watched by many of the world’s elite male skaters. His performances in Victoria were the hot topic of conversation at the European Championships.
When a Japanese reporter asked the top three men in Bern what they planned to work on for the World Championships if they hoped to challenge him, Brian Joubert and Florent Amodio said they would work on the quad jump. Tomáš Verner responded that Chan is not just a jumping bean, he is the complete package.
None of that mattered to Sawyer, who was on his own personal mission. He brought the house down with the finest free skating performance of his career, earning 229.09 points, the highest score he had ever achieved, and captured his first silver medal at the national level.
It was a fitting grand finalé for the 26-year-old New Brunswick native in what was likely his last national appearance. “I am so glad I made the decision to do one more season just for fun, because that is what I did at nationals, I had fun!” Sawyer told IFS. “My long program was the cherry on the cupcake. I skated with freedom, personality and joy. I am proud that all the hard work I put in paid off.”
Russell was in shock when the results were announced. He had claimed the bronze with 204.2 points. It was the first medal of his career in the senior ranks.
Standing on the podium represented more than just winning a medal for all three men — it was a celebration of three very personal, individual victories.
Kevin Reynolds skated into fourth. He later admitted that his placement was a major disappointment and said he is unsure what his figure skating future holds. Baldé placed fifth.
The ladies podium was dominated by three skaters from Québec, headlined by Cynthia Phaneuf, who rose to the challenge and put down two of her best performances to capture the national crown in a runaway victory.
Phaneuf turned the Canadian skating establishment on its ear in 2004 when she claimed the title at age 16, upsetting the favored Joannie Rochette.
But it had been a long road back to the top for the 22-year-old, who had not won a national title in seven years.
“Finally! Finally! Finally! I have been waiting so long for this moment,” said Phaneuf who earned a combined total of 172.32 points. “I just had to believe in what I can do and believe in myself. Finally my work has paid off.”
Myriane Samson skated into second with 157.80 points and Skate Canada bronze medalist Amelie Lacoste placed third with 151.70.
It was a brand new world when it came to the pairs event. None of the three teams that graced the podium in Victoria had previously medaled at the national level.
For Kirsten Moore-Towers, 18, and Dylan Moscovitch, 26, this season has been a revelation. After collecting silver medals at Skate Canada and Skate America in 2010, they added national champions to their growing résumé, following a decisive win in Victoria.
The team, who paired up less than two years ago, was in a class of their own, winning both the short and long programs by a wide margin. They captured gold with a combined total of 187.63 points.
“This has been a dream season for us. It’s been an awesome ride so far,” Moscovitch said. “It’s a huge honor to be crowned Canadian champions.”
New kids on the block, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, captured silver with 171.34. It was a sweet victory for the talented duo who sat in a disappointing fourth place after the short.
Duhamel and Radford joined forces less than a year ago after Duhamel’s partner, Craig Buntin retired. Radford had been searching for a partner since the demise of his former skating relationship with Rachel Kirkland almost two years ago.
Ontario’s Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers captured the bronze with 168.11 points. Mylene Brodeur and John Mattatall were fourth, and Kaleigh Hole and Adam Johnson skated into fifth place.
TWIZZLING TO GOLD
Everyone expected Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier, the 2011 Grand Prix Final bronze medalists, to dance away with the title, but no one expected the final result to be as close as it was.
After the short dance less than one-half point separated Crone and Poirier and Weaver and Poje.
In the end, Crone and Poirier captured the title with 164.21 points, narrowly edging out Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje by little more than a point.
“Vanessa and I were really excited about the result,” Poirier said. “We are really proud of ourselves for the way we handled the pressure.”
It was a disappointing result for Weaver and Poje, who have placed behind Crone and Poirier three consecutive times at the national championships.
Alexandra Paul, 19, and Mitchell Islam, 20, defeated a number of veteran teams and captured the bronze in their senior debut with 153.90 points.
Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill, the 2008 Canadian junior champions, danced into fourth.
Originally published in April 2011