The ISU Grand Prix continues with the second of six events, held in Victoria, British Columbia from November 2 – 5. Canadian Champions headline the field in three of the four figure skating disciplines.
World silver medalists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, crowd favorites in Canada and throughout the world, will skate their new programs for the first time on home turf. Initially expected to retire after the 2006 World Figure Skating Championships, Dubreuil and Lauzon are back and hoping that their new free dance to Etta James’s At Last will – at last – propel them to the top of the world podium. At Skate Canada, they lead the field and are unlikely to be challenged in pursuit of gold.
Favored for second, Italy’s Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali, also long-time crowd favorites, are hoping that a recent move to Detroit to train with the husband-and-wife team of Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova will put them on an upward trajectory. Faiella and Scali, who took the world by storm at Skate Canada in 2002, have spent much of the past Olympic cycle facing challenges from behind rather than putting the pressure on teams ahead of them. Their passion and excitement wins the crowd, but sometimes leads to mistakes when the competition pressure is on. Their goal in Victoria will be clean, consistent programs with high levels and strong second marks.
Third place is wide open, primed for World Junior Champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to win a medal in their first Grand Prix event – and on home turf. Coached by Igor Shpilband, this couple’s lyrical, flowing qualities have earned them fans around the world.
The three American teams – Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Trina Pratt and Todd Gilles – will be looking to challenge the Canadians, but also each other in an attempt to establish a “pecking order” for U.S. Nationals.
In the ladies event, Canadian Champion Joannie Rochette will be looking to prove herself. Second at this event last year, Rochette had an up-and-down season that included a wonderful Olympic free skate (fifth place in a tough field) and a disastrous World Championships that left her in seventh place against a depleted field where she was favored to medal or even win. Rochette, like so many Canadian ladies before her, has struggled with nerves and consistency. A win at Skate Canada would be a sign of good things to come.
Rochette will have to knock off defending champion, American Alissa Czisny, whose performances are so erratic from competition to competition that she may as well be an honorary Canadian. Czisny, coming out of virtually nowhere, nearly won Skate America last year then won Skate Canada, only to finish last at the Grand Prix and fall (literally) to seventh place at U.S. Nationals. After some were predicting world medals for Czisny, she managed just sixth at the World Junior Championships. With tough competitors Kimmie Meissner and Emily Hughes in the U.S. ranks, Czisny needs to focus on delivering in every event. An even performance for her is more important than a win.
While Czisny may be the defending Skate Canada Champion, Rochette’s biggest challenge will come from Yu-Na Kim of Korea, who won the World Junior Championship with a performance perhaps good enough to win the senior World Championships. Kim, who rattles off triple-triple combinations with elegance and grace that belie her 16 years of age, will be making her debut in senior competition as the early favorite.
Often forgotten, World Silver medalist Fumie Suguri is the highest-ranked skater in the event, yet tends to struggle in early season events. A veteran skater who has been competing at the senior level since 1996, Suguri brings elegance and maturity to compensate for what she may lack in power and finishing touch. Though she is the reigning Japanese Champion, the depth of teenage phenoms in Japan is such that Suguri will always be on the defensive to prove that she belongs on the World Team. She’s a skater who often surprises when counted out, and a wildcard in this field.
Other challengers in this deep field include Yoshie Onda, who won two bronze medals in last year’s Grand Prix, Finns Susanna Poykio and Alisa Drei, and Binshu Xu of China. All have had a fair amount of international success but will face an uphill battle in this tough field.
In pairs, Canadian Champions Valerie Marcoux and Craig Buntin will have a tough time challenging Olympic and World silver medalists Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang of China. Realistically, it would take a fall as severe as the one the Zhangs took at the Olympics to open the door for the Canadians.
Marcoux and Buntin will be looking to overtake Americans Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, who were less than impressive despite a win at Skate America. Battling small injuries, Inoue and Baldwin will need better performances than the mistake-ridden ones they had at Skate America.
A little-known team from Ukraine, Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov, will fight for bronze against a relatively unknown field save for Canadians Elizabeth Putnam and Sean Wirtz. While Putnam and Wirtz may have home advantage, Volosozhar and Morozov have some of the world’s most incredible lifts and strength moves sure to get the crowd and the judges on their side.
The men’s event, usually a headliner at Skate Canada, lacks both Olympic bronze medalist Jeff Buttle and 2003-04 Grand Prix Final Champion Sandhu. Both Canadian Champions, Buttle is dealing with injury while Sandhu makes his debut next week at Cup of China.
The crowd in Victoria will get to see two-time World Champion Stephane Lambiel, the Swiss spinning sensation who has one of the world’s most reliable quad toe loops. While he is by the most decorated skater in the field, Lambiel can be erratic in the early season, leaving the door open for challengers.
Always an enigma, American Johnny Weir has performances that alternate between sublime and sometimes downright embarrassing. Weir, the three-time U.S. National Champion, has spent much of the past few years being shown up by his fellow countrymen internationally. No longer a newcomer, Weir must establish consistency throughout the season if he is to advance to the world podium.
Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi is another talent to watch. With explosive jumps and an abundance of flair, Takahashi has the ability but has yet to establish the consistency necessary to challenge at the highest level. With countryman and rival Nobunari Oda fresh off a win at Skate America, Takahashi will face extra pressure to land on the podium here.
Dark horses include Canada’s Shawn Sawyer, a flexible and innovative skater, France’s Yannick Ponsero, and Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic.
The next Grand Prix event (Cup of China) will be held in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China, November 9-12, 2006.