Skating foundation laid for Olympics

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 8:26 AM ET

This was going to be the predictable Canadian figure skating championships.

And in the end, everything went to plan.

But predictable didn't mean boring. Those who were supposed to win did, but it was a championship rife with good stories, more than a few twists, turns and jumps. They laid down a foundation for the Vancouver Olympics that's built on hope and possibilities.

The championships ended Sunday at the John Labatt Centre and will conclude no doubt with the usual high praise from organizers. Londoners seem to embrace the sport and when you draw large crowds for every session, including a Friday morning women's short program, you've got to bet it was happy time in the Skate Canada room.

Patrick Chan won the men's category; Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue won ice dance; Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison topped pairs and Joannie Rochette the women's singles. It's an honour roll of the predicted winners.

What has to be heartening in the year of the Vancouver Olympics is how the winners got there, how well they responded to pressure and the how hard those who would dethrone them, performed.

Chan and Moir and Virtue didn't leave much room for doubt in their category. They won easily.

But Chan had to gather himself after a rough start. Both Kevin Reynolds and Vaughn Chipeur put in outstanding performances before Chan.

Chan was coming off an injury and dealing with a change in his coaching staff. He has some time to prepare and he'll need it.

Moir and Virtue showed not a twitch of nervousness skating in their own backyard. Their cold-bloodedness can only solidify what is this country's best bet for a medal.

Rochette responded to a challenge from Cynthia Phaneuf. Phaneuf won the short program but Rochette responded with a knock 'em dead long program. Phaneuf could not respond, doubling out on two triple jumps. It was enough for a trip to Vancouver but not enough to scare the favourites in Vancouver.

The best story of the championships came in the pairs division. Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay returned from a year away from competitive skating to finish second to Dube and Davison.

Langlois and Hay won the pairs in 2008 eight. Months later, Langlois' ankle miseries put their skating careers not only on hold but in jeopardy.

"We had some hard times," Hay said. "We knew that we wanted, and we always believed, that we could make it back. There were a few times when it didn't seem that Anabelle's injury wasn't getting better and that it was impossible. But we always managed to push through those times. And now to be at this point and accomplish what we set out to accomplish, it's a very proud and exciting moment."

Hay says emerging from this competition was like "climbing a mountain and getting over the peak."

For Langlois their successful return left her with a desire for more.

"I'm hungry for more training and more perfection at home to get ready for the Games," she said. "We're so happy that our year didn't end and obviously happy to get the chance to go to the Olympics. But we have another full month to improve for the Games and another full month for the world championships. It's like another lease on life this year."

So while the national championships provided some drama, the real focus is the Olympics. Canadian skaters put up some big scores not an unusual occurrence in an Olympic year when judges love to send the skaters to the Games with a good feeling.

Will the reality in Vancouver fit with the scores awarded here?

There's every reason to believe Canada will continue its streak of winning a medal in skating in every Olympics since 1984.

The expectations though are for more.

"I think this team has a lot of depth," Rochette said, after accepting her medal. "There is a chance for more than one."

Home-ice advantage should help the Canadians.

But that home-ice will mean having to deliver under pressure circumstances. The Olympics provide pressure enough for Canadian skaters. Now put those Games in a country starved for Olympic success and that pressure is magnified exponentially.

Rochette has to be perfect. Chan has to be better to win a medal and there are so many great pairs team in the world that the Canadian teams are in tough.

"Hopefully, it's more than one," Langlois said when asked about medal chances in the Olympics. "I don't know why we can't think like all the other countries. There have been so many medals in the past won by people who were unexpected. The Olympics is probably the one place where it's anybody's game."

Giving hope to a country that needs a little hope and a little help to bring home the kind of medals people are expecting.

Rochette will be one of those expected to deliver. So will the other champions.


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