Skate Canada event provides high performance director Slipchuk with good takeaways

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VANCOUVER — It was just a snapshot in time but the results from this weekend's Skate Canada International figure skating competition provided an early picture of what Canadian skaters are doing well and where they need to improve, says Michael Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s high performance director.

“There was a lot of good takeaways,” said Slipchuk, a former Canadian champion. “My motto with our team is, 'We’re building to where we want to be at the end of the season.'

“As we get into January, February, that’s when you want to be hitting your peak. These events are our chance to kind of gauge where you’re at.”

World bronze medallists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier won gold in the ice dance. Their performance had the home-town crowd at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre at the University of British Columbia up and cheering.

Keegan Messing was in medal contention in the men’s competition but suffered a couple of falls in the long skate and slipped to fifth. Vanessa James and Eric Radford just missed the podium in the pairs event, finishing fourth in their first ISU Grand Prix event.

Madeline Schizas, an 18-year-old from Oakville, Ont., competing in her first season on the international circuit, was the top Canadian in the women’s event, finishing eighth.

While happy with their medal-winning performance, Gilles and Poirier said it wasn’t their best skate.

“We're really striving to be at the peak of our performance in February for the Olympics,” said Gilles, who was born in the U.S. but has a Canadian mother and grandmother. “I think we're really starting to trust our training and our ability so when we do feel kind of shaky, it may not be our best but it may still be at the moment the best.

“I think we are really just coming into our own and trusting our ability on that day.”

Slipchuk called the victory a great start for the season.

“There’s always things you can improve on, things you can be better at,” he said. “You’re going to need to do that as you move forward.

"That’s the mindset you need to be one of the best in the world.”

In the pairs, James and Radford were fifth in the short program. They moved up to fourth during the free skate despite James falling once and having a stumble.

“They are still too many small mistakes happening,” said Radford. “That’s what we need to figure out, why.

"(In) practice we feel ready to go. When we get into competition, these little things happen, which could be first-season team newness.”

Radford is a two-time world champion and three-time Olympic medallist from Balmertown, Ont. He announced in April he was coming out of retirement to partner with James, who was born in Toronto but previously competed for France.

The attention and scrutiny created by the new partnership will only increase as the seasons progresses.

“With our names and our success, I think it comes with the territory,” said James. “There is a lot of pressure from the outside so we just stay in our bubble.”

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, who have won the last two Canadian pairs championships, finished sixth and talked openly about wanting to beat James and Radford.

“We are pretty used to other teams around us having a lot of press and a lot of buzz around them,” said Moore-Towers. “A successful season for us will depend on us staying in our own bubble and not focusing too much on the exterior factors.

“We have respect for them. We believe we can be better.”

Messing was third after the short program but had a disastrous free skate, hitting his face on the ice in one fall.

“Those are things you really don’t expect to happen but they can,” said Slipchuk. “You have to just kind of learn from them and keep preparing for the events ahead.

“Our guys are really good at understanding things can go wrong and you just have to continue to train and work hard and eliminate those moving forward.”

After losing a year of competition because of COVID-19, skaters around the world are scrambling to return to form, said Slipchuk.

“Our athletes and coaches do see that everyone is in the same boat,” he said. “All the athletes are kind of at the same level of preparedness.

“Every week we’re seeing that everyone is getting stronger as our athletes are.”

The Vancouver competition was the second stop on the Grand Prix circuit. Four events remain before the final, which is scheduled for December in Osaka, Japan. The Canadian championships are scheduled for Jan. 6-13 in Ottawa and the Winter Olympics open Feb. 4 in Beijing.

“We have to continue moving forward,’ said Slipchuk. “There’s a lot of competitions ahead for our team to continue to get that comfort level, confidence and skill they need to be among the best in the world.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2021

Jim Morris, The Canadian Press

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