How Canadian figure skaters stack up for Grand Prix season
There are few international sports that can compare to the success Canadians find in figure skating, and none that seem to roil up the loyal fans so quickly, either.
Of the four disciplines in world skating, Canadians own the top of the podium in two, and are top five in a third. But that doesn't seem to keep the sport's local fanatics from worrying their way through the summers wondering if, somehow, it should be better than this.
Not to mention fretting over whether Canada's current world champions are going to hang on to their crowns, heading into the final season before the Olympic year.
As we begin the Grand Prix season this week with Skate America, followed next week by Skate Canada in Windsor, here's our rundown of how things look for the national team.
2011-2012 Season: One world medal (Gold, Patrick Chan).
Returning: Chan (1st at nationals, 1st at worlds), Kevin Reynolds (2nd at nationals, 12th at worlds), Jeremy Ten (3rd at nationals), Elladj Balde (4th at nationals), Andrei Rogozine (5th at nationals).
When Patrick Chan won his first world title back in 2010, he did it by 32.51 points, blowing away the rest of the field. Last year, he retained it over Daisuke Takahashi by just 6.45 points.
This summer, the Chan camp turned over the coaching staff after Christy Krall resigned, moving Kathy Johnson (whose background is actually in modern dance) up to the lead role, with David Wilson choreographing the new long program, and former world champ Jeff Buttle on the short.
At the Japan Open this month, Chan fell four times in that new long routine, skated to Puccinni's La Boheme.
Before panic sets in, Michael Slipchuk, technical director for Skate Canada, would like everyone to take a big pill.
"Patrick is the best in the world, he's the two-time world champion," said Slipchuk, over the phone to CBC Sports last week. "He's gone in a different direction with the programs, but it's good to challenge yourself."
Slipchuk believes it's natural when looking at a world champion for everyone to start picking out faults and ignore the strengths.
In other words, let's see how Chan's doing at the nationals in late winter.
Kevin Reynolds (the jumping machine), who earned praise last season by finishing 12th at the worlds and locking up three spots for Canada at the 2013 global championships, returns under coach Joanne McLeod with a new free program set to a concerto by Andre Mathieu.
That was designed by Kenji Miyamoto, a former international dance competitior for Japan.
Jeremy Ten, Elladje Balde and Andrei Rogozine will battle for the third worlds spot, with Ten the early favourite.
2011-2012 Season: No world medals.
Retired: Cynthia Phaneuf (Joannie Rochette still undecided).
Returning: Amelie Lacoste (1st at nationals, 16th at worlds), Kaetlyn Osmond (3rd at nationals, 10th at world juniors), Alexandra Najarro (4th at nationals), Adriana DeSanctis (5th at nationals).
Last season was a disappointment wrapped in a let-down, as Amelie Lacoste failed to finish in the top 10 at worlds, leaving Canada once again with one entry for the global event in 2013.
Worse, Cynthia Phaneuf, who had come up with a strong fifth-place showing at worlds in 2010, collapsed in 2012, losing the nationals and not skating well at Four Continents when given one more chance to make the world team.
This time, a top-10 is even more crucial because it means two skaters for the 2014 Olympics at Sochi.
Likely won't happen.
Lacoste, who comes in with two new programs, including a long to Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, had a good outing at the U.S. International at Salt Lake this fall, finishing third and coming within .01 of the minimum technical score needed to qualify for worlds.
Slipchuk doesn't see making that mark as a problem.
There does seem to be a beam of light for the future, however, in 16-year-old Kaetlyn Osmond, who took her new programs (Mambo No. 8/Carmen) to the warm-up event at Nebelhorn and won it with an impressive 170.19.
That mark would have been top-six at the worlds this past spring, but comparisons are tough because early-season marks are usually much higher than when the chips are down.
Phaneuf has retired, though Joannie Rochette, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, still refuses to say if she's hanging them up. She has competed in the last two Japan Open events.
2011-2012 Season: One world medal (Gold, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir).
Returning: Virtue and Moir (1st at nationals, 1st at worlds), Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (2nd at nationals, 4th at worlds), Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (3rd at nationals), Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill (4th at nationals, 13th at worlds).
Virtue and Moir garner so much deserved attention it sometimes takes away from the fact Canada could have two world medallists on the world stage this season.
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were fourth last year, and Pj Kwong, the CBC figure skating commentator, is a believer.
"They continue to improve and have come a very long way in a short time, starting with their breakout season two years ago where they finished fifth in the world," says the 30-year coach.
Getting onto the worlds podium would mean catching France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who finished just over six points ahead at the worlds in the spring.
The short dance rhythm this year is built around a polka, and the Canadians are going with a Sound of Music theme for that. Humanity in Motion, by Nathan Lanier, is the free dance music.
Weaver and Poje won their warm-up event at the Ondrej Nepela event in Bratislava to start the season.
As for the world champions, they continue to battle nails and tooth with club mates Meryl Davis and Charlie White down in suburban Detroit, something that continues to help, says Slipchuk.
"Tessa and Scott haven't ever stayed at the same level," he said. "They are always pushing the bar, pushing themselves."
There is tremendous depth in dance, including Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill, who were 13th at worlds. They got off to a bumpy start with a seventh at Nebelhorn.
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier had a good start, winning at Salt Lake City.
2011-2012 Season: No world medals.
Not returning: Taylor Steele and Rob Schultz (ended partnership).
Returning: Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (1st at nationals, 5th at worlds), Jessica Dube and Sebastien Wolfe (2nd at nationals, 12th at worlds), Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers (3rd at nationals), Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch (4th at nationals).
There's nothing like internal competition, and Canada has that in spades, diamonds and hearts at the pairs level.
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have set out this year not with third at worlds in mind (four points back in 2012) but first (at least a 16-point improvement needed).
Setting such lofty goals excites Slipchuk, whose goal is to get two teams whose finish adds up to the magic 13-or-better at the global event, putting three pairs into Sochi for the Olympics.
"It was very evident with Meagan and Eric as they sat at the worlds [in fifth] ... you could see that hunger in them there," he said. "You want to hear your athletes set goals like that, and with Meagan and Eric, they will only be getting better."
In two warm-up competitions this fall, the pair set personal-best total scores twice.
Canada might have pulled off the "13" last season, but Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch "slipped on a dumb patch" in Kwong's prosaic words, at the national championships and didn't qualify, despite an eighth globally in 2011.
They are back again, and Kwong says they are ready to go, having looked sharp at the high performance camp and winning the warm-up at Salt Lake City.
Then there are Jessica Dube and Sebastien Wolfe (who were not seen at the high performance camp after what Skate Canada described as a slow start), plus Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers, who Kwong says are also sharp.
"If you look over the past years in pairs skating, we have always had strong teams at the top," says Slipchuk. "To win the nationals as a pairs team is hard, you compete against tough teams, and that only makes us stronger internationally."