Moore-Towers and Moscovitch win gold at U.S. International Figure Skating Classic

SALT LAKE CITY – Kirsten Moore-Towers of St. Catharines, Ont., and Dylan Moscovitch of Toronto successfully defended their pairs title on Friday at the U.S., International Figure Skating Classic.

Moore-Towers and Moscovitch totalled 201.30 points for the gold with Caydee Denney and John Coughlin of the U.S. second at 188.47 and their compatriots Tarah Kayne and Daniel O’Shea third at 167.27.

“We made it exciting with some trouble on our last lift but Dylan showed great strength to pull us through,” said Moore-Towers, fourth with her partner last season at the world championships.  “It’s only the second time we had performed this program and our performance tonight bodes well for the rest of the season.”

Paige Lawrence of Kennedy, Sask., and Rudi Swiegers of Kipling, Sask., were fifth at 155.00.

In men’s singles, Max Aaron led a U.S. medal sweep.  Andrei Rogozine of Richmond Hill, Ont., was seventh.

In ice dancing, Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S., are first after the short dance with Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., second and Nicole Orford and Burnaby, B.C., and Thomas Williams of Okotoks, Alta., third.

In women’s singles, the U.S. holds the top-three spots with Amélie Lacoste of Delson, Que., fourth.

The free dance and women’s singles final are on Saturday.

Charming, Classy, Challenging: Virtue & Moir’s 2013-2014 Programs

With their risky, torrid, highly dramatic “Carmen” relegated to the shelf, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have turned to classy elegance for their Olympic programs.

For the first time, their free dance to music by Russian composers, was unveiled at a training camp last week in Mississauga, Ont.  – in front of only judges and technical specialists – and it couldn’t be more different to last year’s endeavours, which earned them a silver medal at the world championships in London, Ont.

People have already seen their charming short dance to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong at a Quebec summer competition last month.

For a long time, the music of Alexander Glazunov’s “The Seasons” ballet had played in the memory of coach/choreographer Marina Zoueva and she knew that it just seemed right for an Olympic program for the reigning champions. The music hadn’t been used in a competitive figure skating program before, she said, and it was unique, by a composer that helped lead ballet artists in Russia in the contemporary direction, yet was still tied to the Russian romantic period.

It’s different from “Carmen” in every way. The “Carmen” routine was made to show dramatic conflict between man and woman with contemporary dance movement. This year, the movement of the Glazunov piece strives for harmony between man and woman in a more classical way, especially in a Russian classical way.

“I really wanted to show huge contrast between last year’s choreography and how Tessa and Scott are able to show different type of character,” Zoueva said. “It’s a huge contrast, like north and south.”

Zoueva attended the university of art in Russia and ballet movement is always in her mind’s eye. “I feel it is a really Russian classical program, even though I made it in North America for North American skaters,” she said. “But it is my thanks to Russia. I do have to do something for my country in which I was born. I really truly believe it is Tessa and Scott who are the best to perform that.”

In a way, the creation of “Carmen” was easy, compared to Glazunov’s work. “Carmen” already came tied to a story. This year, Virtue and Moir’s free dance is “one total creation” and a story Zoueva created with the skaters. On top of that, they created movement to match the music, while still making it look like an ice dance program, with a beautiful waltz. It took longer to put together the free dance because the music was specially arranged for them.

Zoueva slipped the music on directly after the world championships, but found that something was missing in Glazunov’s ballet. Therefore she added a piano concerto from another Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (“Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor”) to add an exclamation mark to the end of the routine. Zoueva says the composers work very well together for timing and character. The composers are from the same era. She picked the Scriabin music because it had a proud flavour, perfect for a finale.

Moir calls it their “storm part.” It depicts external chaos, with the twosome trying to figure out a way though it all.  “For Tessa and I, it’s kind of our story,” Moir said. “It’s the story of partnership and all the ups and downs we’ve been through, both on and off the ice. It’s a neat program for us personally, because the last section is meant to be skated in Sochi. It’s the parade to our finale.”

