The second Grand Prix figure skating event of the Olympic season will feature battles between two men with Olympic gold-medal hopes and three U.S. women in contention for Olympic spots and the biggest threat to Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
Skate Canada in St. John, New Brunswick, begins Friday. Here’s the schedule (all times Eastern):
Pairs short program, 2-3:10
Women’s short program, 3:35-4:50
Short dance, 7-8:10
Men’s short program, 8:30-9:50.
Pairs free skate, 12-1:25
Women’s free skate, 2:15-3:40
Free dance, 4:30-5:45
Men’s free skate, 7:10-8:50.
NBC will provide coverage from 4-6 on Sunday.
Here are storylines for each event:
Olympic favorite Patrick Chan, the three-time reigning world champion, makes his Grand Prix season debut against a Japanese teenager who could be his biggest challenger come Sochi.
Chan, 22, took second at 2012 Skate Canada to Spain’s Javier Fernandez, after winning in 2010 and 2011. The Olympics are more than three months away, but he’s already feeling pressure to win Canada’s first Olympic men’s figure skating title.
He hopes competing in front of home fans will help him get into a groove for the Olympic season. Chan is keeping his world-record short program from last season and reverting his free skate music to what he skated to before he became an Olympian (he was fifth in Vancouver). The free skate reportedly begins with back-to-back quadruple jumps.
At Skate Canada, Chan could be challenged by Yuzuru Hanyu, who previously held the short program world record.
Hanyu, 18, finished third and fourth at the last two World Championships and is at the top of a deep crop of Japanese skaters. He could have challenged for gold at the World Championships in March if not for a fall in a disastrous ninth-place short program.
Hanyu, who reportedly crawled out of his home rink in Japan during a 2011 earthquake and does not own a cell phone, now trains with 1988 Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser in Toronto.
He’s one of few men who can land a quadruple Salchow and landed two quads and two triple Axels in his free skate to easily win Finlandia Trophy earlier this month.
The three-man American contingent is composed of three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, reigning U.S. silver medalist Ross Miner and reigning world junior champion Josh Farris.
All three are in contention for two men’s Olympic spots to be named after the U.S. Championships in Boston in January. Three other contenders, Max Aaron, Adam Rippon and Jason Brown did not perform exceptionally at Skate America. A strong performance in Canada could push Abbott, Miner or Farris closer to favorite status, though it’s still very early.
Abbott, 28, won Skate Canada in 2009 before a disappointing ninth-place finish at the Vancouver Olympics.
Reigning Olympic and world champion Yuna Kim was supposed to compete in St. John but pulled out last month with a foot injury.
Without the Olympic favorite, the major storyline will be on the three U.S. women — Gracie Gold, Christina Gao and Courtney Hicks.
All three harbor hopes of making the U.S. Olympic team, which will have three women’s spots. Two-time reigning national champion Ashley Wagner, second at Skate America last week, is the favorite for one spot. Gold, Gao and Hicks are in contention as well, along with Agnes Zawadzki.
Gold, 18, will compete for the first time since teaming with the venerable Frank Carroll, who coaches Evan Lysacek and was the long-time coach of Michelle Kwan. Before switching to Carroll, Gold had a disappointing season debut at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City in September.
Hicks, 17, stepped up to upset Gold at the U.S. International Classic and entered Skate Canada as a replacement for the injured Kim. She placed fourth at her first senior National Championships in January, behind Wagner, Gold and Zawadzki and ahead of Gao.
We’re still waiting for Gao’s domestic breakout. She’s been fifth at the last four National Championships. Her senior career highlight came at the Four Continents Championship in February, where she was fourth, the top U.S. finisher ahead of Gold and Zawadzki.
Wagner looked strong in debuting her triple-triple combination at Skate America. The question is if Gold, Hicks and Gao can somewhat keep pace Friday and Saturday.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their 13th straight Grand Prix event at Skate America last week, but that title came without the competition of rivals and training partners, Canadian Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.
Virtue and Moir make their Grand Prix season debut this weekend against a field that doesn’t include Davis and White. It’s hard to see them not winning in St. John. The other top couple, Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, were fourth and fifth at the last two World Championships.
Virtue and Moir, who will have their own TV show debuting in January, hope the start of this season goes smoother than last year when Moir was sidelined by a neck injury. Davis and White beat Virtue and Moir at the three biggest competitions last season — World Championships, Grand Prix Final and Four Continents.
The Canadians won Finlandia Trophy (again, without Davis and White) by 25 points, but the Toronto Maple Leafs fan Moir said they were 30 points behind their overall scoring goal.
It’s on Virtue and Moir to come out strong separately and then potentially challenge Davis and White at the Grand Prix Final in December to make the Sochi Olympics interesting.
The U.S. ice dancing entry at Skate Canada is Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who are in contention for one of three ice dance Olympic spots.
Like in ice dance, the top two pairs couples in the world are pretty defined — Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov and Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.
They are not in the Skate Canada field. Expect Canadian world bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford to prevail in their absence.
The U.S. pairs entered are Lindsay Davis and Rockne Brubaker and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier.
Davis and Brubaker teamed up in February, after Davis finished fourth at the U.S. Championships with 2010 Olympian Mark Ladwig. Brubaker was a favorite to make the 2010 Olympic team with Keauna McLaughlin, but they were upset at the 2010 U.S. Championships. Davis and Brubaker were fifth at Nebelhorn Trophy in September.
The 2013 world junior champions Denney and Frazier were fifth at the U.S. Championships, but the top U.S. pairs — Caydee Denney and John Coughlin and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir — can be caught. Both U.S. pairs at Skate Canada can make early statements this weekend.