Moments after clinching her first Canadian figure skating title, teenager Madeline Schizas was asked about her goal for the Beijing Olympics.
“My biggest goal is to avoid catching COVID,” Schizas said. “That’s my biggest goal, for the next three weeks, I’m going to do everything in my power to stay healthy.”
Skating to Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” and dressed in dusty blue - with a sequined COVID-19 mask that she wore in the warm-up to match - the 18-year-old from Oakville, Ont., wasn’t flawless in Saturday’s free skate. But with a 12-point cushion from Friday’s short program, her total score of 198.24 was good enough for gold and to all but clinch her spot on Canada’s Olympic team.
Keegan Messing won the men’s singles title, capping a roller-coaster week that included 33 hours of travel and the temporary loss of his skates. Roman Sadovsky won the silver, all but clinching the second Beijing Olympic spot after perennial medallist Nam Nguyen struggled to sixth, revealing he’d recently had COVID-19.
World bronze medallists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier captured gold in the ice dance, while Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro captured the pairs title.
Gilles, from Toronto, and Poirier, from Unionville, Ont., secured their second trip to the Olympics with their near-flawless program to “The Long and Winding Road,” scoring 219.24 overall. They two had made significant changes to their program since winning silver at their last competition in France last November.
“We were a little nervous competing at nationals,” Gilles said. “We’ve made so many changes since the Grand Prix series. Just kind of testing out the waters a little bit. Kind of like: remember to do this, remember to do this. Nothing’s on auto-pilot yet.
“But I’m glad we had this opportunity to put that program out there and build upon it. When we get to Olympics it should be in (top) shape. So, we’re happy.”
The dancers had qualified for the Grand Prix Final last month, but it was cancelled as COVID-19 cases started to rise around the world amid the Omicron variant.
The cancellation was a silver lining, allowing them time to rework their program, adding small changes everywhere that they hope will help them climb the podium in Beijing.
“It’s all a movable feast,” Poirier said. “Every day in training we’re making small adjustments, we’re refining. There’s never an end point, a sort of totally finished product, it’s always an evolution.”
Laurence Fournier-Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen won ice dance silver (206.65), while Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha took the bronze (192.67).
Moore-Towers, from St. Catharines, Ont., and Marinaro, from Sarnia, Ont., scored 212.54 to win their third pairs title, and Moore-Towers fought back tears when they struck their final pose.
“We’re ecstatic,” Moore-Towers said. “It wasn’t perfect but it’s leaps and bounds ahead of what we’ve done this season. Our goal was to go into Beijing as Canadian champions. This is mission accomplished for us.”
They had a rocky first half of the season; their best Grand Prix result was fifth.
“With all the struggles over the last couple of months, I think we officially parked that in the past with two performances that we’re happy with,” Marinaro said. “We have stuff to work on in the short and the free that we’ll be dialing in over the next three weeks but some rebound performances we’re definitely extremely, extremely happy with.
“Now we’ve got three weeks to build, and stay COVID-free.”
Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud were second with 186.52, while Deanna Stellato and Maxime Deschamps took the bronze (178.60). Vanessa James and Eric Radford, who both contracted COVID-19 a couple of weeks ago, withdrew from Saturday’s free skate.
“We would have loved to have the opportunity to compete against the whole event,” Moore-Towers said of the absence of James and Radford. “I think that would have really been the cherry on the . . . what do you say, the cherry on the cake? The ice cream? But yeah, this one is special for sure.”
James and Radford, who were forth after the short program, are still eligible to be selected for one of the two pairs berths on the Olympic team based on previous results this season, but the excellent skate by Walsh and Michaud made it tough for the selection committee.
For Schizas, Beijing was barely on her radar until she finished 13th at the world championships last spring.
“I am a very logical person,” she said. “Realistically, one person is going to Olympics and the chances it was going to be me were very slim. Obviously now that I’ve won a Canadian title the Olympics are on my radar but I never like to get too far ahead of myself. I think one moment at a time and I think that makes it even better qualifying.
“In a way, I don’t think people expected it to be me,” she added. “I’m from a smaller club (Milton Skating Club), a smaller community. I don’t have coaches who have necessarily done this before. We have a really great relationship and I just won my first national title.”
Veronik Mallet of Sept-Iles, Que., scored 170.65 for silver, while two-time Olympic and world bronze medallist Gabrielle Daleman was third (167.50).
Because of safety concerns and provincial crowd restrictions due to the recent COVID-19 surge, the event is being held in front of no fans at TD Place Arena.
The pandemic has cast a pall over sports in the final weeks before Beijing. Stephen Gogolev, who won silver at the 2019 nationals, withdrew on Friday after he tested positive in a PCR test upon landing in Ottawa. And James and Radford contracted the virus over the holidays.
The Beijing Olympic figure skating team will be announced Sunday. Canada has one berth in women’s singles, two in pairs and men’s singles, and three in ice dance.
This content appears as provided to The Globe by the originating wire service. It has not been edited by Globe staff.