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The Canadian figure skating championships arrive under a cloud

Canadian figure skating hasn’t been the same since the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. That’s where a golden generation of performers featuring ice-dance darlings Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and three-time men’s world champion Patrick Chan helped Canada capture a world-leading four medals, highlighted by a gold in the team event and Virtue and Moir’s second Olympic title in their final major appearance.

Since the end of that season, Canadian figure skaters have collected just three medals at the world championships (all bronze) and they were shut out at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. It’s been especially bleak in the singles events, where no Canadian has reached a major podium since Kaetlyn Osmond collected the women’s gold at the depleted post-Olympic world championships in 2018. The dearth of medals at the worlds looks even worse when you consider that skating superpower Russia has been banned since 2022.

This season was supposed to bring at least a ray of optimism with Canadians set to enjoy home-ice advantage at the world championships in Montreal this March.

But hopes were deflated by a somewhat disappointing showing at last month’s prestigious Grand Prix Final, where Canada managed only a couple of bronze medals — by defending ice dance champions Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier and the pairs tandem of Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps.

Things took a much darker turn last week when USA Today reported that reigning Canadian ice dance champion Nikolaj Soerensen was under investigation by safe-sport authorities after an American coach and former skater accused him of a sexual assault in 2012. Soerensen yesterday denied the allegations, which have not been tested in court, but revealed in an Instagram post that he and his teammate Laurence Fournier Beaudry won’t defend their title at this week’s national championships in Calgary because “we feel that our participation would be distracting.”

“These allegations are false, and I intend to strongly defend myself and my reputation,” Soerensen wrote. In a separate post, Fournier Beaudry expressed support for her teammate while saying that the sexual assault allegations present a “very challenging situation.”

“While I strongly believe that everyone must be protected and safe in sport,” she wrote, “I know that my partner is a man of integrity, respect and kindness.”

The absence of Fournier Beaudry and Soerensen could cast a shadow over the nationals, where the senior-level ice dance, pairs, women’s and men’s events take place Friday and Saturday.

But there are some brighter stories to follow, including Gilles and Poirer’s attempt to reclaim the Canadian ice dance title. The two-time winners missed last year’s nationals after Gilles underwent what she said at the time was an appendectomy. After they returned to capture their second bronze in three years at the world championships, where they were Canada’s only medalists, Gilles revealed that she’d also had a cancerous ovary removed along with her appendix.

Healthy this season, Gilles and Poirier won both of their regular-season Grand Prix events before taking bronze at the Final in Beijing. “I’m feeling so much better than last year,” said the 31-year-old Gilles. “It’s been a journey to finally feel like I’m back where I’m supposed to be.” Read more about Gilles and Poirier’s comeback here.

Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps are favored to repeat as pairs champions after placing fourth at last year’s worlds and then winning both of their regular Grand Prix assignments this season to set up their bronze at the Final. Madeline Schizas is trying for her third consecutive women’s title, while the men’s crown is up for grabs following the retirement of back-to-back champ Keegan Messing.

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