Olympian Profile: Gabrielle Daleman

It seemed that there was no way that Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Daleman was going to take off that Olympic team jacket she earned for winning the silver medal at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

In the days following the Canadian Olympic Committee presentation, Daleman stuck around the championships, supporting her brother, Zachary Daleman, who finished fifth in the novice men’s event. Everywhere Daleman went, she wore that red and black jacket.

It was the best birthday present she could imagine. Daleman won her way to the Olympics when she was 15, then she turned 16 the following Monday, January 13. Strangely enough, Daleman has the same birthdate as her idol, Joanne Rochette, who won a bronze medal at the most recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“Words can’t describe how excited I’d be,” Daleman said before the team announcement. “The Olympics comes along once every four years and knowing that I’ll be the youngest there [on the Canadian team] will just make my day.”

The petite skater from Newmarket, Ontario, wasn’t initially impressed with the idea of skating. Her mother, Rhonda Raby, was a skating fan who enrolled Daleman in skating when she was four years old. “I was one of those kids that did not want to get on the ice at first,” she said. “I would cry. I would beg not to go on the ice. But then after weeks of crying, my mom just said: ‘Just go on the ice.’ And then they couldn’t get me off.”

When Daleman was eight years old, she saw Rochette on television and began to jump around the living room. “And that’s when I knew I wanted to be a competitive skater and be like her,” Daleman said.

Daleman swash-buckled her way to the Olympic berth, the dream having been born when she finished second at the Canadian championships last year in only her first year as a senior. In her mind, that meant she had to squish three years of senior skating into one to make that team. She turned on the burners, inserting two triple-triples into her repertoire, including the formidable triple Lutz – triple toe loop, a combo that many of the women at the top of the international scale do. “I knew I needed the stuff to get it done,” she said.

Her final score of 182.47 visibly shocked her; her previous best, set earlier in the season, was 174. “I was not expecting that score at all,” she said. “I was not even focused on it from the beginning. I was more focused on what I needed to do to get the job done.” She was a little nervous going out onto the ice, knowing what was at stake, but she said she calmed herself down by telling herself she knew how to do it and she had to trust her training. She fought for every point.

Her favourite part of skating is jumping, but she also put a lot of work into increasing her program components mark, turning to Lori Nichol to design both programs for the first time. Nichol had choreographed her long program last year. “My programs are a lot of fun to train,” she said. “Lori is so much fun. She pushes me really hard.”

One of her coaches, Andrei Berezintsev, said Daleman has improved everything this season. “I think that fact that she could potentially be one of the Olympics, she’s pushing her limits. “

Berezintsev has worked with Daleman for five years. When he first saw her, she had a single Axel and a cheated double Salchow. “But what I liked, she was always the show woman,” he said. “On the ice, you can see her all the time.”

It’s been an intense season. Asked what she does off the ice, away from skating, Daleman’s first thought is: “If I’m not skating, normally I go to physio.” Laughter breaks out, then she says: “I’m an athlete you know.” She does hang out with a group of about six friends, most of who were at the Canadian championships. “But mostly I stay at home and try to relax and stretch,” she said. “My life is pretty much skating. And I’m actually okay with it because I know it pays off in the end and it’s what I love doing.”

Daleman’s career is only beginning. Two-time Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond, who defeated a strong field of women in her first Grand Prix, Skate Canada, one and a half years ago, has pushed Daleman, too. “What Kaetlyn did last year was really big,” Daleman said. “I know that she’s a great competitor. She’s a great skater and nice friend and a wonderful girl and I love competing against her.”

Friendship aside, Daleman figures she doesn’t always need to play the bridesmaid. “One day, you want to beat her,” she said. “So you just keep pushing, pushing and we all try to get to the top.”

She’s learned many lessons in a short time: don’t focus on marks, but the job at hand; trust the training; don’t be focused to a fault; don’t get upset if something doesn’t work; don’t overdo an injury – know your limits.

And as driven as she is, Daleman already knows that perfection doesn’t exist. But she’s driven.  And don’t forget, the Olympics will be Daleman’s first major senior international competition. Internationally this season, she’s been competing on the Junior Grand Prix circuit.

