Canadian figure skating programmed for success

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:11 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- Two years on the job. Six medals.

For the first time in Canadian figure skating history, our nation produced back-to-back three medal world championships.

Not bad for the twizzle twins, Skate Canada's dynamic duo of CEO William Thompson and high performance director Michael Slipchuk.

"Two years ago we were not sure where we'd be today. It's great to be the leading country in the world in medals again," said Thompson. "To be at the upper level in competitiveness is where we wanted to be heading into Vancouver 2010."

"We came here and proved we're a contender to push for the podium at the Olympics," said Slipchuk. "You couldn't ask for more than that. It's a good way to leave this championship."

In their first full year together they produced a gold, a silver and a bronze at last year's World Figure Skating Championships in Goteborg, Sweden.

Here yesterday, Joannie Rochette's silver medal -- Canada's first women's singles medal for Canada since Liz Manley won silver in both Worlds and Olympics in 1988 and only the second women's medal in 36 years -- wrapped up the lead-in-Worlds to the Vancouver Olympics as a second straight success story.

Combined with the late night dance bronze won by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir the night before and the silver by 18-year-old sensation of the nation Patrick Chan on Thursday night, it made 2009, 2008, 1988 and 1963 the only times Canada has made three-medal magic at the great sequined sports show.

Six medals in two years?

Canada had only managed to manufacture seven medals in the first eight Worlds of the century -- one a year every year -- except 2004 in Dortmund, Germany, when for the first time in 23 years our nation was shut out.

The program bottomed out after the Salt Lake 2002 judging scandal, but these two have definitely brought it back.

Virtue and Moir going from silver last year to bronze this year didn't really signal they are headed in the wrong direction going into Vancouver. In many ways it was the opposite, considering it turned a trying season into a triumph.

"Obviously, bronze wasn't our goal. If you'd asked us after Worlds last year when we won silver we'd have said we were shooting for gold but the real goal is 11 months away," said Virtue.

Virtue, from London, Ont. and Moir from Ilderton, had only been on the ice together for a dozen weeks after he spent the front end of the season dancing with a broom while she recovered from surgery on her shins.

"It's been a tough season for us with a couple setbacks we didn't see coming," said Moir.

"We really had to work together. We became a lot stronger as a team because of it and we learned a lot."

Russians Oksana Dominina and Maxim Shabalin won gold scoring 206.30 while Kingston, Ont.-born Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto won silver, scoring 205.08. The Canadians were third at 200.40, but the story was their margin of victory - 0.04 over Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Staying on the podium was a positive.

"To get that score on that little training should scare the hell out of everyone," said Thompson.

Still, there were some negatives.

For the first time in history, Canada had a chance to put skaters on every podium at the Worlds, but Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison slipped from being bronze medallists last year to finishing seventh.

And the depth Canada thought might be there failed on all fronts, as the country failed to qualify a third skater for any event at the Olympics.

To get the third skater, a nation must have a combined position total of 13 or less. Chan (2) and Vaughn Chipeur (12) missed by one. Virtue and Moir (3) and Vanessa Crone (12) missed by two. Dube and Davison (7) and Meagan Duhamel and Craig Buntin (8) missed by two.

Rochette (2) and Cynthia Phaneuf (15) missed by four.

"Having only two is maybe a good thing," said Slipchuk. "You've got to keep it hungry. I don't know that we want skaters to go to Canadians wanting to finish third."

Canada as an Olympic nation in general is not long in the business of producing passengers but contenders.

"Our skaters are now coming here to win," said Slipchuk.

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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