SPORTS

Chan, Virtue and Moir lead after short programs at Canadian championships

01/10/2014 03:21 EST | Updated 03/12/2014 05:59 EDT
OTTAWA - Patrick Chan opened his short program Friday night with a massive quadruple-triple jump combination that for a moment seemed like a tantalizing preview of Sochi Olympic gold.

Then the three-time world champion inexplicably lost his focus.

The 23-year-old from Toronto won the men's short program at the Canadian figure skating championships on Friday, but it was far from the flawless program he would have liked less than a month out from the Sochi Olympics.

"I just got ahead of myself, did the great quad toe-triple toe and then my mind starts racing: 'Oh my God it's going to be a great program,'" Chan said.

Chan scored 89.12 points, doubling both a planned triple Axel and planned triple Lutz in what was an otherwise elegant program to Rachmaninoff's "Elegy in E-Flat Minor."

"I kind of lost my train of thought, I didn't have anything in mind, I just kind of relaxed and thought it was over, rather than staying really pinpoint on to technically what I have to do to do the Axel successfully. And I didn't do that. Same with the Lutz," Chan said.

Earlier in the night, Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the short dance, but with a performance that also left some room for improvement before Sochi.

Kaetlyn Osmond won the women's singles short program, putting four frustrating months of injury problems behind her.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won the pairs short in a tight battle with Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch. The two pairs teams earned the only standing ovations of the night at the Canadian Tire Centre.

In men's singles, Liam Firus of North Vancouver, B.C., was second with 78.93, while Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., scored 78.29 for third in his first competition of the season.

Chan has had his sights set on Sochi Olympic gold almost from the day he finished fifth at the Vancouver Games.

"That was the problem today, I was thinking 'This has to be a great program today for me to have a great Olympics.' And if I look back in the history books, Jamie (Sale) and David (Pelletier) didn't have a great nationals before the Salt Lake City Games (where they won gold), so ...

"It's just the last piece of the puzzle I need to fit in and get everything working smoothly."

Chan was easily the frontrunner for Olympic gold early in the season when he shattered the world records for the short program, long program, and overall score. But he faltered at the Grand Prix Final with a similarly shaky short program to Friday night's, and had to settle for silver behind Japan teenager Yuzuru Hanyu.

The Canadian admitted it took a while to shake off the disappointment.

"I had a rocky Grand Prix Final and I think that's the source of this, losing my flow, my mojo I guess," Chan said. "Final was really startling ... it was hard to go back home and have that long of a time to think about that. I'm glad I had nationals before Olympics to work on that, and get myself out of that mindset."

Virtue and Moir, meanwhile, said competing under the pressure of their final pre-Olympic performance was the perfect test for Sochi. Moir, however, gave their performance a failing grade Friday.

"We didn't perform under that pressure as well as we'd like to," Moir said.

The defending Olympic champions weren't thrilled with their performance, admitting to considerable pressure competing in front of a Canadian crowd for what will likely be the last time.

And less than a month out from the Games, nothing short of perfect is good enough.

"We've been training and practising kind of lights-out and Tessa and I, we're really perfectionists and it felt like we had a couple moments today that just weren't the way we'd been training," Moir said. "That's probably the emotion you see on our faces."

Virtue and Moir earned 76.16 points for their jazz-infused skate to music by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, but lost marks for holding a rotational lift for too long. In the lift in question, Virtue lies on her back across a spinning Moir's shoulders.

There were a few other small missteps as well.

"Just technical things," Moir explained. "I felt like I was a battling a little with my knees today, wasn't quite under the ice ... maybe I was watching world junior (hockey) highlights or something."

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., were second with 72.68, while Alexandra Paul of Toronto and Mitchell Islam of Barrie, Ont., were third with 67.67.

Virtue admitted the two are being tougher on themselves with the Games so close.

"I'm sure a lot of people around will think 'Oh don't be so negative,'" Virtue said. "There are a lot of positives to take from (the program). It's just the place we are in our season, it's all about process, it's all about trying to achieve the highest quality of performance possible, so we're always trying to get that."

Virtue, from London, Ont., and Moir, from Ilderton, Ont., have been living and training in a bubble of sorts the past few weeks in Canton, Mich., making a strategic decision to block out almost everything Olympic-related. They used the same approach leading into the 2010 Vancouver Games.

"It's nice when we're in the States because we don't see anything, about anything Canadian," Virtue said.

They're not even watching their own show — the W Network's "Tessa & Scott" — which is two episodes into the seven-episode series.

"It's just too much us," Moir said.

"It's so close to the Games, we sort of lived it already, we don't want to go back and feel the things we were feeling in August and September, especially just a few weeks short of the Olympics," Virtue added. "We're in such a great place now. . . it's better for us to block everything out and focus on every day."

Osmond, meanwhile, is halfway to clinching her spot on Canada's Olympic team, shrugging off her injury troubles with a clean short program.

The 18-year-old from Marystown, N.L., was sidelined for a good chunk of the last four months, with first an ankle injury and then a torn hamstring, and admitted to wondering at times if she'd make it back in time for Sochi.

"I have this little jump at the end of my program and I think I put more energy into that little half jump than I did into my entire program because I was so excited," Osmond said, laughing. "And when I went to do my curtsy, I couldn't help but be relieved."

Osmond landed a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, then a triple Lutz to score 70.3 points for her '60s-inspired performance to "Big Spender" and "Rich Man's Frug."

Amelie Lacoste of Delson, Que., scored 61.27 to leave her second heading into Saturday's free program.

Gabrielle Daleman, a 15-year-old from Newmarket, Ont., is third with 58.38.

Osmond, who was eighth in her world championship debut last year, suffered a stress reaction in August, and then tore her hamstring during the short program at Skate Canada in October, forcing her to withdraw before the free skate.

Her treatment included a cortisone shot and platelet-rich plasma treatment — the injection of platelet-rich blood into an injury like the one Chan had for a calf injury prior to the Vancouver Olympics.

She was off the ice for more than two weeks, and it was several weeks before she was back to doing jumps and spins.

"When I got back on the ice I could barely do my crosscuts still, so I had to work so many edges and so many stroking exercises before I could even think about jumping," Osmond said. "It was really hard during those times to even think that Nationals was coming up, time was going so fast, and I was still not even on the ice."

Duhamel, from Lively, Ont., and Radford, from Balmertown, Ont., scored 75.8 points in the pairs short to edge Moore-Towers, from St. Catharines, Ont., and Toronto's Moscovitch (64.96.) Paige Lawrence of Kennedy, Sask., and Rudy Swiegers of Kipling, Sask., score 61.67 for third.

Canada, which will name its Olympic figure skating team Sunday, has three Sochi Olympic berths in men's singles, ice dance and pairs, and two berths in women's singles.

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