Area in step with worlds

Team Finland 2 practices it's routine for the upcoming World Synchronized Skating Championships at...

Team Finland 2 practices it's routine for the upcoming World Synchronized Skating Championships at the Western Fair's Sports Centre on Wednesday. (Sun Media/Derek Ruttan)

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

Canada has yet to produce a winner on the ice at the world synchronized skating championship.

Fan interest, however, is not an issue.

While powerhouses Finland and Sweden dominated the medal haul at the worlds the last seven years, Canadians don't take a backseat to anyone in turnstile count.

Skate Canada CEO William Thompson is surprised only at the speed in which tickets for tomorrow's short program and Saturday's free skate at the John Labatt Centre were gobbled up well in advance of the event.

In 2003, the worlds invaded Ottawa and drew 14,000 spectators over two days to the Civic Centre, with reports of the ice vibrating from the noise produced in the crowd.

"There's a corridor that runs from London to Kitchener, Burlington and east into Ottawa and Montreal where there's much of the interest in synchronized skating," Thompson said.

"There is synchro skating elsewhere in the country but this is where most of the teams are located. This event could be held successfully at a bigger arena (like Hamilton's Copps Coliseum) but the John Labatt Centre was a fine venue for (figure skating) nationals (in 2005) and it will make for a wonderful setting for the worlds. Plus, it's a two-day event so it's easier to sell than a national figure skating championship that runs for a week."

One reason Canada often fails to reach the top of the world podium is the number of competitive teams in the Ontario and Quebec regions. Skating against Finland and Sweden these days is comparable to the old hockey setup of sending the Canadian senior club champion to face the Soviet Red Army.

"We have more teams that compete at nationals and the teams that win there go on to represent Canada at worlds," Thompson said. "Other countries employ a national team setup with fewer teams but all of their top skaters are concentrated on those one or two teams. We're definitely competitive and the coaches are very well-versed technically and know what it takes to get to the top."

For those who haven't seen the sport since its precision days, synchro skating involves groups of skaters -- mostly female but males can be included (Finland's strong Team Unique boasts two men on its roster) -- performing various formations and turns to create a visual spectacle for their choreographed theme.

"It has grown from recreational roots whereas individual figure skating had broken into the competitive many, many years ago but it has made tremendous strides over the past 10 years," Thompson said. "You'll be pleasantly surprised. The athleticism has increased in leaps and bounds. It's scored under the new system much like individual and pairs and ice dance. Judges look for how well the teams do their turns and skate together. There aren't the jumps but it's very competitive."

There is a desire to make the sport an Olympic event but Thompson doesn't know how or when that's going to happen.

"The good news is I know the (International Olympic Committee) is always looking to add winter sports for women but the bad news is I also know that they haven't been interested in adding a lot of new sports to their menu, period, these days," he said.

The defending champion is Finland's Marigold Ice Unity, which has medalled at every world event since 2002. Fellow Finns Team Unique finished first in the 2007 French Cup.

There is an Australian team competing but also a Swedish crew that borrowed from the Aussie tradition by calling itself Team Boomerang. Sweden, which also boasts a club called Team Surprise, won the gold medal at the 2003 worlds in Ottawa and lead Finland 4-3 in top finishes since the original championships took place in 2000 at Minneapolis, Minn.


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