ISU World Figure Skating Championships coming to Montréal
It’s the single most important figure skating event each year outside of the Olympics, and draws the sport’s best of the best, as well as figure skating fans by the tens of thousands. In 2020, Montréal has the honour of hosting the prestigious ISU World Figure Skating Championships, which will see elite athletes like two-time world champion Nathan Chen, two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and Canadian pairs Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro and Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier.
The 2020 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, March 16 to 22 at the Bell Centre, marks the 11th time the event has been held in Canada and only the second time it has taken place in Montréal, the last time being in 1932. The ISU championships represent the annual pinnacle of the sport, attracting more than 300 million television viewers around the world and showcasing 200 top-tier competitors from 50 countries in four disciplines: men, women, ice dance and pair. And given the event’s significance, for the athletes, preparedness is key.
“Preparation for the World Championships is always a little bit different,” says Canadian skater Paul Poirier, pairs partner of Piper Gilles (together they are two-time Four Continents medalists, 2019 Skate Canada International champions and 2020 Canadian national champions). “It’s not really because the competition is higher stakes, but rather, because it is the end of the season and we have been training the programs for nearly a whole year. At this point in the season, the improvements that need to be made are so minute and detailed, so the focus of the training always changes a bit as we approach the end of the competitive season.”
But the challenge faced by the skaters isn’t limited to fine-tuning aspects of performance: sometimes the most imposing challenge is the one you can’t see.
“I find the biggest challenge that we face at the World Championships is the one in our own heads,” says Piper Gilles. “At that point in the year, we have done countless run-throughs of each program, which should give you enough confidence to get through the program. It’s also a sport and things can happen.”
“I think at any major event — assuming you have prepared properly — the biggest challenge is to find the nice sweet spot where you are allowing your muscle memory to carry you through the performance, but not so much that the performance looks like it’s on autopilot and is soulless,” says Poirier. “You still want to be 100% present in what you are doing so that your performance is believable and engaging.”
New at this year’s championships, figure skating fans will be treated to the very first edition of the ISU Skating Awards, which will combine the entertaining energy of the traditional Exhibition Gala with the glitz and glamour of an awards show. It will see the 2020 world medalists perform an exhibition number that will be coupled with live musical acts and exciting production numbers that combine contemporary skating and dance. Awards will be given to skaters, coaches and choreographers in seven categories, including Best Costume, Most Valuable Skater and a Lifetime Achievement Award.
“At the end of the World Championships they will be announcing their very first winners,” explains Gilles. “I think this is such a great thing for not only the audience and viewers but also for the athletes. Yes, the athletes on top of the podium are incredible, but there are some beautiful programs being performed by other athletes in the mix of top competitors. It’s really just an appreciation of all the beautiful work people put in year to year.”
And the fact that Montréal is hosting the championships presents a sweet, uniquely Québec off-ice opportunity for the skaters.
“Since it is nearly the season, I absolutely want to visit a cabane à sucre after the competition,” says Poirier. “Especially since I didn’t get to see my extended family this Christmas, this will be my chance to fill up on tourtière and all the other wonderful things that I usually get to enjoy over the holidays.”
And in true pairs form, Gilles is perfectly in synch.
“The one thing I’m really looking forward to in Montréal is visiting a sugar shack when we are done,” she says, “and having maple syrup on everything!”
Jamie O’Meara, blogger
Jamie O'Meara is Editor-in-Chief at C2 Montréal and the former Editor-in-Chief of alt-weekly newspaper HOUR Magazine.