Moore-Towers, Marinaro lead after short program at virtual Skate Canada Challenge

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro are the leaders after the short pairs program in the unique and virtual Skate Canada Challenge.

The two scored 71.04 points in a program that was pre-recorded in their home rink in Oakville, Ont., due to COVID-19.

Skating to Alabama Shakes’ “Gimme all Your Love,” their only major bobble came on their throw triple loop — Moore-Towers touched a hand down and nearly fell on the landing.

Deanna Stellato and Maxime Deschamps are second with 61.19 points, while Lori-Ann Matte and Thierry Ferland are third with a score of 59.01.

The long program will be broadcast Saturday.

Rising COVID-19 cases across the country forced Skate Canada to hold the event virtually.

Skaters performed their programs at their home rinks over the past few weeks, following the same competition rules such as length of warmup. They were only allowed one shot.

There were no fans in the rinks, only a handful of coaches, a video crew and a Skate Canada official there to ensure rules were followed.

In an effort to simulate a live skating competition, the programs are being streamed online — and judged in real time by judges watching video and spread across the country.

Almost the entire Canadian team has been sidelined since COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the world championships last March in Montreal.

Keegan Messing, who won bronze in men’s singles at Skate America, is the only Canadian skater to have competed since then.

The Challenge is a qualifying event for the Canadian championships Feb. 8-14 in Vancouver. It’s planned as a live event, but with COVID-19 cases on the rise across Canada, there is a chance the championship will be held virtually as well.

The Challenge programs for junior and senior ice dance, and senior men and women, meanwhile, will be broadcast on, Jan. 15-17.