New team event in Sochi has Canada eyeing gold

Never has a Canadian figure skating team shown so much strength and depth as it has in the past year, leading up to the Sochi Olympics.
That’s incredibly good timing, because for the first time, there will be a team event in figure skating at the Games. And, judging by the results at the world championships last March in London, Ont., Canadian skaters intend to make a bold statement at the Sochi arena. In London, Canadians delivered in spades:
Patrick Chan won his third world title while Kevin Reynolds finished third in the short program and fifth overall. Olympic ice dancing champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who have drawn parallels to the iconic Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean during their careers, took the silver medal while Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje made a seemingly impossible comeback from injury to finish fifth; and Canadian pair champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won a bronze medal, while Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch were close on their heels to finish fourth. Even in the women’s event, Kaetlyn Osmond, making her world debut, finished fourth in the short program and eighth overall.
In London, Ont., Canadian skaters had won medals in three of the four disciplines for the first time since 2008, but their backups weren’t far behind.
“I think it’s definitely ours to win,” said Moscovitch at the time. “It’s very exciting for us to be part of this generation of skaters.”
Michael Slipchuk wasn’t surprised. “Given the skates people had had at Canadians and Four Continents, we knew our team was skating well,” he said. “To do it at the Olympics is a different thing. But our skaters did what they had been doing all season.”
The team event combines the scores for each of four disciplines. And even though Canada goes in as favourite to win gold, it has never won a World Team Trophy, finishing second twice and third once in the event held in Japan two weeks after the world championships.
But Slipchuk says the Olympic format favours the Canadian team more than the World Team Trophy does, with its two men’s entries, two women’s entries and only one pair and one dance team. “plays to the strength of countries with singles,” he said. “Our pair and dance team really couldn’t make much ground on the points from the singles. The Olympic setup we like much better because it’s one per discipline. Everyone is on an even keel.”
Over the past year, Canada has racked up more points than any country (6,053), well more than host Russia, with 5459 points, is favoured to win the event. The other countries that have qualified, in order of points are United States, Japan, Italy, France, China, Germany, Ukraine and Britain. All 10 teams compete in a short program on February 6, a day before the opening ceremonies, but only five advance to the long programs. A country is allowed two substitutions between the short and long programs.
Alas, because both Japan and Britain failed to qualify a skater in one of the four disciplines to contest the event, they may invoke an “additional athlete quota” to use a non-qualified skater to complete their team. Japan, for example, needs to bring in a pair team, while Britain has not qualified a men’s skater.
During the past year, Canada’s competitors have grown stronger – but so have Canadian skaters, Slipchuk said. Canadian skaters got into early competitions this season to get mileage and feedback on their programs. Some have dealt with frustrations so far: Reynolds with boot problems that caused him to miss all of his Grand Prix events, and an injury to Osmond that caused her to pull out of Skate Canada and miss her second Grand Prix event. Slipchuk says both are back on track. “Kevin has had some good training behind him, and Kaetlyn is building back up to where she’s comfortable,” he said. “I think everybody is where we’d like to see them and we’ll get a better indication this week.
“I think when we get to Sochi, the team will be ready,” Slipchuk said.
Strategy will be important in the team event, and Canada has a plan, but it’s keeping its ideas close to the vest, Slipchuk said. The skaters for the team short program don’t have to be announced until 10 a.m. the day before the event. “It’s like hockey, with the hot goalie, right?” Slipchuk said. Should a country place all of its best skaters in the team event, and risk tiring or injuring them for the individual events? Canada has one big advantage: because of the depth of its team, it has lots of options, more so than, for example, Russia, which can field only one man to the Olympics and therefore has only one choice for its men’s representative for the team event.
And Slipchuk says despite some concerns that the team event could detract from a skater’s ability to do their best in an individual event that not one member of the Canadian team has said they don’t want to be a part of it. “It’s such a unique opportunity,” he said. “You don’t get an option in Olympic year to get in that main rink and compete once before your individual event.” He believes the team event will help them all in their individual events.
And the team must keep pushing, aside from the team event. Slipchuk says that it’s important to keep building the “third rankers” – the ones who will take over in the next quadrennial – with hopes that they will push into the top 12 or 15 at the Games. “We’re not sure what the team will look like, post-Olympics, and we’ll have to go to a world championship and build spots for the next year.
“The responsibility on our team falls on everyone,” he said. “We’re expecting everyone to go to the Games and be their best and not have any regrets.”

Beverley Smith

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