Canadian ice dance champions skirt disaster in final seconds

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Nikolaj Sørensen has done the math: Seven skates — rhythm and free dance — in front of judges so far this season, roughly seven minutes of ice dancing per competition.

“It all boils down to, like, 42 minutes of performance in a year.”

Um, no. Forty-nine minutes. Sørensen is as good at arithmetic as we are.

In any event, countless hours — days, weeks, months, years — training for less than two handfuls of evaluated performances.

And then — whoops — a half-second disaster. When a skate blade accidentally pinches a bit of costume fabric on a sliding choreography movement low and parallel to the ice. On the final few beats of a program’s music. But still, an element cocked up. Three ticks later, the scoring clock stops — before the last draped pose, which is all about ta-da! — marks-less. And it wouldn’t have mattered, wouldn’t have counted against.

What the glitch cost was a 1.1-point fall deduction, though Laurence Fournier Beaudry fought valiantly (“my first instinct was just to dance, whatever happened”) to regain her balance, and at least four points in grade of execution (technical marks). Instead, a row of zeros on that line of the detailed scoresheet.

Upshot: Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen came this close to missing the top of the podium. But reach it they did, by a 0.6 sliver of a point over Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha, despite losing the free skate portion to their Montreal training stablemates: 125.34 versus 126.89, but 212.40 to 211.80 overall.

Which accurately reflects the fierceness of the ice dance competition at the Canadian figure skating championships in Oshawa, in the absence of defending champions Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier as she recovers from an appendectomy.

Marie-Jade Lauriault and Romain Le Gac earned bronze with a score of 196.40.

It took veteran aplomb for Sørensen and Fournier Beaudry to surmount the error, even if there was scarce time remaining to discombobulate their “Love in the Desert.” Although suspicious minds do wonder if there was a bit of judging gerrymandering afoot to clear the duo of their neck-and-neck rivals, which we’re assured is impossible to manipulate under this judging system.

“Nail-biter, nail-biter,” Sørensen acknowledged afterward, gold medal strung around his throat. “Really expensive because it’s a fall, almost five points.”

Fournier Beaudry’s mid-calf skirt was the culprit. A skirt which, by the way, weighs four pounds — and that makes twizzles in sync darn tough to pull off. “I would like to see anybody else do it,” noted Sørensen, who of course doesn’t have to contend with a midi-skirt caught on a skate blade. “It really throws you off. That’s why she has those abs.”

Marvellous abs, showcased by Fournier Beaudry’s bared midriff costume.

Last team in the top flight to take the ice. Beaudry turned to Sørensen and reminded: “Nik, just remember to enjoy every moment.”

It goes by in the blink of an eye, the moments that signify, more so for a couple — she’s 30, he’s 33 — who’d just captured their first national title after silver and bronze at Canadians, bracketed around a pandemic cancellation and previously skating for Sørensen’s native Denmark. They’re being pushed from below by the likes of Lajoie and Lagha, 22 and 23 respectfully.

“Before, you just want it to be over,” said Fournier Beaudry of the willies she feels before stepping on the ice to compete, “because you’re so stressed and excited. And then once you’re out there, you almost want it to never end.”

Except for this catastrophe moments when you just want to get off.

At stake on Saturday was a berth on Canada’s team for the upcoming worlds. Just two spots this year, even though Canada is an ice-dance superpower. That was the mathematical equation devolving from the fifth-place finish at worlds last year by Gilles and Poirier, combined with ninth place for Sørensen and Fournier Beaudry — dragged down by 11th place in the free, blamed on Sørensen’s twizzle error.

The duo certainly seemed to have righted themselves this season, with a gold and a silver on the Grand Prix circuit. Yet in the final a month ago, they committed a major error in the free — falling out of their curve in choreography, ultimately squeezed out of bronze by 1.39 points.

“I think all the little bends in the road leads us exactly to where we need to be in life,” concluded Sørensen.

Doubtless they’ll be named to the world team with Gilles and Poirier, which they deserved regardless of whether or not they’d captured the title on the weekend. But even that expected state of affairs does give some pause in a sport — ice dancing — of slowly incremental standings advancement.

“We also had mistakes, we had deductions,” pointed out Lagha. “I think the best is not to think about it, if you know what I mean. They’re fierce competitors and of course in another league. So for us just to be close, we’ve progressed. That’s the most important thing.”

The silver medallists, however, were clear crowd favourites, both in Friday’s energetic cha-cha short program and Saturday’s elegantly classical Nureyev “White Crow” performance, which cast a beautiful spell over the audience. A mistake in the team’s lifts knocked off a couple of points. “Besides that, we had a good score,” said Lagha. “No big deal.”

But — and we were pushing here — was there regret over such a slim margin and even the slightest possibility of a worlds assignment evaporating? “I don’t care,” Lagha insisted. Pause. “I do care, but I try not to care.”

Most impressive was that all three medalling couples skate out of the ice-dance foundry that is the Ice Academy of Montreal, under the coaching tutorship of five-time Canadian champions Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, and Romain Haguenauer. They crank out international luminaries, pushing each other on.

“That’s why everybody gets so much better every year,” said Lajoie. “I think that training with the best makes you the best. It’s very inspiring.”

And if no worlds for the silver team this March, then surely the next and many more beyond, and perchance a couple of Olympics.

Lajoie: “We’re still young. We could do eight more years. We’ll see.”

Rosie DiManno is a Toronto-based columnist covering sports and current affairs for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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