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London calling: Skaters laud Olympic team event

Competitors across many nations support new addition to Winter Games; A princess visits London

Patrick Chan is extremely optimistic about his Canadian side in the team event.
Patrick Chan is extremely optimistic about his Canadian side in the team event. (Getty Images)

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By Amy Rosewater, special to icenetwork.com
(03/16/2013) - By the the end of these world championships in London, Ontario, Skate Canada will have made it pretty clear which team is the one to beat when the inaugural team competition is held less than a year from now in Sochi, Russia: the home country for these worlds.

Canada is the only country to garner medals in the first three events at these world championships. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Olympic ice dancing champions, earned the silver Saturday; Patrick Chan, even with an off-performance in the free skate, took home his third world crown; and Canada also earned a medal in pairs, as Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford took the bronze.

Saturday evening, Kaetlyn Osmond, who is making her worlds debut in the ladies event at age 17, has an outside chance of earning a medal. She placed fourth in the short program.

Should Osmond reach the medal podium, it would be the first time Canada wins a medal in all four disciplines at a world championships.

Already, Chan has become the Joe Namath of the event, predicting a Canadian victory.

"We're going to have a stacked team going into the Olympics," Chan said. "I would say we're probably one of the biggest contenders, and I would say we're probably going to win the gold medal in the team event."

A quick synopsis of how the team event will work in Sochi: There will be 10 teams that can enter the event, and skaters from all four disciplines will compete. The top five after the short program will vie for medals. The event begins the day before the Opening Ceremony (Feb. 7) and runs through day two of the Olympic competition (Feb. 9). The regular pairs event, typically the first skating discipline to compete in the Winter Games, will begin Feb. 11.

Skaters must qualify in their discipline for the Olympic Winter Games in the usual manner (ie. national championships) to compete in the team event, although there are some exceptions for countries that cannot field entire teams that way.

While the prohibitive favorite is Canada, the host country of Russia should also be strong. Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov dominated the pairs event, beating four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy by more than 20 points. Two other Russian teams finished sixth and seventh. Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev finished third in ice dance. Although their top women struggled in the short program, they have the ability to do better in the free skate.

The one weak link for Russia will be in the men's event, since its only entrant, Maxim Kovtun, placed 17th at these worlds. The hope for the Olympic host country is that Evgeni Plushenko, who has been hampered with a knee injury and is expected to return to the ice in May, can make a comeback for Sochi.

Other contenders for the team event are the United States, which is led by two-time world champion ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Japan, which is led by Daisuke Takahashi and Yuzuru Hanyu in men's, and Mao Asada and others in ladies, but does not have a pairs team at worlds.

Max Aaron, who placed seventh in his worlds debut in London, could represent the men for the U.S., while Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold could compete for spots in the ladies event. The United States sent two rookie pairs teams to worlds this year, with Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim placing ninth and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir coming in 13th.

Potential intrigue for the United States could come if Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and/or Olympian Johnny Weir stage comebacks next season.

Skaters, for the most part, are excited about the team event, especially since some skaters could win two medals in one Winter Games. Some skaters could win one even though they would not be contenders in their own discipline.

"As an athlete, I think it's great," Aaron said. "You see swimmers come home with eight, nine medals. We don't get that. Now you can come home with maybe two medals."

The one major drawback is how to keep some of the medal contenders happy with the tight scheduling. If a pairs team, let's say, is in the hunt for a medal in the Winter Games, are the skaters going to want to risk injury or fatigue by also skating in the team event days before?

Michael Slipchuk, a former Canadian champion, is Skate Canada's high performance director. As optimistic as he is about Canada's chances in the team event in Sochi, he also knows the team will have to make the best decisions for its skaters.

One good thing for Canada in terms of scheduling, especially when it comes to men's and pairs, is that the country has such depth. In the team competition, you can make substitutions, so Canada could, hypothetically, have Kevin Reynolds (who placed fifth at these worlds) skate the short program and Chan compete in the free for the team competition. And in pairs, Duhamel and Radford could do one program while teammates Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch (who placed fourth at worlds) could do the other.

"At the end of the day, it will be the coaches that drive our ship," said Slipchuk of how they enter the skaters in each event.

Would Slipchuk have wanted a team competition when he was a skater?

"It would've been my only shot at a medal," joked Slipchuk, who was ninth at the Winter Games in Albertville, France, in 1992. "Actually, I might not have even made the team. We had Kurt [Browning] and Elvis [Stojko] then."

Royal watch

Princess Caroline of Monaco is here in London, but more as a skating mom than as a royal figure. Her daughter is a figure skater, and they wanted to catch the event. They were in the Budweiser Gardens watching the men's event, which would have been better for them had Kim Lucine, who represents Monaco, qualified for the final; he placed 32nd after the short program.

According to officials, she has maintained a pretty low profile here, sitting in the stands for much of the earlier part of the competition and only heading to a VIP suite later on.

Kiss and cry souvenirs

A Canadian coffeehouse, The Red Roaster, is in the spirit of these world championships. It is selling two blends, one named Triple Axel and another called Kiss and Cry, which is described this way:

"On the ice, being bold and taking chances often lands you on the podium, and these beans are just like that. Displaying a rich dark chocolate taste with a sweet soaring acidity, this coffee will end up medaling with your friends and family around the world."