Want to read more about the figure skaters who will compete at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi? Pick up Beverley Smith’s new book SKATING TO SOCHI! The book profiles the top 40 athletes/teams with full-colour photos! Order online: Amazon.com, Lulu.com (ebook) or iTunes (ebook).

Beverley Smith

Canadian teams en route to 2014 French Cup synchronized skating competition

OTTAWA, ON: Three Canadian synchronized skating teams will travel to Rouen, France, to compete at the 2014 French Cup. The international synchronized skating competition takes place from January 31 – February 1, 2014, and features 39 teams from 10 countries, in senior, junior, and novice. Canada will have entries in the senior and junior categories.

Les Suprêmes, the 2013 Canadian silver medallists, will be the Canadian entry in the senior category. Les Suprêmes placed fifth at this event last season, fourth in 2012, and won silver in 2011. Representing Québec, they placed sixth at the 2013 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships. Les Suprêmes are coached by Marilyn Langlois, assisted by Pascal Denis and Amélie Brochu.

Les Suprêmes junior, also from Québec, are the first of two teams representing Canada in the junior category. Les Suprêmes junior placed eighth at this event last season, seventh in 2012, and fourth in 2011. The 2013 Canadian junior silver medallists are coached by Marilyn Langlois and Amélie Brochu.

Canada’s second entry in the junior division is Leaside Synergy junior, representing Central Ontario. This will be their first international assignment. Coached by Stephanie Klein, Leaside Synergy junior placed fourth at the 2013 Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships.

Jennifer Betts of Bragg Creek, Alta., will be the sole Canadian official at the event.

Olympian Profile: Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje may be going to the Sochi Olympics as Canada’s number two ice dancing team, but they have turned into a charismatic force in their own right.

They choose music that sticks with you. They hold nothing back when they perform. They fly around the ice at great speed, he a 6-foot-3 force majeure, she an expressive, silky-footed coryphée with intense wattage. Together, they have earned the third highest scores (175.23) in the world in ice dance this Olympic season, although less than four points separate four teams who desperately want that bronze medal in Sochi.

Weaver and Poje have been together eight years and it’s been a whirlwind of quick success, stunning disappointment, brutal injury, triumph and lots of lots of standing ovations. Weaver had been a junior dancer from Houston, Texas, one of many trying out with Poje, a native of Waterloo, Ont., in the summer of 2006. Poje had tagged along to the rink with his sister, Julia, and found ice dancing suited him better than anything else. “At the very first tryout, we knew there was something,” Weaver said. “I knew I should do this.”

“People could tell right from the beginning,” said Poje. “We did so much so fast. We were thrust into opportunities. And then we had some growing pains.” Poje started with coach Paul McIntosh when he was five or six. MacIntosh was one of the early coaches of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. He’s good at incubating ice dancers who become magnificent, apparently.

Now they’ve won seven medals at Canadian championships, bronze in senior after only five months together. Troubles: after Weaver raced to get her Canadian citizenship, they missed a trip to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics by three-tenths of a point, a crushing disappointment.

“It’s still a sore spot,” Weaver said. “I can tell you as I’m standing here right now that it makes me emotional about how we felt about that event four years ago. But that is the reason we don’t want to ever let that happen again and have been pushing ourselves so hard for the past four years. It feels like a lifetime ago and we’re different people now.”

She said they had to engage in a little “short term” memory for the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships that followed a week later. But they decided not to feel sorry for themselves, vowing to show the world what they could do. And they won it, with grace.

Their short dance this season to 42nd Street has received high praise on the international scene.

Their transitions into elements are mainly seamless. They have a lot of good connecting steps. They deliver a lot of innovative lifts, but they are never the sort of lifts where the arms and legs flail around into impossible positions. Each lift creates a picture, framed with the music. Their programs are spun by creative people: Pasquale Camerlengo and Shae-Lynn Bourne.

The free dance, to the crushing rawness of “Maria de Buenos Aires,” is a masterpiece of interpretation, according to Rod Garrossino, himself an ice dancer in his day. It is not easy to portray that raw sort of tango, he says, and they have captured it perfectly.

