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Nicolas Nadeau leads after junior men’s short, Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau on top after junior pair short

One frosty day in Boisbriand, Que., Nicolas Nadeau sat in front of the television set and found himself enthralled with the 2002 Olympic Games.

“I said to my mom: ‘I want to do that,’” said Nadeau, now 16.

His mother said: “Sure.”

Nadeau was good at all sports, but when his mother enrolled him in hockey, he found himself rolling over on early mornings and saying “Let me sleep.” Hockey was out. Figure skating for some reason, although it is known to have early mornings, too, was in.

All those years later, now Nadeau is leading the pack at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, scoring a decisive victory in the junior men’s short program. Nadeau finished with 65.60 points, while Denis Margalik, 16, of Mississauga, Ont., is second (after defeating him at Skate Canada Challenge in December.) Margalik, who fired off a beautiful triple Lutz – triple toe loop combo in the short, has 61.84 points. In third place is Bennet Toman with 57.76. The free skate is Wednesday.

“I was hoping to be in the top three,” Nadeau said. “And to do what I’m capable of.” He landed a triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination in the short.

Nadeau has always been a work in project for coaches in Quebec. Something like, shall we say, a curious sort, who was all over the place, some coaches didn’t want to teach him. “He needed a lot of attention,” said Yvan Desjardins, the brave one who took him on. “He’s a little bit better now.”

Already, Nadeau has a triple Axel and he’s working on a quad in the training harness. It’s only a matter of time.

Nadeau looks up to many skaters, but at first blush, he’ll tell you Patrick Chan. (“He’s pretty good.”) and Kurt Browning, because of his sense of humour, and his ability to portray any character. Nadeau loves to play a character.

In the past year, Nadeau has been training with more consistency, making the jumps happen when he wants.

He’ll have to be on his toes with skaters like 12-year-old Eric Liu on his heels. Liu, of Vancouver, showed up with his Dizzie Gillespie routine to “Salt Peanuts” and dazzled the small crowd with great speed and edges and fired off a triple Lutz – triple toe loop in the short program.

Last year he was second at the novice level and finished fourth in the junior men’s short program on Tuesday night. Two years ago, he competed at the pre-novice level.

In the junior pair short program, new pair Julianne Seguin, 17 of Montreal and Charlie Bilodeau, 20 of Rimouski, are enjoying a comfortable lead, with 56.54 points. In their only two competitions this year, they were fourth and fifth in Junior Grand Prix events.

Vanessa Grenier, 21, of Johnville, Que., and Maxime Deschamps,, 22, of Vaudreuil, Que., are in second place with 50.69 points.

Third are Dylan Conway, 16 of Toronto and Dustin Sherriff-Clayton  of Newmarket, Ont., with 43.77 points. Only eight pairs competed.

Beverley Smith

Kim DeGuise Leveillee wins junior women’s crown with powerful performance

There is no substitute for hard work and confidence, Kim DeGuise Leveillee has found.

On Wednesday, the 15-year-old skater from Sorel-Tracy, Que., won the junior women’s title at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

The win meant even more, that DeGuise Leveillee finished 17th – next to last – in the junior women’s category last year. After that, she switched coaches, coming to Josee Picard and Marc-Andre Craig last March.

“She had no triples,” Craig said. “And she had a lack of confidence.”

“We worked hard to get this, but it’s been a roller coaster all year. One day you are up, the next day you are down.”

But DeGuise Leveillee tackled the national championships with gusto and confidence this week. She stood out from the crowd, earning 128.17 points, and easily winning the free skate with 84.66.

Julianne Delaurier, 15, of Kelowna, B.C. – from the burgeoning school of Karen and Jason Mongrain – finished second in the free with 75.84 (8.72 points behind the winner) and second overall with 120.06 points.

Madelyn Dunley, 16, of Campbellville, Ont., took the bronze medal for the second consecutive year, this time with 119.60 points. She was exciting to watch: she skated with great speed and landed a spectacular, huge double Axel – triple toe loop combination. She even tackled a triple Lutz, rare at this junior national level, but fell four times. She had led after the short program.

DeGuise Leveillee sat in third after the short, but that was all good, in her mind. For the free, “I really intended to give it my all,” she said. “I worked so hard to be here and give it.”

