We are less than a year and a half to the start of PyeongChang 2018.
That makes the winter sport season about to begin the last one before the Olympic season is upon us – which means Olympic qualification events and test events are all on the calendar. So as maple leaves change colour across the country, let’s check out some of the athletes who will be wearing the maple leaf this winter as they set their sights on South Korea.
In our second installment, we hit the ice for some skating, of both the figure and speed variety.
Who to Watch
The six-stop ISU Grand Prix series begins next weekend at Skate America, followed a week later by Skate Canada International. But most of Canada’s top figure skaters have already hit competitive ice, using ISU Challenger Series events as a warm-up.
There is great intrigue around the return of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who won the Autumn Classic International with the second-highest short dance score ever. It will be exciting to see how their programs develop as we head towards the world championships, which are especially important this year as the results will decide how many skaters each country qualifies for PyeongChang 2018. Virtue and Moir’s comeback just adds to Canada’s ice dance depth, which bodes well for the near future. While two-time world medallists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje will make their season debut at Rostelecom Cup in early November, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier recorded a personal best overall score in taking bronze at Nebelhorn Trophy.
Canada’s two-time world pair champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford aren’t content to rest on their laurels, upping their technical difficulty once again. The throw triple Axel, newly added to the short program, didn’t work out this past weekend but they were still able to win Finlandia Trophy. After missing last year’s world championships due to injury, Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau are continuing their rise, just two seasons after being world junior medallists. They recently won gold at the Autumn Classic with the very consistent performances they’re becoming known for. In their third season together, Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch are really gelling as a pair, winning silver at Nebelhorn Trophy.
Patrick Chan has a new coaching team (Marina Zueva, Johnny Johns, and Oleg Epstein previously coached Virtue and Moir) and a new free skate to music composed by the multi-talented Radford. His big jumps – the quad toe and the triple Axel – weren’t all there at Finlandia Trophy but he was still able to win the silver medal behind American upstart Nathen Chen who attempted five quads in his free skate. The kid considered by many to be Chan’s heir apparent, Nam Nguyen, is looking for a bounce back season. After dropping from fifth in 2015 to 27th at the 2016 World Championships, Nguyen also decided to change coaches, leaving Brian Orser to move to San Jose.
With three top ladies vying for just two world championship spots, it’s no surprise they’re all showing they’ve got the goods. First, Gabrielle Daleman won bronze at Nebelhorn Trophy. A week later reigning national champion Alaine Chartrand claimed silver at the Autumn Classic, winning the free skate portion of the competition. And most recently two-time national champion Kaetlyn Osmond won gold at Finlandia Trophy, defeating a couple of former world champions, Mao Asada and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, as well as a reigning world medallist, Anna Pogorilaya.
What to Watch
Skate Canada International – October 28-30, 2016 – Mississauga, Ontario
- The second of six stops on the ISU Grand Prix series features three Canadian entries in each discipline
ISU Grand Prix Final – December 8-11, 2016 – Marseille, France
- After skaters compete in a maximum of two Grand Prix events, the top six in each discipline based on combined results qualify for the Final
Canadian Championships – January 16-22, 2017 – Ottawa, Ontario
- The results help decide which skaters will compete at the Four Continents and World Championships
Four Continents Championships – February 14-19, 2017 – Gangneung, South Korea
- Open to skaters from all countries outside of Europe, it will double as an Olympic test event for the Gangneung Ice Arena
World Figure Skating Championships – March 29-April 2, 2017 – Helsinki, Finland
- The results of each country’s top two skaters/teams in each discipline will decide how many entries that country will have at PyeongChang 2018, up to a maximum of three per discipline
Long Track Speed Skating
Who to Watch
If they perform up to their potential, Canada’s long trackers have great hopes of repeating last season’s success, which saw them win 26 World Cup medals in Olympic events and four medals at the World Single Distances Championships. While this coming season has no direct impact on Olympic qualification, it does provide a primer for PyeongChang 2018.
One of the brightest stars is long distance specialist Ted-Jan Bloemen, who is coming off a season in which he set the 10,000m world record then suffered a serious cut to his shin which caused him to miss a couple of World Cup events before coming back to become the first Canadian to ever win a 10,000m medal at the World Single Distances. He was just the fifth Canadian to ever win the Oscar Mathisen Award, given annually for the most outstanding speed skating performance of the season. Bloemen has certainly proven that he only needed to escape the depth of the Dutch program to show what he was truly capable of. In September he once again lowered the Canadian record in the 5000m.
Canada boasts a world champion in Ivanie Blondin, who shines brightest in the mass start, which will make its Olympic debut at PyeongChang 2018. She finished the last World Cup season ranked second overall in the mass start on the strength of five podium finishes in five starts.
