Even without its headliners – and probable ice dance champions – Skate Canada International 2010 will offer plenty of excitement as teams race for the podium and chances to qualify for the Grand Prix Final later in the season. Canada’s sweethearts and reigning Olympic and world ice dance champions, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, officially withdrew from Skate Canada about two weeks ago. Their withdrawal is in response to a recent surgery for the compartment syndrome that has plagued Virtue’s legs for the past few years. This was Virtue’s second surgery for the ailment; the first was two years ago and relieved enough pain for her to be able to compete well through the Olympic season. With this surgery, Virtue & Moir hope that her pain will dissipate even further.

In the absence of Virtue & Moir, two-time Canadian silver medalists Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier may be one of the teams to beat here. The two skaters joined forces nearly a decade ago and moved up to seniors in 2008, and their Grand Prix debut effort at Skate Canada earned them a silver medal. Last season, their Canadian national silver medal sent them to their first Winter Olympic Games, where they placed 14th. A month later, confident performances shot them into seventh place at the World Championships. Crone & Poirier unveiled their new programs at a small competition in Hamilton, Ont., last month, where their Christopher Dean-choreographed “Eleanor Rigby” free dance was met with much praise and excellent marks.

 

Seven-time British national champions Sinead Kerr & John Kerr are the top-seeded team in the event, but they are coming off a recent injury that kept them out of Finlandia Trophy just a few weeks ago. A practice mishap resulted in a shoulder subluxation for Sinead, and the Kerrs had to withdraw to focus on her recovery. The team has a long record of international success behind them, including fifth-place finishes at the 2010 World and European Championships and an eighth-place finish at the Olympic Games. However, they are not known for being at their best early in the season, and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final just last season. They have never won a Grand Prix title, but the battle this weekend for gold looks like it will be between them and Crone & Poirier. Known for unique music choices, the Kerrs will shake things up with their short dance, a mix of  “At Last” by Etta James and “Shut Up & Let Me Go” by the Ting Tings. Their free dance will, once again, be music from Muse.

 

Beyond the top two teams, the race for the final spot on the podium is wide open. As a team with prior international success, Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein certainly have a shot. The 2009 World Junior champions have been skating together since 2005 and train with Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva in Canton, Mich. Last year’s senior debut earned Chock & Zuerlein an eighth-place finish at Cup of China and a sixth-place finish at Skate America, before they went on to place fifth at both the 2010 U.S. Championships and the 2010 Four Continents Championships. With eyes on making the world team this year, they could pick up some momentum if they land on the podium here. Edith Piaf will sing the waltzes for their short dance, and they will skate their free dance to music from Cabaret, a program only choreographed in August after this season’s original free dance fell flat at its debut in Lake Placid.

 

Pernelle Carron & Lloyd Jones of France teamed up in spring 2009 and placed ninth in their Grand Prix debut at Trophée Eric Bompard. They rebounded well during the season, finishing 12th at the World Championships and capturing the French national title when the top two teams sat out the event. In the short dance, they take on the ambitious “La Valse à Mille Temps” by Jacques Brel, and they show diversity with their free dance, set to “Paint It Black” by Angie. At the French Masters early this month, Carron & Jones skated well in the short dance. A fall on the final lift in their free dance cost them a placement in that segment of the competition, but they hung on to the silver medal and enter the season as the second-ranked French team, behind Nathalie Péchalat & Fabian Bourzat. Carron knows what it is like to stand on the podium at Skate Canada—she won bronze in 2007 with former partner Matthieu Jost.

 

Russians Kristina Gorshkova & Vitali Butikov have the longest partnership in the field—they paired up in 1999. After a bronze medal at the 2008 World Junior Championships, they entered the senior ranks and have collected solid—though not spectacular—results. Their strongest Grand Prix result actually came at Skate Canada two years ago when they finished fourth.  For their short dance, they will skate to “Russian Waltz” by Alexandra Pakhmutova, and their Latin free dance is set to “Cha Cha” by Santa Esmeralda and “Manana de Carneval” by Luis Miguel.

 

Three teams on the roster are making their senior debuts this season. Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam of Canada, Rachel Tibbetts & Collin Brubaker of the U.S., and Stefanie Frohberg & Tim Giesen of Germany are all anxious to see how they will stack up against the Grand Prix veterans. The new senior teams are at a slight disadvantage: last year’s seniors skated the Golden Waltz all season, but the new seniors have had to learn it this year.

 

Paul & Islam only teamed up in early 2009, but they already have shown themselves to be capable dancers, taking gold at the 2010 Canadian Junior Championships and then silver at the World Junior Championships. The young duo has competed in a few local competitions this season to get their programs evaluated, but Skate Canada will mark their senior international debut. Five-time Canadian champions Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon choreographed Paul & Islam’s free dance to “As Time Goes By.”

 

Tibbetts & Brubaker took seventh place last season at the World Junior Championships, on the heels of a silver medal at the  AT&T U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships.  Inconsistency has plagued them in the past, but they are often praised for interesting choreography. Like the Kerrs, they will skate their short dance to “At Last” (performed by Sal Mancini), but they will pair their waltz with “Hallelujah I Love Her So” by Ray Charles. Their Latin free dance includes “Tango Para Percusion” by Lalo Schiffrin, Stan Getz’s “Garato de Ipanema” performed by Manoelito Martins, and “Dance of the Headhunters” by Tito Puente. Tibbetts & Brubaker are the only non-host pick on the Skate Canada roster that has only one assignment. A strong finish here could help them earn a substitution assignment in the next few weeks, especially after so many teams have withdrawn this year.

 

arnold-trojekFrohberg & Giesen made a splash at their international debut last year when they earned all level 4s in their free dance at the Junior Grand Prix event in Lake Placid.  They went on to win two “Junior B” international events and the German junior dance title, before finishing 11th at the World Junior Championships. The team trains in Berlin with Rene Lohse, 2004 world bronze medalist with Kati Winkler.

 

Stepping in as the Canadian alternates for Virtue & Moir will be Sarah Arnold & Justin Trojek (pictured, right), who train at the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club with Paul MacIntosh, Virtue & Moir’s former coach. Arnold & Trojek have only trained together for 18 months, but they placed eighth last month in their international debut at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany. At their first national championships in 2010, they finished 10th. They will skate their short dance to “An American in Paris” and their free dance to music from the Amélie soundtrack.

 

Italy’s Lorenza Alessandrini & Simone Vaturi were a late withdrawal and will not be replaced. Only nine teams will compete.

 

Skate Canada International 2010 will be held from Oct. 29 to 31 in Kingston, Ontario. The skaters will compete in the short dance Friday evening, and the free dance will be skated Sunday afternoon.