Canadian figure skaters compete in a unique Skate Canada virtual challenge

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There were no judges to smile at, and no fans to cheer them on. It was very similar to daily training on their home ice rink, but completely different.

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier skated their ice dance programs weeks ago in front of a video team, for the Skate Canada Challenge, which will be judged virtually over the next two weekends.

If the dancers struggled to understand the competition in isolation, their bodies knew what to do.

“On the ice, I really felt like it was a competition,” said Gilles. “The nerves came back, the random leg fatigue, the ankle cramps, whatever you feel before you compete, it was no different than doing it in an arena in front of people.

“Your body and your brain are under the pressure of the situation.”

COVID-19 has wiped out all of Canada’s figure skating team events since last March, including last spring’s world championships in Montreal and Skate Canada International in October.

The Challenge is a virtual event that has seen skaters perform their programs over the past few weeks on their own rinks. The programs will be broadcast – and judged – from Friday.

“Even having the cameras and some of the Skate Ontario officials present automatically puts your body in that nervous state, which reminds us of competition, so it looked a lot like a competition,” said Gilles.

While appreciating any chance to compete, Kirsten Moore-Towers said it wasn’t quite the same.

“We’re kind of in the last few years of our careers, and we want to compete, and we want to compete in a way we’re used to, with a crowd and things that make it exciting for us,” Moore said. . -Towers, who skates in pair with Michael Marinaro.

“A virtual event is great, and we’re so glad we did. But we miss the fans and the interaction and being able to make eye contact with the judges and have the closure to finish your performance and see your score. It’s super weird.

“That’s not to say we’re not happy to have these opportunities, but it sucks, for sure – to put it eloquently.”

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Programs for senior and junior couples, and junior men and women will air Friday through Sunday on SkateCanada.ca. The junior and senior ice dancing, and senior men and women will take place from January 15 to 17.

They will be judged in real time. The rules were the same, the skaters only had one stroke, no retakes allowed.

“These times are unprecedented, but we also understand the importance of giving our athletes the opportunity to enter a competitive environment so that they are as prepared as possible when things return to normal,” said the Skate Canada Executive Director Debra Armstrong.

Pandemic lockdowns have been tough on skaters, especially couples and ice dancing. After spending weeks locked out of their rinks when COVID-19 started, they were finally allowed to return in early summer, but it took them a few more weeks before they were allowed to train together.

“It was tough,” Moore-Towers said. “We obviously failed to skate together. We are pairs skaters for a reason we don’t thrive in the environment of individual skating. We prefer to spend time together.

In September, Moore-Towers suffered a rib subluxation (displaced rib) that sidelined the team for several weeks. The 28-year-old from St. Catharines, Ont., Was injured on a triple twist throw. Much like a pizza maker throws dough, the skater throws his spinning partner overhead, then catches up with her.

“So before Challenge, we had only started doing [the twist] a few days ago, so of course we didn’t get a chance to put out the twists or performances that we would have hoped to do, ”said Moore-Towers.

“No spoils though,” Marinaro added with a laugh.

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It is also strange, the two said, that they were unable to watch slow-motion TV reruns of their programs, traditionally broadcast while judges are calculating the scores. They joked that they still don’t know how they skated.

“For me to watch this event [Friday] and Saturday is similar to you, I have kind of an idea, ”Moore-Towers said. “It’s an interesting and a little anxious position. . . It should be easy, we have already done our part of the competition. But it certainly isn’t. “

“It’s a little scary to see us judged in real time,” added Marinaro.

The Challenge is a qualifying event for the Canadian Championships, scheduled for February 8-14 in Vancouver. It’s planned as a live event, but with the increase in COVID-19 cases across Canada, Gilles said it could be held virtually.

“Paul and I have both discussed this and I think a lot of athletes are feeling it, we are in this weird situation where every day things can change and you almost prepare for the worst but always try to look ahead. , and we know that the Olympic Games are approaching [2022 in Beijing], so having this long-term goal helps us to come and train, ”said Gilles.

“We really want to compete and we know it could be a virtual national championship, although we hope it will be in person, but you just have to be a little optimistic and expect things to change. “


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