Osmond fractures leg

Asked at the national training camp a little more than a week ago what she wanted for herself for this season, Kaetlyn Osmond replied: “It’s to stay away from injuries.”

She should have knocked on wood.

The two-time Canadian champion fractured the fibula in her right leg during practice last Thursday in Edmonton. It was a silly thing. She was working only on choreography, not any dangerous manoeuvres, when she swerved around another skater, caught an edge and fell onto the ice.

Last Friday, she underwent surgery at the Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton to stabilize the fracture. She was out of hospital on Saturday.

The incident will wipe out Osmond’s fall season. She’s to be off the ice for six weeks, and that means she will miss the Autumn Classic a month from now in Barrie, Ont., and both of her Grand Prix: Skate Canada in Kelowna, B.C. and Trophee Eric Bompard in Bordeaux, France.

Doctors tell her that she will not be able to put any weight on the leg for six weeks. “I’m obviously disappointed to miss the early part of the skating season, but I will look forward to getting back onto the ice and training again,” she said in a prepared release. She hopes to make it to the Canadian championships in Kingston, Ont. in January.

Osmond missed a lot of training time over the summer because she suffered a stress fracture in early July in her left foot. Why did this happen? “It could have been a mixture of things,” she said. “We thought maybe my skates were too narrow for my foot. It could have added to the stress that every time I landed, the foot wasn’t completely supported.”

The injury wasn’t completely healed at the camp and she did run-throughs without jumps. “Once this one is healed, it’s to stay away from injuries,” said the 18-year-old native of Maryland, Nfld. “Really, my goal is to be able to make it to my two Grand Prix this year without having to withdraw.”

Not! Her wishes won’t be granted. Osmond was referring to last year’s stress-fraught season when injuries hampered her summer training, and caused her to pull out after the short program at Skate Canada last year, and also miss her fall season. Does a dark little storm cloud follow her?

Because of her most recent stress fracture, Osmond had spent this past summer working mainly on choreography and trying out some new skills. She wanted to win her third national title, perhaps even put a triple loop in her program for the first time, and get that triple flip – triple toe loop out in a long program. “Hoping those will work out for me and hopefully they will carry me for the rest of the year,” she said.

Last year, Osmond’s problems started with a stress fracture in September. But this season’s stress fracture happened in late-June to early July. “It just took longer to heal,” she said. “I was off the ice for quite a bit of the summer and off-ice for two weeks. Then I skated a month, and took a week off.”

At the camp, she said she was getting used to a new feeling of balance in her skates. She has oddly shaped feet, she admits, with really wide toes and a very narrow heel. And her feet are tiny. She wears size 4 ½ skates; and size five running shoes.

The stress fracture she had this season was an aggravation of the one that plagued her last season. It came back.

“I’m taking things more carefully this year,” she said at the camp. Last year, she had rushed through the injury to prepare for Olympic season. Then she got a second injury. This year, however, the pressure was off. “It’s not a stressful season to begin with,” she said. “It’s not an Olympic year. I’m learning a whole bunch of new things with choreography so I’m taking my time with the healing.”

But this new injury is not a stress fracture. It’s a fracture. And a certain level of frustration must hang like a dark mantle on Osmond’s shoulders, after a career full of injuries.

Joubert isn’t joking

So it now seems to be real: 2007 world men’s champion Brian Joubert is coming back as a pair skater at age 29 – and probably for Russia to boot.

How intriguing is this going to be in the coming months? Of course we’ll have to wait a year to see how it all turns out, because he can’t skate for another country for a year, and neither can his new partner Katarina Gerboldt, who used to skate for Russia with Sasha Enbert, who has found greener pastures with a new partner and will train in Russia’s most powerful stable, headed by fabulous pair coach, Nina Mozer.

We’ll see which country releases who. Gerboldt and Joubert are turning to a top coach, Oleg Vasiliev, an Olympic pair champion who also has coached Olympic pair champions. Vasiliev would like to see Joubert skate for Russia, if for no other reason than financing and training opportunities will probably be better. Pair skating in France always seems to follow a rocky path. In France, Joubert has sometimes tread a rocky path.

None of this surprises me. At the 2013 world championships in London, Ont., Joubert told me that he planned to try pair skating after Sochi. I laughed, but I stopped laughing when I looked at his face. It wasn’t a joke.

But desire and actually making it happen are two different things, and now he seems to have made this step towards turning his dream into a reality. Joubert also told me that he wants to start a singles and pair school in France, and that skating pairs would help him learn to teach it. But I think the desire goes beyond getting some credentials to be a teacher. He’s a competitor at heart and he wants it.