They won’t realize that last section until February, but it will be going through their minds all season when they skate it. It’s music that is very strong and triumphant.” The themes are also universal, Virtue said. “Everything that we’ve experienced in our journey in the 17 years, are what we’re drawing on in this program, but they are still universals, and hopefully the audience will connect with that. It’s seasons. It’s ups and downs.” They are much more involved intellectually in the story line than they were last year with “Carmen.”

And difficulties? Moir said the routine is very demanding, particularly the last minute. Before the finale music starts, they go into back-to-back rotational lifts, which add excitement and a wow factor that Moir hopes will set them apart.

“We go into that last minute pretty exhausted,” Virtue said. “But we like being ambitious and challenging ourselves.”

All of their lifts are new, of course.  Virtue and Moir discussed using their famed “Goose” lift, but binned the idea. “We don’t want to look like vintage Virtue and Moir,” he said. “We love the Goose and it’s a fan favourite, but we don’t want to turn on the TV and watch what we did four years ago, and turn it on again in 2014, and have people ask: ‘What have they done in the last four years?’” Besides, Virtue and Moir insist that lifts must add to the program and be part of it, rather than looking as if they are included for the sole purpose of gaining points.

As for the short dance, Zoueva calls the Fitzgerald/Armstrong a “classical duet,” using “Dream a Little Dream, “Muskrat Ramble” and “Dancing Cheek to Cheek.” Zoueva loved the music because of the variation of the voice and vocals and it calls for a light step, perfect for the Canadians. Moir said the short dance came to them first and they had already choreographed two minutes of it with Jean-Marc Genereux (a Canadian ballroom dancer, known as a judge and choreographer on the hit television show “So You Think You Can Dance.”) before they went on the Stars on Ice tour.

In the short dance, which must incorporate the Finnstep, Virtue and Moir use foxtrot and quickstep rhythms – and all their elements must reflect those styles. “It’s really go go go,” Virtue said. “The free dance is a bit of a marathon, and you have moments to collect yourself. But I find with the short dance, you have to stay on top of it or else it can get away from you, especially with music that’s quick. And you want to maintain that ballroom feel. It’s demanding.”

Zoeuva says the routine is difficult because the elements are so tightly woven, and calls for a lot of focus, with each element being worth so many points. “For me, the short dance is much more difficult,” she said. “Everything is really important.”

Beverley Smith

Canadians Head to Salt Lake City for U.S. International Figure Skating Classic

OTTAWA, ON: Canada will send six entries to the 2013 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, a senior international competition. The event runs from September 11-15, 2013, in Salt Lake City, UT. Canada will have entries in all four disciplines: men’s, ladies, pair, and ice dance.

Kirsten Moore-Towers, 21, St. Catharines, Ont., and Dylan Moscovitch, 28, Toronto, Ont, are the first of two Canadian pair teams at this event. Moore-Towers and Moscovitch are defending pair champions at this event. Last season, the Canadian silver medalists also won silver at the NHK Trophy in Japan and the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, and placed fourth at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships.  The pair trains with Kris Wirtz and Kristy Wirtz at the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club.

Paige Lawrence, 23, Kennedy, Sask., and Rudi Swiegers, 25, Kipling, Sask., are the second entry in pair for Canada. Lawrence and Swiegers won silver at this event in 2012. The 2013 Canadian bronze medalists also placed fourth at Skate Canada International and the Cup of Russia, as well as sixth at the 2013 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships last season. Lawrence and Swiegers train in Melville, Sask., and Virden, Man., and are coached by Patricia Hole and Lyndon Johnston.

Kaitlyn Weaver, 24, Waterloo, Ont., and Andrew Poje, 26, Waterloo, Ont., will lead the way for Canada in the ice dance category. Last season, Weaver and Poje placed fifth at the 2013 ISU World Figure Skating Championships. They also won bronze at both of their assignments on the ISU Grand Prix circuit, Cup of China and Skate America. They are coached by Pasquale Camerlengo and Angelika Krylova in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Canadian bronze medalists Nicole Orford, 20, Burnaby, B.C., and Thomas Williams, 22, Okotoks, Alta, will also represent Canada in ice dance. Last season, they placed eighth at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, and fourth at the NHK Trophy in Japan. They are coached by Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe at the B.C. Centre of Excellence.

