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Weaver and Poje win first Canadian title in ice dance

KINGSTON, ONTARIO – Andrew Poje started this podium selfie thing, and now others are doing it, too. On Saturday night, he took his favourite selfie: he and his partner Kaitlyn Weaver on top of the podium at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

After so many years of seconds and thirds and ups and downs and injuries and all, Weaver and Poje finally won the Canadian championship title they have always wanted. “We finally made it,” said Weaver. They were obviously emotional in the closing moments of their sophisticated free dance to the Four Seasons.

“Ever since we were little kids, we dreamed of being national champions,” Poje said. “And to be the top of your country is an amazing thing.”

“It means so much more than any other gold medal that we’ve won this year,” Weaver said – and she’s counting the Grand Prix Final gold. “We’ll be Canadian champions for the rest of our lives.”

Poje said it was one of their most nerve-wracking competitions. “Even though we felt we could achieve this as long as we put two good programs together, we were nervous, because we really wanted this and it was really important to us,” he said.

Weaver and Poje won the free dance with 111.62 points and the gold medal with 187.88.

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier were pleasantly surprised by their free dance score of 104.67 – highest ever for them – and their final total of 174.70 to take the silver medal.

Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam won a tight fight for the bronze medal, nailing that down with 160.67 points. However they finished only fifth in the free dance and Islam said they were hard hit in the technical marks for a Peter Gabriel routine that is only two months old.

Nicole Orford and Thomas Williams were third in the free dance while Elisabeth Paradis and François-Xavier Ouellette were fourth. Paradis and Ouellette ended up fifth overall, missing out on fourth by only .06.

In pairs, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won their fourth Canadian title and blasted their own previous Canadian record doing it. Their previous mark? 220.72, set at the Grand Prix Final. Their mark at nationals? 230.19.

“It was the best we’ve done this year, but we can still do better,” Duhamel said. Duhamel singled a double toe loop at the end of a triple-double-double combo. “We want to leave something for worlds,” she said.

Duhamel and Radford believe all four teams in the final group delivered powerful skates. “I don’t really remember when that has happened,” Duhamel said. “It was a great day for Canadian skating.”

Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch won the silver medal in their first season together, earning 65.15 points for the free and 187.85 overall.

While in the past, Moscovitch had always been pushing Duhamel and Radford with his previous partner, Kirsten Moore-Towers, he and his Russian-born partner trailed the winners by a whopping 42.34 points.

“We really feel lucky that we found each other and that we had a shot at doing this,” Moscovitch said. “I had no idea what was going to happen to my career. The fact that we came together the way that we did feels like it was meant to be, almost serendipitous. It’s very enjoyable.”

Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau, competing at their first senior event, won the bronze medal with 181.43, narrowly edging out Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro. Séguin and Bilodleau edged Moore-Towers and Marinaro by only .56 in the free.

 

New Canadian Champions in Kingston

KINGSTON, ONTARIO – Gabby Daleman has mixed emotions when she finished her long program at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships on Saturday.

She had made some mistakes, had a fall, was chugging on after her sixth bout of strep throat this season, and she didn’t know if she had done enough.

She did, by 1.78 points. Daleman, 16, of Newmarket, Ont., won her first Canadian title with 186.02 points over a high-flying, very tough Alaine Chartrand, who actually defeated her in the free skate.

Chartrand, 18, or nearby Prescott, Ont., looked entirely shocked when her marks came up on a monitor. She had won the free skate with 123.99 points, only .88 points more than Daleman. But she had been third in the short program, and she finished with the silver medal and 184.24 points.

Véronik Mallet, 20, of Sept-Îles, Que., took the bronze medal by finishing third in the free skate with 111. 24 points and ending up with 172.43 points.

Kim Deguise Léveillée, 16, of Sorel-Tracy, Que., burst into tears when she discovered she had finished fourth in the free skate and fifth overall, meeting her goal of finishing in the top five.  She was the Canadian junior champion last year.

“When I finished, I was relieved because I skated my heart out,” Daleman said, the tears coming out on the ice. “I was also so proud of myself,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘You want to be Canadian champion, you deserve it, you’ve been working hard, you want it bad, don’t give up. If you give up, you’re going to lose. I gave it my everything and held on.”

Chartrand earned the first standing ovation of her career to her Doctor Zhivago routine. “That was really exciting,” she said. “And it wasn’t just my family because they did that last year.” She improved her personal best by 12 points.

The men’s event was just as tough a fight, although Nam Nguyen, only 16, left the field in the dust with the 175.10 points he received for the free skate and 256.88 overall.

“That is just gigantic,” said Liam Firus, who ended third with 222.40 points, only .18 behind a rejuvenated Jeremy Ten. “That’s comparable to top five in the world.”

What’s it like to be called Canadian champion after a seven-year rule by Patrick Chan (who congratulated Nguyen afterward), “It feels pretty cool,” Nguyen said. “I’ve been dreaming of becoming Canadian champion since I was eight years old (and won the juvenile title.)”

