Duhamel and Radford take a deep breath

After the cruelty of a long program gone completely haywire at Autumn Classic a few weeks ago, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have hit the reset button.

They will be coming to Skate Canada International in another 10 days feeling settled after some clever reworking of their Muse 2.0 free program.

“We had a big breakthrough with a training run of a clean long program for the first time this season,” Duhamel said Monday.

“Since we’ve made those changes, I think that we are starting to skate with a lot more confidence,” Radford said. “And a lot more consistency.”

At Autumn Classic in Montreal, Duhamel and Radford presented a stunning short program to Bono’s “With you, Without You,” as voiced by April Meservy. Thanks to the music and the choreographic collaboration between their long-time program designer Julie Marcotte and new one, John Kerr, Duhamel and Radford have never looked like this: their program breathes and whispers at the same time.

But all that euphoria came crashing about their heads during their long program to Muse, as Duhamel feel three times, on a triple Lutz, a triple Salchow and their throw quad Salchow. They were left confused and rather dazed by it, but not surprised: at home when training five run-throughs of it, they just could never seem to make it work, especially when somebody was watching.

They went into panic mode. To fan the flames of this angst, Duhamel and Radford had committed to a skating show in Verona, Italy and were to leave the next day. They sat with their coaches and Marcotte for hours, wondering if they should just ditch Muse altogether, or try to fix it. They called Kerr in Florida and asked him if he could come to Italy. “At that moment, I thought we shouldn’t be going to Italy,” Duhamel said. “There was too much work to do.” And Skate Canada wasn’t far off.

In the end, they decided to make Muse work. “We knew that it could still be great,” Duhamel said. “Things kind of calmed down.”  Fortunately, the show producers allowed Marcotte to accompany them to Verona – and how could they miss a show like this: Intimissimi on Ice, featuring Andrea Bocelli singing with Shizuka Arakawa, Stephane Lambiel and Evgeny Plushenko skating.

 

So they solved their problems in Italy.

They figured that the pacing was off between various elements, and that all of that threw them to the winds. The throw quad had been later in the program, but they moved it to the third element. “It was just a lot more difficult than I thought it would be,” Duhamel said. “These were all things we didn’t know until we tried.”

So now they will do triple twist, triple Lutz, throw quad Salchow, side-by-side spin and then a three-jump combo in the first part of Muse.

“The pacing feels very natural like this and now we have a more comfortable setup going into the throw quad,” Duhamel said. “We were trying it out of a lift, and we were always stuck in the corner out of the lift and anyways, it was so much later in the program. Not only did we fall on the quad at Autumn Classic, we were never landing it in the run-through at home, either.”

The routine has a better flow now, with the change of pacing. And they feel settled.

Radford figures they had tried to push the artistic side too far, and just assumed that the technical elements were going to work. With the changes, however, the artistic flow will be there, just as it is in the short program, but “just in a totally different colour than the short program,” he said.

Somehow, they handled all of this while doing a show in Italy. They used one of their routines to “practice” their short program, more or less. They skated basically the same program, to different music. “We worked really hard when we were in Italy to still be able to enjoy this spectacular show, to also be doing our job training, because we knew Skate Canada was going to be coming fast by the time we got home,” Duhamel said.

Italy worked for them. “I think that Eric and I love to perform in shows,” Duhamel said. “And we improve so much every time we perform in a show. And the fact that we got to perform three nights in a row in this amazing show and we had great performances. It gave us back our confidence, that we could perform well. We could do it.”

In one of their routines, they landed triple Lutzes and a throw triple Lutz.

When they came home, they felt like they had hit the restart button. It’s as if the season did not start with Autumn Classic, but it will start with Skate Canada. They returned refreshed. “We had this energy and this excitement about what we were creating,” she said.

“We had probably one of the more spectacular weeks of training last week,” Duhamel added. “Every program we ran was basically clean.” Including that Muse long program.

They are problem solvers. “I think that it’s just that we had to make those kind of mistakes to figure out how things really needed to be,” Radford said. They have taken an interesting path to get there, but they are back on track for Skate Canada.

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Johnny Bear in the race of his life

Ask Johnny Bear what he would like to have done when he grew up, and it probably wouldn’t have been man-about-town at Woodbine racetrack.

Nope. Johnny Bear would be the lagabout. A slugabed. A lazyboots. A gentleman of leisure. A lotus-eater.  When others would be studying and learning, he’d be dozing off in the classroom, getting a friend to peel his grapes for him. Loving everybody. Never having a care in the world.