“This dance is the polar opposite to the short dance,” Poje said. “It’s very passionate and the program relies heavily on our connection and it’s to tango operetta.” The music has soul and emotion: perfect for this team who can wring tears out of thin air.

Indeed, they got a standing ovation at their first practice for just showing up at the world championship in London, Ontario last season, after Weaver suffered a fractured fibula, the small bone in the lower leg. The doctors’ prognosis: Weaver need not expect to get her foot back into her boot until April, 2013. The world championships were in March. Weaver skated in pain, with pins pressing against her boot. It was as gallant a comeback as Silken Laumann’s effort to get ready for the Barcelona Olympics after a training accident mangled a lower leg.

Weaver says her mother, Jackie, is the wind beneath her wings. “She is everything to me,” she said. “Every time I doubt myself, she tells me: ‘You can do this.’ She’s helped me to become the sublime optimist that I am. I have taken that into my partnership with Andrew.”

She says now that she’s forgotten about the injury, but acknowledges that their gritty comeback – and fifth-place finish at worlds – drove them both to greater heights. They found out how much they could push themselves to do what seemed impossible.

Now their aim is to be on the Olympic podium, standing beside Virtue and Moir. “I think we have every right, every ability to be there,” Weaver said.

They will go to the Olympics with no regrets. “I feel like we’re in a great place,” Weaver said. “Now we just need to keep working.”

Want to read more about the figure skaters who will compete at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi? Pick up Beverley Smith’s new book SKATING TO SOCHI! The book profiles the top 40 athletes/teams with full-colour photos! Order online: Amazon.com, Lulu.com (ebook) or iTunes (ebook).

Beverley Smith

Chartrand rockets to seventh with powerful free skate

TAIPEI – Alaine Chartrand of Prescott, Ont., gained eight spots in the women’s singles standings on Saturday to place seventh at the ISU Four Continents Championships figure skating competition.

It was a remarkable finish to the 17-year-old’s first senior international assignment.

Chartrand was 15th after Friday’s short program but came out firing on all cylinders for the long earning a personal best 165.19 points.  Performing to Dr. Zhivago she delivered a clean program lading her 10 jumps including three in combination.

Her long program performance was the fifth best of the day.

“I’m really with how I completed this competition,” said Chartrand.  “After a hard short program I was happy to get back to where I should be with the long.”

Kanako Murakami led Japan to a 1-2 finish with Satoko Miyahara second and Zijun Li of China third.

Amelie Lacoste of Delson, Que., was 12th and Veronik Mallet of Sept-Iles, Que., 13th.

“For me it was a very successful competition,” said Mallet.  “I had a super short program and while my long could have been better it was overall a great experience and I learned a lot.”

Canada ends the competition with a silver medal earned by ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto on Thursday.

Full results: http://www.isuresults.com/results/fc2014/index.htm

Canadian synchronized skating teams in tune at Mozart Cup

SALZBURG, Austria – Les Pirouettes from Laval, Que., won the gold medal in junior competition and Nexxice from Burlington Ont., took the bronze in the senior event on Saturday at the Mozart Cup synchronized skating competition.

Les Pirouettes ranked first in both the short program and long program for 154.00 points. Crystal Ice from Russia was second at 145.36 and Sun City Swing of Finland third at 142.28. The Nexxice junior squad followed in fourth at 139.46. There were 17 entries.

Les Pirouettes 21 team members aged 15-18 were Katherine Beaucage, Marlyne Bernier, Sabrina Bittner, Megan Bouchard, Charlotte Brière, Laurie-Eve Brisebois, Veronica Dowse, Darcy Durand, Frédérique Earls-Bélanger, Bianca Garabedian, Karla Garabedian, Ann-Frederik Lapointe, Amélie Lazure-Ratté, Audrey Martel, Lisa Monteschio, Christina Morin, Catherine Perreault, Tara Santavicca, Helene Stojanovski, Gabrielle Tessier and Katya Ukrainetz.

The Nexxice junior squad members were: Katelynn Blowe, Stephanie Collier, Caroline Cusinato, Julianna Fischer, Alycia Gyro, Keara Hertel, Mishka Human, Stephanie Jennings, Laura Lourenco, Caroline Marr, Sarah Monaco, Maria Muje, Laura Nelson, Rachel Ng, Brooklyn Selby, Claudia Smith, Lauren Sperling, Taryn Walker, Erica White and Brooklyn Williamson.

