Seventeen. That’s the number of Canadian Olympic Team jackets waiting to be handed out at noon ET on Sunday when the Canadian Olympic Committee and Skate Canada will officially name the figure skaters who will compete next month in Sochi.
On Saturday in Ottawa, the skaters vying for those jackets had to give their everything in the free skates at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.
The goal for Patrick Chan (Toronto, ON) on Saturday was to turn things around after two missed jumps in the short program. He did just that with what he called a hard-fought program in which he doubled one planned quad but hit all his other planned elements.
“I’m so proud to be Canadian. So proud to skate for Canada. To go to these next Olympics being a seven-time national champion is huge,” said Chan. “I’ve been the most consistent I think out of all the seasons I’ve competed. This season’s been the most consistent with the jumps, with the triple axel, the quads. I’m on the right track mentally.”
Also fighting the whole way through was silver medallist Kevin Reynolds (Coquitlam, BC), who landed a pair of quads and is now confident he can do a respectable performance even if he isn’t feeling the best about his troublesome boots that caused him to miss his fall competitions.
“The past two weeks have been very nerve-wracking for me because nothing had been going well in training, so to be able to do this, even though it was far from perfect I’m very satisfied,” said Reynolds.
Skating right after Reynolds was Liam Firus (North Vancouver, BC), who blocked his ears while circling the ice so he wouldn’t hear his competitor’s scores. A late start to his season as he recovered from a groin injury and a move away from home for training didn’t make him doubt his ability to compete for a spot on the Olympic team.
“Coming in saying you know what, you’re going to be on the Olympic team, you’re going to work as hard as you can,” said Firus. “It’s going to be tough, nothing’s going to be easy, but this was my goal and I told myself I was going to be here.”
“I don’t think many other people other than our intimate training team would know what’s gone into these last four years,” said Virtue. “It’s been risky. You really set yourself up when you’re looking to defend your title.”
“Everyone wants to take you down,” interjected Moir.
“But if it were easy I wouldn’t want to be doing it,” Virtue continued. “We’ve been embracing that challenge. We’re going to keep battling and hopefully triumph.”
Four years after coming just short of qualifying for the Olympic team, Kaitlyn Weaver (Waterloo, ON) and Andrew Poje (Waterloo, ON) have great hopes for themselves in Sochi after winning silver in Ottawa.
“We want to be on that podium,” said Weaver. “We want to be standing next to Tessa and Scott. We have every right and every ability to be there. Let the chips fall where they may. Let the judges do what they want to do but we are going to prove to the world that we deserve to be there.”
Also coming back from major disappointment to win bronze are Alexandra Paul (Barrie, ON) and Mitchell Islam (Barrie, ON), who a year ago fell in the free dance at nationals, costing them a spot on the world championship team but providing them with plenty of motivation.
“This whole year we believed we could do it but at the same time when it happens it’s still unbelievable,” said Islam. “We’re speechless. This is just the most amazing moment probably of my whole life right now.”
There was a great gold medal showdown in the pairs, as Meagan Duhamel (Lively, ON) and Eric Radford (Balmertown, ON) had less than a point lead on Kirsten Moore-Towers (St. Catharines, ON) and Dylan Moscovitch (Toronto, ON).
And in a case of déjà vu, just like last year, Moore-Towers and Moscovitch set a Canadian record score only to watch Duhamel and Radford beat it to win their third-straight national title.
“The biggest stage possible is at the Olympics so we can take this experience that we just had and almost re-create it while we’re there at the Olympics and know and have the confidence that we can go out there and perform the way that we want to with this type of pressure,” said Radford.
Duhamel was another skater who missed the 2010 Olympic team by one spot with her former partner, making this a truly emotional night.
“We’ve waited so long to go to the Olympics and we’re going and it’s the greatest feeling, winning aside, that we’re going to go to the Olympics,” said Duhamel. “I’ve waited four years to re-live this day and I couldn’t be prouder.”
“Meagan and Eric give us a run for our money every time,” said Moore-Towers. “They’re tough competitors every time and I think all four of us agree that it’s good for the sport. It’s good to have a tight race. They push us and I like to think we push them.”
Likely joining Moore-Towers and Moscovitch in Sochi as the third pair will be their best friends Paige Lawrence (Kennedy, SK) and Rudi Swiegers (Kipling, SK) who finished third at nationals for the fourth straight year.
Two teenagers, one just turned 18 and one about to turn 16, captured the audience and the top scores in the ladies’ event. Kaetlyn Osmond (Marystown, NL) defended her national title with a program that included six triple jumps for a total score of 207.24.
“It’s the first time I did an actual clean program in competition for a long program so I’m super excited and still in shock,” said Osmond, who admitted to suddenly being nervous before stepping on the ice to perform her routine in which she tells the story of Cleopatra’s rise to power.
“This year has been so nerve-wracking and so many disappointing moments for me so just to be able to come here and skate better than I did last year it’s just amazing that I could come back from that and be better than ever.”
The Olympic Games will be Osmond’s first international competition of the season after she was forced to withdraw from both of her Grand Prix events because of a torn right hamstring that came on the heels of a stress reaction in her left ankle.
Two skaters before her, Gabrielle Daleman had also gotten the crowd on their feet with six clean triples of her own. Daleman, who competed on the Junior Grand Prix this past fall, would have the Olympic Games as just her second senior international competition.
“Words can’t describe how excited I’d be,” Daleman said of getting an Olympic jacket. “I’m only 15, I’m turning 16 on Monday so it’s just gonna be the best birthday present ever and I know that my dream’s coming true and I get to go to Sochi.”