By the way, Johnny Bear is a racehorse. Now he’s the 9 to 1 surprise winner of the Northern Dancer Stakes, where he took the measure of the glorious European star Hawkbill by defeating him in one last determined head bob at the wire and making the tote board sing a few weeks ago. And now he’s stepping it up this weekend to become a 12 to 1 contender in the frothy $800,000 Canadian International Championship Stakes, with a storied history as long as a backstretch.

Johnny Bear, outside, defeating Hawkbill, inside

Johnny Bear is six years old, for heaven’s sake, a late bloomer in this business and he’s finally finding his footing. On Sunday, he’ll be racing against  Erupt, last year’s Irish-bred winner of the International  and winner of $1.46-million for Flaxman Holdings (the family of the late Greek shipping magnate Stavros Niarchos); Flamboyant, a horse owned by the chief executive officer of Target Enterprises in the United States in partnership with a high-powered tax lawyer; the 5 to 2 favourite Idaho, a 4-year-old bred in the purple from Ireland, running for powerful European owners Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Mrs. John Magnier – she the daughter of legendary trainer Vincent O’Brien – and trained by famed Irish handler Aidan O’Brien, who is within two wins of equalling the world record for most Grade One or Group One races in his career; and of course, there’s Chemical Charge, owned by Qatar Racing Ltd. (three princes from the royal family of Qatar, with headquarters in England).

Idaho, last year in the International

Erupt, winning the International last year for his French team

 

In the midst of all this racing royalty, is humble little Johnny Bear, the only Canadian entrant in the field. Nobody has told him what he’s up against. Odds are, he probably isn’t sweating it.

Johnny Bear, in the walking ring before the Northern Dancer

Johnny Bear was impressive enough as a yearling – he was a looker, indeed  ­- to attract ever so much attention at the prime Canadian yearling sale in Toronto five years ago.  Even Canada’s top trainer, Mark Casse was having a look and he’s long had a bankroll of wealthy owners to back him. On that note, breeder/owner John Burness linked forces with his friend Danny Dion, of the Sovereign award winning Bear Stable, who began to buy horses after he had developed Bear Slashing Ltd., site preparation company for oil fields into a multi-million business in Alberta.

They went halfsies on this colt, a son of English Channel, and figured he’d bring $200,000. Burness let Dion do the bidding.  When the dust settled, Dion had to break the news to Burness. The colt sold for $275,000, the sale topper.

“Well, guess what,” Dion said to Burness. “I spent a little bit more than I anticipated. If you want out, it’s okay.”

“No,” Burness said. “If we’re partners, we’re partners.”

There were probably a few times when he wished he hadn’t said that.

Johnny Bear (who got his name for obvious reasons), wasn’t exactly precocious. He is a son of English Channel, who got better as he got older, and won the Breeders’ Cup Turf in his third attempt, winning by seven lengths, the largest winning margin in the history of the race.

“To be totally honest, I didn’t think I was going to get to train the horse,” said Burness’s daughter, Ashlee Brnjas, whose first full year as a trainer came in 2007, only four years before Johnny Bear came into her care. “I thought there would be much more experienced trainers that would get the horse. But Bear [Danny Dion] told me they had decided I would get to train the horse. I was pretty flabbergasted.”

Ashlee Brnjas

Johnny Bear was always a favourite. “He was kind of a short, fat, stocky little guy,” Brnjas said. “And he slept ALL THE TIME, to the point where I used to get really concerned. It was like he was anemic or something. But he was fine. He just matured.” She took him to Florida and started him out sprinting, although she knew that wasn’t his game. Like all good English Channels, he wanted to run a distance.

The stable had to be very patient. Brnjas was endlessly patient with him. His owners? Not so much. After a streak of losses and layups, frustration began to set in.

“There were discussions going back and forth, but you know, frustrated owners,” she said. “They want to see a return on their investment. We had a few fights over him potentially getting claimed. And lucky enough, he ran in a $32,000 claimer in Florida [but nobody claimed him.] I didn’t want to, but they said: ‘Run him.’ I believe he won that race.” That win made him eligible for other races.

He’s an easy horse to train. No arguments from Johnny Bear. Brnjas calls him a “marshmellow.” He is indeed mellow. After his Northern Dancer win, Brnjas was asked if it was okay to bring him out for a backstretch tour, which included children. No probs.

