Ice Network

Potent Canadian Olympic team adds final touches

Squad packed with multiple medal contenders gets psyched for Sochi
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Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir know what it's like to stand atop an Olympic podium. -Getty Images

"So much really depends on what's going to happen at that moment at the Games, but I think the team has a lot of confidence," said choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne, 10-time Canadian ice dance champion, world champion and a three-time Olympian.

Bolstered by the warmth and appreciation they received at the recent Canadian championships in Ottawa, the members of the Canadian Olympic figure skating team head to Sochi with high expectations. Given that the team includes three-time world men's champion Patrick Chan and the reigning Olympic gold medalists in ice dance, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, there is both promise and pressure.

One of the favorites for gold in the new team event, Team Canada looks to open the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi on a powerful note. Six-time Canadian ladies champion and reigning Olympic bronze medalist Joannie Rochette said she saw the team bonding in Ottawa and saw a desire to work together to win gold.

Canada had medalists in three of the four events at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships, which no other country matched. Heading to Sochi, the 17-member team appears as formidable as any.

In pairs, Canada has serious medal contenders in three-time national champions -- and reigning world bronze medalists -- Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford as well as Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, who placed fourth at worlds last year.

"Having two teams at that level has made both teams better," said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada's director of high performance, who has been traveling to the training sites of several team members. "Kirsten and Dylan, they like to perform. Their programs really engage the public, and they're good at drawing people into their performances.

"Meagan and Eric make a lot of their score on the technical side, and they've developed a strong second mark. You're building to be ready for Canadians and to peak for Olympics. With every event, they've gotten stronger."

In the men's event, Chan hopes to go where no Canadian man has gone before: the top step of the Olympic podium.

"It's one of those titles that's evaded our men," Slipchuk said. "Patrick really cut back on shows and put a lot of time into training and got out early to compete. He's worked on his pace all year. I think he's done everything to be ready for Sochi."

"This will be his second Games. This is more his year because he has more experience," Bourne said. "In order to have control of those nerves and know yourself and really be present, it takes experience."

Virtue and Moir are aiming to equal the record of Oksana Grishuk and Evgeni Platov, the only ice dance team to defend its Olympic gold medal. Similar to Chan, Slipchuk said, once they went into training mode, they took little time away for shows or appearances.

"We're excited to have them 100-percent healthy and ready to go," Slipchuk said.

Virtue and Moir have battled injuries since Vancouver.

"It's been a full season of preparation, training healthy, being able to put in the time and the mileage they need all year," Slipchuk said. "You can't ask for more in an Olympic year."

"They're such a beautiful team; their line and attention to detail is exquisite," Bourne said. "They seemed to me [at the Canadian championships] more cautious in their performance.

"They definitely have a beautiful vehicle to show."

Bourne works with Canadian ice dance silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who narrowly missed a spot on the 2010 Olympic team and locked up a trip to Sochi courtesy of their second-place finish in Ottawa. Top five in the world the past three years, Weaver and Poje have an outside shot at a bronze medal.

"They didn't hold back at Canadians," Bourne said. "There was this total sense of letting go and trusting their work. Not thinking through it; just doing it. I felt their passion."

Two-time national champion Kaetlyn Osmond secured Canada two ladies berths in Sochi with a top-10 finish at 2013 worlds. Despite two clean programs at the Canadian championships, the podium in Sochi is probably a bit out of her reach.

"Last year really proved her toughness," Slipchuk said. "She's a competitor."

"She's full of personality," Bourne said. "She's going her own way, and it's quite expressive. She has a fresh presence. It's nice to see someone go for it. She's doing the jumps, she's doing the spins, and everything she's doing in between is entertaining. I really love watching her."