Coach Brian Orser was not surprised. Nguyen’s potential is limitless, he said. “He keeps pushing it,” Orser said. “He surprises me, but the thing he’ll want to do now is put a quad in the short. We’ll discuss that. But he’s been landing some quad toe loops. He keeps pushing the boundaries. And he’s consistent.”

Orser hopes for a finish in the top eight at the world championships.

Ten, who returned only for a farewell year at the Canadian championships, may also be on the world team. “I’m just beyond myself right now,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that at all.”

Coach Joanne McLeod was emotional in the kiss and cry. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” she said.

Firus was hoping for second, but he’s okay with third. One of the most beautiful of skaters in the field, he outpointed everybody, including Nguyen in program components, earning 82.52.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford set Canadian record in Kingston

KINGSTON, ONTARIO – No surprise here: Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won the pair short program at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships with a wide margin – 14.35 points – something they are not used to.

Their winning score of 79.50 was a Canadian record.

“This relaxed feeling has allowed us to spread our wings and enjoy our skating and if we can keep building it, then we can keep on improving,” Radford said. “For us, as long as we can keep on improving, we’ll keep on going.”

They have learned that it’s not wise to get complacent about a big lead. They had one at NHK, went into the free in a rather nonchalant manner and as soon as the music started, their muscles just did not respond.

The most interesting battle was the one between two new teams formed by Duhamel and Radford’s toughest competitors over the past several years: Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch.

Moore-Towers decided she wanted to skate for two more quadrennials and hooked up with Michael Marinaro. Moscovitch went to Russia to find Lubov Ilyushechkina, who had last skated in Canada at the 2010 Skate Canada International ironically in Kingston, Canada. There is a video out there somewhere of Ilyushechkina declaring that she loved Canada and would love to live here.

She had her homecoming on Friday night in Kingston. When Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch took to the ice, the crowd cheered noisily. And every time they landed a throw or a jump, the crowd cheered more. With this wind beneath their wings, they finished second with 65.15 points.

Moore-Towers and Marinaro ended fourth with 61.08 points, saying they felt a bit stiff and nervous. What were they most proud of? Moore-Towers seemed to say it was about the way they handled the “awkward” situation of being on the ice with an old partner. All week, they have been on the same training session together.

“It is difficult to compete against an old partner,” she said. “I think that all four members of us have done a pretty good job of it. I’m happy. They look happy.
“We’re just kind of hoping for people to adapt to that and learn that’s the way it is now. And it’s the way it’s going to be. We can be happy for everybody.”

In third place are new seniors Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau, the Junior Grand Prix champions, who had to adapt their routine to match the senior requirements. They added a triple Salchow instead of a double Lutz, but the entrance into the new jump was on a different pattern. Seguin put a hand down on the throw, but otherwise they sung, earning 61.47 points.

Bilodeau admitted he felt a responsibility to do well here after such a strong season on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. “It was a good beginning,” he said.

In ice dancing, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje won the short dance with 76.26 points, 6.23 points ahead of Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier.

The big race was for third spot and Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam got it with 64.87 points, 3.37 points ahead of new international sensation Elisabeth Paradis and Francois-Xavier Ouellette.

Selena Zhao wins junior women’s title in Kingston

KINGSTON, ONTARIO – It was a fight, every step.

But Selena Zhao “is a tough gal,” said coach Christy Krall, after Zhao, in her first appearance at a Canadian championship, won the junior women’s title in a landslide.

The 16-year-old skater, born in Seattle, but now representing Canada this year, won the free skate last night at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships with 90.46 points, 11.06 points more than her closest competitor.

Zhao won the gold medal with 140.67 points, also 13.34 points higher than anyone else could muster on a night when most competitors had a bumpy ride.

Zhao had a bumpy ride, too, but she overcame it. “When I got onto the six-minute warmup, my legs felt really slow and I tried not to let it distract me,” she said. “Sometimes I go into a program and everything is really easy. But today, I knew it was going to be a fight.”

And how she delivered. Zhao let fly a double Axel –triple toe loop, a triple flip-double toe loop, two triple Lutzes, one in a hard-fought series, a solo triple flip and a triple Salchow. She finished after the music.

Zhao will now have to advance to the senior level next year, but she’ll fit right in, with skills like that.

Krall explained that Zhao didn’t do so well at the Skate Canada Challenge competition in December because she had “a little sprain” in her foot. And it “kind of” stopped her training.

“I’m really proud of her to come in here and really let it go tonight,” Krall said. “You have to realize that this is only her second nationals…She has a really great competitive soul, good spirit, hard worker.”

Zhao is also a top student. Krall said she has earned the highest awards in every academic class she takes at the Cheyenne Mountain School in Colorado Springs, where she trains.

“She’s climbed a lot of mountains to climb this particular mountain,” Krall said. “She’s going to loosen up after this for sure. “

Cailey England, 17, of Quesnet, B.C. won the silver medal with 127.33 points while Justine Belzile, 17, of Quebec City took the bronze with 124.22 points.

England provided the small crowd with some of the brighter moments of the night, skating to a Piazzolla tango and a rusty-red jeweled costume.