“I had 50 people out on the lawn taking photos of him last week at Woodbine in front of my barn,” she said. “He’s the most cool horse. Kids can pet him, feed him, take pictures with him, kiss him. He doesn’t care.”

Everybody loves Johnny Bear. He loves everybody.

Johnny Bear, looking askance at Hawkbill, who was sashaying in front of the starting gate. Notice the tongue sticking out.

 

“He’s totally laid back,” Burness said. “Nothing really fazes him at all. Sometimes when you bring him over, you go: ‘holy smokes, is he going to run?’ But when he gets on a track, he’s a different horse.”

Burness had more faith in the little red horse than the Bear. “My partner said a few times: “Run him for $32,000 and let somebody else worry about him. He let me manage him most of the time and he wouldn’t get upset with me and he kind of agreed when I didn’t run him for a tag.”

Burness had to admit that his daughter’s protests against having him claimed swayed him. “I fought so hard with the owners not to run him in claiming races,” she said. “Please don’t. He’s just starting. We’ve had him for five years and we’ve just started and you’ve put all this money into him.”

So Johnny Bear stayed put. He could have been claimed for $40,000 last October at Woodbine.

This year has been Johnny Bear’s turnaround year. The clan took him to Florida last winter and he won twice in three starts at Tampa Bay Downs. He was getting the hang of this winning thing. In his first start at home at Woodbine in the spring, he ran second to major Woodbine stakes winner Are You Kidding Me.  Finally, in early September, Burness thought he’d take a chance on actually entering Johnny Bear in a stakes race – the Halton Stakes, a race restricted to horses that had sold in the Canadian yearling sale. “What are you doing?” Bear asked. “You are crazy.”

“No, he deserves a shot,” Burness said. He won the thing by 3 ½ lengths. Then Burness stepped up and entered him in the Northern Dancer, a major graded stakes race at Woodbine that often attracts good international horses. Once again, the Bear had his doubts. He thought Johnny Bear was in over his head. Although the Bear had come to Toronto for the yearling sales and therefore the sales stakes, he stayed at home in Alberta and watched the Northern Dancer on television.

Johnny Bear was in against Hawkbill, a $350,000 yearling purchase owned by Godolphin (in other words, a sheikh of Dubai). He had won the important Coral Eclipse Stakes (Group One) in England. He had run in the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud in France. He had run in Germany. He won the Princess of Wales Stakes at Newmarket, England. He had finished second in the Grand Prix von Berlin. He was an imposing beast. A gorgeous thing.

Hawkbill

 

Johnny Bear started right next to Hawkbill, to his inside. At the start of the 1 ½ mile Northern Dancer, Johnny Bear hurtled out of the gate ahead of the big European. But Hawkbill took over the lead, and in the stretch, Johnny Bear started gaining on him with every stride.

First time past the stands, after the start. Johnny Bear is ahead of Hawkbill in the blue. Hawkbill looks sweaty and washed out. Johnny Bear, cool as a cucumber.

 

She can barely remember who she had been sitting beside in the stands, but Brnjas said: “She’s probably still has claw marks in her arm. I didn’t care who I was grabbing. I was just grabbing something. It was pretty special.”

It was her first graded win as a trainer. And it was a Grade One.

“It was very exciting for me,” said Burness who has been in the business for 40 years, has 40 horses in training, and a 300-acre training and breeding centre, Colebrook Farms in Uxbridge, Ont. “I’ve never had a horse that you could ever consider putting into a Grade One, never mind winning a Grade One. So yeah, that was over the top, really.

“I knew he won and I was screaming,” Burness said. “Everybody was looking at me and saying: ‘It’s a photo. It’s a photo.’ I said: ‘No, there is no photo. The only photo is for Johnny Bear. Not anybody else.”

Johnny Bear won the photo finish by a head. All in the last stride.

 

At the finish. Johnny Bear in the orange, Hawkbill in the blue beside him.

 

The Bear called Burness and congratulated him. “Hey, I guess you were right,”” the Bear said.

“Which was kinda good,” Burness said.

The Bear wasn’t around to give jockey Luis Contreras his patented bear hug (jockey’s feet leave the ground).  Contreras has ridden Johnny Bear in all of his three wins this year at Woodbine.

Hawkbill’s jockey, Colm O’Donoghue, explaining his loss.

 

Johnny Bear has a tougher task on Sunday than he did a couple of weeks ago. In the Northern Dancer, he had only two big bears to defeat. In the International, there are many more.