She mastered four triples this year. Skating to Notre Dame de Paris, DeGuise Leveillee opened with a triple flip (!), a triple loop – double toe loop that just sang, a triple toe loop, a double Axel-double toe loop, a triple loop, , a double flip-double toe loop-double loop combo and a double Axel. She threw a couple of fists when she finished.

“Last year, my goal was just to be on the Quebec team,” she said. “My goal was not the same this year. This year, I wanted to be on the top.

“I feel good. I’m pleased for me. I’m happy to win.”

DeGuise Leveillee began skating because her aunt was also skating, and her parents decided to enrol her in skating. Now, she says she’ll work hard to take the next step, adding a triple Lutz and a triple –triple combination when she jumps to senior next year. She knows she’ll have to work hard. It is difficult for her to learn jumps, but when she does, it’s easy to keep them, she said.

“I think this is a ticket for a very long flight,” said Craig.

Craig said the skating school started by Picard a few years ago is now bearing fruit. “You are starting to see what I work on for the past six-seven years,” he said. “We started a lot of young kids, and now you are seeing them in senior and you are seeing the little ones in novice, too.“

Beverley Smith

Mackenzie Bent and Garrett MacKeen dance their way to gold in junior dance

A year of work, a year of travel, a year of learning and finally, Mackenzie Bent and Garrett MacKeen are the Canadian junior ice dance champions.

Bent, 16, of Uxbridge, Ont., and MacKeen, 19, of Oshawa took the silver medal last year in junior and so took the past year to hone their skills further, get some junior grand prix events under their belt and try some new things.

They skated to a medley of Karen Carpenter, Beach Boys and other songs from the era, the idea spurred because coach Carol Lane particularly liked the winsome notes of Carpenter. So Bent and MacKeen danced to a host of tunes from the era, and even a vocal that wasn’t a singing voice, but a radio host voice.

“We wanted something a bit boppy,” Bent said. “It grew on us,” MacKeen said. The judges at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships give it all the nod.

One of their lifts in the free dance caused them anguish before their international season started, when Bent fell and got a concussion from a lift where she lies on MacKeen’s back and he pushes her up, matching the lyrics. But a team skating behind them in practice made it all go awry. Bent spent three days in bed, doing nothing. It could have been worse: her tailbone took the first impact of the fall.

The new champions won the free dance with 82.98 points and the overall gold medal quite comfortably with 142.61 points.

Melinda Meng, 14, and Andrew Meng, 17, of Montreal won the silver medal with their beautiful routine to House of Flying Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, choreographed by Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. The young team was third in the free skate with 77.65 points and second overall with 134.54 points.

Bronze medalists Brianna Delmaestro, 18, of Port Moody, B.C., and Timothy Lum, 18, of Burnaby, B.C. finished only .29 points away from a silver medal (134.25) with a strong second-place finish in the free skate, earning 79.65 points, only three points away from a free skate win. Delmaestro and Lum joined forces only this year.

Bent and MacKeen had a season of strong international experiences, winning the gold medal at a junior grand prix event in Riga, Latvia. They finished seventh at the other, puzzled by the difficulty levels that the technical panel had handed them in the short dance – and then being unable to climb back out of the hole for the free. “We performed well,” MacKeen said.

“We didn’t get much feedback,” Bent said. “That was kind of the way it was. “ But the twosome came back with a new mindset, trusting their training. “It was a learning experience,” Bent said.

Beverley Smith

Grenier and Deschamps claim junior pair title in first season together; Margalik tops podium in junior men’s

Vanessa Grenier and Maxime Deschamps take your breath away with the speed at which they master their craft.

On Wednesday, they won the junior pair title at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, even though Grenier had never skated pair before this season, and had never even had a pair tryout until 11 months ago.

Grenier, a former singles skater from Sherbrooke, Que., decided that she needed a new challenge. She’s now 21 and has it. She didn’t start working with Deschamps until June, because she had to finish school and she doesn’t live in Montreal, Que., where they now train with Richard Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte.

Grenier and Deschamps won the pair event at the 2014 Skate Canada Challenge in December but finished second to Julianne Séguin, 17, of Montreal, and Charlie Bilodeau, 20, of Rimouski, Que., in the short program.

The free skate, with only eight pairs in it, was very encouraging, with a number of teams trying difficult elements. The top two teams stood out remarkably. Séguin and Bilodeau are a wonderfully dynamic team and may have taken the win if not for a slip on a triple Salchow jump, and a singled throw.

