Photo: Canadian Press

Figure skaters set for Sochi test event

No doubt, Canada’s figure skaters are hungry for Sochi – and this weekend’s test event will prove to be a fine appetizer.

Some of the world’s best figure skaters will be touching down in Russia this week for the Grand Prix Final that will run from December 6-9 at The Iceberg Skating Palace. The site for Figure Skating at the 2014 Winter Olympics will play host to the top six in each figure skating discipline at the event.

Canada will be well represented by two-time reigning world champion and 2010 Olympian Patrick Chan along with the reigning Olympic and world ice dancing champions, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, entered as the number one and two seeds in their respective events. The pairs teams of Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch round out Canada’s entries.

The competition will not only be a great opportunity for the skaters to test themselves out against the best in the world, but will also provide them with insight on an environment they will need to get to know well.

“We’re anxious to get back to Russia,” said Virtue a month after winning the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow. “It was such a positive experience and it was great for us to see the support of skating fans that were there and there’s no doubt Sochi will be just as fantastic. It’s exciting to test out the Olympic venue and get the lay of the land. This is an excellent opportunity for us to mentally and physically prepare.”

For the 21-year-old Chan, going to Sochi is all about finding a comfort level in a foreign city, so he can elevate his performance at the Olympic Games.

“It’s going to be good to compete at the Olympic rink,” said Chan, a native of Ottawa, ON. “Even the little things like seeing how we will fly there and what the airport is like will make a difference. It makes you feel comfortable. It’ll be important for me to skate well in Russia so that I can go to the Olympic Games knowing that I skated well in Sochi.”

Chan has rebounded nicely after a slow start to the season, capturing a silver medal at the Skate Canada International in Windsor, ON, and a gold medal at the Rostlelecom Cup in Moscow.

“I’ve only gotten better with every competition,” said Chan. “My confidence, technique and comfort level (have improved).”

Chan’s new routine was designed after an overhaul to his team that has included new coaches Kathy Johnson and Eddie Shipstad as well as former world champion Jeff Buttle to choreograph his short program, and David Wilson his long.

Along the way, his scores have shot up. Chan scored a combined points total of 243.43 at Skate Canada and followed that up a week and a half later with a score of 262.35 at the Rostelecom Cup.

The rest of the field has been improving too, and Chan has been crediting his competitors for helping him stay focused.

“It’s (the competition) really been great to help me focus,” said Chan. “It’s forced me to work on my jumps and not make any little mistakes. I know what I have to work on to have an advantage. I don’t like losing and it’s been a super competitive season. It’s going to be interesting to put us all on the ice and see how it unfolds.”

For the duo of Moir and Virtue, this year’s Grand Prix is an opportunity to test themselves against the top competition in the world as they enter the weekend a lot healthier than last year.

“We’re excited as always and looking forward to competing against the top-five couples in the world,” said Moir.  We’re a different team this year going into the Grand Prix final. Last year we were out to prove that we were back and finally healthy. Now we know that the training is there and we need to let our game speak for itself.”

The ultra talented duo has a strong following overseas and didn’t realize the magnitude of their popularity in Russia until they competed in Moscow. Something they hope they can channel heading into the weekend and looking ahead at Sochi 2014.

“We didn’t realize the scope of our fan base in Russia,” said Virtue. “Whether it was banners at the rink or fans waiting in the lobby to say ‘Hi’, we truly appreciated that support and encouragement especially in a place like Russia. They’re such great skating fans and so knowledgeable. It’s really reassuring heading into an Olympic Games when it seems like foreign territory. We felt a lot of love and support. “

Coverage of the Grand Prix Final will air on CBC Television at 4 p.m. EST on Saturday, December 8.

– George Fadel