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Canada’s best figure skaters will leave nothing to chance in Ottawa

Canadian Patrick Chan competes in the mens free skate at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2013 in London, Ont. Friday, March 15, 2013. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Kaetlyn Osmond will down a glass of orange juice before she steps on the ice at the Canadian figure skating championships this weekend. Patrick Chan will tie his right skate first. And Tessa Virtue may order cottage cheese for breakfast.

But while their pre-skate routines share little in common, Canada's best have come to Ottawa with the same goal in mind: Skate confident, skate clean, and leave nothing to chance in securing a spot for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

For Chan, the competition will be a tune-up more than anything else. As the defending men's world champion, he is virtually assured a place on the Canadian squad heading to Russia next month. His focus will be on making certain the last-minute wrinkles in his routine are ironed out.

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The same can be said for Virtue, who, along with ice dance partner Scott Moir, will be using the weekend as a launchpad for Sochi, to gauge how close they are to their Vancouver Olympics gold-medal form.

And for Osmond – Canada's leading women's contender – the next two days will be a chance to test her legs, to see how they've healed after an injury in October, which was described as a precursor to a stress fracture, forced her to miss crucial training time.

The championships begin Friday and conclude Saturday, and the Olympic team will be named Sunday.

With the clock ticking down, Chan said he gets methodical, scientific almost, and doesn't like to let superstitions become a factor. But he does allow himself room for that one quirk. Always the right skate first.

"One thing I've learned, and that I hope to bring to the Olympics, is that I think being superstitious is never a good thing. That means you kind of believe in luck," he said in a recent interview. "It's my only real superstition. It's more of a habit."

Osmond has no qualms about her O.J. routine. "I need to have a glass of orange juice before I skate," she said. "As I'm either getting on my skates, or warming up, or something. I've got to have orange juice. It just gives me that little bit of extra sugar, and and I'm like, okay, I'm good."

Heading into her long program at the world championships last year in London, Ont., disaster nearly struck when, unexpectedly, none could be found in the rink. The hunt was on, led by Skate Canada's high-performance director Michael Slipchuk, but to no avail. Help eventually came from an unlikely source.

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"We ran into a judge and said, 'Do you know where we can find some?' And she comes back with a full carton," Osmond recalled. "And I'm like, 'I'm set now.'"

Osmond placed eighth at those world championships, a strong showing that continued her meteoric rise up Canada's figure skating ranks from promising teenager to winning her first senior national title last year. Recent injuries aside, with that kind of momentum, she's not about to shake up her routine.

The 18-year-old joked about packing a juice box or two in her luggage for Russia, just in case.

Virtue, on the other hand, isn't averse to trying new things on competition day. Moir shakes his head when he remembers the morning of their competition in Vancouver in 2010. While some skaters are hyperfocused on what they eat and how they warm up, Virtue decided on a whim at breakfast that she'd like to try cottage cheese – for the first time in her life.

"Very first time competing on Olympic ice, and I'm like barely eating anything – and I'm usually wolfing things down – and she's like, 'Oh, I'm going to try some cottage cheese,'" Moir said.

Heading into Sochi, Moir and Virtue are adamant about not trying to recreate Vancouver step for step, since competing in Russia will be different than competing on home soil, and retracing their path doesn't guarantee a repeat gold. That said, Virtue admits she may go back to the cottage cheese again. "I think I should."

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Canada has three Olympic spots up for grabs this weekend in the each of the ice dance, pairs and men's events, and two Olympic spots in the women's.

Assuming Osmond grabs the first spot, the competition for that additional entry is a wide-open race between several Olympic hopefuls, including Amélie Lacoste, Gabrielle Daleman and Veronik Mallet.

The men's event will also be a dogfight, with a cadre of skaters capable of landing the second and third births in Sochi after Chan. Depending on who skates best over the next two days, any combination of Kevin Reynolds, Andrei Rogozine, Jeremy Ten and Elladj Baldé could be Russia-bound.

"I think it will be whoever is best prepared," Reynolds said recently, when asked about getting to Sochi. "I think it will be whoever is most confident in training, and whoever is most ready. It sounds simple, but it's the daily grind every day" that will be the reason skaters make the Olympics.

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About the Author
Senior Writer

Grant Robertson is an award-winning journalist who has been recognized for investigative journalism, sports writing and business reporting. More


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