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Canada's Gilles, Poirier in third after rhythm dance at figure skating worlds

Piper Gilles Paul Poirier Piper Gilles Paul Poirier - The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — The sexual assault allegations against Canadian-Danish ice dancer Nikolaj Sorensen overshadowed the rhythm dance competition Friday at the world figure skating championships.

In January, USA Today reported an American figure skating coach and former skater accused Sorensen of sexually assaulting her in Hartford, Conn., in 2012. Sorensen has denied the allegations, which have not been proven in court.

Despite the allegations, Sorensen was named to Canada’s team for the world championships and placed an underwhelming 10th in the rhythm dance Friday with a score of 75.76 after Laurence Fournier Beaudry stumbled during their twizzles.

USA Today further reported Thursday that the attorney for Sorensen’s complainant, Nancy Hogshead, said comments made by the ice dancer on March 6 in Montreal amount to “retaliation” against the complainant and should have been grounds for his suspension from the world championships.

"When something like that comes out in the media, the damage is kind of done and I think that was the intention more than anything,” Sorensen said about the allegations at the time.

The USA Today article also cites the complainant, who said via text message she’d hoped the case would remain confidential.

Sorensen said on Friday he was "not aware at all” of the recent comments from the complainant and her lawyer.

“I just follow the regulations and that's all I can say about that,” said Sorensen, who when pressed further about their comments added: “Unfortunately I can’t (answer).”

The case is now in the hands of Canada’s Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, which opened in 2022 to be an independent handler of abuse reports and complaints in federally-funded sports organizations.

Skate Canada chief executive officer Debra Armstrong said on March 6 the federation did not consider leaving Sorensen off the Canadian team because he and Fournier Beaudry qualified through the selection criteria.

Earlier Friday, ISU president Jae Youl Kim said “we respect the presumed innocence and the decision Skate Canada has made to enter Mr. Sorensen.”

Sorensen and partner Fournier Beaudry of Montreal withdrew from the Canadian championship in January, stating they felt their presence would be a distraction.

They nonetheless returned to competition in the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Shanghai from Jan. 30 to Feb. 4, winning a silver medal, before taking the ice Friday at the Bell Centre.

Asked why he was here after initially pulling himself out of nationals, Sorensen said "it was really fresh for everybody, especially myself.”

“Something like that can be really traumatic when you don't at all feel like you did anything wrong,” he said. “A story breaking like that for anybody I think can be really tough. So, in the moment we just didn't feel like we could do it.

"What has changed? I would say the story is a little bit further behind us."

Sorensen did, however, say the situation had weighed on them mentally in the weeks leading up to their home worlds. He and Fournier Beaudry’s score was 6.86 below their season best and made an improvement on last year's fifth-place finish at the worlds unlikely.

"It was definitely a little more difficult than in normal circumstances,” Sorensen said. “But we're here, we feel ready, we're really proud to be here."

The allegations against Sorensen cast a dark cloud over some other solid Canadian rhythm dance performances Friday.

Toronto’s Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont. — last year's bronze medallists — placed third with an 86.51 score.

"It wasn't one of those ones where I was kind of on autopilot the entire time, but I think everything just skated so nicely, exactly how we've trained it," Poirier said. "We've done so many repetitions of everything in this program, and I think that's what carried us through today."

Marjorie Lajoie of Boucherville, Que., and Zachary Lagha of Saint-Hubert, Que., posted a season-best 83.20 while skating to “Thriller” by Michael Jackson to rank fifth.

Defending champions and 2022 Olympic gold medallists Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the United States finished first with a season-best 90.08 ahead of Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri (87.52).

The free dance takes place Saturday afternoon.

Later Friday, Kaori Sakamoto of Japan became the first women’s figure skater to three-peat as world champion since American Peggy Fleming from 1966 to 1968.

Sakamoto climbed from fourth place after the short program to the top of the podium with a near-flawless performance in the free program.

Isabeau Levito of the United States — a 2022 world junior champion — claimed silver. Chaeyeon Kim of South Korea took bronze.

Competition ends Saturday night with the men’s free program.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2024.