It's the scenario that fuels the dreams of understudies. The star becomes unable to perform, offering the second-stringer a chance to assume the lead role, showcase his talents and emerge as a star in his own right.
With three-time world champion Elvis Stojko forced to sit out the MasterCard Skate Canada International meet, which begins Thursday evening and continues through Sunday at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, no one expects anyone to mount a serious challenge to Russia's Alexei Yagudin, another three-time world champion. But the more interesting subplot from a Canadian perspective will be the competition among the potential heirs apparent to the King's throne as the pre-eminent men's figure skater in the country.
Stojko has utterly dominated men's figure skating in Canada since he skated out from Kurt Browning's shadow, and Canadians Fedor Andreev, Jeffrey Langdon and Ben Ferreira will attempt to make the most of the spotlight in his absence. Ultimately at stake is the second spot in the men's singles competition reserved for Canada at the world championships in Vancouver this March.
While it's safe to assume that as long as Stojko doesn't step on a land mine in the next four months, he'll have a lock on Canada's first entry, the second berth remains up for grabs, although Emmanuel Sandhu has the inside track. Sandhu will not, however, be competing at Skate Canada, either.
The 18-year-old Andreev is only ranked fifth in Canada, and he has never competed at the world championships, but he's currently tipped as the skater with the best chance of unseating Sandhu. In some observers' opinions, in fact, the native of Russia has already surpassed Sandhu, whose career continues to follow an erratic path of brilliant performances followed by attacks of nerves and untimely falls.
Andreev comes by his considerable artistic flair naturally - his mother is renowned figure skating choreographer Marina Zoueva - but his triple axel has been a long time coming, and he's still working on his quad, which will not be ready for his long program at Skate Canada. Despite his shortcomings as a jumper, the buzz around Andreev is that he's not just a reigning heartthrob - he models for US retailer Abercrombie & Fitch - but that he's one of the up-and-coming stars of figure skating.
"We've had the Brians, the Kurts, the Elvises - all these amazing skaters who came out of Canada," Andreev told the Canadian Press. "I guess Canada is still looking for its next Elvis or Kurt.
"I like Kurt, and I like Elvis, and I want to be like them."
Andreev also has youth on his side and wants to keep expectations for the immediate future modest, Skate Canada included.
"I just want to get out there and have fun and get some exposure. I'm not going to put too much pressure on myself for this one. It's really not worth it because I'm not ready to go head to head with the top guys, yet. Maybe next year."
Edmonton's Ben Ferreira, for one, is ready to let his quad jump rip in his long program. Currently ranked third in Canada, Ferreira will be hoping both to hold off Andreev and climb in the rankings himself.
Barrie's Jeffrey Langdon, meanwhile, is attempting to come back from an injury-plagued 1999-2000 season. A former Canadian silver medallist, Langdon has finished as high as eighth at the world championships.
The most meaningful competition for Yagudin should come from 1996 world champion Todd Eldredge of the U.S., Japan's Takeshi Honda and Chinese boy wonder Li Chengjiang, who is currently ranked fifth in the world and is a master of the quad. Both Yagudin and Eldredge will be trying to redeem themselves after ragged performances last week at Skate America, where they finished second and third, respectively, behind American Timothy Goebel.
Stojko will be back in action at the Lalique trophy meet in Paris on November 23-26.
The most interesting matchup of Skate Canada 2000 could be between two Russian pairs. Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov won the world championship last March after two-time champions Elena Berezhnaia and Anton Skiharulidze were forced out by positive tests for a banned stimulant contained in bronchitis medication. Tamara Moskvina, Berezhnaia's and Skiharulidze's coach says she hopes their skating this weekend will shift the spotlight away from their drug infraction and their off-ice spats.
"What drugs are they taking now? Are they still in love? That's what the media ask," Moskvina told Reuters. "I'm not a fortune teller. I cannot say how they will skate, what others will do, what the judges will do, but they have worked hard."
The presence of the great Russian pairs should also provide a good barometer of just how ready Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier are to mount a challenge for the world championship. Currently ranked fourth in the world and number one in Canada, Sale and Pelletier won their second straight Skate America title last week.
Former Canadian champions Kris and Kristy Wirtz, who are now working with Marina Zoueva will also be out to reclaim their stature as Canada's top pair, while the country's fourth-ranked pair, Jacinthe Lariviere of Princeville, Quebec and Lenny Faustino of Woodbridge, Ontario, will try to improve upon their sixth-place finish at Skate America.
Defending world champion Michelle Kwan of the U.S. heads up the women's competition in Mississauga, fresh from her win at Skate America. Her main challenger figures to be Russia's Irina Slutskaya, who bested Kwan in last year's Grand Prix Final.
Jennifer Robinson of Windsor leads the Canadian women. Robinson won the bronze at Skate Canada last year, but slid to eighth at the world championships, and she'll be looking to improve in the rankings with a strong performance in front of a friendly crowd. The other Canadian woman in women's singles will be Annie Bellemare of St-Eustache, Quebec.
Perennial Canadian ice dance champions Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz will be skating in the Sparkassen Cup on Ice in Germany next week instead of Skate Canada, and the entire field will be hard-pressed to unseat defending world champions Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat of France. The top Canadians team will be Montreal's Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, who finished 10th at the 2000 world championships; Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe of Vancouver; and Chantal Lefebvre, a former Olympic skater, and new partner Justin Manning.
Skate Canada is the second of six legs on the Grand Prix circuit, with skaters allowed to compete in two of the meets. The top point-getters in each event will meet in Tokyo in February for the Grand Prix Final with a purse of $493,000 (US).
Skate Canada gets underway on Thursday with compulsory dances, the pairs short programs and the men's short programs.