Canadian bronze medallist Andrei Rogozine, 20, Richmond Hill, Ont, will represent Canada in men’s. The 2011 World Junior Champion placed 10th at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and 13th at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships last season. He is coached by Inga Zusev and Andrei Berezintsev and trains at the Richmond Hill Figure Skating Club.

Amélie Lacoste, 24, Delson, Que., is the sole entry in the ladies category for Canada. Lacoste earned a bronze medal at this event in 2012. She also placed eighth at Skate Canada International, sixth at the Cup of China, and ninth at the 2013 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships last season. Lacoste is coached by Nathalie Martin, Sylvie Fullum, and Denis Beaudoin at CPA Saint-Léonard in Montreal, Que.

Petra Burka of Toronto, Ont., will be travelling with the team as team leader, and Agnes Makowski, also of Toronto, Ont., will be the team physiotherapist. Lynne Dey of Edmonton, Alta., and Nicole Leblanc-Richard of Dieppe, N.B., will be the Canadian officials at the event.

Canadian Juniors Travel to Slovakia for Third Stop on ISU Junior Grand Prix

OTTAWA, ON: Skate Canada will send six entries to the third stop on the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Kosice, Slovakia, from September 12-15, 2013. Canada will be represented in all four disciplines: ladies, men’s, pair, and ice dance.

Mackenzie Bent, 16, Uxbridge, Ont., and Garrett MacKeen, 19, Oshawa, Ont., are one of two Canadian entries in ice dance. Bent and MacKeen won gold at the first stop on the ISU Junior Grand Prix circuit this season in Riga, Latvia. Last season, they placed fifth at the 2013 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships, and second at the Canadian championships, in the junior category. Bent and MacKeen train at Scarboro Ice Dance Elite with coaches Juris Razgulajevs and Carol Lane.

Lauren Collins, 17, Minesing, Ont., and Danny Seymour, 19, Port Elgin, Ont., will also represent Canada in ice dance. Last season, they placed 10th at the Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships in the junior category. Collins and Seymour are coached by David Islam and Kelly Johnson at the Mariposa School of Skating in Barrie, Ont.

Roxanne Cournoyer, 16, Sorel-Tracy, Que., is one of two Canadian entries in the ladies division. This is her first international assignment. Cournoyer placed 10th at the 2013 Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships. She is coached by Annie Barabé and Sophie Richard at CTC Contrecoeur.

Marianne Rioux Ouellet, 18, Montreal, Que., will also represent Canada in the ladies division in her first international assignment. Rioux Ouellet placed fifth as a junior at the 2013 Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships. She is coached by Michele Godbout and Sonia Zapitosky at CPA Rosemont.

Leslie Ip, 18, Markham, Ont., is the Canadian entry in the men’s division. This is Ip’s first international assignment. Last season, he placed fourth as a junior at the 2013 Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships. He is coached by Katerina Papafotiou at Thornhill FSC.

Tara Hancherow, 17, Tisdale, Sask., and Wesley Killing, 20, Woodstock, Ont., will be the Canadian entry in pair. This is Hancherow and Killing’s first season competing together. They are coached by Annie Barabé and Maximin Coïa at CTC Contrecoeur.

Louis Stong of Etobicoke, Ont., is the team leader at the event and physiotherapist Paige Larson of North Vancouver, B.C., will be the Canadian medical staff. Pam Chislett of Grand Prairie, Alta., and Jeff Lukasik of Calgary, Alta., are the Canadian officials at the event.

September preparation is key to a successful season

No doubt, there is a bit of a buzz in the air as officials sit in chilly rinks, clad in mittens and scarfs, watching Canada’s national team members go through their paces in early September at the high performance camp. Read more

Silver for Canadian ice dancers at ISU Junior Grand Prix

MEXICO CITY –  Ice dancers Madeline Edwards of Port Moody, B.C., and ZhaoKai Pang of Burnaby, B.C., won the silver medal on Saturday to conclude the second stop on the ISU Junior Grand Prix figure skating circuit.

