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Gilles, Poirier clinch gold at Skate Canada; Sakamoto finishes 1st in women’s

Skate was Gilles’ first time back in competition since she shared ovarian cancer diagnosis in May
Kaori Sakamoto, of Japan, performs her women’s free program during the Skate Canada International figure skating competition, in Vancouver, on Saturday, October 28, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier have once again claimed gold on home soil, finishing on top of the ice dance program at Skate Canada International.

The pair, skating in a competition for the first time since Gilles shared her ovarian cancer diagnosis in May, had a score of 131.46 in the free dance for a total score of 219.01.

“We’re really thrilled,” said Gilles. “It’s taken a long time for us to get to this moment in our career and I think we’re really starting to enjoy each moment we step out onto that ice. I think we believe in ourselves just a little bit more.”

Great Britain’s Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson, who had the audience clapping along to their “Rocky” themed program, finished just over five points behind the Canadians in the free dance to end up second overall.

Lithuania’s Allison Reed and Saulius Ambrulevicius rounded out the unchanged top three from Friday’s competition.

“It’s been a long road for us, especially teaming up as we had our different careers,” said Ambrulevicius. “Long work and dreams do come true.”

Gilles and Poirier are the first team to win four consecutive Skate Canada gold medals since fellow Canadians Victor Kraatz and Shae-Lynn Bourne. Kratz and Bourne won five straight Skate Canada medals from 1994-95.

“Canada has such a strong legacy of ice dance,” said Poirier. “We’ve been so inspired by so many teams that came before us and we owe, in part our success, to all those teams who always pushed us to be better throughout our careers.”

Fellow Canadians Maxime Deschamps and Deanna Stellato-Dudek took home gold in the pairs, with both exuberantly celebrating after finishing their free skating program and their overall score of 214.64.

Their early single-Axel, double-Axel combo brought the Canadian crowd to its feet.

“It’s been more than one season that we’ve been waiting to have a check mark beside every box,” said Stellato-Dudek. “Just really pleased we can show what we’re able to do in practice in competition.”

Kaori Sakamoto continued her momentum, and dominance, in the women’s competition at Skate Canada International to claim gold on Saturday.

The reigning world champion scored a season-best score of 151 in the free skate program to finish first in the competition and overall with a total score of 226.13.

“Today I was able to perform exactly how I wanted to perform, so I’m really relieved and also very satisfied with the performance overall,” she said through a translator.

Sakamoto celebrated her winning result alongside her coach by pretending to eat a giant stuffed piece of sushi given to her by a fan from the crowd.

Chaeyon Kim, 16, of South Korea finished second overall in her Grand Prix debut.

“I had an ankle injury last week so I was worried, so even though the program wasn’t perfect I hope the results are good,” she said.

Sakamoto’s Japan teammate Rino Matsuike rounded out the top three, the same order as Friday’s short program.

Canada’s Madeline Schizas finished fourth overall (189.91) after a dramatic rise up the rankings from eighth due to the strength of her second-place free skate program.

Schizas said her short program score on the first day of the event was the lowest score she’s ever posted outside of competing as a junior.

“I was kind of upset yesterday,” she said. “I went and looked at skating scores and that was (my) lowest score ever.

“So I wasn’t thrilled but I knew I could rally today … the error I made yesterday was pretty fluky.”

Grand Prix 2022-23 silver medallist Sota Yamamoto won gold in the men’s singles, while favoured South Korean skater Junhwan Cha entered the free skate second overall but fell several times, dropping him to ninth overall.

Canadians Wesley Chiu (221.54), Conrad Orzel (213.12) and Aleksa Rakic (189.38) finished in seventh, 10th and 12th overall respectively.