by Beverley Smith
(4 February 2013)
The Canadian championships had never been held in Mississauga before, although the Hershey Centre had been home to many international events. But it worked. With the senior events squished into three days, events sold out Saturday and Sunday. Never mind the bone-chilling temperatures.
Early in the week, the novices and juniors played to yawning rinks, but the action on the ice was dramatic.
Witness novice dance. Worth watching, because it was a portent of things to come. For the first time B.C. dancers swept the podium and they all came from one club – and it seems to be a mighty budding club – that of former Olympians Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe. Wing and Lowe were the talk of the week.
Not only did Wing and Lowe take all the medals in novice dance, but their dancers finished first and third at the junior level, and – much to everybody’s surprise – a young and upcoming Junior Grand Prix team took the bronze medal in the senior dance. More on that later.
Winners of the novice dance were the delightfully named Danielle Wu and Spencer Soo, who came within 0.28 points of setting a Canadian novice dance record when they finished with 96.47 points. They were only 0.28 points short of the mark set by training mates Madeline Edwards and Zhao Kai Pang, who by the way, won junior dance for Wing and Lowe.
Together since March of 2011, Wu and Soo were a good physical match from the beginning, Lowe said. “And they have such a good relationship that they trust each other. So being able to even try difficult lifts makes it way easier for them.”
Wu is a fearless girl, Wing said. Together they did an incredible final lift, so difficult that Lowe said he and his partner could not have done it in their day. The difference? The young teams are learning harder lifts very early. They do a lift in which Wu is in a donut position: he holds her with one hand – and he skates on one foot. During their final lift of their Scott Joplin ragtime, they lost control a bit, and did seven rotations instead of six. One judge gave them a +3 on a straight-line lift and on the midline step sequence. They are only 14 and 15 years old, at their first Canadian championship.
Wing and Lowe are said to be tough taskmasters, and they listen to advice. Their dancers master the lifts off-ice before they take them onto the blades.
Taking the silver medal were Brianna Delmaestro and Graeme Gordon, who actually won the Westminster Waltz over Wu and Soo. Slightly older at 17 and 19, Delmaestro and Gordon have been together less than a year, and overcame a sixth place finish at the qualifying event for the national championships. In Mississauga, though, they earned 88.48 points, almost eight points behind the winners.
Alexa Linden, 17, and Tyler Miller, 18, finished third, and have been together only nine to 10 months. They were only fifth after compulsories but used a Beatles medley to pull up, finishing with 88.13.
Daniel-Olivier Boulanger-Trottier had won before he started: he had the longest name in the competition. But the 16-year-old from Montreal won the title by eight points with 128.53 points ahead of tiny Eric Liu and Antony Cheng.
Both of Boulanger-Trottier’s parents are deaf and could not hear his Dance Hall music (he wore the number “32” on his back, like a ballroom dance contestant. In his free skate, he opened with a triple toe loop that erupted out of nowhere, from footwork. Then he finessed his biggest trick of the competition, a triple loop – double toe loop. He fell on an ambitious triple flip , but gathered himself together to land a couple of triple Salchows and another triple loop. When the Chris-Mabee look-a-like finished and saw his marks, he was in tears. By the way, the real Chris Mabee, now retired, was at the event.
Little Eric Liu was a treat. Only 11, and mosquito-like in a field of giants, Liu showed his versatility, skating to Dizzy Gillespie’s Salt Peanuts for the short, and Rachmaninoff for the long. In the short, he finished only fifth after falling on his opening triple toe loop and stepping out of a triple Lutz (!) but he made an impression with his beautiful arm movements. His father, Wei Liu, was a former Chinese national who moved to Alberta, then skated ice dance for a while with a Canadian partner. After being taught skating skills by his father, is it any surprise that little Eric has dance qualities? Eric has a younger brother who is an ice dancer, learning under Wing and Lowe. Watch for the Liu family in the future.
During the long program, the rink fell silent as Liu skated, landing a triple toe loop – double toe loop combination, a triple loop, a triple Salchow (he struggled out of it), and a triple toe loop that was a beauty. He fell on a double Axel and put a hand down on a double Lutz. He finished with a senior level spin (got a level four) and picked up a few +2 GOEs on it. He is more balletic than Nam Nguyen, the ultimate showman.
Antony Cheng, who just turned 15 before the event, finished third in his first national championships, skating to Pirates of the Caribbean. While Boulanger-Trottier won with 128.53 points, a Canadian record for a novice man, Liu finished a hair ahead of Cheng, earning 120.53 to Cheng’s 120.18.
