First champions crowned at 2021 Skate Canada Challenge virtual competition

For Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, the result was quite familiar.

The journey to get there was anything but.

The two-time Canadian pair champions captured the senior pair gold medal Saturday at the 2021 Skate Canada Challenge event, a virtual competition featuring the top junior and senior figure skaters in the country.

The competition, a qualifying event for next month’s Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Vancouver, is being held over two weekends. The junior men and junior women free programs will close out the first weekend Sunday, with the senior men, women, and ice dance events, as well as the junior ice dance competition, being staged next Friday through Sunday.

Performing their free program to The Blower’s Daughter by Damien Rice, Moore-Towers, from St. Catharines, Ont., and Marinaro, from Sarnia, Ont. scored 135.18 in their free program for a two-day total of 206.22. Lori-Ann Matte (Levis, Que.) and Thierry Ferland (Levis, Que.) finished at 172.42 followed by Deanna Stellato (Chicago, Ill.) and Maxime Deschamps (Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que.) at 170.65.

Due the ongoing pandemic, Skate Canada Challenge, the first national figure skating event held in Canada since the 2020 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships a year ago, is far from a typical competition. With an innovative format designed to host an event while keeping athletes and officials safe, skaters declared their performances from their respective sectional championships or section-organized challenge skate.

Skating at their home rinks weeks prior to the competition, competitors performed their programs as they would at a normal competition. Once the music started, there were no second chances. The videos were submitted to Skate Canada and judged in real time during the event.

Moore-Towers and Marinaro skated their two programs more than a month ago at their Skate Oakville training base. Like everyone else, they watched the event’s live stream Saturday to see how they fared.

They are used to feeling the competition nerves prior to an event.

Waiting a month for scores took a little getting used to.

“Good job today, Kirst,” Marinaro said with a laugh, shortly after they received their marks watching from the comfort of their homes.

“It was difficult to remember how the skates went,” added Moore-Towers. “Obviously, we were there doing them, in person, four weeks ago or so but typically we have somewhat of closure when the performance finishes. We sit in the kiss and cry, we reflect, we evaluate how everything went, and have a chance to kind of see what we had done. Without that opportunity in the virtual filming, it was difficult to remember how everything went. Some of the things today and yesterday were as surprising for us as they were for everyone watching.

“Not unlike everyone else, it’s been tough for us, for sure,” added Moore-Towers. “It’s been a little turbulent to say the least. We are missing the fans so much, and the audience interaction, and we hope we can have that again soon.”

Shortly after returning to the ice following the first lockdown last summer, Moore-Towers suffered a back injury that kept her out of training for a couple of months.

Once they were back on the ice, Marinaro wasn’t sure how the reigning Canadian champions would adapt to the virtual nature of the event.

“We weren’t sure exactly how it was going to feel out there, but how it was run and all of the organization put behind it, it felt like a real event,” said Marinaro. “It was really tough to watch four weeks later, because I think we’ve improved quite a bit and made a lot of changes to the programs. We’re expecting to be about 20 points better than we showed you today.”

In the junior pair event, Audrey Carle (Georgetown, Ont.) and Gabriel Farand (Beloeil, Que.) won gold with a 130.45 total, while Kelly Ann Laurin (Saint-Jérôme, Que.) and Loucas Éthier (Deux-Montagnes, Que.) won silver at 128.57.

Meghan Fredette (Shawinigan, Que.) and William St-Louis (Trois-Rivières, Que.) finished in third spot with 128.33.

“It was definitely different,” admitted Carle. “Usually, you finish skating and get your scores, but it was really different waiting to get the scores.”

“It felt like writing an exam,” added Farand. “After the short, we didn’t know what position we were in and before the long we didn’t have the pressure of skating last.”

Rio Morita of Vaughan, Ont. leads after the junior men’s short program after scoring 63.59, ahead of Shohei Law of Vancouver, B.C. (61.62) and Matthew Newnham of Edmonton, Alb. (60.55).

The junior women free program gets underway at 11:30 am ET Sunday, followed by the junior men’s free program at 6:00 pm.

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