With two years to go to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Canadian figure skaters are coming home with two gold medals from the world championships in Nice, France.
That should be good, right?
But if anything, what happened at the Palais des expositions in Nice showed that the tide can change from year to year and even from week to week with figure skaters. And that nothing can be taken for granted.
On Saturday, Patrick Chan won his second consecutive world title, the first Canadian since Elvis Stojko in 1994 and 1995 to go back to back, but it was anything but easy. Chan won with 266.11 points after some bizarre mistakes, well off his world record-setting mark of 280.98 of last season when he blasted the competition by 22.57 points.
This year, with jeers raining down on his head from a crowd partial to a couple of French skaters in the final group, Chan eked out victory by just 6.45 points. This came after a week of poor training runs back home in Colorado just before the world championships, leaving Chan frustrated.
A victim of his own success – he'd run up an eight-event win streak over more than a year – Chan felt the expectation of people taking it for granted that he would win in Nice, so easy had some of his wins been, and coming despite mistakes.
"It's like, if he does it, he should be the winner. And if he doesn't, shame on him. It's a unique position," Chan said.
It's a little different for ice dancing champions Tessa Virtue of London, Ont., and Scott Moir of nearby Ilderton, who won their world title back last week from rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States. At each event, they come within fractions of points of each other. It could go either way each time. Right now, advantage Canadians.
Canada's No. 2 dance team, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., finished fourth in Nice to flirt with winning a world medal. Because of the strength of the Canadian ice dancers in Nice, Canada will be able to send three dance teams to the world championships next year in London, Ont. – the event that serves as a qualifying competition for the Sochi Olympics.
Canada may also send two pairs and just one woman to the 2013 worlds, after Amélie Lacoste of Delson, Que., placed 16th in women's singles.
Chan and Canadian silver medalist Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., also ensured that Canada will be able to send three men – one more than it did last week – to the world championships in London.
Reynolds did some hard spadework to get those spots. For Canada to get three spots for next year, Reynolds needed a 12th-place finish or better in combination with Chan's win. But the chances looked dim when Reynolds missed two of the three quads he had intended to do early in his routine.
Incredibly, on the fly in the second half of his routine, when jumps are worth 10 per cent more, Reynolds landed a quadruple toe loop–double toe loop combination. And he continuously adapted the program to get the most points.
Reynolds finished in 12th, just 0.57 points ahead of Adam Rippon of the United States.
As for Chan, he created some tense moments when he doubled a triple Salchow, and then left a double toe loop off the end of a triple flip. Worse still, he careened off the edge of a double Axel, and never even got into the air, losing valuable points.
In future competitions, Chan may not be able to get away with mistakes. Silver medalist Daisuke Takahashi, the master of musical interpretation, is getting his quads back after surgery from a previous season and he's determined to be on top again. The Japanese skater's technical marks in the free skate lagged only half a point behind Chan's.
And young Japanese upstart Yuzuru Hanyu, 17 and competing at his first world championships, threw himself with guns blazing into his free skate, won the technical mark (91.99 to Chan's 88.56), landed a quad, and finished with sweat dripping from his brow. He got a bronze medal.
A skater with that kind of will is dangerous. Even Takahashi, a two-time world champion, has cause for concern.