Tears of joy, tears of despair … the raw emotion that is often triggered by the opportunity to live the Olympic dream was on full display Saturday night in Vancouver, as the 2018 Canadian Championships wrapped up.
On the line? Coveted tickets to the Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, were up for grabs across all four disciplines.
The birthday girl came to Vancouver with a celebration in mind, and there was no spoiling Gabrielle Daleman’s party plans. On her first day as a 20-year-old, Daleman laid down perhaps the free skate of her life, checking off seven triple jumps en route to becoming the Canadian ladies champion for the second time — regaining a crown she last held in 2015.
The free skate performance produced a Canadian record score of 151.90 points and with an overall total of 229.78, she earned more than enough to dethrone defending champion Kaetlyn Osmond, who scored 147.32 for the free and 218.73 points overall.
“I said yesterday, that’s the way to end 19. And what I said today is ‘that’s the way to start 20,’” an elated Daleman said afterward. “It is the absolute best birthday present I could ever ask for. Not only did I go out and skate two clean programs, I have my national title back and I have a new Canadian record (score).”
Asked to compare her two national title wins, Daleman said, “The first title that I won meant a lot to me, but this one means so much more. You’re competing now against No. 2 in the world. She’s a very tough competitor, she pushes me when I’m at home training … This national title means the absolute world to me going into the Olympics. I was not going down without a fight.”
For the second straight day, Osmond was frustrated by trouble with the triple flip and the triple loop, two jumps she said she handles with consistency at home in practice.
“They’re silly mistakes, ones that I usually don’t make it home … I’m frustrated at the fact I couldn’t bring that (consistency) over to my competition side,” she said. “But overall, I’m really happy with the performance. I feel like I performed that program the best that I could. It’s been probably my strongest free skate this year and it just feels like a step in the right direction.”
Surrendering her Canadian title will fuel her all the way to the Olympics Osmond said. “Going in, not as the champion is almost going to give me an extra boost for while I’m there to make up for the mistakes I made here … hopefully, the frustration I have here will push me through the next month.”
For the first time in half a century, Canada has a third entry at the Winter Olympics and, if protocol is followed, that spot will go to Vancouver native, Larkyn Austman. With a 169.62 total, Austman edged out former Canadian champion Alaine Chartrand (164.21) for the third spot on the ladies’ podium. “I’ve had a hard season with a lot of firsts and a lot of bad competitions as well,” said Austman, who turns 20 the day before the ladies’ free skate in PyeongChang. “It’s fun to finally go out and put everything together.
“I’ve thought about (the Olympics) for so long that it feels weird in my brain to be thinking that it could happen for me. But I’m hoping that it’s there.”
The tension was perhaps the highest in the men’s event given that Canada has only two spots in PyeongChang. Patrick Chan captured a record 10th national men’s title; a normally gregarious Keegan Messing was rendered almost speechless, and former Canadian champion Nam Nyugen sobbed almost uncontrollably after turning in the kind of free skate he had so desperately wanted to deliver the past two seasons.
Chan would likely be the first to say his “Hallelujah” free skate did not rank among the finest of his career, as riddled as it was at times with errors on the landing of his jumps. But passing the legendary Montgomery Wilson as the most decorated male skater in Canadian nationals history … that brought a quick smile to his face.
It also brought his career full circle at this event. Chan won his first national crown in 2008 in Vancouver. “Passing Montgomery Wilson, it was pretty wild to see that on the video board. And then you see Kurt (Browning) and Brian (Orser) and Elvis (Stojko) all on that list. To see that I’ve accomplished what they accomplished, and a bit more … it’s amazing. I looked up to them as idols.
“Tonight wasn’t pretty, but when you have 10 of them, they’re not always going to be the prettiest. It was not the dream skate you would have expected for No. 10.”
Nonetheless it was an easy victory for Chan who earned 272.24 points overall. That gave him a comfortable margin over Messing (259.25) and Nguyen (258.16), who claimed the silver and bronze medals, respectively. Elladj Baldé, with another crowd-pleasing skate, finished just off the podium in fourth spot (250.28).
Messing’s second-place finish has him in prime position to make his Olympic debut in PyeongChang. “I’m ecstatic. This is the closest I’ve come to crying ever for anything,” said Messing. “I can’t even put it into words. I’m just speechless. I’m in hog heaven right now. Going to the Olympics would mean everything to me.”
After watching Baldé do a celebratory backflip as he left the ice after his free skate, Messing felt compelled to do the same. “That’s got to be a first at the Canadian Championships, right?” he said.
Nguyen, meanwhile, had gone back to a long program that brought him a Canadian title in 2015 — a decision that was made last month — and executed it almost as flawlessly, with only a fall on his second quad toe marring an otherwise spotless performance. It left him in tears afterward, and Nguyen was still weeping when he spoke emotionally about the long road to Saturday’s performance.
Regardless of whether he heads to PyeongChang, Nguyen will return home to Toronto with his head held high. “Today was just really special for me, even with that one mistake,” he said. “I’m so happy I was kind of able to replicate the 2015 version (of the program). I did what I could do. Just a little bummed that I fell on the (quad) toe … in the air, I thought I had it. Other than that, I was pleased with my performance.
