Nam Nguyen had made a deal with his parents, the sole supporters of his career since he first stuffed his feet in figure skates. Either the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic season would be his last, or he would start paying for his skating himself.
He chose the latter.
And when he edged 14-year-old phenom Stephen Gogolev to win his second Canadian figure skating title on Saturday, Nguyen credited the newfound balance in his life.
“I’m very pleased with what I did tonight. It just shows that when I invest everything I have into this, no matter the result, I feel happy because I did it on my own terms, and that was the theme for this year,” Nguyen said.
Skating to music from the movie “La La Land,” Nguyen landed two clean quadruple jumps en route to scoring 258.01 total points.
Gogolev, the leader after the short program, was poised to become the youngest ever to win a Canadian men’s crown (Charles Snelling set the record in 1954 when he was 16). But the pint-sized skater, who weighs all of 90 pounds, popped his opening quadruple Lutz. He handed his quad toe loop and quad Salchow cleanly, but his score of 253.56 wasn’t enough to beat Nguyen.
Keegan Messing was third with 247.44.
Earlier in the day, Alaine Chartrand won the women’s singles title, while Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje won the ice dance title, and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro claimed the pairs title.
Nguyen drew comparisons to three-time world champion Patrick Chan when he won the world junior title in 2014. But the seasons since have been rocky due to a massive growth spurt, and a handful of coaching changes.
This season, Nguyen enrolled at York University, and is coaching a group of young skaters to pay the bills. He reflected after his win on the similarity between his season and Chartrand’s, who also left home and enrolled in school.
“Sure the results haven’t been the greatest for the both of us, but the behind the scenes have been extremely worth it,” Nguyen said. “And it’s genuine, our reaction isn’t faked or cheesed. What you get is literally how we feel.”
Does Nguyen see any of himself as a youngster in Gogolev?
“Not at all. What he’s doing is simply incredible,” Nguyen said. “But no way Jose. All these junior boys, they’re doing such an incredible job and they’re keeping us on our toes which is great. I’m really excited for the future of Canadian skating.”
Nguyen and Gogolev used to train together at the Toronto Cricket Club, and Nguyen said he could feel the young skater, who won’t be old enough to compete internationally as a senior for another two years, breathing down his neck.
“From the age of nine, that was when he started to show that he was a possible threat to the skating world,” Nguyen said. “He’s a great skater. When I trained with him, he was coming up fast, and I could feel he was coming after me.”
When Gogolev finished his program to music from the “Sherlock Holmes” soundtrack, he rubbed a frustrated hand through his blonde hair.
Was that about the missed quad Lutz?
“Yeah,” said the shy skater, who became the first Canadian — in any age group — to land a quad Lutz in competition, earlier this season.
Gogolev said he didn’t really feel any pressure going into the second day with a lead.
“I think really think about winning, I’m just trying to do my best, and if I do my best the placement comes after,” he said.
Weaver and Poje, meanwhile, scored 213.78 points to win the dance title, topping the previous Canadian championship best of 209.82 set by Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir last year. But the International Skating Union has changed the scoring this season, to allow for higher grades of execution.
The skaters from Waterloo, Ont., skated to “SOS, d’un terrien en detresse,” a song they’d loved ever since hearing Kazahk skater Dennis Ten skate to it in a show last season. After Ten was murdered in a robbery last summer, the ice dancers said they would skate the program in his memory.
But Saturday brought more bad news.
“Today was a hard day,” Weaver said. “Another dear friend of ours John Coughlin is no longer with us, so it was very hard today, but we tried to skate for him too, and this program is representative of losing those who are dear to you. The emotion was real today.”
Coughlin, a former U.S. pairs champion and a figure skating coach, died by suicide following a temporary suspension from figure skating by the US Center for SafeSport amid a pending grievance.
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier had the best free dance score of the night for their performance to “Vincent,” but it wasn’t enough to pass Weaver and Poje. They finished second with 212.31 points.
Gilles fought back tears after the final placings were announced.
“I think both of us really felt like we did enough to win this competition,” she said.
“We did win the free, I think we won the event in our hearts, and we know that there’s still a lot more that we can give with this program, and the same with the tango (short dance), and we still have two more events to go towards our dreams, and our goal this season is to be on the world podium.
“To not get the gold here is not going to kill our focus. We’re going to go back home and work harder and prove we belong on the top.”
Moore-Towers, from St. Catharines, Ont., and Marinaro, from Sarnia, Ont., led wire to wire in pairs to win with 202.75 points.
Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud claimed silver with 189.87, while Camille Ruest and Drew Wolfe took the bronze (163.28).
Moore-Towers and former partner Dylan Moscovitch won the national title in 2011, but the event had been dominated by two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford ever since.
Duhamel and Radford retired after capturing gold in the team event and bronze in the pairs at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
The Canadian championships determine the team for the world figure skating championships in Saitama, Japan.