In her black sequined dress and lips painted bright pink, Kaetlyn Osmond played up to the crowd in her mambo short program, looking little like a 17 year old.
That was all part of the plan.
One of Canada's brightest young skaters opened her quest for her first national senior title Friday by winning the women's short program at the Canadian figure skating championships. The native of Marystown, N.L., skated a clean program that included three triple jumps to score 70.04 points — the highest-ever at a domestic Canadian event.
Two-time world champion Patrick Chan won the men's short program with his first clean program of the season.
Osmond and her coach Ravi Walia knew going into this season that for Osmond to compete with the world's top women's skaters, she'd need to look like one.
"We've definitely gone into the more mature programs this year, hoping to not recognize that I am younger and trying to match me with a lot of the more mature skaters," Osmond said.
Chan scored 94.63, landing a huge quad and triple Axel and staying on his feet for perhaps the first time in what's been a rocky season. The 22-year-old said he watched Osmond's performance on his TV in his hotel room and drew inspiration from the young Osmond.
"I admire her because she just goes out and has a blast, she goes out and doesn't care about the results, which I guess is good to be young," Chan said. "When I was young I had that same mentality, where I didn't really care. She's singing before she's going out to skate. But she lands her jumps like no problem. Tons of flow."
Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., scored 85.32 for second, while Liam Firus of North Vancouver, B.C., scored 75.33 for third.
Defending champion Amelie Lacoste of Delson, Que., fell on her triple loop en route to finishing second among the women with 57.86, while Julianne Seguin of Longueuil, Que., was third with 53.93.
Osmond's score topped the previous best domestic short program mark of 66.30 set by Cynthia Phaneuf in edging Joannie Rochette in 2010 — about a month before Rochette won Olympic bronze.
Domestic scores don't count for records or international ranking, because they tend to be inflated, and Japan's Mao Asada holds the highest score at an international event this season of 67.95.
In pairs Friday, defending champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford hold a slim lead over Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch after the short program.
Osmond, who trains in Edmonton, was relatively unknown before claiming bronze at last year's Canadian championships. She then upset a strong field to win Skate Canada International in October in her first-ever Grand Prix appearance.
Walia noticed last season that Osmond's components scores — what were known as "artistic impression" scores under the old judging system — were significantly lower than those of Lacoste and Canadian silver medallist Cynthia Phaneuf.
So they upped the maturity quotient "to try to package her in a way that in her first year of senior international competition they wouldn't see her as a 16 year old, they would see her as a contender, someone who has the sophistication, the classiness as the top skaters in the world," Walia said.
She'll skate Saturday's program to "Carmen" — the same music that Canadian ice dance stars Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir chose for this season's sultry long program.
Maturity on the ice
While Osmond portrays a maturity on the ice, Chan — having just turned 22 on New Years Eve — sees only her youthful enthusiasm, sounding a bit weary for wear Friday night.
"I feel when you're in your 20s and you're under these situations of media and expectations, you take it to heart. You have much more responsibility as an adult," he said.
Chan has struggled this season, finishing second at Skate Canada in October in his first loss in a major international event in a year-and-a-half, and then was third at the Grand Prix Final.
He said he'd like to be able to approach his skating with Osmond's mindset.
". . . To put myself more in that situation, in that mental space, even if I feel nervous and under pressure, it's kind of a go-to thing to say, 'Hey you know what, I'm here to have a good time.' I've won all these medals before, except the Olympics, so that gives me the chance to just relax and enjoy myself and do big quads."
Walia said he's careful to maintain a balance with Osmond.
"She is maturing, she's 17 now, and she is very intelligent and she knows what she needs to do. But she also is like a kid," the coach said.
When she or her training partners are sagging in practice, he'll implement fun games or rewards — an iTunes gift card for the first skater to complete a clean program, for example. Osmond almost always wins.
"I've always been competitive, and we do a lot of fun competitions, we try to keep it fun and light," Osmond said. "We'll do competitions as weird as: how many single Axels can you do in a row? I can't win that one. Our record is 42 in a row, it's crazy."
This week's competition is a qualifying event for the world championships in March in London, Ont., and Canada has just one women's singles berth. Lacoste claimed the one spot at last year's, finishing 16th in Nice, France.
"Of course I want to win again the national championships, but if I don't win again, I will be sad, but it won't be the end of the world," Lacoste said. "I know (the younger skaters) are pushing from behind, and they're here, and I need to do my job and if I don't do it, that's what happens."
In pairs, Duhamel, from Lively, Ont., and Radford, from Balmertown, Ont., scored 69.08, their only major mistake coming when Radford stumbled on the landing of his triple Lutz.
"It's the same situation as last year where it's really close in the short program, so we've got to lay it down in the long program to win this title again," Radford said. "But we performed under pressure last year and we can do it again this year."
Kirsten Moore-Towers of St. Catharines, Ont., and Dylan Moscovitch of Waterloo, Ont., finished with 68.23. Paige Lawrence of Kennedy, Sask., and Rudi Swiegers of Kipling, Sask., were third with 54.42.
"When we were back here, and we heard (Moore-Towers and Moscovitch's) scores, we'd never scored 68 before, so when we heard that, I was like 'Ok, try to forget about it, try to ignore it.' But being the competitive people we are, I think hearing that score gave us a little oomph."