Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro build their skating programs with large crowds in mind.
Which made watching themselves win the pairs event of the Skate Canada Challenge, a unique virtual event of prerecorded programs, bittersweet. They were happy to be back competing in any fashion after an almost yearlong layoff but lamented the loss of fans.
Of all the sports played out in front of empty arenas amid COVID-19, figure skating might be the most jarring -- like a symphony orchestra playing in an empty concert hall.
"The competitions are definitely driven by the audience, trying to bring them along with us," Marinaro said. "So having that aspect completely gone definitely changes things a lot. It's definitely a different experience."
The two-time Canadian champions earned 135.18 points for their free skate to Damien Rice's "The Blower's Daughter," for a total score of 206.22. Lori-Ann Matte and Thierry Ferland, third after the short program, moved up to claim silver (172.42), while Deanna Stellato and Maxime Deschamps were third (170.65).
The second wave of COVID-19 forced Skate Canada to hold the event virtually. Skaters performed their programs at their home rinks over the past few weeks, then submitted videos, which are being broadcast -- and judged in real time -- in an effort to simulate a live competition.
No fans were permitted in the rinks for filming, only the skaters' coaches, a video crew and a Skate Canada official who made sure the rules were followed.
Almost the entire Canadian team has been grounded since the global pandemic began. The world championships last March in Montreal were one of the first major international events scrapped due to COVID-19. Skate Canada International in October was also canceled.
The virtual Challenge is a qualifying event for the Canadian championships, Feb. 8-14 in Vancouver. The event is intended to be live, but with COVID-19 cases on the rise across the country, there is a chance the championship will be held virtually.