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Richmond skating star, 16, beats best in world to bring home gold

Connaught's Wesley Chiu overcame some early errors to win the Junior Grand Prix in France, the first B.C. athlete to do so for 15 years

Standing with his coach, Richmond figure skating star Wesley Chiu waited patiently, but nervously, for three long minutes as the judges mulled his final routine.

Wesley, 16, had held a commanding 13-point lead heading into the deciding long program at the 2021 ISU Junior Grand Prix in Courcheval, France on the weekend.

And he was worried a couple of early mistakes in his long program may have cost him a chance at an amazing gold medal, which would have been the first for a B.C. athlete in 15 years at this top, international level.

But when the scores finally came in, Wesley, as the last skater, knew he’d done enough to hold onto an incredible first place, beating Estonian rival Arlet Levandi by almost three points.

“I was worried, as I had made a few mistakes, so it was nerve-wracking,” Wesley told the Richmond News about waiting for the news.

“I knew I had to fight hard to keep that medal position in sight.

“It was a big relief as, going into the competition, I had put a lot of work in. All the stress came off.”

And standing on the podium, as the national anthem played, his proud coach, Keegan Murphy, said he recalled all the sacrifices Wesley and the Connaught Skating Team had made since the start of the pandemic to give the rising star the best chance possible at the highest level.

“Our goal was 200 points and he got 199.9, so, that’s pretty close,” laughed Murphy, adding that 200 would normally be enough to challenge for a gold medal.

“We didn’t pick a result goal, as the result is often out of our hands with the judging.

“I wasn’t sure (if Wesley had won). I knew it was going to be a close first or a close second.

“It was a very special feeling (to see Wesley on the podium), as I’ve been teaching him since he was seven.

“There were a lot of very difficult situations over the last 18 months with COVID, so it was very validating to see him on that podium, knowing all the sacrifices and wise decisions we made to keep Wesley healthy and engaged.”

The international event in France was the first to have live judges and a live audience since the pandemic, added Murphy.

Wesley, a student in the sports program at Magee secondary in Vancouver, said it “was a great feeling to be up there for the country” on the podium.

He said his parents watched the event live on YouTube from the edge of their seats at home in Richmond.

“They were very excited, I don’t think they saw this coming,” added Wesley, who is now setting his sights on the next Junior Grand Prix international in Russia in 10 days and, further ahead, the national seniors next year.