Gilles and Poirier grab lead at Four Continents

TAIPEI – Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto are in first place after Wednesday’s short dance at the ISU Four Continents figure skating competition.

Gilles and Poirier earned a season’s best 62.38 points. Madison Hubbel and Zachary Donohue of the U.S., are second at 61.05 and their compatriots Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton stand third at 57.65.

Canada’s two other couples are also in the medal chase. Kharis Ralph of Toronto and Asher Hill of Pickering, Ont., are fourth at 53.97 and Nicole Orford of Burnaby, B.C., and Thomas Williams of Okotoks, Alta., fifth at 53.73.

In pairs after the short program, Margaret Purdy of Strathroy, Ont., and Michael Marinaro of Sarnia, Ont., are fifth and Natasha Purich of Sherwood Park, Alta., and Mervin Tran of Regina are seventh.

In men’s competition after the short program, Jeremy Ten of Vancouver is sixth, Nam Nguyen of Burnaby, B.C., 10th and Elladj Baldé of Pierrefonds, Que., 13th.

The free dance and women’s short program are on Thursday and the men’s and pairs finals on Friday.

Full results:

New team event in Sochi has Canada eyeing gold

Never has a Canadian figure skating team shown so much strength and depth as it has in the past year, leading up to the Sochi Olympics.
That’s incredibly good timing, because for the first time, there will be a team event in figure skating at the Games. And, judging by the results at the world championships last March in London, Ont., Canadian skaters intend to make a bold statement at the Sochi arena. In London, Canadians delivered in spades:
Patrick Chan won his third world title while Kevin Reynolds finished third in the short program and fifth overall. Olympic ice dancing champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who have drawn parallels to the iconic Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean during their careers, took the silver medal while Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje made a seemingly impossible comeback from injury to finish fifth; and Canadian pair champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won a bronze medal, while Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch were close on their heels to finish fourth. Even in the women’s event, Kaetlyn Osmond, making her world debut, finished fourth in the short program and eighth overall.
In London, Ont., Canadian skaters had won medals in three of the four disciplines for the first time since 2008, but their backups weren’t far behind.
“I think it’s definitely ours to win,” said Moscovitch at the time. “It’s very exciting for us to be part of this generation of skaters.”
Michael Slipchuk wasn’t surprised. “Given the skates people had had at Canadians and Four Continents, we knew our team was skating well,” he said. “To do it at the Olympics is a different thing. But our skaters did what they had been doing all season.”
The team event combines the scores for each of four disciplines. And even though Canada goes in as favourite to win gold, it has never won a World Team Trophy, finishing second twice and third once in the event held in Japan two weeks after the world championships.
But Slipchuk says the Olympic format favours the Canadian team more than the World Team Trophy does, with its two men’s entries, two women’s entries and only one pair and one dance team. “plays to the strength of countries with singles,” he said. “Our pair and dance team really couldn’t make much ground on the points from the singles. The Olympic setup we like much better because it’s one per discipline. Everyone is on an even keel.”
Over the past year, Canada has racked up more points than any country (6,053), well more than host Russia, with 5459 points, is favoured to win the event. The other countries that have qualified, in order of points are United States, Japan, Italy, France, China, Germany, Ukraine and Britain. All 10 teams compete in a short program on February 6, a day before the opening ceremonies, but only five advance to the long programs. A country is allowed two substitutions between the short and long programs.
Alas, because both Japan and Britain failed to qualify a skater in one of the four disciplines to contest the event, they may invoke an “additional athlete quota” to use a non-qualified skater to complete their team. Japan, for example, needs to bring in a pair team, while Britain has not qualified a men’s skater.
During the past year, Canada’s competitors have grown stronger – but so have Canadian skaters, Slipchuk said. Canadian skaters got into early competitions this season to get mileage and feedback on their programs. Some have dealt with frustrations so far: Reynolds with boot problems that caused him to miss all of his Grand Prix events, and an injury to Osmond that caused her to pull out of Skate Canada and miss her second Grand Prix event. Slipchuk says both are back on track. “Kevin has had some good training behind him, and Kaetlyn is building back up to where she’s comfortable,” he said. “I think everybody is where we’d like to see them and we’ll get a better indication this week.
“I think when we get to Sochi, the team will be ready,” Slipchuk said.
Strategy will be important in the team event, and Canada has a plan, but it’s keeping its ideas close to the vest, Slipchuk said. The skaters for the team short program don’t have to be announced until 10 a.m. the day before the event. “It’s like hockey, with the hot goalie, right?” Slipchuk said. Should a country place all of its best skaters in the team event, and risk tiring or injuring them for the individual events? Canada has one big advantage: because of the depth of its team, it has lots of options, more so than, for example, Russia, which can field only one man to the Olympics and therefore has only one choice for its men’s representative for the team event.
And Slipchuk says despite some concerns that the team event could detract from a skater’s ability to do their best in an individual event that not one member of the Canadian team has said they don’t want to be a part of it. “It’s such a unique opportunity,” he said. “You don’t get an option in Olympic year to get in that main rink and compete once before your individual event.” He believes the team event will help them all in their individual events.
And the team must keep pushing, aside from the team event. Slipchuk says that it’s important to keep building the “third rankers” – the ones who will take over in the next quadrennial – with hopes that they will push into the top 12 or 15 at the Games. “We’re not sure what the team will look like, post-Olympics, and we’ll have to go to a world championship and build spots for the next year.
“The responsibility on our team falls on everyone,” he said. “We’re expecting everyone to go to the Games and be their best and not have any regrets.”

