This was supposed to be the week Anabelle Langlois and Patrice Archetto finally took over as the top pair in Canadian figure skating. Instead, the title-starved duo self-destructed on the John Labatt Centre ice in the senior pair free skate last night and failed to salvage what should have been a rubber-stamped trip to the world championships in Moscow in March.
Skating last with every chance to win their first national crown, Langlois, of Grand-Mere, Que., and Archetto, from Montreal, finished a disappointing third, while defending champsValerie Marcoux of Gatineau, Que., and Craig Buntin of Kelowna, B.C., took the back-door route for their second straight Canadian victory.
But the shock of the night was the second-place finish by Buntin and Marcoux's inexperienced St-Leonard, Que., clubmates, Jean-Sebastien Fecteau and Japanese import Utako Wakamatsu, who have only been working together for two years. They weren't perfect but still good enough to book the second and final plane ticket to worlds.
Langlois and Archetto had finished second at the past two nationals and third at the two before that. But this third-place finish hurt the most.
"I'm beyond disappointed and just angry," the 23-year-old Langlois said. "I don't know why I skated like that.
"Two years ago in Saskatoon, it was Pat who struggled. Last year (in Edmonton), we both skated poorly. This time it was me."
Archetto didn't have any answers either, but he understood his partner's frustration.
"When you're part of a team, you don't want to let anybody down," he said.
Buntin and Marcoux, who skated first in the evening's final group of four, figured their performance would leave them, at best, in third. They actually bumped into each other on the ice after flubbing a felt if they were lucky, they would squeak to a second-place finish and a spot on the worlds team.
They never dreamed of being back on top of the podium. They're the first Canadian pair to win back-to-back national titles since Olympic champs Jamie Sale and David Pelletier in 2001 and '02.
"We watched them all and still didn't feel like we had it. It feels good to win but it doesn't feel good to win this way," the 24-year-old Buntin said.
"Honestly, if we finished second last year (in Edmonton) with the way we skated, we'd still be happier than we are with this one.
"We're disappointed. We wanted to put on a good show for this crowd. We just skated with somebody else's legs out there."
Buntin admitted the highs and lows of nationals makes for some incredibly nervous moments.
He pinched his thighs and quipped, "It's the first time I've felt them in an hour. There's a lot of pressure."
Buntin also mentioned that training at the St-Leonard club will be a lot more colourful with mates Fecteau and Wakamatsu also preparing for worlds.
Getting old, pairless and nearly ready to quit competitive skating, the 29-year-old Fecteau's skating career was saved two years ago by the arrival of Wakamatsu, a tiny five-foot sparkplug.
"At the time, I was feeling down about nationals (in 2002 at Hamilton)," Fecteau said. "We (he and former partner Val Saurette) finished fifth there and it was the last year that Canada was able to send three pairs to the worlds. We thought we had a chance because we had medalled (finished third the previous three of four years heading into Hamilton).