PRINCE GEORGE, B.C.
Rachel Pettitt says she was never so nervous to perform as when she was about to step on the ice at the Canada Winter Games on Thursday.
She had performed in front of big crowds before, but perhaps not one with so many loud, cheering Yukon fans.
Volunteers manning the door began to worry about fire regulations with so many in the building. Yukon’s boys hockey team was in such a rush to come over from a neighbouring stadium to see Pettitt perform following their game, they still had all their gear on, minus the helmets, gloves and skates.
The pressure was on, expectations for Pettitt were high, and she would not disappoint.
Pettitt gave a flawless performance to win novice female gold in Prince George.
“Today, before I skated, I was probably more nervous than I’ve ever been before I’ve gone out,” said Pettitt. “I got out there, heard the crowd, and I thought, ‘Last skate, Rachel, you can do this.’ Then I pretty much let go through my whole program and I had fun.”
“My whole program - everything felt so good,” she added, “Every time the crowd cheered it gave me a boost of confidence to keep going and I got more energized, so it’s amazing.”
Pettitt capped her competitive season scoring a personal best of 76.98 in her free program, for a personal best combined score of 115.87, more than six points up from the silver medalist.
Pettitt, who will move up to the junior level next season, knew it would be the last time she would perform the program and she wanted to make it a good one.
“It was really exciting, I had so much fun. This is the last time I skate this program, in this dress, and I’ve had it for two years, so I wanted to finish it off with a bang,” she said.
Pettitt went into Thursday’s competition in second place, after finishing behind silver medalist Alison Schumacher of Ontario in the short on Tuesday. She scored a 38.89.
“I was happy with it,” said Pettitt. “I didn’t have the best skate, but going into the long you don’t need a perfect skate going in. It kind of boosted my confidence to say, ‘You can still do this.’”
Pettitt has now become a Canada Games champion a little over a month after becoming a national one.
The 15-year-old won Yukon’s first-ever gold at the 2015 National Skating Championships in Ontario last month. She won that one with a combined score of 112.87, her previous best up to Thursday.
“They are both national events, obviously, but this one felt just so much more exciting,” said Pettitt. “I had so many more people watching me, so many Yukon people watching. And the whole week has been so much fun, I got to watch other sports, got to collect pins, got to meet new people. It’s so much fun.”
Pettitt qualified for the nationals after winning silver at the Skate Canada Challenge in December, marking the best finish by a Yukoner at the event. She made Challenge with a silver at the B.C./Yukon Section Championships in November, simultaneously winning B.C. Skating’s season-long Pond to Podium Super Series.
“It was the end of a phenomenal year; I felt like it couldn’t get any better because she won the Canadian championships,” said Yukon coach Jason Mongrain. “I was wrong about that one, it did get better. This was a little bit better than it was at Canadians, which was basically flawless, but in this one the quality was just a little bit higher.”
Mongrain has been working with Pettitt at the Kelowna Skating Club the last three seasons. He was very impressed by how she handled herself, going into Prince George as the favourite.
“What made it so sweet is she had a lot more pressure than she did at Canadians,” said Mongrain. “At Canadians she was one of several gold medal threats, but not a clear favourite. Here, she’s coming to this event as the Canadian champion and was the clear favourite here.
“There were a lot of expectations of her doing well here and you don’t know how the athlete is going to respond to that situation. She responded with flying colours.”
All of Pettitt’s successes this season have been a dozen years in the making. She started skating at just three years old, said coach and mom Trish Pettitt.
“I am pretty proud,” said Trish. “I think the main thing is, as a coach and a parent, you just want them to go out there and do what they are capable of doing. At the end of the day, if that results in the marks and the medals, then great.
“She does love to perform and I think she is a bit of a perfectionist, so I think that combination is good.”
Those back in Whitehorse who want see Yukon’s national and Canada Games champion in action will get their chance next week. Pettitt will perform with fellow members of the Arctic Edge Skating Club at its season ending Ice Show on March 7.
Pettitt will be preparing a new routine especially for it, she said.
“I’m going to take a break, get some new programs, get some new dresses. I have a show in Whitehorse and I have to choreograph a routine for that.”
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