VANCOUVER – Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, pairs Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Gabrielle Daleman and Patrick Chan are the leaders after Friday’s short programs at the 2018 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

The event also serves as a qualification event for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

World champions Virtue and Moir once again brought the house down with their rock flavored rhumba number to build a solid first place lead with 85.12 points. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto are second at 78.37 and Carolane Soucisse of Chateauguay, Que., and Shane Firus of North Vancouver are an unexpected third at 70.97.

‘’We had to fight for it,’’ said Virtue, from London, Ont. ‘’The elements didn’t come easily. It’s a testament to our training that we were able to maintain our composure and execute as well as we did.’’

Moir, from Ilderton, Ont., says their familiarity with one another kicked in.

‘’I felt the same as Tessa,’’ he said. ‘’What kept us together were our cues and being so connected. You want those gritty performances going into an Olympic Games.’’

Gilles and Poirier wanted to produce a cleaner skate than in their last outing at Skate America in November.

‘’We just wanted to come out this time and just enjoy performing it,’’ said Poirier. ‘’That’s what is really going to make this program work.’’

Medal favorites Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., are fourth at 70.31, Poje made a major error when he stumbled executing a twizzle.

‘’It was kind of deflating,’’ said Poje. ‘’But we are going to treat it as a learning experience and as a jumping off point to come out really strong in the free dance.’’

In women’s competition, Daleman produced a sterling short program which earned her an instant standing ovation for 77.88 points. Defending champion Kaetlyn Osmond of Marystown, N.L., fell on her opening combo and follows at 71.41.

Osmond and Daleman were silver and bronze medallist at the world championships last season and are way ahead of the rest of the field.

Daleman showed no signs she was suffering from pneumonia. She skated with amazing speed going into her opening combo and was perfect on her triple Lutz and double Axel.

‘’If I can do this feeling this crappy, then I can do anything,’’ said Daleman, who turns 20 on Saturday. ‘’I’m just so happy. I couldn’t have asked for a better short program and I’m really excited.’’

Osmond fell on her opening triple toe to botch the combo. However she did her triple Lutz in combination with a double toe.

‘’I’m not overly pleased with it,’’ said Osmond. ‘’I haven’t messed up my toe in the last couple of years so that was frustrating. I was happy I was able to comeback from the fall and focus for the rest of the program.’’

Sarah Tamura of Burnaby, B.C., is currently third at 54.34 but less than three points separates 10th from third.

In pairs, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford built an impressive lead in their flawless short program totalling 81.78. Julianne Séguin of Longueuil, Que., and Charlie Bilodeau of Trois-Pistoles, Que., are second at 68.51 just ahead of Kirsten Moore-Towers of St. Catharines, Ont., and Michael Marinaro of Sarnia, Ont., at 68.28.

‘’Overall it was a heartfelt performance,’’ said Duhamel. ‘’We couldn’t have asked for a better emotional interpretation and it was the best we’ve done it this year especially with the stress involved.’’

Séguin fell on the side-by-side jump but that didn’t deter either skater.

‘’This was the first time this year where we were really enjoying the program,’’ said Bilodeau. ‘’In the past competitions we had some problems with the energy so the changes we made for here really worked out.’’

Moore-Towers and Marinaro were also pleased.

‘’We knew this competition would go down to the long program,’’ said Moore-Towers. ‘’We were able to stay in our moment.’’
In men’s competition, Patrick Chan, vying for a record 10th national title, overcame a fall on the quad to stand first with 90.98 points. Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., follows at 86.20 and Keegan Messing of Sherwood Park, Alta., is third at 85.65.

‘’The quad didn’t have as much height and lightness,’’ said Chan, a three-time world champion. “It was a bit of a shock but I got up and recovered nicely. There were nerves but that’s when I can look back on my experience.’’
Reynolds opened with a triple-triple combo and landed a toe quad later in the program as well.

‘’The program was a huge improvement for me and I was really happy with the scores,’’ said Reynolds. ‘’I worked very hard to improve my skating skills and getting those levels. To see that in the marks today I was very pleased.’’

Messing also opened with a triple-triple rather than the planned quad-triple combo.

‘’The skate was great,’’ said Messing. ‘’I wish I had all the technical but I was able to fight through the program and put up as many points as I could. After the mistake, I just wanted to perform for the crowd and give it everything I got.’’

On Thursday night, Olivia Gran of Kelowna, B.C. won the gold medal in junior women’s competition. Sarah-Maude Blanchard of Sherbrooke, Que., took silver just a little over a point behind the winner and Victoria Bocknek of Richmond Hill, Ont., was third.

‘’I had a good morning practice and I was really pumped for the free skate,’’ said Gran. ‘’I wanted to carry that into the program today. It was great to have my family here to watch me compete.’’

Competition ends Saturday with the free skates.

Photo Credit: Greg Kolz/Skate Canada