Golden hopes for Canadians at figure skating worlds

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Golden hopes for Canadians at figure skating worlds

It’s the most anticipated competition of the figure skating season.

After months of being divided amongst the Grand Prix events and continental championships, the world’s top skaters will finally all come together at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships, March 23-29 in Shanghai. Canada is sending a 16-skater squad, including strong gold medal contenders in pairs and ice dance.


Let’s break it down!

Pairs

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.

Canadian Entries:
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford
Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch
Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau

Two-time world bronze medallists Duhamel and Radford have come so far since teaming up in 2010, working hard to improve the artistic side of their skating and their connection with each other. Their programs this season are two of my favourites, especially the Muse medley free skate. Without the pressure of the Olympics on the horizon, they have relaxed and flourished, showcasing their outstanding technical skills in well-thought-out and interesting routines. The free skate is especially ambitious with their trademark side-by-side triple Lutzes and new-this-year throw quad Salchow. It’s helped them be the top scoring pair in the world this season and go undefeated in five international events, including the Grand Prix Final and Four Continents Championships.

I’m also drawn by their enthusiasm. Meagan’s face hides nothing. Whether it’s reacting to their first time landing the quad throw (1:34 above) or after she lands the late throw triple Lutz (4:31 above), you know they’re enjoying themselves. And how can you not love a program that ends with the lyrics “We will be victorious”?

I’m completely enamored with Canada’s other two teams. Olympic team silver medallist Moscovitch started over this season with Russian-born Iliushechkina. Worlds will be just their third international event together, but the combination of her extension and flexibility with his strong lifting skills makes for something special.

Seguin and Bilodeau are making their senior international debut after winning silver at the world junior championships earlier this month where they looked so far ahead of most of their competitors. They are ready for this next step.

The Competition:

Who is in the way of Canada’s first world pairs’ title since 2001? Not Olympic silver medallists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who have somewhat puzzlingly decided to start preparing for next season instead, perhaps to work on technical upgrades after maintaining their status quo this season. Duhamel and Radford had a seven-point advantage in their free skate start values in their only head-to-head meeting this season at the Grand Prix Final. And in what has become the year of the quad in pairs, there are four other teams with four-revolution elements. European champions Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov also have a throw quad Salchow while two Chinese teams and the American champions have quad twists. It’ll be interesting to see what impact they have.

Ice Dance

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje at the conclusion of the free dance before being crowned ice dance champions at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, Spain.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje at the conclusion of the free dance before being crowned ice dance champions at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, Spain.

Canadian Entries:
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier
Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam

Arguably Canada’s deepest event, all three teams finished in the top ten in 2014. Leading the way are Weaver and Poje who are also undefeated this season in five international events as they look to step up from last year’s silver. They have an amazing presence on the ice and their Four Seasons free dance is definitely my favourite of the year, feeling so much shorter than its four minute length. Light and fluid with unique movements, I am always surprised when the final section of music kicks in because the program has just flown by and I don’t want it to end. The top scorers in the world this season, Weaver and Poje are worthy successors to Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Gilles and Poirier are on the rise, having qualified for their first Grand Prix Final as a top-six team on the circuit. I love their short dance by 1984 Olympic champion Christopher Dean, which is remarkable since the required paso doble music and sequence is something I was not looking forward to this year. But they managed to make it interesting. To get a sense of their personalities, check out their list of hobbies in their official ISU bio.

Olympic team members Paul and Islam round out the roster. They dumped their original free dance just before nationals, a decision that has served them well. Let’s hope you like Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes (which I do), because both they and Seguin/Bilodeau are using it.

The Competition:

At the European Championships, France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (who train in Montreal with two-time world silver medallists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon) earned scores that show they can challenge for the gold in just their second senior season. Reigning world champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte showed up at Europeans with a revamped free dance after a disappointing fall that saw them withdraw from one of their Grand Prix events. Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates are the ones who have come closest to defeating Weaver and Poje this season, winning the short dance at Four Continents.

Men

Nam Nguyen

Nam Nguyen

Canadian Entries:
Nam Nguyen
Jeremy Ten

Nguyen is a true phenom and still just 16, which makes him younger than the man who took over his world junior crown this year. But he’s got the goods, including a quad Salchow, and is coached by one of the best in the biz, Brian Orser. After winning his first Grand Prix medal in his first ever Grand Prix event this season, Nguyen is aiming to improve upon his 12th place finish last year. I think he and his technical content been packaged extremely well. His programs are world class, yet age appropriate while allowing his personality and showmanship to shine.

Ten is back at the Worlds for the first time since 2009, allowing him to put a great capper on his career. After being hampered by injuries and unable to qualify for Sochi 2014, Ten decided he wanted to skate at nationals one last time without worrying about his result and what it would mean. He ended up with the silver medal and the ticket to Shanghai.

The Competition:

Among the leading contenders for gold are Nguyen’s “Cricket Brothers”, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and Javier Fernandez of Spain. All three train together with Orser at the Toronto Cricket Club and are extremely supportive of one another. Some days I wish I could be a fly on the wall there just to watch the quads get reeled off. Thank goodness for Nam and his Instagram:

Here are his and Javi’s side by side triple Axels…

And their quad Salchows…

Olympic champion Hanyu is going for his second straight world title while Fernandez wants more than the bronze he’s won the last two years. They finished 1-2 at the Grand Prix Final. But it’s not just a two-man show. In fact, there’s another Ten in the mix – Denis Ten of Kazakhstan. The Olympic bronze medallist seems to be peaking at just the right time, having won Four Continents in February with the world’s best score of the season.

Ladies

Gabrielle Daleman

Gabrielle Daleman

Canadian Entries:
Gabrielle Daleman
Alaine Chartrand

The ladies’ event is for the most part the domain of teenagers, including the two Canadians. Daleman and Chartrand both have triple-triple combinations in their repertoire, a necessity for success these days. Daleman may be the national champion, but it was Chartrand who created a bit of a stir when she led after the short program and went on to win bronze at the Rostelecom Cup Grand Prix. This is the second straight worlds for Daleman, who was the youngest member of the Canadian team in Sochi, while Chartrand is making her debut.

The Competition:

The big question is: can the Russians sweep? They did it at Europeans, led by Elizaveta Tuktamysheva who also won the Grand Prix Final. Elena Radionova is at her first senior worlds after winning the world junior title the last two years. Anna Pogorilaya is their third. Missing are a couple of Sochi gold medallists, Adelina Sotnikova and Julia Lipnitskaia. Suffice to say, the Russians are deep. But in prime position to ruin it for them is my darkhorse pick, Ashley Wagner, who laid down possibly the best ladies’ free skate ever done at a US nationals in January. At 23 she’s one of the elders, but if her triple-triples go as planned, her maturity and performance level are second to none in the field.

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