Canadian Nationals is a Last Bow for Many Top Skaters
Patrick Chan makes history with his tenth title; Daleman surprised Osmond to win the ladies title; Duhamel & Radford bring back another old program to win pairs; Virtue & Moir get a perfect score in their free dance.
A pre-Olympic National Championships is always a big deal, and the 2018 Canadian National Skating Championships in Vancouver was no exception. Although Skate Canada did list some other criteria they would consider for naming the Olympic team, the results here were still probably going to mostly dictate it. And while the Olympic team has not yet been named as I type this, the results are such that any deviation from them isn’t likely. The teams for the Four Continents Championships and junior and senior World Championships will likely also come out today, determined by what happened this weekend.
But as well as an Olympic trials, this was also the last Canadian Nationals for many of the country’s top skaters, including the winners of the men’s, pairs, and dance event. They’ve all made clear they’re retiring after this season. Some of them might even be gone as soon as the Olympics are over. That gave this event a nostalgic and bittersweet feel, as skaters tried to end their career, or at least their Nationals career, on the right note.
Patrick Chan came in saying he had two goals left: win a record-breaking tenth national title, and try to help Canada win the team gold at the Olympics. Goal number one was the easier of the two. Things did not go well at first. In his short he tumbled down on his quadruple toe loop and stepped out of his triple axel jump. Then his free program started with a messy quad, a clean quad-double jump combination, and his only triple axel attempt in the three-jump doubled. But then he finally pulled it together, held on to the rest of his jumps (except the planned second double axel, which got invalidated as an illegal third), and skated with the beauty befitting his last national bow. He maxed out steps and choreographic sequence, which was pretty much to be expected. He won by about a dozen points.
The big question, of course, was who would join him in PyeongChang. There were eight men who all had at least an outside shot at it. After the short, Revin Reynolds held second, But he was barely ahead of Keegan Messing, Elladj Balde, and Nam Nguyen. Reynolds landed one quad in the short, but tripled the salchow in his quad-triple attempt. Messing tried only a quad toe-triple toe, and made the same mistake. After barely recovering from his fall concussion in time to qualify, Balde, trying no quad, was not only the only clean guy in the top eleven, but was positively spellbinding. Nguyen was one of two men to land the quad salchow-triple toe, but fell on his lutz.
Reynolds faltered in the free skate. Three of his four quad attempts ended in disaster, and while a quad-triple-double went better, his triples didn’t go much better. He dropped to fifth, a point behind Balde. Balde brought the house down again with the best performance of the night after Chan’s. But without the quads, he’d needed to be perfect to medal, and he instead messed up his triple lutz three-jump and solo lutz. He’ll sadly end his career without a senior national medal, finishing fourth, while above him, the second berth came down to Messing and Nguyen.
After struggling for so long, Nam Nguyen went back to the 2015 La Strada free he’d had most of his successes with. It worked; he skated like he had back then, falling on a quad toe but landing everything else, including a quad salchow, and he took second in the segment. But Messing also had a strong free. He too went down on his quad toe, but he did another one in combination. Roughness on his triple axel three-jump and closing flip were too much for his superior presentation scores to make up on Nguyen. But he was only a point behind him, and had been ahead by two, and so took silver and likely the Olympic berth, leaving Nguyen with bronze.
After the short, the other four contenders were clustered close to each other a little way back. One of them, Joseph Phan, even beat Reynolds in the free, skating more clean than not, managing the quad-triple in his short, and having long program jump content not unlike Messing’s. But he also had a doubled lutz in his short, and doubled axel in a three-jump, and lower presentation scores, and so finished sixth. The rest didn’t beat the top five in the free skate either. Roman Sadovksy’s jumps were too weak throughout, and he was only clean on one of four quads and one of two axels, not enough for higher than seventh. Liam Firus beat him in the segment, but only on presentation scores. His two programs were littered with small and big errors, including on both his quad attempts, and he was a point behind Sadovsky in eighth.
Most disappointed of all were Nicolas Nadeau in ninth, and even Stephen Gogolev in tenth, although he wasn’t a contender, simply because he’s too young even for junior international competition. Nadeau started his competition with a quad toe-triple toe, and Gogolev was the other skater to land the quad salchow-triple toe. But it was generally downhill from there for the both of them.