In senior competition, Finland teams were 1-2 with Marigold Ice Unity first at 209.98 and Rockettes second at 201.18. Nexxice followed at 194.64.

The Nexxice squad members were: Shannon Aikman-Jones, Maria Albanese, Ellicia Beaudoin, Kelly Britten, Courtney Broadhurst, Anna Cappuccitti, Lee Chandler, Carla Coveart, Samantha Defino, Yu Hanamoto, Victoria Kwan, Katia Leininger, Kristen Loritz, Kerrin Caitlin McKinnon, Bethany Rees, Renee Richardson, Victoria Smith, Kiersten Tietz, Jillian Becky Tyler, Emily Van Den Akker and Julia Uhlitzsch.


Purich and Tran crack top-five at Four Continents

TAIPEI – Natasha Purich of Sherwood Park, Alta., and Mervin Tran of Regina climbed from seventh to fifth place in pairs on Friday at the ISU Four Continents Championships figure skating competition.

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China took the gold in front of three American couples.

Purich and Tran didn’t match their best scores earned at a Grand Prix in Paris in November but still made a big move to post their best international result in their first season together.

“Our long program wasn’t as good as we would have liked,” said Purich. “But we fought to the end and didn’t give up. We know we can be better.”

Margaret Purdy of Strathroy, Ont., and Michael Marinaro of Sarnia, Ont., were seventh.

In men’s singles, all three Canadians produced clean free skates. Jeremy Ten of Vancouver was ninth, 15-year-old Nam Nguyen of Burnaby, B.C., was 10th and Elladj Baldé of Pierrefonds, Que., 11th. Takahito Mura led Japan to a 1-2 finish.

Ten set a personal best international score of 208.51. ‘’I fought through like I always do,’’ he said. ‘’I’m happy with my performance and I have a lot of positives to take away with me such as my short program and being in the last flight.’’

Nguyen also earned a personal best international score of 204.69. ‘’I feel great because I was able to accomplish my goals that I have set coming into this competition,’’ he said.

Baldé gained two spots in the standings and landed his first quadruple jump in competition in a long program. Still he admitted it was difficult to recharge the battery after the intensity of the national championships three weeks ago.

‘’It was hard to find the strength and inner power to compete,’’ said Baldé, 13th after the short program. ‘’I had a tough short program but I was pleased to come back back this strong for the long. There’s still a lot to work on but it’s nice to finish here on a positive note.’’

Competition ends Saturday with the women’s free skate.

Full results: http://www.isuresults.com/results/fc2014/index.htm

Olympian Profile: Patrick Chan

Patrick Chan wears a heavy mantle on his shoulders heading to the Sochi Olympic Games.

He’s going into the event as a three-time world champion – a difficult feat in this era of the Code of Points judging system. He sets and resets world scoring records. And Canada has never won Olympic gold in the men’s figure skating event, despite its storied history with skaters such as Donald Jackson, Toller Cranston, Brian Orser, Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko and Jeff Buttle.

Chan’s path to Sochi hasn’t always been smooth. Since he finished fifth at the Vancouver Olympics, a fledging who had been overcoming an injury, he quickly learned a consistent quad, and dominated competition, until his peers began to find ways to catch up. But there is no denying his power. He has a rare skill set.

“He’s unlike any other skater,” says Buttle, who choreographed his current, record-setting Olympic short program.

“His skate-ability is the best, bar none,” says current choreographer David Wilson, who has designed his epic Olympic free skate to the “Four Seasons.”

Chan currently holds two world scoring records, mainly from his brilliant win at the Trophy Eric Bompard in France last fall.  He regained his world record of 98.52 in the short program from Yuzuru Hanyu during that magical effort in France, until Hanyu took it back at the Grand Prix Final, where he defeated Chan.

But Chan’s marks for the free skate (196.75) and for total score (295.27) from France still stand. He did chalk up a score of 302.14 points (winning by 62.70 points over runner-up Kevin Reynolds) at a past Canadian championship, but of course, national scores don’t count. Hanyu earned 297.80 points for his win at the Japanese championships in December, 2013.

