Record breakers, redemption, and a triumphant return — add them all together, and it pretty much sums up what transpired at the 2017 Canadian Figure Championships in Ottawa.
The ride was rather bumpy at times, but, after the short, Patrick Chan was halfway to a ninth men’s title in Ottawa in his bid to match the feat of Montgomery Wilson, who won nine national titles in the 1920s and 1930s.
Chan’s short program was far from clean, but in the judges’ eyes, he was the clear winner, despite stepping out of the landings of his quad toe, triple Axel and the backend of his triple Lutz-triple toe combination. Chan was awarded a score of 91.50, which gave him a comfortable lead over Kevin Reynolds (81.76) and Elladj Balde (77.45).
“All the takeoffs were good but at the end, a little high on the upper body,” Chan said of the shaky jump landings.
For Reynolds, missing his opening quad Salchow for the first time this season — he later landed a quad toe-triple toe combination — was rather startling. “It was bittersweet,” he said. “The first jump was a shock for me.”
Balde shook off an early fall on a triple flip to put himself in position to win his first senior medal at a national championships — and possibly challenge for a spot on the World team. “That (fall) shook me a little bit, but everything after that was amazing,” he said.
A day later, the free skate was one of those moments for Patrick Chan. The three-time World champion was at his best in closing out the competition, turning in a strong performance that included a quad Salchow, a quad toe-triple toe combination, and a pair of clean triple Axels. His third planned quad was turned into a triple toe, but that was hardly going to wipe the smile off Chan’s face on this evening.
“It’s up there with (Cup of) China,” he said when asked to rate the quality of his free skate. “Landing the first quad Sal with the quad toe opening, that was our goal coming in — nailing that opening section. I’m so happy to do it here in Canada.”
The quality of the skate also made the record-tying ninth Canadian title even more special for Chan. “I get to enjoy it now and let it sink in,” he said. “Ten is the goal — I’m setting myself up for that.”
The judges rewarded Chan with 205.36 points for his free skate, and his 296.86 total was more than 41 points better than Reynolds, the silver medalist (255.77). Nam Nguyen moved up from fourth after the short to take the bronze with 240.60, narrowly edging out Nicolas Nadeau (238.22).
Reynolds ran off with three straight silver medals from 2012 to 2014 before injuries and skate boot troubles seemed to derail his path in the sport. But after getting back on the podium with a bronze in Halifax a year ago, he returned to the silver-medal position again.
“It’s great,” he said with a wide grin. “It’s a building season, so things have been going slowly upward and hopefully, it continues in that direction.”
Perhaps no one was smiling more than Nguyen who, after slipping to fourth in Halifax last year, looked a lot more like the skater who won the Canadian title in 2015. After a fall on the quad Salchow, he checked off a raft of clean triples. “Since last year, it’s been a lot of challenges, but it was nice to pull it all back together today,” he said.
They stole the show a year ago in Halifax, and once again Canada’s top three ladies put their stamp on the 2017 Canadian Figure Skating Championships.
While there was also three-deep quality in the ice dance event in Ottawa, those teams already knew they had tickets to the World Championships in Helsinki in March because Canada has a full allotment of teams in that discipline.
Not so for the ladies — Canada is only able to send two to Worlds — which set the stage for another fierce battle between Kaetlyn Osmond, Gabrielle Daleman and Alaine Chartrand, each with national titles to their credit, to land one of those coveted spots.
Following the short program the battle appeared to be for second place, as Osmond set herself apart with a clean, polished performance that earned a score of 81.01 — the highest ever awarded for a ladies short program at a Canadian Championships.
“The first thing I thought was I was happy that I did the clean run-through,” said Osmond, a two-time Canadian champion. “ (Seeing) 81 was just something on top of it.”
Daleman, who won the 2015 national title, skated right behind Osmond and placed herself solidly in second with 75.04 points. Chartrand, the defending champion, was third with 67.41.
Redemption came in the form of the ladies’ title regained by Osmond, who finished third and off the World team a year ago. This season, she came roaring back with a vengeance to claim the national crown for a third time. She last won it in 2014, also in Ottawa (although in a different venue).
However, the runaway victory train Osmond appeared to be on in the short program hit a few bumps in the free skate, with falls on a triple loop and a triple flip midway through the program — making for some nervous moments as she waited for the marks to appear that would validate a third national crown.
“Definitely tense,” admitted Osmond. “I wasn’t sure how much those missed jumps cost me, but at the same time I was thinking of all those jumps I did really well. I did the things I missed at the Grand Prix final (where she finished fourth), which makes me really happy, and definitely getting my title back feels incredible right now.”
As it turned out, Osmond did just enough, earning 138.65 points for her free skate — and a Canadian-record overall total of 219.66 — holding off the charge of Daleman, who nearly matched Osmond with a 136.05 score for her free program. Daleman finished with 211.09 overall.
They will be Canada’s two ladies’ entries at the World Championships in Finland.
“Of course, you always want to win and everything … but I’m happy with how I ended up and I’m happy to continue my season and keep improving,” Daleman said.