Grenier and Deschamps won the free skate with 98.28 points and overall gold with 149.51. Séguin and Bilodeau were close behind them, second in the free program with 91.28 points, earning the silver medal with a total score of 147.82.

The bronze medal went to Mary Orr and Phelan Simpson with 121.90 points. They landed an impressive throw triple Lutz, although she put a hand down on it.

“It’s my first year doing pairs,” Grenier said. They started out with a beautiful double twist , and landed two triple throws (toe loop and Salchow) and two triple jumps (a Salchow and a triple toe loop – double toe loop combination!), and they earned level fours on two lifts and two spins.

“A year ago, I did not know what a death spiral was, or a throw,” she said. Deschamps has been skating pair for six years with an array of partners. Within two hours, Grenier and Deschamps knew they were made for each other in the pair game: they had the same kind of stroking and jumping.

They started off with the basics, but on their third day together, Gauthier suggested they do a triple throw. And they’ve been doing them since.

When they first got together, it was not their goal at all to win the junior championship, Deschamps said. Next year, they will be senior skaters. “I don’t regret at all my decision,” Grenier said. “I expected it to be more difficult, but we’ve been working hard. And we work well together.”

Denis Margalik, a 16-year-old, born in Buenos Aires, was a silver medalist in the junior men’s event last year, so he figured there was no way to go but up. That means pressure to win, of course, but the skater from Mississauga, Ont., took some confidence from having won the 2014 Skate Canada Challenge, and delivered a knock-out punch to win the junior title with 181.43 points.

Bennet Toman, 16, of Mississauga, Ont., was only 11th last year in junior men, but he picked up the silver medal with 173.83 points.

Nicolas Nadeau, 16, of Boisbriand, Que., had led after the short program, but multiple mistakes put him back into fourth place, allowing tiny 12-year-old Eric Liu to win the bronze medal with 171.54 points.

Margalik switched coaches to Andrei Berezintsev (coach of Gabby Daleman) over the past year and has found success from the trainer’s demanding regimen, he said. He improved his personal best mark by 12 points.

Margalik left Argentina with his Ukrainian-born parents when he was only three for Canada. The second of three brothers, Margalik says he tried all sports – diving, karate, swimming, gymnastics and trampoline but he liked skating best. He’ll move to the senior ranks next year and hopes to get some Junior Grand Prix assignments.

Beverley Smith

Madelyn Dunley stars in junior women’s short program; Bent and MacKeen head up stellar junior dance category

OTTAWA: Madelyn Dunley of Campbellville, Ont., was the star of the show.

The 16-year-old – who was novice champion in 2012 – sparkled with a triple Salchow-triple toe loop combination, a high-flying effort for a group still trying to find itself. However, Dunley underrotated a triple loop and fell on it. Still, she finished first at 45.66 points.

She did get level fours of difficulty for her combination spin and a step sequence, and she’s in perfect position to win the junior women’s event, after being third last year.

In second place after the short is Julianne Delaurier, a 15-year-old from Kelowna, B.C., who skated to Chopin’s Fantasie Impromtu. In third place going into the free program on Wednesday is Kim DeGuise Leveillee, 15, of Sorel-Tracy, Que., after finishing sixth at Challenge in December.

Kelsey Wong delivered a stunning layback spin that ended in a Bielmann, but she fell on a triple loop and a triple Salchow.

Sandrine Martin attempted a triple Lutz, but fell and then singled a loop.

“It was good to see that we had a triple-triple from Madelyn Dunley,” said Michael Slipchuk, high-performance director for Skate Canada. “It was good to see junior girls starting to do triple-triples. They are still developing at this point.”

Never mind that there are junior-eligible women such as Gabby Daleman who are already competing at the senior level – and in fact Daleman, at age 15, has already earned an Olympic spot. “Only two years ago, they were here,” Slipchuk said. “It does change pretty fast. You’ve got to start trying triples at this stage. A year from now it’s [junior women] going to be a lot stronger. Some of them have been on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. It’s a good learning experience for them.

“It’s all about development.”

The junior dance category seems in good hands. Mackenzie Bent, 16, of Uxbridge, Ont., and Garrett MacKeen, 19, of Oshawa, Ont., won the short dance on Monday with 59.63 points. Silver medalist last year in junior dance, Bent and MacKeen are trained by Carol Lane and Juris Razgulajevs.