Born in Ottawa on New Year’s Eve of 1990 to Chinese immigrants Karen and Lewis Chan, Chan really wanted to play hockey, but ended up in the CanSkate program. He was already a going concern as a tiny 10-year-old when he finished third at the national juvenile championships under gravel-voiced coach Osborne Colson, who even then, knew he had a special skater. From there, Chan went from victory to victory in Canada, winning pre-novice, novice, and junior championships. His win at the 2014 Canadian championships in Ottawa was his seventh national senior title.

Chan is a skaters’ skater, with skills honed by Colson, who demanded the young boy spend half an hour each day on basic stroking. He’s left a legacy with Chan, probably the most powerful skater on the continent, able to gain top speed with a few strokes, seemingly effortlessly. Choreographer Lori Nichol also moulded Chan into her vision of what she thought a male skater should be: with feet as intricate as those of an ice dancer. Nichol, who took Chan from a young teenager to a world star, says she could give him a simple step, but add his speed and depth of curve and the lean he gets on his blade, and suddenly the step isn’t so easy. He rarely uses simple crossovers to gain speed. There are hops and turns and unexpected changes of direction in his routine. His feet are never still. It takes incredible conditioning to maintain that effort over the four minutes, 40 seconds of the long program. Because of it, Chan has had to carefully find a rhythm, a pace throughout it.

To every student she teaches, Nichol shows videos of 1976 Olympic champion John Curry, with whom she used to skate professionally. Curry, she said, was “a true master of refinement and quality.” Chan is a more powerful skater than Curry was, but she says now that Chan has mastered his power, “a gentler refinement can come into play,” she says.

Now that Chan is 24, he’s taken responsibility for his work, his training, his music choices, his nutrition and his off-ice time. He won last season, without having the right tools, he notes. “But this season, I’m in a very different place,” he says. He’s in a much happier place, training in Detroit, surrounded by friends such as Canadian teammate Elladj Baldé and American skater Jeremy Abott. It could make all the difference.

He hasn’t added any more quads this year, staying with the quad toe loop, solely and in combination with a triple toe loop. “I believe I have all the elements I need,” he said. His biggest challenge will be triple Axels, and the mental aspect, conquering doubts. He’s trained diligently all last summer, instilling the muscle memory and the pacing into his programs. He didn’t tour.

Chan wants to put himself into the same mindset as Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, considered one of the best pitchers of his generation, who, after he won a game against the Boston Red Sox during the World Series, was asked when he knew he was going to win. “The minute I stepped on the mound,” he said.

“I noticed that when I won my first world championships, when I stepped on the ice, I knew I was going to win,” Chan said. “There was no question. There was no doubt. There was no worry.” Everything he has done this season, win or not, has been a step to Sochi, working through the things he needs to nail.

Everyone around him sees it. Chan says Baldé has helped him tremendously. “He’s training better than ever in his life,” Baldé says. “I’ve personally never seen him skate the way he is right now. And that’s kinda scary, because he’s already three-time world champion. He’s going on the road where he’s going to be one of the greats.”

Want to read more about the figure skaters who will compete at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi? Pick up Beverley Smith’s new book SKATING TO SOCHI! The book profiles the top 40 athletes/teams with full-colour photos! Order online: Amazon.com, Lulu.com (ebook) or iTunes (ebook).

Beverley Smith

Impressive performance in Ottawa earns Nam Nguyen a ticket to Taipei City

This week, many of the top Olympic contenders are giving the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships a miss, coming so close to the Sochi Games. But for rising Canadian star, Nam Nguyen, the event in Taipei City is his Olympic Games.

Nguyen is only 15 years old, and the Four Continents event represents his first major senior international competition. It’s a heady beginning to a career full of promise.

Nguyen found his way to Taipei by virtue of his fifth-place finish at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships (which puts him on the senior national team). He climbed to fifth by virtue of a fourth-place finish in the long program, ahead of such veterans as Elladj Balde, Jeremy Ten and Andrei Rogozine. When he finished, he exuded joy – and he got a standing ovation.

