This is it.
The final competition before the Olympic figure skating team is named on Sunday.
The last chance to compete on home ice before going under the glare of the Olympic spotlight.
For some at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Ottawa, like three-time World Champion Patrick Chan and reigning Olympic Champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, it is one more opportunity to showcase the programs they hope will bring them gold next month in Sochi. But for others, this is do or die.
Canada will have the largest figure skating team of any country at Sochi 2014, qualifying one less spot than the maximum, with three men, three pairs, three ice dance couples and two ladies, based on results from the 2013 World Championships.
Short Program Update
Chan falters but still leads
As expected, Chan (Toronto, ON) leads the men’s event. What was less expected was the doubling of two jumps, the axel and the lutz, after opening with a superb quad toe-triple toe combination that earned perfect grades of execution from every judge.
“I just got ahead of myself,” said Chan. “Did a great quad toe-triple toe so then my mind starts racing, it’s gonna be a great program. So my focus becomes very broad as opposed to more narrowly focused (on the next two jumps).”
Chan’s score of 89.12 was well off the then-world record score of 98.52 that he got at the Grand Prix event in Paris in November. He also had a world record free skate at that competition, giving him two programs that he can aspire to replicate in Sochi.
“I’m learning from this,” Chan said of his performance in Ottawa where he is going for a seventh national title. “It’s not purely just going out and having a blast. It’s a lot of last minute tweaks because my plan is to go to the Olympics and win them.”
There’s a fierce battle brewing for the other two tickets to Sochi. Liam Firus (North Vancouver, BC) sits second with 78.93 points while Kevin Reynolds (Coquitlam, BC) is right behind at 78.29. Waiting to pounce are Elladj Baldé (Pierrefonds, QC) at 75.80 and Andrei Rogozine (Newmarket, ON) at 74.60.
Reynolds, whose fifth place finish at last year’s worlds helped secure the three Olympic spots, is competing for the first time this season after being unable to find a proper-fitting pair of boots that would allow him to train and jump as he needed during the fall.
Virtue and Moir in front, Weaver and Poje chasing
Their own worst critics and getting harder on themselves as the Games come closer, Virtue and Moir weren’t completely satisfied with their short dance that leads the field with a score of 76.16. Some points were left on the board, with a deduction for a lift that went too long and level threes on both Finnstep sequences.
“We want to go out there and bring the house down, so anything short of that we get disappointed,” said Moir (Ilderton, ON). “We’ve been training, practicing lights out. Tessa and I we’re really perfectionists and we felt like we had a couple moments today that weren’t the way we’ve been training.”
But even when the technical side isn’t perfect, Virtue and Moir have performance moments that are. Literally dancing cheek to cheek to the voices of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, there is no note wasted as every hand and arm movement is used to accentuate the music.
They’ll review the tape of this program when they return to training. But one tape they’re not looking at is their documentary series currently airing on W, having made a strategic decision not to watch the capture of what is possibly their final competitive season, making this a nationals to remember.
“We haven’t really made any official decision yet,” said Virtue (London, ON). “We’re trying to treat it as if it is, trying to take some moments in practice and soak it in.”
Four years ago Kaitlyn Weaver (Waterloo, ON) and Andrew Poje (Waterloo, ON) missed the Olympic team by the slimmest of margins, just 0.30 points. Everything has changed since then as they’ve finished in the top five at the last three world championships.
“It’s been very fundamental for our outlook on skating every day, each competition, just making sure that we put our hearts on the line and put everything on the line” said Poje. “That was a turning point for us. We felt like we let ourselves down with what we did and we wanted to make sure that never happened again. “
Weaver not only still gets emotional about that, but also remembering that last year she was on crutches at this event after breaking her ankle in training.
“Even taking the ice today it felt like the crowd knew what we had been through,” she said. “It just felt like the most perfect welcome back. We’re so so excited to be here in an Olympic year showing our very best.”
