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Chan is picture perfect in men's short at Canadians

Duhamel, Buntin take pairs lead at nationals in Saskatoon

Patrick Chan was very excited after his 88.89-point short program on Friday.
Patrick Chan was very excited after his 88.89-point short program on Friday. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin
(01/17/2009) - The cheering fans were on their feet before Patrick Chan finished his picture-perfect short program on Friday at the 2009 BMO Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Chan beamed after a whopping score of 88.89, and he breathed a big sigh of relief.

A year ago, Chan scored a major upset by out-skating eventual world champion Jeffrey Buttle for the men's Canadian crown. When Buttle retired unexpectedly last fall, Chan was suddenly alone in the spotlight.

But Friday night, Chan showed he has definitely graduated from being "The Next One" to "The One." His game plan, he revealed, was to attack rather than to skate in defensive mode.

"Seriously, that is the best program I've ever done," said Chan, who came here from Orlando, Fla., where he trains with coach Don Laws. "There's always little things, like the footwork. I stumbled a little bit even though it might not show. The judges probably saw a bit of stumbling and not as clean edges as they would like. I know, and I'll work on it."

Vaughn Chipeur, fourth nationally in 2008, is second with 71.89 points. His soaring triple Axel drew gasps from the crowd. In third, with 70.00 points, is Kevin Reynolds, the teenager who can whip off quadruple jumps like they were doubles, but he fell on his quad Salchow attempt on Friday night.

Chipeur, whose forte is his gravity-defying jumps, has upped his game on the artistic side with footwork styled by Kurt Browning and final touches by Gary Beacom. A popped triple flip, however, cost him about eight points.

His coach, former U.S. champion Scott Davis, toughened Chipeur's training regimen after the skater tanked at the Cup of Russia, finishing 12th.

"I worked my butt off for the last six weeks. It's been tough, but it's been worth it," said Chipeur.

Chan won both his Grand Prix events last fall but struggled in the Final when his triple Axel deserted him. He admitted this week that he was "really down, upset and 'depressed'" after that step backwards. In the last couple of days before coming here, he tamed the problematic jump and unleashed a beauty to open his short program late Friday.

"Everyone, even the crowd, was relieved because they knew what I was going through after the Grand Prix Final," Chan said.

"The key was to jump straight across the rink instead of around. That seemed to help," he added, explaining how he solved the Axel dilemma.

To deal with being the last skater out of the gate, Chan said he did "fun stuff" backstage, including a few handstands and cartwheels to "get the body going a little bit, but not too much."

Paul Poirier, one half of the senior ice dance duo currently in second place, made his debut in senior men's, ranking a credible 11th.

The men's final on Sunday should be a barn-burner. There are at least four other men who could make a charge for the podium in hopes of earning one of the three men's berths for the upcoming world championships in Los Angeles.

With the reigning pairs champions, Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay, out of the competition due to her ongoing recovery from a fibula fracture, it was expected that Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison would reclaim the title they won in 2007.

Meagan Duhamel and Craig Buntin didn't agree.

Duhamel and Buntin, together just 18 months, out-skated the world bronze medalists in the short program, putting 65.74 points on the board to Dubé and Davison's 62.22.

The hard-driving duo, third last year, admitted afterwards they felt shaky on the ice, but they still hit every element cleanly, including a soaring throw triple Lutz. The audience rewarded them with a standing ovation.

Duhamel was shocked when their world-class scores were flashed on the board.

Buntin added, "This is where, for us, we want to be a little more than a year away from the Olympics."

Dubé went down on her triple Salchow, the jump that has given her trouble before. Still, they were pleased with the rest of their performance, believing it was "a huge improvement" from their fall Grand Prix events.

"Other than the Salchow, everything else was very smooth," Davison said. "There's nothing to complain about. We'll just look forward to the [Final]."

Duhamel and Buntin improved significantly over the summer and made steady gains in the level of their performances on the Grand Prix circuit.

"We came here with a plan to do our best short and our best long, and we were hoping we would be rewarded with first-place marks in both programs, so one step done," said Duhamel.

The pairs final is Saturday.

Skate Canada has announced that the full world championship team will not be named until after the ISU Four Continents Championships in Vancouver in early February, rather than at the end of these national championships. That means Langlois and Hay are not necessarily done for the season yet.

The idea is to ensure the strongest team possible is sent to the world championships, because in Los Angeles, it's all about earning maximum entries for Canadian figure skaters at their home-country 2010 Olympic Games.