She was off last year with a sport hernia that required surgery  and four months away from the ice. This is her second season as a junior. During her first season in 2013, she was 18th at Skate Canada Challenge and eighth at the junior nationals.

“This is so exciting,” England said afterward. “It felt so real.” She had been second after the short programs, but kept her nerves in check. She trains with Karen and Jason Mongrain of Kelowna, B.C. who are starting to make inroads on the national skating scene with their attention to posture, carriage, movement, polish and skill development. “They are really great coaches,” she said.

England finds the difficult flip and Lutz jumps easy. She doesn’t do triple loop or triple toe loop yet.

The senior events begin today.

Teenagers Daleman and Nguyen leads in women’s and men’s after the short programs

KINGSTON, ONTARIO – Nam Nguyen began to felt the pressure this year, the chatter that he could win this national title.

Last week, while training, he had a bit of a meltdown. Coach Brian Orser took him aside, and told him he he’d been there in 1981, when Brian Pockar had been three-time Canadian champion and Orser was a young upstart who had such a good year, people were talking about him, too.

Both Orser (back then) and Nguyen (now) swept the pressure aside. On Friday, Nguyen won the short program with a nice little cushion with a lofty score of 81.78, his best score in a short.

Jeremy Ten, who said earlier that this is his final year – a farewell and a challenge to himself, is in second place with 77.80 points. “It’s pretty cool,” Ten said. “I just left my heart out on the ice.” Roman Sadovsky, only 15 and in his second year of senior, is third with 73.46, a personal best by about three points. Sadovsky had hoped to finish in the top five, to make the national team. “What’s not to be happy about?” he grinned.  He didn’t do a triple Axel: it’s still an inconsistent element for him.

The story of the short program was as much about rough goes as triumphs.

Kevin Reynolds, hobbled by boot problems for the past couple of seasons, got a new pair that enabled him to train for the past four or five weeks. But it wasn’t enough. He fell on all of his jumps elements – both quads and a triple Axel – and dropped to 12th place.

“I gave it everything I had,” Reynolds said sadly. “It was too much for me to handle today…I just wasn’t underneath my feet.”

Elladj Baldé fell on a quad and popped the first jump of his combo, but he sprained a knee a few weeks ago and then caught a virus that swept the Detroit Skating Club last week. Baldé felt horrible for three days, and slowly worked his way back to doing his program only last Saturday. He got 64.79 points.

In the women’s event, Gabby Daleman had one big aim, coming to these Canadian Tire National Skating Championships: to win her first title.

For a moment, Daleman suffered a hiccup on that path, when she fell on a triple Lutz in the women’s short program on Friday, but she steamed ahead to win it with 62.91 points, narrowly ahead of Veronik Mallet, 20, of Sept-Iles, Que., who skated cleanly, putting an exclamation point on her season.

Alaine Chartrand, 18, of nearby Prescott, Ont., and one of the favourites to take the title, stumbled out of a triple loop. Chartrand had the most difficult combination of all, a triple Lutz – triple toe loop, but it appeared under-rotated. She is third with 60.25 points, her highest score in Canada. She got a 61 when she won the short program at Cup of Russia earlier this season, an effort that put her on the international map.

Daleman has had a season of setbacks but decided to follow the advice of choreographer Lori Nichol who told her: “the power of the will is more important than the skill.”

The 16-year-old skater from Newmarket, Ont., came down with her sixth episode of strep throat of the season last week and immediately found a way to frame it in a positive way.

“Skating without breathing is like extra cardio,” she said. “If I can do my program when I can’t breathe, imagine what I can do when I can.”

Daleman also hasn’t recovered from a stress reaction in her right foot that she suffered in Sochi. It’s better, but still hasn’t healed, and on top of that, she has developed plantar fasciitis in that right foot. And the ailment is also affecting her left foot somewhat.

“My right foot feels like a frozen water bottle,” she said.

The senior women and men conclude on Saturday at the Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston.

Big jumps land Nicolas Nadeau a national title

KINGSTON, ONTARIO – Nicolas Nadeau was on a mission on Wednesday night at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

The 17-year-old skater from Boisbriand, Que., wanted to win the junior national title and leave no doubt about it. So he did something Olympic: after using Lutzes at Skate Canada Challenge last month, he decided to do not one, but two triple Axels in his free skate at nationals. None of his competitors tried that jump.

That plan meant he had to do one of those Axels in combination.

So he did. He astonished the die-hard spectators at the K-Rock Centre when he unleashed a triple Axel – double toe loop as his first jump, then wound up right again and went for a second triple Axel.  He stepped out of that one, but the effort went way beyond what he had done at Skate Canada Challenge.

With this bold plan, Nadeau won with the free skate with 123.68 points (6.36 ahead of closest competitor Antony Cheng of Richmond Hill, Ont.) and won the free with185.75, almost nine points ahead of Cheng, who took the silver medal.

Edrian Paul Célestino  of Dollard-des-Armeaux,  Que., won the bronze medal with his beautiful Nessum Dorma routine, that earned him 114. 44 points and 172.68 overall.