He will have so much to overcome, but like some top pair coaches say, it can take only four years to turn a pair career around, if you are dealing with skaters with some experience.  Look at Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who incidentally will be in Joubert’s path to the top if he skates for Russia at the 2018 Olympics, which seems to be in the plan. So will Tatania Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, the Olympic champions who are not retiring, but continuing. Mix that up with a few other Russian pairs who at least have experience with the risky discipline and Joubert will have his work cut out for him. But it will be fun watching it all evolve.

Will France release Joubert? Will Russia release Gerboldt? Where will they train? (Joubert has always preferred to train at home in Poitiers, near mother, Raymonde. Any attempts to skate elsewhere have been short-lived. He’d have to cut the apron strings and change his life. Perhaps he’s ready. ) How will Joubert’s back hold up to all of this new, strenuous activity? Gerboldt missed a year of competition in 2012 with torn ligaments. Will her body hold up to the work, too? Can Gerboldt and Joubert adapt to each other? Will Joubert be willing to change his citizenship to Russian for the next Olympics? He says he wants to retain his French citizenship. He’s a major star in France. Will his French fans forgive him? Will they embrace his new challenges? Joubert says he has many fans in Russia, perhaps more than he has at home.

He’s already had dinner with prolific French actor Gerard Depardieu who has been accused to abandoning his homeland to avoid a 75 per cent tax on millionaires in France, departing first to Belgium, then giving up his passport as Russian leader Vladimir Putin signed an executive order giving citizenship to Depardieu.

Depardieu apparently knew Joubert was in Moscow, called him up and dined with him. He told Joubert that if he wanted to move to Russia, he shouldn’t doubt it for a minute. Depardieu backs Putin’s treatment of the Pussy Riot group. Depardieu has been described as a “beautiful runaway truck of a man.” Joubert has always been his own man, always himself. Maybe not quite a runaway truck, but interesting, all the same.

The pair skating itself? How will it turn out? Gerboldt had never skated pairs before she teamed up with Enbert with whom she finished fourth at the 2011 European championships. She can show him the way. In an interview, she said she was pleasantly shocked by what he was able to do, without any previous experience, and in fact, went so far as to say she felt more comfortable with him than with Enbert.

Joubert had never done a death spiral until last week with Gerboldt and by all reports, it wasn’t bad at all. In an interview with a Russian newspaper, Vasiliev said five years ago, Joubert’s mother asked him to teach her son how to skate pairs and he thought it was a joke. Over the years, it’s become less of a joke. When Vasiliev suggested he try out with Gerboldt, Joubert didn’t hesitate.

Joubert is the most decorated French skater in history. Gerboldt hardly speaks English. It’s the stuff made of bad movies, but it’s actually happening. But with so many athletes pondering their future and taking the year off, and with a bit of a wasteland of big names in the Grand Prix series this year, Joubert and his quest will make things interesting. Thanks, Brian.




Canadian national team chosen

Hearts skipped a beat when Skate Canada’s national team for the coming season was released early Tuesday: Patrick Chan and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were on the list.

However, both have indicated that they will skip the Grand Prix season, but they have not decided whether or not they will take part in the second half of the season, which would include the Canadian championships, the Four Continents and the world championships in China.

There’s always hope.

Michael Slipchuk, director of high performance for Skate Canada, said the national team list is built upon results from the previous Canadian championships – and you have to be top five to get on this team. Unless somebody announces a retirement, they are still included. Neither Chan nor Virtue and Moir have made any such announcement. If Skate Canada needs to make changes later, they can. They have an option to add others to the list, based on discretion.

Note: there are only four rather than five women on the national team (Kaetlyn Osmond, Gabby Daleman, first-timer Veronik Mallet, and Alaine Chartrand), but Amelie Lacoste retired and Skate Canada left the team at four.

It was a different story in the pairs event. There were so many partner changes and retirements that Skate Canada had to reach down to find some new teams, or they would have been left with only one team: Meagan Duhamel (just engaged to coach Bruno Marcotte) and Eric Radford.

That means Kirsten Moore-Towers can breathe a sigh of relief, because she’s been included on the national team with her new partner, Michael Marinaro, whose previous partner Margaret Purdy, hung up her skates at the end of the season.