Beverley Smith

Canadian Synchronized Skating teams travel to Austria to compete at 2014 Mozart Cup

OTTAWA, ON: Canada will have three synchronized skating teams competing at the 2014 Mozart Cup in Salzburg, Austria. The international synchronized skating competition taking place from January 23-26, 2014, features 61 teams from 16 different countries.

Seven-time defending Canadian champions, Nexxice, will be the sole Canadian representative in the senior category. Nexxice has previously competed at this event in 2012, earning bronze. The 2009 World Champions, 2012 and 2013 world silver medallists representing Western Ontario are coached by Shelley Barnett and Anne Schelter.

Nexxice junior, from Western Ontario, are one of two teams representing Canada in the junior category. The 2013 Canadian junior champions are coached by Trish Perdue-Mills. Also representing Canada in the junior division are Les Pirouettes junior, from Québec. The 2013 Canadian junior bronze medallists are coached by Nancy Alexander and Stéphanie Savoie.

Cynthia Alepin, of Mount Royal, Que., will be the sole Canadian official at the event.

For more information on the event please visit the event website or

Canadians ready to compete at 2014 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships®

OTTAWA, ON: Canada will send 11 entries, for a total of 16 athletes, to the 2014 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships® in Taipei City, Chinese Taipei.  The event takes place from January 20-26, 2014, at the Taipei Arena. The Canadian team will have three entries in men’s, ladies, and ice dance, and two entries in pair.

Elladj Baldé, 23, Pierrefonds, Que, representing Club de Patinage des Deux-Rives, will be the first entry in the men’s category. Baldé finished 18th at this event in 2013. This season, he placed fourth at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, and seventh at Skate Canada International. He trains out of the Detroit Skating Club with coaches Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen.

Nam Nguyen, 15, Burnaby, B.C., will be the second Canadian entry in men’s. This is his first international assignment at the senior level. Last season, he placed 12th at the 2013 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships. Nguyen most recently placed fifth at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships. He is coached by Brian Orser at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club.

Jeremy Ten, 24, Vancouver, B.C., will also represent Canada in men’s. Representing the North Shore Winter Club, Ten has previously competed at this event in 2012, placing 14th, and 2009, placing seventh. This season, he placed third at the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy, and sixth at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. He is coached by Joanne McLeod and Neil Wilson at the BC Centre of Excellence.

In ladies, veteran Amélie Lacoste, 25, Delson, Que., will lead the way. Representing CPA du Roussillon, the 2012 Canadian Champion has previously competed at this event six times (2005, 2009-2013). This season, she placed fifth at Skate Canada International, sixth at Trophée Eric Bompard, and earned bronze at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. Lacoste is coached by Christy Krall in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Véronik Mallet, 19, Sept-Îles, Que., is the second Canadian entry in ladies. This will be the first time competing at this event for the representative of CPA Sept-Îles. This season, Mallet placed eighth at Skate Canada International and fourth at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. Mallet is coached by Annie Barabé and Sophie Richard at CTC Contrecoeur.

Alaine Chartrand, 17, Prescott, Ont., rounds out the Canadian entries in the ladies category. This will be her first international assignment at the senior level. The 2013 Canadian bronze medallist also placed eighth at the 2013 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships. Most recently, she placed fifth at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. She is coached by Michelle Leigh and Leonid Birinberg, and trains at the Nepean Skating Club.

Natasha Purich, 18, Sherwood Park, Alta., and Mervin Tran, 23, Regina, Sask., are one of two Canadian pair entries. Representing Ice Palace FSC and CPA Saint-Léonard, the pair placed sixth at Nebelhorn Trophy and Trophée Eric Bompard this season. Purich and Tran also placed fourth at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. They train at CPA Saint-Léonard and are coached by Richard Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte.

Margaret Purdy, 19, Strathroy, Ont., and Michael Marinaro, 22, Sarnia, Ont., will be the second Canadian entry in pair. Representing Watford FSC and Point Edward SC, the pair placed eighth at both of their international assignments this season, Skate America and Skate Canada International. Purdy and Marinaro also placed fifth at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. They are coached by Scott Rachuk and Alison Purkiss at the Competitive Skating Centre of Strathroy.

Two-time Canadian medallists Piper Gilles, 22, Toronto, Ont., and Paul Poirier, 22, Unionville, Ont., are the first of three Canadian entries in ice dance. Last season, they placed fifth at this event. This season, they placed fifth at NHK Trophy, sixth at Rostelecom Cup, and fourth at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. They are coached by Carol Lane and Juris Razgulajevs at Ice Dance Elite in Scarborough, Ont.

Nicole Orford, 21, Burnaby, B.C., and Thomas Williams, 22, Okotoks, Alta., are the second Canadian entry in ice dance. Representing Inlet SC and Calalta Community FSC, they are the 2013 Canadian bronze medallists. This season, they won bronze at the 2013 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, and placed fifth at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. They are coached by Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe at the B.C. Centre of Excellence.