Youth surged to the fore in Melinda Meng, only 14, and Andrew Meng, 17, of Montreal. With their Pink Panther routine, they finished in second place with 56.89 points. Trained by Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, the Mengs were sixth last year in this category.

In third place are Brianna Delmaestro, 18, of Port Moody, B.C., and Timothy Lum, 18, Burnaby, B.C., with 54.60 after a scintillating midline footwork sequence.

Other gems: last year’s novice champions, Danielle Wu and Spencer Soo of Burnaby, B.C., are blasting up the ladder, with a fourth place finish in the short dance. Channelling Gene Kelly’s Singing in the Rain, Wu and Soo were brilliant, although a twizzle went awry. They are less than a point behind the more seasoned Delmaestro and Lum.

Beverley Smith

Allison Eby and Brett Varley dazzle in novice pair; Joseph Phan jumps into lead in novice men’s competition

OTTAWA: Coach Kevin Wheeler had an inkling that Allison Eby and Brett Varley would be an entertainment twosome, given that they had always shown a little bit of moxie in his club in Cambridge, Ont.

He matched the two together, not because he thought they’d have booming throws or endless lifts or soaring twists. He just thought, as a team, they’d have a lot of energy and appeal.

And so they have. Skating to “Black Bottom Stomp,” Eby, 11, of Ayr, Ont., and Varley, 19, of Thedford, Ont., won the novice pair short program at the Canadian Tire National Skating championships. They had enough technical tricks too to muster the win: a double twist, a throw double toe loop, double loop jumps, and a step sequence and a combination spin that both got level four for difficulty.

They will take 40.25 points with them into the free skate, and this, even though this is their first season together. “Both had to learn the pairs moves right from the start,” Wheeler said. They had been singles skaters. Varley had done some ice dancing. “We didn’t know what to expect ,” he said. “They had to learn the basics. But they get along really well.”

Keelee Gingrich and Davin Portz of Alberta are in second place with 38.62 points, and Naomie Boudreau and Cedric Savard are third with 38.17.

Wheeler, a former senior national competitor in his day, has here novice and one junior pair in his stable, but was disappointed when his novice stars Renata Wong and Henry Su withdrew from the event. “We had big expectations for them this year,” he said. “They’ve been skating really well.”

However, the day of the long program at the Challenge competition, Wong suffered a knee injury while practicing a twist on the floor. She fell awkwardly and the injury has taken a long time to heal. Wheeler had witnessed the accident.

“They were very disappointed they weren’t here,” he said. Su is 19, Wong 14, and they are in their second year of pairs – his veterans on the team – and they had been working on triple throws. “We wanted to show them off,” he said. They will have one more chance to do this, at the Ontario Winter Games in March.

Even though the number of pair skaters is small at these championships – there were 10 pairs and 12 had been entered and the novice level – Wheeler is encouraged by what he has seen at pair practices at the novice and junior level.

“They were very exciting,” he said. “They are training some extremely difficult tricks. He’s seen junior pair skaters attempting two triple throws and moves with a lot of quality. “They will fit well into senior,” he said. “I see it being very exciting for the future. I’m looking forward to seeing this. And it’s not as if they are landing the odd one. They are landing them solidly.”

At this stage, there are a lot of talented pairs in Canada that are currently eligible for the world junior championships later this season.

In the novice men’s short program, Joseph Phan of Montreal delighted the little crowd with his victory, by showing off his easy flow across the ice and a deft set of tricks, including a triple Salchow – double toe loop and a triple toe loop. He is only 12 years old, and coached by Yvan Desjardins.

Phan is on top with 42.40 points, ahead of Josh Allen, 15, of Ottawa, with 37.11.

Zachary Daleman, 13, of Newmarket, Ont., is in third place only two hundredths of a point behind (37.09.) He had an impressive cheering section: his sister, Gabby, who just made the Olympic team in the women’s event, watched her brother compete.

Beverley Smith

Joseph Phan skates like Chan to claim Canadian novice men’s title

OTTAWA: Joseph Phan is a natural. He is only 12 years old, but already he has this lovely glide around the ice, and edges to match. Is it any wonder that the skater he admires most is three-time world champion Patrick Chan? Could it be they are two peas in a pod? On Tuesday, Phan took the first step when he became the novice men’s champion of Canada.

He’ll move up to the junior level next year and he vows to learn all the triples when he does. On Tuesday, he put his two triples to good use, skating to Singing in the Rain.