Yvan Desjardins, who trains Nadeau, Daniel-Olivier Boulanger-Trottier who finished fourth with a strong skate and 13-year-old Joseph Phan, who ended fifth, said Nadeau showed no nerves at all. Last year, Nadeau would have liked to have won the junior title and skated last but had a disastrous performance in the free. Desjardins said Nadeau hadn’t forgotten that gloomy day in Ottawa, but still, it did not budge his resolve.

“He’s tough,” Desjardins said. “He has to be. He’s in the family. He has four sisters.”

Nadeau finally earned some Junior Grand Prix competitions earlier this season and the first one was in Japan, an experience that could have daunted him. Desjardins asked him if he felt any nerves. “Nothing,” Nadeau said.

The two triple Axels that Nadeau did are vitally important to his immediate future: if he wanted to win this junior title, he needed it, Desjardins told him. And if he wanted to get to the world junior championships in March, he had some convincing to do, especially since Skate Canada officials may be looking at junior-eligible men who compete in senior already, such as Roman Sadovsky and Mitchell Gordon.

Now that he has delivered, he just has to wait to see his fate.

Nadeau is only the sixth Quebec man to win the junior skating title, and the first since Elladj Baldé won it seven years ago, in 2008. Others were Nicholas Young in 2000, Sebastien Britten in 1990, Jamie Eggleton in 1984 and believe it or not, Toller Cranston – who originally skated out Montreal – in 1964.

Only seven Quebec men have won the novice men’s title, the last one being Phan last year.

Interestingly enough, five of the six skaters in the final flight were all from Quebec. Could the tide be turning?

The new junior pair champions are Mary Orr of Brantford, Ont., and Phelan Simpson of Kitchener, Ont., who won in a landslide with a strong skate. Their winning total of 133.14 points was 12.84 points higher than second-placed Shalena Rau of Waterloo, Ont., and Sebastien Arcieri of Montreal.

The bronze medal went to Rachel Dobson of Campbellville, Ont., and Alexander Sheldrick of Paris, Ont.

First batch of champions crowned in Kingston

KINGSTON, ONTARIO – When Montreal-based skaters Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha won the novice dance title at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships on Tuesday, it was only one on a string of achievements for them.

Lagha, 15, of Longueuil, Que., has played Carnegie Hall as a pianist already. Lajoie, 14, cracks up audiences at Just For Laughs in Montreal, and she’s already been in a videotron commercial.

The sky has always been the limit for this young, talented team that steamrolled past a group of promising novice dancers in a deep field in the free skate on Tuesday.

Skating to music from the Don Quixote ballet – a challenging piece of music indeed for a novice team – Lajoie and Logha won the free dance with 64.62 points, over Sabrina Bedard and Zoe Duval-Yergeau of Repentigny, Que.

Sum it all up and Lajoie and Lagha won with 93. 80 points, while Bedard and Duval-Yergeau (coached by former national ice dancer Josée Piche) took the silver medal with 90.85 points.

Ellie Fisher of Barrie, Ont., and Parker Brown, of Waubaushene, Ont. won the bronze medal with 88.55 points.

Lajoie and Lagha may be young – they have many years of Junior Grand Prix eligibility ahead of them – but they’ve already been together four years. And ballet is a big part of their lives. They study with a beloved teacher, Eva, twice a week. Once a week, she works with them on the ice. Still, they found it very difficult to translate the ballet onto the ice: the placement of the foot, the extensions, the arms, the expression. Still these intrepid youngsters went for it.

They were Canada’s pre-novice champions last year and had finished second at Skate Canada Challenge, the qualifying event for the nationals. They are slated to do the Canada Games in March.

And Lagha, whose heritage is Algerian? He was born in Canada, but his mother Fella Hammouten, is an accomplished pianist and urged her son to follow suit. Lagha studies with a Georgian-born teacher called Tina Kakabadze once a week and practices at home. All of his work landed him at Carnegie Hall.

Winning the novice title the year after they won pre-novice is an achievement they cherish. “We worked very hard for this,” Lagha said. “It came with work. No work. No results.”

Rachel Pettitt, 15, of Whitehorse, YT., learned the hard way never to take anything for granted. Last year, she didn’t even make it to Skate Canada Challenge, out of her section, much less the Canadian championships. On Tuesday, she became novice women’s champion.

She had hoped for only a medal and then as the night progressed, a silver. But short program leader Justine Brasseur made several errors, and dropped to third place. Pettitt won both the free skate and the overall gold medal, earning 112.87 points. Alicia Pineault of Varennes, Que., took the silver medal with 109.63 points, narrowly ahead of Brasseur with 109.05.

Pettitt’s medal marked the first novice championship for coaches Karen and Jason Mongrain, who have carved out a burgeoning school in Kelowna, B.C. They’ve had champions at lower levels and “lots of fourths” Jason said.

The lesson they have imparted to Pettitt is to fight for every point. And she did, skating to Lara’s Theme from Doctor Zhivago. She’ll move to junior next year.

