by Ashli Meynert | Photo by Melanie Hoyt

Saint John, New Brunswick, will host this season’s Skate Canada International this weekend, October 24-27. The roster includes eight teams from five countries; it will be the first Grand Prix event of the year for seven of the teams. The early events seem to carry extra importance this year, as teams jockey for position in the Olympic season.

As the host country, Canada has assigned three teams. Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir are the overwhelming favorites to win the gold medal, which would be their fifth Skate Canada title. They débuted their free dance at Finlandia Trophy several weeks ago, which they won with a decisive victory. Their new lifts in the free dance are innovative, showing that they are putting it all on the line for this Olympic season. Virtue & Moir scored a total of 167.87 at Finlandia Trophy, which is a very high score for most teams, but they will undoubtedly be aiming to add 15-20 points this week.

Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje have appeared at their home Grand Prix event every other year since 2009. They skated at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic earlier this season, placing second with a total score of 166.99. Their “42nd Street” short dance shows off their personalities perfectly and should be a great vehicle for them in this Olympic season. Weaver & Poje will be looking to place second in order to set them up well to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final.

Also representing Canada are Alexandra Paul & Mitch Islam. Paul & Islam have often been compared to a young Virtue & Moir, but they have struggled with consistency as seniors. Their “Crazy For You” short dance suits them well, and earned them a win in that portion of the competition at Nebelhorn Trophy last month. However, mistakes affected their free dance to music from the movie “W.E.,” and they slipped to thrid overall. Paul & Islam train with Weaver & Poje at the Detroit Skating Club.

13gpusa-bukinEkaterina Riazanova & Ilia Tkachenko of Russia are returning to Skate Canada after a bronze-medal effort last year. They have ranked as high as ninth at the World Championships, but slipped a few spots to 11th in 2013. Their first international outing of the season will be particularly interesting, as they will try to establish favor with the judges over their Russian teammates Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin (pictured, right).

Stepanova & Bukin are the 2013 world junior champions and their début as seniors has been much anticipated. While they showed last year that they have the technical goods to keep up with the seniors, some have doubts about this season’s material, and whether or not it can carry them to a senior podium. If they place above (or within spitting distance) of Riazanova & Tkachenko this weekend, then Russia’s race for Olympic berths will gain some extra excitement.

Americans Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue are the only team in the field that has already skated on this season’s Grand Prix circuit. They were fourth at Skate America last week, where their 152.98-point effort left them just a point and a half from the podium. Hubbell & Donohue won Nebelhorn Trophy to start their season. Their short dance is a medley of songs by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. For their free dance, they picked violinist Lucia Micarelli’s “Nocturne” and her rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Nelli Zhiganshina & Alexander Gazsi represent Germany at this event. They are Grand Prix veterans, placing as high as fourth at two events in 2011. Their season began at Ondrej Nepela Memorial, where they struggled en route to a fifth-place finish. Their short dance is to the “Glee” cast version of “Le Jazz Hot.” For their free dance, they are skating to a medley including the songs “Carrigan & Dips” and “I’m Happy” by the Gorillaz.

Italy has sent Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri, who recently won the silver medal and placed ahead of Zhiganshina & Gazsi Ondrej Nepela Memorial. Guignard & Fabbri were 17th at the 2013 World Championships. They are skating to “Cabaret” for their short dance and “Romeo & Juliet” for their free. 


The short dance is on Friday and the free dance is scheduled for Saturday.