Kharis Ralph, 21, Toronto, Ont., and Asher Hill, 22, Pickering, Ont., will also represent Canada in ice dance. They previously competed at this event in 2010, placing sixth. This season, they placed fourth at the Cup of Nice, won bronze at NRW Trophy, and placed sixth at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. Ralph and Hill train out of Scarboro FSC and are coached by Carol Lane and Juris Razgulajevs.

The team leaders for this event are Petra Burka of Toronto, Ont., and Manon Perron of Boucherville, Que. Dr. Ed Pilat, Winnipeg, Man., will be the Canadian team doctor and Agnes Makowski of Toronto, Ont., will be the team physiotherapist. Canadian officials at the event are Susan Blatz of Burlington, Ont., Pam Chislett of Grand Prairie, Alta., Andrea Derby of Windsor, Ont., and Jeff Lukasik, of Calgary, Alta.

For results and full entries please visit


Discipline Name Age Hometown Club Coach
Men’s Elladj Baldé 23 Pierrefonds, Que. Club de Patinage des Deux-Rives Yuka Sato / Jason Dungjen
Men’s Nam Nguyen 15 Burnaby, B.C. Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club Brian Orser
Men’s Jeremy Ten 24 Vancouver, B.C. North Shore WC Joanne McLeod / Neil Wilson
Ladies Amélie Lacoste 25 Delson, Que. CPA du Roussillon Christy Krall
Ladies Veronik Mallet 19 Sept- Îles, Que. CPA Sept-Îles Annie Barabé / Sophie Richard
Ladies Alaine Chartrand 17 Prescott, Ont. Nepean Skating Club Michelle Leigh / Leonid Birinberg
Pair Natasha Purich / Mervin Tran 18/23 Sherwood Park, Alta. / Regina, Sask. Ice Palace FSC / CPA Saint-Léonard Richard Gauthier / Bruno Marcotte
Pair Margaret Purdy / Michael Marinaro 19/22 Strathroy, Ont. / Sarnia, Ont. Watford FSC / Point Edward SC Scott Rachuk / Alison Purkiss
Ice dance Piper Gilles / Paul Poirier 22/22 Toronto, Ont. – Colorado Springs, CO. / Toronto, Ont. Scarboro FSC / Scarboro FSC Carol Lane / Juris Razgulajevs
Ice Dance Nicole Orford / Thomas Williams 21/22 Burnaby, B.C. / Okotoks, Alta. Inlet SC / Calalta Community FSC Megan Wing / Aaron Lowe
Ice Dance Kharis Ralph / Asher Hill 21/22 Toronto, Ont. / Pickering, Ont. Scarboro FSC / Scarboro FSC Carol Lane / Jon Lane / Juris Razgulajevs

Looking back on a 100 Years of Champions

Hey, Louis Rubenstein, you with your dashing black bowler hat, moustache and sense of adventure: could you ever have imagined that 100 years after you created the first official Canadian figure skating championship in 1914, that Canada would be fielding the largest team of skaters in the world to the Sochi Olympic Games?

It wasn’t so easy for you, when you competed in the first unofficial world figure skating championship in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1890 – and won against all odds – but now the path you have forged leads back to Russia again this year, and the 100th anniversary of the event will serve to pick the team that will head to Sochi. And in the years since 1914, (when only three disciplines were contested), what memories your work has spawned.

The dance championship didn’t begin to rock until 1935 but Lady Evelyn Grey, daughter of the Governor General, competed in an unofficial waltz back in 1910. And that’s the sort of world that figure skating was back in the day: an entertaining show for the elite.

“Up until the 1950s, skating competitions were mainly a social event,” said former international skating judge Jane Garden. “They started out in Europe at the resorts in Switzerland as entertainment for the guests.” When she judged her first Canadian championship in 1965 (in Calgary), Garden puzzled out her scores while dressed in an evening gown. (Mind you, years later, she has admitted that she wore long johns underneath it.) She and her peers sat in chairs on a rubber mat at one side of the ice surface. Once, while Garden sat in the end chair, a skater careened wildly toward her, out of control. Fortunately, the skater stopped just as he hit the mat. “I was all poised to jump,” Garden said.

Under Rubenstein’s watch, skating grew more sophisticated and during the 1920s and 1930s, Canada had some of the best skaters in the world, with Constance Wilson Samuel winning nine national women’s titles and six pair titles between 1924 and 1938; Cecil Smith, a two-time Canadian women’s champion who proved popular with overseas media; Melville Rogers, a five-time Canadian champion between 1926 and 1928, the dominant Montgomery Wilson who still holds the record among Canadian men with nine national wins between 1929 and 1939; and Ralph McCreath, winner of three men’s titles. They all excelled internationally, and many of them also competed in pairs and dance – and even a fours event. That’s just what skaters did in those days.

After the Second World War, things were never the same after a tiny Barbara Ann Scott finished second at her first senior Canadian championship in 1941 when she was only 12, behind Mary Rose Thacker but ahead of the 1940 champion Norah McCarthy. “It can be very discouraging for a grownup to lose a judge’s decision to a tiny tot who spends her time between appearances – as I did – sitting in the dressing room with a Charlie McCarthy doll on her lap, practicing ventriloquism,” Scott wrote in her autobiography Skate With Me.

In those early days, Canadians often didn’t skate to recorded music. They would arrive at the national championships with annotated sheet music, and they would skate to a live pianist. Usually, a chap called Jack Jardine obliged.