Phan won with 119.84 points ahead of Edrian Paul Celestino with 115.60,. Third and taking the bronze medal was Josh Allen of Ottawa with 107.60.

Phan didn’t actually win the free skate but he had such a commanding lead (five points, eight ahead of Celestino) after the short program the previous day, that he held onto a safe win.

Celestino, 15, of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que., had no expectations or reference points when he came to the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships because he had never been to a nationals, not at any level. He intended to compete last year as a pre-novice, but he sprained his ankle at sectionals and didn’t compete.

Celestino won the free skate with 81.33  points while Phan was second with 77.44. Celestino had been seventh in the short program.

Last year when Phan came to train with Yvan Desjardines, he had no triple toe loop, so they worked on that and also on his skating quality, to maximize grade of execution points. The goal for next summer is to work on a triple loop and a triple Lutz, Desjardins said. And why not a triple-triple combo? That will be in the works, too.

Best of all, Phan has a wonderful skating ability, from a young age. “He has this ease,” Desjardins said. “He is really smooth. He has a nice flow. He doesn’t really know he has this ability. He just likes to do that. He is a natural.”

Later on, this ability will help him in the code of points judging system as he moves up the ladder.

Phan said his parents had him try a wide variety of different sports – soccer, tennis, swimming and gymnastics – but he didn’t really like any of them. Figure skating fit the bill. He started skating when he was five years old.

He admitted he was nervous on Tuesday, skating in the big rink, the Canadian Tire Centre, after skating in a smaller rink for the short program, usually used for practice. “But I’m getting used to it for next year,” he said.

Celestino dealt with the nerves his own way. “Just before I started the long program, I took a moment and just blocked everything out,” he said. “I skated the program like a robot.”

“This has been a completely different experience,” Celestino said. “But for this one, I felt relaxed. Usually I stress about my program. But this time I didn’t feel that.”

But his silver medal feels like a win overall, because he wasn’t expecting to win the free skate. “I expected second or third,” he said.

Beverley Smith

Keelee Gingrich and Davin Portz claim novice pair title under guidance of Olympian coaches

OTTAWA: It seemed like a great idea for Olympic competitors Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay to start up a pair skating school in Calgary where they live. After all, only seven pairs contested the senior championships last week. In fact, pair skating around the world is a little thin on depth.

It has been anything but easy. At the moment, after two years of coaxing and talking, Langlois and Hay train only two pairs. And on Tuesday, one of them, the charismatic Keelee Gingrich, 15, and Davin Portz, 17, a native of Yellowknife, became novice pair champions at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

Portz was their first target. “He was a good, strong steady skater,” Langlois said. “He had that personality. And he was interested.”

Then they needed to find a partner for him. Gingrich was not a strong singles skater, but she had lots of moxie for a small girl. She’d grab Portz’s hand and even lead him. Shy, she is not.

Gingrich and Portz competed to “The Skaters’ Waltz” a charming routine choreographed by Langlois and Hay. Langlois says she does not like doing choreography and she doesn’t consider herself a choreographer – more like a story teller. But whatever they did, it worked. They made some mistakes, but they skated without hesitation.

The first year they were together, Langlois handed them a daunting list of elements they had to learn. They thought it impossible. They learned. This past season, she handed them another even more formidable list. They have mastered it, too. Neither had skated pairs before.

“It was interesting,” Gingrich said. Their improvement from last year to this has been “huge,” Portz said. They’ve taken their bumps and lumps and moved forward, ever pressing on. They will go to juniors next year, and Langlois will give them another crazy list. For now, Portz is ready to get his reward: a beavertail on the Rideau Canal.

The pair had some anxious moments last night on a practice when they were trying triple twists. Gingrich ended up with a case of whiplash. Treatment followed and their twist in the free skate wasn’t at all smooth – she appeared to land on Portz’s neck – but onwards they went, skating with confidence. “We knew it was close, and we knew we were in the medal race,” Portz said.

Langlois and Hay still hope that the numbers in their club will increase. They dream of teaching five pairs. However, they’ve run into a block: coaches don’t want to release their singles skaters to pairs, Langlois said.

They feel that if they start to skate pairs, they will have to drop singles skating, Langlois said. But she added, some of the country’s top pairs have done both on a national level. Sometimes, Langlois said, skaters or coaches will promise to turn to pairs when they are finished with their singles career. But by that time,they will be out of the junior ranks and it will be too late.

