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Men promise edge-of-your-seat excitement

Other categories have clear-cut favorites

If Jeffrey Buttle wants to be smiling at the end of the week, he will have to outscore some tough competition at the Canadian championships.
If Jeffrey Buttle wants to be smiling at the end of the week, he will have to outscore some tough competition at the Canadian championships. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(01/15/2008) - Joannie Rochette, Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have all tried to dissuade journalists from assuming they'll win gold medals at the 2008 BMO Canadian Figure Skating Championships, which begin Wednesday in Vancouver.

"You don't see yourself as a favorite," Rochette said.

"Anyone could step up and have a great skate, and we could find ourselves third or lower," Davison warned.

"I think there's definitely no guarantees for anybody's spot," Moir suggested.

While there is something to be said for an athlete not counting his or her chickens before they hatch, there is every reason to believe that Rochette will claim her fourth women's crown, Dubé and Davison will earn their second in pairs, and that Virtue and Moir are a shoe-in to win their first senior national title, especially considering veteran ice dancers Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon are on competitive hiatus.

The men's event, on the other hand, has potential upset written all over it.

Three-time defending champ Jeffrey Buttle could be in for a tough battle against 17-year-old upstart Patrick Chan and a handful of other hungry challengers.

With Chan soaring to new heights this season, winning Grand Prix gold at the Trophee Eric Bompard and qualifying for the Final, and Buttle struggling in the fall ISU series, there are no certainties here.

Emanuel Sandhu, with three national titles of his own, has always been considered Buttle's main rival. Sandhu, however, has sat out this season and withdrawn from nationals, so Buttle named Chan as the man standing between him and another title.

In a media teleconference, Buttle cited Chan's competitive consistency as the biggest threat. Buttle, the 2006 Olympic bronze medalist, will also be looking over his shoulder for Fedor Andreev, back in the hunt after a three-year hiatus, and 2007 Canadian silver medalist Christopher Mabee, although he, like Buttle, had a sub-par ISU season.

Factor Vaughn Chipeur into the mix because of his incredible jumping ability, and the men's event has the makings of an edge-of-your-seat thriller, especially since there are only two men's berths available for the world championships in Sweden.

Buttle announced last week that he has ditched his "I Pagliacci" short program that came up short in Grand Prix action. Saying the program was not comfortable and "did not compete well," Buttle has revived his "Adios Nonino" program from last season. Since he sat out the 2006 Grand Prix with a back injury, he only performed that program three times in competition.

"I was afraid I had fallen into the groove of bad short programs, and I just wasn't willing to risk it in the future. It was a tough decision but the right decision," said Buttle, who has set 2010 as his competitive swan song.

"I feel really good about my preparations for Canadians," added Buttle, who splits his training time between Lake Arrowhead, Calif., and Barrie, Ontario.

"Despite this being my 14th [nationals], it feels like my first. Every year it does. There's something about Canadians that holds such importance. It'll be great to be competing at the site of the 2010 Games," he added.

Chan, who was fifth nationally and won silver at the world juniors last season, has enjoyed a huge confidence boost from his success on the 2007 Grand Prix circuit. His goal is to earn his ticket to worlds this week. That's the senior, not junior, world championships, he emphasizes, believing that his three trips to the world juniors is more than sufficient.

Chan said it motivates him that people are talking about him, that he has created a buzz heading into the championships.

"I feel great going into nationals. I've never been so excited going to nationals," said Chan, a 12th-grade student who attends high school full-time.

Chan won the pre-novice, novice and junior Canadian titles in successive years beginning in 2003. He was seventh in his senior debut in 2006.

Chan's long program is set to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," inspired by the performance his idol Stephane Lambiel gave in winning the 2006 world title with that music.

Chan recognizes that he must enhance his own sense of performance to match the big names and has been focusing on improving "from the hip up -- arms, posture, the head -- all the little details that other skaters have."

He studies ballet in one privately taught class a week. "Maybe it's not enough," he mused.

Asked what he would have to do to outscore Buttle this week, Chan answered, "Skate clean. Skate my best. Make the least mistakes, if not none. If we all do a clean performance, it's in the hands of the judges."

The 2008 championships are being held in the Pacific Coliseum, affording Canadian skaters their first competitive dress rehearsal in the 2010 Olympic venue.

The championships begin Wednesday with junior events and the Yankee Polka, the senior compulsory dance. The event concludes Sunday with the ladies final.