In 1946, Ralph McCreath left a lasting impression when he won the men’s event, dressed in his army uniform. It was a dramatic performance. Whenever MccCreath did a jump, Jardine would take his hands off the piano keys and he wouldn’t play the next note until McCreath had landed. “After a while, skaters started to complain that Jack would adjust the tempo,” Garden said. “And if he didn’t like you, you had real trouble with it.” He would speed it up – or slow it down.

As recorded music became more available, skaters and coaches would spend long hours at Sam Sniderman’s Toronto shop, listening to find the perfect tune. “He’d let you open the records and play them,” Garden said. Up until 1985 at the championships in Moncton, N.B., skaters were still using music on plastic vinyl records, that often were held up in airport security because many didn’t realize that specially cut records had a metal insert.

Those Canadian championships in Moncton also marked the first time that results were done by computer, which sat on the judges’ stand on top of a tablecloth that generated so much static electricity that it wiped it out for a day or two.

Some of Canada’s brightest skating stars – and there are many – waltzed their way through the Canadian championships on their way to world honours. The Canadian championships are special to all of them. “The really neat thing about going to the Canadian championship is the fans,” said Victor Kraatz, who, with Shae-Lynn Bourne won 10 senior national titles, more than any other Canadian skaters in a sole event. “The fans are what really drive the Canadian championships. They come back year after year, even when the economy isn’t doing so well. The inspiration you get to light up the spectators was always one of our pre-sets when we competed.”

Many remember the year that 14,000 Canadian spectators at the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton chanted: “Six! Six! Six!” after Bourne and Kraatz skated their iconic Riverdance routine in 1998. The judges listened, handing out six marks of 6.0. It was the first time Bourne and Kraatz received the mark of perfection.

Five years earlier, when the popularity of skating was at its height, former Canadian pair champion Sandra Bezic recalls the heady atmosphere surrounding the Kurt Browning-Elvis Stojko rivalry, when the crowd in Hamilton, Ont., roared and wouldn’t stop. Bezic had choreographed Browning’s memorable routine to Casablanca. Both skaters performed lights out and had the crowd on edge. Browning swept all the judges and won.

The memories that champions hold are not always the big ones. Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden were trying to make the Olympic team in 1952, but had been told they weren’t good enough. “Let’s not pay any attention to that,” said coach Sheldon Galbraith. “Let’s just work for what we’re trying to do.”

The Canadian championships that year were in Oshawa, but a driving blizzard wreaked havoc on travel to the event. By the time Dafoe and Bowden made their way through the heavy snow, they discovered their hotel rooms had been given away.

Col. Sam McLaughlin, the Canadian car baron and philanthropist, was kind enough to take them into his home. But because they were to compete not only in the pairs event, but three dance events, Dafoe was quite nervous. Norris suggested they go for a walk. But when they returned, they found that the McLaughlin’s had left and locked the door – and their skates were in the house. Bowden jimmied a window, they got their skates and headed to the arena.

Their trial by fire wasn’t over. At the two-minute mark of their five-minute pair routine – the one that was to get them to the Olympics – their music stopped. Coach Sheldon Galbraith had told them to keep skating no matter what, so they did. Two minutes later, the music came back on, and Dafoe and Bowden were right on the beat. They won, and with it, got a trip to their first Olympics. In fact, they won everything they entered at that Canadian championship, despite all of their troubles.

Until they won their first world championship, Dafoe and Bowden paid their own way to competitions.

Donald Jackson was only 14 when he skated at his first Canadian championship (junior level) in Toronto in 1955. He had a new haircut. His skates were shiny. And his parents had sent his costume off to be pressed. At the Ford Hotel, where they were staying, Jackson’s father, George pressed his son as they were getting ready to go to the rink: “Don, do you have everything?”

“Yes, dad,” Jackson said. Father asked him again. “Don’t worry,” Jackson said. “I’ve got everything.”

At the rink, when Jackson went to the dressing room, he discovered, much to his horror, that the pants were missing. The hotel had put the costume on two different hangers, and the trousers were hanging behind the closet door. Father George had to go into high gear. Jackson said he took a streetcar back to the hotel and retrieved the trousers five minutes before Jackson took to the ice. As if nothing had happened, Jackson skated such a stirring free skate that he received a loud, noisy standing ovation at the Varsity Arena and won, defeating Bob Paul. It was Jackson’s first time at a Canadian championship.

Like Jackson and Dafoe, Bezic remembers her first one best. In 1966, she was only nine years old and she’d had the measles the week before. Because of her illness, the Bezics arrived only the day of the event in Peterborough, driving through a snowstorm. Bezic and her 12-year-old brother, Val, finished second to last, were thrilled not to be last, and went right back home again. “We had no clue,” Bezic said. The following year, she and brother Val won the novice pair championship. “Then it all becomes sort of a blur,” she said. The Bezics won five senior titles from 1970 to 1974.

Ditto, for Maria Jelinek, who with her brother, Otto, had to play second fiddle to Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul before they won two national titles themselves. But her first memory? Her first Canadian championship in 1955 in Toronto. She was a 12-year-old girl in pigtails and Otto was 15. They originally had no intention of competing at the Canadian championships that year, but coach Bruce Hyland casually said since it was so close, why not put together a program and go?

They had to compete against a pair much older than they were, but after the warm-up, the pair withdrew, perhaps realizing they weren’t going to win. Hyland was upset, thinking that if they withdrew, the event wouldn’t be counted as a competition, but officials deemed that since the team had warmed up on the ice, they were indeed part of the competition. The Jelineks went out – and won, of course.

