Figure skating worlds: High hopes for Canadians
Plenty of dramatic plot points in Boston
In a city that loves sport, figure skaters find themselves as the main attraction as spring rolls into full swing at the world championships in Boston.
By assuming control of a rink which is home to the National Hockey League's Bruins, who are in a struggle to make the playoffs, the ice magicians will hope to create a frozen delight in a place known simply as "the Garden."
Everyone who has flocked here is hoping both the arena and the place represent fertile ground.
There are rumours ticket sales have been strong. The practice sessions have been well attended and the faithful fans from all over the world are here in big numbers to fawn over the likes of Japanese icons Mao Asada and the reigning Olympic men's champion, the flamboyant Yuzuru Hanyu. But they also delight to the antics of Hanyu's stable mate and rival, the popular world champion, Javier Fernandez of Spain.
And the local partisans have a skater from the U.S. to hang their hopes on. She is appropriately called Gracie Gold. A two-time national champion, Gold has a chance to become the first woman to win the world title in a decade. This will all unfold in a country which has obsessed over the likes of Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, Dorothy Hamill and Peggy Fleming over the course of its illustrious, skating, folklore.
Selfie sticks and Twitter handles are the order of the day. This is a veritable Facebook and Instagram bonanza. There's more glitter here than you could possibly imagine. The makeup, the costumes, the posing, the beautiful music, the sheer performance art is mind boggling.
But then again so is the outright athleticism on display and when it all comes together, it's no small wonder to behold. These are, after all, individual athletes, alone on a stage, succeeding or failing for all to see.
With nowhere to hide, they rise or fall and ultimately create the spectacle that is top flight figure skating.
These are the first ISU world championships held in the United States since Los Angeles hosted in 2009. And this is a sport which aims to fashion a renaissance in one of America's oldest and most historic communities.
In recent times, Asia, in particular Japan, has seen unprecedented growth in terms of fan devotion to figure skating. The United States is hoping Boston can help rekindle a long-standing love affair with the kind of magic that these athletes are capable of.
From a Canadian perspective there are several good stories and a bevy of plot points to help create some drama.
Patrick Chan, a three-time world champion, is aiming to complete a successful comeback season which has seen him return from a year-and-a-half absence in order to try and quench a thirst for the ultimate prize. He's targeting a journey to Olympic Gold, which may lie somewhere down the line. Amazingly, he is already skating well within range of his main rivals Hanyu and Fernandez.
The world champions in pairs are Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. But they've had at times, a sputtering season and will be faced with trying to better the brilliant Russians, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov who reign as Olympic gold medalists.
Few skaters have more on the line than Canadian ice dance champions Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.
They have now been together for a full ten years and this may be their best chance to achieve what they've come so close to in the recent past. Silver and bronze medalists at the last two world championships respectively, Weaver and Poje are well aware that Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the Olympic ice dance champions from 2010, will return to the fray next season.
"I think that we've worked so hard in carrying this torch for Canada and we've enjoyed these two years of being the champions and shouldering that responsibility," a reflective Weaver said. "But in order to be the legends that we want to be we have to face the best of the best. And whoever that may be now, in a year or two years from now, we want to face the best of the best and that can be anyone."
End of the marathon
For his part, Poje harbours a belief that Boston presents a golden opportunity to breakthrough. And while it's a pressure-filled scenario in a strong and deep field, the duo, which has enjoyed a near spotless two-year run, is capable of winning it all.
"No matter who is out there, we want to be on top of every competition," Poje said with conviction. "I think we've grown immensely in these seasons together. We were just children starting out and we both had this spark inside of us and that's what brought us together initially. We have always found solace in each other."
It's part of the allure of figure skating when the stars finally arrive at the world championships. The end of a marathon-like season where the competitors have carved their way across many continents culminates in one final passion-play on an indoor, frozen, pond.
In Boston, the stakes are high for all of the ambitious athletes and just as importantly for figure skating as a whole.