Hot Takes: Canadian Nationals 2019


Nam Nguyen and Alaine Chartrand Reclaim Their Titles

When skating fans talk about the changing of the guard that happens in a post-Olympic season, we’re usually referring to shiny teenagers fresh out of braces. But the vagaries of figure skating can also open the door for skaters to return for the second act of their career. I considered Nam Nguyen and Alaine Chartrand unlikely gold medalists at the start of nationals. Nguyen won his first and only title in 2015, Chartrand in 2016. Both have have posted middling results since. Now both are national champions again.

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It would have been understandable if Nguyen and Chartrand decided to retire after missing out on Olympic berths last season. True, the idea of moving on to another career in your early 20s is ridiculous in any other context but figure skating, but this is a fickle sport that prizes youth and and wears out ingenues and dynamos like cheap sprockets. It’s also easy to forget the work that goes into becoming an elite athlete and the cost of chasing a dream. Many skaters would have looked at last season’s missed opportunities and decided, screw it, I’m going to get a degree and nurse my broken joints. Not these two. Nguyen and Chartrand did not have effortless performances, but there was beauty in the grit. Their performances were a timely reminder that victory isn’t the result of magic but the product of hard work.

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Justine Brasseur and Mark Bardei’s Lifts

I will not apologize for the pun. Brasseur and Bardei’s lifts raised the roof in Pairs. This is a young pair with a promising pedigree–Brasseur is the niece of Isabelle Brasseur, who won two Olympic bronze medals and the 1983 World Championship with Llyod Eisler. They have enormous potential, and if they train their throws to match the level of their lifts, we could be looking at the next generation of Canadian pairs excellence.

Ice Dance

Even with the (presumed) retirement of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, we Canadians are spoilt for choice when it comes to ice dance. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier both skated magnificent free dances, with Weaver and Poje claiming their third title. In what is surely becoming a tired refrain this season, the dance competition was won (or lost, depending on your team) in the rhythm dance. Weaver and Poje nailed the levels in the Tango Romantica, Gilles and Poirier did not. The victory at nationals was validation for Weaver and Poje, who opted out of the Grand Prix series in favour of a fall spent touring Canada. The performance hours clearly paid off.

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Where does this leave Gilles and Poirier? They are my sentimental favourites, my masters of quirk and champions of oddball artistry. Until they nail every finicky key point in that blasted tango, however, they will suffer the same level drops and lost points that have plagued them all season. #candlesforPiperandPaul


Keegan Messing

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A national crown was Messing’s for the taking and he let it slip away. Much like the Grand Prix Final, Messing skated a too big, with too much bounce up into the jumps. And just like the Grand Prix Final he tried to force the quad lutz in the long program and wildly misjudged the attempt. I won’t write Messing off yet, but he needs to embrace focus and restraint to channel the wild energy into clean programs.

An Empty Venue

I appreciate Skate Canada bringing a high profile competition to a city beyond Central Canada, but Saint John might have been too close to the edge of the map. Airfare is outrageously expensive in this country. It’s cheaper for me to fly to London, England than London, Ontario. Planning any event in Atlantic Canada in January is a risk–cue flashbacks to me digging my car out of a meter of snow over and over again when I lived in Newfoundland–and weather delays upended travel plans for skaters and fans alike. Weather, logistics, and the remote location resulted in a near empty arena–disappointing for a country where nationals should be a marquee event.

Question Marks

Gabrielle Daleman

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A fifth place finish is far from the result Daleman expected returning to competition, but should we be surprised? Retaining a national title with limited training time and the pressure of pulling off A Comeback is a tall order to fill. Daleman clearly wanted last weekend to be a success, and I hope she gives herself credit for showing up and skating as well as she did. Daleman’s performance does prompt questions about how Skate Canada will handle her development going forward. Michael Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s High Performance Director, was in the spotlight immediately after Daleman’s free skate to speak about how the federation will support Daleman’s return. It sounds like Skate Canada is willing to give Daleman time, which I feel is an important public signal to other athletes–and federations–who are navigating mental health treatment and high performance sport.

And speaking of public signals: Brian Orser was alongside Daleman and primary coach Lee Barkell in the Kiss & Cry this weekend. I don’t know how involved Orser is in Daleman’s day to day training, but his presence in the K&C is likely a reminder to judges and the skating community that Team Cricket is still firmly behind Daleman. An excellent psychological boost if nothing else.

Stephen Gogolev

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Were it not for a failed quad lutz in the free skate, Stephen Gogolev would have won his first Senior Canadian Championship at the ripe old age of 14. After landing multiple clean quads everyone is very excited about what Kid Wonder Gogolev might do next. As with any pint-sized performer, genetics and puberty might wreak havoc on Gogolev’s jumping ability, at least temporarily, but that is still in the future. For now, Canada can sit back and enjoy the prospect of a future champion.

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