There’s a lot to look forward to 100 days from now Pyeongchang, South Korea, where Canada could have its strongest Olympic figure skating team in 30 years.
At those memorable 1988 Games in Calgary, Brian Orser captured silver in the men’s event, as did the surprising Elizabeth Manley in the ladies’ competition. Then there was the bronze-medal breakthrough by Tracy Wilson and Robert McCall, the first North American ice dance team to finish on the Olympic podium.
Three medals is still the national high for a single Olympics (the 2014 squad matched that total, thanks to the addition of the team event) but that record could fall in Pyeongchang. Led by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (ice dance), Eric Radford and Meagan Duhamel (pairs), Patrick Chan (men) and Kaetlyn Osmond (ladies), Canada has the talent and the star power to reach the podium in all five events.
With the clock ticking down to February 2018, time isn’t standing still, and neither are Canada’s figure skaters.
“It’s the hope of gaining immortality in their sport that drives skaters,” says Kurt Browning, a four-time world champion and three-time Olympian. “Although we try and pretend that the Olympic season is just another season, it isn’t.”
Here’s a look at how Canada’s skaters are preparing for their big moment.
Chan’s last stand
A three-time world champion who won two Olympic silver medals in 2014, Chan returned from a hiatus to take one more shot at the Olympics. What’s in it for one of the best skaters to ever lace up a pair of boots?
“This is likely the last hurrah for many of us, which will be emotional because we have all grown up together for so long and are like a family,” Chan says. “What I want is to be able to skate confidently and to be able to accept myself. That will be the most exhilarating thing for me at the Olympic Games.”
As quad jumps have become a bigger part of men’s figure skating, Chan has gone the other way, cutting down on the number of quads he attempted last week at the Skate Canada Grand Prix event, where he finished fourth.
His choreographer, David Wilson, sees Chan’s skating this way: “For him to have this experience be a true and honest self-expression of what his skating means to him is the ultimate goal of this season. Both programs share a common message and reflect where he is at in his life.”
Virtue and Moir better than ever
Since coming back to competition in the fall of 2016, Virtue and Moir have gone undefeated, including claiming their third world title. After sitting out two seasons, the 2010 Olympic champions and 2014 silver medallists look better than when they left. The won Skate Canada again last week.
Though they’re already legends in their event and they don’t have anything left to prove, Virtue and Moir are putting in the work.
Wilson, the 1988 Olympic bronze medallist and ice dance trail blazer, sees it this way: “I just think Tessa and Scott hadn’t done everything they wanted to do technically or artistically. You could see when they came back that they had done hard-core technical training and had restructured their skating.”
The gold-medal favourites say they respect their competitors and don’t take anything for granted in terms of results.
“We’ve learned that in order to get to the medals, you need to embrace the process,” says Virtue.
Moir adds: “Tessa and I discuss how we’re feeling in the process, and we think it’s a good sign that we’re feeling like we’re enjoying it on this journey.”
Duhamel and Radford bounce back
Two-time world pairs champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford struggled last season, culminating in a seventh-place finish at worlds.
But the thing with these two is that they’ve always been able to swallow the bitter pill of defeat and come back even more determined to succeed. They made coaching and choreographer changes over the summer and continue to tweak their material, all the while keeping their eyes on the big prize in February.
If their win at Skate Canada was any indication, it’s working.
Osmond pays her dues
Canada’s women haven’t always been able to rise to the top. But the 2017 world championships may have been a sign that things are changing as Kaetlyn Osmond won silver and Gabrielle Daleman took bronze.
Osmond, who won gold at Skate Canada, has paid her dues. She has had enough competitive disappointments and injuries to crush other skaters, and yet, she persevered.
“I think that any struggles made her stronger,” says her coach, Ravi Walia. “She has learned so much and is so strong, so confident and well prepared.”
That preparation, mental and physical, could make the difference in Korea.