Unlike many other skaters, Kraatz remembers all of his 10 victories from 1993 to 2003. “They were not a blur at all, because they all were a moment in our development that would usually signal the send-off for worlds,” he said. It was monumental, however, when he and Bourne won the junior title in 1992. Bourne had practiced in a helmet after a practice fall before the event. But the Swiss-born Kraatz remembers it as the first competition he had ever won in Canada.

He remembers the milestones. Every year, they did a program that was vastly different from the one before. Every three or four years, they had different coaches. However, Kraatz’s fondest memories are his days with Josee Picard and Eric Gillies, because they were Canadian coaches who cared about the strength of the sport in the country, he said.

Mostly, he remembers the camaraderie among skaters, and the appreciation of cities across the country where the championships were held. “It gave me an idea of what the country was like,” he said. Unlike 1914, it’s no longer a contest between a few clubs in Montreal and Ottawa, Canada’s best skaters from across the country make the journey to the event every January.

Beverley Smith

Grenier and Deschamps claim junior pair title in first season together; Margalik tops podium in junior men’s

Vanessa Grenier and Maxime Deschamps take your breath away with the speed at which they master their craft.

On Wednesday, they won the junior pair title at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, even though Grenier had never skated pair before this season, and had never even had a pair tryout until 11 months ago.

Grenier, a former singles skater from Sherbrooke, Que., decided that she needed a new challenge. She’s now 21 and has it. She didn’t start working with Deschamps until June, because she had to finish school and she doesn’t live in Montreal, Que., where they now train with Richard Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte.

Grenier and Deschamps won the pair event at the 2014 Skate Canada Challenge in December but finished second to Julianne Séguin, 17, of Montreal, and Charlie Bilodeau, 20, of Rimouski, Que., in the short program.

The free skate, with only eight pairs in it, was very encouraging, with a number of teams trying difficult elements. The top two teams stood out remarkably. Séguin and Bilodeau are a wonderfully dynamic team and may have taken the win if not for a slip on a triple Salchow jump, and a singled throw.

Grenier and Deschamps won the free skate with 98.28 points and overall gold with 149.51. Séguin and Bilodeau were close behind them, second in the free program with 91.28 points, earning the silver medal with a total score of 147.82.

The bronze medal went to Mary Orr and Phelan Simpson with 121.90 points. They landed an impressive throw triple Lutz, although she put a hand down on it.

“It’s my first year doing pairs,” Grenier said. They started out with a beautiful double twist , and landed two triple throws (toe loop and Salchow) and two triple jumps (a Salchow and a triple toe loop – double toe loop combination!), and they earned level fours on two lifts and two spins.

“A year ago, I did not know what a death spiral was, or a throw,” she said. Deschamps has been skating pair for six years with an array of partners. Within two hours, Grenier and Deschamps knew they were made for each other in the pair game: they had the same kind of stroking and jumping.

They started off with the basics, but on their third day together, Gauthier suggested they do a triple throw. And they’ve been doing them since.

When they first got together, it was not their goal at all to win the junior championship, Deschamps said. Next year, they will be senior skaters. “I don’t regret at all my decision,” Grenier said. “I expected it to be more difficult, but we’ve been working hard. And we work well together.”

Denis Margalik, a 16-year-old, born in Buenos Aires, was a silver medalist in the junior men’s event last year, so he figured there was no way to go but up. That means pressure to win, of course, but the skater from Mississauga, Ont., took some confidence from having won the 2014 Skate Canada Challenge, and delivered a knock-out punch to win the junior title with 181.43 points.

Bennet Toman, 16, of Mississauga, Ont., was only 11th last year in junior men, but he picked up the silver medal with 173.83 points.

Nicolas Nadeau, 16, of Boisbriand, Que., had led after the short program, but multiple mistakes put him back into fourth place, allowing tiny 12-year-old Eric Liu to win the bronze medal with 171.54 points.

Margalik switched coaches to Andrei Berezintsev (coach of Gabby Daleman) over the past year and has found success from the trainer’s demanding regimen, he said. He improved his personal best mark by 12 points.

Margalik left Argentina with his Ukrainian-born parents when he was only three for Canada. The second of three brothers, Margalik says he tried all sports – diving, karate, swimming, gymnastics and trampoline but he liked skating best. He’ll move to the senior ranks next year and hopes to get some Junior Grand Prix assignments.

Beverley Smith

Mackenzie Bent and Garrett MacKeen dance their way to gold in junior dance

A year of work, a year of travel, a year of learning and finally, Mackenzie Bent and Garrett MacKeen are the Canadian junior ice dance champions.

Bent, 16, of Uxbridge, Ont., and MacKeen, 19, of Oshawa took the silver medal last year in junior and so took the past year to hone their skills further, get some junior grand prix events under their belt and try some new things.

They skated to a medley of Karen Carpenter, Beach Boys and other songs from the era, the idea spurred because coach Carol Lane particularly liked the winsome notes of Carpenter. So Bent and MacKeen danced to a host of tunes from the era, and even a vocal that wasn’t a singing voice, but a radio host voice.

“We wanted something a bit boppy,” Bent said. “It grew on us,” MacKeen said. The judges at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships give it all the nod.

