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.
In what has long been regarded as an individual pursuit, Canada may have the deepest squad on ice.
It's not hockey and it's not curling.
It's the national passion of figure skating.
- Watch: Grand Prix Final from France — Saturday at 2 p.m. ET (CBC TV, CBCSports.ca)
This weekend's ISU Grand Prix Final brings together the top six skaters in each of the four disciplines; men's, ladies, pairs and ice dance, based on their respective performances at the two Grand Prix events each was assigned to compete in. There are a total of six stops on the tour, which are held in North America, Europe and Asia.
For the first time in the history of the pre-Christmas summit, which dates back to 1996, Canada has entries in all of the disciplines. And at this edition of the final in Marseilles, France, Maple Leaf men and women represent the only nation to field a full roster of skaters.
Not even the Russians, who have qualified four women in singles skating alone, can boast that. And the Canadians have two pairs entries and a total of eight skaters in Marseilles with another two ice dance teams serving as first alternates.
"Combined, the performance of these athletes certainly speaks to the strength and depth of our team," said Skate Canada president Leanna Caron from Marseilles. "We are a competitive sport and medals at the individual and team level are an important goal for us."
Notice Caron used the word team more than once while referring to the Canadian lineup at the Grand Prix Final. This is because the collective is becoming increasingly important in this Olympic staple sport just as it is in many others. The luge team relay and the alpine skiing team event, which will debut in Pyeongchang, are cases in point as is the addition of a mixed doubles curling event.
Team figure skating came onto the Olympic program in Sochi and Canada won the silver medal behind the Russians and ahead of the Americans. All of the principal characters who contributed to that medal are likely to return to the next Olympic stage in South Korea, including Patrick Chan, ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, as well as pairs skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. Each of the aforementioned athletes has been a world champion more than once.
"For the team event being well balanced and having competitive depth in all four disciplines is very important as it gives us many options," said Skate Canada high performance director Michael Slipchuk, himself an Olympian in 1992.
Most encouraging is the fact that Kaetlyn Osmond is the first Canadian woman to qualify for the final in singles skating since Joannie Rochette did it in 2009. Osmond is also working towards her second Olympic appearance, having contributed heavily to the silver medal in the team event in Sochi, and is engaged in a domestic environment where Alaine Chartrand and Gabrielle Daleman have each been national champions in the years leading up to the next Games in Pyeongchang.
"They help create a culture of discipline and excellence which other skaters will model," figured Caron. "The ladies event over the past few years has become one of the most competitive of our national championships," added Slipchuk. "The development of Gabby Daleman and Alaine Chartrand has shown that we have three ladies capable of being top 10 at the world championships and that depth has often been missing in our ladies discipline. Having Kaetlyn Osmond qualify for the Grand Prix Final is a real boost for her. It gives her the opportunity to see where she ranks with the best head-to-head."
Canadian medal producers
Figure skaters have proven themselves to be among the most consistent medal producers for this country at the Olympic Winter Games.
Since 1948, when Barbara Ann Scott won that famed gold medal in St. Moritz, only in 1952 Oslo, 1968 Grenoble and 1980 Lake Placid have Canadian skaters been shut out from the podium. On the all-time figure skating medal table, Canada stands third with a total of 25. Russia, combined with the Soviet Union, has 50 medals, while the United States has 49. Canada has produced at least one gold medallist at the world championships in each of the four disciplines.
It all speaks to strength which has been translated from generation to generation. And the current elite skaters for Canada have all demonstrated staying power, establishing themselves as frontrunners for multiple Olympic quadrennials thus giving the next wave an opportunity to grow.
"Having these skaters with us to the 2018 Games has given the others a chance to develop and be ready for the challenges that come with being a top skater in the world," reasoned Slipchuk. "The exciting part of having them on our team is they are all at the top of their game and that will make the next 14 months an exciting time for Canadian skating."
There's that word again…team.
While outwardly it may be a relatively new concept to the figure skating mentality, it just seems to fit the Canadian character.
In this sport as in any other, you're only as strong as the team behind you.