KINGSTON, ONTARIO – When Montreal-based skaters Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha won the novice dance title at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships on Tuesday, it was only one on a string of achievements for them.
Lagha, 15, of Longueuil, Que., has played Carnegie Hall as a pianist already. Lajoie, 14, cracks up audiences at Just For Laughs in Montreal, and she’s already been in a videotron commercial.
The sky has always been the limit for this young, talented team that steamrolled past a group of promising novice dancers in a deep field in the free skate on Tuesday.
Skating to music from the Don Quixote ballet – a challenging piece of music indeed for a novice team – Lajoie and Logha won the free dance with 64.62 points, over Sabrina Bedard and Zoe Duval-Yergeau of Repentigny, Que.
Sum it all up and Lajoie and Lagha won with 93. 80 points, while Bedard and Duval-Yergeau (coached by former national ice dancer Josée Piche) took the silver medal with 90.85 points.
Ellie Fisher of Barrie, Ont., and Parker Brown, of Waubaushene, Ont. won the bronze medal with 88.55 points.
Lajoie and Lagha may be young – they have many years of Junior Grand Prix eligibility ahead of them – but they’ve already been together four years. And ballet is a big part of their lives. They study with a beloved teacher, Eva, twice a week. Once a week, she works with them on the ice. Still, they found it very difficult to translate the ballet onto the ice: the placement of the foot, the extensions, the arms, the expression. Still these intrepid youngsters went for it.
They were Canada’s pre-novice champions last year and had finished second at Skate Canada Challenge, the qualifying event for the nationals. They are slated to do the Canada Games in March.
And Lagha, whose heritage is Algerian? He was born in Canada, but his mother Fella Hammouten, is an accomplished pianist and urged her son to follow suit. Lagha studies with a Georgian-born teacher called Tina Kakabadze once a week and practices at home. All of his work landed him at Carnegie Hall.
Winning the novice title the year after they won pre-novice is an achievement they cherish. “We worked very hard for this,” Lagha said. “It came with work. No work. No results.”
Rachel Pettitt, 15, of Whitehorse, YT., learned the hard way never to take anything for granted. Last year, she didn’t even make it to Skate Canada Challenge, out of her section, much less the Canadian championships. On Tuesday, she became novice women’s champion.
She had hoped for only a medal and then as the night progressed, a silver. But short program leader Justine Brasseur made several errors, and dropped to third place. Pettitt won both the free skate and the overall gold medal, earning 112.87 points. Alicia Pineault of Varennes, Que., took the silver medal with 109.63 points, narrowly ahead of Brasseur with 109.05.
Pettitt’s medal marked the first novice championship for coaches Karen and Jason Mongrain, who have carved out a burgeoning school in Kelowna, B.C. They’ve had champions at lower levels and “lots of fourths” Jason said.
The lesson they have imparted to Pettitt is to fight for every point. And she did, skating to Lara’s Theme from Doctor Zhivago. She’ll move to junior next year.
Brianna Delmaestro, 19, of Port Moody, B.C. and Timothy Lum, 19, of Burnaby, B.C. made it no contest to win the junior dance title, taking the free dance by more than five points to win gold with 148.62. Almost nine points back were silver medalists Lauren Collins and Shane Firus of Minesing, Ont. – a new team this year – with 139.83. The bronze medal belonged to Melinda and Andrew Meng of Montreal, who earned 131.14.