Brianna Delmaestro, 19, of Port Moody, B.C. and Timothy Lum, 19, of Burnaby, B.C. made it no contest to win the junior dance title, taking the free dance by more than five points to win gold with 148.62. Almost nine points back were silver medalists Lauren Collins and Shane Firus of Minesing, Ont. – a new team this year – with 139.83. The bronze medal belonged to Melinda and Andrew Meng of Montreal, who earned 131.14.

Junior skaters impress at national championships

KINGSTON, ONTARIO – Selena Zhao hasn’t had a straight and easy path to her first national skating championship in Canada: travel woes, injury, learning curves.

Born in Seattle, Zhao has become a transplanted Canadian this season, and on Wednesday, she finally found her feet, finishing first in the junior women’s short program with 50.21 points, two points more than her closest rival.

Zhao finished only seventh at the Skate Canada Challenge event leading to this competition, but she had been back on ice for only two weeks after injuring her right foot while training an ambitious triple flip – triple toe loop combination.

She had been off for two weeks, after landing “funny” on that combo. It hurt so badly, she couldn’t walk the next day. And when she did get back to work, she couldn’t train normally because everything hurt when she tried that combination again. Leading up to this event, she couldn’t practice the triple-triple version of it.

On Wednesday, she did a triple flip – double toe loop, as pretty as you please, following it with a triple Lutz. When she landed a fine double Axel, she broke into a smile and finished the program that way, skating on air.

As the week unfolds, Zhao says she is “honoured” to have the opportunity to skate for Canada at the nationals. “It’s so cool,” she said. “I’m here and it’s wonderful. This whole thing is so different to me and I’m just happy to be part of it.”

Her mother is in Kingston to watch. “It’s really cool because she was in Ottawa for such a long time,” Zhao said. And Kingston is reminding her of home. “It’s nice to see her getting in touch with her roots,” Zhao said.

Zhao’s goals this year are rather indefinable. “At the very beginning of the season, I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “You don’t really know what’s possible or not.”

Getting to some Junior Grand Prix events has been a bonus, and Zhao has learned much from them, also considering that she endured horrendous travel issues at both. At her trip to Dresden in Germany, her flight was cancelled because of a Lufthansa strike.

She’s also learned what it’s like to compete with skaters from other countries. “A big thing is confidence,” she said. She arrived in Germany, gawking at the Russian and Japanese girls, about whom she heard so much. Then she suddenly realized that they were all doing the same jumps too. “It was an eye-opener,” she said.

Justine Brasseur has learned a lot this week, too. She and partner Mathieu Ostiguy are the new novice pair champions, winning with a powerful performance and 111.63 points. The previous night, Brasseur had an unusually poor skate in the women’s novice free skate, after leading the short program – and dropped to a bronze medal. Coach Josée Picard said when her first jump in the routine was a little off, Brasseur tensed up. Picard knew that it would be a fight after that, as Brasseur became cautious. And she was.

But in the novice pair event, Brasseur and Ostiguy – skating pairs for the first time this season – delivered fine lifts, throws and jumps. Ostiguy said the twist was the hardest element for him to learn. They did a double twist here and after nationals, they will start training the triple.

“It’s a dream come true,” Ostiguy said. And about skating pairs, after refusing for so many years? “It was a great decision,” said a jubilant Ostiguy.

(Tiny) Olivia and Mackenzie Boys-Eddy won the silver medal with 108.44 points while Lori-Ann Matte and Thierry Ferland won the bronze with 103.60 points.

Growing onto the national stage

KINGSTON, ONTARIO – He is 13, skates with feel and tackles tough things. Perhaps Gabriel Farand is a star of tomorrow.

He’s in first place after the novice men’s short program at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. He started the fireworks among the young men last night, and finished it, too, earning 43.51 points, over Jeff Buttle look-a-like Gabriel St-Jean, who also trains at the same club, the École Etude with Julie Marcotte.

On a night with lots of triple toe loops and triple Salchows and various versions of them, Farand went for a triple Lutz and stumbled out of it, but not before he landed an ambitious triple toe loop – triple toe loop. (He landed a gorgeous triple Lutz on warmup.) There’s a lot more to come in his free skate: seven triples.  Farand was last year’s pre-novice champion.

St-Jean finished less than a point behind with 43.18, safely ahead of 4-foot-10 wunderkind Bruce Waddell, at 40.04, a musical skater with flair, who never misses a musical highlight.

Bruno Marcotte, a former pair skater who is known as a pair coach, has worked with Farand from the time the kid was seven and could do only a single Axel. Farand has picked up both of his tour-de-force moves this season, but not with ease. Over the past year, he’s grown about five inches. Marcotte says he’s grown a head. That intense growth spurt threw off his balance and generally made his life miserable.

Everything came together at the end of the summer.

“You can tell he’s really talented,” Marcotte said. “He has this beautiful air position.”

Farand wasn’t the only young Canadian skater sprouting up like wheat in a warm spring. Nicolas Nadeau, 17, of Boisbriand, Que., finished first in the junior men’s short program with a lofty 62. 10 points, after landing a smart triple Axel. He grew about five inches, too, and because this is his third year at the junior ranks, he’s determined to win this title. This was his first year competing internationally on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. “It taught me to skate on ice without lines,” he said, referring to hockey rink markings at home.

