With two months to go until the planet’s best figure skaters convene at the Bell Centre in Montréal for the 2020 World Championships, Skate Canada’s team is largely Team TBD as it stands at the moment. The host country has officially put names to only three of the eight entries they can send to the competition. The rest will be selected after the Four Continents Championships, set for Feb. 3-9 in Seoul, South Korea.
There were two obvious — and easy — choices for Worlds. Ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier won their first national title in record-breaking fashion at the Canadian Championships over the weekend, while Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro were runaway winners in the senior pairs event. Those two teams were Canada’s only entries at the Grand Prix Final in Italy in December, and will be the country’s best — and likely only — medal contenders in Montréal.
“We definitely feel that we have a team, in Piper and Paul, that is contending for the podium,” said Michael Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s high performance director. “Kirsten and Mike’s season put them in position where they could fight for the podium. Those are our two best chances (in Montréal).”
Canada has three ice dance spots at Worlds. Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha, the reigning World Junior champions, who were impressive second-place finishers behind Gilles and Poirier at nationals this weekend, are filling the second one. “They’ve had a great, strong season,” said Slipchuk. “They are the (2019) Junior World champions and they’ve made a great transition to seniors.”
The third spot might be the last one filled prior to Worlds. Skate Canada plans to give as much consideration as possible to Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen, who were unable to compete at nationals. Sørensen had knee surgery in December, and was on crutches in Mississauga. He is not expected to even begin walking until the end of this month. The couple will likely only begin on-ice work in early February.
Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen had a standout fall season, winning bronze medals at both their Grand Prix events and second alternate status for the Final. The deadline for naming the World team is Feb. 24, and Slipchuk said Skate Canada intends to wait as long as possible to determine if they might be ready for Montréal. Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen, who previously competed for Denmark, were 10th at 2019 Worlds in Japan.
“We’ll give Nik and Laurence the opportunity to see where they are in their preparation,” said Slipchuk. “They’ve had an outstanding season, and we’d have to see them at a level at or above where they’ve been all season because you want to be successful.”
If they are not good to go for Worlds, national bronze medalists Carolane Soucisse and Shane Firus would be first in line to claim Canada’s third spot.
In pairs, Four Continents will be used as a skate-off between Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud — who, after a difficult fall season, rebounded in a major way to win the silver medal at nationals — and Lubov Ilyushechkina and Charlie Bilodeau, who took the bronze in Mississauga in their first season together as a team.
The surprise victory by Roman Sadovsky in the men’s event — as convincing as it was — did not land him Canada’s lone men’s berth at Worlds. Instead, Sadovsky, silver medalist Nam Nguyen and bronze-medal winner Keegan Messing will duel one more time at Four Continents, with a decision to be rendered after that competition.
“Nam has had a good season, Keegan has continued to evolve, and Roman has stepped up,” Slipchuk said in a meeting with the media before the trio skated their long programs. “As much as everyone says we are only sending one man to Worlds, I’ve said if you really think about it, in the 10 years Patrick (Chan) was champion, most years we were sending one man to Worlds. But we’re confident with our men.” In the era that Slipchuk is referencing, only two other men (Kevin Reynolds and Nguyen) cracked the top 10 at Worlds, and no man other than Chan ever captured a medal.
The most notable absence in the men’s event in Mississauga was rising talent Stephen Gogolev, the silver medalist at 2019 nationals and the 2018 Junior Grand Prix Final champion. The official word from Skate Canada is the 15-year-old phenom — who has had a major growth spurt and now stands 5-foot-5 — was unable to compete at nationals because of a bone bruise on his right ankle. However, he is expected to be ready for the World Junior Championships March 2-8 in Estonia and will be joined by Joseph Phan, the fourth-place finisher in the senior men’s event at nationals.
Skate Canada officials will attend in California next week to meet with Gogolev and his coach Rafael Arutyunyan to assess his progress. “He’s healthy; he’s back on the ice. His stuff is all there, but we are just being careful not to push him too soon. Junior Worlds is still a month and a half away,” said Slipchuk.
No result in Mississauga was more unexpected than in the ladies competition, which produced a trio of first-time senior medalists — Emily Bausback (gold), Alison Schumacher (silver) and Madeline Schizas (bronze). All are still age-eligible for Junior Worlds, and it is expected one of them will join Kaiya Ruiter — the newly crowned junior champion, whose winning score was within a point of what Bausback earned — in Estonia.
Canada has two ladies’ spots at Worlds, and neither has been filled at this point. A complicating factor is that Bausback does not have required short program technical score that is required to compete at the World Championships, and she cannot be named to the team without it. Until a couple of weeks ago, Bausback was good to go, but when the International Skating Union raised the required standard, it left Bausback about half a point shy of the minimum score.
She will be given the opportunity to get the minimum score at Four Continents. Schumacher and Alicia Pineault, the fourth-place finisher at nationals, will be joining her in South Korea. The two entries for Montréal will be selected after that competition.
“We’re going to have to take the next couple of weeks to sort out Worlds, especially because Emily doesn’t have the eligibility yet,” said Slipchuk. “She has every (qualifying score) except the short for Worlds. She definitely can attain it.”
No mention was made of the possibility of Gabrielle Daleman being given consideration for a Worlds berth. The former two-time Canadian champion had an injury-riddled fall season and said she had only been training steadily for four weeks before arriving at nationals, where she finished a disastrous eighth.
Slipchuk expects to see more volatility in the senior ladies’ podiums at nationals over the next few seasons. “This is kind of where we are right now. The skating world has changed so much and athletes come through the system so quick,” he said. “Madeline (Schizas) is a good example of that … she stepped into senior Canadians, was in the last flight and everything that goes with it, and she held her own. That’s what you like to see.
“Next year, Kaiya is going to move up to seniors. I really think when we get to 2022, the senior category is going to look so different. A lot of these young skaters we’re seeing now in novice and junior are probably going to be here as seniors by that point.”
SKATE CANADA FOUR CONTINENTS TEAM:
Men: Roman Sadovsky, Nam Nguyen, Keegan Messing
Ladies: Emily Bausback, Alison Schumacher, Alicia Pineault
Pairs: Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro, Evelyn Walsh/Trennt Michaud, Lubov Ilyushechkina/Charlie Bilodeau
Ice Dance: Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier, Marjorie Lajoie/Zachary Lagha, Carolane Soucisse/Shane Firus
SKATE CANADA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS TEAM:
Pairs: Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro — one team TBD
Ice Dance: Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier, Marjorie Lajoie/Zachary Lagha — one team TBD
SKATE CANADA WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIPS TEAM:
Men: Stephen Gogolev, Joseph Phan
Ladies: Kaiya Ruiter — one lady TBD
Pairs: Patricia Andrew/Zachary Daleman — one team TBD
Ice Dance: Natalie D’Alessandro/Bruce Waddell — two teams TBD