This week, on a Very Special Episode of “Battle of the Blades,” we learned about the people who have inspired our hockey players on their journeys to this moment [attempting to perform respectably in figure skates on a Canadian competition reality television show].
Each routine started with a brief video segment where the hockey player talked about the personal heroes in their lives; the largest video screen in the rink was showing relevant photos and clips while the pairs skated. “Hometown Week” — sometimes painfully maudlin, sometimes deeply touching.
Jessica Campbell was skating in memory of her older brother Josh, who was killed in a car accident. She and partner Asher Hill performed a routine, to “I Lived” by One Republic, that utilized a powerful one-arm lift, flashy spins that sent Campbell over and around Hill’s body, and some nicely coordinated footwork sequences to tell the story of how it feels to be raised up by a supportive older sibling.
Judge Natalie Spooner told Campbell that, in spite of the grief that she was holding, “You have such a positive outlook, and that is how people see you; you light up any room you go into.”
Judge Scott Moir said it was the pair’s best skate of the competition so far.
Judge Elladj Baldé said, “You two bring so much energy to this show. You match the music really well with your enthusiasm, with your positivity, but also with your skating skills — and there’s something really really likable about the both of you; your friendship is based on such high positive energy, and it’s infectious. I can feel that — Canada’s falling in love with that.”
Host Ron MacLean asked Campbell to talk about what she’s learned about figure skating over the past few weeks, and she said, “It’s nothing like what I teach in power skating. The control, the dynamics, the stability ... it’s phenomenal. I have so much admiration for what these guys do ... it’s been a journey, and I’m loving it.”
Campbell and Hill earned a combined 17.0 from the judges.
Meghan Agosta and Andrew Poje skated to “Rise” by Katy Perry in honor of Agosta’s youngest daughter (who was born premature and happened to be celebrating her second birthday that night at a watch party hosted by Team Canada teammate Laura Fortino).
The pair began with modest lifts close to ice level and built to soaring overhead lifts and big skills that showed off their trust in each other. Agosta is making slow but visible progress, to my untrained eyes. She skates cautiously, and doesn’t hold a pose as long an experienced figure skater would, but she’s getting herself into these scary positions, which is significant in itself. Still, you can see that she’s counting the beat and reminding herself of what comes next in the choreography as she moves through the routine.
Baldé praised Agosta for her controlled edges: “That shows quality in skating skills. But I had trouble connecting with the movement. I felt like there was ... less commitment to the movement, but the smile told the story really well.”
Spooner praised Agosta’s determination to try newer, harder skills: “It maybe didn’t get up all the way, but you looked beautiful up there ... you guys took those risks, but they were beautiful when you got into the positions.”
Moir offered actionable advice: “It’s a little bit reserved ... I think it has to start with your center. We told you to work on your legs and your arms; you did that. In order to go far in this competition, I want to see you moving more with your center.”
Agosta and Poje earned a combined 16.6 from the judges.
And finally, “the dreaded skate-off” pitted Jennifer Botterill and Eric Radford against the pair of Akim Aliu and Vanessa James. (Canada! I am shocked by your choices! Don’t you even listen to the judges’ well-informed comments?)
In a tribute to her father, Jennifer Botterill skated with Eric Radford to “The Girl You Think I Am” by Carrie Underwood.
As ever, the routine showed off Botterill’s graceful positioning and long lines, a couple of new [to them] types of lifts, and a rather terrifying spiral.
The judges found the routine to be a little timid, though.
Moir said, “Jennifer, ever since you came out in week one you looked like a figure skater to me. Tonight I thought you skated beautifully, but I think it was a little safe.”
Spooner said, “You’re going to need to come up with bigger tricks, and I think you’ve got those, like that spiral at the end. That was beautiful ... you showed your core strength; your shoulder strength.”
Their total score of 16.8 was the same score the judges gave the other bottom-two pair of Aliu and James, and so no one was sent home from this episode. I guess it would be too cruel to cut someone during Hometown Week.
Based on the judges’ scores, Campbell and Hill were in third place among the seven remaining pairs, Botterill and Radford were in a tie for fourth place, and Agosta and Poje were in a tie for sixth. The Canadian fans, obviously, have different favorites than the judges do, so who knows how things will change once those votes have been tallied (I will not make a reference to the U.S. elections here.)
And MacLean signed off with the news that next week’s episode will focus on Canadian music. Can’t wait!