Canada's next figure skating generation ramps up for Olympics under watchful eye of old guard

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Canada's Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro are among the country's three ice dance entries at the Skate Canada International beginning Friday in Vancouver. (Linnea Rheborg/Getty Images - image credit)
Canada's Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro are among the country's three ice dance entries at the Skate Canada International beginning Friday in Vancouver. (Linnea Rheborg/Getty Images - image credit)

As Canada's next wave of figure skating talent hits home ice, its golden generation will be nearby.

Tessa Virtue, Meagan Duhamel and Patrick Chan will join CBC Sports as special analysts for Skate Canada International, the Grand Prix event that begins on Friday in Vancouver.

Watch every routine from Skate Canada on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and the free CBC Gem streaming service beginning Friday at 4 p.m. ET with the pairs short program.

The event is the second of the Grand Prix season in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics that begin on Feb. 4, 2022. A trio of Canadian entries are marked for each event as skaters begin to make their case for inclusion on the Olympic team.

Canada won four figure skating medals at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. Virtue, along with Scott Moir, took gold in ice dance — their second Olympic championship after also topping the podium at Vancouver 2010. Duhamel, along with Eric Radford, was a two-time pairs world champion and 2018 Olympic bronze medallist.

Chan won Olympic team event gold in 2018 and silver in 2014 along with Virtue and Duhamel, as well as earning men's silver in the latter.

"A really special time together that we might not see for a decade or more in Canada. Gosh, I still relive those memories, and it'll be great to just see fellow teammates and check in and see where everyone's at," Chan said.

A recent projection from the data company Gracenote showed Canada being shut out of the figure skating podium in Beijing.

"There's some exciting battles for spots on the [Olympic] team, so it starts now when these skaters go head-to-head at Skate Canada," Duhamel said. "So it's just going to be so exciting to see all that from afar, from a distance, without the pressure that the skaters feel."

One of those battles pits Radford and his new partner Vanessa James, a former French skater who also holds Canadian citizenship, against the more experienced pair of Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro.

When Radford announced he was unretiring in April, Duhamel said she was "blindsided" by the decision. But the 35-year-old still appears to feel at peace with her decision to call it a career.

"I did everything I wanted to do in the sport. There was nothing left. I did more than I wanted to do, more than I dreamt was possible," said Duhamel, who noted her next dream as "a big skating fan at heart" was doing commentary.

She said a challenge awaits Radford and James, who also ended her retirement to return to the ice.

"It's very difficult, and that's why we don't see it. Not only to come out of retirement, but to come out and try with a new partner and a new team. It takes a couple of years for a team to gel. It doesn't matter how great you are as individuals," she said.

Changing of the guard

Radford and men's skater Keegan Messing are just two on a short list of potential Canadian returnees from Pyeongchang — something which Chan, a veteran of three Olympics, said he could hardly fathom.

"It's comical to see those guys. So I tip my hat off because every time I watch skating now, I'm just like, 'Holy crap, how do they do that?' It seems so long ago," he said.

Canada has clinched two Olympic quota spots in men's and pairs, three in ice dance and one in women's. Skate Canada is just one event that will help decision-makers choose who to send to Beijing, with January's national trials in Ottawa also a major factor.

Chan, 31, said the fiercest competition could be in the men's event, where Messing is a favourite for now, with the likes of Nam Nguyen and Roman Sadovsky close behind.

WATCH | That Figure Skating Show recaps Skate America:

His advice for the potential Olympic rookies was to skate without regret, eliminating any caution they might feel on the ice.

"Everyone is starting post-pandemic. So why not just give it 110 per cent without fear? And it's a sport and mistakes happen, and you can only hope that you just happen to have a good day and you land on your feet," Chan said.

'We're all human'

Chan, of Ottawa, said he'll miss the feeling of those so-called good days as he watches from the broadcast booth.

"You become so obsessed with every little detail and improving every little aspect of your training on the ice, off the ice, your nutrition, your sleep, you start obsessing over it and it can be a detriment because it can almost drive you a little crazy," he said.

"I had my best performances when I just kind of let go and trusted all the training."

For Duhamel, of Lively, Ont., it's those nerves before a performance that she misses most about competition.

"How it all came to play on the ice and you can have these amazing performances and share the emotion and the energy with the audience. And I miss the training," she said.

Skate Canada might feel like the unofficial start to the season for Canadian athletes, with just a few having competed at last weekend's Skate America event.

The Olympic cycle may look different for Canada than the previous decade, leaving the potential for new stars to emerge as the old guard watches from the sideline.

"We're all human. I know there's so much fanfare around the Olympics, but at the end of the day, everyone is human and no one is skating but you. So you're in charge and you choose how you want to live your Olympic season," Chan said.

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