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker of the U.S. took the gold with 136.45 points staving off a strong challenge from Edwards and Pang in second at 134.02.  Sofia Edmokimova and Egor Bazin of Russia were third at 112.78.

Edwards and Pang posted the best score in Saturday’s free dance earning a personal best 80.56 for their routine performed to music from Les Miserables.  It was their third career junior Grand Prix medal.

‘’We are excited about this performance,’’ said Pang, 18, a year older than his partner.  ‘’’We prepared and trained  hard for this event because it was important for us to get the season off to a good start.’’

The team of Katie Desveaux of Toronto and Dmitre Razgulajevs of Ajax, Ont., did not compete this week due to an error in the submission of documents. They will be reassigned to a later ISU Junior Grand Prix event.

In the women’s final, Polina Edmunds of the U.S. was the winner with Natatia Ogoreltseva of Russia second and Mariah Bell of the U.S. third.

Julianne Séguin of Longueuil, Que., placed sixth and Sandrine Martin of Boucherville, Que., was ninth.

Séguin was again battling stomach problems and dizziness throughout the day.

‘’I really wanted to compete today and there was no question of withdrawing,’’ she said.  ‘’It didn’t go the way I wanted but I gave it everything I had.’’

Martin, 15, made her international debut.

‘’I was just happy to be here and represent Canada,’’ she said.  ‘’It was an amazing experience.’’

On Friday, Nam Nguyen of Toronto was fourth in men’s singles.

Louis Daignault

Canada’s Nam Nguyen fourth at ISU Junior Grand Prix

MEXICO CITY – Fifteen-year-old Nam Nguyen of Toronto set a personal best score en route to a fourth place finish in men’s competition on Friday at the second stop on the ISU Junior Grand Prix figure skating circuit.

Nathan Chen of the U.S. took the gold with 218.62 points, Ryuju Hino of Japan was second at 199.64 and Daniel Samohin of Israel was third at 182.89.

Nguyen, a two time Junior Grand Prix medallist, followed closely at 181.04 setting personal bests for both his overall and short program program scores.  He has kept the same programs as last season.

‘’They are programs I feel comfortable with and I know I can improve them,’’ said Nguyen who is coached by Brian Orser.  ‘’My goal this year is to make the Junior Grand Prix final and I know I can do a lot better at my next event.’’

Nguyen fell on his first triple flip but recovered nicely to land seven jumps in his long program skated to music by Bach.

The short program was held in women’s singles and Julianne Seguin of Longueuil, Que., stands third and Sandrine Martin of Boucherville, Que., is 11th.

Seguin wasn’t sure she would compete after experiencing stomach issues which made her dizzy and forced her to miss morning practice. However she recovered in the afternoon and landed a triple Lutz and double and triple toe loops to finish with a personal best 50.98 score.

In Thursday’s ice dancing short program, Madeline Edwards of Port Moody, B.C., and ZhaoKai Pang of Burnaby, B.C., are in second place.

The women’s free skate and the free dance are on Saturday.

Louis Daignault

Choreographer Mark Pillay creating winning programs

It was always like this for Mark Pillay, from the time he was a child in Moose Jaw, Sask.: the music would come on, and he would find structure in it. He would move. He would design in the air, a kid who had more fun with form and feelings than face values.

He just didn’t know that that sort of thing would become his life’s work. Now the 35-year-old Canadian is a choreographer with a growing reputation on the world stage. He’s responsible for the cheeky short program and the emotional free skate that put Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch squarely in the mix as a top world team last season, and others, such as Emanuel Sandhu, Richard Dornbush, German pair silver medalists Mari Vartman and Aaron Van Cleave, budding U.S. star Karen Chen and young Canadian virtuoso Roman Sadovsky.

