Patrick Chan skates during a practice session at the 2018 Canadian National Skating Championships in Vancouver, B.C. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Daleman leads after short program a day after learning she has pneumonia

VANCOUVER — A month before the curtain closes on their outstanding career, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir might be closer to perfection than ever before.

But the three-time world champions still see room for improvement.

Skating to an upbeat medley of “Sympathy For The Devil,” “Hotel California,” and Santana’s “Oye Como Va,” Virtue and Moir scored a whopping 85.12 points in the short dance Friday at the Canadian figure skating championships. A perfect score for their program, Moir said, is about 86 points.

“It’s a great boost and we’ll have to maintain that momentum, but we’ll watch the video, and we know we’ll still have a lot of things we want to improve,” Virtue said.

“We still have five points (in us),” Moir added, laughing.

The score tops their world short dance record of 82.68, set at Skate Canada International in October, but national championship marks don’t qualify for records.

Still, they’ll take it.

“That’s a big score. We’re not quite there yet. Maybe in a month,” Moir said.

A day after she was diagnosed with pneumonia, Gabrielle Daleman won the women’s short program. Skating to a French rendition of “Carmen,” the world bronze medallist scored 77.88 points to take a six-point lead over Kaetlyn Osmond into Saturday’s free program.

“I am just most proud of how I’ve handled everything, I didn’t find out how sick I was (until Thursday), I just knew I couldn’t breathe properly,” said Daleman, who saw the Canadian team doctor after practice Thursday.

In pairs, two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have a huge 13-point lead after the short program.

In ice dance, Toronto’s Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier are second with 78.37, Carolane Soucissse of Chateauguay, Que., and Shane Firus of North Vancouver, B.C., are third, while perennial runners-up Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., are fourth after Poje fell during the make-or-break twizzles — side-by-side travelling spins that are worth major marks in ice dance.

“It happened so quick that it’s kind of hard to analyze (what happened), but I lost an edge, and all of sudden hands on the ice,” Poje said. “It shocks you for a second, but you just have to be professional and get back into the performance and just try your hardest to bring the audience back into what you’re trying to create.”

Waiting in the wings, Moir heard the gasp of the crowd.

“It was a good thing for me to refocus in after that,” he said. “As friends you feel bad for them, but we know what program they have (Saturday), we have no doubt they’re going to climb into the spot they belong in.”

Virtue, from London, Ont., and Moir, from Ilderton, Ont., won gold in the same west coast city at the 2010 Olympics, but had to settle for silver in 2014 in Sochi. They took a two-year hiatus then returned with a vengeance, winning every event but the Grand Prix Final in December, where they finished behind France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

Friday’s program was the perfect Olympic tuneup, Virtue and Moir said, because it didn’t come easy.

“That’s just the way it is sometimes, when people skate together it’s so close sometimes you have to fight a little bit, I think what really kept us together were our cues and being so connected,” Moir said. ”Some days you have to fight for turns, and have the tendency to go a little scratchy, but we were able to keep away from that… but you want those gritty performances going into an Olympic Games, and you know that you’ve gone through them.”

Daleman, meanwhile, opened with a triple-triple combination on her way to a clean program, throwing two celebratory hands in the air when she finished.

“(Pneumonia) sounds bad, and it kinda is, because you can’t breathe. But I look at it as extra cardio training,” Daleman said, laughing. ”My friends were saying ‘How are you going to deal with this?’ and I was sending them laughing emojis, like ‘Pssh. Extra cardio training.’ If I can do this now not breathing, having half oxygen, imagine what I can do at full strength. This was just a great confidence booster.”

Daleman, a 19-year-old from Newmarket, Ont., won bronze at last year’s world championships, while Osmond claimed silver.

The 22-year-old Osmond, from Marystown, N.L., had an uncharacteristic fall on her opening element — a triple flip — but skated the remainder of her program to Edith Piaf’s “Sous le Ciel de Paris” cleanly to score 71.41. It’s the first time Osmond has trailed after the short program all season.

“It is really frustrating not doing my first element, but overall I’m so happy I was able to come back after a fall, a very uncharacteristic fall for me, and be able to keep my focus and do everything else the best I could,” Osmond said.

Sarah Tamura, a 16-year-old from Vancouver, is third after the short program.

Duhamel, from Lively, Ont., and Radford, from Ilderton, Ont., scored 81.78 with their skate to April Meservy’s “With or Without You.” Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau are second with 68.51, while Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro scored 68.28 to sit third.

“I can already think of little areas, I could have finished my cross-over better, we could have had more fluidity out of that Lutz, all these little things that are going to help us score that 81 points or higher once we get to Pyeongchang,” Duhamel said. “Overall, I think it was a heartfelt performance.”

The Canadian championships determine the Olympic team for Pyeongchang. Canada has three berths in women’s singles at next month’s Olympics.

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