Top men’s skater Nam Nguyen, a junior world champion in 2014, won silver this weekend, his first Grand Prix medal in five years.
“There’s gonna be a change… there’s gonna be a switch in generation,” said Gilles, who has skated alongside Poirier internationally for eight seasons.
“It takes time to build a gold-medal team. Patrick wasn’t Patrick from the beginning. (Fans) need to understand that… patience, time. We have solid skaters (in Canada), but they just need to get that feel on how it is to skate on the biggest stages.”
“Patrick,” of course, is Patrick Chan, the triple world champion from 2011-13 who was almost assured the gold medal in the lead-up to the Sochi Olympics before a teenager named Yuzuru Hanyu came along and changed men’s skating forever.
After earning silver in Sochi and taking a season off, Chan returned to the sport – like Virtue and Moir – but wasn’t able to keep up with a new generation of multi-quad-hurling global skaters. He finished ninth in PyeongChang.
In the last year, Chan, Virtue and Moir, Osmond, Duhamel and Radford and 2014 Olympian Kevin Reynolds have all announced their official retirements. Ice dance duo Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are taking a break from the sport, and currently competing in a Dancing With the Stars-meeting-figure-skating show, Battle of the Blades, on Canadian TV.
The pairs team of Moore-Towers/Marinaro were seventh at worlds earlier this year and Friday night they received roaring applause from home fans as they took to the ice for the short program in Kelowna. But after going from Canada’s No. 4 or 3 team for the past several years in pairs to being No. 1 last year, that wasn’t an easy switch, either.
“Last year I struggled… I put too much pressure on our shoulders,” Moore-Towers said in a conference call before Skate Canada. “It didn’t get us the results we wanted. … It’s less about carrying a torch and more about looking within ourselves to recognize our skills. We have to work with the other Canadian teams to (get better).”
Following a shaky free skate, Moore-Towers/Marinaro won silver at Skate Canada, when many expected them to win gold.
For the two of them, as well as Gilles/Poirier, Daleman, Nguyen and a select few others, it’s also about leadership: How do they help their younger teammates navigate what can be a scary, intimidating and pressure-packed international skating scene?
“This is a community,” Gilles said of Canadian skating. “We have to create that energy that they want to be in… we need to support one another. That’s our job.”
“Right now, it takes that extra step… and that’s rewarding for us,” Poirier said, echoing his partner. “We’re seeing (these younger skaters) blossom, and that’s exciting for us to see, too.”
Yuzuru Hanyu gave his best Grand Prix performance in years last week. Nathan Chen can respond this week in what will likely be his last event before a showdown with Hanyu at December’s Grand Prix Final.
Chen and fellow reigning world champions Alina Zagitova and Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron headline Internationaux de France, streaming live for NBC Sports Gold subscribers on Friday and Saturday.
Chen is undefeated in full competition since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics. This week, he goes for an eighth straight Grand Prix victory, which would be the longest streak for a singles skater since the early 2000s.
His competition is stronger than at Skate America two weeks ago, when Chen dusted the field by 44 points. That’s because of the presence of Japanese Shoma Uno, who owns three silver medals between the Olympics and world championships. Albeit Uno ranks eighth in the world this season by top total scores.
Chen remains such a strong favorite that the real measuring stick is what the two-time Olympic champion Hanyu did at Skate Canada last week — six quads between two programs for 322.59 points. At Skate America, Chen landed five quads total for 299.09.
Nathan Chen is halfway to his eighth straight Grand Prix title, landing two quadruple jumps en route to a four-point lead at Internationaux de France on Friday.
Chen, a two-time world champion undefeated since a fifth-place PyeongChang Olympic finish, tallied 102.48 points in his “La Bohème” short program in Grenoble. Only two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who is not competing in France, has scored higher this season.
All 11 skaters committed jumping errors Friday. Chen put both hands on the ice on a triple Axel landing. That was sandwiched between a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination and a quad flip.
He scored .23 lower than his short program at Skate America two weeks ago.
“One week is difficult between competitions,” said Chen, who is skipping Yale sophomore classes to compete in France. “Two weeks, you have time to recover, rest and then start building back up. … But having one week, it’s like two days of travel, two days of travel, and then three days of actual training.”
Russian Alexander Samarin is second going into Saturday’s free skate (live streaming schedule here).
Japanese Shoma Uno, the Olympic silver medalist and two-time world silver medalist, fell on a quad toe loop and nearly faceplanted on a triple Axel. He is in fourth, 23.43 behind Chen.
Chen will qualify for December’s six-skater Grand Prix Final with a podium finish, setting the stage for a likely showdown with Hanyu for the first time since Chen beat him at last season’s worlds. No singles skater has won eight straight Grand Prix events since Yevgeny Plushenko at the turn of the century.
World champions Gabriella Papapdakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France topped the rhythm dance with 88.69 points, best in the world this season.
Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who missed the last Grand Prix season due to Chock’s recovery from ankle surgery, skated into second with 80.69, their best score in three events this season.
“It was the best performance of this program we’ve had this season,” Bates said in audio provided by U.S. Figure Skating. “Room for improvement in the technical score still, particularly Finnstep, but overall really pleased.”
Papadakis and Cizeron haven’t lost to a couple other than recently retired world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in almost five years. Chock and Bates have their work cut out in Saturday’s free dance, but even a runner-up will put them in great position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final later this month.
“It really doesn’t feel like we’ve taken that much [time away],” Chock said. “It’s like riding a bike.”
Internationaux de France Men’s Short Program 1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 102.48 2. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 98.48 3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 82.50 4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 79.05 5. Moris Kvitelashvili (GEO) — 78.79 6. Romain Ponsart (FRA) — 77.48 7. Sergey Voronov (RUS) — 76.60 8. Daniel Samohin (ISR) — 70.84 9. Nicolas Nadeau (CAN) — 69.42 10. Tomoki Hiwatashi (USA) — 68.70 11. Anton Shulepov (RUS) — 63.67