KINGSTON, Ont. -- You can't blame Kingstonians if they're not rushing to the K-Rock Centre box office to purchase tickets for Skate Canada International this week.
The first true international figure skating event in this city simply does not feature a marquee field ― and that’s a real shame.
The latest bad news for the event, one of six competitions that make up the International Skating Union’s Grand Prix series, came on Monday. Two-time reigning Canadian pairs champs Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison dropped out after the latter skater injured his right knee last week in practice.
“I would call it bad luck more than anything,” said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s director of high performance. “It’s kind of a fluke thing. At a training session, (Davison) came out of a jump and his knee locked. That's never a good sign.”
Earlier this month, Canadian Olympic ice dance champs Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue withdrew after the latter skater underwent surgery on her legs. Earlier this year, Canadian Olympic bronze medallist Joannie Rochette announced she would not be competing in any Grand Prix. Her competitive future remains up in the air.
That leaves the Oct. 29 to 31 event with just one reigning Canadian champ ― Patrick Chan, who finished fifth at the Olympics.
Chan went on to win his second straight silver medal at the world championships in Italy following the Olympic Games.
The Ottawa native will stand alone in that regard this weekend. Chan happens to be the only reigning world championship medallist competing at Skate Canada.
Do the math and the city ends up with one of the 17 individuals or teams that stood on an Olympic or world championship podium last season. That’s not a pretty number ― and it doesn’t compare well when looking at similar events.
The Grand Prix series started this past weekend with the NHK Trophy in Japan. The home country generally assigns its top skaters to its own Grand Prix events, while other skaters are assigned to two of the six events each year. The goal is to divide reigning world medallists (from outside the home country) as equally as possible.
Japan was lucky enough to have its two Olympic medallists ― bronze medal-winning male Daisuke Takahashi and silver medal-winning female Mao Asada ― back in action on home ice this past weekend.
But it also drew reigning Olympic silver medal-winning dance team Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States and the pairs Olympic silver medallists, Pang Quing and Tong Jian of China.
As for Kingston, the non-Canadian reigning world medallists assigned to compete here ― Laura Lepisto of Finland and Russian pair Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov ― suffered injuries in recent months and won’t be coming. Athletes are assigned to Grand Prix events in June. After that, there is no more movement.
“You come out of an Olympic year, there’s always a bit of wear and tear, and you just never know,” Slipchuk said. “With the Grand Prix circuit, a category or two can take a big hit and for us it’s on the pairs side (this year).”
Comparing Kingston to the most-recent post-Olympic Skate Canada International also leads to disappointment.
In 2006 in Victoria, following the Turin Winter Games, Skate Canada had the Olympic men’s silver medallist (Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland) and the second-place pair (Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao of China).
Last year’s pre-Olympic Skate Canada in Kitchener had all the big Canadian names (Virtue and Moir, Rochette, Chan and Davison and Dube) as well as the 2009 world championship pair, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany.
So why is Kingston going short-handed?
Well, the event has had its fair share of bad luck. If Virtue and Moir are competing, the weekend has a whole different feel.
But there always is significant risk when hosting an international winter sporting event in the season following an Olympic Games.
The Olympic champions ― Evan Lysacek of the United States, Kim Yu-na of South Korea, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo of China and Moir and Virtue ― will not be skating in one Grand Prix event this season.
With the Sochi Olympics still four long years away, many of the top winter athletes retire or take time off.
Hindsight is 20-20, but maybe it wasn’t the best idea for Kingston to go after the 2010 version of the event.
That being said, perhaps the ISU needs to be a bit more flexible when it comes to moving top athletes if injuries occur between June and the actual date of the event.
You can't control injuries, but fans paying top dollar expect a certain level of competition.
Despite the weakened field, there still figures to be some drama this week.
Promising young American Adam Rippon is on the rise and is coached in Toronto by Canadian legend Brian Orser, who was dropped by Kim in a surprising move earlier this year.
Rippon, Chan, up-and-coming Canadian Kevin Reynolds and Japanese skater Nobunari Oda, who finished seventh at the Olympics, make the men’s event the most interesting competition this weekend.
Four years from now, some of the unheralded competitors in Kingston could very well be on the Olympic podium in Russia ― Kim, Rochette, Takahashi, Moir and Virtue and Davis and White all skated at the 2006 Skate Canada, starting their climb up the charts.
But this event should be more than a showcase of potential future stars.
Kingston ― or any city hosting a Grand Prix event for that matter ― deserves better.