VANCOUVER — Competing for the first time since sharing her ovarian cancer diagnosis, ice dancer Piper Gilles and her skating partner Paul Poirier recorded the best score of the Grand Prix season so far.
The pair finished top of the rhythm dance program section at Skate Canada International with 87.55 points, comfortably ahead of Great Britain's Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson in second place.
"I don't think there was ever a thought of me not continuing," said Gilles. "If anything, it pushed me more to do it. Skating has become a part of my life and become a great distraction from all the heath issues I've gone through."
Last year's Skate Canada International was the event where she started feeling ill, Gilles said, adding to the desire to return and take part.
The event is the first of the season for the Canadians, and both said they were keen to compete in front of home fans.
"We're quite fortunate there are always events every single season that are here at home, on top of nationals," said Poirier. "That's really such a nice gift to perform for fans who have followed us throughout our entire careers and continuously come out to support us."
Lithuania's Saulius Ambrulevicius and Allison Reed finished third with a score of 75.6, marking the first time they have been on the podium at a Grand Prix event.
"We've been slowly getting to this point where we are and every single time we skate, we feel very proud of what we do," said Ambrulevicius. "At this stage of our careers, we're feeling very happy."
Canadians Alicia Fabbri and Paul Ayer finished seventh in the rhythm dance program with Molly Lanaghan and Dmitre Razgulajevs finished ninth out of 10.
Earlier in the day, Japan's Kaori Sakamoto set the tone for the women's short program at Skate Canada International.
The reigning world champion had scored 75.13 in her short program, nearly five points clear of second place Chaeyeon Kim of South Korea, who made her Grand Prix debut.
Sakamoto was pleased with her performance, but she doesn't see it as necessarily carrying over to Saturday.
"I wouldn't say today's performance gave me momentum for tomorrow," said Sakamoto. "I would put it more as I feel the need to focus very hard for my performance tomorrow in the free."
Kim, 16, said she came in to Friday nervous about making her debut in a senior Grand Prix.
"I was very nervous but I was clean, so I'm very happy," she said.
Canada's Madeline Schizas finished eighth in the short program with a score of 57.44.
The skater from Oakville, Ont., said she was frustrated with technical faults in her program.
"The program itself, I thought I performed it really well despite the technical errors," said Schizas. "It's unfortunate that this is the week where I had some uncharacteristic errors."
Schizas won her second straight Canadian women's title in January and had spoken before the Vancouver event about working on her skating skill work and consistency during the summer.
"That score could have been a lot of things and it was lower than she hoped," she said about Friday's short program result.
Montreal's Sara-Maude Dupuis finished 10th in the short program.
Sakamoto spoke to media on Thursday about her desire to win the 2023 Grand Prix final set to be held in Beijing in December.
Skate Canada International is the second competition in the annual International Skating Union Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series.
It was a successful first day for pairs skaters Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps who finished first in the short program with a score of 72.25.
Friday's performance was the first time the pair have competed in five weeks, which Stellato-Dudek said before the competition was unusual for the duo.
Brooke McIntosh and Benjamin Mimar finished fifth while Kelly Ann Laurin and Loucas Ethier finished seventh out of eight.
Japan's Sota Yamamoto leads the men's competition after he scored an 89.56 in the short program. He was followed by South Korea's Junhwan Cha (86.18) and Japan's Kazuki Tomono (81.63).
Toronto's Conrad Orzel (77.68) was sixth, Vancouver's Wesley Chiu (76.94) was seventh, and Aleksa Rakic (72.56) of Burnaby, B.C., sits ninth.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 27, 2023.
Nick Wells, The Canadian Press