SOCHI - Canada is still in the hunt for the gold medal in the figure skating team event, but there’s a bigger picture to consider here.
As in, what’s the story with Patrick Chan?
Chan placed third in the men’s team short program Thursday and said he was generally happy with his performance, but he didn’t exactly look like a man ready to grab the bull by the horns and capture Canada’s first-ever gold medal in Olympic men’s singles figure skating.
The way Chan skated in the team event in comparison to two of his biggest rivals, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and Russia’s Evgeny Plushenko, raises some concerns. The three-time defending world champion has had an up and down season and was hoping to peak here in Sochi, but his short program Thursday was sub-par.
He struggled from the start, turning a planned triple toe on the back end of his quad toe-triple toe jump combo into a double, and then he staggered out of his triple Axel, finishing third with 89.71 points, behind 19-year-old Hanyu (97.98) and the 31-year-old Plushenko (91.39).
The Toronto native said after his performance Thursday that all is fine. But you have to wonder. He’s struggled with his triple Axel all season and if Japanese sensation Hanyu and his talented teammates — Daisuke Takahashi (the 2010 world champ) and Tatsuki Machida — skate well in the individual men’s single event, and if Plushenko and Spain’s Javier Fernandez step up, Chan could be in trouble when individual competition begins next Thursday.
Still, Chan was his usual optimistic self after his team short, claiming that all his mistakes can be cleaned up by next week.
Since the men’s singles event begins only a week after the team event, Chan will hand off the baton, if you will, to Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., who will skate the long program for Team Canada.
“It feels good being able to hand it off and show my teammates it can be done,” said Chan. “I’m the first one out and I’m alive after it, so there’s nothing to be scared of. Right now I’m happy to hand it off.”
There are 10 countries in the team event, with the top five moving on to the long programs. Each team consists of one man, one woman, one pair and one ice dance couple, though a country is allowed two substitutions in entries between the short and free programs.
Chan will be replaced by Reynolds for the long, while the Canadian pairs team of Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who placed second on Thursday in their team short program, will be replaced for the long by Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch.
Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and women’s singles skater Kaetlyn Osmond will skate both the short and long programs for Canada in the team event.
Duhamel and Radford scored 73.10 points (a season best) in their near flawless routine with Lively, Ont., native Duhamel almost breaking down in tears after their skate. The pair are the defending world champion bronze medallists.
The Russian team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov won with 83.79 points.
The team event is considered a four-team race for the gold, between Canada, Russia, the U.S. and Japan.
After Thursday men’s singles and pairs, Canada sits second with 17 points based on the 1-10 point team system. Duhamel and Radford picked up nine points for their second-place showing while Chan eight for finishing third. The Russian team first in the team event with 19 points. China is in third with 15 points.
The big surprise Thursday was the performance by Plushenko, who has struggled with injures the last couple of seasons and was nominated to the Russian team even though he lost at his own nationals to 18-year-old rising star Maxim Kovtun. But judging by the way he skated Thursday, it looks like the Russian skating federation made a smart move to put the 2006 Olympic champion on the team. Plushenko, who finished second at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, nailed his quad toe-triple toe combo, as well as a triple Axel and triple Lutz.
“Believe me it is so difficult skating an Olympics at home because many people are here waiting for something incredible,” said Plushenko. “You need to concentrate. And today – wow, it was so difficult skating today. I skated very well I think. But I must fight a few days more.
“He’s a very important person for me, he was my hero,” said Hanyu of Plushenko. “That’s why I was happy to skate here with him.”
Hanyu was even more impressive, nailing a quad toe, a triple Axel and a triple lutz-triple toe combo.
SKATERS LIKE EXTRA EVENT
Defending Olympic ice dance champion Scott Moir is convinced that once the figure skating team event catches on, it will be huge.
But Moir said it’s already huge to the skaters. Just getting the chance to win more than one medal for the first time is the big attraction, he said.
“I think it's a amazing opportunity,” said Moir. “We are kind of envious of the speed skaters ... it seems like every other day they’re going out there to win another medal. And we are little envious of that and I guess that’s why we’re so excited about this extra event.
“I think it’s easy for some people to overlook (the team event), but it’s an Olympic gold medal and we’re here to fight for that and we have to take every single chance that you can,” added Moir. “And we feel really lucky that we’re able to go after two Olympic medals in one Games.”
Virtue and Moir, defending Olympic champions, will skate both the short and long programs in the team event, and couldn’t be happier about that. The “regular” ice dance event doesn’t begin until Feb.16.
“We’re here to fight for the Olympic gold medal in both events and we made it clear to Skate Canada that we want to do both,” said Moir.