Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Olympic champion appears to bury his medal chances at Skate Canada International with a sub-par short program, but roars back in the free to land on the podium — not to mention winning the free skate by a seven-point margin…and scare the dickens out of the eventual gold medalist.
For the second year in a row, Yuzuru Hanyu almost made it to the top step of the podium at Skate Canada…but, in the end, Canada’s Patrick Chan once again avoided a Japanese uprising to capture the gold.
Chan’s final score of 266.95 was just a hair in front of Hanyu (263.06), who laid down the best free skate of the night and leapt into the silver medal position after placing fourth in the short.
It was understandable that Chan admitted feeling a certain sense of déjà vu, given that it was virtually the same story at Skate Canada a year ago. “That’s proof of it being a two-program competition,” said Chan, who held a 10.91-point edge over his Japanese rival after Friday’s short program.
“I hung on. I know it won’t be this generous later in the season. We all have things to work on — he has the quad loop — I have the quad Salchow. It’s nice, but I’m not celebrating because I know this was a lucky strike.”
For Chan, it was the most ambitious free skate he has ever attempted. His first attempt at a quad Salchow in competition ended with a fall. While there was a crisp quad toe-triple toe and triple Axel at the beginning, the program fizzled toward the end with a trio of downgraded triples.
Hanyu, meanwhile, went two-for-four on his quad attempts, and turned in a program that was almost worthy of gold. Most frustrating for him was that, for the second day in a row, he couldn’t successfully land the quadruple loop — a jump that made history when he landed it successfully at the Autumn Classic International in Montréal a month ago.
“In either program, I wasn’t able to do the quad loop properly, so a lot was left on the table, I think. So those are things I have to work on now,” said Hanyu, who responded to questions in English during the first half of the final press conference. “For me, the quad loop is not a special jump. It’s just one more quad I have in my arsenal, and the more quads I have, the better.”
Canada’s Kevin Reynolds celebrated a return to the Grand Prix with a bronze medal — the first of any color he has earned on the circuit. “It’s way beyond what I could have expected,” said the 26-year-old, whose 227.42 total edged reigning World junior champion Daniel Samohin of Israel (226.53) for the bronze. “It’s been four years since I’ve been on the circuit, so to come back from my injury and to start off the season with two strong performances here feels great.”
Her choice of music for her free program is entitled “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”
And, might we add, ‘incredibly good?’
Reigning World champion Evgenia Medvedeva was all that and more in nailing down the ladies’ gold medal on Saturday.
The 16-year-old Russian phenom laid down quite the show with her emotionally powerful free skate. Her segment score of 144.41 points, and an overall total of 220.65 was good enough to give her a 14.20-point edge over silver medalist Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada (206.45).
As good as she was, the diminutive Medvedeva might have been the least impressed person in the building with her performance. “Today’s performance isn’t good for me, because I did mistakes on my two Lutz jumps,” the young Russian star said in English. “It isn’t okay and I will work harder, but … I am so happy because I’m first today.”
Happy would also certainly describe the demeanour of Osmond, who endured a miserable free skate at Skate Canada a year ago that included five falls. But this time, the 20-year-old celebrated breaking the 200-point barrier for the first time at an international competition.
“Compared to last year, I’m beyond excited to be where I am right now,” she said. “Even more so, I’m excited that I made two personal best scores this weekend and there’s still a lot of room for improvement in my programs.”
Also smiling at the finish was Japan’s Satoko Miyahara, 18, who rose from fifth after the short to the bronze-medal position (192.08) with an exquisite free skate. “I think it was not my best, but I had a strong feeling to do my best, so I think it was good,” she said. “I was most focused on being strong and performing as a strong woman…and after that, don’t forget to smile at the end.”
There was an audible gasp from the audience when the number ‘1’ appeared beside the names of Madison Chock and Evan Bates at the conclusion of their free dance, the last skaters in the field.
After all, Skate Canada was supposed to mark the triumphant return of former Olympic and World champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to the Grand Prix circuit.
But, as it turned out, the American duo did not flip that script. Though Chock and Bates won the free dance, it was Virtue and Moir who sent the Canadian crowd home happy, claiming gold by the barest of margins — 189.06 to 188.24 — a difference of 0.82 points.
For Virtue and Moir, it was further reinforcement of what they have been saying since first announcing their comeback: This was never going to be easy. “To be honest, Tessa and I knew it was going to be a big challenge coming back,” said Moir. “But we like that challenge, for sure. That’s why we came back. It’s a different sport. You can’t step away for two years and think you’re going to waltz back in. That’s just not realistic. That’s why we talked about this week being a stepping stone.”
For Chock and Bates, seeing their names atop the free dance standings was nothing short of sheer delight. “Very happy and very excited. It was very surprising,” said Chock. “This wasn’t the skate that I know we can do, and we both know that. It was the best performance we’ve done this season, so that was our goal. But (the result) was very exciting.”
Were they a little disappointed with not taking the gold?
“I thought the audience would have been throwing tomatoes at us if we had won the thing,” Bates joked. “We definitely didn’t come in here and say gold or bust. We were very, very performance oriented. Consistency: that’s the name of the game. We saw the competitors’ list was very deep and a strong field for a Grand Prix, and it could have gone either way.”
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier took another quantum leap in Mississauga — not so much with the bronze medal, but with an overall total of 182.57, that left them less than seven points shy of Virtue and Moir. And perhaps no one was more excited to land on the podium at this event than Gilles, who jumped up and down as she congratulated the other teams during the medal ceremony.
“For us, in a way, it was a little bit daunting to see such a strong field when the competitors’ list was published, and we really knew that was going to force us to step up to the plate, and that’s what we really want to be doing this season,” said Poirier. “It was a great opportunity for us to show we can be in striking distance and we can be contending with these teams.”
There was brief moment of doubt — maybe even fear — in the opening stages of what turned out to be the gold-medal winning free skate turned in by two-time World pairs champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.
Duhamel crashed to the ice in a Bambi-like awkward fashion on a throw quad, and just about everyone watching had to wonder if the feisty Canadian skater was in more than just a little distressed — a sentiment Duhamel later confirmed afterward.
“I had a moment when I got up and I looked at Eric … there was still a jump and a throw to do in the program, and it’s my landing leg, and I was like ‘is it going to support me to do two more jumps? After that quad, we went into a lift and I thought ‘if it’s not going to support me, I have to find a way to do it,’ because we had already made a mistake and I wasn’t going to make another one. Adrenalin takes you through. It’s sore now, but I’m going to be fine … I just twisted it a little bit.”
As it turned out, Duhamel and Radford had more than enough to secure the gold, with their overall score of 218.30 finishing comfortably in front of silver medalists Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang (202.08).
“We did a really good job, especially with the fall on the quad, because it did shake both of us up a little bit,” said Radford. “To go out there and keep on fighting to the end gives us confidence to know that no matter what happens, even if there is something wonky, we can finish strong and still manage a good program.”
For Yu and Zhang, a relatively new team from China, the podium finish at their first Grand Prix event was especially encouraging. “We have had only five months together and this our first competition, and we got a silver medal,” Zhang said. “We really worked hard in the past five months to make it work. The result today has come from our hard work. Although we had two little mistakes today, we are quite happy with the overall performance.”
The bronze medal went to Canadians Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch (190.22), who held off the charge from the American team of Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier (188.23).
“It was work for us,” Moscovitch admitted after a free skate that included some early errors. “It was not an ideal run-through, it was not exactly how we’ve been training or how we pictured today going. But we were able to keep the integrity of program up and get ourselves on the podium. We were happy with that.”