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Figure Skating·Preview

Canadian figure skating championships: Who will step up?

Figure skating analyst Pj Kwong previews all four events at the Canadian championships, where one thing hasn't changed in more than a century: it's still about rising to the occasion on competition day.

Virtue & Moir go for 7th title; uneven Chan tries for 9th

Back from a two-year hiatus, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have quickly recaptured their old magic and are the favourites to win their seventh Canadian title. (Christophe Ena/Associated Press)

It seems like just yesterday, not three years ago, that the Canadian figure skating championships were last held in Ottawa, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the event in 2014.

In this second century of national figure skating championships, it is as it always was — who will rise to the challenge on the day? And the truth is, anything can happen.

Here's what to watch for in each of the four events when the senior competitions begin Friday:

Women's event wide open

Three national women's champions are vying for this year's title: Kaetlyn Osmond, Gabrielle Daleman and the defending champion, Alaine Chartrand. We've seen international moments of brilliance from them — like Osmond's two Grand Prix silver medals this season and a fourth-place finish at the Grand Prix final — and we've also seen all three skaters falter.

The Marystown, Newfoundland native was 2nd heading into the free program, but finished in 4th place with a total score of 212.45 points 7:56

I'm hoping for the kind of event we had last year at nationals that saw Chartrand crush the free skate. It really will come down to who skates best on the day. It should be a great competition.

Chan still grinding

The men's event will also be great. As Patrick Chan continues to find his way into top competitive form, he's hoping to capture a ninth national title along the way. There's no doubt in anyone's mind that he has the talent. But Chan is still working on putting two solid programs together in the same event, and the nationals gives him another chance to work out the kinks.

The Toronto native was in 2nd place heading into the free program, but fell all the way to 5th place at the ISU Grand Prix final 8:56

Kevin Reynolds and Liam Firus are in the same boat — they've both been close to the top of the national podium as silver medallists, and in fact rounded out the top three last year (Firus took silver and Reynolds bronze). Not only will these two be eyeing Chan, they'll also be eyeing each other. There are only two spots available for the world championships and they both want one. 

They aren't the only ones. Former Canadian champion Nam Nguyen's coaching and training overhaul this season will be put to the test.

Virtue and Moir back in the groove

There is nothing clear cut in the ice dance event.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are the two-time and defending national champions, with two world medals and many more titles under their belts. And yet they still decided to reboot their skating this season. It's still early in their revamped coaching arrangement, but their commitment to showcasing top-notch ice dance material bodes well for them.

Another team with outstanding material and execution this year is Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier. Last year's national silver medallists skate a disco short dance that makes you want to move while their tango free dance positively transports me to Buenos Aires.

After entering the day in fourth place, the Canadian ice dance duo of Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier finished third overall on Saturday at the Trophee de France in Paris with a combined score of 170.78. 7:38

Six-time Canadian (and two-time world) champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir last competed at nationals in 2015, winning gold. After a brief hiatus from skating, they returned this season. Although they stayed in skating shape by preparing and performing in shows, it isn't exactly the same as being competition ready. But they've found their competition groove again effortlessly and continue to dazzle with original and complex programs skated beautifully.

The Canadian duo won the ice dance title at the ISU Grand Prix final with a total score of 197.22 points 8:13

Duhamel and Radford learn from mistakes

When I saw Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford backstage at the Grand Prix Final in Marseille in December, they weren't happy with how they skated in finishing third. What I've always said about this team is that they can take a bitter pill, swallow it and, through their resolve, learn how to not have to do it again. I admire this kind of drive and tenacity. In six appearances at nationals, they've won the last five titles and have gone on to win the last two world titles. This one is theirs to lose.

The Canadian pairing of Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford finished third overall in the pairs program on Friday at the Grand Prix of Figure Skating final with a total score of 205.99. 8:50

Who will join them on the podium with three very strong teams in contention is the question. In 2016, Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau were second, Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch were third, and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro were fourth. 

In an unexpected turn of events, Seguin and Bilodeau had to withdraw from worlds last March due to injury, which allowed Moore-Towers and Marinaro to go. Both Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch and Moore-Towers and Marinaro showed strongly at worlds finishing seventh and eighth, respectively.

The door has been opened at nationals for those two teams as Seguin and Bilodeau were forced to withdraw while Julianne continues to recover from a concussion suffered in December. Though they remain optimistic, it's uncertain when they'll return.

Pj's gold-medal picks

Men: Patrick Chan

Ladies: Kaetlyn Osmond

Pairs: Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford

Ice Dance: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir

I'll be covering the Canadian championships for CBC Sports. Let me know who your picks are on Twitter @skatingpj and follow me for updates from Ottawa.

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