SPORTS

Four Continents: Canadians should shine in Seoul

02/11/2015 04:57 EST | Updated 04/13/2015 05:59 EDT
Canada’s skaters have always been frontrunners at the ISU Four Continents Championship since its start in 1999, and the 2015 edition will be no exception.

I have said since the beginning of this season that I think Canadian skaters will take home two world titles by the time it’s all said and done. This week’s event in Seoul — beginning with live streaming coverage on Thursday (CBCSports.ca, 11:30 p.m. ET) — is just another step to be climbed on that ladder for pair Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, and ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

Duhamel and Radford have converted every event into gold medals so far this season; meeting their biggest competitors head-on at every stop. In Seoul, their strongest challenge should come from China in the form of five-time Four Continents and two-time world champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong.

Pang and Tong are staging a comeback to amateur competition in Seoul en route to competing at the world championships on home soil in Shanghai later next month. Duhamel and Radford won this event the last time they were here in 2013, and will also be facing defending Four Continents champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, who will want to give them a run for their money.

The Four Continents event has been lucky for Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. They didn’t make the Olympic team in 2010, and took the opportunity to compete at the Four Continents to put their name on the skating map by claiming the title.

They haven’t lost a competition since worlds in 2014 where they earned a silver medal by a razor slim .01 margin. I don’t expect that to happen here but they have to remain focused. Their biggest challengers, on paper at least, are American ice dance champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who are delightful in their own right but for me, when I am able to compare both teams on the ice at the same time, the Canadians have edge.

Canada's Nguyen like a veteran

Canadian first-time men’s champion, Nam Nguyen, has been handling this season like a veteran. He has been in the mix at every competition since winning the junior world title almost a year ago. In claiming a bronze medal at his first Grand Prix event at Skate America in 2014, Nguyen has shown that despite his youth, he belongs with the seniors.

On the other hand, Denis Ten of Kazakhstan has been struggling but in my mind, the 2014 Olympic bronze medallist is due for a great competition. If Ten finds himself finally in solid form, he would be tough to beat; he has charisma, style and solid technical elements. Don’t turn your back though on Japan’s Takahito Mura. Mura has the highest season’s score heading into the event and is the defending Four Continents Champion.

I see the women’s field in a state of flux with any number of candidates in the running for the podium, including an outside shot for newly crowned Canadian champion Gabrielle Daleman. The more likely scenario looks like American Gracie Gold going head-to-head against 2014 Four Continents silver medallist and Japanese national champion Satoko Miyahara.

Among the other podium challengers are Canadian silver medallist Alaine Chartrand who delighted fans earlier this year with a bronze medal at the Grand Prix Rostelecom Cup. In addition, keep a look out for American Polina Edmunds and Japan’s Rika Hongo.

I’ll be watching

- Adam Rippon (USA) - Adam Rippon has the goods. He has two world junior titles to his credit in addition to the 2010 Four Continents title. Despite performance problems, I love watching Adam skate. He has a beautiful line, exquisite musicality and a quad Lutz jump that he is eager to land clean in competition.

- Rika Hongo (JPN) - Keep your eye on this talented 18-year-old Japanese national silver medallist. As a first-year senior, she took the Rostelecom Cup, qualified for the Grand Prix Final where she finished in fourth place. I like her confidence and poise. 

- Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker (USA) - These two are the 2014 junior world dance champions. I am always interested to see how talented juniors make the transition to the senior ranks.  They have already created an impression by winning a Grand Prix bronze at the NHK event earlier this year; their debut season as seniors.

- Qing Pang and Jian Tong (CHN) - I like the fact that this pair is trying to support the worlds coming to China for the first time by lending their competitive talents to the season. Plagued by injuries during their career, I marvel at the determination it takes to sign on again for the kind of punishment that pairs skating can dole out. For the record, in 11 outings at the Four Continents (including the first one in 1999) they have never been below fifth place; they cannot be ruled out.

Pj’s Podium Picks

- Dance: Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje CAN

- Men:  Denis Ten KAZ

- Pair: Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford CAN

- Ladies: Gracie Gold USA

Just for fun

There was a moment where three-time national medallist Jeremy Ten wondered about continuing on in his skating. This year’s programs and new-found confidence led him to a silver medal at the recent Canadian Championships and a spot on this year’s Four Continents team. This was his reaction to his medal when I caught him backstage last month in Kingston.

Tweet me your picks and anything else: @skatingpj and with the hashtag #cbcskate.

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