Langlois laments that she started pair skating too late. She started as a senior skater, and then suffered a head injury during a fall. Better to learn the skills sooner, she said.

She sees lots of potential for pair skating across the country – there are strong singles skaters in both men and women and it might be advisable to give some of them more options – such as pair skating – where they could climb the ladder further. Dylan Moscovitch was a good singles skater. But he’s a world-class pair skater.

The future of pairs is this, Langlois says: Canada is strong at the top. “Canada needs to scout for pairs skaters,” she said. “It’s never been done in this country. And not all top skaters will have the right pair partner right away. Not everybody can be Tessa and Scott. Not a lot of people find their one right away.” But it’s important to get into the discipline and start developing skills. It could happen.

Allison Eby and Brett Varley of the Western Ontario Section finished 2.06 points behind Gingrich and Portz, earning the silver medal, followed by Naomie Boudreau and Cedric Savard, representing the Quebec Section.

Beverley Smith

The future looks bright for Canadian novice champion Sarah Tamura

OTTAWA: Sarah Tamura and Megan Yim are Canada’s answer to the flood of triple-jumping, overachieving Russian woman who are dominating international competition.

Tamura is a 12-year-old who on Tuesday, just became Canadian novice champion, while her training mate, Yim, also 12, finished third.

Caught in between the two tiny dynamos is Kim Decelles, 15, of Baie-Comeau, Quebec who won the silver medal with 105.72 points. Tamura topped the list with 108.29 points while Yim was on Decelles’ heels with 105.31 points.

Tamura and Yim train together, push each other and are friends in the rink of Joanne MacLeod, coach of Olympic team member Kevin Reynolds. “This is a dedicated project I’ve had for five years,” MacLeod said. “I am trying to see if I can push the elements a little for young skaters.”

Both Tamura and Yim can do all of the triples, including Lutz and flip although they competed on Tuesday with the other three, Salchow, toe loop and loop. “When I looked at all those Russian girls, I got a little jealous,” MacLeod said. “I think we want to see that anything is possible.”

Both girls auditioned in front of MacLeod years ago for this special project. Yim is gifted musically, too, and has taken ballet. Not surprisingly, she skated to “Giselle” on Tuesday, wearing a white tutu and a white crown on her head.

“She has the “it” factor,” MacLeod said. “She’s quite an intelligent girl.” Besides, MacLeod says she has a wonderful relationship with the two: that’s important for development, she said.

“I do it because it’s really fun for me to skate and feel the speed, and feel the freedom and jump high and have fun,” Yim said.  On Tuesday, she got a rush from skating in the big rink of the Canadian Tire Centre.

Tamura, on the other hand, had a father who liked to race with her around the rink. With this, she developed a long stride. “I love her glide,” MacLeod said. “She’s got these beautiful knees.”  She landed a triple Lutz for the first time last October.

Tamura said she wants to go to Junior Grand Prix events. And both have lofty goals. Kim wants to stand atop the Olympic podium. Tamura wants to be a world champion. Together, they will keep MacLeod busy for some time.

Earlier in the day, Valerie Taillefer and Jason Chan won the novice dance title, he looking elegant in his long navy tails, she his tiny foil.

Taillefer and Chan came from second place after the short dance to overtake Hannah Whitley and Elliott Graham, who had eyed a finish in the top 10, then found themselves tasting gold.

Taillefer, 14 of Montreal and Chan, 17, of Saint-Laurent, Que., won the free skate with 63.53 points to win the overall title with 90.54, more than three points ahead of Whitley and Graham.

In third were Megan Koenig-Croft and Jake Richardson with 80.54, exactly 10 points behind the gold medalists.

The new champs are in their third season together and are at the point where they want to distinguish themselves from others. They leave the ideas to coaches Elise Hamel and Shawn Winters and choreographer Shae Zukowsky. “We’ve been working on key points a lot during the year,” Taillefer said “We value that a lot.”

The twosome is fast friend, with Taillefer speaking French to Chan and Chan speaking English to his little partner. Both are bilingual. Their goals are to make a smooth transition to the junior ranks next year and perhaps land some Junior Grand Prix events.

They seemed an unlikely match at first: Taillefer didn’t like free skating. She always preferred dance and had a previous partner. Chan was a singles skater who had never considered ice dancing until he was coaxed into a tryout with Taillefer. Now he’s a national medalist.

