Canadian ice dance teams open strong, Madeline Schizas caps off impressive debut at ISU World Figure Skating Championships

STOCKHOLM, Sweden – Canadian ice dance champions Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier arrived in Sweden targeting a podium finish at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships.

That goal is well within reach.

Stepping onto international ice for the first time in over a year, the duo from Toronto, Ont. performed an elegant rhythm dance to earn 83.37 points, putting them in fourth place and less than two points out of the bronze medal position.

Fellow Canadians Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen of Montreal, Que. also find themselves inside the top 10, sitting seventh at 77.87. Marjorie Lajoie (Boucherville, Que.) and Zachary Lagha (Saint-Hubert, Que.), making their world championships debut, scored 72.00 and are 14th.

Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov (FSR) lead with 88.15, followed by Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue at 86.05.

Skating to a medley from Mack and Mabel, Gilles and Poirier showed they are in prime position for a run at a medal despite not competing internationally all season due to the pandemic.

“We were absolutely thrilled,” said Gilles. “I think we are just so completely confident in our training and our ability. We got to enjoy performing again, which is why we skate.”

No fans are permitted inside Ericsson Globe this week for figure skating’s crown jewel event, but Poirier admitted they were so focused they didn’t notice the lack of atmosphere inside the building.

“I didn’t even really notice that it was empty,” he said. “That was really one of those programs where we kind of went on blinders mode and just kind of lived the performance. I didn’t really notice anything that was happening outside of that.”

Later Friday, Madeline Schizas of Oakville, Ont., capped off an impressive debut at the world championships. Unlike her breathtaking short program, the 18-year-old fought through a challenging free skate, earning 117.01 to place 13th in the women’s event with 185.78. The 2020 Canadian bronze medallist more than held her own against the world’s top skaters and says the week was a crucial learning experience for the future.

“I learned a lot this week about competing at a championship, which is obviously something I’ve never done,” said Schizas. “I think I had really high expectations for myself coming into this, especially after the short program, knowing I wanted to be in the top 10.”

It has been a long road back to the international skating scene for Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen, the 2019 Canadian bronze medallists who missed the 2020 season as Sørensen recovered from knee surgery. The pandemic wiped out their competitive season this year, although they did compete at the 2021 Skate Canada Challenge virtual event in January, where they finished second to Gilles and Poirier.

Following their rhythm dance Friday, you could sense a bit of sentimentality in their voices after Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen performed their Bonnie and Clyde routine, a program they have a deep emotional connection to, for the final time.

“We are so happy, so excited, so extremely grateful,” said a relieved Sørensen. “We feel really good during the event, I wake up every day like ‘can’t believe it, we’re here.’”

“It was a heartfelt goodbye to the program, now that it is the last time. Just going out and celebrating all the hard work we’ve put into it and celebrating, most of all, that we’re here today, and hopefully sharing a little bit of hope with the skating community.”

“We felt great,” added Fournier Beaudry. “We put so much love into this program, we love being Bonnie and Clyde and doing those characters.”

Lajoie and Lagha, the 2019 junior world champions, were pleased with their debut and are looking forward to their free dance Saturday.

“It was a great experience for the short dance, so I’m pretty happy with what we did,” said Lajoie.

The tandem is not putting any unnecessary pressure on themselves as they compete at the world championships for the first time.

“I think the only pressure we have is the pressure we put on ourselves,” added Lagha. “It’s our first year and it’s such a different game (at the senior level). So, no, we don’t have that pressure.”

The competition concludes Saturday, with Keegan Messing, currently in fifth spot, skating his men’s free program at 9:14 am EDT. The free dance follows, with Lajoie and Lagha taking the ice at 1:00 pm EDT. Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen skate at 2:16 pm followed by Gilles and Poirier at 2:46 pm.

For full results, please visit the ISU website.

Photo credit: ISU

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