Ice dance stars Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir took turns carrying the Canadian flag at the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on Friday, hours after their teammates got Canada off to a solid start in the team figure skating competition.
The pair lead Team Canada’s largest ever Winter Olympics team into PyeongChang stadium, with 122 men and 103 women who will compete in 14 sports.
Canada overcame some early stumbles from star Patrick Chan in the men’s skate and led the standings after the first day of competition of the team event. It marked the start of a solid day for Canadian athletes, as freestyle skiers Mikael Kingsbury and Andi Naude impressed in moguls qualifying and the mixed curling team of John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes improved to 3-1 with a pair of wins.
The figure skating meet kicked off several hours before the opening ceremony, and the early morning start had Chan a bit rattled.
The three-time world champion rose at 5 a.m., grabbed a coffee on the way to the bus for a 7 a.m. practice. Then it was back to the athletes village for some oatmeal, and a short rest before hopping on the bus back to the Gangneung Ice Arena for a 10 a.m. competition.
The bleary-eyed Chan had a shaky skate to open Canada’s gold-medal quest in the team event. But he wasn’t the only one.
“I don’t think any of us in our entire careers, even mine, have ever skated this early, or with this type of schedule. I definitely think that played a role,” Chan said. ”But we’re not in control of that.”
Skating to “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas, the three-time world champion from Toronto fell on both his quadruple toe loop and triple Axel to score 81.66, putting him in third in the men’s short program.
Shoma Uno was the only skater to lay down anything resembling a clean program, scoring 103.25 to put Japan in the lead. Alexei Bychenko of Israel sat second with 88.49. American phenom Nathan Chen, considered a favourite for gold in the individual event, fell once and popped a quad jump to score 80.61.
Two-time world pairs champs Meagan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford of Balmertown, Ont., had a better day than Chan, finishing second with a score of 76.57, behind Russians Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who recorded 80.92. Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot were third with 75.36.
After the first two events of the team competition, Canada was atop the standings with 17 points, three ahead of the Americans. Japan was third with 13.
Figure skating traditionally runs well into the night at the Olympics, but North American prime time television demands has it finished by the early afternoon in South Korea, throwing skaters’ schedules topsy-turvy.
Virtue and Moir, who skate the ice dance portion of the team event Sunday, were all smiles as they led Canada’s red-clad contingent into Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium, one of 92 nations to enter the chilly 35,000-seat facility on a blustery night where temperatures dipped to -8 C with the wind chill.
Virtue, of London, Ont., took the first turn with the Maple Leaf before passing it to Moir, of Ilderton, Ont., halfway through their tour of the venue.
The pair won ice dance gold at the 2010 Games before capturing silver in 2014, and are a good bet to reach the podium again in South Korea.
The Canadians waved to the crowd, snapped selfies and danced to the music, but like the rest of the countries in the parade nations, they moved a little faster than usual to get to their seats — probably because of the cold.
The 225-member team is the Canada’s largest for a Winter Olympics, but some of the athletes skipped the festivities, while others indicated beforehand they would leave soon after their march around the pentagon-shaped stadium with the official start of competition looming Saturday.
Meanwhile, Kingsbury is off to a promising start in men’s moguls. The skier from Deux-Montagnes. Que., took top spot in men’s qualifying with 86.07 points on the Phoenix Park course. Naude of Penticton, B.C., was second on the women’s side with 79.60 points.
Montreal’s Justine Dufour-Lapointe, a gold medallist in 2014, was fourth. Her sister Chloe, who won silver four years ago, was 13th in qualifying. With only the top 10 advancing to the final from Friday’s qualifying, Chloe Dufour-Lapointe will need to deliver in another qualifying run Sunday to move on.
Elsewhere at Phoenix Park, Canadian snowboarder Laurie Blouin was carried off the course on a stretcher after a nasty training fall.
The reigning world champion in slopestyle fell heavily when her board got stuck in a crack after she landed a double jump. Blouin was taken to hospital for further evaluation as a precaution. The Canadian Olympic Committee said in a statement that she is conscious, alert and going back to the athletes’ village with a team doctor.
Morris and Lawes improved to 3-1 in mixed curling with a 10-4 win over China’s Rui Wang and Dexin Ba and an 8-2 rout over Tomi Rantamaeki and Oona Kauste of Finland.
On Thursday, Morris and Lawes earned a hard-fought 6-4 win over Matt and Becca Hamilton of the United States in the evening draw after dropping their opener 9-6 to Norway’s Kristin Skaslien and Magnus Nedregotten.
Canadian coach Jeff Stoughton said Morris and Lawes are improving as they adjust to the intricacies of the mixed doubles format, which is making its Olympic debut.
“I think you’re going to see more and more teams playing better because they’re getting more comfortable with the ice and where to put the broom, so it’s good to see that our team is catching on to that as well,” he said.
The Canadians take on Switzerland and the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” on Saturday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wished Canada’s athletes good luck in a statement released Friday and said the team’s diverse makeup is a reflection of the country.
“When Team Canada marches into the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium, young Canadians can look at our team and see themselves,” Trudeau said. ”Our Olympians hail from across the country and from all kinds of different backgrounds.
“Together, they represent the diversity that Canada so proudly stands for, and remind us all that no matter where we are from, we can succeed with drive and discipline.”
The Canadian Press