Back in Moose Jaw, Pillay was lured into skating by a neighbour, Jana Beasley, who he says is totally responsible for his involvement in figure skating and piano. They became a dance team, but when she grew, and Pillay did not, he focused on men’s singles. At the same time, he’d invite the neighbours over to watch his choreographic creations in the living room, the trampoline, the pool. In Saskatchewan, he trained with Betty Calvert, the wife of then premier Lorne Calvert and with Dale Hazell, then later in Calgary with Sharon Lariviere, who taught him about the aesthetics of the sport and dance, and finally in Vancouver with Joanne McLeod. Pillay finally bowed out of competition after the 2001 Canadian championships in Winnipeg, dissatisfied with a skating career that quite hadn’t brought him what he envisioned. His body couldn’t keep up with his visions. Now he feels a catharsis at helping others do what he could not.

Those post-competition years were hard. Most skaters can attest to it. “I was definitely lost for a little while,” Pillay said. The son of a South African born father and a British mother, Pillay went to university at Simon Fraser University, but squirmed, because he wasn’t used to sitting still for so long. To solve that problem, he started studying contemporary dance at university.
He still hung around rinks, and there’s value in that. That’s where his friends were. Those were the people he knew. One day, while he was moving around to music, a parent, Jan McRae, skated up to him and asked him if he’d be interested in choreographing routines for her son, Joshua. Because this novice skater could already do some triples, Pillay started at the relatively high end of the sport.

“From that day, it just never stopped,” PIllay said. “It wasn’t something I chose. It was, oddly, something that kind of found me.”

He was only a couple of years into his new career, when he choreographed a long program for Emanuel Sandhu – and it was the 2006 Olympic season, a huge responsibility. Pillay was amazed at Sandhu’s visual acuity for movement. “He would just look at me, he wouldn’t even move and he would know exactly how to do it right away,” Pillay said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone like that. He could pick up movement very quickly and it wasn’t by mimicry. He would just watch it, and he could do it.”

Already Pillay was demonstrating his trademark: finding music for students that no one had ever heard before. He found Sandhu’s music when he was doing a repertory dance class at the university. The music used so intrigued Pillay that he asked his professor if he could use the music for a skater. The prof told him that it was an original piece of music written by Gordon Cobb, a Vancouver composer and he’d have to get permission from him.

In the end, Pillay got the music for Sandhu (he won two Grand Prix events with it) but he forged an even more important relationship with Cobb, now the wind beneath Pillay’s wings. Cobb now edits all of Pillay’s music choices – and at times, the young choreographer has offered up very complicated musical instructions.

“The music editing process is very vital,” said Pillay, who learned everything about it from Cobb. “It’s where all the structure comes for the layout of the elements.”

Pillay says he lays out the entire choreography of a program in his head before he goes in to cut the music. How complicated can it get? For Moore-Towers and Moscovitch’s breakout season, they skated to “Les Miserables” and the edit had 25 cuts in it. “To cut music 25 times in four minutes and make it sound cohesive: that’s where the complications lie,” Pillay said.

Pillay’s biggest breakthrough as a choreographer came – not from Sandhu’s performances – but from a free skate he designed for B.C. skater Keegan Murphy, who he used to compete against at the junior level. The program, by French music composer Yann Tiersen for a German tragicomedy film that won acclaim in Europe, became “like a lightning rod,” Pillay said. “It was the moment that people saw what I could really bring to the table. I really believe it’s the program that changed everything.”

Murphy said he skated to the same routine for two seasons, in 2005 and 2006 at the senior men’s level – and with it he got his best results, a ninth at the national level. “It was a different approach to program components,” said Murphy, now programs director at the Connaught Skating Club in Vancouver. “It was eclectic. I still remember it….It was unpredictable. Nobody had ever heard this music before.”

Murphy said for the first time, he skated to music that he could connect with. It was passionate, emotional and on the sensitive side. Now Pillay choreographs for two national students that Murphy has trained: Mitchell Gordon and Larkyn Austman.

Pillay was asked to choreograph a program for Moscovitch when he skated with his sister, Kyra, by coach Kris Wirtz, who spied the transplanted Vancouverite when he was in Kitchener-Waterloo, doing routines for the synchronized team, Nexxice. When Kyra retired, Pillay became the only choreographer for Moore-Towers and Moscovitch.

“He is an absolute gem,” Moore-Towers said.”

