Growing by leaps, again

SHANE ROSS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:44 AM ET

Much like the 2004 lockout turned many Canadians off the NHL, the judging scandal at the 2002 Olympics soured the nation on figure skating.

The sport in Canada was past its glory years of the 1990s, when Elvis Stojko had us holding our collective breath every time he launched into the air.

His retirement after the 2002 Olympics -- those infamous Salt Lake Games that robbed Canadian pairs duo Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of the gold, then gave it back to them -- left a void in the hearts of Canadian figure skating fans.

Time heals all wounds, and just as hockey fans came back, figure skating fans appear to have forgiven their sport, thanks largely to a new scoring system implemented after the Olympics.

"I think it's been through the bottom of the waning and actually picked up," said Skate Canada CEO William Thompson. "We're seeing numbers of television viewers increasing both here and in the States over the past few years."

Thompson has capitalized on the revival by purchasing the broadcast rights from the International Skating Union and partnering with the CBC to televise the entire season, including this weekend's Skate Canada International at Scotiabank Place.

The Ottawa event, which will feature more than 40 skaters, is the second of six competitions in the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series.

Skaters compete in two events each, and are awarded points -- and prize money ranging from $18,000 for first to $2,000 for fifth. The top six in each category qualify for the ISU Grand Prix final, which will take place in Seoul Dec. 11-14.

CHAN COMES HOME

Expected to be there is 17-year-old Patrick Chan, the Canadian champion who returns to his birthplace this weekend and is expected to play a large part in the nation's figure skating revival.

Can he be the next Stojko?

"No doubt," Thompson said. "He's a phenomenal talent, the real deal. It'll be interesting to see how Evan Lysacek (of the U.S.) stacks up against Patrick this weekend because he's always been quite a bit ahead of Patrick."

Chan doesn't have to carry all of Canada's figure skating future on his young shoulders. Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who won't be competing this weekend due to an injury, won silver at the worlds last year.

"Scott's a real character and Tessa's a really elegant young lady, so it makes an interesting pair," Thompson said.

Then there are pairs partners Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison, who will be competing this weekend. They won bronze at last year's worlds.

"They're all very young," Thompson said. "Patrick's still junior age eligible and they just burst on to the senior scene and we've been working hard to get them known by the Canadian public."

They should know them a little better after this weekend.


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