“I’ve had standing ovations before, but that was nothing compared to this, because I did a clean program,” he said. “The audience understood it and I was able to show it to them.”

Nguyen very quietly slipped into fourth place. Under the format used at this event, the final groups of skaters in each discipline skated late in the day at a “superfinal”-like setup, made for television. Nguyen, who skated in the next-to-last group, competed earlier in the day, quite under the radar. Incredibly, as his older peers skated after him, Nguyen’s score held up.

His big accomplishment was to land a triple Axel at the beginning of his program. He felt relief, he said. “Then I had to remember that I had seven more jumps and three spins.” Near the end of his routine, as he rocketed past the end boards, he could hear his coach, Brian Orser, telling him to keep pushing.

His previous best (international) free skate score had been 119.15, set at the 2013 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships, when he was 12th. At the national championship, he blasted it, finishing with 147.46 points, for a final score of 218.43. (His personal best total, set in Mexico, is 181.04). It made his trials of the early season all worth it.

His triple Axel hasn’t been consistent all season. He started landing them right from his first competition in Thornhill in August. But during his Junior Grand Prix events, the jump seemed to evaporate.

Earlier in the season at a Junior Grand Prix in Gdansk, Poland, he had finished only 16th. Ask him about it and his voice catches in his throat, still hurting from the memory. “I didn’t know what was happening,” he said. “The practices were all right, but practices don’t count. It’s what you do in the actual part of it. I was not able to show the judges what I was capable of doing. I learned a lot from Poland.”

His other Junior Grand Prix event in Mexico City resulted in a fourth-place finish, but he admitted he wasn’t fully prepared for that event. “People around me were saying that the altitude was bad, but I didn’t really listen to them,” he said. “So I didn’t train as hard as I needed to. I learned the hard way. My legs were dead.”

Afterward, he competed at Oktoberfest in Barrie and the triple Axel came back strong and became more consistent afterwards. And with it, his confidence grew too. At Skate Canada Challenge, his nerves got the better of him, so with a month to go before Canadians, he ramped up his training. He’s increasing his repetitions.

Last season, Orser said that Nguyen took himself a little too seriously and needed to dial things back somewhat. “He’s a really intense little character,” Orser said. “He skates well and he’s happy and he’s funny and he’s silly and all those things, but he’s extremely intense, almost to a fault. So needs to lighten up a little bit, I think.”

He needed to do what his training mates – two-time European champion Javier Fernandez and Grand Prix Final champ Yuzuru Hanyu – do. They step onto the ice, and get the job done in a relaxed way, Orser said. “We’re kind of working through that,” he said. “He actually over trains, so I need to scale that back a little bit and just work out how much he’s on the ice. He actually needs to do more off ice than on ice, just to get that balance.”

Nguyen said it himself last year at the national championships: “The criteria for myself this year is to have fun,” he said. “And most importantly, I need to bring the audience in with me. It would be really boring to skate by yourself. It’s much more fun to have them skate with you.”

Skating with the likes of Fernandez and Hanyu has pushed Nguyen into wanting to land quads, too. So a couple of weeks before Canadians, he started trying quad Salchow, because his Salchow jump is so strong. Next year, he may try a quad Salchow in a competition.

And he’s grown too. He doesn’t know by how much, but it’s visible. “I kind of feel it,” he said. “I’m fighting against it.” Obviously, he’s not losing his jumps. In Ottawa, Nguyen landed a triple Axel, triple Lutz – triple toe loop, triple flip, a triple loop, a triple Lutz with an edge call, a triple Salchow – double toe loop, a triple flip – double toe loop – double loop combo, and a double Axel. He also showed off one level four and two level three spins.

The competition at Four Continents will be stiffer than anything Nguyen has ever seen: He’ll be in against world silver medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan (season’s best of 224.80); Takahiko Kozuka of Japan (230.95), 2010 Four Continents Champion Adam Rippon (241.24), Richard Dornbush (218.57) and junior world champion Joshua Farris of the United States. It’s a big step. Against this crew, he finished 10th in the short program with a good skate. It’s the first step.

