Pair skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are flying into the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships this week in Kingston, Ontario on a wing.
Kevin Reynolds is flying in on a prayer.
Everybody knows about the stunning international results delivered by Canada’s top two duos, how they both swept their Grand Prix events and won the Grand Prix Final by large margins and huge personal bests. And they both find themselves at the half-way point of the season as favourites for world championship gold.
Reynolds has been forced to follow a different path, disappearing from sight after withdrawing from both of his Grand Prix events, felled by boot issues and injury.
But wait! According to a conference call on Friday, Reynolds is very much back and alive and zeroing in on finally winning that elusive Canadian title after 10 years at the senior level. He appears to have finally found the magic slipper, and has been training more solidly in the past four or five weeks than he has in the past year and a half. This news happily creates an interesting showdown with the 16-year-old Nam Nguyen, who has gone from strength to strength this season and clearly wants that title abdicated by Patrick Chan, too.
Last season, Reynolds went through nine pairs of boots, trying to find a perfect fit, almost impossible considering his uncommonly narrow heels and wide forefoot. He struggled through four pairs of boots earlier this season, and finally found a custom-fit pair – only to discover that they would break down within a week and a half, under the rigors of a Reynolds’ training session.
The problems worsened after Reynolds finished sixth at the Skate Canada Autumn Classic International in Barrie, Ontario, clearly suffering from a lack of training. And then one day in practice, he fell on a quad and sprained his left ankle, the one he uses as takeoff for the triple Axel and his two quads. “I was simply unable after spraining that ankle to be in any sort of competitive shape for the Grand Prix season,” he said. He had to withdraw from the Grand Prix. It was tough.
He knew he had to take a different tack to push forward after the sprain healed. He decided to try out the best, most expensive stock boot offered by each manufacturer, to see which one fit best. He’s lost track of how many boots he’s tried this season. He puts it at 12. But one of those pairs fit, just well enough.
Reynolds calls it “an amicable solution.” After what he’s been through, it’s enough to give him more confidence than he’s had in more than a year, heading into Kingston.
“In the last month or so, I’ve been able to get some good quality training in,” Reynolds said. “Heading into nationals, I want to be able to capitalize on the opportunities that are present this year, namely that Patrick Chan has decided to opt out this season, which leaves the national title open for the taking.”
Reynolds toughest obstacle right now is a lack of competition leading up to nationals, and in an ideal world, he’d like a little more training time, too. But “I’ve proven that I’ve been able to deal with that in performances that I gave at the world championships and Olympics,” he said. “I know it’s possible to step up to the plate and hopefully take that national title. But I know other people are hungry for it, too.”
Hungry? Others are, too. As huge as their winning score was at the ISU Grand Prix Final in Barcelona last month, Weaver and Poje believe that their routines have improved even more over the past month. “We’ve enhanced a lot of aspects of our program so we’re really looking forward to not only having a great nationals, but getting a lot of feedback to give us a boost into the second half of the season,” Weaver said.
Most of their work on their exquisite free dance to the Four Seasons, is subtle, “a couple of choreography things,’’ finishes, details, expression, interpretation. They’re just starting to feel the rhythm and the feel of the routine. “We have so much room to grow,” Weaver said.
Goals? They’re working at maximizing all of their levels of difficulty at the national championships. “We want to make our programs bullet-proof in terms of the technique,” she added. They have now become accustomed to being the top seed at an event, and they’re ready for the responsibility.
This will be their eighth Canadian championship, and both hope they can finally win their first Canadian title, this after already winning a silver medal at last year’s world championships and gold at the Grand Prix Final.
Duhamel and Radford will go into this national championship with a much more relaxed feeling, especially since they will no longer be pushed by Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch. That team has split and are both with new partners, adding another level of intrigue to the event.
Duhamel and Radford, winners of their ISU Grand Prix Final gold by seven points, see this season as a major breakthrough for them. “Last year at the end of the season, we saw a big shift in pair skating in the world: so many teams breaking up, getting new partners, retiring, taking the season off, having injuries, whatever,” Duhamel said. “When we decided to continue skating after Sochi last year, a big part of that was because we saw an opportunity to become the best in the world. And in skating, a lot of it is about timing. You have to wait your turn and you have to be around together as a team and skate your best, at the right time.
“I think that we have a great opportunity this year to set the world on fire,” she said. “And now it’s up to us to seize the opportunity. I would say so far, we’re doing a good job of that.”
Tickets can be purchased online at www.ticketmaster.ca, by phone at 1.855.985.5000 or in person at the Rogers K-Rock Centre box office.
The event will feature approximately 250 skaters in the men’s, women’s, pair and ice dance disciplines, competing in three levels: senior, junior and novice.
Athletes qualified for the championships threw their sectional events and then move onto Skate Canada Challenge the national qualifying event, which saw 18 men’s, 18 women, 12 pair teams and 15 ice dance teams move onto the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.
Athletes will vie for spots on the Skate Canada National Team and the Canadian teams that will compete at the 2015 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, the 2015 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and the 2015 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships.