B.C. ice dance centre claims podium gold

Burnaby ice dancers were the belle of the Canadian figure skating championship ball in Mississauga, Ont., last week.

Following up on Danielle Wu and Spencer Soo's near-record gold-medal win in the novice ice dance final to " start the week, former Moscrop Secondary students, ZhaoKai Pang and Nicole Orford, both gained the podium in their respective junior and senior dance finals.

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That gave the B.C. Centre of Excellence ice dance coaching duo of Aaron Lowe and Megan Wing medals from six of their seven teams at this year's nationals.

Pang and partner Madeline Edwards, last year's national novice champs, won a second straight Canadian championship gold medal, defeating short program leaders, Mackenzie Bent and Garrett MacKeen of Eastern Ontario, in the long free dance program.

Pang, 17, and 16-yearold Edwards scored 86.24 in the four-minute free dance to overtake the first-round leaders with a 145.25 total score, nipping Bent and MacKeen by less than a point.

"They had the skate of their lives," said Lowe. "Maddie and ZhaoKai's free dance was just at a much higher level."

The B.C. Centre of Excellence-trained skaters also beat Bent and MacKeen at the Skate Canada Challenge in Regina last month. With the gold medal, the local ice dance team earned a berth on Canada's national team to the junior world championships to be held in Milan, Italy from Feb. 25 to March 3. Bent and MacKeen will also be participating.

"Our goal was just to make the junior world team. We haven't set our goals yet," said Pang. "We want to skate faster and have more of a presence on the ice. We really want to look like we belong on a world stage."

With last year's top five pairs from the worlds back again for a second straight year, Lowe believes this season's championships will be a reality check for his teenage team.

Based on current scores, Edwards and Pang would need another personal best to crack the top five, Lowe said.

"We tell our skaters to be ready for your opportunities by doing your job," he added.

"All the top teams are

super strong and fast. They have to really work strength and speed because their performance level is world class."

Pang and Edwards' final score would have placed them fifth overall in this season's senior dance category.

Caelen Dalmer of Burnaby and her partner Shane Firus, sixth at the Skate Canada Challenge, kept their third-place placement after the short program with a 76.53 free skate to finish with the bronze medal in the junior ice dance for B.C.

But it was the free skate of Orford and Thomas Williams that surprised Lowe.

Orford and Williams, fourth after the opening short skate, made up a five-point deficit after a slipup by the third-place couple of Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam of Ontario to take the third-place medal by less than a point.

"It was a huge shock," Lowe said. "(Orford and Williams) skated clean and had a great skate. They took advantage of the opportunity when it came."

Orford and Williams' third-place skate earned them a place on the Canadian team for the Four Continents championships in Osaka, Japan in less than two weeks.

"Deep down inside, they always wanted this feeling, so now it's come," Lowe added.

Orford and Williams scored 91.04 in the free dance to finish with a total score of 152.56. The pair placed sixth at both last year's nationals and world junior championships.

Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won their fifth Canadian senior ice dance title with a 187.23 score.

Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, the silver-medal winner in the senior men's championships behind Patrick Chan, will also take part in the Four Continents competition in Japan.

Former Burnaby resident, Nam Nguyen, who relocated to Toronto last year, placed sixth in his first senior men's final.

In the junior women's final, B.C. centre skater Larkyn Austman won the national final going away, scoring a 100-plus score in the free program. Austman's freeskate score was more than 20 points better than Northern Ontario runner-up Marika Steward. Austman finished with a high score of 149.75. Steward was second at 123.85.

"It was a pretty unbelievable week for Megan and I and our team. We couldn't have been more successful. But we have to remain grounded and continue to work to our goal to get a team to the Olympics," Lowe said.


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