For Chartrand, her hopes of returning to Worlds were largely scuttled when she sprained an ankle on her landing leg in a practice last Monday. Two days later, the defending Canadian champion wondered whether she would even be able to compete.
“Wednesday morning, I tried to skate and it was like, I don’t think I can do this,” said a crestfallen Chartrand. “To come out with a bronze and to be going to Four Continents, I’m happy with that. As disappointed as I am with my free program tonight, I’m proud of my fight and just being here.”
They have been rocking Prince in a big way all season long. So why not one more time at the Canadian Championships?
The late, great pop star again provided the vehicle for a winning short dance for Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. The six-time Canadian champions took command and with a score of 84.36 established a solid lead heading into the free dance.
Much as the program has been a crowd-pleaser with audiences, nobody, it seems, enjoys it more than the skaters themselves. “We have so much fun performing it,” said Virtue. “We love every single movement and step, and we’re just going to continue to make it sharper and with more impact.”
The real battle was for second with two-time defending champions Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (78.92) sitting less than a point ahead of Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (78.15). A one-point deduction for a long lift kept the latter from grabbing second spot in the short.
Weaver and Poje were pleased with the score they put on the board, even if the performance was not quite what they wanted. “We felt so good and so prepared, and it was a matter of maybe attacking it too much, so that kind of threw the balance off a little bit,” said Weaver of overcoming a few mistakes in the program.
The biggest battle Gilles won on Friday was over her stomach. Bedridden with the flu for over 24 hours, she admitted there were times when she wondered whether she and Poirier would have to withdraw from the event.
When a doctor suggested Thursday night that she probably would not have the energy to make it through her short program, Gilles left the arena in tears, but determined to find a way to compete. “The body can do wonderful things if you take care of it,” she said. “I definitely don’t feel 100 percent, I’m really tired … but I’m very happy to be here and I’m proud of what we did.
“Knowing that the possibility (of being second) is there … it’s going to make us push even harder going into the free,” said Gilles.
The following evening, Virtue and Moir captured the ice dance title for a seventh time, ending the two-year run of Weaver and Poje. But if you think the feeling of winning Canadian titles is old hat for Virtue and Moir after all these years … well, think again.
Virtue and Moir were at their mesmerizing best on Saturday with their “Pilgrims on a Long Journey” free dance, earning 119.09 points. “It’s different than I expected. A little bit more emotional for me,” admitted Moir, now a seasoned veteran at age 29. “We had two great skates — we knew we’d have to, in order to win the title — and for us to give our coaching staff (Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon) their first Canadian national title is a huge honour for us.”
Ironically, the last time nationals were held in this building in 2006, it was Dubreuil and Lauzon who captured the crown, with an up and coming Virtue and Moir placing third.
Virtue and Moir finished with a Canadian-record overall total of 203.45 to hold off the challenge of Weaver and Poje (192.73). Paul Poirier and Piper Gilles (189.68) claimed the bronze medal.
After barely holding onto second spot in the short program, Weaver and Poje stepped up their game in a major way Saturday. “That is the performance we know can do, that we know we’re capable of, and that we’ve been working toward,” said an enthused Weaver.
Gilles and Poirier, meanwhile, left too many points on the ice and had to settle for third — an achievement in itself, given the nasty flu bug Gilles had to deal with last week. “It was shaky. It was really shaky,” said Poirier of their free dance. “There were a lot of small errors, but nothing super serious that isn’t fixable.”
Following the short program, they were just a little more than four minutes away from making history in Ottawa. But first things first for Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who accomplished a primary objective this weekend but putting out short program that has been revamped since the Grand Prix season — most notably with the abandonment of a throw triple Axel in favor of a more secure throw triple Lutz.
“Goal No. 1 was to nail a short program so we can head into the rest of the season building upon it,” said Duhamel.
With the intent of becoming the first pair team to win six Canadian titles, Duhamel and Radford stood at the top of the pack after the short with a score of 80.72 points.
There was a tight duel for second between Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch (72.19) and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro (70.69).
For Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch, the opportunity was there to get back to the silver medal position they achieved at Canadians in 2015.
But Moore-Towers and Marinaro believed they were in the game to take another step up in the free skate. “If we accomplish our personal goals tomorrow, we will have a good shot at coming in second,” said Marinaro.
On the night of the free, the throws were not there for Duhamel and Radford, but pretty much everything else was as they earned 146.51 points for the free skate and 227.23 overall.
That made them the clear winners over Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch (208.24), who took silver, and Moore-Towers and Marinaro (198.74), the bronze medalists.
While Canada can send three pair teams to Worlds in Helsinki, Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau — who missed this event due to injury — have one of them, which meant only the second-place team at nationals was guaranteed a spot.
That ramped up the pressure, and, in the end it was Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch who overcame a couple of early mistakes to book their tickets to Finland. “It would be a complete lie if we said we weren’t aware that we (needed) a certain placement,” said Moscovitch.
Moore-Towers and Marinaro got an unexpected ticket to Worlds a year ago as injury replacements and finished eighth in Boston. Now they must sit and wait to see if Finland will be part of their travel itinerary this season.
“It’s bittersweet to be third. We wanted to be second,” said Moore-Towers.