Champs duo dynamic in one-two finish at nationals

There’s a three-year gap, as well as the wide variance of what life seems at 14 and 17.

But when it comes to ice, Aleksa Rakic and Beres Clements share a lot in common.

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The pair, members of the Burnaby-based Champs International Skating Centre of B.C., set the standard at the Canadian Tire national figure skating championships two weeks ago in Saint John, NB.

Rakic, 14, delivered the gold in his first trip as a junior at the nationals, while Clements was right on his skate blades to finish second, just eight points back.

“I wanted to win,” remarked Rakic, a Grade 9 student at Burnaby Central. “(My goal was) to get on my levels and do the best that I can with more flow and speed in the whole solo, with nice jumps.”

In the short program, Rakic trailed Ontario’s Corey Circelli in a close grouping, 68.79 points to 68.44. In fourth place, Clements posted a skate of 64.44.

It all came down to the free skate, where the teen racked up a tally of 130.66, for a personal best total of 199.10, and the gold. Clements delivered with a 126.58, boosting his overall numbers to 191.02, 10 points clear of third spot.

With that finish, the Richmond native leapfrogged over two Ontario skaters for the silver. He credits a good string of jumps for securing the points.

“The jumps, obviously, but I think just the flow and the way I performed my solos was like a bit above what I’ve been doing all year.

“It was pretty calm. I wasn’t worked up at all, I just paced my day out and skated,” the 17-year-old McNair Secondary student said. “I knew (the free program score) was going to be a good score because I had done everything to the best of my ability.”

Both Rakic and Clements, who train under coach Joanne McLeod, have established a friendly rivalry during training sessions at 8-Rinks.

“They’re not brothers but they’re very fun with each other. One will do something or the other will growl, says ‘I’ll catch you on the next session.’ They have lessons together and for the most part has been very positive,” said McLeod.

She noted that having the top-two junior men’s skaters from the same club is rare, and an extremely proud achievement.

“I think as a coach that’s an unbelievable pride. Most coaches have one skater, but to have the two – they’ve helped each other along the way and it was very special to have one and two,” she said.

The Champs team also notched a silver in novice men’s by Shuma Mugii, and a bronze in novice women’s by Emily Millard.

Although Rakic is young, he’s established himself in a confident manner. Last year at an ISU junior Grand Prix event in Italy, he captured the Egna Trophy novice division title while representing Canada. That kind of set the table for this past season, McLeod said.

“Aleksa had two triple-triple combinations in his long program, and he has intricate spins so his spins are quite a bit more difficult and carry a little more difficulty than the others, so he is able to accumulate points in that capacity,” she noted.

For Clements, there was a template to go on, having competed at nationals a year ago and finishing fifth as a novice. He also skated for Canada at last year’s Egna Trophy in Italy, capturing a junior men’s silver. Those things all help prepare him for the step up to the senior level.

“He overcame a lot. He use to get pretty worked up in competitions,” recalled McLeod. “He has worked very hard not just in the training but in the mindset to not let any roadblocks or distractions get into his head. I think he aced that at the nationals. For a skater to do their personal best in the moment, this is the recipe of a champion. And he was able to do that.”

It resulted in personal best scores in both events for Clements.

Rakic has set his sights on checking off a triple axel next year, as well as a quad. He’s already established a good way with spins.

“There was an ease to it. Like Aleksa says, he trusts his training and he trains very well. That’s his ammunition. He’s well trained and prepared. If something goes off he doesn’t have to panic too much because he can pull back with his long-term consistency.”

Both await to hear if Skate Canada has any international competitions in the near future.

“It is a bit of a doorway. I’m an old cat so I’ve done them too many times,” said McLeod of the Grand Prix circuit. “It’s not so much the opportunity, it’s these are the steps you go through to take them to a senior world championship or an Olympic championship. That’s more where I keep my target.”

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