The start of the figure skating season is filled with so much anticipation. Who’s returning to competition after missing last season? Who has upgraded their technical difficulty? Who is ready to have a breakthrough season? Who has created a program that is just perfect for them?

Winter sport season looms

Patrick Chan (right) at Sochi 2014 men's Olympic figure skating medal ceremony .

Patrick Chan (right) at Sochi 2014 men’s Olympic figure skating medal ceremony .

If you’re like me, then you’ve already spent way too much time on YouTube watching not-entirely-clear one-camera videos from summer domestic competitions. You rejoiced when the second tier ISU Challenger Series began in mid-September and competitions were streamed online. But the real highlight of the fall will be when the elite six-stop ISU Grand Prix series kicks off on October 23. That’s when we finally get to watch the matchups we’ve been looking forward to since the athlete assignments were announced in mid-June.

Here is what I am most looking forward to unfolding:

Comebacks

Patrick Chan. Kaetlyn Osmond. Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. Mao Asada.

Those are just a few of the names I’m excited to see back on competitive ice this season. For Chan, last season was the first time since 2005 (when he was just 14) that he didn’t appear on the Grand Prix circuit. Instead, he took the year to tour and skate in shows, growing as a performer. Now he’s back and so is his quad… along with his speed, skating skills, interesting choreography and musicality. He had some mis-steps at the pro-am Japan Open, but I look forward to seeing this free skate develop throughout the season, as well as how he now stands against the likes of Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, Spain’s Javier Fernandez and Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten.

The ladies’ event has several returnees. Personally, the one I’m most excited for is Osmond. My fellow Newfoundlander had to miss all of last season after she broke her leg in September. That came after she had also missed the fall season leading into Sochi 2014 due to injury. So when she competes at Skate Canada at the end of October, it will be her first Grand Prix event since she won Skate Canada in 2012. For me, Osmond truly has the “it” factor. She’s got fire and confidence in addition to the big jumps. I’ve said it before, I’m not a big fan of tango-themed programs, but her free skate to win Nebelhorn Trophy just flew by and was over before I knew it.

Much like Chan, Asada is another veteran (she made her Grand Prix debut in 2005) who took the year following her second straight stress-filled Olympic Games off to recover and reenergize. She looked incredible (as did her triple Axel) at the Japan Open. While able to appreciate her prowess, I haven’t always connected with her programs. That won’t be a problem with her Madame Butterfly free skate. I love it and can’t wait to see how she fits into a world that the Russians are threatening to dominate for the next few years.

The pairs’ event is also intriguing with the return of Olympic champions Volosozhar and Trankov who missed last season as he recovered from a shoulder injury. Now newlyweds, they also won Nebelhorn Trophy, their first competition since Sochi 2014. For many in the skating world, they epitomize everything a great pair should be. But are they unbeatable? That’s the question I’m most looking forward to getting answered, especially when they face Canada’s world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford at NHK Trophy in late November.

Technical Upgrades

Speaking of Duhamel and Radford, they took a huge step towards that world title by adding a quad throw Salchow into their repertoire last season. For many skaters, that would be enough. But not these two. In trying to continue to push the sport forward, they’ve added a quad throw Lutz (an element that has never been landed in competition) to their free skate. Check out their excitement when they hit it for the first time in practice while on tour with Stars on Ice:

PAUSE!!! #bam #respect

A video posted by The Skating Lesson (@theskatinglesson) on

So how are their competitors keeping up?

Volosozhar and Trankov have swapped their throw triple Salchow for a higher-scoring throw triple flip, while another top Russian pair, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who skipped the world championships to begin preparing for this season, have replaced last year’s side by side double Axels with side-by-side triple Salchows. But if Duhamel and Radford can execute their planned elements, the math works in their favour.

Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch at 2015 ISU World Figure Skating Championship.

Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch at 2015 ISU World Figure Skating Championship.

The world champions aren’t the only Canadians attempting a quad. National silver medallists Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch attempted a quad throw flip at Ondrej Nepela Trophy.

Canadian silver medallist Alaine Chartrand will find herself in elite company if she can successfully land a triple Axel. Only seven women have ever performed the jump in competition, including Asada and reigning world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. It would greatly increase her scoring potential as a triple Axel has a base value of 8.5 versus the 3.3 of the double Axel.

QUIZ: Know your skating?

Impending Breakthroughs

He’s been hovering near the national podium for several years now, but with an early season win under his belt, this could finally be the year Elladj Baldé has been waiting for. National junior champion in 2008, he finished fourth at the Canadian championships in 2012, 2013 and 2014 before falling to sixth last year. That ended his training tenure in Detroit as he moved back home to Montreal, a change that definitely agrees with him. He earned his first international victory at Nebelhorn Trophy, landing his quad and two triple Axels in an outstanding, mature performance for the charismatic skater who has always been known as a showman and entertainer. To put it in perspective, his overall score of 242.36 at Nebelhorn is just 0.23 shy of Nam Nguyen’s personal best he recorded in finishing fifth at the 2015 World Championships. That could set up an incredible showdown at nationals.

I’m always intrigued to see how highly touted and successful junior skaters will fare when they move up to the senior level. World junior champion Shoma Uno of Japan was just brilliant at the Japan Open where the 17-year-old defeated both Chan and reigning world champion Fernandez. He’ll go head-to-head with Chan again this season at Trophée Eric Bompard.

Another year, another Russian starlet is set to take on the world. Current world junior champion Evgenia Medvedeva joins the women who directly preceded her in winning that title (Adelina Sotnikova, Julia Lipnitskaia, Elena Radionova) on the senior circuit. Add in Tuktamysheva and it’ll be fascinating to see the fight for the three world championship berths.

Playing Fashion Police and Music Critic

Even the most casual of figure skating fan can get in on this one. Who managed to put together the right combination of costume and music? Who got it totally wrong?

I already love that Canada’s top two ice dance teams have gone outside the box with their short dance selections. In a season in which they’re required to perform the Ravensburger Waltz, it would be easy to fall into very traditional costuming and music. But two-time world medallists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje have turned to Elvis Presley for inspiration while Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier are looking to make a move towards the podium with some help from the Beatles.

This is the second season in which all skaters are allowed to compete to music with lyrics. And while there will still be plenty of programs with the old stand-bys (Turandot, Les Miserables, various Romeo and Juliet), I was super excited to see what Duhamel and Radford would do with “Your Song” from Moulin Rouge and Adele’s “Hometown Glory”. After a first viewing on YouTube, I can’t wait to see both programs in person at Skate Canada.