“I think if he runs back to the way he ran in the Northern Dancer, then we got just as good a shot as anybody else,” Burness said. “I know these horses are tough and there are European horses and there are more of them. But I’m hoping that he gets a trip and gets there first.”

As for Brnjas – and her father – she is used to running horses in the restricted Ontario Sires Stake program. Her father breeds a lot of horses for that program, so that’s where they end up.

John Burness, leading in Johnny Bear

 

Did she ever dream she would have a horse running in the Northern Dancer? “Nope,” she said. “That was a pipe dream.”

The International is yet another story. It was the race in which Secretariat ran the final race of his stellar career. The great mare Dalia won it. Youth, the horse that Sandy Hawley calls the best he’s ever ridden, won it, too. Another great race mare, All Along, was victorious, as well.

Brnjas hopes so too. She has experienced the incredible twists and turns, highs and lows, of thoroughbred racing already.

She was married on the day that she won her first stakes race at Woodbine on Sept. 10, 2011 with 70 to 1 shot Reconnect in the La Prevoyante Stakes. Brnjas wasn’t even there.  It was her best wedding present.

“Nobody was there because all of my bridesmaids were my grooms,” she said. “My assistant trainer, everybody was at the wedding. We had somebody else get the horses ready for us.”

While Brnjas and her man stood atop the hill at the farm having a photographer take “the romanticky ones,” all of her girls came running out of the house, shoeless. “We won!” they cried. “We won!” Brnjas went back inside, just in time to see the winner’s circle view.

So yes, she knows how life can turn on a dime, sometimes for the good. And Johnny Bear? He’s been the icing on the cake.

All photos by Beverley Smith

 

 

 

 

Kaetlyn Osmond and the dark side of a swan.

No, Kaetlyn Osmond does not have an evil twin. But she can pretend.

And when she does, as she does in her free program to the movie “Black Swan,” this season, she is convincing and powerful, a potent force on the ice.

It does no good to watch her do this routine on Youtube. (But I’m including it for your viewing pleasure. Best I can do. Black magic is not my thing.) Seeing Osmond skate the program live is everything.

During practice at a secondary rink at the Pierrefonds ice complex in Montreal during Autumn Classic last week, Osmond swept powerfully around an end curve and hurtled diagonally across the ice, to a crescendo of music. And it was deadly emphatic. Don’t mess with this Kaetlyn Osmond. Better to duck into the opposite corner and holler: “Uncle.” She’ll take your breath away, truly.

For one thing, she is perhaps one of the fastest female skaters in the world. Actually, Canada has three of the fastest  female singles skaters in the world, when you add in Gabby Daleman, the world bronze medalist, and Alaine Chartrand. Osmond, of course, is the world silver medalist, who finished behind only Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia, who won another Challenger event last week, the Ondrej Nepela Trophy in Bratislava.

So wildly different are the routines of the world’s top two female skaters. Sorry to say, but Medvedeva’s new routines look like carbon copies of the ones from last year. It’s the fragile, big eye, dealing-with-death look.  The music titles might be different, the look is not. At the end of her short program, Medvedeva takes her last breath, apparently depicting a soul rising from the body to look back down on it, before death. (Oh my.) But resurrects herself for the long, skating to the lovely Joshua Bell, he of “The Red Violin” fame, playing on his own 1713 Huberman Stradivarius violin. And that violin of his can make you weep.

Osmond finished 15.28 points behind Medvedeva at the world championships in Helsinki last March and earned 218.13. On Saturday in Montreal, Osmond earned close to her personal best: 217.55, after doing seven triples in the free for the first time. All this in spite of the fact that she singled an Axel and took a  belly flop in front of the judges. “It was my favourite part of the program,” she said later, emerging with a big bandage and some ice on her left knee. “I didn’t get to show that much, but it also made me calm down. I might have been getting a little too excited. It was a skid stop. And I stopped.” And she landed a triple loop afterwards, and sailed on, in control.

Across the Atlantic, Medvedeva earned 226.72 points, although it’s folly to compare separate competitions. Medvedeva’s scores in Bratislava were all slightly higher than Osmond’s were in Montreal.

Medvedeva owns all the world records that are possible: short program (80.85), free skate (160.46) and combined score (241.31.) Some have already anointed her the Olympic champion next February.