Matthew Markell came back from a fourth-place short with a mostly clean free to win the junior men’s title over Corey Circelli. Circelli was the only man in the field to try the triple axel; the results cost him, as did two falls in the free. Short program winner Zoé Duval-Yergeau made a number of errors in his fourth-place free, and barely held onto bronze ahead of Iliya Kovlar. With his second place free Kovlar made a valiant attempt to come up from eleventh, but a couple of underrotations still did him in.
The women’s gold was supposed to be a two-way battle, but only one of the women involved skated up to potential in both programs. Gabrielle Daleman came into the week the umpteenth skater to go back to last year’s program, but it was probably smart, since this year’s free skate wasn’t working out. She also came in battling pneumonia, but you wouldn’t have guessed that watching her nail her short. Maybe it showed a little more in the free, where she had to hold on to some of her jumps, but she still landed all of them. She even got the highest possible score for her triple toe-triple toe. That her triple triple combination was one of the easier ones in both programs mattered less when there was only one more difficult landed.
That was Katelyn Osmond, landing her triple flip-triple toe beautifully in the free. She’d failed to do her triple-triple in the short when she went down on the flip. She only managed a double following her lutz right after. Most of the rest of her free, including the triple-triple, was her at her best, and she maxed out multiple elements, including the lutz. But there was a section in the second half where she fell on her solo flip and two more jumping passes went wrong, including her three-jump. As a result, she had to settle for silver. Daleman beat her in both segments to claim her second national title, the first one she had to beat Osmond to win.
The battle for bronze and presumably the third Olympic berth was a volatile one. Alaine Chartrand, who once would’ve taken it easily, had two falls and no combination in her short, which left her ninth. Yet she was less than two and a half points out of it. Larkyn Austman, who was fourth last year, had a pair of costly stumbles and was sixth, but within half a point of third. It was Sarah Tamura who had everyone chasing her after she was the only woman to rotate a difficult triple-triple combination, a triple lutz-triple toe, though she fell on it.
In her free, Tamura stumbling through the triple-triple, and most of her other jumps also went wrong. Eighth in the segment, she dropped all the way down to ninth. Three of the five women between her and Chartrand skated even worse, and a fourth didn’t skate much better. Meanwhile, Austman, who wasn’t trying any triple-triples, tried the double axel-triple toe as her hardest element instead. That she underrotated and fell on, and she had a couple more stumbles. But it was still by far the best skate she’s had this season. Chartrand, meanwhile, had a fall, three underrotations, and only one jump combination. Austman didn’t beat Chartrand by much in either segment, but she beat her in both and took the bronze. And while Chartrand’s international results are stronger than Austman’s, they’ve still been bad enough they probably won’t get her the berth; Austman’s probably won it.
With them out, Aurora Cotop claimed fifth place and a spot on Canada’s national team. Had she been born thirteen days earlier, she would’ve been contending for the Olympics herself, and might even have been a candidate for it after the competition concluded. Although a bad fourteenth-place short probably would’ve doomed her anyway, and she didn’t beat the top four in the free either. Like Austman, her hardest attempted element in the latter was a double axel-triple toe, which she underrotated. She had a couple of issues besides that too, but her free was still much more clean than not, good enough to move her up nine places.
The junior women’s title was also a battle, with Olivia Gran beating Sarah-Maude Blanchard by a little more than a point. Harder jumps helped Blanchard win the short program, but Gran came back when her free was generally good, while Blanchard’s saw everything go wrong in the second half. Victoria Bockneck claimed the bronze, also not by much, though she struggled with her harder jumps.
Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford surprised everyone this week when they showed up to practice and, instead of doing their Muse program from 2015 they’d initially revived for this season, they did their more emotional Adele program from 2016. It helped them win their seventh straight and last in style. Not flawlessly; he had troubled with two-footing the side by side triple lutzes in both programs, and their attempt at a throw quadruple salchow in the free ended with a fall. But they combined the rest of their content, including a triple salchow three-jump, with as much emotion as they’ve ever managed.