That very best on Friday was a peppy, tap dance inspired routine to the soundtrack of 42nd Street that has them 3.48 points behind Virtue and Moir as they continue to narrow the gap in their push for the Olympic podium.
Currently sitting in that all important third position for the last Olympic berth is Alexandra Paul (Barrie, ON) and Mitchell Islam (Barrie, ON), whose style is as classic as Gershwin’s Crazy For You that they chose for the short dance. Hurt in the past by not getting the top levels of difficultly, that wasn’t an issue as they received level four for all but one of the elements.
Just over two and a half points behind are Piper Gilles (Toronto, ON) and Paul Poirier (Unionville, ON). Poirier finished 14th at Vancouver 2010 with former partner Vanessa Crone. Together since July 2011, the duo just became eligible to represent Canada in Sochi when American-born Gilles received her Canadian citizenship on December 17. She proudly showed off her new Canadian passport after practice on Thursday.
Pairs too close to call
They were third and fourth at worlds. Now they are first and second at nationals and separated by less than a point. The fight for the Canadian title is on between two-time champions Meagan Duhamel (Lively, ON) and Eric Radford (Balmertown, ON) and 2011 champions Kirsten Moore-Towers (St. Catherines, ON) and Dylan Moscovitch (Waterloo, ON).
Standing ovations were given to both teams, who closed the night by skating contrasting programs. Moore-Towers and Moscovitch were light and fun, in keeping with their usual relaxed attitudes. For Duhamel and Radford, the emotion of the program overtook them in their ending pose. Radford composed the music in tribute to his former coach Paul Wirtz who passed away in 2006.
“This sets us up perfectly,” said Duhamel. “This is the position that we seem to be in quite often. Tomorrow Dylan and Kirsten are going to go out and have a great skate and we’re gonna go out there and we’re gonna have a great skate.”
“With this short program especially we’re right where we want to be,” added Radford. “There’s just a couple sticky moments that we can iron out for that really perfect performance at Sochi when it’s gonna count the most.”
The fight for the third Olympic spot is just as intriguing. Three-time national bronze medallists Paige Lawrence (Kennedy, SK) and Rudi Swiegers (Kipling, SK) are again in third at 61.67 points while Natasha Purich (Sherwood Park, AB) and Mervin Tran (Regina, SK), partners only since February, sit at 60.04. Tran won a bronze medal at the 2012 World Championships while representing Japan with former partner Narumi Takahashi.
Osmond in control
It was thanks to Kaetlyn Osmond’s (Marystown, NL) eighth-place finish at Worlds that Canada has two Olympic berths. And after withdrawing from both of her Grand Prix events due to injury, Osmond showed the spark and skill that makes her one of the best in the world.
A clean program to the soundtrack of Sweet Charity that featured a triple toe-triple toe combination and triple flip and had the crowd clapping along earned her a score of 70.30. Osmond, whose personality radiates off the ice, also received all level fours for her spins and footwork and says she feels more ready than ever.
“I have this little jump at the end of my program and I think I put more energy into that little half jump than I did into my entire program because I was just so excited.”
In fact, the stress reaction in her left ankle followed by a right hamstring tear may have been a blessing in disguise because it forced her to practice perfect technique rather than falling and enduring more pain.
Coach Ravi Walia made sure to remind her that although she may not have the competition experience from this season, the plan to maintain her technical content from last season meant she had done the program over and over.
Heading into the free skate, which she says has been going better than the short in practice, Osmond has a nine point lead on 2012 Canadian Champion Amélie Lacoste (Delson, QC), who was pumped to also skate a clean short program, the first time she’s done that at nationals since 2003 when she was a novice.
“All year long it went super well in both my Grand Prix so I knew I was capable of doing it and I just felt very confident. I was calm during the program,” said Lacoste.
Last year’s runner up, 15-year-old Gabrielle Daleman (Newmarket, ON) is in third with 58.38 points after doubling a planned triple flip.
PHOTO: Greg Kolz