Not so fast. Experience has shown that Olympics are a different animal. And so much can happen in a year. So much can happen in a day. Witness Yuzuru Hanyu electrifying the world in his short program in Montreal, then the next day, falling apart, finishing fifth in the free, and wistfully watching his gold medal go to training partner Javier Fernandez. Even Canadian upstart Keegan Messing defeated Hanyu in the free skate.

Osmond’s dramatic theme, as tragic as it can be if you think of the ballet “Swan Lake” or its wickedly dark offshoot movie “Black Swan,” released in 2010, goes a different direction, too. She’ll bring us the positive, hopeful lessons learned in “Black Swan.”

We won’t need to throw ourselves in the river in despair after watching it. But what a ride is “Black Swan” – the movie and Osmond’s free skate.

Osmond has always wanted to skate to “Swan Lake,” and never had the chance. “It’s one of my favourite pieces of music when I was younger,” she said. “But when the movie “Black Swan” came out, I liked the darker side of it. I was much more dramatic. That’s what I find I can speak to more on the ice.”

She began to bring up “Black Swan” a few times in those early season meetings, but choreographer Jeff Buttle and coach Ravi Walia suggested “La Boheme” for last season. She tried to convince them otherwise. Walia and Buttle weren’t quite sure that Osmond was ready for “Black Swan.” So La Boheme it was, and it had the effect of softening up Osmond’s line. And it prepared her perfectly for this season.

This year, Buttle brought up “Black Swan” right away. “He asked me if I wanted to do “Black Swan” and I said: “Yes I do!” Osmond said.

Osmond’s big personality on the ice works the best when she plays strong characters. That’s why her Edith Piaf short program works so well. And the characters in “Black Swan” are definitely powerful. The movie gives a new twist to the ballet, depicting ballet dancers auditioning for the roles of the White Swan and the Black Swan in a New York production of “Swan Lake.”

“I love this because it is playing to two completely different characters in the same program,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of people do Swan Lake and a lot of people do Black swan. I try to bring both of them together. But I’m definitely more the Black.”

The movie turns into a battle royale between the white and black swans (dancers) and eventually it becomes clear they are really the same person. “The White Swan is innocent and wanting to be perfect, but almost getting in her head too much,” Osmond said. “She can’t deliver that perfection and the Black Swan being free and slightly evil, can.” Eventually, the heroine finds out they you have to be both to deliver the perfection. In the end, she does the absolute best performance she can do.

The program Osmond delivered was not all she could do. After all, it’s only September and the Autumn Classic is a handy Challenger event, good for priming. “I still am not actually trying everything in it yet,” she said. “I didn’t do a three-jump combination today. And I’m still doing level 3 layback [spin.] Just so that I’m pacing out the program and not putting it all in at once.”

So there’s more to come. She doesn’t throw her arms up in the air like Medvedeva does for more points. She didn’t move a triple Lutz to the second half of her short program because it just didn’t fit the music there and that would have affected component marks. The programs have been worked into an artistic whole with a sophisticated theme.

Her “Black Swan” is challenging and difficult and takes a lot of stamina. She’ll do four run-throughs in a session. The routine relies a lot on balletic line and “having those lines in a program makes it harder,” she said.

Her biggest challenge is to keep the characters alive, totally. If she doesn’t, the program goes from incredible to average. “I don’t want it to be average,” she said.

It’s not a stretch to think the world of the ballet dancer shown in “Black Swan” can mirror the world of a figure skater going for an Olympic medal. The “Black Swan movie is essentially what skating is,” Osmond said. “You’re trying to battle what you think is perfect and skate the way you want. “

At age 22, she has learned so much.

 

Muse 2.0 gets a bumpy debut

MONTREAL

It’s a shocking ride to go from a beautiful high to a stumbly low.

Two-time world pair champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are trying to figure it out, how and why they fell to a troubled third place in the free skate at Autumn Classic on a blistering hot Saturday in a cold rink.

Ouch.

It’s Olympic year. Ouch.

And they had performed as if they were in a dream in the short program, which they had won the previous day.

Duhamel says she’s confused at their performance, in which she fell on a triple Lutz, a triple Salchow, and a throw quad Salchow and just to add misery to the load, they slipped quite out of synch on a side by side spin.

Think of the energy it took Duhamel to pick herself up three times, and catch up to her taller partner.

”I feel like the times we’ve had to perform it in the last month, it’s all felt so difficult,” Duhamel said. “Whereas the short has just felt as light as air and super easy.”