Denny Morrison is speed skating’s version of a phoenix. It seems the more challenges thrown his way, the stronger he becomes. Currently, that would be his comeback from a motorcycle accident in May 2015, followed by a stroke in April 2016. Cleared to compete, he set a personal best in the 3000m, a distance that he doesn’t regularly skate, in late September, giving him a great confidence boost heading into the national selection competition for the first half of the World Cup season.
In Morrison’s absence last season, the team pursuit featured Jordan Belchos and Ben Donnelly alongside Bloemen, a trio that won world championship bronze. Still just 20 years old, Donnelly was Speed Skating Canada’s Rising Star of the Year last season. Along with his podium finish at his first World Single Distances, he was the top-ranked skater at the world junior championships, winning gold in the 1000m and 5000m, silver in the 1500m and team pursuit, as well as bronze in the mass start. His progress will be exciting to watch.
Canada also looks to be back among the top sprinting countries in the world, with 16 World Cup medals won in the 500m last season, an uptick that can be partially credited to coach Kevin Crockett. The 1998 Olympic bronze medallist joined the national team program last season and the athletes responded. Heather McLean is the standout on the women’s side, winning three World Cup 500m bronze medals last year. It’s a much tougher fight for the men just to get onto the circuit where entry numbers are limited. Alex Boisvert-Lacroix may have the upper hand, having won bronze at his first World Single Distances Championships last season along with his four World Cup medals (two silver, two bronze). But not to be forgotten is Laurent Dubreuil, who won world championship bronze in 2015, the same season he earned five World Cup podiums. Also in the mix are World Cup medallists William Dutton (two silver, two bronze in 2015-16), Alexandre St-Jean (one silver in 2015-16) and Olympic folk hero Gilmore Junio (one gold, two bronze in 2015-16).
What to Watch
Fall World Cup Selections – October 20-23, 2016 – Calgary, Alberta
- Results will be used to select skaters for the first four World Cup events of the season
Canadian Single Distances Championships – January 3-6, 2017 – Calgary, Alberta
- Results will be used to select skaters for the last two World Cup events of the season as well as the World Single Distances Championships
World Single Distances Championships – February 9-12, 2017 – Gangneung, South Korea
- The world championship that mirrors the Olympic program will double as the Olympic test event for the Gangneung Oval
World Sprint Championships – February 25-26, 2017 – Calgary, Alberta
- The world championship that rewards consistency across the 500m and 1000m
World Allround Championships – March 4-5, 2017 – Hamar, Norway
- The world championship that rewards consistency across all distances
Short Track Speed Skating
Who to Watch
Canada’s golden couple – Charles Hamelin and Marianne St-Gelais – are still leading the charge for the short track squad. Both are coming off world titles in 2016, Hamelin in the 1000m and St-Gelais in the 1500m. St-Gelais also won silver in the 500m, the distance in which she finished last season ranked first on the World Cup circuit. Hamelin was second overall in the 500m. But the success certainly doesn’t stop with them.
Valérie Maltais is a proven competitor who always seems to fly under the radar. But take a look and there she is finishing last season ranked second overall on the World Cup in the 1000m, her efforts highlighted by a gold medal in Shanghai. Marie-Ève Drolet is making another comeback after giving birth to her first child in January 2015. Just a few years removed from a back injury that wiped out an entire season, Kasandra Bradette is making herself known, winning 1000m bronze at last year’s world championships. Also keep an eye on Kim Boutin. At the 2015 World Championships she was Canada’s top-ranked female skater but had her 2015-16 season cut short when she was forced to withdraw from the Canadian championships in January with fatigue. Not yet 22, she looked impressive in the recently concluded fall World Cup selection competition. The sixth member of the fall World Cup team is Jamie MacDonald, with the BC skater providing some non-Quebec representation.
Twenty-year-old Samuel Girard could be viewed as the “next one” on the men’s side, but in some ways he’s already there, winning silver behind Hamelin in the 1000m at the world championships. Earlier in the season he won his first World Cup gold medal. After a write-off season in 2014-15, first because of shoulder surgeries and then a broken foot, 2014 Olympic bronze medallist Charle Cournoyer is back in form, finishing last season’s World Cup circuit ranked second in the 1000m on the strength of a pair of gold medals. This year’s men’s fall World Cup team also includes veteran François Hamelin as well as up-and-comers William Preudhomme and Pascal Dion.
As with its long track cousin, there are no direct Olympic implications for the 2016-17 short track season.
What to Watch
ISU World Cup – November 4-6, 2016 – Calgary, Alberta
- The first of six stops on the World Cup circuit
ISU World Cup – December 16-18, 2016 – Gangneung, South Korea
- The fourth of six stops on the World Cup circuit will double as an Olympic test event for the Gangneung Ice Arena
Canadian Championships – January 13-15, 2017 – Montreal, Quebec
- Results will be used to select skaters for the last two World Cup events of the season as well as the world championships
World Short Track Speed Skating Championships – March 10-12, 2017 – Rotterdam, Netherlands