Canada's blades of glory

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the two-time ice dance champs, lead the golden charge. (QMI Agency/Sue...

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the two-time ice dance champs, lead the golden charge. (QMI Agency/Sue Reeve)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

LONDON, ONT. -- Vancouver looms.

Skate Canada has room for 12 Olympic figure skaters.

Two men. Two women. Two ice dance teams. A couple of pairs.

Only Russia (16) and the U.S. (15) will have more skaters at the Pacific Coliseum ice next month.

"It's going to be a strong Canadian team," Skate Canada CEO William Thompson said. "Like everyone else, I'm interested to see how it takes shape and I'm looking forward to watching how those contenders do (starting today at the 2010 BMO Canadian figure skating championships) in London, the last big step before these home Games."

London, and the John Labatt Centre ice, is the official Olympic liftoff.

These nationals will separate who flies the Maple Leaf in Vancouver from those who have to watch it on TV.

The Canadian figure skating team will be announced at event's end on Sunday in an orchestrated Games sendoff.

There is expected to be medal potential heading west. The biggest question is how many. Four? Three? The usual Olympic one or two?

Zero is unthinkable.

London's Tessa Virtue and Ilderton, Ont.'s Scott Moir, the two-time ice dance champs, lead the golden charge.

They couldn't ask for any more momentum.

They're skating at home on the same JLC ice where they made their senior debut at nationals five years ago.

'SENSATIONAL'

"I just love their free dance," said former Canadian champ Jeffrey Buttle, the Olympic medallist and former world champ who won his first national title in London and will serve as the event ambassador this week. "I think it's sensational."

It is, in the Torvill and Dean sense, their Bolero. Kurt Browning called it "can't miss." If Moir and Virtue are already ahead of the Olympic points race when it's time to unleash their signature Canadian "Goose" lift, the rest of the world is cooked.

"I'm biased," Skate Canada high-performance director Mike Slipchuk said with a laugh, "but I think they're the best in the world right now."

CHAN DUMPS COACH

Since Buttle called it quits, Patrick Chan is the main man. But the defending champ and world silver medallist struggled with a calf injury this year. He didn't look too hot during his return in November and, just last week, split with coach Don Laws.

More soap opera fodder than Olympic prep work.

"Patrick's going to be fine," said Slipchuk, who visited the skater in Colorado Springs, Colo., last week. "The potential is there. He's in the mix among the top skaters in the world. It's all about place and time."

He needs a London win more than anyone else here. If he doesn't do it, the doubters will badger him right up to his Olympic skate.

On the women's side, Joannie Rochette leaves little doubt on the national stage.

She won her first title in London five years ago with her Firebird routine and hasn't surrendered it since.

Last year, she became the first Canadian to win a world medal (silver) since Elizabeth Manley, expected to drop in this week, did it 21 years before her. Rochette called it a thrill to come back to London for another nationals. Now 24, she has a sixth sense for the symmetry of this return heading to Vancouver.

'SHE'S GROWN UP'

"She's grown up, she's a woman now, and she has proved you don't have to be the 15-year-old wonder kid anymore to win," Slipchuk said.

Time to see if Rochette's new long program -- Samson and Delilah -- is a cut above.

In pairs, Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison defend their second title in three years. Few can match their resolve -- Dube needed 80 stitches to sew up her face after running into her partner's skate three years ago.

They recovered and now rule the roost. But they have some healthy competition.

Will Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay, who couldn't skate at nationals last year in Saskatoon, be the Olympic wild card?

Don't forget Craig Buntin, who is tossing high-flying Meaghan Duhamel through the air, instead of Valerie Marcoux, these days. Or Mylene Brodeur and John Mattatall, who aren't too bad, either.

Most years, a podium finish at nationals is something to celebrate. Not this year. Not with Vancouver in the mix.

By Sunday, it'll be Olympics by plane or TV remote. It's last call for the skaters in London to be among those chosen 12.


Videos

Photos