Beverley Smith

Central Ontario dance duo continue smooth transition to novice ranks; Sarah Tamura leads after novice women’s short program

Hannah Whitley and Elliot Graham have fast feet.

And so far, at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, tiny Whitley, 13, of Barrie, Ont., and Graham, 15, of Angus, Ont., are bounding up the ice dancing ladder at the speed of light. After the Cha Cha Congelado and the Argentine Tango pattern dances, they are in first place with 27.18 points, just a hair ahead of Quebec team Valerie Taillefer and Jason Chan with 27.01 points.

Megan Koenig-Croft and Jake Richardson are in third place at 25.45.

Only last year, Whitley and Graham were pre-novice champions. With the big step up to novice, they figured they might finish in the middle of the pack. They’re exceeding their expectations.

“They skated with confidence,” said coach/choreographer Kelly Johnson. “They’re really capable of good transitions. They’ve got fast feet.”

They both started out in small clubs, she from Creemore, Ont., he from nearby Stayner, Ont., – from the same club as the current MiniBlades champions from Battle of the Blades. They teamed up when she was only seven, he nine. Already they have been together six years.

Both were singles skaters, too, but Whitley dropped singles skating last year, Graham two years ago to focus on dance at the Mariposa Club in Barrie, Ont. “I don’t like doing jumps,” Whitley said decisively. Graham likes the company on ice, someone to share the experience, to talk to.

They have come to this event with an extra skip in their step: they train with Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam, who just earned a spot on the Canadian Olympic team last weekend. They work with Islam’s father, David, head of the dance program at Mariposa.

“At first, it (dance) was just for fun,” Whitley said. “We grew into it and started doing better.”

On Monday, they preferred the tango to the Cha Cha, in which they missed a step. “It’s really hard to stay on time [in the Cha Cha],” Whitley said. “It’s a dance that people don’t normally do,” Graham added.

Later, the mittened crowd was treated to a tour-de-force performance by tiny Sarah Tamura – all of 12 years old – in the novice women’s short program. Tamura is leading with 42.48 points after she thrilled the spectators with her hand movements, her triple Salchow-double toe loop combination and a triple loop. Her layback spin was a thing of beauty. She showed extreme flexibility, laying over to the side first, then to the back, her head down her back like a pearl – and then it all changed into a beautiful Biellmann. The girl in the bright lime costume was coached by Joanne McLeod.

Kim Decelles of Baie Comeau, Que., was second with 41.38 points after doing a triple toe loop-double toe loop combination and a triple Salchow, earning a level four for a combination spin.

Megan Yim, another Joanne MacLeod trainee, was impressive in the warmup, but fell on a triple Salchow and put a step between the triple toe loop-double toe loop and is in third place with 39.72 points.

Beverley Smith

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford take third consecutive Canadian pair title

For the second consecutive year, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford had to break a Canadian record set in the previous skate to win a Canadian title.

This time, there was more on the line: taking a third Canadian title into the Sochi Olympics.

Duhamel and Radford rose to the challenge and beat the Canadian record. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch had just set the record of 209.44 for their stirring free skate, but Duhamel and Radford, with their high-flying technical content, broke the mark again with a score of 213.62.

Duhamel threw her head back in utter joy while Radford buried his head in his hands. “I think this is the most emotional I’ve ever felt,” he said afterward. “This was even better than last year and even better than our first.”

Moore-Towers and Moscovitch took the silver medal while long-suffering Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers won the bronze medal and their first chance at an Olympic berth with 176.31 points.

“I don’t have words to express what I’m feeling right now,” Lawrence said. “I’m so happy and so relieved. It’s been a dream of mine for a really long time.”

“We’ve been working on this for 10-plus years.”

Lawrence has been suffering from a groin strain all season and skated this week with her left thigh bandaged.

In their free skate, Moscovitch fell on a triple toe loop that was supposed to be the first part of a triple-triple series. The fall cost them dearly. They lost not only a point for the fall, but earned only 1.98 for the entire move. Although Moore-Towers and Moscovitch showed off powerful speed, incredibly difficult lifts and an array of tough elements in the second half of their program, Duhamel and Radford won on the strength of their technical mark. Indeed, they have some of the toughest technical content in the world, with a triple Lutz jump and a throw triple Lutz. (Moore-Towers and Moscovitch battle back with the triple-triple combo and a loop and Salchow throws.).