Skate Canada also reached out to a relatively new team, Brittany Jones and Joshua Reagan, who finished seventh at the Canadian championships last January in their first season together. The American-born Reagan has had more partner switches than a square dancer. Originally a promising U.S. skater, he’s leaped the border to skate with a Canadian. He and Jones had to sit out the international season last year until Reagan got a release from U.S. Figure Skating. That happened this spring.

Reagan, partnered with Ashley Cain, won the 2011 U.S. junior championships and finished fourth at the world junior championships for the United States. The same year, Jones, teamed up with Kurtis Gaskell, won the Canadian junior title and then finished sixth at the world juniors.

In Feb. 2012, the Cain-Reagan partnership ended, and a month later, he teamed up with 2011 U.S. senior pair champion Caitlin Yankowskas. They were assigned two Grand Prix but never made either of them. The next season, he teamed up with Becky Bereswill, but before long, they split. And now he’s come to Canada.

Jones was a precocious young pair skater. She and her junior partner were capable of doing triple twists and throw triple Salchows and loops.

There will be more of a waiting game for Dylan Moscovitch, whose brilliant partnership with Kirsten Moore-Towers ended last spring. He’s since teamed up with Lubov Illushechkina, a 22-year-old Russian who was wildly promising when she skated with Nodari Masiuradze. Together, they were 2009 world junior champions, as well as Junior Grand Prix Final champs and they also won Skate Canada in 2010. But the partnership ended in March of 2012. A couple of months later, Illushechkina wanted to skate pairs with a French skater, but Russia would not release her. She hasn’t competed internationally since.

“She needs to be released from Russia,” said Slipchuk. “And at this time there is no release.”

Under ISU rules, skaters must wait a year after their last international competition for one country to skate for another country, but the skater’s home country has the right to hold them in its fold longer, Slipchuk said. “It’s their prerogative.”

Slipchuk said his federation is keeping in touch with the Russian federation, but Skate Canada will honour any decision that the Russian body makes, he said.

What happened in Canada at the end of the Olympic season to the pair discipline is happening world-wide, Slipchuk said. “We didn’t see a lot at the past Olympics,” he said. “But there is a lot this time. United States is going through it. Russia is too. It will be an interesting season this year.”

Jones and Reagan got a wonderful opportunity with all of the switch-ups, and they have lots of international experience. But they just need mileage and time to hit their stride, Slipchuk said. They train with Kristy Wirtz in Waterloo, Ont.

Canadian ice dancers are going strong, according to the national team list. Aside from Virtue and Moir, there are world silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier and Nicole Orford and Thomas Williams.

Among the men, 16-year-old Nam Nguyen has made the national senior team for the first time and will join Kevin Reynolds, Liam Firus, and Elladj Balde.

National team skaters are eligible for international assignments, and it’s important for all of them to get out and earn points and improve their world rankings for other assignments.

“It’s definitely a new look for the team,” Slipchuk said. “There are new faces. We shall have a good mix. After the Olympics, you never know. I think in the next two years, you will see an ebb and flow, but two years before the Olympics, you get a clearer idea of who might be on the next Olympic team.”

South Korea embraces anonymous judging at ISU Congress

Say what? Are you kidding me? Are you really reading that headline correctly? Say it isn’t so!

But it is. South Korea, the country that presented a petition with two million signatures protesting the results of the women’s event at the Sochi Olympics – and which certainly wasn’t served well by anonymous judging – voted to keep it at the Congress, held in Dublin, Ireland this past week.

The proposal intending to do away with anonymous judging which has so frustrated and angered skating fans for the past 15 years or so, needed a two-thirds majority to pass at the ISU Congress. And the vote was very close, according to sources: 30 voted in favour of banning it, 24 were in favour of keeping it and two willy-nilly members abstained altogether. How can you not have an opinion on it?

Why is it so important to do away with anonymous judging? Originally, it was brought in supposedly to keep federations from pressuring judges at events, like the Salt Lake City Olympics. In reality, having such a clause isn’t going to stop federations from pressuring their own judges anyway. And the optics of it are terrible: it’s not transparent. Nobody can dispute results. Nobody can call things into question. It looks like a coverup. If there is anything that really bugged fans and people in the sport, it was this anonymous judging thing.

Case in point: The ISU disciplinary committee, in their ruling into the South Korean protest of the women’s Olympic event, were told by the ISU’s Officials’ Assessment Committee that the scores of Russian judge Alla Shekhovtseva were “within the acceptable range of scores.” Her judging therefore was not considered “unacceptable.” She got no assessment from them, with the panel deeming that her work was neither “biased nor partial to the Russian skater Sotnikova.”