Nadeau currently can do a quad toe loop on two feet.

In second place in Antony Cheng, 17, of Richmond Hill, Ont., who skated with great speed, and launched such an enormous triple Lutz, that he thought – in mid-Lutz – that it was rather more huge than he intended. He hasn’t really tackled full-on training of a triple Axel. That’s a job for post-nationals, he said.

He is in his second year as a junior.

Edrian Paul Celestino, 16, of Dollar-des-Ormaeaux, Que., delivered a Rachmaninoff piano concerto that was a thing of beauty, but three silly mistakes dropped him to third with 58.24 points. He let loose with a gorgeous triple Lutz, landed right on the highlight of the music.

Fourth is Joseph Phan, who is only 13, but who grew a lot, and showed off great speed with a triple toe loop – triple toe loop and a sweet triple Lutz, a good start for his debut in junior. He was last year’s novice champion.

This year, he says he wanted to finish in the top five. He’s currently working on triple Axel and quadruple Salchow in the harness.

Brianna Delmaestro of Port Moody, B.C. and Timothy Lum of Burnaby, B.C. have been together since the spring of 2012, but their match was made in heaven. They are leading junior dance after winning the short dance with 59.21 points.

A new team of Lauren Collins and Shane Firus are in second place with 55.76 points and third are Melinda and Andrew Meng with 53.75.

Paige Lawrence: A Life Refocused

Did You Know?

Did you know that Paige Lawrence, our Athlete Ambassador in Kingston, always wanted to be a cowgirl? Both her Dad and her brother were bull riders and top-notch rodeo competitors. Paige wants to keep the family tradition alive by taking up the sport of bull riding and bull fighting!

A Life Refocused

Four-time Canadian pair medalist and 2014 Olympian Paige Lawrence, 22, of Kipling, Saskatchewan is about to take on a new role at this week’s Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. Instead of performing and competing on the ice, Paige will be acting as the event’s Athlete Ambassador.

“Some of my responsibilities as Athlete Ambassador will be to do different meet and greets with the general public, to help out with the school groups that come to watch the practices, visit local figure skating clubs, assist with medal presentations, do interviews with the media and generally just be a support figure for the athletes!”

Paige is a natural for the job.

Combined with her bubbly and outgoing spirit, her experience from being at the event nine times means she’s got a lot of history to share. Her optimism and love for figure skating is infectious!

“I want the athletes to feel the positive vibes coming at them from myself and from the fans and the community, and I want everyone involved to enjoy this week to the utmost!”

Since competing last year at Olympics and Worlds with pair partner Rudi Sweigers, her life has gone through some enormous changes, a situation that has sent her into unfamiliar territory.

“To be honest, I hadn’t expected my skating career to be over when the season ended. I was raring to go for this year.  But after several talks between Rudi and myself we began to see we were wanting different things.”

Paige confesses that when the partnership officially ended, she felt like she was in mourning for the loss of her competitive career and the dreams that swirled around it.

“Very suddenly the most important things in my life disappeared and it took a while to learn how to deal with that loss. But I’m an optimist by nature and as hard as it was to have ended my partnership with Rudi, I believe there’s an opportunity to be found in every experience so I tried to focus and find that.”

For Paige, the hardest part about returning to “civilian” life has been redefining herself.

“For so long my identity has revolved around being an elite athlete and now that’s over.  It’s a very strange feeling to go from knowing exactly who you are and having a purpose that you strive towards every single day when you wake up … to questioning ‘who am I now?’ … and to be searching for a new purpose.  Oh yah, and I miss the weekly massages!!”

As she begins the journey towards her next big thing, she’s not sure what she will find.

“Maybe it’s backpacking like I did in Costa Rica or adding to my list of adrenaline pumping activities like bungee jumping, sky-diving and cliff-jumping. Whatever it is, I’m always looking for the next exciting thing to try … and there are so many possibilities!”

Paige isn’t sure how skating will fit into her new life. One thing she’s discovered she enjoys is assisting her coach Patty Hole with up-and-coming skaters. She thinks of it as a way of giving back to someone who has and continues to be such a strong role model and mentor.

Part of her message to young athletes back home and in Kingston this week is also about how to use the skills skating teaches. After her successful competitive career, she recognizes that the lessons learned from skating, through both good times and bad, are lessons that she’ll carry through the rest of her life.

“Skating has helped me become the confident, daring, hard-working, organized, goal-oriented, determined (some may say hard-headed but I think determined sounds nicer!), outgoing, teach-able, and responsible person that I am today.”

And Paige’s life is expanding.

She recently moved to Calgary and returned to university for the winter semester with a goal of eventually achieving a career in Sport Psychology.  She says it’s a brand new goal for her but she’s excited to see what comes from it.  She would also like to get into public and motivational speaking.