The pair were almost equal in component (performance marks) while Duhamel and Radford won with 69.02 technical marks, compared to their opponents’ 65.62.

Duhamel and Radford weren’t perfect either: she fell on a triple Salchow while he continued on to do the jump in combination with a double toe loop.

Moore-Towers’ and Moscovitch’s faces showed disappointed after their opponents defeated them. “Of course, we wanted it to be gold,” Moore-Towers said. “We had a bit of a mistake in the long program. It was quite uncharacteristic and we don’t intend to let it happen again.

“It led us to second place. Meagan and Eric give us a run for our money every time. They’re tough competitors every time. I think all of us agree that it’s good for the sport and it’s good to have tough race.

However, Moore-Towers noted that she’d like to keep the Canadian record one of these times.

Moscovitch said their efforts and hard work and a ticket to Sochi will allow them to keep the ball rolling.

Duhamel’s legs were shaking long after the program was over. They had already dealt with accepting defeat, if it was handed them. They would have been okay with it. They had gone out onto the ice, having heard the announcement that Moore-Towers had set a Canadian record. They blocked it out and focused on themselves.

“I think it was the best long that we have ever skated,” she said.

Beverley Smith

Patrick Chan atop the Canadian podium once again

Perhaps it wasn’t so perfect, but it was perfect enough.

Patrick Chan won his seventh Canadian championship title with a goodly performance, a step-up from his short program where his mind wandered and played tricks on him.

This time, he had it mostly under control in a season that has been his most consistent on record. The crowd roared loudly when he landed his opening quad-triple, raking in 17.07 points for it. Then he mustered only a double toe loop in place of his second quad, and his hand flailed downward to the ice on a triple loop, but otherwise, the three-time world champion had his thoughts under control, thinking element by element. He got a standing ovation for his efforts and won the free with 188.30 points and the overall title with 277.42.

Kevin Reynolds’ battle was far tougher. He had to overcome boot issues that had scuttled his entire season, making this Olympic trial his first and only competition before Sochi. For a few fleeting moments, Reynolds Olympic bid looked vulnerable, when he landed his opening quadruple Salchow on two feet, and then fell on a triple Axel.

But Reynolds fought back, landed two quad toe loops, one in combination with a triple toe loop – double loop, and later, a triple flip – triple loop really sang.

He finished the free in third place with 164.16 points, six points behind Chan – although it was only a year ago that Reynolds had defeated Chan on the technical mark.

Still, Reynolds’ 242.45 total score was good for a silver medal.

“It was a fight the whole way through,” said Reynolds, who finished fifth at the world championships last March. “Nothing was comfortable out there. I’m just glad I was able to get this competition under my belt. I definitely needed this going into Sochi.”

Reynolds said the past two weeks have been very nervewracking, thinking his Olympic bid might be sunk by a pair of ill-fitting boots. Nine pairs of them, actually since the world championship. “Nothing had been going well in training,” he said. “To be able to do this even though it was far from perfect, I’m very satisfied with this week.”

Reynolds said in the next three weeks, he’ll just have to buckle down and ignore whatever is bothering him and push as hard as he can. “This does give me confidence that I can improve things and do a respectable performance even if things aren’t feeling great,” he said.

He said he would have been happy with the top three. He just wanted to get a spot to Sochi.

Strangely enough, Liam Firus, a 21-year-old who had been fifth at the Canadian championships, when he had landed his first triple Axel in competition, defeated Reynolds in the free skate, even though he fell on his triple Axel attempt. Reynolds still defeated Firus technically, but Firus earned top marks for his presentation, getting an array of impressive marks as high as 9.25 out of 10 for his lovely run on the blade.

Injury problems set back Firus’s season drastically, but he never doubted the Olympic dream. “I thought: ‘You know what? You’re going to be on the Olympic team,” he told himself not so long ago. “You’re going to work as hard as you can. It’s going to be tough. Nothing is going to be easy. This is my goal. I told myself I was going to be here. And I was.”

Firus pushed through to the end and ensured he had the best chance possible. During a long wait after Reynolds skated, Firus skated around with his headphones on while on the ice – a novel sight at a skating competition. He said he was listening to his favourite music: electric dance music, to get into his zone.

When Reynolds marks were announced, he covered his ears. “I shut it out,” he said. “I knew he was in first place, but I didn’t need to hear what his score was.”

In short, Firus’ plan worked splendidly.

Beverley Smith