2008 Canadian Figure Skating Championships in the 2010 Olympic venue on Wednesday, Skate Canada's top executive spoke optimistically about Canada's Olympic prospects two years hence." />

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2010 looms large in Vancouver

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are already among the best dancers in the world.
Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are already among the best dancers in the world. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(01/17/2008) - As the junior competitors took to the ice at the 2008 Canadian Figure Skating Championships in the 2010 Olympic venue on Wednesday, Skate Canada's top executive spoke optimistically about Canada's Olympic prospects two years hence.

"I think our dancers are very much going to be in contention for a medal in 2010," Skate Canada CEO William Thompson said of fast-rising Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. "I think their target is probably being at the top of the podium. They've progressed at a very, very rapid rate and, hopefully, will continue that over the next couple of years."

Virtue and Moir, the 2006 world junior champions, are heavily favored to win their first senior national title here this week, especially with 2007 world silver medalists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon sitting out the season.

On Wednesday, however, Thompson said he is assuming Dubreuil and Lauzon will not return to competition, although the couple has made no announcement to that effect.

In the men's Olympic contest, Thompson believes the winner will be "whoever does it on the day."

He sees potential in the Canadian men, including Jeff Buttle, who has not fared well internationally the last two seasons since winning Olympic bronze in 2006.

"I think Jeff is being counted out too soon. He can very much recover and still be a world medalist," said Thompson, who served as an ISU Championship and Olympics judge in the past. "Patrick Chan has come up faster than I expected. With the development (path) he's on, he could very well be a world medalist in the future. There's a bunch of and up-and-comers and they can improve so quickly."

Thompson would not go as far as predicting that Canada could regain the third men's world championship berth it lost last season, saying the men's event is too competitive to count on that.

This week, Buttle has his work cut out for him if he is to hold onto the national crown he has worn the last three years. Chan, who took gold at Trophee Eric Bompard in November, is considered his main rival.

In pairs, the German couple Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are the class of the field now, Thompson said, while Canada's young couple Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison have closed the gap between themselves, and the Chinese couples; actually outscoring Qing Pang and Jian Tong at Skate America last fall.

"Jessica and Bryce are clearly capable of beating them. The Chinese still struggle with the component marks and, in the technical, the Chinese are really good at the throws and twists but the rest of the elements are not that strong," he said.

Thompson also spoke positively of the potential of Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay, as well as former three-time Canadian champion Craig Buntin and his new partner Meagan Duhamel. Both teams will be in the medal hunt this week, although Dube and Davison are considered shoe-ins for gold.

In Canada, the women's field has historically been the weakest of the four, and Thompson doesn't see a sudden reversal of the country's fortunes in that discipline. He suggested that Canadian champion Joannie Rochette could have been in the medals at the Grand Prix Final had she qualified, but her inability to consistently put two good performances together has hampered her success.

"There's no room for errors," Thompson emphasized. "And, if you think the Japanese are invincible, they're not. Mao Asada was dead last in the short program at the Grand Prix Final. The challenge for her is putting two programs together. Yu-Na (Kim) is very consistent, but two years is a long time. They can grow, develop into women. You don't know what's going to happen.

Despite the promise on the Canadian scene and with the Olympics looming, the ticket-buying public has not embraced the new crop of Canadian skaters post-Salt Lake 2002. Thompson is not surprised that just 35,000 advance tickets have been purchased for this week's five-day championship.

Although it might be comparing apples to oranges, 210,000 tickets were sold for the 2001 pre-Olympics Worlds held at GM Place, the 18,000-seat Vancouver arena. When the Canadian Championships were held at that same venue in 1997, the event sold-out, but that was in the era of Elvis Stojko and Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, who consistently brought medals home from world meets and had become household names.

This week, Pacific Coliseum is configured to seat 6,000 with most of the upper deck curtained off.

Thompson acknowledges that before interest in figure skating can enjoy a resurgence, Canadian skaters have to start winning medals on the world stage on a consistent basis.

Fortunately, if and when more athletes begin converting their potential to medals in world competition, Canadian fans will be able to watch that happen on national TV and live on-demand online.

Thompson announced on Wednesday that the ISU and CBC television have reached a two-year broadcast and multimedia agreement that includes national television coverage of the 2008 and 2009 ISU World Figure Skating Championships and the 2009 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships which is the test event for the 2010 Games.

"We are thrilled... This is fantastic news and good for the sport in Canada," Thompson said, noting that CBC also has the option to pick up the Grand Prix events outside of Canada. It already has the rights to Skate Canada.