Canadian ice dancers, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, are the first Canadians to qualify for the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final this season. They earned one of only six spots up for grabs by winning silver at both Skate Canada and most recently at Eric Bompard Trophy, this past weekend in Bordeaux, France.
The year following the Olympics, when others are suffering from Olympic season letdown, is the perfect time to make a mark and get in the mix for the new Olympic quadrennial and Gilles and Poirier have done just that. Their early season success has come from the fact that they have well-thought out and well-prepared material and they were competition-ready right out of the gate. After suffering the frustration of missing much of last season due to Poirier's leg injury and lengthy rehab and the disappointment of not making the Canadian Olympic team, they have certainly come into this year fuelled by having something to prove and with the newfound appreciation and confidence that comes from an injury-free season with uninterrupted training time. Making the final is a huge accomplishment and they are in the enviable position of knowing that their preparations to date have been right on track and now it's about keeping the intensity up and enjoying the ride.
In the absence of Canada's top-ranked single skaters, Kaetlyn Osmond and Kevin Reynolds, who have been beset by injuries this season, the focus has shifted to some new young Canadian talent.
A pair of 16-year-olds, Nam Nguyen and Gabby Daleman, along with 18-year-old Alaine Chatrand, all in their first years at the senior level, are stepping up admirably, winning medals and giving us plenty of reasons to be optimistic about their paths leading up to PyeongChang 2018.
In what can only be described as a breakout season, Nguyen's consistency, showmanship and his newfound quad have earned him a third and a fourth in his two outings on the Grand Prix circuit and has him rubbing shoulders with skating's elite. He is young and still has a ways to go to mature and fully develop but he has had a year so far (a junior Worlds title, a 12th-place finish at senior Worlds and the Grand Prix medal) that young skaters dream about.
The performance of Chartrand at the recent Rostelecom in Moscow, earned Canada another Grand Prix bronze in singles. In that event, Chartrand did what no other woman in the world has been able to do this season and that is finish ahead of the Russian ladies in the short program. She delivered a solid skate with speed and attack, when others faltered. Going into the free skate, she was left with the realization that this was was unfamiliar territory as she remarked to the press, "I have never been in first before!" That thought can be both exhilarating and intimidating, but Chartrand stayed strong and held on for the bronze, fighting through an ambitious free skate. It was a delightfully surprising result for Chartrand, which exceeded even her expectations. Her performance in Russia is something she can gain confidence from and build on as she heads towards the National Championships in January and the fight for the Canadian title.
Chartrand's teammate, Daleman, will get her second shot at a Grand Prix this weekend in Osaka, Japan. Daleman's up against a very strong field with which to measure herself, but her athleticism is in a word impressive, her jumps, explosive. So, If she can keep her adrenaline in check and contain her powerful jumps for the sake of a little more control and finesse, she could put herself right in the mix.
Also in Osaka this weekend for the NHK Trophy are two Canadian teams who are looking to cement their spot in the final, Canadian pair champions, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, and World Ice Dance silver medalists, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. Both should have no trouble qualifying, but they will be trying to maximize their scores and, thus, gain momentum as they head into the Grand Prix Final just two weeks away.