The Canadian figure skating team could very well win three medals at the 2012 world championships this spring in Nice, France — and perhaps repeat that performance at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
But after that ... well, Skate Canada high performance director Michael Slipchuk gets paid to worry, and he’s worried that, after Sochi, there might be a major drop in class in Canadian skating.
The young talent is there, Slipchuk told Sun Media on Friday, but it’s up to the next group of Canadian skaters to step up soon, perhaps as early as this weekend’s Canadian championships at the Moncton Coliseum Complex, and show the world that they could be the next Patrick Chan, the next Joannie Rochette, or the next great dance team. Because, if defending world men’s champion Chan and defending Olympic dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir retire following the 2014 Olympics, there might be a considerable void in Canadian skating.
Slipchuk hopes not, doesn’t think it will happen, but is worried that it might, especially in the men’s event.
Canada has an incredible history in men’s skating, having won the world title 10 times since 1987. But after Chan, the defending world champion from Toronto, there seems to be a major drop — unless over the next couple of years someone really skates to the forefront.
“Right now, do I look at the field and say, ‘Is the next Patrick in the mix?’ I can’t say that right now,” said Slipchuk. “But there are people that could, in the next year or two, start moving themselves into position where, post-2014, they’re a top five in the world.”
In men’s skating, the next great Canadian skater always seemed to be right there, ready to jump to the top on the international scene when the current Canadian star retired. That’s been the tradition since the late 1980’s. Brian Orser won the world title in 1987 and Kurt Browning won his first of four world crowns two years later. And on it went.
“When you look back at those years, when Brian was in the top three at worlds, Kurt was in the top 10,” said Slipchuk, the 1992 Canadian men’s champion. “When Kurt was top three, I was in the top 10. Looking back to ‘91 in Munich, where Kurt was first, Elvis (Stojko) was sixth and I was seventh, we had three guys in the top seven. And that’s why we could maintain the field of three men (at the worlds). Jeff Buttle wins in 2008, Patrick’s ninth. Unfortunately last year, when Patrick wins, our men are 20th and lower (Kevin Reynolds was 20th, Joey Russell 24th) so we’re down to two men. So the men have to step it up.”
So who’s the next great Canadian male skater when Chan retires?
Well, that’s the thing. Unlike in years past, there’s no obvious answer. Slipchuk said it could be a number of guys — quad king Reynolds, Jeremy Ten, Elladj Balde, Liam Firus or defending world junior champion Andrei Rogozine. Or none of them.
“We have men who have the capability, but we really need to start to see them get those scores in the 200’s so we can get them in the top 10 (in the worlds) and that’s vital if we want three men qualifying for the Sochi Olympics,” said Slipchuk.
A lot of people have already anointed the Little Big Man, Burnaby’s Nam Nguyen, as the next great Canadian skater. Nguyen, the son of Vietnamese immigrants, will be competing in the men’s senior event at this weekend’s nationals as a 13 year old, having won the junior title last year against competitors seven years older. But while Slipchuk is excited about Nguyen’s potential, he’s hesitant to proclaim the Joanne McLeod-coached skater as The Next One.
“He’s 13 years old,” said Slipchuk. “For 13, how is he? Very good. And you can’t take anything away from him. But I’m always cautious to put the impression out there that we’re putting all our eggs in one basket, that we’re putting all expectations on this kid. We’ve done that too many times in the past, gotten too excited. And I think it comes as a detriment to the skater. Joanne has a great plan for him, the plan works, and we support what they’re doing.”