One of their lifts in the free dance caused them anguish before their international season started, when Bent fell and got a concussion from a lift where she lies on MacKeen’s back and he pushes her up, matching the lyrics. But a team skating behind them in practice made it all go awry. Bent spent three days in bed, doing nothing. It could have been worse: her tailbone took the first impact of the fall.

The new champions won the free dance with 82.98 points and the overall gold medal quite comfortably with 142.61 points.

Melinda Meng, 14, and Andrew Meng, 17, of Montreal won the silver medal with their beautiful routine to House of Flying Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, choreographed by Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. The young team was third in the free skate with 77.65 points and second overall with 134.54 points.

Bronze medalists Brianna Delmaestro, 18, of Port Moody, B.C., and Timothy Lum, 18, of Burnaby, B.C. finished only .29 points away from a silver medal (134.25) with a strong second-place finish in the free skate, earning 79.65 points, only three points away from a free skate win. Delmaestro and Lum joined forces only this year.

Bent and MacKeen had a season of strong international experiences, winning the gold medal at a junior grand prix event in Riga, Latvia. They finished seventh at the other, puzzled by the difficulty levels that the technical panel had handed them in the short dance – and then being unable to climb back out of the hole for the free. “We performed well,” MacKeen said.

“We didn’t get much feedback,” Bent said. “That was kind of the way it was. “ But the twosome came back with a new mindset, trusting their training. “It was a learning experience,” Bent said.

Beverley Smith

Kim DeGuise Leveillee wins junior women’s crown with powerful performance

There is no substitute for hard work and confidence, Kim DeGuise Leveillee has found.

On Wednesday, the 15-year-old skater from Sorel-Tracy, Que., won the junior women’s title at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

The win meant even more, that DeGuise Leveillee finished 17th – next to last – in the junior women’s category last year. After that, she switched coaches, coming to Josee Picard and Marc-Andre Craig last March.

“She had no triples,” Craig said. “And she had a lack of confidence.”

“We worked hard to get this, but it’s been a roller coaster all year. One day you are up, the next day you are down.”

But DeGuise Leveillee tackled the national championships with gusto and confidence this week. She stood out from the crowd, earning 128.17 points, and easily winning the free skate with 84.66.

Julianne Delaurier, 15, of Kelowna, B.C. – from the burgeoning school of Karen and Jason Mongrain – finished second in the free with 75.84 (8.72 points behind the winner) and second overall with 120.06 points.

Madelyn Dunley, 16, of Campbellville, Ont., took the bronze medal for the second consecutive year, this time with 119.60 points. She was exciting to watch: she skated with great speed and landed a spectacular, huge double Axel – triple toe loop combination. She even tackled a triple Lutz, rare at this junior national level, but fell four times. She had led after the short program.

DeGuise Leveillee sat in third after the short, but that was all good, in her mind. For the free, “I really intended to give it my all,” she said. “I worked so hard to be here and give it.”

She mastered four triples this year. Skating to Notre Dame de Paris, DeGuise Leveillee opened with a triple flip (!), a triple loop – double toe loop that just sang, a triple toe loop, a double Axel-double toe loop, a triple loop, , a double flip-double toe loop-double loop combo and a double Axel. She threw a couple of fists when she finished.

“Last year, my goal was just to be on the Quebec team,” she said. “My goal was not the same this year. This year, I wanted to be on the top.

“I feel good. I’m pleased for me. I’m happy to win.”

DeGuise Leveillee began skating because her aunt was also skating, and her parents decided to enrol her in skating. Now, she says she’ll work hard to take the next step, adding a triple Lutz and a triple –triple combination when she jumps to senior next year. She knows she’ll have to work hard. It is difficult for her to learn jumps, but when she does, it’s easy to keep them, she said.

“I think this is a ticket for a very long flight,” said Craig.

Craig said the skating school started by Picard a few years ago is now bearing fruit. “You are starting to see what I work on for the past six-seven years,” he said. “We started a lot of young kids, and now you are seeing them in senior and you are seeing the little ones in novice, too.“

Beverley Smith

Nicolas Nadeau leads after junior men’s short, Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau on top after junior pair short

One frosty day in Boisbriand, Que., Nicolas Nadeau sat in front of the television set and found himself enthralled with the 2002 Olympic Games.

“I said to my mom: ‘I want to do that,’” said Nadeau, now 16.

His mother said: “Sure.”

Nadeau was good at all sports, but when his mother enrolled him in hockey, he found himself rolling over on early mornings and saying “Let me sleep.” Hockey was out. Figure skating for some reason, although it is known to have early mornings, too, was in.

All those years later, now Nadeau is leading the pack at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, scoring a decisive victory in the junior men’s short program. Nadeau finished with 65.60 points, while Denis Margalik, 16, of Mississauga, Ont., is second (after defeating him at Skate Canada Challenge in December.) Margalik, who fired off a beautiful triple Lutz – triple toe loop combo in the short, has 61.84 points. In third place is Bennet Toman with 57.76. The free skate is Wednesday.

“I was hoping to be in the top three,” Nadeau said. “And to do what I’m capable of.” He landed a triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination in the short.

Nadeau has always been a work in project for coaches in Quebec. Something like, shall we say, a curious sort, who was all over the place, some coaches didn’t want to teach him. “He needed a lot of attention,” said Yvan Desjardins, the brave one who took him on. “He’s a little bit better now.”

