All will try to find their footing at the 99th Canadian figure skating championships — in a sport where even the most accomplished practitioners can suddenly topple off the edge of a quarter-inch blade and slide into ignominy.
It’s a fickle racket that way.
For Patrick Chan, who comes to these events and routinely racks up eye-popping scores — even though they don’t count on the records ledger because the International Skating Union assumes judges over-mark domestically — a commanding sixth title would help restore a sense of invulnerability heading into worlds, where he’s the two-time and defending gold medallist. A bit of that sheen was scraped off with a disappointing third-place result at the Grand Prix final last month in Sochi. Once in an orbit all his own, the 22-year-old — just turned on New Year’s Eve — has come back down to earth somewhat. Rivals certainly believe he’s within catching distance now.
Ice dance virtuosos Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, reigning Olympic champions, have a chance to show they’ve corrected whatever tiny technical shortcomings cost them widely anticipated gold in Sochi, the tandem bested by their American training partners despite a superior, indeed revolutionary, free dance routine. Their Carmen will seize your heart . . . and maybe some other vital organs. It’s that hot-hot-hot, erotica on ice.
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who’ve made such tremendous strides as a pairs team in just a few seasons together, hope a second national victory might spark them towards breaking the podium blockade when the best in the world convene.
And Amelie Lacoste, well, she’ll likely have her hands full with teenage challenger Kaetlyn Osmond, Canada’s most promising lady skater off the flash shown in winning Skate Canada last fall, the only Grand Prix assignment she was given.
Those are the most familiar names but there will be upwards of 250 competitors from across the country showing their stuff when Canadians launch Monday at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, vying in novice, junior and senior categories. They do it all together now, so the big guns won’t be on display — putting the pedal to the medals — until late in the week.
Chan arrives fresh off a Hawaiian vacation that took some of the grump off Sochi. “I don’t have any secret weapon I’ve been working on. I’m going back to what has worked before the last two worlds and that’s basically doing things like more run-throughs. My nemesis is I haven’t been able to consistently skate a clean program and I really want to be consistent in landing those back-to-back quads.”
The Ottawa native — Toronto-raised — has set the template for elite male skaters, a standard of excellence increasingly matched by pursuers, including Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and Spain’s Javier Fernandez, both of whom train here under Brian Orser. Bidding to grab some of that national spotlight in Mississauga are Kevin Reynolds, with his bizarre quad ease — silver in 2012 — and two teens knocking on the door: 16-year-old Mitchell Gordon, competing in his first senior nationals after winning the junior title last year, and 14-year-old Nam Nguyen, with his two career junior Grand Prix medals.
A slew of Canadian skaters compete as seniors at nationals but as juniors on the Grand Prix circuit because Skate Canada sends those who are age-eligible (14-19; 21 for males in dance and pairs) to events where they have the best chance for success. It’s part of the learning curve.
Chan, of course, is at the apex of that curve, which is why the real focus is worlds in London, Ont., come March. “I’m looking forward to defending my title in a very important place. I really want to bring my ‘A’ game there because it’s been my priority since the start of the season.
“I’m not having my best season, so it’s the perfect time to have the worlds in my backyard. The one thing I can rely on there is I’ll be comfortable — with the rink, the hotel, comfortable with the food and I won’t be jet-lagged. It puts me at ease.”
The couple took a five-day rest over Christmas to put some mental distance between Sochi and nationals. “Really, what it does is it gives our bodies a chance to rest and it also re-motivates us,” said Moir. “Sometimes, going to the rink, it’s like Groundhog Day. You feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over and over again.”
The duo have made some alterations to their programs since Sochi, mostly in the short dance, The Waltz Goes On. The complex story they were attempting to tell didn’t quite work as planned under the time constraint. “We started with this really complicated storyline and it’s hard to get it across in three minutes and include all the technical elements as well,” said Virtue. “We wanted to simplify that and really just create some beautiful movement.”
Chan, Virtue, Moir: They’re the proven gems of Canadian skating. But the stage of nationals is a huge coming-out under the TV lights for athletes moving through the ranks. There’s immense depth in all disciplines.
Youngsters have been encouraged to attempt triple jumps early in their careers, even if often the big tricks go AWOL as bodies mature and have to be rediscovered.
“This is where there’s been a lot of change in skating,” says Mike Slipchuk, high-performance director for Skate Canada. “Before, it was often felt that if the skaters were doing too many hard triples young, they could injure their bodies and not be able to continue. It’s actually been reverse, worldwide. You see skaters come up as young as 10 and they’re doing a lot of triples. They’re landing everything under the sun. Then, as they go through a growth period, often they will lose some of those jumps. But because they’ve learned them at a younger age and their bodies understand how to do those elements, they tend to reacquire them.
“The jumps come back.”