Photo: AP/Ivan Sekretarev
Photo: AP/Ivan Sekretarev

2017-18 Winter Preview: Olympic hopeful figure skaters head into Grand Prix series

The figure skating season is already underway, with skaters hitting the ice in ISU Challenger Series events in Europe and North America throughout September and early October.

But the big focus for the fall is on the ISU Grand Prix. The top contenders to be on Team Canada at PyeongChang 2018 are each entered in a maximum of two of the six events where they can earn points toward qualifying for the ISU Grand Prix Final in December. That is where we can first expect to see some of the season’s most anticipated showdowns, as skaters who were on the world championship podium in March are not selected for the same Grand Prix events.

Patrick Chan skates during practices at the National Skating Championships in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Who is competing?

Men                                                Women

Patrick Chan (SCI, NHK)               Kaetlyn Osmond (SCI, IF)
Kevin Reynolds (CoC, SA)            Gabrielle Daleman (CoC, SA)
Nam Nguyen (RC, NHK)               Alaine Chartrand (SCI, NHK)
Nicolas Nadeau (SCI)                    Larkyn Austman (SCI)
Keegan Messing (SCI)


Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (SCI, SA)
Lubov Ilyushechkina/Dylan Moscovitch (SCI, IF)
Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CoC, SA)
Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (RC, NHK)
Sydney Kolodziej/Maxime Deschamps (SCI)

Ice Dance

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (SCI, NHK)
Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (SCI, IF)
Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (RC, SA)
Carolane Soucisse/Shane Firus (SCI)

When and where are they competing?

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating

Rostelecom Cup (RC) – Moscow, Russia – October 20-22
Skate Canada International (SCI) – Regina, Saskatchewan – October 27-29
Cup of China (CoC) – Beijing, China – November 3-5
NHK Trophy (NHK) – Osaka, Japan – November 10-12
Internationaux de France (IF) – Grenoble, France – November 17-19
Skate America (SA) – Lake Placid, New York – November 24-26
Grand Prix Final – Nagoya, Japan – December 7-10

How do they qualify for PyeongChang 2018?

Thanks to their outstanding efforts at the 2017 World Championships, Canadian figure skaters have already secured more Olympic spots than any other country. With three women, three pairs, three ice dance couples and two men qualified, Canada is just one short of the maximum.

Kaetlyn Osmond, right, and Gabrielle Daleman, both of Canada, smile posing with their silver and bronze medals and the national flag during victory ceremony at the World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, Finland, on Friday, March 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

But who will fill those spots? That will be determined at the conclusion of the Canadian championships in Vancouver, which run January 8-14. Results from that competition will be taken into consideration, along with placements at major events over the last two years, including the world championships, the Four Continents championships and the Grand Prix Final. To be eligible for selection, skaters must have achieved the minimum technical score required by the ISU.

Following the Grand Prix Final, the ISU will also confirm the 10 countries qualified to compete in the team event in PyeongChang.

What should we watch for?

The fall figure skating season is all about getting some competition miles on the programs – figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and re-choreographing as necessary – so that by the time the skaters arrive in South Korea in February they have the perfect package to go for the podium.

Undefeated in their comeback season, which was capped by their third world title, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are now setting their sights on a second gold medal and third medal in the Olympic ice dance event. Only one couple (Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko URS/EUN) has ever been on the ice dance podium at three straight Games. And only one ice dance duo (Pasha Grishchuk and Evgeny Platov RUS) has ever won multiple gold medals. So far there have been rave reviews for both their short and free dances. You may have a hard time sitting still while watching the former, which features classic rock from the Rolling Stones, the Eagles and Carlos Santana for the required Latin American rhythms. Their free dance brings the movie Moulin Rouge to the ice.

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Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are also making a push for the podium in PyeongChang after missing winning their third world championship medal in March by just 0.37 of a point. The days when ice dance results were predictable and identical from short dance to free dance and competition to competition are definitely gone, as evidenced by how those worlds played out. The shifting placements also included a top-eight finish for Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier.

Canada has one of the best one-two punches in the world in the ladies’ event after Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Daleman won silver and bronze, respectively, at the world championships in March. Both are lauded for their big, explosive, yet controlled jumps. But they also bring maturity and charisma onto the ice. Osmond hit a career milestone at the Autumn Classic Challenger Series event when she landed seven triples for the first time in her free skate.

It’s a quad, quad, quad, quad world in the men’s event and Patrick Chan is doing what he can to keep up with the rapid evolution. For the first time, he has two quads planned for his short program – a toe loop and a Salchow – to go with the three in his free skate as he attempted in 2016-17. Backing up what he does in the air is Chan’s not-so-secret weapon – his skating skills – with his edge work, speed and ice coverage something for others to aspire to.

After a herniated disk severely hindered them at the world championships, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are ready to show the form that earned them two world titles. Soft and ethereal in their new short program to a cover of “With or Without You”, they’ve gone back to what worked best for them in the free skate, returning to the music of Muse which they first used en route to an undefeated season in 2014-15. They’ve still got all their high-risk elements – side-by-side triple Lutzes and throw quad Salchow included – but have put a fresh look on the familiar music. After an unsuccessful first outing with it at the Autumn Classic in September, they’ve already made some changes to improve their confidence and consistency.

With so many world medallists, Canada is fully expected to challenge for the gold medal in the second Olympic team event after winning the silver in Sochi.