What to know for the figure skating world championships in Montreal

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The World Figure Skating Championships begin Wednesday at the Bell Centre in Montreal, the first Canadian city to host the event since London, Ont., in 2013.

That was back during the golden age of Canadian figure skating, and the host country won a medal of each colour in London. Patrick Chan led the way, capturing his third consecutive men’s gold and what would turn out to be the last of his six career medals at the worlds. Ice dance superstars Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir settled for silver, while Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford took bronze in the pairs event.

Eleven years later, the good times are long gone. Canada’s decline began shortly after the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, where Virtue and Moir won their final ice dance title and led Canada to gold in the team event as the country captured a world-leading four medals.

Since the end of that season, Canadian figure skaters have won just three medals at the world championships — all bronze — and they were shut out at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. The drop-off is especially stark in the singles events, where no Canadian has reached a major podium since Kaetlyn Osmond won the women’s gold at the depleted post-Olympic worlds in 2018. The dearth of major medals across all disciplines looks even worse given that skating superpower Russia has been banned since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Canada’s singles struggles are likely to continue this week as none of its three solo entries are considered podium contenders. Wesley Chiu, who turns 19 on Wednesday, is making his worlds debut while Roman Sadovsky and Madeline Schizas have never finished higher than 12th at the sport’s biggest annual event.

But Canada has several top-flight tandems in the pairs and dance events, and the home ice and crowd support in Montreal could be enough to nudge the country to its first multi-medal worlds since 2018.

The top two contenders are the ice dance duo of Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier and the pairs team of Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps. Each won both of their regular-season starts on the Grand Prix tour before taking bronze at the exclusive Grand Prix Final in December and gold at last month’s Four Continents Championships (for non-Europeans).

Gilles and Poirier won the Grand Prix Final last season before earning their second bronze in three years at the world championships. For them, it was as good as gold, coming just two months after Gilles had surgery for ovarian cancer. “That was probably one of the hardest competitions I’ve ever had to do in my life,” Gilles told the Globe and Mail. “People didn’t understand what that medal meant to us.”

Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps placed fourth at last year’s worlds, their first as a team. Before that, Stellato-Dudek, a 40-year-old American who could get her Canadian citizenship in time for the 2026 Olympics if she continues competing, skated for the United States. Deschamps, 32, is no spring chicken either, but the pair believe their age is an asset.

Canada’s other medal hopefuls include ice dancers Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha, who claimed two silvers on the Grand Prix circuit this season before placing sixth out of six at the Final; and pairs skaters Lia Pereira and Trennt Michaud, who won a gold and a silver before finishing sixth at the Final.

Then there’s Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Soerensen. The ice dancers placed fifth at last year’s worlds and earned a pair of Grand Prix silvers this season before finishing fifth at the Final. But they’re garnering a lot of attention this week for a darker reason.

Just before the Canadian championships in January, it was revealed that Soerensen is under investigation by safe-sport authorities after an American coach and former skater accused him of sexually assaulting her in 2012. Soerensen called the allegations “false” and Fournier Beaudry expressed support for her teammate, calling him “a man of integrity, respect and kindness.” But they decided not to defend their national title in Calgary, where Gilles and Poirier reclaimed it.

Fournier Beaudry and Soerensen returned to take silver last month at the Four Continents in China, behind Gilles and Poirier. Soerensen remains eligible to compete while the investigation continues, and Skate Canada said it never considered removing him from the worlds. “We feel like we deserve to be here,” Soerensen said.

International skaters to watch

There’s a showdown brewing in the men’s event between Japan’s Shoma Uno, who’s going for his third straight world title, and 19-year-old American star Ilia Malinin. The self-branded “Quad God” put himself on the map last season by becoming the first skater to land the extremely difficult quadruple axel in competition, and he went on to take bronze at the world championships. This season, Malinin beat Uno at the Grand Prix Final for the biggest win of his career.

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto is going for a three-peat of her own in the women’s event, while Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates will try to repeat as ice dance champions. The defending pairs champs are Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who lost to Stellato-Dudek and Deschamps at the Four Continents after the Japanese duo missed the Grand Prix season due to Kihara’s back injury.

How to watch

Starting Wednesday at noon ET through the closing gala on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET, every skate will be live-streamed on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. You can catch additional coverage daily on the CBC TV network. Here are the streaming and broadcast schedules.

For a quick preview of all four events and medal predictions, watch this clip from That Figure Skating Show with Asher Hill.

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