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Virtue, Moir debut jazzy quickstep in Quebec

Radford, Duhamel pay tribute; Castelli, Shnapir rock Santana

Big things are expected this season of Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.
Big things are expected this season of Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. (Klaus-Reinhold Kany)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany and Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(08/12/2013) - The rinks of Centre d'excellence Sports Rousseau and Municipal Arena in Boisbriand, Quebec, just north of Montreal, hummed with activity last weekend as Olympic contenders debuted new programs at the Québec Summer Figure Skating Championships.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir arrived with a dual purpose: perform their free dance before Skate Canada judges and officials, and test their short dance to quickstep and foxtrot rhythms in competition.

They accomplished the first early Saturday morning, when they displayed their free dance, set to selections from Russian composers Alexander Glazunov and Alexander Scriabin, in a private monitoring session.

"We wanted opinions on [the music] we chose, because it has never been used in ice dance before," said Marina Zoueva, who coaches the skaters in Canton, Mich. "I wanted to see the judges' expressions before competition. They were very favorable; they think it is very suitable and a good style for them."

Later that day, Virtue and Moir competed their short dance of quickstep and foxtrot rhythms to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald selections, notching 76.51 points. Needless to say, they finished atop the field.

Canada's Olympic champions delivered Zoueva's choreography, particularly the first section, with sleek assurance, gaining Level 3 for a midline step sequence that showed fine edges and speed. The remaining elements, including both sequences of the Finnstep pattern as well as a closing rotational lift, earned Level 4's from the technical panel.

With its jazz-infused renditions of "Dream a Little Dream" and "Cheek to Cheek," as well as the Dixieland "Muskrat Ramble," the program is more evocative of a speakeasy than a ballroom, which was Zoueva's intent.

"I like this type of dance," she said. "I am very happy it was chosen for the Olympics. It is sophisticated but can also be passionate. The skaters can tell a romantic story."

The team gained many +3 grades of execution (GOEs), and five of the six judges awarded a perfect "10" for interpretation.

"It was a very good start, and like every other season, the program is going to continue to develop," Virtue, 24, said. "I am excited that it went so well today, but we will always adjust one thing or another during the season."

"It's always fun to perform in front of the public," Moir, 25, said. "The best way to learn is to compete."

Zoueva thinks the Quebec competition will help Virtue and Moir kick-start their season.

"It was a good performance for such an early time of the year," she said. "Actually, it was a good performance for any time of the year."

The coach added that the Canadians are further along in their competitive preparation than last season, when an injury to Moir's neck forced them to withdraw from their first international event, the Finlandia Trophy.

"Last season, we had a little delay in the beginning because of injury," she said. "And then we started off a little uncomfortable at Skate Canada. We had a little problem with the lifts being over time."

Zoueva reports Virtue and Moir's training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White -- who defeated the Canadians three times last season, including at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships -- are similarly well prepared. The reigning U.S. and world champions will debut their new programs at the U.S. Figure Skating International Classic in Salt Lake City in September.

"I think, really, I picked the best music of their careers for both teams," Zoueva said. "I picked the music and styles that will show what each of them does best."

Duhamel, Radford pay tribute to late coach

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who train under Richard Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte in Montreal, unveiled their new short program Saturday night, earning an impressive 71.44 points. This included a one-point deduction for skating past their music.

Canada's world pairs bronze medalists opened with a Level 3 triple twist followed by their trademark side-by-side triple Lutzes, jumps no other top pair attempts. Radford touched his hand down on the landing. Later, Duhamel put her hand down on the landing of the throw triple Lutz. The other four elements, including a Level 4 step sequence, gained many positive grades from the judges.

"We are really happy with our program today," Radford said. "It was smooth, but we know we have to work on the technical aspects. We got a time deduction and will check how we can avoid this in the future."

"Our scores were very high," Duhamel said. "We have worked a lot on our flow across the ice, and our connection with each other. This paid off, and it was a good start to our season."

Gauthier thinks his team is peaking at precisely the right time.

"It takes two to three years to form a very good pair," he said. "They are in their fourth season together and can finally show perfect harmony and the difficult little things between the elements, which the judges and the public like."

Their music, entitled "Tribute," is an original composition by Radford, a pianist since the age of 8. It is dedicated to Radford's former coach, Paul Wirtz, who trained Radford from age 16 and oversaw the skater's early partnership with Sarah Burke. Wirtz died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2006.

Radford is one of just a few international competitors to compete to a self-penned composition. Ukrainian Dmitri Dimitrenko, the 1993 European champion, did so in the 1990s.

"[The program] is also dedicated to all of the people who helped us to have such a wonderful skating career," Duhamel said.

Duhamel and Radford did not perform their free skate but described its music.

"It is set to Danny Elfman's version of Alice in Wonderland, with a little piece from a music company called Two Steps from Hell at the very end," Radford said. "We couldn't find an ending we liked in the Alice in Wonderland soundtrack."

Castelli, Shnapir cast spell with "Black Magic Woman"

U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, who train in Bobby Martin's group at the Skating Club of Boston, spent a week in Montreal working mainly with Julie Marcotte, Bruno's sister.

Julie choreographed both of their programs this season, including their short to Santana's "Black Magic Woman" and "Smooth." In Boisbriand, they opened with good steps into a solid Level 2 triple twist. Both skaters hit triple Salchows, although Shnapir over-rotated a bit on the landing.

Their other five elements, including a big throw triple Salchow, were clean, but they gained just Level 1 on their step sequence. Still, they earned 60.74 points.

"We are happy with what we put out today, but we know there are plenty of things we can improve," Castelli said. "It is still a new program."

The team plans to unveil its free skate, set to a medley of James Bond soundtracks, at the Cranberry Open this weekend. There, they may include a throw quad Salchow, a move they practice daily.

"We did not compete the long program in Boisbriand because we will do some minor work on it with Julie Marcotte in the next few days," Shnapir said.

Their first international event is the U.S. International Classic, followed by Skate America, the NHK Trophy and, of course, the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston.

"We hope for a peak performance at U.S. nationals in our hometown," Shnapir said. "Our ultimate goal for this season, certainly, is the Olympics."

The new Canadian team of Natasha Purich and Mervin Tran placed third with 52.20 points. Skating to Elton John's "Tiny Dancer," their triple twist was shaky, and Purich fell on the triple throw Lutz. The other elements were clean.

The skaters were teamed up in February by Gauthier and Marcotte. The Saskatchewan-born Tran won the 2012 world bronze medal for Japan with former partner Narumi Takahashi but did not have Japanese citizenship. Takahashi decided to team with a Japanese partner (Ryuichi Kihara), so they could try to quality for the Sochi Olympics.

Purich, the reigning Canadian junior pairs silver medalist, split from Sebastian Arcieri after the 2013 Canadian Figure Skating Championships because, she said, "I got the chance to skate with Mervin, who had been third at worlds."

"Now I am skating with Natasha, and we're hoping to earn Canada's third Olympic pairs spot," Tran said.

Reporter's notebook: Near-tragedy struck Sunday morning when Gauthier's Montreal apartment was destroyed by a fire. Former Polish pairs skater Mariusz Siudek, the 1999 world bronze medalist who acted as technical specialist for the pairs event and was staying with Gauthier, reported, "Nobody was injured, but we had to flee and are now staying in a hotel."