Regional talent out in force

RYAN PYETTE, Free Press Sports Reporter

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

There will be no shortage of local talent on the John Labatt Centre ice when the Canadian figure skating championships glide into London Jan. 17-23. Skate Canada's Western Ontario section, whose responsibilities include the clubs in and around the London area, will enter 28 competitors, including a couple of medal contenders, in eight categories at the country's most prestigious skating event.

"It's a good team, there's a lot of talent," said Western Ontario section chair Steve Scherrer of Kitchener.

"Officially, we don't set a number in terms of medals because anyone with the hot hand could end up on the podium.

"The Canadian championships are the pinnacle and it's such a thin slice at the top. The one thing our skaters have is it's near home this time. There will be a lot of family and friends who wouldn't have normally been able to see the nationals in person."

It's that kind of home-crowd advantage that should inspire a skater like senior men's competitor and national team member Christopher Mabee, an energetic performer who has little trouble connecting with an audience.

The well-travelled 19-year-old Tillsonburg native recently captured gold at the Belgrade Sparrow international event and earned a bronze medal in juniors at the 2002 nationals in Hamilton.

He is joined in senior men's by the North Dorchester club's Justin DelBelBelluz, Chatham's Justin Perdu and Mathew King of Watford.

King is a battler. He competed in senior nationals last year in Edmonton just two weeks after suffering a broken rib in a car accident and a month after undergoing knee surgery.

He also finished sixth in junior at the 2002 nationals, missing a Canadian team berth by one spot.

On the women's side, London Skating Club's Harmonie Wong and Forest City club member Lauren Wilson get the chance to hear the home cheers.

Two years ago, Wilson was the pride and joy of the London skating set after spinning and jumping to junior gold at Canadians in Hamilton.

However, Wilson won't enter this year's event as section champion. She was upset by Scherrer's daughter Erin, a member of the Kitchener-Waterloo skating club.

Perhaps the largest JLC cheers will be reserved for Ilderton club grads Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue, the former junior stars making their first strides onto the national senior ice dance stage.

Also, Watford's Diane Szmiett will compete in junior ladies, Woodstock's Aaron Hatchell will skate in junior men while Watford's Amy Edwards (with partner Will Eaton) and Chatham's Kristen Piche (partnered with Adam Schumacher) will take part in junior pairs.

"We're looking forward to this, we don't think we could be going into a greater venue in the country right now," said Steve Scherrer.

"You look at where the pool of people are going to come from to see this -- from Toronto to Windsor, the Niagara region and Sarnia. That's quite a populous to draw from."


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