After an incredible final flight of free dances, the senior men had a tough act to follow, but on a thrilling day in Victoria, they more than met the challenge.
After Shawn Sawyer laid down the skate of his life, the pressure was on the three-time Canadian champion Patrick Chan. True, he had a 10-point lead on Sawyer heading into the free skate, but the audience was expecting brilliancy from Chan, especially after Sawyer brought them to their feet. And Chan did not disappoint the enthusiastic Canadian audience.
Opening his program with two textbook quadruple toe loops (the second in combination with a triple toe loop), Chan had almost 30 points just 30 seconds into his free skate. His triple Axel nemesis gave him absolutely no problems today, and his Phantom of the Opera free skate was presented with the passion of a champion. It was not just a clean skate—it was a phenomenal one, one that will always be remembered. His score of 197.07 was mind-boggling.
That free skate score alone would have put Chan in fourth place overall, and his overall score of 285.85 was almost sixty points ahead of his closest competitor. Chan’s outstanding skate added a fourth Canadian title to his resume and sets him up well for the World Championships in March, where his eyes are on that title.
Sawyer electrified the crowd and did all that he could, but with Chan on fire, the silver medal was realistically the best that he could do. He performed his Alice in Wonderland free skate well, jumping with confidence and adding dramatic flair. His triple Axel was not perfect, but it received no negative Grade of Execution (GOE) marks and was landed cleanly; he only swung his free leg quite high for a moment, then regained control. Other than that, an underrotation call on his triple flip was the only small mistake in his program.
After a disappointing Olympic season, Sawyer returned this year to skate for himself, and the approach appears to be working. He has never looked more confident or at home in his choreography than he did this week at the Canadian Championships. Returning the podium for the first time since 2008, Sawyer’s free skate score of of 151.45 gave him 229.09 points overall, easily his best score of the season.
Joey Russell stepped up to win bronze, his first medal at the senior level, and rounded out a very delighted podium. Both his opening triple Axel and his closing double Axel had step-outs due to over-rotation, and he had to put his hands down on an underrotated triple flip, which counted as a fall. Overall, however, Russell skated extremely well. Even through the slip-ups, he kept his focus and stayed committed to his program set to music from Don Juan de Marco. His finesse shone through the details—his arms and even his hands were never sloppy, and he incorporated intricate transitions into his choreography. He earned 134.61 points in the free skate and a total of 204.02 points, which was plenty to secure a medal.
Although Kevin Reynolds has done well internationally this season, it seemed like the pressure really affected him in Victoria. After a fifth-place short program, reaching the podium was well within his reach, especially given that he was planning three different quadruple jumps in his free skate. Unfortunately, Reynolds faltered on his first quad, turning the Salchow jump into a double, and then stumbled out of his quadruple toe loop, although it was fully rotated. He then hit his triple Axel, though, and appeared to recover well, although he did not try the quad loop.
However, at the end of Reynold’s skate, disaster struck once more, and he fell at the end of his choreographed step sequence. Since the second step sequence does not earn levels, the actual points lost were relatively small, but the fall left him really disappointed. His fourth-place free skate scored 130.09 and moved him up to fourth overall with 191.85 points. Reynolds has been named the alternate to the World Championship team, but will attend the Four Continents Championships since Chan has declined the invitation.
Fourth after the short program, Elladj Baldé dropped to sixth in the free skate, earning 124.09 points, but hung onto fifth place overall for the last spot on the national team. His program, set to Russian classics, had plenty of personality as he played to the audience, the television cameras, and even the judges. His triple Axel received credit, but he fell out of the landing, and later struggled with the landing of his triple flip. Overall, however, the program had good fight. Baldé missed last year’s Canadian Championships due to injury and finished 10th in 2009, so fifth was an excellent step up for him. Perhaps just as important as his results, he made an impression this weekend that fans will remember in the future.