Chen vs. Hanyu headlines an odd figure skating world championships
A marquee men's battle could give the pandemic-dented sport a lift
This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports' daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing here.
The figure skating world championships are back
Last year's event, which was supposed to be held in Montreal, was cancelled due to the pandemic. And the virus put a major dent in the current season too. Two of the six regular Grand Prix stops were called off (including Skate Canada International), and so was the Grand Prix Final.
The four Grand Prix events that went ahead were, with some exceptions, limited to skaters living in the country in which they were held. The only Canadian allowed to compete all season was Alaska-based Keegan Messing, who took bronze in the men's event at Skate America in October. The Canadian championships were cancelled, as were the Europeans. Even skaters from countries with relatively loose restrictions (Americans, Russians and Japanese, for example) were hampered by a lack of quality international competition.
- That Figure Skating Show will be live on CBC Sports YouTube channel right after every #stockholm2021 short program. Join hosts Dylan & Asher & special guests as they react, provide insight and spill the tea on worlds.
All this makes it harder to predict what will happen at the world championships, which run Wednesday through Saturday (plus the gala finale on Sunday) in Stockholm. Here are a couple of storylines to follow:
Nathan Chen vs. Yuzuru Hanyu
Chen is trying to become the first skater to win three straight men's world titles since Canada's Patrick Chan did it from 2011-13. The 21-year-old American's athleticism is unmatched. He has the talent to pull off every jump in the book, and he's actually done it. Chen is the first skater to land five different types of quads in competition.
This gives Chen a higher ceiling than any other skater. But he still has to execute cleanly. We saw both sides of the coin at the 2018 Olympics, where a disastrous short program put Chen in 17th place. Then he blew the doors off everyone in the free skate, attempting six quads and landing five of them (both unprecedented) to easily win the segment and climb all the way up to fifth in the final standings.
Since that unforgettable skate, Chen is undefeated. He won gold at the 2018 and '19 world championships and took all seven of the Grand Prix events he entered — including a pair of Finals.
Chen's toughest rival in Stockholm is Hanyu, who won that 2018 Olympic competition to become the first repeat men's gold medallist in more than six decades. The 26-year-old Japanese star also owns two world titles (2014 and '17) and was the runner-up to Chen in 2018.
Can Canada get back on the podium?
Things have been a little rough here since the brilliant 2017-18 season. That's when Canada won four Olympic medals — gold in the team event and by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in ice dance, bronze by Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford in pairs and by Kaetlyn Osmond in the women's — and Osmond went on to win gold at the world championships. Every one of those athletes is now retired, along with Chan.
The transition to a new crop of skaters hasn't gone smoothly. Canada got shut out of the medals at the 2019 world championships, where its best finish in the solo events was an 11th by Gabby Daleman. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje placed fifth in the dance, but they've since stepped away from the sport.
That leaves Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (seventh in the dance in 2019) and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro (seventh in pairs) as Canada's leading medal hopes at this year's worlds. Gilles and Poirier won two Grand Prix medals during the last full season, and the decision by reigning dance world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France to skip this year's event gives the Canadians a better shot to reach the world-championship podium for the first time. Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha are a promising young dance team that won the world junior title in 2019, but it takes time to become a contender in their discipline and they have only one (podium-less) Grand Prix season under their belts.
Messing is the only Canadian entry in the men's event, where a medal looks like a stretch for him. Emily Bausback and Madeline Schizas are in tough in the women's competition, where a trio of Russians — Anna Shcherbakova, Aleksandra Trusova and Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva — might sweep the podium.
Whether they can win medals or not, it's important for every Canadian to place as high as they can in Stockholm because the results will help determine how many entries each country gets in the 2022 Olympics. Read more about that in this story by CBC Sports' Jacqueline Doorey, and read her preview of all four competitions at the worlds here.
Every program at the world championships will be streamed live on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app, starting with the women's short Wednesday at 5:10 a.m. ET, followed by the pairs short at 1:30 p.m. ET. Right after each program, That Figure Skating Show goes live on CBC Sports' YouTube channel, where hosts Dylan Moscovitch and Asher Hill and special guests will give their instant reactions and insights. This weekend's Road to the Olympic Games shows on the CBC TV network will have more worlds coverage, featuring commentary from Brenda Irving and Kurt Browning. See the full TV and streaming schedules here.
WATCH | Looking ahead at the figure skating worlds:
Canada hit a bit of a bump in Olympic men's soccer qualifying. Yesterday's 0-0 draw vs. Haiti dropped the under-24 Canadian team's record to 1-0-1. But it can still advance to the semifinals with a win or a tie in its group-stage finale Thursday vs. Honduras (also 1-0-1). If Canada moves on, its semifinal opponent will be either Mexico or the United States. The winners of the semifinals get the final two spots in this summer's Olympic men's tournament.
The men's Sweet Sixteen is set. Three of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA men's basketball bracket advanced to the third round. But, as usual, Cinderellas are the story of the tournament. A 15 seed (Oral Roberts), a 12 (Oregon State) and a pair of 11s (UCLA and Syracuse) all crashed the Sweet Sixteen, which takes place Saturday and Sunday. If you're looking for a team to cheer for, 7 seed Oregon's top two scorers from the regular season are Canadian, and they both played a big role in yesterday's upset of 2 seed Iowa. Chris Duarte had team highs in points (23) and assists (seven), and Eugene Omoruyi added 17 points, six rebounds and five assists. The women's second round begins today with eight games, including title-game favourites UConn and Stanford taking on Syracuse and Oklahoma State, respectively. Watch for UConn's Canadian forward Aaliyah Edwards, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds in the first round.
The UEFA Women's Champions League quarter-finals start tomorrow, and there's at least one Canadian player in every match. The 1 p.m. ET meeting between Paris St-Germain and defending champion Lyon is especially interesting. It's a rematch of a 2020 semifinal, which Lyon won en route to taking its fifth consecutive title. And it features three members of the Canadian national team — Lyon's Kadeisha Buchanan and PSG's Jordyn Huitema and Ashley Lawrence. The other Canadians in the quarters are Janine Beckie (Manchester City), Jessie Fleming (Chelsea) and Stephanie Labbe (Rosengard). The quarter-finals are two-leg, home-and-home affairs, with the return legs happening March 31 or April 1. For an in-depth and entertaining preview of the quarter-finals, read today's edition of The GIST newsletter and consider subscribing if you haven't already. It's written and run by Canadian women who always have a strong and fun perspective on the biggest stories in sports.
The National Women's Hockey League is set to add another Canadian team. A year after expanding to Toronto, the NWHL is reportedly adding Montreal as its seventh franchise. The other five teams are all based in the U.S. The NWHL is completing its Isobel Cup playoffs this weekend in Boston, where top-seeded Toronto will play the Boston Pride in one of Friday's semifinals and the Minnesota Whitecaps will face the Connecticut Whale in the other. The winners meet in the final Saturday night. The final two rounds were postponed in February after multiple teams experienced COVID-19 outbreaks at the NWHL's Lake Placid hub.
You're up to speed. Get The Buzzer in your inbox every weekday by subscribing below.