The beleaguered Canadian pair skaters talked of “noise.”
There was “noise” they had to overcome to do their best. And their best hadn’t been at hand all season.
Of course, there is plenty of noise every day about the dangers of COVID and how easy it is to catch. And who has it? And who could pass it on? And so it happened: two of Canada’s spare seven teams tested positive in weeks before nationals. Both made it to Ottawa.
And then there was the “noise” about Vanessa James and Eric Radford withdrawing from the free program after finishing fourth in the short, unable to train the way they wanted while they recovered from COVID. A statement provided few details, only that they would continue to train. As the pairs long program took place, James and Radford watched from arena seats.
Without them, the free program started with only six teams, including Deanna Stellato and Maxime Deschamps, who had tested positive at about the same time as James and Radford, but they continued to compete.
The event proceeded in a curtain of tears. Happy ones.
Finally, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro skated the way they wanted to. Cradled with “Carry You,” an emotional tune for them, they did a difficult jump sequence (triple Salchow – double toe loop – double toe loop), a throw triple loop, a Reverse Lasso lift that got them 1.87 in bonuses, a level four pair spin, triple toe loops (they had troubles with jumps earlier in the season), a throw triple Salchow, (troubles before with throws too) and at the very end, when it counts for a lot, an Axel lasso lift, level four, with bonuses of 2.24. That lift was their big money-maker, 9.22 points in all. (Stellato and Deschamps got 8.98 for theirs). It was the best skate for a Canadian pair team of the season.
“I don’t know how we did it,” Moore-Towers said within camera range to her partner.
They earned marks they hadn’t seen for a while: 139.52 for the free, 212.54 overall. “We’re ecstatic,” Moore-Towers said. “This is leaps and bounds ahead of what we’ve done this season.”
Their goal was to get to the Beijing Olympics as Canada’s top team. That appeared to have been threatened by the emergence of a new power team, James and Radford. In the end, they weren’t there to contest for gold. It left an incomplete feeling.
“We wish that the whole event started today,” Moore-Towers said. “But I believe this is mission accomplished.
“Our objective was to stay focused on ourselves this week and with all of the external noise today,” she said. “I’m really proud of us for being able to do that.”
Moore-Towers even resisted the temptation to watch training mates and friends Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud, who skated directly before them, and delivered an epic routine to music about broken hearts. Marinaro did see them and slapped the boards: skaters’ language for a job well done. It’s like a bow.
Walsh and Michaud earned the silver medal with 119.64 for the free and 186.52 overall, about 26 points behind the champs. They too, had experienced a horrendous Grand Prix season. They were emotional too, at the efforts of Moore-Towers and Marinaro.
“It wouldn’t be a Canadian championship if we didn’t have to skate after Trennt and Evelyn, throwing down a clean performance, yet again,” Marinaro said. “This is the second or third time that we’ve stepped on the ice after them, absolutely skating lights out.”
He said it took them a second to refocus back into themselves after announcers called their names to skate. But they did. And the results showed in their final pose, in which they lean back together. Moore-Towers leaned forward, her head in her hands, Marinaro comforting her, acknowledging it all with a hand.
“We extremely, extremely needed those two skates,” he said. “This week would be all important for us to lay those down as we did. For now, I think we are ready to move forward.”
Even as Moore-Towers resisted watching their teammates, she knew. “It’s hard not to see the magic they were putting out, which is not easy with the season they had had and also with the climate of Canadian pairs right now,” she said. “We are so proud of Trennt and Evelyn.”
Marinaro said if they hadn’t laid down top-notch routines, it “would have been hard to pick up the ball over the next couple of weeks.
“Now that we’ve scratched this off our lists, we’re ready to just grind it out.”
Walsh said they were emotional, as they were realizing that this will be Moore-Tower and Marinaro’s last nationals. Next season, they will have to go it alone, without them.
“We’re so lucky to be with Mike and Kirsten through last year,” she said.
Walsh said she and her partner skated from their hearts. ‘We tried to block out the outside noise [there’s that word again] going on right now because there is a lot of it.”
Five years ago, Walsh and Michaud won the junior pairs title in the same rink. They have now won the senior silver medal three times.
“We’re super happy with how we fought for everything,” Michaud said. “There were a couple little tiny bobbles but we were still super happy with how this came together when we wanted to.”
He said part of what they did today was sharing the moment with the winners. “We look up to them a lot,” he said.
“We’re so lucky to have them as training mates,” Walsh said. “They are incredible people.”
Meanwhile, Stellato and Deschamps toughed out their very difficult routine to finish third, earning their first national medal together, and Deschamps his first in about 10 years on the Canadian scene. He looked bushed when he finished, still feeling the effects of a COVID infection.
They had to fight for every element. A triple twist came crashing onto Deschamps’ chest, earning only a basic mark. Their lifts are the most difficult. He managed them. “We are very happy to be here,” Stellato, 38, said. She never tested positive for COVID.
“We only started training again this week,” she said. “We can do anything if we can do that program we did today under pressure of nationals.”
They will carry with them the knowledge that they are capable of anything, she said.
They are hoping to go to Four Continents in another week. They are not eligible for the Olympics, because Stellato does not yet have her Canadian citizenship.
There are only two Olympic spots for Canadian pairs. And three teams want those spots. Who will lose out? The pairs decision will be the most difficult of all.