It was as if somebody had thrown some boingy bingo balls into a round vessel and given it a good shake. And out popped a completely unexpected group of men’s medalists at the Canadian National Skating Championships.
It’s not terribly surprising that Wesley Chiu won gold – he had taken the bronze medal the past two years – but he had to endure some bouncy balls to get to the finish line.
Nobody, just nobody would have guessed that Aleksa Rakic would have won the men’s free program by a goodly margin (6.73 points). Almost a year ago, Rakic had represented Canada at the world junior championships, held at the very same rink as nationals: the WinSport Arena. He finished 13th.
Nobody would have imagined that last year’s Canadian silver medalist Conrad Orzel would finish 10th in the short program, nor 2020 Canadian champion Roman Sadovsky would be sitting seventh after the short program, nor that Stephen Gogolev would withdraw with a flareup of a back problem after finishing 13th in the short program, nor that a crazily artistic kid, Anthony Paradis, 16, would be third after the short. (Paradis was junior champion a year ago.)
But so it was, leaving Chiu in first place with 88.98 points after the short program, 13.49 points ahead of Rakic.
Then came another shake of the caroming balls for the free program on Saturday, just as the residents of Alberta were wondering if the lights (and the furnace) would go off with the grid being so taxed in frigid temperatures.
Wesley Chiu, only 18, (he’ll be 19 the week of the world championships in Montreal, if Skate Canada chooses him for the team) found himself in a new position: being the last to skate the free because he had won the short. This comes with added pressures. He felt it.
He’s a relatively new senior skater, too, having competed at world junior championships the past two years, finishing fourth and fifth. He got two senior Grand Prix this season, where he finished 7th and 11th, flexing his senior muscles. But THIS.
“I would just say it was a struggle to be in this position and skating last,” he said. “Being in this position has been a new thing for me, especially at the senior level.
“So yeah, it was more of learning how to handle myself between the warmup and the program. And yeah, I definitely learned a lot from that. But there’s lots to work on, more experience to gain. I think that was the biggest cause of my missed quads. I was struggling to keep my legs underneath me.”
Quads are not just a physical thing, obviously. They are a mental thing too. Chiu fell on his first quad toe loop, then turned a planned quad Salchow into a double, which is worth only 1.3 points. (Quad Salchows were a rare thing in the men’s event on Saturday.) He also fell on a triple Axel. All are jumps loaded with points.
But Chiu rallied, scrambling to add as many points as he could to make up for the steep losses. He landed an unplanned triple Lutz – triple toe loop near the end of the program, and although he stepped out of it, it helped.
Still, it was clear that his technical points were no match for Rakic’s. Rakic had built up 74.74 technical points, while Chiu could squeeze out only 68.45.
Chiu did have the edge on Rakic in the presentation department 76.72 to 75.16 points) , but not enough to defeat him in the free program.
Chiu was only third in the free.
After a heart-rending, confidence blowing, gut-wrenching 10th place finish in the short, Conrad Orzel came roaring back in the free, after having a night to think about it and realizing he was okay with it. So, man the torpedoes.
In the short, he had tripled a planned quad Salchow – triple toe combination, and the same thing happened with a quad toe: tripled. A triple Axel turned into a single Axel. His short was worth only 61.72 points, more than 27 points behind Chiu. It was like trying to climb out of the Grand Canyon.
But he did, in a way. Orzel set to work in the free, looking unruffled, with nothing to lose. He still couldn’t make that opening quad Salchow combination rotate four times, and a quad toe also bubbled into a triple. But he blasted out a quad toe – double toe loop, a triple Axel and some useful triples. His spins were level four, something that was not his strong suite before he switched to coach Ravi Walia in Edmonton.
Orzel’s efforts gave him the second-highest free skate score of 148.00 and the highest technical mark (75.80). He finished fourth overall, only .26 points short of a bronze medal.
Roman Sadovsky also came roaring from behind to finish fourth in the free with 136.65 points (sixth overall, about 5 points away from third.) But his lack of competition experience from months of frustrating roadblocks took a toll.
And who did get the bronze medal? Anthony Paradis, a kid in a piecey, lacey vest, and forearm cuffs with long red fingernails, meant to depict the blood from a breaking heart. Paradis started his program lying prostrate on the ice. You knew this wasn’t going to be ordinary. Skating to “I’m Not Yours,” he landed a sprightly triple Lutz – double toe loop with arms raised, a triple toe loop – Euler – triple Salchow, a triple toe loop -double Axel a triple flip, and even a Biellmann spin, something male skaters rarely do. He had to take a five-point deduction for stopping his program to fix a broken boot lace. And he still defeated Orzel and Sadovsky.
It was the way he did it. Judges awarded him the second highest component marks of 78.86, higher than Chiu, higher than Orzel, higher than Rakic, the silver medalist. Paradis trailed only Sadovsky at 79.09.
(Please note: the above video shows Anthony Paradis when he won the junior title A YEAR AGO with this wonderful mop of blond hair.)
As for Chiu, he says the win will give him confidence for the rest of the season, and even into next season. “Having Canadian champion on my back, definitely I can skate with more pride now,” he said. “But it also comes with responsibility.
“Overall, it will be really motivating to go back and train hard.”