On all levels the 100-year anniversary of the Canadian Skating Championships was an overwhelming success. In honour of the anniversary, over 80 Canadian champions of the past were in attendance to witness one of the best Canadian Championships in many years.
What made this championships so successful was first and foremost the inspired and at times heart wrenching performances of Canada's best as they tried to validate four long years of effort in a few short minutes of competition. What we saw was strength in all of the disciplines. Strength across the board, which reminds me of the good old days - the 1988 Calgary Olympics when Canada had it's biggest medal haul in skating at the Games, winning medals in three of the four disciplines. It's interesting to note that this will be the biggest Olympic skating team from this country since those 1988 Games and with the addition of the team event it looks likely that Canada will equal or top that medal total from 26 years ago.
The audiences were terrific in Ottawa. They were loud, enthusiastic and large in numbers. The packed house on Saturday got their money's worth and gave numerous standing ovations in return.
Highlights for me were plentiful. The women's competition, which in the past has often been the least hotly contested title, was instead more competitive and intriguing that it has ever been. Kaetlyn Osmond showed her trademark composure and charisma after coming back from a season of injuries to defend her title and to prove that her breakout season last year was no fluke. She has a presence that fills the arena and an elusive blend of raw talent and solid technique which is mixed with the soul of an artist.
What I find most appealing in Kaetlyn's character is the refusal to take herself or the magnitude of the moment too seriously. Each moment is met with a smile, a giggle or a shrug, and with eyes sparkling. This is supposed to be fun, right? To watch her compete is to believe just that. That it is fun.
Gabby Daleman at only 15 years of age showed a feisty competitiveness and raw athleticism on her way to winning silver and a ticket to Sochi. Her triple lutz-triple toe, the most difficult triple-triple combination being executed in the world of women's skating, was as good as they come. This kid can fly and showed a focus and nerve quite remarkable for her age. As good as the two at the top are, the rest of the field showed us that they will continue to be pushed, as the final flight was filled with youth, triple jumps and engaging personalities. This bodes well for the seasons to come.
Speaking of youth, in the men's event it was 14-year-old Roman Sadovsky and 15-year-old Nam Nguyen who brought the house to its feet and the scores to new heights in the penultimate flight. These are the numbers that the final group of men were challenged to beat. What we saw was a glimpse of where the next Patrick or Jeffery or Kurt might come from. They were back-to-back exceptional scores, for remarkable performances by young teenagers and once again the future looks bright.
Patrick Chan, who came in without challengers due to the fact that Kevin Reynolds was not in peak competition form because of skate malfunctions, was not as sharp as usual and showed signs of his focus being a little split between the here and now, and the larger challenge looming that is the Olympics. But, "not his best" is still world class, and it was the kind of performance that will keep him on his toes without chipping away at his confidence. A rock solid foundation to build on for the games.
The drama came in the pairs competition with the intense rivalry building once again between Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch the world's fourth-ranked pair and world bronze medalists and defending Canadian champions, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. Like last year the teams were separated by less than a point after the short program with Kirsten and Dylan just behind. That meant that they were the first of the two teams to skate in the free program showdown. About the performance in the free, Meagan said "We didn't know what they did before us, but we did hear 'a New Canadian Record!'" and so they knew that the bar had been raised yet again. Both teams set Canadian records that night and both teams brought the fans to their feet in appreciation of the pairs' finesse and fearlessness.
The evening wound up with the Ice Dance event which was a "something for everyone" type of affair. It was filled with a variety of genres, an abundance of athleticism and dramatic and emotional musical interpretations. The final flight of dance was of such a high standard that the teams fighting for the third Olympic spot knew that only "their very best" and "not a step wrong" would get them there. In the end it was Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam after two seasons of mishaps and heartaches who nailed the Olympic spot. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje won silver, wowed the crowd and showed with their fluid and refined Tango that they are absolutely Olympic podium worthy.
The final skate of an awesome day fell into the capable hands of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. They closed the show and the final chapter of their competitive life at Canadians with their Olympic free dance, a standing ovation and a final good bye. A fitting end to a fabulous day.