- Associated Press - Sunday, January 12, 2014

OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) - Three-time world champion Patrick Chan headlines a 17-member Canadian figure skating team for next month’s Sochi Olympics.

Olympic ice dance gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir also are headed to Russia, along with 14 first-timers.

The team was unveiled Sunday following the Canadian championships, which included a couple of surprises. Fifteen-year-old Gabrielle Daleman of Newmarket, Ont., won silver in women’s singles, while Liam Firus, a 21-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., grabbed the third spot in men’s singles.

There were hugs and tears as each skater was called up one by one and presented with a red and white Canada team jacket.

“We’re right here smack dab in the middle of our dream come true,” said Meaghan Duhamel ,who won her third consecutive national pairs title with Eric Radford. “We’re living our dream, and there’s nowhere that I or Eric would rather be right now and I think that we’re a little bit in shock and excited, elated, and relieved.”

The team has set a goal for three medals in Sochi - in men’s singles, ice dance, and the new team event - which would match its best-ever result of three in 1988 in Calgary.

But Canada’s figure skating team - the largest among all countries at the Games - has other podium threats in Duhamel and Radford, bronze medalists at the 2013 world championships, and ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, fifth at last year’s worlds.

“Do we have the potential to possibly get more? Yes,” said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s high performance director. “But we don’t want to set a number that is possibly unattainable but also puts undue pressure on skaters that don’t need to feel that burden.

“We see it at every Olympic Games though, anything can happen. So if that door opens for an opportunity, then we’re ready to step right through.”

The No. 1-ranked Canadians are virtually a lock for a medal in the team event, which has a male, female, pairs team, and ice dance team from each country skate a short and long program.

For Chan, and Virtue and Moir, the team event that begins two days before the opening ceremonies is the perfect chance to deal with some of the pressure they’ll be shouldering as gold medal favorites.

“It would be cool to have a medal in your pocket already going into your individual event,” Chan said. “I think it would be like ‘Hey the medal is really not that big of a deal.’ It’s exciting, it’s awesome, but we still have a job to do, there’s still life after winning a medal. It will relieve a lot of pressure on us individually.”

Virtue and Moir, who will have six days between the end of the team event and the beginning of their individual event, said there was never any question whether they would skate for a team medal, even if it means skating four times.

“Another shot on Olympic ice in front of that crowd and to get a shot at an Olympic gold medal, you’ve got to take it,” Moir said. “We’re good for that. We can do four performances.”

“It’s so exciting, what a privilege to take the ice four times and compete for an Olympic medal,” Virtue said. “It’s also our job to be there and be in shape and represent Canada to the best of our ability. So that’s something we take really seriously.”

Canada won two medals four years ago in Vancouver: Virtue and Moir in ice dance, and a bronze by Joannie Rochette in women’s singles.

Virtue, 24, and Moir, 26, are expected to retire after the Games, closing a competitive partnership that has spanned almost two decades.

The veterans have gladly taken on the responsibility as leaders of this young team.

“It’s something we take pretty seriously,” Moir said. “It’s going to be a very different Games, so for Tessa and I preparing, part of our process is to kind of start brand new and not expect it to be Vancouver.

“But we do have some experiences that some of the other team members don’t have. We’re going to help them as much as we can. Figure skating is unique, you go there as a team, you live together, it’s a family feeling. Tessa and I take that role very seriously.”

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