Skate Canada highlights strong national team
Mood in Saint John was 'jubilant'
The mood in Saint John at the Skate Canada International over the weekend was jubilant.
Skating fans got a first Grand Prix glimpse at Olympic title hopefuls Patrick Chan and dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Also on hand were world pair bronze medallists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, and Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond.
The stories across the board were not as much about who didn’t perform to their potential but rather who did.
For the first time, a team from Italy took a Grand Prix pair title. Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek, the reigning European pair medallists, were in a virtual three-way tie after the short program with the Duhamel and Radford, and the Chinese team Wenjing Sui and Cong Han. Berton and Hotarek’s best personal performances, maturity and technical competence, as well as mistakes from the Canadian team, led them to the top spot on the podium. Sui and Han took silver while Duhamel and Radford had to settle for bronze.
Weaver and Poje narrow gap
Everything stopped for me during the ice dance event.
To be able to see Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s new programs in practice and competition was a treat. In the short dance, Virtue and Moir both struggled in their twizzle sequence, which brought down the score but not my appreciation for their Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong duet. Fast forward to the free dance, which undoubtedly will not be the best we will see them skate this program but which nevertheless was beautiful and difficult. It is a brilliant vehicle for this team. The music is primarily from Russian composer Alexander Glazunov, which coach Marina Zoueva tells me has never been used for skating before. I am looking forward to seeing this program evolve over the season.
The gap between Virtue and Moir and Skate Canada silver medallists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje has started to narrow. Weaver and Poje were as prepared for this event as anyone could be. Their 42nd Street-inspired short dance is as charming as it is complex. They followed it up with a sophisticated and perfectly performed tango and personal best scores in both segments of the competition. Weaver and Poje weren’t skaters trying to emulate the tango; they owned it.
The biggest news in the women’s event was the withdrawal of Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond after the short program. She told me she’d arrived at practice on Saturday morning and was in so much pain from a right hamstring flare-up that she had no choice but to pull out of the free. She was tearful and stressed; given her fiercely competitive nature, I am sure that the pain was acute. Osmond and coach Ravi Walia have been through this before and have already put a recovery plan in place that would see Kaetlyn well enough to compete at her second Grand Prix in Russia at the end of the series.
Remember this name: Julia Lipnitskaia. She’s 15, competes for Russia and won the Skate Canada title. Lipnitskaia has the technical goods to be competitive and beautiful extension and polish in a style that is beginning to evolve.
Chan wins, but Axel issues persist
Three-time world champion Patrick Chan took his fourth Skate Canada title over the weekend. He looked more settled than he did when I last saw him compete his free program in August. His quad toe jumps were big and secure, while his skating skills and expression continue to dominate. But it appears as if his triple Axel jump is messing with his head. He attempted this staple men’s jump frequently in practice, but when it came time for his free program he doubled one and singled another. The difference in value between a single and triple Axel can mean the difference between gold and off the podium if the field is tight. Chan’s team will no doubt be directing some attention here.
The Japanese men, Nobunari Oda and Yuzuru Hanyu, finished with the bronze and silver medals respectively. With as many men competing for the three Japanese Olympic men’s berths as there are, there is no doubt that skating well in the Grand Prix is essential. Of the six men’s medals given out over the first two Grand Prix events, an impressive half belongs to the Japanese men.