“We love him,” Moscovitch said. “He has really put his heart and soul into working with us and truly cares about our career.” Pillay has worked with them for so long, he considers them friends.

When he presented them music from the French language film “Micmac,” both skaters thought: “Really?” Moore-Towers admitted she hated it. “I can’t skate to this,” she thought. “It’s awful.”

“But as we started to choreograph it and then everything started to come together, I realized he knows what he’s doing. He had a vision.”

Pillay said the music was meant as a tribute to the feistiness of female pair skaters: in the choreography, Moore-Towers rules the roost. “It’s a play on the man-woman relationship,” he said.

Despite his growing presence on the scene, Pillay still walks among us anonymously. Most people don’t know what he looks like. He is often mistaken for Sandhu or perhaps Ravi Walia. He rarely attends competition. He’s met Lori Nichol and David Wilson only briefly. Choreographers live in isolation.

“The coaching world has colleagues that they get to talk to things about, but as a choreographer, you are really on your own,” Pillay said. “It’s rare that I’m around another choreographer. It’s a world you navigate alone and you figure out alone and you kind of stumble along and you learn alone.”

But it seems that Pillay is doing it plenty well. He’s getting busier by the day.

Beverley Smith

Figure Skaters Head to Mexico for ISU Junior Grand Prix Stop Number Two

OTTAWA, ON: Skate Canada will send seven skaters, for a total of five entries to the second stop on the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating circuit. The event will take place in Mexico City, Mexico, from September 4-7, 2013. Canada will be represented in men’s, ladies, and ice dance.

Nam Nguyen, 15, Burnaby, B.C., will be the sole Canadian entry in men’s. This is Nguyen’s third year competing on the ISU Junior Grand Prix circuit. In two ISU Grand Prix assignments last season, he placed third in Turkey, and ninth in France. He also competed at the 2013 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships, placing 12th, and the 2013 Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships, placing sixth. Nguyen is coached by Brian Orser at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club.

Julianne Séguin, 16, Longueuil, Que., will be the one of two Canadian entries in ladies. Last season, she competed at two ISU Junior Grand Prix events, finishing tenth in Slovenia, and seventh in France. She also made her senior international debut at the ISU Four Continents Championships, finishing 11th. Julianne is coached by Josée Picard and Marc-André Craig at CPA Brossard.

Sandrine Martin, 15, Boucherville, Que., will be making her international debut, competing in the ladies category. Martin placed 10th at the 2013 Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships in the junior category. She is coached by Annie Barabé and Yvan Desjardins in Contrecoeur, Que.

Madeline Edwards, 17, Port Moody, B.C. and Zhao Kai Pang, 18, Burnaby, B.C., are one of two teams representing Canada in ice dance. Edwards and Kai Pang competed at two ISU Junior Grand Prix events last season, winning bronze in both France and Turkey. The 2013 Canadian junior champions placed 12th at the 2013 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships. They are coached by Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe at the BC Centre of Excellence.

Katie Desveaux, 16, Toronto, Ont., and Dmitre Razgulajevs, 16, Ajax, Ont., are the second entry in ice dance for Canada. This is their first international assignment. Desveaux and Razgulajevs placed seventh in junior dance at the 2013 Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships. They are coached by Juris Razgulajevs and Carol Lane at Scarboro FSC.

Petra Burka of Toronto, Ont., will act as the team leader and Josiane Roberge from Sillery, Que., will be the team physiotherapist. Sylvain Guibord of Brossard, Que., and Lorna Schroder of Georgetown, Ont., are the Canadian officials at the event.

Gold for Canadian ice dancers at Junior Grand Prix

RIGA, Latvia – Ice dancers MacKenzie Bent of Uxbridge, Ont., and Garrett MacKeen of Oshawa, Ont., earned their first international victory on Saturday to conclude the first stop on the ISU Junior Grand Prix figure skating circuit.

The Canadians totalled 127.93 points to edge Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter of the U.S. second at 127.43 and Alla Loboda and Pavel Drozd of Russia third at 126.43.  It’s a second career junior Grand Prix medal for Bent and MacKeen, also fifth at the world juniors last season.

