Skaters prepare for international competition on Canadian ice

VANCOUVER — Canadian figure skaters are hoping to build on detailed preparation and past performances in front of home support as the Skate Canada International Competition is set to get underway.

Sixty skaters from around the world, including reigning Skate Canada ladies single champion Rinka Watanabe, 2023 world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Canadian ice dancers and two-time world bronze medallists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, will take part.

It's the first competition of the season for Toronto's Gilles and Poirier of Unionville, Ont.

"It gave us a lot of comfort knowing that our prep last year worked and got us to a level of readiness for our first event and we replicated that as much as we could this year," said Poirier. "Knowing we had a plan that worked gave us a lot of confidence."

The routine they have worked on is inspired by the Emily Bronte classic "Wuthering Heights," said Gilles.

"It's about the ebbs and flows of love," she said. "When we came back this year, we wanted to do something that fuelled our fire a little bit."

Gilles added that they only received the final version of the program last week, requiring a quick turnaround in preparation for the competition.

For Watanbe, it's a homecoming of sorts.

Watanabe moved to Vancouver when she was 15 to follow her coach, who also moved to the city, before the skater moved back to Japan during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I love Canada so I feel pretty happy to be back in Vancouver," she said. "I try to do my best here and my goal is top three because if I want to go to the final, a top three is good. Top three is my goal but I'm trying not to think too much."

Watanabe took silver in the Finlandia Trophy Figure Skating competition in Finland and has spent the two weeks since working to clean up her skating.

"I think that's what's pretty good for me. Not (focusing) on jumping but clean skating," she said.

Sakamoto said her goal is to accumulate enough points to make it to the Grand Prix final being held in Beijing in early December.

She said she was disappointed with her performance at the last Grand Prix, where she finished fifth, and wanted a chance to rectify that.

Pairs skaters Deanna Stellato-Dudek of Brossard, Que., and partner Maxime Deschamps of Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., will compete in their long program with a vampire-inspired routine, based on the "Interview with a Vampire" series.

"When you're practising through all the off-season, you hope you've improved, you hope people notice, but you don't really know where you're at until you get a score, and you can get a standard to raise upon," said Stellato-Dudek.

The pair last competed at the Autumn Classic International in Montreal, finishing with a gold and 203.62 points.

"We had our standard at Autumn Classic International and now our goal is to raise that standard each time we go out," said Stellato-Dudek.

Deschamps agreed, adding that there has been an added focus on improving the artistic side of their performances.

The event is set to run from Friday through Sunday in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2023.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly said Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier were two-time Olympic bronze medallists.