SPORTS

Canadians Duhamel, Radford lead after pairs short program at Skate Canada

10/25/2013 03:50 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
SAINT JOHN, N.B. - It was an unspoken moment before the music began, a shared realization they were competing in what will likely be their Skate Canada finale.

Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the short dance at Skate Canada International on Friday night, despite a couple of noticeable and uncharacteristic errors.

But instead of focusing on the flaws, Moir was soaking up the moment.

"It was emotional," Moir said. "We talk about this. . . it's about enjoying the journey, enjoying the process, and we're at great moments in our careers right now. We're healthy, we're strong, we still think we're young — maybe the rest of the skating world doesn't — but it's a beautiful thing and we're really enjoying it.

"We just looked at each other and it's one of those moments where you're just happy to be where you are."

Virtue and Moir scored 73.15 points for their foxtrot and quickstep to music by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, edging fellow Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje by less than three points. Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were third.

Patrick Chan, meanwhile, opened his season by winning the men's short program. The three-time world champion from Toronto scored 88.10 points, but tripled his quad toe loop attempt and couldn't hold the landing on his second triple toe loop.

Rather than dwell on his missed quad, Chan took a similarly philosophical approach to his skate as his Canadian ice dance teammates.

"I didn't have technical goals, I didn't say 'I want to land my quad then my Axel so I can come first,'" Chan said. "I wanted to go out and be excited to be there as opposed to dreading competing, which had become a bad habit of mine over the last two seasons. I was kind of dreading competing and never really enjoying competing, which is really weird as an elite athlete.

"I went into this event thinking, 'Hey, I'm lucky to be here, I'm lucky to be at the level I am, I've won three world championships, I've got nothing to prove, I'm out here to have a great time.'"

Nobunari Oda was second with 80.82, while Japanese teammate Yuzuru Hanyu was third with 80.40.

Earlier, Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won the pairs short program with 69.57 points. They skated to "Tribute," which Radford — a pianist who studied at Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music — wrote in 2006, the day after his coach Paul Wirtz died of cancer.

Italians Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek were right behind the Canadians with 69.38, while Sui Wenjing and Han Cong were third with 69.02 at Harbour Station arena.

American Gracie Gold leads after the women's short program, scoring 69.45 points. Julia Lipnitskaia, a 15-year-old from Russia, is second with 66.89, while Japan's Akiko Suzuki scored 65.76 to leave her third.

Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond, who was sidelined for all of September with a foot injury, had an uncharacteristic fall coming out of a double Axel to leave her fifth.

Virtue and Moir haven't officially confirmed this is their final season, although they're expected to retire after the Sochi Olympics.

Virtue, from London, Ont., saw Moir struggling to contain his emotion and said she was inspired the skater from Ilderton, Ont., who's been her partner for the better part of two decades.

"I was pretty nervous and it's easy to get wrapped up in the minor details, and you're so focused on how we're executing every step," Virtue said. "I just looked at Scott and he looked a bit emotional and I think it connected us in a special way, and made it that much more special."

Their trouble came on the twizzles — sort of travelling side-by-side spins that have be completely in synch. Their's weren't. Virtue said because she's struggled with them in three performances already this season, they might look at moving them to a different part of their short program.

"It's certainly not something we want to risk moving forward but we'll look at that when we get home," she said.

The night marked a personal best (70.35) for Weaver and Poje, who've long skated in the shadows of Virtue and Moir.

Skating to music from "42nd Street," Weaver, from Toronto, and Poje, from Waterloo, Ont., Canada's perennial runners-up had no noticeable bobbles.

They watched Virtue and Moir's performance intently on a TV screen. Weaver looked stricken when the Olympic champs made their glaring twizzles error, and reached out to touch the screen with a sympathetic "Ohhh."

"Tessa and Scott are Olympic champions, they're everything in a team that we strive to be, and while their errors are quite uncharacteristic, they are to me the quintessential ice dance team of our time," Weaver said. "So no it doesn't make any less excited about our own score, we're just happy to be in the same sentence as them."

Radford, meanwhile, said he had chills skating to his own song, which he recorded with a 16-piece string section in a Montreal studio last spring.

"It is a different experience hearing my own music, it just creates a deep centred feeling inside of me. . . it's difficult to put into words," Radford said.

Duhamel, from Lively, Ont., and Radford, from Balmertown, Ont., bronze medallists at last spring's world championships, won despite Duhamel stumbling out of her triple Lutz, and putting a hand down on the throw triple Lutz.

Despite leaving considerable room for improvement, the Canadians — Duhamel in a floaty pink dress, and Radford in an understated grey shirt and pants — are way ahead of where they were at this point last season.

"Last year we came to this event, skated a clean short, and got 64, so this shows everything that we've been working towards and improving," Duhamel said. "We started with 64 last season and ended with a 73 at worlds, so this is exactly where we want to be, we want to hit those high 70s as we go into nationals and as we go into the Olympics. I think that it's a good step."

Paige Lawrence of Kennedy, Sask., and Rudi Swiegers of Kipling, Sask., were sixth, while Margaret Purdy of Strathroy, Ont., and Michael Marinaro of Sarnia, Ont., were eighth.

Osmond, meanwhile, had landed three triple jumps and looked poised for a clean program when she stumbled and fell on her side after landing her double Axel.

"I'm not sure what it was, it was probably just my excitement taking over, and thinking 'Oh my god I just did all three of my jumps and now I can just have fun the rest of my program.' As I was extending forward, my feet were just gone from underneath me, and I was like 'Oh no!'"

The 17-year-old from Marystown, N.L., had only been back on the ice for three weeks after she was diagnosed with a stress reaction — a precursor to a stress fracture — in late August.

She'd only finally successfully landed her triple jumps last week.

Osmond, who won Skate Canada last year, skated to music from "Sweet Charity," a 1966 Broadway musical about a dancer-for-hire. The teenager looked like one, wearing a black dress with white elbow-length gloves, and her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail.

Osmond and her coach Ravi Walia said going with a more mature look was a measured move in this Olympic season. If she wanted to compete against the world's top women, she has to look like one.

"You want to look like the top skater in the world, you always want to look like you're seasoned out there," Walia said.

Amelie Lacoste of Delson, Que., was sixth, while Veronik Mallet of Sept-Iles, Que., was eighth.

Skate Canada is the second of six stops on figure skating's Grand Prix circuit. The top six entries in each discipline qualify for the Grand Prix Final, Dec. 5-8, in Fukuoka, Japan.

Follow Lori Ewing on Twitter at @ewingsports

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