2008 GP Skate Canada Preview

Ottawa, Ontario

The ISU’s Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series visits Ottawa, Ontario as teams from Russia, Canada, France and the United States make up the eight-team Skate Canada roster. Although 10 teams were originally assigned to compete, the roster dropped to eight when Canadians Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir and Cathy & Chris Reed of Japan were forced to withdraw. Last week it was revealed that Virtue has been diagnosed with chronic exertional compartment syndrome, a condition that required surgery in September. Siblings Cathy & Chris Reed of Japan also withdrew due to injury. Both teams are hoping to recover in time to compete at NHK Trophy at the end of November.

Though Meryl Davis & Charlie White won their first Grand Prix medal last season, the team is already in position to move to the top of the podium. Davis & White moved up one spot at the 2008 U.S. Nationals to claim the silver medal and winning gold in Ottawa would even further solidify the team as strong contenders to the U.S. ice dancing throne. The team is the longest-running ice dance partnership in the U.S. They managed to keep their music secret until just recently, and it has now been revealed that their free dance will be to Samson et Dalila.  

One team that should challenge Davis & White is France’s Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat. During the off-season, Pechalat & Bourzat made a coaching change, choosing to relocate to Moscow, Russia to train with two-time Olympic medalist Alexander Zhulin. Pechalat & Bourzat typically take more avant-garde music selections and create an original program theme. It’s uncertain how Zhulin’s influence will affect them as his choreographic style has dramatic flair, but his music choices are often less original than the French have been known for.  

These two teams met twice last season with Pechalat & Bourzat finishing second at Skate America while Davis & White were 4th, but at Worlds, Davis & White finished sixth to Pechalat & Bourzat’s seventh. Although there are other strong teams at Skate Canada, it will probably be Pechalat & Bourzat and Davis & White battling for gold in Ottawa.

The 2007 World Junior Champions, Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev of Russia will start their international season at Skate Canada. The team finished fifth at this event in 2007. Although they are strong technically, they did not make much of a splash in their first senior season. However, in such a wide-open field, they may have the technical content to contend for the podium.

A pair of American teams will also begin their season with Skate Canada. In September, U.S. bronze medalists Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentre were upset by Jennifer Wester & Daniil Barantsev at their home rink in both the original and free dance portions of the Challenge Cup event. Navarro & Bommentre have taken an unconventional approach this season, choosing to work with non-ice dance choreographers for their programs. The team enlisted the help of Dancing with the Stars’ Louis Van Amstel and Emmy-nominated Barry Lather for their original and free dance programs.

Wester & Barantsev will hope to build on their momentum from Challenge Cup in their Grand Prix debut. The fourth-place finishers at last year’s Four Continents Championships will pursue a new direction with their free dance, in which they portray more dramatic characters, making a sharp contrast to their light and fun programs from last season.  

The reigning Junior World silver and bronze medalists will make their senior Grand Prix debuts. Canada’s Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier, last year’s junior silver medalists, have already had some success this season. Their original and free dances were a hit at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in August, and they have the technical difficulty to contend at the senior level. Kristina Gorshkova & Vitali Butikov of Russia, who were just behind Crone & Poirier last year, have already won their first senior international medal, a bronze at Finlandia Trophy in early October.   

Rounding out the roster are Canada’s Andrea Chong & Guillame Gfeller. The duo, who teamed up in 2007, finished ninth at the 2008 Canadian National Championships and will make their Grand Prix debut in Ottawa. They earned the spot at Skate Canada by finishing fourth at Nebelhorn Trophy in September.