Every season, there is always one Grand Prix where everything just goes crazy. Last year, it was Cup of China, where a brutal collision in the men's event produced some utterly nonsensical results. This year, apparently, the honour goes to Skate Canada in Letherbridge. It had a bit of everything, across all four divisions: concussion, blood, rare technical rule violations, and champions having totally disastrous skates.
Was it the fact that it was held across Halloween? Perhaps we'll never know, but all we know is that watching Skate Canada was like riding a wild roller coaster, with no knowing how it was going to end.
Everyone was expecting a battle royale, and eventually, we got it. What no-one was expecting, however, was a torrid drudgery of a short program that saw only one skater of the twelve put out a clean performance, and the shocker of Patrick Chan (CAN) in third and Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) in seventh.
Eventually, it was Patrick Chan who came out on top in his return to competition. Chan's short program was a scrappy performance, with a fall on the triple Axel and an invalid jump later in the program, but his components scores kept him in the mix in third place. His free skate, however, was as squeaky clean as possible, and the judges showered him with love for it, including several tens in components, lifting him to another Skate Canada title.
If Chan's short program had been scrappy, Yuzuru Hanyu's was nothing short of a disaster: out of the three jumping passes, only one ended up counting. A doubled solo quad followed by a repeat of the double toe on the combination saw both passes invalidated. Skaters cannot repeat the same jump in the short program, as Hanyu was painfully reminded. Still, his components kept him in the mix, and an insanely difficult free skate including three quadruple jumps saw him jump back up to second place overall.
It was Daisuke Murakami (JPN) who took advantage of the favourites' early troubles, establishing himself as the leader after the short program. His free skate was technically difficult, but was not as well rewarded by the judges, which saw him ultimately slip back to third, a result with which he was clearly not happy, though he can take many positives away from this event.
A word, too, for Timothy Dolensky from the US. Dolensky was lucky to receive this assignment as the replacement for compatriot Joshua Farris, who withdrew to recover from a concussion. After a disappointing short program, Dolensky made the most of what might be his only Grand Prix opportunity, and turned in a completely spotless long program that garnered the sixth-highest score of the night and boosted him to seventh overall. Well done, Timothy!
As with the men, there were several big guns at play in the ladies’ field, but none bigger than the ladies’ World Champion, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. And with Mao Asada’s comeback now on, the question was all around the triple Axel: would she or wouldn’t she?
But it was Ashley Wagner from the US who stole the headlines in Letherbridge, posting a personal-best short program score and taking an early lead. Wagner’s powerful performance quality in the short program was well-received by the judges, who gave her a score over 70 for the first time in her career. Her long program did not have quite the same quality, including three under-rotated jumps, but was enough to hold on to win the event.
Reigning World Champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva from Russia had what could only be called a shockingly bad performance in the short program, substituting her planned triple Axel for a well-executed double but then turning her planned triple Lutz into an invalid double and struggling on her spins and combination, seeing her slip to seventh place. She came back strongly in the free skate, landing her triple Axel and all of her other planned triples to win the long program and take silver overall.
Yuka Nagai from Japan was the surprise bronze medallist at this event, turning in a superb short program that saw her placed second after that segment of the event. Several under-rotated and popped jumps, however, hurt her badly in her free skate, which ended up with only the seventh-highest score and saw her slip to third overall.
Compared to the singles disciplines, the pairs competition was much more straightforward, with very little movement in the overall standings between the short program and the long. Unfortunately Italian pair Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek were forced to withdraw after Hotarek sustained a concussion in practice. They skated the short program, but Hotarek’s symptoms grew worse, so withdrew ahead of the long.
To the surprise of almost no-one, Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford turned in two superb performances to take out the gold medal. Their throw quad Salchow in the long program was excellent, and their “Your Song” short program – apart from the terrible cover of the song they used – is the sort of program that draws you to your feet with ease.
Young Russian pair Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov – not to be confused with the two famous Russian coaches of the same surname – brought home the silver here. The feature of both programs was a stunning triple twist that was easily the highest and most effortless of the field, and their clever long program story – wherein Morozov is a conductor and Tarasova his music – came across very well. They will definitely be in the mix at Russian Nationals this year.
Another Canadian pair, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, came home third. They struggled a little with their simpler technical content, but were really hurt in the long program by a completely aborted lift; Moore-Towers never made it above Marinaro’s shoulders in their first lift, resulting in an invalid element and a rather frightening moment for everyone watching.
As with the pairs, there were few surprises in the dance event. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, the reigning World bronze medallists and Four Continents champions gave two excellent performances, including four out of six keypoints in their Ravensberger Waltz pattern, and four level-four elements in their free dance.
The American sibling team Maia and Alex Shibutani were second, also hitting four of six keypoints in the compulsory pattern of the short dance. Their free dance, to Coldplay’s “Fix You”, was the talk of the event and is a shortlisted contender for the best free dance of the year. This silver medal will be a boost to their confidence as they look to regain their standing among the US dancers.
Russian couple Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev were third overall here. Their short dance was excellent, including hitting five out of six keypoints on the pattern, but their free dance suffered from some lost levels, though they still managed four level 4s, a level 2 on their steps hurt their overall score. The quality of their performance here, however, will be a major warning shot to the other Russian dance couples ahead of Nationals.
Two of the six Grand Prix events are now down, but we are still no clearer on who will take part in the final in December. The next stop is the Cup of China, which last year produced not only the collision felt around the skating world but some crazy results. Skating fans will be hoping for no collisions this time around, but as to the results, unpredictability seems to be the watchword of the singles fields so far…