Four Continents gives skating fans a sneak peek at 2018 Olympics
Event being held at same arena where Winter Games will take place
It's a long way from Canada to Pyeongchang, Korea, the site of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. But there's no doubt in my mind it will be worth the trip.
The ISU Four Continents Championships — or, as I like to call the event this year, a figure skating fan's dream — take place this week in the same arena where the Olympic event will be held in February 2018.
CBCSports.ca is live streaming every short and free program from the Four Continents, beginning with the dance short Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET. Coverage continues all the way through the closing gala on Sunday at 3 a.m. ET.
Here's a look at what to expect in each of the four competitions.
Men: Experience vs. youth
I'm almost giddy writing about the men's event. The star power is dazzling, with 2014 Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu leading the list. Then you pile on the defending Four Continents champion, Patrick Chan, and three teenagers — Shoma Uno, world bronze medallist Boyang Jin and newly crowned American champion Nathan Chen.
Regardless of what may happen in Korea, Chen's time is coming. At the U.S. championships he performed two quad jumps in his short program, including an impressive quad Lutz/triple toe combination, and followed it up in the free with five more quads, including two in combination. And this is in a program that only allows for eight jumping elements.
As his program components continue to improve, so will his ability to crush the competition. And at 17 years old, he has time.
For now, though, I think this competition will be a question of experience vs. youth. What youth has going for it is jumping and more jumping. What experience has going for it is technical ability and artistry in equal measures, embodied by Hanyu and Chan.
Hanyu wasn't happy with the way he won the Grand Prix Final in December, and that will be the reason for him to want to skate lights-out in Korea, while Chan's focus seems to be more on a steady climb towards the Olympic top prize in 2018.
Dance: Canadians vs. Americans
The ice dance has some of the best talent, starting with comeback kids Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who have won the Four Continents title twice. There's nothing about their return to competition that has been left to chance.
As we saw at last month's Canadian championships, where they won for the seventh time, they're still as good as their Olympic title and two Olympic silver medals would suggest.
Fellow Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who have also won the Four Continents title, and Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier are contenders for the podium.
The American ice dancers are just as strong, led by national champions, defending Four Continents champions and 2016 world silver medallists Maia and Alex Shibutani. Perennial contenders and world bronze medallists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, with their combination of flash and the technical goods to back it up, are not to be ignored.
Pairs: Duhamel & Radford vs. China
Canada is in the enviable position of sending three pairs teams to Korea who finished in the top 10 at last year's worlds. In my mind, this is Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford's title to lose.
Their biggest threat to the two-time and defending Four Continents and world champions will come from two Chinese teams. The first dynamic duo is Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, who placed second to Duhamel and Radford at the last two worlds. Sui and Han are a bit of a mystery and this will be the first time that we have seen them this year as Sui was recovering from surgery in May 2016 on both of her feet.
The other team to watch is Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang, who snagged the Grand Prix Final silver medal, ahead of Duhamel and Radford, by a slim margin of 0.72 points. The race is going to be close and the competition fierce.
Ladies: Osmond vs. a lesser field
The women's division seems to be in a state of flux, with some of the usual suspects from the United States and Japan not making the trip to Korea — including Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner and Kanako Murakami. Karen Chen, the newly crowned American champion, will be there, and so will her teammate Mirai Nagasu, who took silver at last year's Four Continents.
I'm a fan of both Japan's Mai Mihara and American Mariah Bell, who seemed to pop out of nowhere and dazzle during the Grand Prix season. But to me, the woman to beat is Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond, who has everything that a skater needs to get to the top — talent, strength, great material and (touch wood) good health.
Pj's gold-medal picks
Men: Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan)
Ladies: Kaetlyn Osmond (Canada)
Ice Dance: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (Canada)
Pairs: Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (Canada)