Road to the Olympic Games: 5 things to watch this weekend
Ski flying, skiing, skeleton, figure skating, diving highlight Saturday show
Hosted by veteran broadcasters Scott Russell and Andi Petrillo, Road to the Olympic Games chronicles athletes' journeys on and off the field of play. Here's what to look for on this weekend's show on CBC Television and CBCSports.ca.
Ski flying in Norway
It is one of the most visually spectacular of all sports. Ski flying is on display at Vikersund, Norway as rabid fans thrill to the wonders of dare devils like current world champion Peter Prevc of Slovenia.
Prevc has 10 victories this season and has travelled further in the air over the course of his career than anyone else. His resume includes 26 jumps over 230 metres as well as nine beyond 240 metres. His longest jump of 250 metres stood briefly as the world record before being exceeded by Norwegian rival Anders Fannemal, who soared 251.5 metres, or 825 feet.
That means these human kites are spending a full eight seconds aloft between takeoff and landing.
"This is where ski jumpers push the boundaries of human flight," says CBC analyst and five-time Canadian nordic combined champion Rob Keith. "Through advances in equipment, technique and hill construction, we've seen the world record broken 68 times since the 100-metre barrier was shattered in 1936 by Austrian Joseph Brandl."
Ski flying is not yet an Olympic discipline and when compared with large hill competitions at the Games, flights are routinely twice as far.
"If that doesn't get your pulse racing, nothing will," Keith enthuses. "As a result of the danger involved in this discipline, there is no question that fear plays a role when it comes to ski flying. This is the X Factor that makes these events so interesting for both skiers and spectators alike."
The Canadian champion is two-time Olympian Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes of Toronto who holds the national ski flying record with a jump of 216.5 metres.
Watch: Road to the Olympic Games on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET
Commentators: Rob Snoek and five-time Canadian nordic combined champion Rob Keith
Classic French downhill in Chamonix
The FIS World Cup season is winding down and now that the injured Aksel Lund Svindal is out for the rest of the campaign, the race is on to see who becomes the Crystal Globe winner in the speed disciplines.
The circuit returns to Chamonix, site of the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924, for the first time since 2012.
The men's downhill is not the longest or toughest but has its challenges. In Svindal's absence, Italy's Peter Fill and Kjetil Jansrud of Norway, last season's downhill champion, are vying for top spot in the standings. Fill won at Kitzbuehel while Jansrud captured the test event in South Korea a couple of weeks ago.
Meantime, the Canadian men are still seeking their first podium result in what has been, to date, a disappointing season. The last race in Chamonix four years ago produced a win for Canada's Jan Hudec and a third-place finish for Erik Guay who has looked sharp in training for this year's event in the French Alps.
Watch: Road to the Olympic Games on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET
Commentators: Scott Russell and Olympic champion Kerrin Lee-Gartner
Skeleton worlds in Austria
It is a starter's course in Igls, Austria for the world championships in skeleton racing.
That means the female racers need to get out of the gate quickly and build speed in a hurry over the short track. It plays into the hands of the Canadian riders who spend hours in the off-season practising starts in the state-of the-art Ice House at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary.
Jane Channell of North Vancouver, B.C., has had a breakout season with two podium finishes on the World Cup while last year's world championship bronze medallist, Calgary's Elisabeth Vathje, is rounding into form.
Still, they will both be chasing dominant German rider Tina Hermann, who has four victories this season alone. Hermann has yet to win a world championship in the individual event although she scored team gold last season. She is also racing as the German champion for the first time in her career.
Watch: Road to the Olympic Games on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET
Commentators: Mark Connolly and Olympic silver medallist Helen Upperton
Four Continents figure skating
In Chinese Tapei, Canadian figure skaters take to the ice for their last major competition in advance of the world championships in late March at Boston.
The Four Continents bring together the best from Asia, Oceania, North and South America. In particular, the Canadians will face top rivals in each discipline from Japan, China and the United States.
A favourable work schedule allowed reigning Canadian champions in every event to make the long trip to Tapei City.
Patrick Chan, Alaine Chartrand as well as world champion pairs Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford along with ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, will be looking for a major tune-up before worlds.
According to Skate Canada high performance director Michael Slipchuk, the Four Continents event will help keep Canadian athletes sharp, given the eight-week gap between national championships and worlds.
"It falls at a good time for our team to compete here and still have a five- week training period before worlds," Slipchuk said from Asia. "Weaver-Poje have always done Four Continents, and along with Duhamel-Radford and Chan, it is a great competitive opportunity in their preparation for the world championships."
On Saturday, we'll feature the pairs free skate in which Duhamel-Radford hope to improve on what has been an inconsistent season. Meanwhile, Weaver-Poje have had a flawless season to date, and with another win at Four Continents, hope to establish themselves as the favourites to capture their first ice dance world title next month.
(eds note: Due to Duhamel coming down with an illness, Radford tweeted Friday evening that they wouldn't be able to compete in the free skate and would shift their focus to next month's world championships in Boston.)
Watch: Road to the Olympic Games on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET
Commentators: Andi Petrillo, Olympic coach Carol Lane and four-time world champion Kurt Browning
Diving test in Rio
The FINA Diving World Cup may be the most important event in the sport on the way to the 2016 Olympics as 272 athletes from 49 countries will compete for 88 spots available at the Rio 2016 diving competitions.
This serves as the test event for the Games and will be staged at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre with a major Canadian story developing.
The reigning Olympic bronze medallists in the women's 10-metre synchro event, Meaghan Benfeito and Roseline Filion, will not compete at this World Cup because they've already qualified a Canadian spot in Brazil this summer. Additionally, Filion is still recovering from a broken foot suffered in a mid-December dry land training mishap.
That said, Benfeito, who has already qualified her position in the Olympic 10m individual event, has agreed to step aside for this test in order to allow Filion to return to competition.
Filion, who is operating with limited mobility and some pain in the ankle, will attempt to qualify another Canadian place on the platform when the Olympics roll around. For that to happen, she'll need to finish in the top 18 at this meet. Filion has been medically cleared to resume diving following a Feb. 4 scan of the foot.
"Being able to dive here is already a big win for me," Filion said from Brazil. "I really wanted that second chance to open a spot for Canada. Whatever happens, I'll have no regrets."
Mitch Geller, the high performance director for the Canadian team, is confident that with a complete, albeit less difficult dive list, Filion will have enough to get the job done.
"Roseline is a pro," Geller said. "She knows what she is capable of doing, she knows what her job is here and she's very mature."
Although Benfeito won't be competing in the Olympic venue this time, she's at ease with her decision to make way for her partner's comeback attempt.
"That's good news, it means that Roseline is ready," Benfeito said. "She's back up on 10-metre and that means that we can start doing synchro soon, which is very exciting. I can now focus on the small things that are left to correct before the Games and try to win a medal."
Also in the spotlight will be fellow Canadians and Pan Am silver medallists Jennifer Abel and Pamela Ware, the other two Canadian female divers who, along with Benfeito and Filion, have been dubbed the Fab IV. Abel and Ware will compete Saturday in the three-metre synchro event in Rio de Janeiro.
Watch Road to the Olympic Games on Sunday at 3 p.m. local time
Commentators: Mark Lee and Olympic bronze medallist Blythe Hartley