KELOWNA, B.C. – The Skate Canada International aura isn’t a secret. Skaters from Russia, China and elsewhere love the crowds. They love how they are loved, no matter the flag.
The exhibitions? Best ever. Chinese skaters wearing decorated sauce pans on their heads, denim overalls on the rest. The men breaking out brassy wigs. Duelling quad Salchows were seen. Exquisite music was heard, all on a day when a warm fall sun set light to the waters.
For Canadian skaters, it was a time to step out on home ice at an important Grand Prix in the quadrennial leading to the 2018 Olympics. Already there is huge success: Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won the first Grand Prix gold medal for a Canadian pair since Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison won at Skate America in 2007.
Strangely enough, despite the historic strength of Canadian pairs, the Canuck teams have seldom won pairs events at Grand Prix competitions. They’ve never won Cup of Russia or the Grand Prix in France, or Cup of China (which dates back to only 2003). A Canadian pair hasn’t won Skate Canada since Jamie Sale and David Pelletier in 2001. At NHK Trophy, Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini won gold in 1980 and 1982. And Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler won in 1993, the same year they won their world title.
So Duhamel and Radford’s victory takes on a brighter shine. They’ve broken ground and they expect more.
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andres Poje’s first Grand Prix gold medal, here at home this week, is another milestone on a long road of Canadian dance victories. Canada’s wins in dance Grand Prix events are almost too numerous to mention. At Skate Canada alone, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won five of them, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon won two, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz took six, and Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall grabbed two of them, not to mention single victories by Jacqueline Petr and Mark Janoschak, and Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier.
Weaver and Poje’s exquisite “Four Seasons” routine made fond memories for some in an informal poll of favourite Skate Canada moments this week. They had become a unit, they said. They had taken a step up, even from their world silver medal last March. They came dressed to kill, and focused on the details.
Injuries robbed Canada of better results in men’s and women’s singles. Kaetlyn Osmond broke a fibula during the fall and had to withdraw from all Grand Prix events. Canadian women delivered in the short program, and had a tougher go in the long, with Alaine Chartrand finishing seventh, Veronik Mallet 11th (was sixth in the short) and Julianne Seguin 12th.
With no Patrick Chan in the mix, and no Kevin Reynolds, out with boot problems and injuries, Canada had to take their victories other ways. Andrei Rogozine showed off his new “higher, faster, stronger” vibe to finish 10th, while Liam Firus fought back after a troubled short program and went on attack in the free to finish 11th overall.
That left other moments that didn’t always have to do with medals, although medals were sometimes rewards: a transformed Takahito Mura winning the men’s event and weeping in the kiss and cry; tiny 16-year-old Satoko Miyahara winning bronze with a standing ovation and finally, the free dance of unheralded team Elisabeth Paradis and Francois-Xavier Ouellette. They finished seventh of eight, got a partial standing ovation, made people weep and Tessa Virtue to claim their “Un peu plus haut” her favourite of the night. Sometimes it’s not all about medals, although they help.