Winter Olympic stock watch: Canadian skaters on the rise
Long trackers take 7 medals at World Cup season opener
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Olympic stock watch: Canadian speed skaters are on the rise
This was the last relatively quiet weekend for winter Olympic sports before things start really ramping up on the road to the Beijing Games in February. The only events with significant Olympic implications were the long track speed skating World Cup season opener in Poland and a Grand Prix of Figure Skating stop in Japan. Here's whose stock went up or down at these competitions:
Up: Canadian long track speed skaters
After winning a national-record eight medals at the 2006 Olympics and five at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, the Canadian team took a step back in 2014 and '18, reaching the podium just twice each time. Ted-Jan Bloemen accounted for both medals in '18, winning gold in the men's 10,000 metres and silver in the 5,000. But a bigger haul is expected in Beijing from what's quickly blossomed into a very good and very deep group.
Evidence of that was on full display at the World Cup season opener in Poland, where Canadian skaters took home seven medals over three days. The lone gold was won by Ivanie Blondin, Valérie Maltais and Isabelle Weidemann in the women's team pursuit. The rest of the medals were silver: by Bloemen, Jordan Belchos and Connor Howe in the men's team pursuit, Bloemen in the men's 5,000m, Blondin in the women's mass start, Weidemann in the women's 3,000, and Laurent Dubreuil in both men's 500m races.
The latest Olympic medal projections by the data company Nielsen Gracenote have Canada winning five medals in long track speed skating in Beijing. That's nearly a quarter of the country's projected medal total of 21. But, if anything, this past weekend suggests that prediction could be selling the country short. We'll get more clues at the next World Cup meet, which opens Friday in Norway and will bring Olympic men's 10,000m medal contender Graeme Fish into the fold. Read more about Canada's performances in Poland and watch highlights here.
Down: Men's figure skating certainty
The competition for gold in Beijing was looking like a two-way battle between Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu and American Nathan Chen. The latter has won three straight world titles, while the former is trying to become the first figure skater in 86 years to win three consecutive Olympic golds. But Hanyu is dealing with an ankle injury that caused him to miss this weekend's Grand Prix event in Tokyo, and Chen, it turns out, is actually human. His incredible 14-event winning streak was snapped a few weeks ago by fellow American Vincent Zhou at the Grand Prix season opener in Las Vegas (though Chen bounced back to win gold in Vancouver the following week).
Zhou finished second over the weekend in Tokyo to Japan's Shoma Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medallist. If those guys can stay in good form, maybe they'll give Hanyu and Chen a run for their money at the Olympics. Get a full recap and analysis of the men's event in Japan by watching the latest episode of That Figure Skating Show with Dylan Moscovitch and Asher Hill below.
Up: Russian figure skating duos
Reigning pairs world champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov outdueled fellow Russians and three-time world championship medallists Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov for the gold in Tokyo. The dance event was won by another Russian tandem, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, who are also reigning world champs.
This Grand Prix was light on Canadian talent (the top finishers were Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha, who placed fifth in the dance), but the next one should be better. The Internationaux de France, which opens Friday, features ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who are Canada's best hope for an Olympic figure skating medal. The intriguing new pairs duo of Vanessa James and Eric Radford (the latter was an Olympic bronze medallist in 2018 with former partner Meagan Duhamel) will also be in action. So will Canada's top men's skater, Keegan Messing.
The Ottawa Senators' next three games were postponed because of a COVID-19 outbreak. With 10 Ottawa players currently in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol, "and evidence of continued spread in recent days," according to the league, the team is being taken out of action through at least this Saturday. The Senators' training facilities will be closed during this time, which included a road game at New Jersey and home dates with Nashville and the Rangers. Read more about the Ottawa outbreak and postponements here.
The Hockey Hall of Fame's class of 2020 finally gets inducted tonight. The headliner is Jarome Iginla, the great gentleman-warrior who scored 625 NHL regular-season goals (tied for 16th all-time), had over a hundred fights and is one of the most respected and well-liked guys to ever play the game. Iginla also had a big hand in two Olympic gold medals for Canada. In 2002, he scored a pair in the final vs. the U.S. in Salt Lake City. In 2010 in Vancouver, he led the tournament with five goals and set up Sidney Crosby's iconic OT winner in the gold-medal game. Iginla is about to become only the fourth Black player in the Hockey Hall of Fame, joining NHL colour-barrier breaker Willie O'Ree (class of 2018), Canadian women's national team captain Angela James (2010) and goalie Grant Fuhr (2003). Also being inducted tonight are NHL greats Kevin Lowe, Marian Hossa and Doug Wilson, and former Canadian women's national team star Kim St-Pierre, who will be the first female goalie in the Hall. Oilers GM Ken Holland is going in as a builder. The class had to wait an extra year for induction because of the pandemic.
Canada's favourite National Women's Soccer League team got knocked out of the playoffs. All 10 NWSL clubs are based in the United States, but the Portland Thorns have the strongest Canadian ties. Their captain, Christine Sinclair, is also the captain of the Olympic-champion Canadian women's national team. Their general manager is former Canadian national team goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc. And she's reportedly set to hire former Canadian teammate Rhian Wilkinson to coach Portland next season. The Thorns looked like a good bet to reach their first NWSL title game in three years after finishing with the top regular-season record. But the No. 1 seeds were upset 2-0 by the Chicago Red Stars in the semifinals yesterday. Chicago will play for the championship on Sunday vs. the Washington Spirit, who beat the OL Reign in the other semifinal. Read more about the NWSL semis and watch highlights here.
Baby, it's cold in Edmonton. That's not exactly shocking news for this time of year, but some especially nasty weather in the Alberta capital could play a role in tomorrow night's big World Cup qualifying match between the Canadian men's soccer team and Mexico. The forecast for kickoff time at Commonwealth Stadium calls for a temperature of minus-15 C with the windchill, and 10-20 cm of snow is expected to fall between now and then. For the Canadian team, these Revenant-like conditions are a feature, not a bug. This match and last Friday's crucial 1-0 win over Costa Rica were placed in Edmonton for a reason — to give Canada an advantage against two warm-weather foes. It's the kind of gamesmanship we've come to expect in the CONCACAF region, where Canada's matches in Mexico and some Central American and Caribbean countries are often played in hostile environments. Can frigid Commonwealth become Canada's version of Mexico's dreaded Estadio Azteca? Chris Jones explores that in his latest piece for CBC Sports, which you can read here.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.