Ice dancers Weaver, Poje in tough at Four Continents
Canadians face American rivals Hubbell and Donohue for gold supremacy
Even from the moment the 1999 Four Continents event got under way in Halifax, all of us assembled in that arena didn't quite understand just how important this competition would become on the figure skating calendar.
The roots of the event were in creating an equivalent competition to the European championships, but for the skaters from the rest of the world. At the time, the superstars from Japan, China and Korea weren't yet a dominant force on the skating stage, but their skaters were definitely on the horizon.
Fast forward to 2019, and the Four Continents championships showcase as much, if not more, of skating's biggest and most important talent as the European event does.
CBCSports.ca will have full live stream coverage from Anaheim, Calif., beginning on Thursday at 3 p.m. ET.
Although this event hasn't been held in North America since 2012, that hasn't stopped North American ice dancers from capturing gold medals every time. Canadian athletes have won nine titles, while Americans have taken 11. It's hard to say which way it will go this time in what I am thinking of as the premiere competition.
The return of world ice dance bronze medallists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje at the Canadian championships was glorious. This team looked like it never had been away after winning the title. Their rivalry with American champions and world silver medallists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue is well documented and pits two extraordinarily talented and well-trained teams against one another. Then you toss in the genius of Canadian Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier and their free dance to Starry, Starry Night, which is the stuff that legends are made of, and we have ourselves a great ice dance event.
WATCH | Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje dazzle at Canadian championships:
Uno is the man
I only have eyes for Shoma Uno in the men's event. The Olympic, Four Continents and world silver medallist has yet to win an ISU championship title. Without American Nathan Chen in Anaheim to spoil his chances, I have very little doubt that this is about to change. Uno is also the reigning Skate Canada champion.
Any of the other competitors, including Canadians Keegan Messing and national champion Nam Nguyen, will have to skate two perfect programs to beat Uno; and with the amount of expected technical difficulty, this is a tall order in any senior men's event.
There very well could be a Japanese sweep of the women's podium with defending Four Continents champion Kaori Sakamoto and 2017 champion Mai Mihara in the mix. In truth, I think that 16-year-old Rika Kihira is the woman to beat. Despite coming second to Sakamoto at the recent national championships, Kihira's international winning streak, including the Grand Prix Final title in December, and a huge technical arsenal give her the edge.
I have been waiting for the day when I could say that injury-plagued Wenjing Sui and Cong Han were returning to competition. Sui and Han have earned the Olympic silver medal, a world title and Four Continents crown. Their accomplishments clearly make them the headliners in this event. Look for Chinese teammates Cheng Peng and Yan Jing, who won silver at the recent Grand Prix Final, and Canadian champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro to also make the charge for the podium.
Pj's podium picks
Men: Shoma Uno (Japan)
Women: Rika Kihira (Japan)
Pairs: Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (China)
Ice Dance: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (USA)