I guess we have to take their word for it. We don’t know what this acceptable corridor was. Nor do we know which countries created it. In the old 6.0 days, the majority rule wasn’t always correct. A good referee would look at results of all judges and sometimes declare that a judge who was out of line had actually judged the event correctly and the others had missed it (or were perhaps colluding.) Everybody could learn how to be better from it.

While the fan base for skating is not in any way in trouble in Japan or South Korea, it is in other parts of the world, where skaters sometimes perform in empty rinks and TV deals aren’t what they used to be. This anonymous judging thing is vitally important to the future of the sport. Trust has been disappearing.

So what countries voted to do away with anonymous judging at the Congress? The ones you’d expect, mostly: Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Britain, Hungary, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, United States, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Boznia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, and a little more surprising: Russia, which has been well served by anonymous judging.

Countries that voted to keep anonymous judging, according to sources close to the Congress were: Austria, Sweden, Finland, Germany, both North and South Korea, all southeast Asian nations, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus, Georgia, Poland and Slovakia.

It’s entirely distressing to see countries like Sweden, Austria, Germany and South Korea voting to keep anonymous judging. Perhaps some members just don’t understand the implications? Do they want to keep judges’ scores secret? Why? What could possibly by in it for South Korea, especially with the 2018 Olympics coming up? The nobleness of their petition regarding the women’s event at the Olympics – at first they didn’t ask for medals to be reassigned, only that results be investigated “immediately and transparently” to ensure fair judging in the future – takes a bit of a hit, knowing that they want anonymous judging. It’s hard to comprehend. Open judging could have helped their case against the results of the Sochi event.

The Koreans must have been entirely frustrated in their protest and petition to the ISU. It certainly fell on deaf ears. First they were told that their original protest for a general investigation was outside the jurisdiction of the ISU disciplinary committee, who said a complaint must be directed at an individual or a federation. The committee invited South Korea to answer this. In total, it took South Korea 69 days to file the second one, against Shekhovtseva as the offender. Russia complained, because rules say you must protest within 60 days of the event. The committee countered, saying they had invited the Koreans to take a second crack at the problem and the second complaint was an amendment of the first.

Perhaps the Koreans should have thought more carefully about what they needed to take on. The new Korean complaint apparently dealt only with Shekhovtseva’s embrace of Adelina Sotnikova after the event was over. The problem with going after Shekhovtseva was that there are apparently no rules that prohibit her from judging, even if her husband is Russian federation director-general Valentin Piseev, according to the ISU. None of the rules apply to a family relationship, and Shekhovtseva and her husband weren’t officiating in the same event, the panel said. Perhaps it should. Isn’t that the spirit of ethics? (And no, perhaps federation presidents shouldn’t be judging their own skaters, as happens in other countries, which may not have enough judges to do so, by the way.)

The committee did note that “it would be obvious and reasonable to assume that she was under the influence of and had an emotional connection to the FSFR [Russian federation] in the pursuit of glory that a gold medal would bring to FSFR in an Olympic competition held in Russia. In a glaring testimony to the interest Shekhovtseva would have in the outcome of the competition, Shekhovtseva was seen embracing Sotnikova backstage …..”

Yet, the panel unravelled those assumptions. It differentiated between a judge on duty and off duty. (Who is ever “off duty” in ethics situations?) And they figured that Shekhovtseva was off-duty when she embraced Sotnikova. And the skater initiated the embrace, not Shekhovtseva. “A violation of the ISU rules requires a deliberate act,” the panel said in its decision. “The Alleged Offender [better known as Shekhovtseva], did not deliberately or negligently breach the rules. She responded reflexively.”

Boy they were splitting hairs. At the end of the day, the marks just didn’t make sense, and didn’t match what was seen on the ice.

The biggest question is: why didn’t South Korea ask the ISU to look into the actions of the technical controller, Alexander Lakernik, who is also a vice-president of the Russian federation? “Even a blind person could see the wrong edge of Sotnikova on her Lutz,” said one observer. “Except the technical controller and the technical specialist for whom the edges were correct. Nobody complained.”

The ISU should have appointed a special committee to verify the marks awarded by the judges and to have examined them. The rules allow this. The “extra” panel could have opened the mark vaults and evaluated them. But no, it’s easier for the ISU to ignore problems, especially if they want to avoid ruffling the feathers of Russia, a powerful voter in elections.

All in all, a sad day in the skating world.