Already, Nadeau has a triple Axel and he’s working on a quad in the training harness. It’s only a matter of time.

Nadeau looks up to many skaters, but at first blush, he’ll tell you Patrick Chan. (“He’s pretty good.”) and Kurt Browning, because of his sense of humour, and his ability to portray any character. Nadeau loves to play a character.

In the past year, Nadeau has been training with more consistency, making the jumps happen when he wants.

He’ll have to be on his toes with skaters like 12-year-old Eric Liu on his heels. Liu, of Vancouver, showed up with his Dizzie Gillespie routine to “Salt Peanuts” and dazzled the small crowd with great speed and edges and fired off a triple Lutz – triple toe loop in the short program.

Last year he was second at the novice level and finished fourth in the junior men’s short program on Tuesday night. Two years ago, he competed at the pre-novice level.

In the junior pair short program, new pair Julianne Seguin, 17 of Montreal and Charlie Bilodeau, 20 of Rimouski, are enjoying a comfortable lead, with 56.54 points. In their only two competitions this year, they were fourth and fifth in Junior Grand Prix events.

Vanessa Grenier, 21, of Johnville, Que., and Maxime Deschamps,, 22, of Vaudreuil, Que., are in second place with 50.69 points.

Third are Dylan Conway, 16 of Toronto and Dustin Sherriff-Clayton  of Newmarket, Ont., with 43.77 points. Only eight pairs competed.

Beverley Smith

The future looks bright for Canadian novice champion Sarah Tamura

OTTAWA: Sarah Tamura and Megan Yim are Canada’s answer to the flood of triple-jumping, overachieving Russian woman who are dominating international competition.

Tamura is a 12-year-old who on Tuesday, just became Canadian novice champion, while her training mate, Yim, also 12, finished third.

Caught in between the two tiny dynamos is Kim Decelles, 15, of Baie-Comeau, Quebec who won the silver medal with 105.72 points. Tamura topped the list with 108.29 points while Yim was on Decelles’ heels with 105.31 points.

Tamura and Yim train together, push each other and are friends in the rink of Joanne MacLeod, coach of Olympic team member Kevin Reynolds. “This is a dedicated project I’ve had for five years,” MacLeod said. “I am trying to see if I can push the elements a little for young skaters.”

Both Tamura and Yim can do all of the triples, including Lutz and flip although they competed on Tuesday with the other three, Salchow, toe loop and loop. “When I looked at all those Russian girls, I got a little jealous,” MacLeod said. “I think we want to see that anything is possible.”

Both girls auditioned in front of MacLeod years ago for this special project. Yim is gifted musically, too, and has taken ballet. Not surprisingly, she skated to “Giselle” on Tuesday, wearing a white tutu and a white crown on her head.

“She has the “it” factor,” MacLeod said. “She’s quite an intelligent girl.” Besides, MacLeod says she has a wonderful relationship with the two: that’s important for development, she said.

“I do it because it’s really fun for me to skate and feel the speed, and feel the freedom and jump high and have fun,” Yim said.  On Tuesday, she got a rush from skating in the big rink of the Canadian Tire Centre.

Tamura, on the other hand, had a father who liked to race with her around the rink. With this, she developed a long stride. “I love her glide,” MacLeod said. “She’s got these beautiful knees.”  She landed a triple Lutz for the first time last October.

Tamura said she wants to go to Junior Grand Prix events. And both have lofty goals. Kim wants to stand atop the Olympic podium. Tamura wants to be a world champion. Together, they will keep MacLeod busy for some time.

Earlier in the day, Valerie Taillefer and Jason Chan won the novice dance title, he looking elegant in his long navy tails, she his tiny foil.

Taillefer and Chan came from second place after the short dance to overtake Hannah Whitley and Elliott Graham, who had eyed a finish in the top 10, then found themselves tasting gold.

Taillefer, 14 of Montreal and Chan, 17, of Saint-Laurent, Que., won the free skate with 63.53 points to win the overall title with 90.54, more than three points ahead of Whitley and Graham.

In third were Megan Koenig-Croft and Jake Richardson with 80.54, exactly 10 points behind the gold medalists.

The new champs are in their third season together and are at the point where they want to distinguish themselves from others. They leave the ideas to coaches Elise Hamel and Shawn Winters and choreographer Shae Zukowsky. “We’ve been working on key points a lot during the year,” Taillefer said “We value that a lot.”

The twosome is fast friend, with Taillefer speaking French to Chan and Chan speaking English to his little partner. Both are bilingual. Their goals are to make a smooth transition to the junior ranks next year and perhaps land some Junior Grand Prix events.

They seemed an unlikely match at first: Taillefer didn’t like free skating. She always preferred dance and had a previous partner. Chan was a singles skater who had never considered ice dancing until he was coaxed into a tryout with Taillefer. Now he’s a national medalist.

Beverley Smith

Keelee Gingrich and Davin Portz claim novice pair title under guidance of Olympian coaches

OTTAWA: It seemed like a great idea for Olympic competitors Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay to start up a pair skating school in Calgary where they live. After all, only seven pairs contested the senior championships last week. In fact, pair skating around the world is a little thin on depth.

It has been anything but easy. At the moment, after two years of coaxing and talking, Langlois and Hay train only two pairs. And on Tuesday, one of them, the charismatic Keelee Gingrich, 15, and Davin Portz, 17, a native of Yellowknife, became novice pair champions at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

Portz was their first target. “He was a good, strong steady skater,” Langlois said. “He had that personality. And he was interested.”