“I feel like I still have so much motivation inside of me and I would really love to be able to share my story, especially with other small town kids and athletes. I’d be happy to let them feed off of my energy and hopefully along the way kindle in them that tiny dream that every child carries within themselves.”

Paige’s own dream of becoming a cowgirl began when she was a tiny child riding horseback, chasing and rounding up horses with her Dad.

“I loved being outside whether it was helping my Mom in our garden, or “helping” Dad with his chores. I remember the pails of feed were almost the same size as me so more often than not I just ended up trying to pat all the wild horses while Dad did all the feeding! With my two brothers, I was always very independent and determined, so anything my brothers tried, I had to try too!”

She tried skating at age four when her parents enrolled her into the CanSkate program at their local club. Over the years, as her commitment to training grew along with her achievements, Paige began to realize the impact the sport was having on her life. Today her path in skating may be fuzzy but her love of the sport is as clear as ever.

“I’m sitting here trying to put into words what skating means to me and I realize I have a smile on my face.  That’s what skating means to me … a smile … happiness … a place where I feel more like myself than any other place in the world … an outlet where I made my most passionate dream come true.  Skating is the very center of who I am and how I live my life.”

New Canadian Champions to be Crowned in Kingston

Pair skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are flying into the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships this week in Kingston, Ontario on a wing.

Kevin Reynolds is flying in on a prayer.

Everybody knows about the stunning international results delivered by Canada’s top two duos, how they both swept their Grand Prix events and won the Grand Prix Final by large margins and huge personal bests. And they both find themselves at the half-way point of the season as favourites for world championship gold.

Reynolds has been forced to follow a different path, disappearing from sight after withdrawing from both of his Grand Prix events, felled by boot issues and injury.

But wait! According to a conference call on Friday, Reynolds is very much back and alive and zeroing in on finally winning that elusive Canadian title after 10 years at the senior level. He appears to have finally found the magic slipper, and has been training more solidly in the past four or five weeks than he has in the past year and a half. This news happily creates an interesting showdown with the 16-year-old Nam Nguyen, who has gone from strength to strength this season and clearly wants that title abdicated by Patrick Chan, too.

Last season, Reynolds went through nine pairs of boots, trying to find a perfect fit, almost impossible considering his uncommonly narrow heels and wide forefoot. He struggled through four pairs of boots earlier this season, and finally found a custom-fit pair – only to discover that they would break down within a week and a half, under the rigors of a Reynolds’ training session.

The problems worsened after Reynolds finished sixth at the Skate Canada Autumn Classic International in Barrie, Ontario, clearly suffering from a lack of training. And then one day in practice, he fell on a quad and sprained his left ankle, the one he uses as takeoff for the triple Axel and his two quads. “I was simply unable after spraining that ankle to be in any sort of competitive shape for the Grand Prix season,” he said. He had to withdraw from the Grand Prix. It was tough.

He knew he had to take a different tack to push forward after the sprain healed. He decided to try out the best, most expensive stock boot offered by each manufacturer, to see which one fit best. He’s lost track of how many boots he’s tried this season. He puts it at 12. But one of those pairs fit, just well enough.

Reynolds calls it “an amicable solution.” After what he’s been through, it’s enough to give him more confidence than he’s had in more than a year, heading into Kingston.

“In the last month or so, I’ve been able to get some good quality training in,” Reynolds said. “Heading into nationals, I want to be able to capitalize on the opportunities that are present this year, namely that Patrick Chan has decided to opt out this season, which leaves the national title open for the taking.”

Reynolds toughest obstacle right now is a lack of competition leading up to nationals, and in an ideal world, he’d like a little more training time, too. But “I’ve proven that I’ve been able to deal with that in performances that I gave at the world championships and Olympics,” he said. “I know it’s possible to step up to the plate and hopefully take that national title. But I know other people are hungry for it, too.”

Hungry? Others are, too. As huge as their winning score was at the ISU Grand Prix Final in Barcelona last month, Weaver and Poje believe that their routines have improved even more over the past month. “We’ve enhanced a lot of aspects of our program so we’re really looking forward to not only having a great nationals, but getting a lot of feedback to give us a boost into the second half of the season,” Weaver said.

Most of their work on their exquisite free dance to the Four Seasons, is subtle, “a couple of choreography things,’’ finishes, details, expression, interpretation. They’re just starting to feel the rhythm and the feel of the routine. “We have so much room to grow,” Weaver said.

Goals? They’re working at maximizing all of their levels of difficulty at the national championships. “We want to make our programs bullet-proof in terms of the technique,” she added. They have now become accustomed to being the top seed at an event, and they’re ready for the responsibility.

This will be their eighth Canadian championship, and both hope they can finally win their first Canadian title, this after already winning a silver medal at last year’s world championships and gold at the Grand Prix Final.

Duhamel and Radford will go into this national championship with a much more relaxed feeling, especially since they will no longer be pushed by Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch. That team has split and are both with new partners, adding another level of intrigue to the event.

