Challenge complete, Hampole takes aim at nationals

Figure skater Justin Hampole was attempting to carve a top-10 finish at Skate Canada Challenge and just about reached his target.

He placed 11th out of 23 junior men from across the country who gathered in Edmonton for last weekend's event and with that top-18 result Hampole has qualified for the Canadian Tire national skating championships for the third straight year.

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"My main goal was to qualify for Canadians again this year and I did that, and everything after that came as a bonus," said Hampole. "It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to be in the top 10 but I was mainly focused on laying out two solid programs that would get me to move on to Canadians."

Hampole began his sixth Skate Canada Challenge and second as a junior skater last Saturday with his best performance of the season when he posted an eighth-place score of 52.6 with the short program.

In his free skate on Sunday, Hampole wasn't quite so flawless and he ended up with the 10th-best score of the day (87.44 points) and finished 11th overall.

"I had a really good short, almost a clean skate with no falls, and I was really happy with it," said Hampole. "It's a newer program and the song is Sign of the Times by Harry Styles and I'm really happy with that performance."

Hampole landed three of his four triples in his free skate. The one that's given him the most difficulty, a triple flip, proved elusive for him in Edmonton.

"I had one fall but everything else was done really nicely," he said. "There are still some things I wish I'd done better but it's still a great stepping block for the Canadians for the long. The triple-flip is usually one of my best jumps in practice but it's a new element for me and under pressure it's been a bit tough. In the short I landed it really nicely."

His free skate includes two triple Lutzes, one triple-flip, two triple-loops and two double-Axels.

Hampole's total score of 139.82 was not a personal best. The judging system has been revamped this season and skaters are being marked slightly lower than in previous years. But he figures both his performances in Edmonton were better than a few weeks ago at the Super Series B.C. Yukon section championships in Coquitlam, where he finished third.

The two junior men who finished ahead of him - section champion Alexa Rakis of Burnaby and Beres Clements of Gibsons - finished fourth and third respectively at Skate Canada Challenge. Alistair Lam of Hamilton won the gold medal and Jack Dushenski of Toronto was the silver medalist.

A back injury that's been bothering Hampole most of the year refused to go away and has curtailed his training. He's still receiving physiotherapy and he's hoping his pain will diminish as he gears up for the biggest competition of the season.

"I'm still injured," he said. "Right before my long program I had to make some modifications just because I was experiencing pain in my back. Moving forward after Challenge, I'll be in rehab for a while and I'm still on the ice but I'm reducing my load and hopefully that will help me out."

Coached by Rory Allen and Andrea Ludditt, Hampole will have about a month to fine tune before he packs his bags for the Canadian Tire national championships in Saint John, N.B., Jan. 13-20. He'll have a couple days to adjust to the four-hour time change before he skates his short program on Jan. 14.

The junior men's free program is scheduled for Jan. 16.

Last year, as a first-year junior, Hampole finished 14th at nationals. Because of his August birthday, which falls after the June 30th cutoff, he's eligible to compete as a junior skater for three more years.

"My goal is definitely top 10," he said. "I'm just going to continue my training and keep doing what I have been doing this season and I think it will go really well if I just do that. I think we're set on a good plan right now."

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