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Canadians set after Sandhu's withdrawal

Some U.S. men get ready to make history as well

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje switched coaches in November after the Grand Prix season.
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje switched coaches in November after the Grand Prix season. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(01/06/2008) - For the first time in 13 years, Emanuel Sandhu will not compete at the Canadian championships. Skate Canada announced this week that Sandhu, 27, who has three senior men's titles to his credit and six silvers, had withdrawn from nationals, which begin Jan. 16 in Vancouver. He had not competed in the fall Grand Prix series, saying he wanted to take time to pursue other interests.

With only two men's berths available to Canadian men for this season's world championships, it is unlikely his fellow competitors will be shedding any tears over Sandhu's absence from the event. Sandhu's disappointing 16th-place result at the 2007 worlds was, in part, responsible for Canada settling for two spots, rather than the maximum three, for the 2008 world meet. Sandhu, whose international results seldom matched his huge potential, topped out at fifth on the world stage in 2006.

With Patrick Chan making major waves this season, while Olympic bronze medalist and reigning champ Jeffrey Buttle and number-two man Christopher Mabee have struggled, the men's event, which also features the return of fan heartthrob Fedor Andreev, should be one heck of a battle.

Andreev won the qualifier, finishing with 23 points more than Mabee, who chose to compete in the December run-off even though he had a bye to Canadians. Sandhu also had a bye but had not been training the entire season, according his coach Joanne McLeod.

"We haven't seen each other because he's been out doing [skating] shows and working on his singing. He was in Russia, Germany and Switzerland [for shows]," said McLeod, who has several other students competing at Canadians in both the junior- and senior-level singles events.

"Nationals is always exciting, never a dull moment in the men's. For some reason, all of our gentlemen rise to the occasion and make it a wonderful national championship," McLeod said.

"I think it's open to whoever skates. There's four or five of them that could be in the race for those two spots."

U.S. Men to Compete at Canadians

In what could be a first, two U.S. men will compete in the senior ice dancing event at the upcoming Canadian championships in Vancouver. Kevin O'Keefe and Augie Hill will debut with their new partners, Siobhan Karam and Lauren Senft, respectively. O'Keefe and Karam, who topped the field at the December qualifying event, will be hoping to snag one of the three ice dancing berths into the world championships. Hill and Senft, some four points back in third at the qualifier, are not eligible to compete for Canada this season because U.S. Figure Skating put a hold on him until the fall of 2008. O'Keefe and Karam began skating internationally together this fall, finishing fourth at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial.

Just four couples had byes to Canadians, including Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, and fast-rising juniors Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier, both of whom will also compete in their respective singles competitions in Vancouver.

Weaver and Poje Switch Coaches

Ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, the 2007 Canadian and world junior bronze medalists, quietly switched coaches in November after feeling dissatisfied with their sixth- and seventh-place finishes on the Grand Prix circuit.

The U.S.-Canadian pairing, who came from nowhere to snatch the national senior bronze medal last season, left Poje's long-time coach Paul MacIntosh and are now training in Toronto with 10-time Canadian and 2003 world ice dancing champion Shae-Lynn Bourne and American Matthew Gates, who had coached Weaver previously. Weaver and Poje spent two weeks in New Jersey with Gates, and he has now come to Canada ahead of the national championships to co-coach with Bourne.

"We needed to have different motivation, different atmosphere and direction, so that we could develop as the team that we both think we can be," Poje explained, noting that the couple remains on good terms with MacIntosh.

Double Duty for Dubé, Leung Launches New Short

Canadian pairs champion Jessica Dubé plans to compete in both the pairs event (with Bryce Davison) and in senior women's singles at the Canadian championships, just as she has throughout her career. Dubé had to qualify for a spot in the women's event the week before she and Davison finished fourth at the Grand Prix Final in Italy. Dubé ranked fourth in the qualifier.

Davison had also made it a habit of competing in both men's and pairs, but this season he has decided to focus solely on the discipline that is his forte, so he withdrew from the men's qualifying event.

Four women had byes to nationals, including three-time defending champion Joannie Rochette and perennial silver medalist Mira Leung.

At Canadians, Leung will unveil a new short program set to La Bayadere by Leon Minkus. The decision to make the mid-season change was hers, said her coach Joanne McLeod.

"She looks poised. She's more toned. She's maturing as a student with a coach, so there's a lot more good," McLeod said.

Women Last Again at 2010 Olympic Games

The events schedule for the Vancouver Olympics has been announced, and once again, the women's competition will be the last figure skating event to be contested. As usual, the pairs will be up first, followed by the men and ice dancers.

The women must wait almost until the closing ceremony of the 16-day event to go for their gold. They have complained in the past about this seemingly set-in-stone schedule, because it means they must keep training and remain focused to stay on top of their games throughout the fortnight.

Calling All Volunteers

Working as a volunteer at an Olympic Games is the ultimate dream for many people who have given countless hours over the years to help run sports organizations and sporting events. That's why the organizers of the Vancouver Games expect to have little trouble filling the 25,000 volunteer positions.

While 99 percent of volunteers are expected to be Canadians, organizers are forecasting that 250 people will be enlisted from outside the country. Prospective volunteers can apply on-line beginning February 12.

To find out more, go to www.vancouver2010.com and click on "Participation."