Duhamel and Radford, winners of their ISU Grand Prix Final gold by seven points, see this season as a major breakthrough for them. “Last year at the end of the season, we saw a big shift in pair skating in the world: so many teams breaking up, getting new partners, retiring, taking the season off, having injuries, whatever,” Duhamel said. “When we decided to continue skating after Sochi last year, a big part of that was because we saw an opportunity to become the best in the world. And in skating, a lot of it is about timing. You have to wait your turn and you have to be around together as a team and skate your best, at the right time.

“I think that we have a great opportunity this year to set the world on fire,” she said. “And now it’s up to us to seize the opportunity. I would say so far, we’re doing a good job of that.”

TICKETS

Tickets can be purchased online at www.ticketmaster.ca, by phone at 1.855.985.5000 or in person at the Rogers K-Rock Centre box office.

EVENT
The event will feature approximately 250 skaters in the men’s, women’s, pair and ice dance disciplines, competing in three levels: senior, junior and novice.

Athletes qualified for the championships threw their sectional events and then move onto Skate Canada Challenge the national qualifying event, which saw 18 men’s, 18 women, 12 pair teams and 15 ice dance teams move onto the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

Athletes will vie for spots on the Skate Canada National Team and the Canadian teams that will compete at the 2015 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, the 2015 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and the 2015 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships.

Next generation of skaters producing results in Kingston

Coach Josée Picard calls it Part Two. And she’s talking about tiny Justine Brasseur, who has won both the novice women’s short program and the novice pairs short with her new partner Mathieu Ostiguy at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships this week.

Part One of Picard’s revived career would be Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau, the current Junior Grand Prix Final champions. Of course, Picard’s past is the anchor of it all: she coached Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler to win a world pair title and Olympic bronze medal back in the 1990s.

It’s only too fitting that Picard’s latest project is Isabelle Brasseur’s niece, Justine, the daughter of Isabelle’s brother, Dominique.

Picard has been coaching the newest skating Brasseur since she was four. And she started Justine out in pairs when she was only seven – the best way to develop a pair skater.

Brasseur and Ostiguy won the pairs short program on Tuesday with 36.91 points, a narrow lead over Olivia and Mackenzie Boys-Eddy. Justine won the novice women’s short program on Monday with 43.05 points, delivering a triple toe loop – double toe loop and a triple Salchow, along with two spins rated level four.

When Justine was seven, Picard asked Ostiguy, skating at a nearby rink, if he wanted to skate pairs with her. He politely declined, continuing on his singles career. Justine skated with other partners, but they were short-lived duos, all tiny, some with only a 10-pound weight difference, not that Justine was ever very big.

A year and a half ago, Ostiguy came to skate with Picard at her club, and once again, Picard asked him about skating pairs. Ostiguy still did not want to do pairs. But after nationals last year, when Ostiguy did well enough in junior men’s, but not well enough to ever make an international team – there were no triple Axels in the future – Picard told him that when they went home, he would try pairs – and no argument. And then he could decide whether or not he wanted to continue.

He bought in. Picard didn’t think they’d be ready in time for these nationals. But they are showing that they are, with a professional, tidy look on the ice. “What’s good is that they are both good jumpers,” Picard said. “They do all the triples. It’s just a matter of him with lifts, because he had never done lifts before.”

This is Justine’s ninth year of skating. Picard says she’s happy to skate and skate all day at the rink. She’s always smiling. Like Séguin and Brasseur’s aunt, she’s easy going. “I’ve had this one in the oven a long time,” Picard said.

Lori-Ann Matte and Thierry Ferland were only .22 points back in third behind the Boys-Eddy team.

The team that finished ninth of 11 – Katrina Lopez and Kurtis Schreiber – brought back powerful memories of a heady time. They wore the costumes that their coaches, Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay, wore at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

“It’s pretty cool,” Lopez said afterward. She watched the Olympics at home in Calgary.

Wearing them gave this new pair extra motivation: they are not only representing Alberta, but their coaches, too, Schreiber said.

It was a “super last-minute decision” for Lopez and Schreiber to morph into pair skaters. Schreiber tried out with Lopez last summer, but wasn’t sure he wanted to do it. They finally got together September 10, only four months ago.

Because they started so late, there wasn’t time to whip up all of their costumes. And Langlois says she and Cody are all for saving their students’ money.

Langlois tells Lopez that she looks better in the costume than she did five years ago.

Mary Orr of Brantford, Ont., and Phelan Simpson of Kitchener, Ont. won the junior pair short program easily with 48.04 points and have more than a five-point lead over Hope McLean of Newbury, Ont., and Trennt Michaud of Trenton, Ont., with 42.74. In third place is Keelee Gingrich and Davin Portz of Calgary with 41.86 points.

The new novice men’s champion is 14-year-old Gabriel St. Jean of Grand-Mere, Que., who actually finished third in the free skate with 75.05 points to finish overall with 118.23.

Gabriel Farand, 13, of St-Antoine-sur-Richelieu, Que., who had led after the short program, was fifth in the free and took the silver medal with 117.09. The winner of the free skate was Conrad Orzel, 14, of Woodbridge, Ont., who evoked tumbleweeds in his routine and won the bronze medal with 114.06. His winning score in the free was 80.49.