“The last two years have been absolute hell for me and I haven’t found the joy in figure skating up until the last five weeks … I’m going to go home feeling pretty happy with myself.”
As a farewell performance, it was pretty much everything that Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir wanted it to be. In what was their final skate at a Canadian Championships, Virtue and Moir seized an eighth title in convincing fashion, producing national record scores for both their “Moulin Rouge” free dance (124.70) and overall total (209.82).
Virtue and Moir made significant changes to the program after finishing second behind French rivals Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at the Grand Prix final in December, and they like what they produced here in Vancouver. “It’s nice to have a chance to see what those changes feel like in a competitive environment,” said Virtue. “We’ll have to look at the video and discuss it with our coaches, but something feels right about the structure of things.”
Moir said there is still more room for the program to grow. “This is just the beginning with those changes. Let’s see where we can take it.”
Four years after missing a ticket to the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, that disappointment turned to joy for Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who will head to PyeongChang as Canadian silver medalists, after holding off a challenge by Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.
Gilles and Poirier debuted a new James Bond-themed free dance for the first time in Vancouver tonight. The program earned the duo 113.71 points and they finished second with 192.08 overall. “It was very scary to debut this program at this point in the season, and we’ve had our fair share of doubts over the last month,” admitted Poirier. “We had to go into this competition with confidence in what we were doing and remind ourselves that we made the changes that we made for us, for ourselves. And I think it was nice finally nice to show that program in an atmosphere where people were engaged and watching it.”
While Poirier has previous Olympic experience (Vancouver in 2010), this will mark the first Winter Games for the American-born Gilles, who received her Canadian citizenship in 2013. Her four-year wait to become an Olympian is finally over.
“It hasn’t even sunk in yet,” she said with a wide smile. “I haven’t even thought about that. I have no words really. We’ve worked really hard and this is the goal we’ve been setting for ourselves since day one. We knew it was a possibility … I can’t process it yet. It doesn’t feel like we’re going yet.”
For Weaver and Poje, the free dance marked a chance for redemption after Friday’s short program, which included a shocking fall by Poje on a twizzle. The audience seemed to know it, offering the duo encouragement from the moment they stepped on the ice. Their free dance earned a score 120.78 points, second best on the day, and 193.09 in total, just 0.99 of a point behind Giles and Poirier.
“I was almost crying before we started,” said an emotional Weaver, who fought back tears as she spoke. “To feel the support, to know they (the audience) were behind us regardless … they just warmed our hearts right from the beginning, and there’s no better place to start a program than that way.
“Maybe we wouldn’t have had that kind of moment without yesterday. I’m a firm believer in silver linings and it may sound cheesy after 12 years of this whole silver linings thing, but it’s true for us. It makes those moments lifetime memories.”
Poje added: “Yesterday was a tough day for us, but it made today that much more meaningful and that much more special, no matter what.”
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford admit they could feel the energy of the Olympic battle that preceded them — and did their best to make use of it in their farewell performance at the Canadian Championships. Skating in the wake of two teams that rose to the occasion in a major way to secure tickets to PyeongChang, Duhamel and Radford turned “Hometown Glory” into their seventh straight national title. Their free skate had a few technical glitches, but it produced a 152.77-point score and 234.55 overall total. More important to them was the impression they left on the audience.
“We know it’s our last nationals and you want to give the audience a great moment, and a sort of final moment together as well,” said Radford.
They also were very aware of the performances by Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, that earned both teams a trip to the Winter Games in South Korea.
“We wanted to take that energy and build on it and seize the moment,” said Duhamel. “It’s not necessarily about winning for us, but we want to have a great skate to win. We really wanted to take the energy that the teams before us brought and … make ourselves stronger.”
Two years ago, Seguin and Bilodeau found themselves second behind Duhamel and Radford at nationals in Halifax. In between was a lost season in which they did not compete at Canadians while Seguin recovered from a concussion. So, they were perfectly happy to land right behind the champions again after an emotional and uplifting free program that was worth 144.49 points. They finished with an even 213.00 overall. “It shows us it’s our place behind them, so we’re really happy with that,” said Bilodeau.
Though an Olympic berth was there for the taking Seguin admitted that, “right before going on the ice, we said we just want to be proud of us. The road to the Olympics is really long and it’s really hard, so we had to keep the focus in a good place. We got the energy from the crowd and it was just wonderful.”
In the third season of their partnership, Moore-Towers and Marinaro have now bloomed into prospective Olympians. They got the ball truly rolling on this day, putting 141.58 points on the board for a free skate that finished with Moore-Towers pumping her fists with glee. Their 209.85 overall total was plenty good enough to overtake Lubov Ilyuschechkina and Dylan Moscovitch (190.53), who finished a disappointing fourth.
“We thought we had done enough, but we really were hoping and wishing and sending all the thoughts into the universe that we did enough today,” said Moore-Towers.
“I just want to go to bed and wake up and know that this is not a dream,” said Marinaro with a grin that stretched from ear to ear.