They were an interesting, promising lot, although the majority of them weren’t really young. They ranged in age from 13 to 17, with only two 13-year-olds and a four 14-year-olds. Whatever age they were, they sparkled, showing promise of good things to come in a discipline in which Canada hasn’t had depth in the past.
At the end of it all, Zoe Gong, 15, triumphed after finishing third in the short program, and winning a hotly contested long, with only about three points separating the top five.
Maysie Poliziani, 17, won the short program, best of her career, having added a triple Salchow after finishing 12th at the qualifying event. She did under-rotate the Salchow, but emerged on top with a score of 36.58, outstepping 14-year-old Julianne Delaurier, the product of coaching team Karen and Jason Mongrain of Kelowna, B.C., who are starting to turn out good young skaters at the lower levels. Kelowna, by the way, is more of a hockey than a figure skating town in the mountains. The Mongrains may change that.
Gong had finished third in the short with a triple loop in her arsenal, with 36.15, only . 38 points behind Delaurier. Delaurier under-rotated her triple loop but had a more difficult combination in the short than Gong: a triple Salchow – double toe loop.
Using James Bond music from last year, Gong wore down her competition with her secret weapon, the triple loop in the long program. She bravely used it in combination early in the program, although she made a turn before launching into the double toe loop. And she did land an excellent one later. Otherwise, double jumps abounded and she won with 108.48 points, well behind the Canadian record of 114.22, set by Veronik Mallet two years ago. Mallet is leaving that achievement in the dust. She bounced up to win the silver medal at the junior championships last year, and at this event, jumped straight to senior, where she finished fifth, almost ancient in that event at age 18.
Poliziani, backed by a loudly cheering fan club, finished second in the long, and held onto the silver medal, with 107.87 points, less than a point behind the winner. She was cheered while falling on a triple Salchow, but the support helped her to motor on with a nice triple toe loop – double toe loop combination. She grittily held onto a wild flying sit spin. A big red, fuzzy heart plopped onto the ice after she finished.
Taylor LeClaire actually finished third in the long program, with a triple Salchow-double toe loop combination and two other triples, but finished fifth overall, unable to make a deficit of having been sixth in the short. Delaurier, with her puffy little turquoise tutu, showed good speed, and a triple Salchow combination to take the bronze medal with 104.87 points.
Also notable: Kelsey Wong, 14, skating to Puccini, let fly a triple Salchow, but it was her speed and a wondrous spin, reminiscent of the pearl spin done by American skaters that made her memorable. She fell while attempting a triple Salchow combination and ended up fourth overall with 104.42 points.
Eight pairs started this even, and Skate Canada is beginning to realize that it needs to ramp up its pair programs and encourage more youngsters to take it up. It was never more noticeable than in the senior event, with only six pairs left to fight for three medals, after the withdrawal of the retiring Jessica Dube and Sebastien Wolfe. There were also only eight junior pairs.
“It’s just one of those years,” said Louis Stong, who did a pair seminar for the first three days of the championships. He’s hoping the seminars will create a rebound as boys will say: “Perhaps I’m in the wrong discipline” and new coaches become inspired.
Stong and some other officials also sat in the stands all week, looking at possible pair skaters, perhaps a 16-year-old boy with broad shoulders, or a tiny girl with moxie. “When you’re sitting in seventh or eighth place in novice or junior men and you’re struggling with nothing more than a triple Salchow or a triple toe loop, then you ask yourself: “Do I want to be Patrick Chan? Or do I want to be Dylan Moscovitch?’” Stong said.
The pair seminar attracted people like two-time Canadian pair bronze medalists (1993 and 1995) Jodeyne Higgins and Sean Rice, back from their show skating travels, who may become coaches of the future.
Rachael Dobson and Alexander Sheldrick are an unlikely pair but together they won the novice title. Dobson is only 13, Sheldrick 22 and a second year student at Wilfrid Laurier University. She’s 4-foot 11, he’s 5-foot-8. Together only since September, Dobson and Sheldrick put together some good pair elements, getting level fours for a couple of lifts and both of their spins. A throw double loop and a throw double Salchow rounded out their repertoire and they finished with a total of 100.72 after coming from second in the short. (The record is 118.29 set by Dylan Moscovitch and his former partner, sister Kyra at Junior Nationals eight years ago.)
Skating to Adele, Judith Murtha-Anders and Trennt Michaud won the silver medal with 98.16 points after having won the short program.
Albertans Taylor LeClaire, 15, and Christopher Mostert, 17, coached in part by former Olympic champion David Pelletier, won the bronze medal with 92.60 points. Both lead busy lives. LeClaire skated the novice pair event two hours after she finished fifth in the novice women’s event. Mostert is a junior men’s skater.
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