SAINT JOHN NEW BRUNSWICK – American Gracie Gold delivered the short program performance of the day on Friday to finish atop the standings in what was a superbly skated women’s opener at Skate Canada.
On the men’s side, it was more a case of hands down on the ice as the top contenders struggled to execute their jumps and stay upright, particularly on their quadruple jumps.
Canada’s three-time reigning world champion Patrick Chan turned his quad into a triple. Nobunari Oda and Yuzuru Hanyu managed to make four turns, but Oda crashed on landing and Hanyu jack-knifed on his, yet miraculously stayed on his feet.
Despite those miscues, their other elements were strong enough to make them the frontrunners, Chan leading with 88.10 points, followed by Oda on 80.82 and Hanyu on 80.40.
Chan said his goal here is not to focus on the technical side of his performances, but to enjoy competing instead of dreading it as he had the last two seasons.
Meanwhile, Oda and Hanyu remained confident they would do better in Saturday’s final free skate.
Oda has had a strong start to his season, winning the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany in September — a welcome rebound from the previous season which ended abruptly with his failure to make Japan’s world team.
“I wasn’t so nervous compared to the competition in Germany, but I couldn’t get enough speed before the quad so that’s why I missed that first jump,” Oda said.
Hanyu, fourth at the 2013 worlds, said, “I’m proud that after the imperfect quad, I was able to sort of pull the performance together. Figure skating is a total of two different programs and tomorrow I want to do better.”
Earlier in the day, Gold, 18, pumped her fist with delight at the end of a near flawless routine which scored 69.45 points.
Sixth at the 2013 world championships, she opened with a picture-perfect triple lutz-triple toe combination and seemed to flow effortlessly from one demanding required element to the next.
Russian teen Julia Lipnitskaia 15, and veteran Akiko Suzuki, 28, also skated strongly to claim second and third, Lipnitskaia with 66.89 points and Suzuki on 65.76.
They, too, executed triple-triple combinations, although Suzuki’s second jump was slightly short of full rotation.
“It wasn’t my best performance but for my first Grand Prix event (this season) this is an OK start,” said Suzuki. “My points showed that I made little mistakes on my jumps and spins but the actual skate I thought was good.”
Four weeks ago, Gold moved to California to train with Frank Carroll, the coach who guided five-time world champion Michelle Kwan’s stellar career and helped Evan Lysacek to 2010 Olympic gold.
With the 2014 Olympic Games just over 100 days off, she decided Carroll was the man she wanted in her corner.
“He’s trying to take all the voices and all the doubt out of my head,” said Gold, whose downfall in the past has been jittery competitive performances
Said Carroll: “I’m trying to get the philosophy in her head of being a warrior. I call her ‘Gracie Warrior Princess’ because I want her to go out there and be a warrior, not scared.”
In ice dance, Canadian couples finished 1-2 in the short dance — a quickstep-foxtrot combo.
Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir put 73.15 points on the scoreboard, while teammates Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje earned 70.35, significantly outdistancing the rest of the field.
Still, Virtue and Moir were not at all pleased with their performance after both wobbled precariously on the traveling one-foot spins known as twizzles, causing them to turn out of unison.
In pairs, couples from Canada, Italy and China skated to a virtual tie with just half a point separating first from third. World bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford scored 69.57, while Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek earned 69.38 and Sui Wenjing and Han Cong 69.02.
The medal rounds for all events are Saturday.