Then they needed to find a partner for him. Gingrich was not a strong singles skater, but she had lots of moxie for a small girl. She’d grab Portz’s hand and even lead him. Shy, she is not.

Gingrich and Portz competed to “The Skaters’ Waltz” a charming routine choreographed by Langlois and Hay. Langlois says she does not like doing choreography and she doesn’t consider herself a choreographer – more like a story teller. But whatever they did, it worked. They made some mistakes, but they skated without hesitation.

The first year they were together, Langlois handed them a daunting list of elements they had to learn. They thought it impossible. They learned. This past season, she handed them another even more formidable list. They have mastered it, too. Neither had skated pairs before.

“It was interesting,” Gingrich said. Their improvement from last year to this has been “huge,” Portz said. They’ve taken their bumps and lumps and moved forward, ever pressing on. They will go to juniors next year, and Langlois will give them another crazy list. For now, Portz is ready to get his reward: a beavertail on the Rideau Canal.

The pair had some anxious moments last night on a practice when they were trying triple twists. Gingrich ended up with a case of whiplash. Treatment followed and their twist in the free skate wasn’t at all smooth – she appeared to land on Portz’s neck – but onwards they went, skating with confidence. “We knew it was close, and we knew we were in the medal race,” Portz said.

Langlois and Hay still hope that the numbers in their club will increase. They dream of teaching five pairs. However, they’ve run into a block: coaches don’t want to release their singles skaters to pairs, Langlois said.

They feel that if they start to skate pairs, they will have to drop singles skating, Langlois said. But she added, some of the country’s top pairs have done both on a national level. Sometimes, Langlois said, skaters or coaches will promise to turn to pairs when they are finished with their singles career. But by that time,they will be out of the junior ranks and it will be too late.

Langlois laments that she started pair skating too late. She started as a senior skater, and then suffered a head injury during a fall. Better to learn the skills sooner, she said.

She sees lots of potential for pair skating across the country – there are strong singles skaters in both men and women and it might be advisable to give some of them more options – such as pair skating – where they could climb the ladder further. Dylan Moscovitch was a good singles skater. But he’s a world-class pair skater.

The future of pairs is this, Langlois says: Canada is strong at the top. “Canada needs to scout for pairs skaters,” she said. “It’s never been done in this country. And not all top skaters will have the right pair partner right away. Not everybody can be Tessa and Scott. Not a lot of people find their one right away.” But it’s important to get into the discipline and start developing skills. It could happen.

Allison Eby and Brett Varley of the Western Ontario Section finished 2.06 points behind Gingrich and Portz, earning the silver medal, followed by Naomie Boudreau and Cedric Savard, representing the Quebec Section.

Beverley Smith

Joseph Phan skates like Chan to claim Canadian novice men’s title

OTTAWA: Joseph Phan is a natural. He is only 12 years old, but already he has this lovely glide around the ice, and edges to match. Is it any wonder that the skater he admires most is three-time world champion Patrick Chan? Could it be they are two peas in a pod? On Tuesday, Phan took the first step when he became the novice men’s champion of Canada.

He’ll move up to the junior level next year and he vows to learn all the triples when he does. On Tuesday, he put his two triples to good use, skating to Singing in the Rain.

Phan won with 119.84 points ahead of Edrian Paul Celestino with 115.60,. Third and taking the bronze medal was Josh Allen of Ottawa with 107.60.

Phan didn’t actually win the free skate but he had such a commanding lead (five points, eight ahead of Celestino) after the short program the previous day, that he held onto a safe win.

Celestino, 15, of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que., had no expectations or reference points when he came to the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships because he had never been to a nationals, not at any level. He intended to compete last year as a pre-novice, but he sprained his ankle at sectionals and didn’t compete.

Celestino won the free skate with 81.33  points while Phan was second with 77.44. Celestino had been seventh in the short program.

Last year when Phan came to train with Yvan Desjardines, he had no triple toe loop, so they worked on that and also on his skating quality, to maximize grade of execution points. The goal for next summer is to work on a triple loop and a triple Lutz, Desjardins said. And why not a triple-triple combo? That will be in the works, too.

Best of all, Phan has a wonderful skating ability, from a young age. “He has this ease,” Desjardins said. “He is really smooth. He has a nice flow. He doesn’t really know he has this ability. He just likes to do that. He is a natural.”

Later on, this ability will help him in the code of points judging system as he moves up the ladder.

Phan said his parents had him try a wide variety of different sports – soccer, tennis, swimming and gymnastics – but he didn’t really like any of them. Figure skating fit the bill. He started skating when he was five years old.

He admitted he was nervous on Tuesday, skating in the big rink, the Canadian Tire Centre, after skating in a smaller rink for the short program, usually used for practice. “But I’m getting used to it for next year,” he said.

Celestino dealt with the nerves his own way. “Just before I started the long program, I took a moment and just blocked everything out,” he said. “I skated the program like a robot.”

“This has been a completely different experience,” Celestino said. “But for this one, I felt relaxed. Usually I stress about my program. But this time I didn’t feel that.”

But his silver medal feels like a win overall, because he wasn’t expecting to win the free skate. “I expected second or third,” he said.

Beverley Smith