“It was really something special to hear our national anthem,” said MacKeen, 19, three years older than his partner.  “It certainly will be one of the biggest memories for us from this competition.

Bent and MacKeen were first after the short program Friday then delivered the third best free dance of the day but it was still enough to retain the overall lead.

“One of our lifts was downgraded and that affected our score,” said MacKeen.  “It’s something we’ve been working really hard on in training.  We came here with a short dance similar to last year because it was very successful for us.  We changed our free dance and we are delighted to get off to such a great start with it.”

In men’s competition, Roman Sadovsky of Vaughan, Ont., climbed from 16th to 14th overall.  Boyang Jin of China won the gold.

On Friday, Alaine Chartrand of Prescott, Ont., was fourth in women’s competition while in pairs Dylan Conway of Toronto and Dustin Sheriff-Clayton of Newmarket, Ont., were sixth and Mary Orr of Brantford, Ont., and Phelan Simpson of Lunenburg, N.S., seventh.


Louis Daignault

Canadian ice dancers lead after short, Chartrand fourth at Junior Grand Prix

RIGA, Latvia – Ice dancers MacKenzie Bent of Uxbridge, Ont., and Garrett MacKeen of Oshawa, Ont., are first after Friday’s short program while Alaine Chartrand of Prescott, Ont., was fourth in the women’s final at the season’s first stop on the ISU Junior Grand Prix circuit in figure skating.

In women’s competition, Chartand posted a personal best international score of 146.95 points. She competed at two junior Grand Prix last season before winning the bronze medal at the senior nationals and placing eighth at the world juniors.

‘’I gained quite a bit in the performance department of the program today,’’ said Chartrand, 17. ‘’It’s a more mature routine this year so that’s an aspect I’ve put a lot of focus on for this season. I also feel a lot more confident after my success last year.  Today I had the kind of start I wanted with a new program.’’

Evgenia Medvedeva led Russia to a 1-2 finish with 169.52 while Maria Sotskova was second at 166.49. Karen Chen of the U.S. was third at 154.26.

Bent and MacKeen, fifth at the world junior championships last year, earned 55.21 points for their short dance score only 0.67 off their personal best.  Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter of the U.S., are second at 52.40 and Alla Loboda and Pavel Drozd of Russia third at 50.93.

The pairs competition wrapped up as well with both Canadian entries completing their international debuts. Dylan Conway of Toronto and Dustin Sheriff-Clayton of Newmarket, Ont., were sixth with a personal best 116.05 points. Mary Orr of Brantford, Ont., and Phelan Simpson of Lunenburg, N.S., followed in seventh at 110.77.

‘’This was an amazing opportunity for us and it was such an honour to represent Canada,’’ said Conway, 15, in her fourth season with her 20-year-old partner. ‘’We were pleased with our performance. Our throw Salchow and side-by-side spins were definitely the highlights.’’

Orr and Simpson joined forces only five months ago.

‘’It was definitely a challenge getting ready for this event,’’ said Orr, 16. ‘’The biggest issue in training was getting our timing down.  For our first competition we were happy with both our programs especially the twists and lifts.’’

Competition ends Saturday with the ice dance and men’s finals.  Roman Sadovsky of Vaughan, Ont., was 16th after Thursday’s men’s short program.

Full results:

Julianne Séguin does double duty on the ISU Junior Grand Prix Circuit

It seems that peppy blond figure skater Julianne Séguin was worth the wait, at least in the eyes of intrepid junior pair skater Charlie Bilodeau.

Bilodeau, of Montreal, already had a partnership with Kristel Desjardins that took them both to two Junior Grand Prix early in the 2012-2013 season and a silver medal at a Canadian championship at the junior level. By October last season, Bilodeau decided he wanted to skate only with Séguin – but he had to wait for her, until she had finished her season.

Bilodeau stayed at home, worked on his singles skating, missed the Canadian championships in Mississauga, Ont., and slipped in a few pair sessions with Séguin two or three times a week.