Beverley Smith

Silver medal for Gilles and Poirier at ISU Four Continents

TAIPEI – Ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto posted their best result this season with a silver medal on Thursday at the ISU Four Continents Championships figure skating competition.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the U.S., took the gold with 158.25 points. Gilles and Poirier, the leaders after the short dance, followed at 153.71 and Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton of the U.S., were third at 144.95.

Gilles/Poirier impressed with a stationary lift and two rotational lifts, but lost a few points on a straight line lift and the diagonal steps that garnered a level two. The Canadians got a season’s best of 91.33 points for the free dance.

“We’ve had a season’s best in both programs; that’s definitely more than we can ask for,” said Poirier. “I think today the performance was a bit tight, compared to the times we’ve done it in the past, but there were some positive things to take out of this. We’re going to take this competition with us, because it taught us a lot about resilience and about being able to come back so quickly after nationals.”

Poirier suffered a serious ankle injury last spring in training that required surgery. They were fifth and sixth on the Grand Prix circuit this season and were fourth at the Canadian championships two weeks ago to fall short for a berth on the Olympic team.

Kharis Ralph of Toronto and Asher Hill of Pickering, Ont., were fourth at 137.03 and Nicole Orford of Burnaby, B.C., and Thomas Williams of Okotoks, Alta., fifth at 133.42.

In the women’s short program, Amelie Lacoste of Delson, Que., was 10th, Veronik Mallet of Sept-Iles, Que., 11th and Alaine Chartrand of Prescott, Ont., 15th. The free skate is on Sunday.

Competition continues Saturday with the free skates in pairs and men’s competition.

Full results: http://www.isuresults.com/results/fc2014/index.htm

New team event in Sochi has Canada eyeing gold

Never has a Canadian figure skating team shown so much strength and depth as it has in the past year, leading up to the Sochi Olympics.
That’s incredibly good timing, because for the first time, there will be a team event in figure skating at the Games. And, judging by the results at the world championships last March in London, Ont., Canadian skaters intend to make a bold statement at the Sochi arena. In London, Canadians delivered in spades:
Patrick Chan won his third world title while Kevin Reynolds finished third in the short program and fifth overall. Olympic ice dancing champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who have drawn parallels to the iconic Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean during their careers, took the silver medal while Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje made a seemingly impossible comeback from injury to finish fifth; and Canadian pair champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won a bronze medal, while Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch were close on their heels to finish fourth. Even in the women’s event, Kaetlyn Osmond, making her world debut, finished fourth in the short program and eighth overall.
In London, Ont., Canadian skaters had won medals in three of the four disciplines for the first time since 2008, but their backups weren’t far behind.
“I think it’s definitely ours to win,” said Moscovitch at the time. “It’s very exciting for us to be part of this generation of skaters.”
Michael Slipchuk wasn’t surprised. “Given the skates people had had at Canadians and Four Continents, we knew our team was skating well,” he said. “To do it at the Olympics is a different thing. But our skaters did what they had been doing all season.”
The team event combines the scores for each of four disciplines. And even though Canada goes in as favourite to win gold, it has never won a World Team Trophy, finishing second twice and third once in the event held in Japan two weeks after the world championships.
But Slipchuk says the Olympic format favours the Canadian team more than the World Team Trophy does, with its two men’s entries, two women’s entries and only one pair and one dance team. “plays to the strength of countries with singles,” he said. “Our pair and dance team really couldn’t make much ground on the points from the singles. The Olympic setup we like much better because it’s one per discipline. Everyone is on an even keel.”
Over the past year, Canada has racked up more points than any country (6,053), well more than host Russia, with 5459 points, is favoured to win the event. The other countries that have qualified, in order of points are United States, Japan, Italy, France, China, Germany, Ukraine and Britain. All 10 teams compete in a short program on February 6, a day before the opening ceremonies, but only five advance to the long programs. A country is allowed two substitutions between the short and long programs.
Alas, because both Japan and Britain failed to qualify a skater in one of the four disciplines to contest the event, they may invoke an “additional athlete quota” to use a non-qualified skater to complete their team. Japan, for example, needs to bring in a pair team, while Britain has not qualified a men’s skater.
During the past year, Canada’s competitors have grown stronger – but so have Canadian skaters, Slipchuk said. Canadian skaters got into early competitions this season to get mileage and feedback on their programs. Some have dealt with frustrations so far: Reynolds with boot problems that caused him to miss all of his Grand Prix events, and an injury to Osmond that caused her to pull out of Skate Canada and miss her second Grand Prix event. Slipchuk says both are back on track. “Kevin has had some good training behind him, and Kaetlyn is building back up to where she’s comfortable,” he said. “I think everybody is where we’d like to see them and we’ll get a better indication this week.
“I think when we get to Sochi, the team will be ready,” Slipchuk said.
Strategy will be important in the team event, and Canada has a plan, but it’s keeping its ideas close to the vest, Slipchuk said. The skaters for the team short program don’t have to be announced until 10 a.m. the day before the event. “It’s like hockey, with the hot goalie, right?” Slipchuk said. Should a country place all of its best skaters in the team event, and risk tiring or injuring them for the individual events? Canada has one big advantage: because of the depth of its team, it has lots of options, more so than, for example, Russia, which can field only one man to the Olympics and therefore has only one choice for its men’s representative for the team event.
And Slipchuk says despite some concerns that the team event could detract from a skater’s ability to do their best in an individual event that not one member of the Canadian team has said they don’t want to be a part of it. “It’s such a unique opportunity,” he said. “You don’t get an option in Olympic year to get in that main rink and compete once before your individual event.” He believes the team event will help them all in their individual events.
And the team must keep pushing, aside from the team event. Slipchuk says that it’s important to keep building the “third rankers” – the ones who will take over in the next quadrennial – with hopes that they will push into the top 12 or 15 at the Games. “We’re not sure what the team will look like, post-Olympics, and we’ll have to go to a world championship and build spots for the next year.
“The responsibility on our team falls on everyone,” he said. “We’re expecting everyone to go to the Games and be their best and not have any regrets.”

