Podium Picks for Skate Canada

Thursday, October 24, 2013

This weekend’s Skate Canada International in Saint John is going to be an interesting competition across the board.

For the Canadians, it’s a chance to get some competition experience, and develop or enhance their credibility on the way to vying for one of the Olympic berths for Sochi 2014.

The men’s event is the one I am waiting for. Three-time and current world champion Patrick Chan of Toronto is the man to beat, on paper at least, in Sochi.

His road to the Olympic Games starts in Saint John and taking the title will by no means be a walk in the park. He has the skating goods – outstanding skating skill, overall technique and choreography – but will have to deliver on the day. The day for him this week happens at Skate Canada.

I think Chan’s primary rivals at the event will be two of the Japanese skaters.

Nobunari Oda a few seasons ago was the Japanese man to watch. He ran into a couple of problems on and off the ice and slipped off the radar. That all changed in August, when he beat Chan in the long program at a local Toronto-area competition, signalling his return to contender status.

The other Japanese man in question is Yuzuru Hanyu. He beat Chan at the Grand Prix final last season, taking the silver ahead of Chan’s bronze.

Hanyu has the same choreographic advantages that Chan has in Jeffrey Buttle and David Wilson. He also has the same youthful energy and ability.

The men’s event will be a great test of skill against competitive will.

Eager to see Virtue and Moir

The dance event belongs to the two top Canadian teams. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will undoubtedly end up with their fourth Skate Canada title in Saint John. I like what I have seen on YouTube and look forward to seeing their programs live in order to see how they stack up against the field.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje finished in an impressive fifth place in the world in 2013 – and that was after Weaver’s swift recovery from a catastrophic ankle break last December. Looking poised and prepared at the Skate Canada High Performance Camp in September, I think that they will easily take the silver at Skate Canada.

The women’s event presents a bit of a quandary for me. The Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond was the surprise winner at last year’s Skate Canada and followed it up with an eighth-place finish at worlds.

Subsequently, though, she has struggled a bit with injuries so I’m not convinced that she’s as prepared as she will be in a couple of months.

It’s for that reason that I’m looking to a couple of American women, namely Gracie Gold and Courtney Hicks, to fill in the gap.

Both women are strong competitors and I like the fact that they are both aggressive, leaving nothing on the ice to chance.

There is also the fabulous Akiko Suzuki from Japan who reminds me of the Longfellow poem: “When she was good, she was very, very good/And when she was bad, she was horrid.” She is, of course, never really awful. But when she makes mistakes it highlights such a contrast to her obvious abilities.

The other woman’s name that leaps from the entry list is 2012 world junior champion Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia. She recently took the Finlandia event, and medalled at both her Grand Prix events a year ago in her debut season. She would have been at the Grand Prix Final and Russian nationals had she not suffered a severe concussion in training in December 2012. She is recovered, back and ready to compete.

Duhamel and Radford a sure win

The pairs will take the ice on Friday and Saturday, and it will be Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford’s event to lose. Do I think that will happen? Not really, as Duhamel and Radford are as prepared for this Olympic season as anybody could be.

The three-time world junior champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han showed up to Skate Canada in 2011 and won the silver medal. They missed most of the 2012-13 season while Sui was recovering from a knee injury. For the moment they are a bit of an unknown quantity, so I’m looking forward to seeing how far back they have come.

This competition also offers Canadians Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers; Margaret Purdy and Michael Marinaro, and the European bronze medallists, Italians Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek, an opportunity to creep into the judges’ and fans’ collective consciousness.

Men: Patrick Chan (Canada)

Women: Julia Lipnitskaia (Russia)

Pairs: Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (Canada)

Dance: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (Canada)

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