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Crone, Poirier capture first Grand Prix title

Kerrs settle for silver; Chock, Zuerlein take bronze

Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier won the free skate to claim the gold medal.
Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier won the free skate to claim the gold medal. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/31/2010) - With Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir sidelined by Virtue's leg surgery, their Canadian teammates Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier grabbed the mantel and won their first Skate Canada title with a stark, intricate free dance choreographed by Christopher Dean.

Sinead Kerr and John Kerr of Great Britain fumbled a lift and placed second. Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein won their first senior Grand Prix medal, a bronze, with a crowd-pleasing turn to Kander and Ebb's Cabaret.

"It took a very long time for this free dance to come together," Poirier, 19, said. "Chris made it very difficult for us but it was a challenge we were willing to accept."

Crone and Poirier -- who train in Scarborough, Ontario, under one of Dean's long-ago competitors, Carol Lane -- contacted the 1984 Olympic champion after their seventh-place showing at the 2010 worlds, proposing their idea for a program to the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby." Dean spent a week at their rink creating the routine.

"Chris had us doing lots of intricate footwork and in-between stuff we've never done before," Crone, who turned 20 two days ago, said. "Something we loved about he and Jayne [Torvill's] skating was their simplicity and lines, and we tried to incorporate that."

The young Canadians performed complicated yet seamless lifts, and the program was highly polished for so early in the season. They gained Level 3 or 4 on all of their elements, with the exception of the straight-line lift, which was Level 2.

"We're a very athletic team and a lot of moments show that off," Poirier said. "At the same time, we really want to improve our connection on the ice...I guess you could say we want the total package."

The routine scored 91.47 points; added to their short dance score, they finished with 154.42, winning by 4.62 points.

With Virtue and Moir out, the Kerrs -- seventh at their only previous Skate Canada, back in 2005 -- seemed in good position to win their first-ever Grand Prix gold. But a partial dislocation of Sinead Kerr's right shoulder derailed their training and forced their withdrawal from Finlandia Trophy.

"We always enjoy competing at a small international [competition] first [before the Grand Prix], but that wasn't possible with Sinead's shoulder," John Kerr said. "But we came here and gave it our best shot. It wasn't too bad."

Their program, choreographed by Peter Tchernyshev to music from the alternative band Muse, had a light touch and emphasized smooth skating and lyrical lines.

The Scottish siblings lost ground when Sinead slipped out of position on their straight-line lift, and they placed just third in the free dance. They ended with 149.80 overall.

"I'm not 100 percent sure what happened," Sinead said. "It's a hard lift for us. It's a timing issue more than anything."

"We're doing a lot of elements we've never done before," John said. "We'll go back and re-evaluate."

Chock and Zuerlein, fifth at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, opened Cabaret with strong Level 4 twizzles and showed four Level 4 lifts. They earned 84.86 and finished with 139.05.

"This was the first time we've done the program in competition, so we're very pleased," Chock said.

"For the most part, we got the levels we wanted," Zuerlein said. "I had a slip in the [Level 2] circle [steps] in the one-foot section, but we can fix that."

The entertaining program saw the couple reaching out to the audience more than ever before.

"I almost have the lead role in this; usually, it's Maddie who is in front," Zuerlein said. "I'm definitely playing a very different character."

"Obviously, we watched the movie and used the story as a base, but we wanted to bring our own personalities into it, too," Chock said.

Canada's world junior silver medalists, Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam, almost stole the show with a romantic turn to the classic "As Time Goes By" that took second place in the free dance. They were fourth overall with 138.16 points.

Pernelle Carron and Lloyd Jones fell from third after the short dance to fifth, and Russians Kristina Gorshkova and Vitali Butikov were sixth.

Rachel Tibbetts and Collin Brubaker, the U.S. junior silver medalists, were ninth with 95.86. The Colorado Springs-based team gained four Level 4 elements, but Brubaker fell on some transition steps. They also had a one-point deduction for an extended [too long] lift.

"We were a little late in the music and changed our choreography a bit, and Rachel's [skates] touched my blade," Brubaker said. "This was definitely a good experience for us, as far as learning how to compete goes."