Championship lite on excuses

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:15 AM ET

Toronto figure skater Patrick Chan could point to a dozen reasons why he failed to finish on the podium at the Vancouver Olympics.

And most are legit.

He was injured early in the season.

He was sick early in the season.

He doesn’t do the quad.

He went through a coaching change before the Olympics.

He changed training locations.

The 2006 Olympic champion, Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko, made a comeback for the Games.

And so on and so forth.

But now, with the world figure skating championships beginning this week in Turin, Italy, there are no more roadblocks, and there shouldn’t be any excuses.

Chan is healthy and rested and the competition pool for Turin has been greatly diluted.

Both Plushenko and American Evan Lysacek, who edged the Russian for the gold medal in Vancouver, have withdrawn from the worlds. As well, Lysacek proved in Vancouver that talented all-round skaters, such as himself and Chan, don’t necessarily need a quad to win.

The door’s open for Chan to do something big in Turin.

In fact, the door’s open for Canada to skate away with three medals at this year’s world championships. Or, as they are now known by some press box wags, the world championships lite.

Three years out of four, the worlds are the pinnacle of the season for skaters. In Olympic years, however, it’s a different ball game.

What happens is, many of the Olympic medallists decide to take a pass on the worlds because it’s just too difficult to get up for a major competition held scant weeks after the Olympics. For older skaters and for many of the gold medallists, the Games often mark the end of the line. And this year is no exception.

Heading into the 2010 worlds, which begin on Tuesday at the Palavela Arena, a number of medallists from Vancouver have elected to hang up the blades, either permanently or just for the season, including Lysacek and Plushenko in men’s singles, women’s singles bronze medallist Joannie Rochette of Ile Dupas, Quebec and 2009 ice dance world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia.

The absence of Rochette, who has not sufficiently recovered from the death of her mother, who passed away just days before the start of the Olympic short program in Vancouver, means that it’s unlikely that a Canadian will crack the medal podium in women’s singles.

Cynthia Phaneuf of Contrecoeur, Que. is the reigning Canadian silver medallist, but is not quite a medal contender for the worlds. She finished 12th in Vancouver and 15th at the 2009 worlds.

But in all the other disciplines, Canada should collect hardware, possibly gold for defending Olympic ice dance champs Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and in men’s singles for Toronto’s Chan.

Chan told reporters last week that he felt emotionally drawn after Vancouver, mainly because his fifth-place showing was a disappointment. But with Lysacek and Plushenko out, he’s optimistic that Turin will mark the beginning of a long stretch of success, leading to the 2014 Sochi Games.

“I want to show everyone that my time is going to come,” he said. “It didn’t happen in Vancouver, but for sure it’s going to happen in the next four years. I’m ready to dominate and show everyone what I have.”

Though Chan has yet to perform a quad jump in competition, and has no plans to unveil one in Turin, he certainly has the goods to win at the highest level.

Chan said that he still practices the quad and will likely add it to his arsenal for next season. But with the quad, or without, Skate Canada CEO William Thompson is certainly a believer in Chan’s vast potential.

“Some of the things he can do in the ice, no one else can do,” said Thompson, alluding to Chan’s spins and footwork.

“He’s truly one of the most talented men in the world and I think he’ll be the world champion one day. And he won’t hit his prime for three-four years.”

As for the quad, Thompson doesn’t see a problem going forward.

“He’ll be fine,” Thompson said. “His quad-toe is great. It’s a better jump than his triple Axel. It’s a big jump. He just has to be a little more consistent with it. But when he gets that, he’ll have everything.”

As for Virtue and Moir, barring a disaster, a medal in Turin is virtually a certainty. Their toughest competition will came from Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who finished second to the Canadians in Vancouver.

But what’s not certain is what will happen after the 2010 season. Virtue and Moir hinted on Thursday that Turin could be their competitive swan song which, of course, would be a disappointment for Canadian skate fans, and to Skate Canada.

Thompson said earlier that he fully supports whatever decision the dance team makes. But he believes that their golden freedance performance in Vancouver, which gave them a overall score of 221.57 points, was just the beginning of what could be a legendary career.

Thompson said the young ice dance team could dominate for the next four years.

“It’s quite something,” Thompson told Sun Media.

“I don’t think they’ve hit their peak. Typically, skaters hit their peak when they’re three or four years older than Tessa and Scott right now.”

Virtue and Moir have been skating together since 1997, though she is all of 20 and he 22.

Thompson was no doubt taken aback somewhat with the news that they are waffling at committing for the 2014 Olympics, adding that, as far as he understands, the Canton, Michigan-based team “has never been really crazy about doing shows.”

“Some skaters really enjoy the (professional) shows. And while Tessa and Scott like doing them, they’re really into competing,” he said.

True enough, but both skaters suggested that the grind of competing has worn somewhat thin.

Still, a decision will not be made until after Turin.

What Virtue and Moir want now is to skate a superior program in Turin and win their first world championship gold medal, after taking a silver at the 2008 event and bronze last season. Their exquisite freedance program, performed to Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.5, earned 110.42 points in Vancouver, and sealed first — the first North Americans to win the Olympic ice dance gold.

“Our goal (at the worlds) is to score about 200 points in freedance,” Moir said with a laugh. “I’m joking. But we know how we want to skate — the same as the Olympics. Our big goal is to just skate the program the way we were skating in training. We love these programs and we really want to do them justice.”

Like Chan, Moir admitted that it was difficult to get back into the swing of things after the wild ride from Vancouver, but said after training for two solid weeks in Canton, they’re ready.

“The first couple of days when we came back, we were just trying our hardest to feel human again,” he said.

“That was a task in itself. The next week we seemed to be able to crank it up and we were able to pick up where we left off.”

Canadian pair champions Jessica Dubé, 22, St-Cyrille-de-Wendover, Que., and Bryce Davison, 24, Huntsville, Ont., finished sixth in Vancouver but already have a world championship bronze medal under their belts, from 2008, and are also poised to win a medal in Turin.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos