In an Olympic season, the Grand Prix of Figure Skating series can take on a different tone. The skaters aren’t just trying to make it to the Grand Prix Final — they’re jockeying for position and momentum heading into the Olympics.
The question then becomes, does a skater want to deliver his best work this early in the season and establish himself right away as an Olympic favourite? Or is it better to keep his eyes firmly on the prize and focus on peaking for February 2018 in South Korea?
In a perfect world, the answer is both.
Before returning to competition two years ago, Patrick Chan was a dominant force in men’s figure skating with three world titles and two Olympic silver medals to his credit. Arguably one of the best skaters to ever take the ice, his results have been up and down since his return, and he’s now cut back on the difficulty of his skates by reducing the number of quad attempts.
If the Canadian wants to win his seventh Skate Canada International title this week in Regina, he’s going to have to get past 19-year-old Shoma Uno, the silver medallist at last season’s world championships. Can it happen?
With Chan’s legendary skating skills and ability to express music, yes. But — and it’s a big but — he’ll need to be pretty much perfect in both the short and free programs. That ain’t easy.
Ice dance: Virtue & Moir stand above
If you’re an ice dance fan, seeing Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir as well as fellow Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje in the same event will not disappoint. Both teams are highly entertaining and talented and know how to create a special connection between them and the audience.
There is a special kind of status afforded Virtue and Moir — not only because of their Olympic medals and current world title, but because they jumped right back into competition last season looking better than when they left it two years before. They are also undefeated since their comeback and are my early pick for 2018 Olympic champions.
Pairs: Duhamel & Radford play the long game
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won world titles in 2015 and 2016 and then battled through injury to a disappointing seventh-place finish at the 2017 worlds. By comparison, teammates Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch posted their best result yet at worlds — a sixth-place finish.
Both teams will have their work cut out for them against Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, the 2017 world silver medallists. What happens down the road remains to be seen but, at the moment, it’s about being ready to go early. While Duhamel and Radford have been tweaking theier material, the Germans are ready now. Look for Duhamel and Radford to play the long game.
Ladies: Osmond on the rise
Three-time Canadian ladies champion and 2017 world silver medallist Kaetlyn Osmond has definitely paid her skating dues. Confident and determined, it’s as if all paths have been leading to this Olympic season.
What I’ve always admired about Osmond is that she’s grounded, level-headed and understands that a career is neither built nor destroyed in a single competition. After a win at the Autumn Classic event in September, I fully expect her to see this as a rung on the ladder to Pyeongchang and step up.
Pj’s gold-medal picks
Men: Shoma Uno (Japan)
Ladies: Kaetlyn Osmond (Canada)
Dance: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (Canada)
Pairs: Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot (Germany)