The second event of the 2021 International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix circuit is in the books with Skate Canada International wrapping up October 31. Fans were given a preview of what’s to come as we get closer to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games.
Even before skaters hit the ice, the pairs event at this competition arguably had the most drama surrounding it. Canadian Eric Radford made waves when he came out of retirement to pair up with French-Canadian Vanessa James. Radford had previously skated with Megan Duhamel, and did not inform his former partner of his intention to come out of retirement. Duhamel was reportedly disappointed that Radford informed her of his decision to exit retirement after the decision had been made.
This was the highest-level competition James and Radford have competed in so far. They ultimately finished in fourth place, the highest placing Canadian pairs team in the competition. Reigning Canadian pairs champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro finished in sixth position. After the competition, Moore-Towers told reporters, it was “nowhere where we wanted in either program.”
The Chinese team of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong ultimately took the top prize in the pairs event. They are the reigning silver medalists in the World Figure Skating Championships. This pair has been together since 2009, and they are poised to potentially make a big impact on home ice at the 2022 Winter Olympics. As an interesting side note, they are coached by Chinese pairs skating legend Zhao Hongbo.
The men’s event featured redemption for Nathan Chen after finishing third place in Skate America, the first ISU Grand Prix event, and Chen’s first international event of an Olympic season. Prior to this year’s Skate America, Chen had been undefeated since placing fifth in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Chen’s short program was nearly flawless, and a marked improvement from his first outing of the season.
Fellow American Jason Brown, always a joy to watch, finished in the silver medal position. The fascinating thing about Jason Brown is that he doesn’t emphasize quadruple jumps, a staple of men’s figure skating. In fact, Brown’s short program doesn’t contain any quadruple jumps at all. For reference, at this level of skating, most competitors prioritize putting at least some quadruple jumps in their short program. Jason Brown is proof that figure skating can still prioritize artistry rather than being reduced to a jumping contest.
Evgeni Semenenko of Russia rounded out the podium in the bronze medal position. Canadian Keegan Messing finished a disappointing fifth place overall after finishing his short program in third place, but dropping after his tenth-place free skate program. Georgian figure skater Morisi Kvitelashvili had a surprising jump in the overall standings after sitting in twelfth position after the short program, but having a free skate that finished fourth. He finished sixth overall.
Hometown favorites, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Porier came away with the gold in the ice dance event. They skated a breathtakingly gorgeous free dance to The Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road”. Gilles and Porier cemented themselves as worthy competitors heading into the 2022 Winter Olympics. They will definitely be team members leading the way for the Canadian figure skating contingent if they can continue the momentum they created in Skate Canada International.
The Italian team of Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri earned the silver medal after a second place rhythm dance and free dance. Guignard and Fabbri will have another chance at securing a spot in the Grand Prix Final at the Rostelecom Cup, which is scheduled to take place November 26-28. The Spanish team of Olivia Smart and Adrián Díaz representing Spain rounded out the ice dance podium in the bronze medal position. This was an improvement from their fourth place finish at the 2021 Skate America event.
The fourth and fifth place finishes in the competition also deserve to be noted. Caroline Green and Michael Parsons of the United States are just beginning their careers at the senior level. Their free dance program skated to “Violin Concerto No. 1” and “Clouds, The Mind on the Wind” by Ezzio Bosso was incredibly innovative on a technical and performance level. The Russian pair Diana Davis and Gleb Smolkin also skated a phenomenal free dance to the soundtrack of Moulin Rouge with their own unique take on the music and the story.
The story out of Skate Canada International in the women’s event was the total domination of Russian skaters. It was a podium sweep as all three Russian women at this event medaled. At fifteen years old, Kamila Valieva led the Russian contingent in the gold medal position. Teammates Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Alena Kostornaia finished on the podium in second and third place respectively. It must be said that coach Eteri Tutberidze deserves an incredible amount of credit for strengthening the women’s skating program in Russia. She coaches Valieva and Kostornaia. This podium may well be an early look at what a 2022 Winter Olympics podium could look like.
Canadian women’s skaters have been struggling on the international stage, and this became sadly clear during this competition. Reigning Canadian national champion Emily Bausback finished eleventh overall. The highest finishing Canadian at this event was Madeline Schizas, who ultimately finished eighth. Since the retirements of the likes of Katelyn Osmond, Canada has had a difficult time establishing themselves in the women’s events of international skating competitions.
Alyssa Liu deserves a shout-out to her incredible short and long programs. Liu established herself as one to watch by being the youngest ever skater to become the United States national figure skating champion at the age of 13. Today, at age 16, she continues to stand out as one to watch and we know we will be seeing more of her this season and in years to come. The United States has always had an incredible depth of talent in the women’s event, and Liu continues that legacy.
Skate Canada International showcased the best of what we can expect for the remainder of this season, and a closer look at some competitors to watch leading up to the ISU Grand Prix Final. The ISU Grand Prix is just getting started, and all figure skating fans know that especially in an Olympic season, anything can happen. We’re just happy to be along for the ride!