Emerging athletes have bright figure skating future: Skate Canada director

VANCOUVER — Several of the country’s marquee figure skaters have stepped away from competition, but Skate Canada’s high performance director says a talented crop of athletes has emerged in their absence.

“We had a very extraordinary group that was with us for a long time,” Mike Slipchuk said Friday at the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver, where just one Canadian (Keegan Messing) qualified for the senior competition.

“But we’re happy with what we see with our seniors and we have a lot of good juniors coming up. We know the future will be bright.”

Patrick Chan and the pairs team of Eric Radford and Meagan Duhamel all retired earlier this year after putting in strong performances with the Canadian squad that brought home two gold and two bronze medals from February’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Gold medal-winning ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have also stepped away from competition.

Others, including reigning world champion Kaetlyn Osmond, have opted to take time off following the Olympic success. It’s not uncommon for skaters to take some time away from competition in a season following a Winter Games.

The successful Canadian skaters have all played a crucial role in the nurturing of the up-and-coming group of athletes, Slipchuk said.

“What those skaters did is they allowed this group underneath them to develop and have the time to grow and develop and be ready to step forward,” he said.

The group’s success in South Korea is also a push for the next generation.

“It helped their legacy with Canadian skating, but it also helps motivate that group behind,” Slipchuk said.

Messing said earlier this week that working with and watching Chan has helped him grow as a skater.

The 26-year-old wasn’t originally in the lineup here, with his scores on this year’s Grand Prix circuit qualifying him instead for the first alternate position. He gained a spot when reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan dropped out with an ankle injury.

Messing sat in sixth and last place after the men’s short program on Thursday.

Skate Canada was hoping to have skaters in the ice dance, pairs and men’s events this year, Slipchuk said.

“Sometimes the numbers just don’t add up,” he said, adding that ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier and pairs skaters Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro have proven this year that they’re ready to take the next step in their competitive careers.

“We like what we see from the team this year and we know that as we move through to the (world) championships, we’re going to be in a good position.”

There’s also a lot of talent percolating in juniors and the development streams, Slipchuk said.

Thirteen-year-old Stephen Gogolev has burst on to the junior scene in his first year of eligibility for the Grand Prix circuit. He sat in second following the men’s short program on Thursday.

“He’s a young skater with just huge potential. And this is step one along the way,” Slipchuk said.

Junior ice dancers Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha were in fourth place and just 0.04 points out of the top three after their short program.

“They skate like seniors,” Slipchuk said of the young trip. “There’ll be ups and downs, but we’re looking forward to a bright future for all three.”

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