Selling a new sizzle

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:51 PM ET

VANCOUVER -- Today, Skate Canada will fly Patrick Chan and the new Canadian champions in pairs and dance straight to Saskatoon.

For the first time in years, they have something to sell.

And they're not wasting a day to sell it where next year's Canadian Figure Skating Championships will be held.

"I think we're miles ahead of where we were a week ago," said high performance director Michael Slipchuk of what happened here this year.

"We couldn't ask for more right now. We have new champions, not just same old, same old. And we still have enough time for them to be ready for Vancouver 2010."

For the first time in years -- for the first time since Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier and the Salt Lake 2002 judging scandal -- the sport's downward spiral stopped and took a turn for the better.

When the skaters gathered here at the start of the week, there was a severe shortage of sizzle to sell. But as the event came to a conclusion yesterday, there's all sorts of it.

When the week started there was the question of whether the sport, which has contributed 20 Olympic medals to Canada's collection over the years, would be able to manufacture a single, solitary medal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

That question wasn't answered here. But the No. 1 thing there is to sell in sport is hope, and this event concluded with heaping helpings of it for the future, both immediate and long-term.

"This has been a major turn for us, a validation through performance that our program is on the right track and going in the right direction," said Slipchuk.

"What we saw was youth and depth. We had it in the men's pairs and dance. We don't have it yet in ladies. But in all four we're headed in the right direction."

The crowds here, considering this was the first pre-Olympic event in an Olympic venue, were an embarrassing 3,614, 3,795, 3,726, 3,845, 4,287, 3,807, 5,273, 5,783 and 5,428, the final figure for the women's free skate yesterday with an insane 8:45 a.m. start time.

The last time Canadians were held here, it sold out GM Place.

But this time, for the first time in years, there was next to nothing negative about the skating.

As Skate Canada flies Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Saskatoon, there's every expectation they have a star to sell in just-turned-17 Patrick Chan of Toronto, the youngest man ever to win the title.

Chan not only blew everybody away with what he did on the ice here, he introduced himself to most Canadians as an extremely engaging, bright, charismatic, polite, respectful kid you can't help but hope reaches his stated goal of becoming the next Kurt Browning.

Put everything else that happened here together and it still doesn't give Skate Canada what Chan gave them by seizing his moment.

"When he skated, that's the first time we heard a crowd like that in a long time," said Slipchuk.

"Internally we knew and we thought this might be where he had his breakthrough. But the public didn't know a lot about Patrick until now.

"He's for real."

Better than that, he's more than a skater.

"He's got that something that the entire public can relate to," said Slipchuk, who knows of what he speaks, having spent his entire career as Kurt Browning's world class skating sidekick.


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