Now Séguin is one of the busiest skaters around. As a singles skater, she’ll go to the Junior Grand Prix in Mexico City Sept. 4 to 8 (there is no pairs event there), and then with Bilodeau, she’ll skate Junior Grand Prix at Minsk, Belarus on Sept. 25 to 29. Then she’ll head to Ostrava, Czech Republic the very next week to skate both pairs and women’s singles.

Coach Josée Picard wanted a schedule that didn’t have 16-year-old Séguin trotting all over the world with multiple time changes. You see, this season, there is much work to do. The way Picard sees it, Séguin is in a close scramble with two other budding stars in Canada: Gabby Daleman, who won the silver medal at the Canadian championships last season and Alaine Chartrand, who was third. And there are two spots open to Canadian women for the Sochi Olympics.

The fiery Séguin had been a young skater on the move and it was clear why she was so coveted. She was already skating senior at the national level last season, finishing sixth overall in the women’s event behind Kaetlyn Osmond after being third in the short. And at the 2012 Canadian championships, she had finished ninth with Andrew Evans in senior pairs, showing off a huge triple twist, a high throw triple Salchow that she landed like a cat, and side-by-side triple Salchows in their first season together. That year, Séguin was also third at the junior level behind Gabby Daleman. In 2010, Séguin couldn’t do a double flip.

Séguin made her senior international competition debut (in singles) at the 2013 Four Continents Championship in Osaka, where she finished 11th overall (146.48 points) behind two-time world champion Mao Asada. But she acquitted herself well, finishing sixth on technical marks in the free skate and drawing praise from Eurosport commentators.

At Four Continents in the long program, Séguin was 10 points behind the leader on the technical aspect, but 22 points behind on program component marks, so she’s focused hard on the presentation side, working with Julie Marcotte, who did her singles short program, to shine on stage. Séguin will also try to add a double Axel- triple toe loop and she plans a triple toe loop – triple toe loop as her jump combination for the short program. She’s working on a triple Lutz – triple toe loop, which is not consistent enough yet to put in the short program.

But the jumps and the points don’t tell the whole tale of Séguin, who started working with Marc Godin in Longueil, Que. One day, Godin approached Picard to ask her if she would take on the young skater, because he thought she might make a good pair skater.
“She was just a tiny little girl that came from a little club,” Picard said. At the time, she could do only an Axel and a double Salchow but she had spring “and she was just a neat little girl.” Last year, Séguin got all the triples. 

Séguin came along at the right time for Picard, who is known for her pair and dance success. She had coached Isabelle Brasseur from six years old to the Olympic Games. And she was the original coach of Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz when they first joined forces as junior ice dancers. Picard coached them until they finished fourth at the world championships.

She had taken a break from coaching and vowed to herself that when she returned she wanted to coach a beginner to the top level again. “I’m going to enjoy the last part of my career,” she thought. Séguin has turned into a new challenge: Picard had never coached a singles skater to the top levels.

At the beginning, Picard found Séguin an easy-going student with a ready smile. “She smiles all the time,” Picard said. “The smile you see is the smile you see five days a week. That’s what I think is special about her. And I think she has succeeded so fast because she never questioned anything I told her to do. She has confidence and she does what you say. It’s very pleasant to work with somebody that is so hard working and that has got that personality.”

Picard works with Séguin at a new arena that opened a year ago in Chambly, a town of about 25,000 that is 25 kilometres southeast of Montreal. “It’s like a five-star hotel,” Picard said of the rink. “It has three nice ice surfaces and a big gym, all in the same building.”

As a pair skater, Séguin is the perfect partner, standing 4-foot-10, a foot shorter than Bilodeau.  They are the right size and the right age: Bilodeau just turned 20 and the two of them can enjoy two years of eligibility at the international junior level. The plan this year is to focus on the junior level, hoping to make the Junior Grand Prix Final and the world junior championships.

But Picard is wistfully looking at the national senior pair ranks, where the third spot appears open. And at the summer provincials, Séguin and Bilodeau scored higher than another exciting new team of Nastasha Purich and Mervin Tran (at least in the short program – Purich and Tran did not do the long program). “After they’ve done their Grand Prix, we’ll see how it goes,” Picard said.

Beverley Smith