Five things to watch at Skate Canada
Skate Canada in Mississauga, outside Toronto, is only the second stop of the Grand Prix season, but it's the end of the North American tour. From here, the events go overseas -- China, Japan, Paris, Moscow -- before the circuit returns to Canada's Quebec City for the Grand Prix Final in December.
But that's a long way off. First, five things to watch at Skate Canada:
1. A first-time Grand Prix champion?
That could happen in a wide-open ladies' event, where just one skater, Japan's Akiko Suzuki, lists Grand Prix gold on her résumé. Count three Americans -- Rachael Flatt, Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner -- among those with the chops to pull it off. Don't bet on a U.S. sweep, though. Besides Suzuki, the red-white-and-blue trio will get stiff competition from Russians Alena Leonova and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva.
2. Skating's new whiz kid?
Keep an eye on Tuktamysheva. She's just 14, too young to compete at the world championships until 2013. But she's making her senior Grand Prix debut after winning junior world silver last season and bronze at the Russian national senior championships. Some are picking Tuktamysheva to figure in on a medal this weekend if she can keep the jitters at bay.
3. Wagner, Flatt looking for big moves to pay off
Almost two years ago, Wagner was a whisker from making the 2010 U.S. Olympic team. Last season, she dropped to sixth at nationals. In June, she announced she was parting ways with coach Priscilla Hill and leaving Wilmington, Del., to work with the esteemed John Nicks, known for coaching Sasha Cohen to Olympic silver.
Meanwhile, Flatt's move from Colorado Springs and Tom Zakrajsek, et al, was largely school-related. Flatt isn't just juggling classes and ice time at Stanford, either -- she's working with three coaches (Justin Dillon, Lynn Smith and Sergei Ponomarenko) at three rinks near campus.
4. Ice dancers put on their Funny Face
Olympic and world champions in 2010, Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue will be in front of a home audience to unveil their new free dance to tunes from the famous movie musical "Funny Face," starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn.
The George and Ira Gershwin soundtrack adds another element to the team's impressive range. They've skated to everything from classical to Pink Floyd and are known for their innovation and technical precision.
Skate Canada audiences will also see a healthy Virtue, who suffered through last season with a quadriceps injury that limited their schedule. The couple lost their world title to training partners Charlie White and Meryl Davis. France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, runners-up to White and Davis in last week's Skate America season-opener, and Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte should provide some competition.
5. The men: Patrick Chan vs. Daisuke Takahashi
Canada's Chan is the defending world champion, world-record holder in scoring and the 2010 world runner-up.
Japan's Takahashi is the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, 2010 world champion and defending Four Continents champion. He finished fifth in last season's worlds and underwent knee surgery in the offseason.
Both are capable of technically superb, dazzling programs with multiple quad jumps. Figure on these two duking it out for the podium's upper step this weekend.
U.S. skater Adam Rippon, Skate Canada's bronze medalist last year and the 2010 Four Continents champion, ditched Canadian coach Brian Orser for Jason Dungjen and the Detroit Skating Club. We'll see if that move pays off this season.
6. Bonus thing to watch
Week 2 of the Grand Prix season and still no sign of Evan Lysacek.