Canada's figure skating champions at Skate Canada International are leading the charge to Sochi. Based on Canada's terrific results at the recent World Championships, Canada is considered to be the leader in the sport of figure skating.
It is the only country that has two 'top 5' placements in three different disciplines and it has qualified to enter the largest team in figure skating at the Sochi Olympics. Canada's champions will begin their quest for those Games here in Saint John, New Brunswick.
In the Men's event, three-time World Champion Patrick Chan is the prohibitive favourite this Olympic season. In the past, he has had a history of less than stellar performances at Skate Canada. He typically works out the kinks early in the season and builds towards being 'performance ready' by the World Championships in March.
In order to be more prepared, he has approached this shortened Olympic season differently, cutting back on shows and tours and focusing on preparation and training. With only three-and-a-half months until the Games begin, he is hoping to hit the ground running and we can expect to see a more refined and consistent Chan this early in the season.
He does have some room to breathe because unlike some of his competitors here, he knows that, barring injury, he will be going to the Olympic Games. It is very different for the impressive Japanese men's squad who are under enormous pressure right at the start of the season. Japan has six men who, on any given day, are each capable of winning a Grand Prix event or winning one of the three Olympic spots that is up for grabs in their country. Qualifying for their Olympic team begins here at Skate Canada. They will be Chan's greatest threat here, and much of the season.
Olympic Champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir make their Grand Prix debut this season in Saint John. In the last three years of competition they have brought ballroom dance to the ice in a Latin medley , introduced us to the characters and story of the film "Funny Face" and shocked the ice dance world as they explored modern dance in their artistically brilliant 'Carmen.' Each program made a statement and brought back, for me, the era of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean when they switched from one genre to the next with equal parts mastery and conviction, taking the sport of ice dance to new heights. The difference, though, between then and now is that the 'sport' of ice dance is measured and technical requirements are demanded and quantified, so it is essential for Tessa and Scott on their road to the Games to show that they can nail the technical details while delivering the artistic innovation they are known for.
World Pairs bronze medalists and Canadian Champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have just seen their teammates and rivals Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch pull in huge scores at the opening Grand Prix event last week. While their eyes will be fixed on gold here, in the back of their minds will be the scores from Skate America that they will strive to meet or beat.
The news has not been good for Canada's Ladies Champion. Kaetlyn Osmond has been injured and therefore has lost training time heading into Saint John. We know that she is a competitor who can rise to the occasion and deliver but is she physically ready and up to the challenge here? It is a tall order against a tough field of American hot shots, a seasoned Japanese World silver medalist and a young Russian phenom hoping to answer Russia's prayers heading into Sochi.
There is no easing into it gently in the fall of an Olympic season. The Olympic buzz and excitement is already palpable. This is the time when we see who is technically ready and who has that quintessential Olympic music and program. If you haven't mastered the quad, the triple-triple, or the lift in practice, there is little chance you will execute it in competition; especially under the pressure of the Olympic season.
Canada has come into this season as the team to watch. The world will be watching to see Canada's Champions unveil their Olympic material and assess their level of readiness. The message they send out will define their season.