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Canada serves notice as figure skating team to beat at Sochi Olympics

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LONDON, Ont. - Home ice was good to Canada's team at the world figure skating championships.

Now the Canadians plan to make the Sochi arena their own.

From Patrick Chan's third world title to the emergence of young Kaetlyn Osmond and the two pairs teams, the Canadians produced their most successful worlds in several years, setting themselves up nicely for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"It came in spades in the results, you couldn't ask for more," said Skate Canada's high performance director Mike Slipchuk.

Canadian skaters captured medals in three of the four disciplines at Budweiser Gardens for the first time since 2008 and came awfully close a couple more times, serving notice Canada will be the country to beat in the new team event in Sochi.

"Seeing the team here, and seeing that we have extremely strong pairs, strong men, strong dance, and now ladies with Kaetlyn, I'm so so so pumped to do the team event," Chan said. "If we win a gold medal as a team, can you imagine the energy that we would create?"

The team event, which makes its Olympic debut in Sochi, is the first figure skating event of the Games, and combines the scores of one entry in each of the four disciplines — men, women, pairs, and ice dance.

"It's kind of like fantasy football or fantasy hockey. It's like we're picking our team and it's really, really exciting because we get to work as a team," Chan said. "It may not be eight medals like Michael Phelps, but it's close enough."

"It rocks," added Kirsten Moore-Towers, who finished fourth in pairs Friday with partner Dylan Moscovitch.

"I think it's definitely ours to win," added Moscovitch. "It's very exciting for us to be part of this generation of skaters."

The world championships determined the number of entries Canada will have at the Sochi Games, and Canada earned a full three spots in every discipline but women's singles, where the team will have two.

Chan led the way with his third straight gold, despite a less-than-perfect performance, and will head into Sochi as the favourite.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will be hungry to regain their top spot in the world after losing gold to American rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Canada's second ice dance team of Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were fifth despite the fact Weaver broke her fibula in December when she smashed feet-first into the boards.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won bronze for Canada's first pairs medal since 2008, and the fourth-place by Moore-Towers and Moscovitch marked the first time since 1962 Canada placed two pairs teams in the top four at worlds.

Slipchuk called Osmond and Kevin Reynolds the revelations of the week.

The 22-year-old Reynolds, a native of Coquitlam, B.C., was 12th last year, but looked poised for the podium before falling from third to fifth after the long program.

"Last year we were just hoping he'd hold onto 12th," Slipchuk said. "Here Kevin was a little disappointed he ended up fifth. So to be disappointed with where he was, that bodes well."

Osmond, a 17-year-old from Marystown, N.L., turned some heads in her world championship debut, sitting in fourth after the short program before two falls in her long dropped her to eighth.

Her top-10 finish was good enough to guarantee Canada two women's spots in Sochi, and Olympic bronze medallist Joannie Rochette admitted this week she's considering a comeback.

Chan's victory made him the first man to win three in a row since Russia's Alexei Yagudin (1998-2000). But after recording a world-record score in the short program he fell twice in his long, allowing silver medallist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan to pull to within a point.

"He apologized for not skating well, but at the end of the day, a lot of guys didn't skate well," Slipchuk said. "It's a two-part event, and with the lead Patrick had in the short, that's where you kind of go: thank-you I had that.

"But you're going to have these little blips, and he's never had a (shaky long) program like that at a world championship and that's a bit of a blessing because those are going to creep in, everyone gets them. From a training point of view, it's a positive."

London, Ont., played a welcome host, with hometown heroes Virtue and Moir acting as unofficial ambassadors. The ice dance duo's faces adorned posters around the city.

"It's neat for both Tessa and I to see our community really pull together," Moir said. "London, Ontario — I don't think we're pulling the wool over anyone's eyes, trying to compare with a place like Moscow, Nice, France, or Tokyo (previous world venues).

"It's a unique worlds and I think the community did an amazing job coming together, really supporting the worlds."

The competition drew more than 62,000 spectators, and the 6,600-seat venue was sold out for all but the pairs final.

The city was dressed up in its figure skating finery. Painted figure skates adorned trees around the arena, where the skating competition was projected at night onto the wall for fans to watch from outside. Nearby Covent Garden Market was jam-packed every day.

The live performance of the various national anthems was a nice touch. Fifty female singers from Amabile Choir performed the anthems, after rehearsing anthems from a dozen different countries for the past few months.

Next year's world championships will be in Saitama, Japan, just outside Tokyo.

The Canadians have one last competition this season, the World Team Trophy, April 11-14 in Tokyo and go in as the No. 1-ranked team ahead of the United States and Japan.

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