The NextGen is not waiting its turn at the 2019 Canadian Championships — it is taking Saint John by storm.
Witness the results of the men’s short program on Friday night at Harbour Station, where 14-year-old Stephen Gogolev stole the show with a technical tour de force that overwhelmed his much more experienced rivals.
Gogolev, fresh off winning the Junior Grand Prix Final in Vancouver in December, continued the momentum with a short program that opened with a crisp quad Salchow-triple toe combo and later included a triple Axel that seemed almost effortless.
His performance produced a score of 88.77 points. Gogolev, who is making his second appearance as a senior at nationals, admitted feeling more comfortable with the environment this time. “I feel more confident and comfortable because last year was my first time in front of a really big crowd and that was a good experience for me,” he said. Though Gogolev could win here, he is not age eligible for the World Championships.
Keegan Messing (87.18) who, at 26 years old, is nearly twice Gogolev’s age. Messing fell on his opening quad toe jump but recovered well to land a triple Axel and a triple Lutz-triple toe combination. “I didn’t let that affect me,” Messing said of the early fall. “I got right up and kept performing all the way to the end of the program. I put down two solid elements afterward … I fought to the end and all in all, I’m happy with today.”
Nam Nguyen, who won the national title in 2015, landed in third place with an 85.73 score. “I had fun. Step 1 is done, and tomorrow is Step 2. Hopefully, the results will follow.”
Conrad Orzel, an 18-year-old from Toronto, put himself in the mix with a strong short program, earning a score of 82.87. He is less than three points from a podium position.
Gabrielle Daleman arrived in Saint John with a national title to defend, but under a cloud of uncertainty after having taken time away from training in the fall to focus on her mental health. Based on her short program, the two-time Canadian champion has the trifecta clearly in her sights. The 21-year-old from Newmarket, Ont., was the class of the field on Friday afternoon, posting a 70.18 score to take a 5.65-point lead. In a decision made before nationals, Daleman has chosen not to speak with the media until after she skates her long program on Saturday.
Larkyn Austman gained a confidence boost with a solid short program in which she landed all her jumps cleanly. With a 64.53 score, she is in a solid second place. “For me to go out and do a clean short program … it’s not really been common for me in the last few years. said Austman, 20. “I’m sitting in a really good position that I’ve never been in before and I’m excited about that.”
Veronik Mallet placed third with a 60.55 score. “I just wanted to get here and do my job,” said Mallet, 24.
Canada can send three ladies to the World Championships.
All eyes in the senior pairs event are on Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, the heavy favorites to win their first Canadian title as a team. While the two Ontario skaters feel the heat that goes along with that, they did not let it affect their short program performance.
Moore-Towers and Marinaro fretted afterward about the small mistakes they made in their short program, but they still took a big step toward winning that national crown by earning a score of 71.47. It was good for a 6.27-point edge heading into Saturday’s long program. “It’s a lot of pressure at any time,” Moore-Towers, 26, of St. Catharines, Ont., said when asked about the expectations placed on she and Marinaro this weekend. “Canadian pairs have been so strong for so long. We feel the pressure, but we’re excited about it and we’re ready to carry the torch.”
Canada has two pair berths available at the upcoming Worlds in Japan and one of two young teams is likely to earn that ticket. After the short program, that position belongs to Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud (65.20), who were 2.74 points better than Camille Ruest and Drew Wolfe (62.46). Both held up well Friday under the bigger spotlight that this year’s nationals are placing on them.
Michaud and Walsh, the 2017 Canadian junior champions, know there is a big opportunity for them this year. But they do not want that to be their focus during Saturday’s long program. “(Worlds) is definitely out there, but we’re not really focusing on that for ourselves,” said Michaud, 22. “This is our first full year as seniors and we’re just taking in every experience we can get. If that happens, we’ll take it in.”
Ruest and Wolfe got some World championship experience a year ago, when they went to Milan, Italy, as replacements for the retired Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. It provided motivation for them to earn their way to Worlds this year. “It’s different to be in a place where we are now, contending for the qualifying spot instead of going as an extra,” said Wolfe, 23. “Having our season end last year at Worlds was definitely a big motivator for this year, and that’s where we want to be again this year.”
Looming close behind in fourth place are Lori-Ann Matte and Thierry Ferland (62.25).
The storyline was in place before this event started: with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir no longer in the picture, the big battle for senior ice dance gold would come down to a showdown between two-time national champions Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier. The rhythm dance did nothing to dispel that thought.
It was all about the tango on this day, with Weaver and Poje seizing the lead with a score of 85.19. That was good enough for a 2.15-point edge over Gilles and Poirier (83.08). While the opportunity to add a third national title is there, Weaver and Poje say they will have more than gold medals in mind when they skate the free dance on Saturday.
“I’m not going to lie, it would be amazing,” Poje, 31, said of possibly becoming Canadian champions again. “But we aren’t here really for the medals. We’re here to win in our hearts and in our spirits. We want to go out there and not just show the work that we’ve done, but also the love that we have for these programs.”
Gilles and Poirier, however, leave no doubt they are here to win a Canadian title. And they believe their free dance collaboration with British busker band Govardo can be the ticket to that crown. “Piper and I set a goal at the beginning of the season of winning this competition and that’s something that we definitely want to do,” said Poirier, 27. “We’ve had a lot of success with the free dance so far this season, and as long as we trust the program and trust our ability and trust the training, we have put behind it … the program will speak for itself and hopefully get us the result that we want.”
Perhaps nobody was more excited to be in this event than Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen, who are competing in their debut Canadian nationals after skating for Denmark the previous five seasons. They are in prime position to represent Canada at Worlds after posting a 79.41 score to finish a strong third in the rhythm dance. It was an emotional time for both skaters.
“Before we stepped on the ice here, I said to Laurence ‘welcome home, baby.’ And it’s pretty much how we both feel, actually,” said Sørensen, 29, a native of Copenhagen. “We’re so happy to be a part of Team Canada and with me having been in Canada for nine years now, it feels like my second home and now I say it is my home.”