Canadian champion Alaine Chartrand wanted to be fierce this season. And on Saturday at the Autumn Classic, wearing a dress inspired by Joannie Rochette – who more fierce than she? – Chartrand won the free skate with moxie, upending Mirai Nagasu , who in 2010, had been fourth at the Olympics.
Chartrand took to the ice dressed in teal, because it reminded her of what Rochette wore during her emotional free skate at the Vancouver Olympics, when she took the bronze medal. For her entire career, Chartrand’s grandmother had sewn Alaine’s skating garments, except for two. This precious one, the colour of the deepest ocean green, had some extra help from another designer who tended to its structural complexities.
But on the way to Montreal, Chartrand’s mother stitched on the gems. Her grandmother sewed on the shiny braid. This costume was done the day before Chartrand came to Montreal for the Autumn Classic, her season’s debut.
With this battle dress newly minted, Chartrand skated the way she had always dreamed. She had waited since March, when her world championship had not gone well, to put the memory behind her. The words spilled forth like never before.
She had been only sixth in the short program on Thursday after she fell on her triple Lutz combo, and was forced to stick a triple toe loop at the end of a triple loop, not a combination she had actually practiced much.
“I think I handled my adrenalin a little bit better today,” Chartrand said of her triumphant free skate, which earned a score of 129.50, second highest long program score by a women so far this season.
In the free, Chartrand powered through a triple Lutz – triple toe loop (oh my, it was high), a triple Salchow, a triple flip (although done with a bit of a wrong edge), a double Axel – single loop –triple Salchow (underrotated), a second triple Lutz, a triple loop and a double Axel – double loop. She earned level fours for all elements. And the judges showered her with bonus marks of +2 and +3 for her step sequence.
Chartrand finished second to Nagasu, who won on the strength of the huge lead she had built up in the short program. Nagasu earned a total of 189.11, while Chartrand finished with 186.11. Elizabet Tursynbaeva of Kazakhstan was third.
“The short was my first out,” Chartrand said. “I went for it, but it was a little bit wild. And today, I kept better control. I took it one[element] at a time.”
The national championship that she was last January was such a huge breakthrough for Chartrand, who had always been on the outside peeking in, almost there, but not quite. Most importantly she proved to herself that she could put two really good programs together. She still doesn’t think of herself as Canadian champion. Every once in a while, she still has to pinch herself. “Every time someone says ‘Canadian champion,’ I’m like: ‘Oh yeah, that happened. That wasn’t just one of those really good dreams. That’s what it felt like when it happened.”
Chartrand skated to music dreamed up by choreographer David Wilson to make her feel fierce. And he settled on a soundtrack from the HBO television series “Rome.” The music has an exotic feel, with a little Egyptian touch. Chartrand has never skated to anything like it.
She loves this routine. “It’s very fierce and it has the right energy to it that I want to feel going into my jumps, that makes me want to go for it. It’s powerful. “
The past few seasons, she’s skated to movie soundtracks such as “Dr. Zhivago” and “Gone with the Wind” that feature a sad story. “This year I wanted something that was powerful all the way through,” she said. “So that I could feel fierce going into my jumps.”
Despite the gung-ho spirit of this thing, Chartrand maintained her focus throughout. “Of course, landing my Lutz-toe at the beginning with a bang like that, and the crowd reaction gave me an adrenalin spike. And then I have to do an easy little triple Salchow after to keep my calm and get that done. I knew I had a long way to go, so I kept my momentum.
“I thought: ‘This is really going to be good,’ but this is not something you repeat to yourself in your head. That’s when you make a mistake.”
She did not focus on scores. “I just wanted to feel good when I got off the ice,” she said. Mission accomplished.
Nagasu did not skate the way she wanted to. She piled up a laundry list of underrotations on jumps, something she had been guilty of in the past. But she knows why and she knows now what to do about it.
“It wasn’t the perfect program, but it’s a step on the way up,” she said. She felt she rushed all of her elements. “I was just antsy to get it done, instead of letting things happen,” she said. “I tried to force things. I got things done but I didn’t get them done the way I wanted to. I want to get rid of those unders.
“And I know I can do it really clearly, as I did yesterday. I think I will go home and work on my breathing.”
A couple of seasons ago, Nagasu said she “fell into a wall” and seriously injured her knee. The accident caused her to sit out a season. “I felt really left out,” she said.
The next season, she tried hard to make it back onto the scene. “I’ve always wanted to compete better,” she said. “I think I always trained really hard, but maybe not as smart as I do now I definitely wasn’t as strong a competitor.”
It was easy when she was 13, she said. She didn’t really think about anything. It didn’t mean as much to her then as it does now.
“I think [coach Tom Zakrajsek] has helped me to be a stronger competitor,” she said. “We’ve trained more smartly and more efficiently.”