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Fourteen-year-old Gogolev poised to make Canadian figure skating history

SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Stephen Gogolev might be two years too young to compete internationally as a senior skater. But he's poised to become the youngest skater ever to capture a Canadian senior title, a record set 65 years ago.

SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Stephen Gogolev might be two years too young to compete internationally as a senior skater. But he's poised to become the youngest skater ever to capture a Canadian senior title, a record set 65 years ago.

The 14-year-old from Toronto won the short program at the Canadian championships on Friday night, bringing the Harbour Station crowd to its feet with a performance that opened with a quadruple Salchow-triple toe loop combination. He earned 88.77 points.

"I'm very excited and I'll try to do my best (in Saturday's long program)," the shy teen said.

Keegan Messing, who fell on his quad toe loop and goes into Saturday's free program in second with 87.18 points, had more to say about Gogolev's stunning performance.

"Scary," the 26-year-old said. 

"Every haircut I get now I'm seeing a little more salt than pepper now, and seeing these young guys coming up and pulling these ridiculous jumps, it is a little scary, but we're still pushing ourselves and hopefully it won't break."

Nam Nguyen, who won a national senior title at 16 — the 2014-15 season Patrick Chan sat out — is third (85.73).

Charles Snelling holds the record for youngest senior men's champion at 16, set in 1954.   

Gabrielle Daleman won the women's short program in her first competition since announcing she was taking a mental health break. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje won the short dance program, while Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro are the pairs leaders.

Gogolev, who weighs all of 90 pounds, can already reel off a laundry list of quadruple jumps that eluded countless Canadian stars before him. He has three different quads — Lutz, toe loop and Salchow — planned for Saturday's long program.

Regardless of Saturday's outcome, Gogolev is already rewriting the record book. He won his first junior Grand Prix in Bratislava, Slovakia, last fall, landing three different quads in his free program and becoming the first Canadian and youngest skater ever to land a quad Lutz in competition.

Gogolev can't compete on the senior Grand Prix circuit for another two years, and won't be eligible to skate at the world senior championships until 2021 — a year before the Beijing Olympics.

"Yes, we've done the math," Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada's high performance director, said laughing in an interview last fall. 

The teen was just 10th in his senior debut at last year's Canadian championships, but said that event was a good learning experience.

"Yeah I feel more confident and comfortable, because last year was the first time I had a really big crowd, and that was a good experience for me," Gogolev said.

Weaver and Poje, meanwhile, believe they have the best of both worlds this season. The ice dancers soaked up the show tour environment in two gruelling months spent on the cross-country Thank You Canada Tour. And they have the technical savvy that's earned them three world championship medals in their dozen years together.

On Friday, they were the proverbial full package, winning the short dance in their first competition in four months.

"This week we're here just to show ourselves, we're having fun showing off, if you will," Weaver said. "We've worked so hard, we have so much experience in front of audiences, and we've done our homework with the technical rules and now we get to let it loose with no worries. This is a great start for us."

The skaters from Waterloo, Ont., scored 85.19 points for their sizzling skate to "Libertango."

Skating to please a panel of judges once again was a "little bit different," Poje said.

"When you're out there in the show, you have thousands of judges that you try to express to everyone on every side, and try to pick your moments, whereas this one you're trying to just be in your moment and try to really show the entire program to the best of your ability."

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier are second (83.08).

Weaver and Poje have skated in the shadow of two-time Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir for virtually their entire career. But on Friday, Weaver, dressed in a gauzy rose-gold dress, and Poje in a shirt, vest, and black slacks, enchanted the crowd at Harbour Station arena with their sizzling tango.

Having only to focus on two performances this week is a welcome break from the Thank You tour grind that saw them do 28 shows across Canada.

"There were moments we were just exhausted," Weaver said. "But we always came out the other side thinking 'You know what? We're doing this for a reason, and that's to learn from all of it' ... for ourselves it was something to push through and enjoy at the same time."

Weaver and Poje are poised to capture their third Canadian title. They've been perennial runners-up to Virtue and Moir, capturing gold during Virtue and Moir's two-year hiatus.

"We're not going to lie, obviously it would be amazing," Poje said. "But we're not here really for the medals. We wanted to go out there and show the work that we've done but also the love that we have for these programs, and how proud we are of each other and our team."

They'll be pushed in Saturday's free dance by Gilles and Poirier, who edged Weaver and Poje for silver at last year's national championships, one of four silvers they've won at the event.

Skating to "Angelica's Tango," Gilles and Poirier earned an appreciative roar from the crowd.

The two joked that they slip into made-up characters for the tango. Gilles calls herself "Rosella." Poirier is "Guido." 

"It's really just the amount of training that we've done and the amount of thought that we've put behind this program," Poirier said on their solid skate. "Every day we come and in and try to think about our characters, and what we're trying to portray, what each moment means in the program.

"I think over time we've come to learn every single nook and cranny of the program and allowed the characters to shine through everything that we're doing."

Moore-Towers and Marinaro scored 71.47 for their skate to Leona Lewis's version of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud were second with 65.20, while Camille Ruest and Drew Wolfe were third (62.46).  

Daleman, a 21-year-old from Newmarket, Ont., scored 70.18 points for her program to "Habanera," by Georges Bizet.

The 2017 world bronze medallist and a two-time Canadian champion announced in October she was withdrawing from Skate Canada International to focus on her mental health. She also withdrew from her second Grand Prix assignment, the NHK Trophy in Japan, effectively ending her fall competition season.

Larkyn Austman of Vancouver was second in the short program, scoring 64.53, while Veronik Mallet of Sept-Iles, Que., was third with 60.55.   

Skate Canada officials said earlier this week Daleman preferred not to speak to media until after Saturday's free program. She's been open in the past discussing her battles with an eating disorder and a learning disability.

Daleman was part of the Canadian squad that won gold in the team event at the Pyeongchang Olympics. But she fell three times during a disastrous long program in the singles event and burst into tears when the music stopped.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press