VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) – The veterans of Canada’s figure skating team grew up together, and together at the Pyeongchang Olympics, they’ll write the final chapter of their careers.
They’re hoping they’ve saved the best for last.
Led by 2010 Olympic champion ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, pairs partners Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, and Patrick Chan – all of whom plan to retire post-Pyeongchang – Canada heads into the Olympics ranked No. 1 in the world in the sport. And 17-skaters strong, Canada will field the largest team there.
“We have one of the strongest teams in Canadian skating history,” Radford said. “Each discipline has incredible talent, incredible skaters and athletes. And I think we’re very much all on the same page, which I really, really love. We’re a really strong, close-knit group, and we’re going to carry that energy, and I hope that it really helps us to have our best performances there.”
Figure skating is traditionally one of Canada’s strongest winter sports, with 25 medals, including four gold. This year’s team has amassed eight world titles, Chan and Virtue and Moir winning three apiece, and Duhamel and Radford claiming two. Ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje have two world medals, and last spring, Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Daleman became the first Canadian women to share a world championship podium, winning silver and bronze.
The team was announced Sunday, a day after the Canadian Figure Skating Championships.
“When I look at the group up here on the stage, it’s pretty impressive,” said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s high performance director. “It’s going to be special. It’s going to be sad in a way, but special.”
Eleven team members have Olympic experience, compared to both the Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 teams, which had just three skaters each with games experience.
Chan, and Virtue and Moir, made their Olympic debuts eight years ago in Vancouver. Sochi was an Olympic first for Duhamel and Radford. In the years since, they’ve combined to become the face of figure skating in Canada.
“It’s incredibly special, having grown up with so many of these skaters, having traveled together, and toured together and experienced so many firsts, first nationals, first world championships, first Grand Prix, first Olympics,” Virtue said.
“There are just so many bonding experiences, we’ll cherish those memories for such a long time. And there’s a certain understanding that they know exactly what we’re going through, and at a time like this, it’s really reassuring when you have the weight of the world on your shoulders.”
The strength in the Canadian team is its depth across the disciplines, with medal possibilities in all four for the first time in recent memory.
Virtue, 28, and the 30-year-old Moir will battle French duo Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who edged them at the Grand Prix Final, and a strong American contingent.
The 27-year-old Chan, rejuvenated by a recent move to the West Coast, hopes the medal podium is within reach against American Nathan Chen, defending champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, and Javier Fernandez of Spain.
“If I deliver what I have, and I deliver the way I’ve been training kind of with this new sense of confidence in my skating, it will make my experience more enjoyable. I definitely can squeak in, I have that little glimmer of hope in my head,” Chan said. “Every Olympics we get surprises. We always end up having someone on the podium that we didn’t expect them to be. I’m hoping to be that person.”
Duhamel and Radford dominated pairs for two seasons, but are No. 3-ranked this year. They recently scrapped their free skate, resurrecting their 2016 world championship program to Adele’s “Hometown Glory.”
The Canadian championships made for a bittersweet week for the veterans, Radford said.
“If there’s anything better than having an incredible career, it’s going through it with your friends,” said the 32-year-old Radford. “They have really become more like a family, so many memories, so many years of coming through this amazing sport, having these moments, so many ups and some horrible downs, and we’ve always been there for each other.”
Moir echoed his sentiments.
“Very emotional this week, it added a lot of pressure as well,” said Moir. “I don’t remember ever being as sentimental as we were here. The hugs and a little bit of tearing up, it’s so real. We’re so lucky to be out at center ice and to be Canadian, to be a Canadian skater is very special.”
Figure skating in South Korea begins on Feb. 9, the same day as the opening ceremonies, with the team event.