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Chiu takes men's short program at Canadian figure skating championship

CALGARY — Wesley Chiu emerged as the early leader for a Canadian men's figure skating championship after winning Friday's short program.
Wesley Chiu emerged the early leader for a Canadian men's figure skating championship after winning Friday's short program. Chiu, of British Columbia, skates during the senior men short program at the Canadian figure skating championships in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Jan. 12, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — Wesley Chiu emerged as the early leader for a Canadian men's figure skating championship after winning Friday's short program.

The 18-year-old from Vancouver, who was a bronze medallist in 2022 and 2023, shook off a rocky warm-up to post a commanding score of 88.98 at Calgary's WinSport Arena. 

Chiu was the only man to land both a quad-triple combination and a triple axel.

"I'd say it was stressful for sure. I don't know if any of you guys watched the warm-up, but it wasn't that great just struggling to find my spatial awareness," Chiu said.

"I was able to reset and take that aside and step on the ice fresh again. I've trained this program lots and I've had a lot of success and I'm really comfortable with it. I really had to rely on that today."

There's a national men's title to be claimed in Saturday's free skate after the retirement of two-time champ Keegan Messing (2022, 2023). 

"Being first after the short feels amazing, but there's a lot of work to be done tomorrow," Chiu said. "Sort of time to reset 0-0 and go from there."

Chiu was the lone favourite to put his hand on the brass ring Friday. 

2020 men's champion Roman Sadovsky and last year's runner-up Conrad Orzel laboured in their short programs to seventh and 10th respectively. 2019 silver medallist Stephen Gogolev struggled through a sore back to 13th.

Orzel, who skated last in the order, felt he lacked a sense of urgency.

"Couldn't put a foot wrong on the ice in the past three practices here, which gave me that confidence and probably why I was so calm, because I was so sure of myself," Orzel said. "I was a bit too calm, which is weird to say. I think I need that anxiousness to fire properly."

Aleksa Rakic's 75.49 points ranked second and Anthony Paradis was third with a 74.16.

Canada's 2024 champions in men's and women's singles, pairs and ice dance will be crowned after Saturday's free skates.

Two-time defending women's champion Madeline Schizas led after Friday's short program. She scored 63.63 ahead of Kaiya Ruiter's 58.25 and Sara-Maude Dupuis in third at 57.87.

"I thought the performance was good," Schizas said. "I felt like I really gave my all in the performance side. The tech elements were not all there."

Two-time world ice dance bronze medallists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier posted a top score of 86.78 in the rhythm dance. 

"It wasn't the best skate of our lives, but I think some things that we have worked on and changed have been successful, and other things just need a little bit more consistency and time to practice," Poirier said. 

The duo returned to the Canadian championship after withdrawing from the 2023 edition as Gilles underwent cancer surgery to remove an ovary. 

Marie-Jade Lauriault and Romain Le Gac ranked second with 78 points just ahead of Alicia Fabbri and Paul Ayer with 77.75.

Defending pairs champions Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps led by less than a point after a rough short program in which Stellato-Dudek face planted while landing their throw.

"We've done probably close to like 100 throws in the past three weeks working on them a lot," Stellato-Dudek said.

"I'm not really sure what went wrong today. So we'll have to kind of watch the video and look at it again."

Lia Perieira and Trennt Michaud skated a clean routine to trail by .82 heading into Saturday's free skate. Kelly Ann Laurin and Loucas Ethier ranked third just over four points off the lead.

"We're really proud of ourselves," Perieira said. "We changed our music after (Grand Prix) final and we have new outfits, so it felt like kind of a new season debut for us midway through the season. 

"We were really excited to put that out in front of a crowd today."

Results at nationals factor into Skate Canada's selections for the upcoming Four Continents championship in Shanghai from Jan. 30 to Feb. 4, as well as the world championship March 18-24 in Montreal.

Canada will send a full contingent of three entries per discipline to Shanghai. Three ice dance and three pairs teams, two men and one woman will wear the Maple Leaf at Montreal's Bell Centre.

Reigning world champions Les Supremes from Montreal won the synchronized skating title Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2024.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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