Skaters step up and show their wares at High Performance Camp

The post-Olympic Skate Canada High Performance Camp, held at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga last week, was most unusual.

Firstly, Canada’s Olympic dance stars, Tessa Virtue and a tanned Scott Moir, strode into the rink without skates and sat in the stands, watching. For the past half-dozen years, they’d been honing their skills, finding their strengths at these camps, and for now, they were looking on, sitting in a brutally cold rink on the hottest day of the summer.

They and three-time world champion Patrick Chan are still on the national team, not giving any signals that they intend to retire. Skate Canada issued them all invitations to come for a look, but Chan’s dance card was full.

Current world silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje – ready to step up and fill their shoes – were pleased to see Virtue and Moir at the camp. “I think they know everything there is to know about technique, artistry and connection, and for either of them to see the programs and give us a little feedback would be extremely valuable,” Weaver said. “We would be very grateful.”

It’s a time for handing over of torches. Michael Slipchuk says he’s never seen such a transitional year as this one, since he took over the job as director of high performance for Skate Canada in 2007. “We have a lot of new faces in all disciplines,” he said. “We’ve had people there who had never been to a national team training camp – and coaches that hadn’t been either.”

For example, Marie-France Dubreuil attended as a coach for the first time. When Slipchuk started in his position, Dubreuil was there as a competitor. This was her first time back to the camp since she and partner Patrice Lauzon retired from competition in 2007, leaving behind a string of memorable performances.

Dubreuil brought with her some new faces, Elisabeth Paradis and Francois-Xavier Ouellette, who aren’t exactly members of the national team, and never even saw a Junior Grand Prix, but at age 22, have finally impressed.

Their scores at Cup of Nice last season placed them in the top 75 of Grand Prix selection criteria. So Skate Canada has given them a starting berth at the Skate Canada International in Kelowna, B.C. in October. “We put them on a top level really quick,” Slipchuk said. “We like to see that….Junior is not the end of the line. It’s just a stop along the way.” Judging from the past quadrennial, young skaters can push themselves up quickly in the next four, Slipchuk said. Skate Canada will have a better idea of who will make up the 2018 Olympic team two years out, but for now, it’s time to spread wings and look at all possibilities.

At the training camp, Paradis and Ouellette got invaluable advice, prepping them timely for their Skate Canada International date. “The super young ones were eager and excited,” Slipchuk said.

Despite the newness of the crew, Slipchuk saw the camp as a strong one that gave Skate Canada lots of valuable information, too. “It was a good opportunity to see that most came very ready,” he said. “We saw a lot of good stuff….A lot were ready to go.”

Slipchuk’s highlight of the two-day camp was to witness the clean throw quadruple Salchow landed by veterans (and oldest members of the team) Meagan Duhamel (28) and Eric Radford (29) – during their simulated run-through. “To get it done that day was good for the team,” Slipchuk said. Doing it in a simulated competition, with judges and technical officials looking on bodes well for future competitions.

The optimism at this training camp stems from top efforts by the current guard at the world championships last March, when Duhamel and Radford won their second bronze medal, and Weaver and Poje came within .2 points of winning the world title outright. Aside from that, three Canadian dance teams finished in the top 10 for the first time in years, and there were a lot of top 12 finishes by others. Nam Nguyen, the youngest at the camp at age 16, along with Gabby Daleman, flourished at the end of last season with a junior world title and a top 12 finish at the world championships in his first year in senior international competition.

At the camp, Slipchuk could see that Nguyen was even better and stronger this season already. “Brian has a good plan for Nam,” Slipchuk said.

Indeed, the camp is a good measure of the readiness of the team. If the athletes are behind, it’s a sign that it’s time to get them up to speed for the coming competitive season. Not only did Skate Canada bring in its top internationally-accredited officials but if also brought in others for worldly feedback: Simon Briggs, a coach and technical specialist from Britain (he was the tech specialist for pairs at the Vancouver Olympics) and David Kirby, a technical guru from the United States but who has ties to Canada.

The camp was also an important checkpoint for new teams, such as Kirsten Moore-Towers and Mike Marinaro, and Brittany Jones and Joshua Reagan, who are both newish teams. “This is probably their first time in front of judges and technical people and Skate Canada supporters, to do a program,” Slipchuk said. “It’s a good simulation for them. And Brittany and Joshua have never been out internationally. We like to see how they perform in that environment. We look at the camps as a learning opportunity.”

The camp was time for all of them to step up and show their wares. And many of them did.

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