Three teams came in contending for the other two Olympic berths, though only the one that missed Worlds last year were skating up to potential. Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau, however, did much better here than they recently have for silver. In the short, where she fell on their salchows, they barely stayed ahead of Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro, who held onto their easier jump content. But they delivered everything in their free skate, salchows included. Moore-Towers & Marinaro struggled on their big-ticket three jump. They nailed the rest of their program, where the content was easier. Ultimately, bronze and likely the last Olympic berth wasn’t a problem.
After struggling all fall, and being heavily criticized for their programs, Lubov Ilyuschechkina & Dylan Moscovitch brought back their tango short, in the hopes that would help. But it was their much bigger problem of their side by side jumps that doomed them. She messed up the solo jumps in both programs, and he messed up the combination in the free. A rough lift and a fall on a throw triple lutz sealed their fate. It’s particular heartingbreak for Ilyuschechkina, after all she’s been through, including just missing the Russian team in 2010. Behind them in fifth, Evelyn Walsh & Trennt Michaud had a pair of excellent skates, having only occasional moments of roughness, particularly on their free skate’s split triple twist. They did not attempt some of the harder jumps the top four went for, but they did have a three-jump in their long.
Lori-Ann Matte & Thierry Ferland were above the rest of the junior pairs enough to win even when their free was a mess. The field in general didn’t try very difficult elements. The three teams that finished within a point of each other for second, third, and fourth didn’t even try any side by side triples. Landing all their doubles helped Patricia Andrew & Paxon Knott edge out the silver. Below them, Gabrielle Levesque & Pier-Alexandre Hudon and Mariah McCaw & Steven Adcock tried triple throws, which didn’t go any better than their side by sides. But when Levesque & Hudon at least got all their elements ratified, which McCaw & Adcock didn’t, it got them the bronze.
Prohibitive favorites for their eighth and last national title, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir came in with programs reworked, the free dance especially. It now further emphasizes the love story, a good idea when that was always the program’s strength, and the ending is more spectacular. When they were absolutely flawless in their skating this week, the home judges finally gave us what we’ve been waiting to see happen: a program get a perfect score. They nearly managed it in their short dance, where they got the highest technical score possible, and then did manage it in their free dance. (In both instances, there was one +2 GOE, and the free dance had one 9.75 PCS mark among all the 10s, but those were all dropped as the lowest marks).
Below them, there was an upset for the silver. The woes that have plagued Katelyn Weaver & Andrew Pojé’s this season struck in the short dance, where as he slipped and stumbled through the twizzles. When they loss the entire value for them, they actually ended up fourth, a fraction of a point behind a generally strong-skating Carolane Soucisse & Shane Firus, even when they needed a moment to get in sync in their own twizzles. Meanwhile, Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier did maybe the best short dance they’ve ever done, and opened up an eight-point gap.
Weaver & Pojé finally shook it off in the free dance, where they finally performed as well as it’s been known they can. They maxed out the score for their delicate opening step sequence, and got straight 3s for their penultimate lift as well, although that was their only non-choreographic element not to get a level 4. All together they were good enough home judging got them over 120. It was Gilles & Poirier’s turn to have twizzles mishaps, with her going off on them. Still, the free dance they debuted impressed in its use of music and choreography, with much more character than many a James Bond free. Maxing out a couple of lifts helped them come in only seven points behind Weaver & Pojé in the segment, meaning they had one left over to win them the silver:
Even if Weaver & Pojé hadn’t pulled up, Canada, like the U.S., has the kind of trio of ice dance teams that, if healthy, would’ve been the ones sent to the Olympics no matter what. But once they scored what they did, it was pretty much impossible for Soucisse & Firus to stay ahead of them anyway. All they could do was skate an excellent free dance themselves, fixing their own twizzles issues no problem. It gave a little needed hope all might not be lost if all three of those teams decide to retire after this season. Below them, Sarah Arnold & Thomas Williams didn’t get the twizzles perfect in either program, but were strong enough in the free dance to pull up from sixth and claim the final spot on the national team.
Majorie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha had a strong competition, and won the junior dance title by nearly twenty points. Below them, things were more chaotic. Strong technical content and their short dance score helped Oliva McIsaac & Elliot Graham prevail to win silver. Ashlynne Stairs & Lee Royer, meanwhile, relied on their presentation scores, which helped them come back from an eighth place short to just edge out bronze.
View full results here. The Canadian teams for the Olympics and ISU Championships will be dealt with in separate posts.