Ice Network

Talented Canadians head to worlds as underdogs

Despite boasting decorated roster, other countries favored at worlds
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Canada's Patrick Chan heads into the 2016 World Championships as somewhat of an underdog despite owning three world titles. -Getty Images

Heading into the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships, Canada boasts a roster filled with numerous world-medal winners.

Patrick Chan, who returns to this event after a year's hiatus, is a three-time world champion and a two-time world silver medalist. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are the defending world champions in pairs and have also won two world bronze medals. Ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje fell .02 of a point shy of claiming a world title in 2014 and took home bronze at worlds in 2015.

Despite the credentials, none of these skaters enter the 2016 World Championships as commanding favorites.

Often criticized during his career for the inflation of his scores, even Chan has not been able to produce the types of numbers that Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu and Spain's Javier Fernández have recorded this season. Hanyu amassed a whopping 330.43 at the Grand Prix Final, and Fernández racked up 302.77 points at the European championships.

"This is a completely different world championships because I'm a much different skater, a much different individual in my life. My skating has improved a ton," Chan said. "However, I'm not the favorite for the event. I am a bit of an underdog, but it's kind of exciting for me. I don't feel like I need to defend anything. The combination of keeping it fresh, yet familiar, is a good balance. And I think that might help me a lot."

Chan has always been able to combine the technical prowess of landing difficult quads with the elegance and deep edges of an artist, but even he has found it difficult to keep up with the technical advances the other skaters made while he was away from the competitive scene.

Hanyu has a combined five quads in his two programs. China's Boyang Jin landed four quads -- including a quad lutz -- in his free skate at the 2016 Four Continents Championships.

Chan has one quad in his short and two in his free, and this is the first season in his career that he has included two triple axels in his free. If he wins another world title in Boston, he will join Kurt Browning as the only other Canadian man to have won four world crowns.

It won't be easy.

"The men's field is so deep and so good that you can't really count any of these guys in or out," said Kathy Johnson, who coaches Chan in Detroit. "I guess whether people want to look at you as an underdog or as favored to win, at the end of the day, everyone has to go out and do their jobs.

"For Patrick, this is just the first year of the journey back," Johnson added. "And overall, it's been a great comeback year so far. Whenever one competes at a world championship, there's always pressure, but that's part of what all these athletes deal with. As Patrick has said before, at this point in his career, with everything he has accomplished, the pressure he feels is more about skating great for himself, just how good it feels to skate a wonderful program. And that's how he will head to Boston -- focused on putting two great programs together."

Chan has denounced the trend toward more quads, saying that figure skating has come to resemble a "slam dunk contest."

Chan has not gone so far as to include four quads in a program, but he has been able to defeat skaters who have, like Jin at the Four Continents Championships, gaining the advantage in components scores.

Chan's other international victory this season was at 2016 Skate Canada where he topped Hanyu. This season has been solid enough for Chan to consider staying on path to compete at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

"I've kind of got back into the rhythm of things and what it's like to compete again, and I enjoy it, especially when there's success that comes with it," Chan said. "I think it is a good starting point for the next two years."

After dominating pairs last season and claiming their first world title, Duhamel and Radford enter the 2016 World Championships with something to prove.

"We didn't have the same focus and direction as last year," Duhamel said candidly, but added that after meeting with choreographer Julie Marcotte and tweaking their programs a bit, they now feel "like we're back to the old Meagan and Eric."

Duhamel and Radford's stiffest competition is expected to come from Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. The Russian team is back after taking last season off from competition. Another Russian team, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, are ones to watch out for as well, despite an injury-plagued season. Aliona Savchenko, a five-time world champion with former partner Robin Szolkowy, is back competing for Germany with Bruno Massot.

Still, Duhamel and Radford, who are known for pushing the technical envelope with throw quads and side-by-side triple lutzes, could sneak onto the podium.

"We've planned to save the best long and short for Boston," she said.

As for ice dance, French world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron will be difficult to topple. Weaver and Poje were cruising along this season, winning every event they entered, until they hit a speed bump with a third-place showing at Four Continents, finishing behind Americans Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates.

On their return flight home from Taiwan, they had a stopover in Japan, where Weaver will tour with Stars on Ice in the offseason.

"We were sitting on the runway, and I said a little prayer to myself," Weaver said. "I said, 'Kaitlyn, we need to make sure that the next time we set foot in this country, the next time we're in Japan, immediately following Boston, we will have left no stone unturned. We will be proud of the work we did. We will have no regrets.'"

Papadakis and Cizeron have earned the top total score this season after coming away with 182.71 points at the European Championships, but Weaver and Poje are right behind them with 182.66 as a season high at the 2015 Grand Prix Final.