Beverley Smith

Gilles and Poirier grab lead at Four Continents

TAIPEI – Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto are in first place after Wednesday’s short dance at the ISU Four Continents figure skating competition.

Gilles and Poirier earned a season’s best 62.38 points. Madison Hubbel and Zachary Donohue of the U.S., are second at 61.05 and their compatriots Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton stand third at 57.65.

Canada’s two other couples are also in the medal chase. Kharis Ralph of Toronto and Asher Hill of Pickering, Ont., are fourth at 53.97 and Nicole Orford of Burnaby, B.C., and Thomas Williams of Okotoks, Alta., fifth at 53.73.

In pairs after the short program, Margaret Purdy of Strathroy, Ont., and Michael Marinaro of Sarnia, Ont., are fifth and Natasha Purich of Sherwood Park, Alta., and Mervin Tran of Regina are seventh.

In men’s competition after the short program, Jeremy Ten of Vancouver is sixth, Nam Nguyen of Burnaby, B.C., 10th and Elladj Baldé of Pierrefonds, Que., 13th.

The free dance and women’s short program are on Thursday and the men’s and pairs finals on Friday.

Full results: http://www.isuresults.com/results/fc2014/index.htm

Canadian Synchronized Skating teams travel to Austria to compete at 2014 Mozart Cup

OTTAWA, ON: Canada will have three synchronized skating teams competing at the 2014 Mozart Cup in Salzburg, Austria. The international synchronized skating competition taking place from January 23-26, 2014, features 61 teams from 16 different countries.

Seven-time defending Canadian champions, Nexxice, will be the sole Canadian representative in the senior category. Nexxice has previously competed at this event in 2012, earning bronze. The 2009 World Champions, 2012 and 2013 world silver medallists representing Western Ontario are coached by Shelley Barnett and Anne Schelter.

Nexxice junior, from Western Ontario, are one of two teams representing Canada in the junior category. The 2013 Canadian junior champions are coached by Trish Perdue-Mills. Also representing Canada in the junior division are Les Pirouettes junior, from Québec. The 2013 Canadian junior bronze medallists are coached by Nancy Alexander and Stéphanie Savoie.

Cynthia Alepin, of Mount Royal, Que., will be the sole Canadian official at the event.

For more information on the event please visit the event website or www.isu.org.