The figure skating contingent from Canada, at 17 strong the largest of any nation, intends to lead its country into the Winter Olympics next week in ways both literal and figurative.
The literal: Two-time ice dance medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, one of the favorites to win gold, will carry the maple leaf flag into Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremony.
The figurative: With three ice dance couples, three pairs, three women and two men, the Canadians are podium threats in all four disciplines, not to mention heavy favorites in the team event.
“I’m so impressed by the depth of this team,” said Isabelle Charest, the Canadian chef de mission and a three-time Olympic medalist in speed skating. “There are so many strong contenders and we have tremendous hope for them heading into the games.”
The hope is grounded in some accomplished resumes.
Virtue and Moir, the reigning world champions, are a good place to start. The eight-time national champions were unbeaten all of last season and have put up huge marks to their Rolling Stones-inspired short program and their equally mesmerizing free dance set to music from “Moulin Rouge!”
They’ll be joined in the ice dance competition by the teams of Piper Gilles-Paul Poirier and Kaitlyn Weaver-Andrew Poje, the latter two-time world championship medalists.
“We’ve grown up together,” Moir said, “and it’s going to be a special moment to take the ice with them and go for gold. We’re looking forward to embracing the Olympic spirit.”
Two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who took silver at last year’s Four Continents on the same Olympic ice, give the Canadians a medal contender in the pairs event. The teams of Julianne Sequin-Charlie Bilodeau and Kirsten Moore-Towers-Michael Marino also will compete.
While all eyes in the women’s event will be on Russian stars Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova, Canadians Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Daleman are nearly as formidable. They finished second and third behind Medvedeva at last year’s worlds in Finland.
And rising star Larkyn Austman will have her first Olympic experience.
“In 2014, Canada didn’t have any medal contenders at the Olympics,” Osmond said, “and you almost forget that Gabby and I finished second and third (at worlds) last year. “It’s exciting that we’re able to send three women to the Olympics, especially because we haven’t done it in many years.”
Olympic silver medalist Patrick Chan, a three-time world champion and two-time Grand Prix final champ, will be joined by Keegan Messing in a wide-open men’s event.
“I feel really good about my confidence for the whole team,” Chan said. “After seeing how my teammates have done during the Grand Prix season, talking to Eric and Scott, it’s been great. We have really great team energy.”
Figure skating historically has been an individual sport, even with the inclusion of a team event at the 2014 Sochi Olympics — where the Canadians finished second to Russia. But there is a strong sense of camaraderie within Team Canada, a close-knit feeling where everyone roots for everyone else.
Even if they happen to be skating against them.
Perhaps their nation’s somewhat puzzling Olympic pedigree plays into it. Canada has won 25 medals in figure skating, one behind Russia for second most (the U.S. has 49). But only four of those have been gold, including the pairs medal that Jamie Sale and David Pelletier were forced to share with the Russian team after a scoring controversy at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Virtue and Moir have two of Canada’s three ice dance medals, Barbara Ann Scott won its only ladies gold at the 1948 St. Moritz Games and the men have won five silver and four bronze but no gold.
Chan was the latest, finishing behind Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu in Sochi.
This could be Canada’s big chance, though. Its sizeable stable, deep experience and the fact that it has contenders in every event could make “O Canada!” the soundtrack of the Olympics.
It could also make its flag quite popular — especially after Virtue and Moir carry it for the opening ceremony.
“The figure skating team is something else,” Virtue said, “but Team Canada across the board is something fierce. It’s great to be part of that.”