Road To The Olympic Games

Figure Skating·Analysis

Canadian figure skating going through unprecedented transformation

With the start of the figure skating season around the corner, Canada's skaters have already worked out their choreography, as well as their plans for generating success in competition.

Heir apparents take spotlight following post-Olympic retirements

Canadian ice dancers Piper Gilles, left, and Paul Poirier, shown in this March 2018 file photo, struck gold in Germany on Friday. (Roberto Bregani/EPA-EFE)

In the post-Olympic season, it's not unusual to see retirements and skaters taking a break, but for Canada's team, the exodus is pretty much unprecedented.

Patrick Chan, Meagan Duhamel, and Eric Radford have retired with their Olympic medals. Five-time Olympic medallists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have not announced a final decision but are not competing for the moment and neither is world champion and Olympic bronze medallist Kaetlyn Osmond.

We have seen many of these skaters compete during the last three Olympic cycles, and we know them well. At Skate Canada's annual high performance camp, the stories for the last few years have been focused in large part on these champions. Does the impact of not facing someone in competition factor into the preparation as much as the results from the last season do for those waiting to compete?

It would seem so.

"I didn't think I'd be here. I spent three months in the spring 'contemplating,'" said former Canadian champion Alaine Chartrand. Digging deep and coming to terms with a disappointing season, called for a reboot for Chartrand whose focus is now equal parts school (Kinesiology at York) and skating for a better life balance.

Fellow competitor Larkyn Austman has been able to reconcile her own competitive disappointments this way: "My biggest lesson is that I have learned that anything can happen. Never put anything to the side because you think it's not possible."

Canada's Larkyn Austman performs in the women's figure skating short program at the 2018 Winter Olympics. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press )

Both women are set to compete on the Grand Prix circuit — as is current and two-time Canadian champion and 2017 world bronze medallist Gabrielle Daleman. It's safe to say that all three have their sights set on the national women's crown.

And then there was one

A mere eight months ago, there were four strong pairs teams looking for three spots to compete at the Olympic Games. And then there was one. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro are the only team of the four that is left and are the heirs apparent to the national pairs title. They are confident, charismatic, and are fresh off a season that saw them compete strongly at both the Olympics and world championships.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are sitting out the Grand Prix season but are still focused on training. Weaver and Poje have committed to returning to competition in time for the national championships in January 2019 and see their goals as having "25 different phases" according to Weaver, including doing what feels right this season.

"We can get so caught up in trying to figure out how to get to the podium, that we forget to enjoy simply skating," Weaver says.

Deep ice dance field

Ice dance is still the field with the most depth in Canada. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier are the top-ranked Canadian team competing in the Grand Prix series. Always interesting and often with an experimental flavour to their creativity, this season is no exception for Gilles and Poirier. In a bold move they found Govardo, a duo busker acoustic act, who was willing to compose, customize, and create a new arrangement of the song "Vincent" for their free program. 

"We feel more invested in this program because of the journey to create the music," said Gilles.

Poirier continued: "'Vincent' is a monotone kind of piece and the only way we could use it and tell the story we wanted to tell this season was by creating the music for it."

Keegan Messing made a name for himself at PyeongChang and worlds, and he would like that attention to continue. A strong jumper with a charming style, Messing's aware of what's needed to be competitive.

"A quad Lutz will allow me to be more competitive this year," Messing says. "With a quad Lutz, two quad Toe jumps, and my triple Axel, the whole program is stacked."

Keegan Messing of Canada competes in the free skate competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics. (How Hwee Young/EPA-EFE)

Finding your place on the skating landscape is key. With Virtue and Moir out of the picture for the moment, ice dancers Carolane Soucisse and Shane Firus would like to take advantage.

"There is a little more room for us now," Firus says.

He may not be the only skater this season to feel that way and this season he and many others have a chance to fill the void of past success.

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