Skate Canada Challenge Sets Skaters for Canadian Nationals


Junior men’s winner steals the show from lackluster senior competition; prequalified skaters win the other three disciplines.

Typically held between the final Grand Prix event and the Finale, the Skate Canada Challenge’s main purpose is to determine the field for Canadian Nationals, as well as act as a national competition for those below the Novice levels. Like is the U.S., the top five at Nationals the previous year are prequalified. The timing is such that few international competition byes go out, but this year three did. But while to reach the Challenge skaters must advance out of or be byed through smaller sectional competitions, once they’re there, region means nothing. All that matters is placement. Canadian Nationals sets its competitive field to certain numbers, although they discount international competition byes, and fills out available spaces from the Challenge.

This year that meant 13 senior men and 14 senior women qualified for Nationals out of the Challenge. (Canada refers to their female skater as “women” rather than “ladies” in their internal competitions, making them unique in the skating world). The juniors singles and ice dance competitions filled out their entire fields(18 for singles, 15 for dance) from the Challenge. There were few enough senior pairs and ice dance teams and junior pairs that everyone who competed qualified.

It is common enough, however, for skaters who are qualified for Nationals already to skate at the Challenge anyway. A few of them showed up for the 2017 Challenge, held this week in Pierrefonds, Quebec, although a couple only skated their short programs. Where they finished, they inevitably won, but thankfully this had no impact on the qualifications of the other skaters.


One skater who only skated his short program was Liam Firus, the only prequalified senior man to skate at all. He won the short, but not by much, despite the weak field, thanks to a popped triple axel jump. Joseph Phan, last year’s junior national champion, inherited the lead. He went for the quadruple toe loop in both programs and fell on it both times, and another fall in the free skate helped cost him the segment there. Toman won the free skate with two clean triple axels, which Phan didn’t try. But he had been all the way down in tenth after a short where both quad and axel went very wrong. He could only pull up to second, and Phan won. Mitchell Gordon won bronze with a clean triple axel in his short, even if it was one of two falls in his free.

It was the winner of the junior men, however, who got the most attention. Stephen Gogolev had turned heads even while winning the novice title last year, landing a triple axel when only eleven. He had it in his arsenal this week, including it while nailing his short. After landing it in combination to open his free, he then went for a quad salchow. That was one of his two falls there, and his second triple axel wasn’t quite clean either. But he pulled of the rest, and with a developing showman’s flair. His winning margin was close to 30 points.


Gabrielle Daleman, the only prequalified woman to compete, saw it through to end. Naturally she won, but she also set a Canadian record in the scores and won by a ridiculous 42 points. This was when her triple-triple in both program was only a triple toe-triple toe, although she received the maximum value possible for it in the free. Neither program was clean either, but her free wasn’t at all far off. The only woman to try a hard triple-triple was Sarah Tamura, last year’s junior national champion. She landed a triple lutz-triple toe in the short, though she singled the toe in the free. She was clean outside that one mistake, and finished second.

A number of the other women also tried the triple toe-triple toe, but all but one of those attempts were unsuccessful. Alicia Pineault, who came in third, tried it only in the short, underrotating it. In the free, she tried nothing harder than a double axel-triple toe, which she underrotated and fell on, her only major error.

The junior competition was a bit more competitive. It too had only successfully triple lutz-triple toe, which helped Emily Bausback win the short program. But she did only a triple toe-triple toe in the free, and slipped behind winner Olivia Gran. Gran had no triple-triples, but landed all her jumps, even if she had a fall outside of them, and had the best presentation scores.


After having to luck their way into the Grand Prix Finale, Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau decided to discard their short program and go back to last year’s Cirque du Soleil number. Presumably when they showed up in Pierrefonds and only skated that, this was simply to get a competitive run-through in before next week. They got a good one. She didn’t quite pull off their side by side salchows, but they landed a good throw triple lutz, and this favorite program has lost none of its charm. They narrowly won the segment over Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch, then withdrew. So did another team, leaving only three to complete the competition.

Moore-Towers & Moscovitch were among those three.  With no competitions this fall and an uphill battle at Canadian Nationals, they needed the competitive mileage. In their interview afterwards, they spoke about the limited training they’ve been able to do. They may have skipped NHK Trophy last week simply for not being ready for such a high-profile event. Here, how well they skated mattered less, especially since they won easily. They did manage a clean short, if with easier jump elements. They struggled a little more with their long, especially with their opening combination and closing lift. Afterwards they said it had only been their fourth run-through of the program.

The juniors competition had seven teams. Evelyn Walsh & Trennt Michaud took a narrow victory by having all but one of the competition’s clean successful triples.


Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier were the only prequalified team to compete, and the other seven teams posed no threat to them. This didn’t stop them from going all-out though. They delivered two technically flawless, personality filled performances. The judges rewarded them well. Like Gogolov, they won by nearly 30 points. Also like Daleman, they set a new record for a Canadian intranational scores, including when they broke 80 in their short dance.

Below them Carolanne Soucisse & Shane Firus came in second with equal ease. Haley Sales & Nikolas Wamsteeker have a narrower margin for third. There were far more junior teams, but that competition too was a blowout, although Majorie Lagha & Zachary Lagha’s winning margin was only a little less than 20 points.

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The Canadian National Figure Skating Championships take place January 16-22 in Ottawa.