One medal doesn't tell the whole story for Canadian figure skaters at worlds

Figure Skating - ISU World Figure Skating Championships - Men's Short Program - Boston, Massachusetts, United States - 30/03/16 - Patrick Chan of Canada reacts after competing. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (REUTERS)

BOSTON - The world figure skating championships – two years out from the 2018 Olympics – showed some interesting trends that included Russia is losing its status as a skating super power and that Canada, too, is struggling to win medals.

Russia won only two medals in the women’s event, and none in their traditional events, ice dancing and pairs. Japan, home of iconoclasts like Mao Asada and Midori Ito, were shut out in the women’s competition. And Canada’s lone medal came in the pair event, with Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford casting off the mantle as underdogs to win gold with the second highest score in pair history (231.99.)

Canada has won multiple medals at the world championships since 2007, when Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon won the country’s only medal. But the secret to future success for Canada may lie in its depth, says Michael Slipchuk, high-performance director for Skate Canada.

“Even though we didn’t have as many medals, we had our best showing as a team at a worlds in a while,” Slipchuk said.  

Canada had three pairs, two ice dancers and a man and a woman finish in the top 10 in Boston. This is critically important because there is also a team event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. Canada won silver in the team event in Sochi.

“We’re going to need that [depth] when we go into next year for the Olympic qualifier [at the world championships in Helsinki],” Slipchuk said.

Based on placings this week, Canada may send three pairs, two dance teams, two men and two women to Helsinki.  Skate Canada had hoped for three men.

Chan has now seen what the competition is doing, and he’ll increase his technical content next year (although his competitors may, too). “It’s a two-year plan,” Slipchuk said. 

If there is a weakness among the Canadian continent, it’s in the men’s event, which has always been seen to be strong because of a long string of gold medals over the past five decades. But now, Canadian men are just too inconsistent. Slipchuk said. “Right now, we’re coming in on a wing and a prayer.”

The crunch? Other teams are fielding new faces that are suddenly springing into the mix. Mikhail Kolyada of Russia was recently a junior skater, but he finished fourth this week with a quad and senior flair. The competitive field can change on a dime.

Although Nam Nguyen finished fifth at the world championships last year, he’s had an up-and-down season and didn’t even qualify through to the free skate last week. The competition is so stiff, two mistakes in the short program put him out of the running.

Canadian pair skaters had three duos that finished in the top eight this week – and that doesn’t include Canadian silver medalist Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau who had to sit out the world championships this week because of injury.

Last season, their first as senior international skaters, Seguin and Bilodeau had begun to establish themselves as a top team until Seguin suffered a bone bruise from training a throw after nationals.

The 2015 Canadian champion Gabby Daleman has been a bright spot this week with her score of 195.68, more than 40 points higher than her score last year. “We haven’t had a girl at 190 since Jo [Joannie Rochette, 2010 Olympic bronze medalist,]” Slipchuk said. Daleman had been in the 170 range earlier this season.

“We feel good about where our ladies are,” Slipchuk said. Current Canadian champion Alaine Chartrand (17th here) has shown flashes of brilliance and has all the right tools. A previous Canadian champion, Kaetlyn Osmond, has also worked her way back from injury and in her world debut in 2013 was eighth.

So intense has the women’s competition become at the world level that the top seven score more than 200 points. World champion Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia won with 223.96 points.

“Scoring is just huge now,” Slipchuk said. “It’s important that our guys keep that pace up.”

Another bright spot: the 2010 Olympic ice dancing champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are returning next season. This week two Canadian teams finished in the top five. Virtue and Moir would become a third, although judging from what has happened this season, there’s no guarantee of success. Witness Russian Olympic pair champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov who finished only sixth overall this week.

Their problem? They haven’t kept pace with the quads.  “The Russian federation believes their athletes are so strong and that will be enough,” said one Russian journalist. But now they are becoming injured, trying quads.