Every year, the best figure skaters in the world compete in a series of tournaments called the Grand Prix series. That means "grand prize" in French, and it's a pretty fitting name. There are six tournaments—in the United States, Canada, Russia, France, China, and Japan—during October and November. The competition is intense as week after week the top skaters face off against each other again and again. And it all ends this weekend in Marseilles, France.
This is the big one: the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Finals. While the very best skaters don't compete in every single Grand Prix event (they pick and choose so that they can stay fresh), they are all in Marseilles right now. Alongside the World Championships next March, this is the biggest tournament of the year.
Canada's best team ever
Part of the reason that we're excited is because Canada has never had a stronger team in the Grand Prix Finals. There are four categories: men, ladies, pairs, and ice dancing. It's not unusual for Canada to have a very good entry in one or two of these categories. But this year, it has entries in all four (only the top six skaters/pairs qualify in each category). They are Patrick Chan (men), Kaetlyn Osmond (ladies), Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (ice dance), and two in the pairs category: world number one-ranked Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, and Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau. That's a lot of skaters!
Nothing will come easy
Of course, that doesn't mean that anything is going to come easily. Kaetlyn Osmond is up against four women from skating powerhouse Russia. Three strong American teams hope to stop ice dancing legends Virtue and Moir, especially the brother/sister duo of Alex and Maia Shibutani. Meanwhile, China and Russia each have two pairs entered.
If you're not familiar with figure skating, here's how the competition works. Each skater/duo skates twice: a short program and a free skate. The short program features a bunch of moves that every skater must perform. The free skate is longer and more open to a skater's individual style and talent. An international group of judges watch the skaters and grade each performance.
Yesterday were the short programs in men and pairs. Three-time world champion Patrick Chan had a season-best skate, scoring 99.76. But guess who also had a season-best skate? That would be Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, who scored a ridiculous 106.53. That sets up a wild free skate for the men on Saturday. In the pairs, however, the Canadian teams did not have their best short program. Duhamel and Radford are in third after making a couple mistakes, while Seguin and Bilodeau are in sixth after both skaters fell.
Still, there's a lot of skating left to go! The ice dance short programs start today at 1:05pm EST (that's Toronto/New York City time). The pairs free skate follows that, while the ladies short program begins today at around 3:45pm. Then tomorrow (Saturday), there will be the free skates for the ice dancing, ladies, and men.
Tune in and cheer on your favourites!