Ice Network

Canadians well represented at Grand Prix Final

Chan looks to stay poised in Marseille; Osmond looks to build on success
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Canada's Patrick Chan vowed to perform within himself at the 2016 Grand Prix Final and not get wrapped up with what his opponents are doing in their programs. -Getty Images

For Patrick Chan, the biggest challenge at the Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France, this week may simply be to keep calm and carry on.

In practices and warm-ups, Canada's three-time world champion will confront quads in every direction: loops from Yuzuru Hanyu, flips from Shoma Uno and flips and lutzes from Nathan Chen. World-record scores may be broken, and then re-broken. The mercurial Chan will need to muster zen-like focus to concentrate on the task at hand.

"I'm competing against the top five in the world, kind of the all-stars of the season," Chan said. "[Some] of us will do much more difficult quads beyond the typical salchows and toes. For me, my biggest goal is to get there and not get too distracted by the jumping competition going on with the Japanese skaters, Shoma and Yuzu, and Javi [Fernández].

"Javi and I realistically have the same plan technically, other than the short program," he continued. "Those are the things I need to remember, to focus on my job and not get too concerned with what they're doing."

Well, not quite. While Chan and Fernández both plan three quads in their free skates, the two-time and reigning world champion has routinely landed his toe and salchow for years. This is the first season Chan has tried the quad salchow in competition, and he fell on his attempts.

Of course, the Canadian has weapons of his own. His program component scores remain among the sport's highest, and he notched two Grand Prix wins -- including a victory over Hanyu at Skate Canada -- this fall. At Cup of China, he hit two quad toes and two triple axels in his free skate for the first time.

"At this point in my career, if I'm doing it to win as many gold medals as possible, I'm setting myself up for failure," Chan said. "I've learned to just go out and be concerned with my own challenges and goals. The minute I start to get concerned with winning or doing as many quads as Yuzu or Shoma, I set myself up for trouble, and I've experienced that before. I'm trying to learn from my experiences."

Chan didn't make any big changes to his programs following Cup of China last month, but Marina Zoueva and Oleg Epstein, who coach him in Canton, Michigan, tinkered around the edges. Positions were modified to make some of his spins more "aesthetically appealing." More body movement was added to his footwork, including the choreographed steps in his free skate, set to Eric Radford's "A Journey."

"[We added] accents to create a more dynamic quality, so it's not always soft movement," Chan said. "We're trying to mix it up with some sharp, aggressive movement."

The newly mellow Chan credits Zoueva with helping to keep his competitive nerves at bay and what he calls his "personal dialog" to a minimum.

"Going to competitions with Marina at the boards, she knows how to handle any situation," he said. "She is very equipped to handle any bumps in the road. She's very calm, exactly what I prefer from a coach at competitions."

Certainly, the 25-year-old Chan is a big hit with Chen, who trained alongside him in Canton for much of the fall. The 17-year-old U.S. bronze medalist was impressed with the Canadian's sense of humor and work ethic.

"Patrick is so positive and happy, it's awesome," said Chen. "I really enjoyed training with him. He's really fun. We would mess around all day, we're really good buddies. He's such an amazing skater; there's so much to learn from him, so much he has to offer. I was really fortunate to train with him for a while."

Ice dance field loaded with talent

For the first time ever, Canada qualified entrants in all four disciplines at the Grand Prix Final. Two of those entrants -- the dance teams of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and Meghan Duhamel and Eric Radford -- are favored to bring home gold.

Virtue and Moir arrive in Marseille fresh off setting new world-record scores a few weeks ago at Japan's NHK Trophy, where they defeated two-time world ice dance champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. Canada's 2010 Olympic champions will also take on three U.S. teams - world silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani; world bronze medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates; and U.S. bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue - as well as Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia.

The ice dance field is so competitive that Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who won the Grand Prix Final crown the last two seasons, didn't qualify. The duo changed training sites this summer, moving from Detroit Skating Club to Nikolai Morozov in Hackensack, New Jersey, and Moscow.

"We're the ultimate silver-lining people, so we look at this as another chance to work on our programs," Weaver said at a recent Christmas show in New York City's Bryant Park. "We made some big changes, and I think there's buzz about us out there. The season isn't over yet."

Osmond eyes improvement in Marseille

Two-time Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond, who qualified for her first Grand Prix Final with silver medals at Skate Canada and Cup of China, downplayed expectations in Marseille.

"I haven't been in this position before, and I'm just hoping to improve on my scores this year," she said. "Training has been going really well, everything is super consistent, and hopefully that will show.

"We are super comfortable with the way my programs are laid out. So far [this season] I've done at least one section of my free program I'm really proud of [in each competition], so now I just want to combine all those [well-skated] sections of my program."

Defending champion Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia, the reigning world champion who has dominated the ladies' event for the last 18 months, is heavily favored in Marseille. She is joined by three other Russians - Elena Radionova, Anna Pogorilaya and Maria Sotskova - as well as Japan's Satoko Miyahara.

"The Russians have always been strong competitors, and I'm not thinking I'm competing against them to see where I fit in," Osmond said. "At this point, I am focusing mainly on the stories of my programs and the choreography as much as I can. For me, that's always worked to make my jumps more consistent."

Canadian pair eyeing another gold

Two-time world pairs champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are favored to win their second Grand Prix Final, especially since the withdrawal of Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot due to Savchenko's ankle injury.

The Canadians won two Grand Prix golds this fall, hitting a throw triple axel in a personal-best short program at Skate Canada. They made an uncharacteristic error on their final lift at NHK Trophy, which they attributed to a recent change in the lift's entrance.

"We changed the arm movement [in the set up], which changed the timing," Radford said. "As we went in, we had our old hand grip and then Meagan went to do the dance lift before I was ready, and I got caught off balance. It ended up being brute strength between the two of us."

The Montreal-based skaters have since practiced the lift more and also changed the step sequence in their short program.

"I think it's going to be for the better and make the whole program stronger, because we will finish on a stronger note," Duhamel said.

Duhamel and Radford square off against Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang, and Cheng Peng and Yang Jin, the four Chinese skaters who switched partners during the off season, and Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia. Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau -- who finished second to Duhamel and Radford in Canada -- make their second straight appearance at the Grand Prix Final.

The young pair recently returned to last season's short program, set to "Monde Inversé," and plan side-by-side triple salchows instead of the loops they did earlier this season.

"For the last three weeks we've focused on trying to be comfortable, like we were in our short last year, and we haven't worked on trying to fit the loops in," Bilodeau said. "We'll see if we will add them after the Final."