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Canadians healthy, ready for worlds

Oda stays in Canada, hopes for fresh start

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are already among the best dancers in the world.
Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are already among the best dancers in the world. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(03/08/2008) - Skate Canada's high performance director, Mike Slipchuk, says Canadian team members assigned to the upcoming 2008 World Championships are all healthy -- "knock on wood" -- and anxious to deliver their season's best in Sweden.

"We're hoping to have a few skaters on the podium. It has been a good year for our skaters. Four Continents was a very positive event for our team in general," Slipchuk said of the ISU Championships in Korea, where Canada won a gold and two silver medals.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir took their first senior championship title in Goyang City, while singles skaters Joannie Rochette and Jeff Buttle both earned silver.

"The skaters are going into worlds at probably their best level of the year," Slipchuk suggested. "Joannie and Jeff have been building as the year went on and they seem to be at their strongest right now."

Slipchuk agreed with comments U.S. contender Johnny Weir made Wednesday about the incredible depth of the men's field. "Times have changed from when there was one or two top people and then the rest.

"You could be anywhere from first to seventh this year, even having skated well. That's testament to the field and shows how important it is to be at the top of your game going in."

Virtue and Moir, perhaps Canada's top prospects for a world medal in 2008, are also up against a deep field in ice dance.

"Like most events this year, you could end up in many spots. No one is set in stone in anything and that's a positive thing because it will come down to how you perform on those two days," Slipchuk said.

"Tessa and Scott every time out have taken another step forward. The opportunities are there. It's going to be an exciting worlds," Slipchuk forecast.

Virtue and Moir ranked fourth at the Grand Prix Final in Turin in December.

Pairs skater Anabelle Langlois has recovered from the injury and illness that forced her and Cody Hay out of Four Continents and fellow pair Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison are skating well, according to Slipchuk.

Langlois and Hay, who stole Dube and Davison's Canadian crown in January, have been back on the ice training for more than two weeks.

Dube and Davison and newly-crowned men's national champ Patrick Chan, 17, did not compete at Four Continents. After their busy fall season, which included fourth-and fifth-place finishes, respectively, at the Grand Prix Final, they opted to take some down time before gearing up again for worlds.

"We're very optimistic and hope it will end on a positive note," Slipchuk said, summing up the Canadian team's prospects at Worlds.

Oda to Start Fresh with Summer Competitions

One top-10 men's contender who will not be in Sweden for the 2008 World Championships is Japan's Nobunari Oda. He will let this season pass without competing in any event.

The universally popular Oda, who trains in Canada with coach Lee Barkell, had been expected to compete at his Japanese nationals in December after his federation pulled his fall Grand Prix assignments as punishment for Oda's run-in with police in July. The skater was caught driving a motor scooter while intoxicated in his home town of Osaka. He was back home in Japan for the summer, going to school and training there.

Barkell said that because Oda was "very upset about what transpired in the summer" and since he had not competed in the fall, they decided it would be best for him not to contend for the national title and a berth on the world team this season.

"Together, everybody decided to start fresh with a brand new free program. Originally he was going to compete with a new short program and use last year's free, but we want to go with two totally new programs for next season," Barkell said.

He noted that there are pros and cons to Oda missing an entire competitive season, "it certainly wasn't a decision made overnight."

Oda, who has been back training in Canada since September, has been taking more ballet classes with the intention of "coming out with a totally new look, a more refined look", Barkell said.

Previously, David Wilson had choreographed Oda's charming, crowd-pleasing programs but this time Lori Nichol, another top Canadian choreographer, has set his routines.

Oda will compete in some major summer competitions in Canada to test drive the new programs so he will be competition ready for the start of the 2008-09 season.

"The way he's training, you'd think he was going to worlds," Barkell chuckled. "It's not like he's just sloughing off. He's doing run throughs of the short program. His new free program has just been finished and he's training extremely hard and, actually, skating quite well."

Oda was seventh at the worlds last year after ranking fourth in 2006. He won the Four Continents Championships in 2006, and also finished third at the Grand Prix Final that season. The last two times out nationally, Oda was second to Daisuke Takahashi, who is considered the man to beat in Sweden this month.