KELOWNA, B.C. - Canadian ice dancing, it seems, is in good hands.
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje won ice dance gold to lead Canada in a 1-2 finish at Skate Canada International on Saturday.
With Canada's Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir watching on from the broadcast boost, Weaver and Poje scored 171.10 points for the victory, and had the Prospera Place crowd cheering through the final 30 seconds of their four-minute long program to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons."
"It's great, I think that this has always been our goal but now it feels attainable, and it doesn't take a miracle for us to get here," Weaver said. "Even though saying that, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, we were pretty nervous for this event, but now this can serve as a great confidence booster."
Virtue and Moir, who are taking the season off, had won five of the previous seven Skate Canada events.
Piper Gilles of Toronto and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., won the silver with 152.60, while Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue finished third with 148.23.
"It just shows how deep the field is," Weaver said. "Canadian ice dance I think is at its strongest in recent history, especially last season with us, Tessa and Scott, and the teams that were fighting for third. It's an amazing thing, success breeds success."
Canadians Meaghan Duhamel and Eric Radford won the pairs for their first Grand Prix victory, while Japan's Takahito Mura landed two quadruple jumps to win the men's singles gold. Anna Pogorilaya of Russia won the women's singles title.
The victory was a first for Weaver and Poje, who finished second to Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte by just 0.02 points at last spring's world championships.
The Canadians found themselves in an unfamiliar spot coming into Skate Canada as the No. 1-ranked team.
"The thing that felt different and felt a little strange was not having Tessa and Scott in the changing rooms and on practices, because we've become accustomed to that," Poje said. "It felt different, a little strange. Their not being there made us realize that we need to step into the spotlight and we need to be confident."
Duhamel, from Lively, Ont., and Radford, from Balmertown, Ont., meanwhile, roared to gold after executing their quadruple throw Salchow for the first time in a major international competition.
The throw, which comes as advertised — Radford launches Duhamel for four rotations through the air — is almost never performed by any of the world's pairs skaters. It's something they'd wanted to do since they teamed up four seasons ago.
"It's kind of been in our back pocket waiting," Duhamel said.
The quad throw wasn't perfect — Duhamel stepped out of the landing. But the gutsy move was part of a strong overall performance that saw them win by a huge 26-point margin, and bring the crowd to its feet.
The two-time defending world bronze medallists scored 210.74 points for their program to music by Muse, while China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong were second with 184.64, and Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov won the bronze with 175.45.
"Our goal this summer was to try (the quad) in every competition so when we got to the big events like Four Continents and world championships, we had tried it enough and got enough experience on it that it would become very easy to land," Duhamel said. "So for us it was still a success today to go for it and to stand up on it. The landing was. . . just miss, so close. So for us, that's a success."
The pairs victory was not only Canada's first at a Grand Prix since Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison won Skate America, but should stack the Canadian team up well against the best in the world.
"Every year we go into the Grand Prix series and it's always our goal to win a gold medal, and it's taken us a lot of years and it feels really great to finally have this achievement," Duhamel said. "It's encouraging, that was personal best long program score ever, but we still had a lot of room to make it better."
Kirsten Moore-Towers of St. Catharines, Ont., and Michael Marinaro of Waterloo, Ont., who just teamed this past summer, were sixth. Brittany Jones of Toronto and Joshua Reagan of Waterloo, Ont., were seventh.
Moore-Towers announced after last season that her and partner Dylan Moscovitch were splitting; Moore-Towers wanted to compete in two more Olympics, and Moscovitch couldn't commit to that.
"When we made this decision, there was a lot of talk and a lot of skeptical people and I haven't regretted it once, I haven't doubted it once," Moore-Towers said. "You can say what you want about the mark we're getting . . . but it doesn't matter, and that's what people aren't getting.
"We are happy. I am so happy in this situation, we have great days every day in training, we are always making gains, and that's what skating is about for me right now."
Skating to "The Phantom of the Opera," Mura scored a total of 255.81 points, and buried his head in a towel in tears after his marks went up. Mura called it his best-ever performance.
"I was a little bit surprised how well I was able to do, until now I was lacking a bit of confidence," Mura said through an interpreter. "While I was skating, I was thinking, 'I'm doing really great. Very comfortable.'"
Javier Fernandez of Spain, the leader after the short program, dropped to second with 244.87 points. Fernandez had trouble on his three quad attempts, falling on one of them.
American Max Aaron was third with 231.77. Liam Firus of North Vancouver, B.C., was ninth, while Andrei Rogozine of Newmarket, Ont., was 10th.
Pogorilaya won the women's title with 191.81, while American Ashley Wagner was second with 186.00 and Satoko Miyahara of Japan won bronze with 181.75.
Alaine Chartrand of Prescott, Ont., was seventh, while Veronik Mallett of Sept-Iles, Que., was 10th, and Julianne Seguin of Longueuil, Que., was 12th.
The men's event started unusually early at 11 a.m. local time. Mura called the early start "a refreshing feeling."
Fernandez wasn't so sold on it.
"I saw Javi this morning shuffling down the hallway, and I said, 'You waking up?'" Aaron said. "He said, 'I don't remember the last time I woke up this early.' I started cracking up. It is funny."
"I don't know if it's a Spanish thing, but I really don't like the early practice at all," said Fernandez, who was up at 6:20 a.m. for the morning session.
The field was missing Canada's top two skaters in Patrick Chan and Kevin Reynolds.
Chan, who'd won four of the six previous Skate Canada events, is taking the season off while Reynolds pulled out of the event a few days ago citing skate troubles. Reynolds has been searching for skates that fit properly for more than a year.
Firus was pleased with his skate after a shaky short program.
"I came in here fighting, really pushing," Firus said.
The 22-year-old had a disappointing Sochi Olympic experience finishing 28th, and he admitted it took him a while to get over it.
"Sochi was tough, it really hurt me, but the support was awesome," he said. "It's what brought me back to skating, I didn't realize how much I love it.
"It was tough coming back from such a hard fall, such a letdown. It's pushed me in ways and been really tough as well, but I finally feel good."