Radford said they’ve been having troubles trying to translate stellar training efforts of their free skate to Muse into competition success. “In the last little bit, we’ve done five run-throughs and to be honest they’ve all been like this,” he said. “ Just lots of misses. And lots of bizarre misses.

“If you see us practice, you never really see us do stuff like that.”

They are puzzled, both of them. “We need to go back and make some changes so we can access it,” Radford said.

If they were to mess up once in a while, no big deal. But nightmares keep happening.

They shown the program in front of judges three times, once at a training camp, once in front of judge monitors and here. Each time, with somebody watching, and they’ve put the program all together in once piece, everything goes pear-shaped.

“Things just go so haywire,” Radford said.

Musing, Radford said: “Good thing it happened here and not during the season. We’ve got time to figure things out. We’ll give it another go at Skate Canada.”

Another thing: Radford says they always learn so much when things don’t go well. “We have a lot of experience to draw on in that regard,” he said.

No, they don’t feel like all is lost or that it’s all over. This performance was only the beginning. They have work to do. They take comfort in the thought that during the 2010 Olympic year, German team Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, fell afoul of their long program too, changed it mid-season from the dirge You’ll Never Walk Alone to Out of Africa, which earned them a bronze medal.

The idea of changing their routine came up in conversation very quickly (“At this point, we’re open to anything,” Radford said.). But then again, he thinks it’s too soon to jump to that conclusion. “I think we need to give it more time to develop,” he said. Maybe they need to change their layout patterns, maybe even choreography. Maybe they just need to revisit their strategy, he said.

They’ve had nothing but good memories of their Muse routine that they used for their first world title in 2014-2015.

Interestingly enough, they feel that their successful short program has a much slower pace. They have discovered a smoother style. Their lines also match better.

And when they did Muse for the first time “we were younger,” Radford said. They are different skaters now.

Perhaps they were trying to take the feeling of the short and relate it to the long. Perhaps the two just don’t mix, like oil and water. Radford seemed to be thinking out loud.

The fall on the triple Lutz was just a freaky thing. They had changed their entrance into the jump, putting it straight at an end, rather than in a corner. “It’s very uncharacteristic of us. Even if we do a very bad one, it’s never like that.”

Little miscues just piled up. Radford said he missed a little step going into the twist. “Like a brain fart,” he said.

“But then little things start to change. And when we’re not completely comfortable patterns, you just get a little tight and things start to get a little further away from you.”

It’s a mystery and a puzzle. And it’s time for some soul searching. They’ve done it before. They’ll do it again.

 

 

Javi Fernandez: the charming world champion

MONTREAL

Even while his world is changing all around him, swallowing him, passing him by perhaps, Javier Fernandez is stepping out this year with an I-am-who-I-am elegance.

And it’s refreshing.

He’s not the same skater he was when he showed up on Brian Orser’s doorstep six years ago as a laid-back Spaniard with loads of charm. That’s when he was a quad guy, so innately gifted that his jump prowess prompted Yuzuru Hanyu to come to Canada to skate with Orser, too. Hanyu wanted to learn from Fernandez. At the time Hanyu had one quad. He has learned, in spades.

But in the meantime, Fernandez has became much, much more than a jumper, drafted into the stroking-footwork-skating programs of Orser and co-host Tracy Wilson, whose ice dancing skills have transformed many a skater into well, a real skater. Watch Javi’s footwork. It’s a treat.

“I think this season is going to change a lot figure skating,” he said, after finishing second to Yuzuru Hanyu with a big score of 101.20, still about 11 ½ points behind the Japanese star.

If left to current devices, Fernandez sees skaters of the future loading up their programs with quads galore, but what else? He thinks things need to be reined in a bit.

“A lot of things are going to be fixed,” he said optimistically. “A lot of things are going to change. I think the younger boys are pushing into a different way, and something is going to go after this year.”

Of course, he’s speaking about a push to limit the points allotted to quads at the International Skating Union congress that takes place after an Olympic season in the wake of young skaters like Nathan Chen, Boyang Jin, Hanyu, Shoma Uno and Vincent Zhou loading up with four-rotation jumps.

“I think if skating doesn’t stop the quads, it’s going to be everything quads,” Fernandez said. “And what about the person who do only one quad and have the best skating in the world? He’s not going to have a chance… So my point is, if we don’t stop the quantity of quads that we do in the free program, then we are going to lose a lot of figure skating. “

He’d rather a world championship become a battle of who is the best all-around skater, the best spinner, the best footwork artist, rather than “the person that does seven quads.”

He does not know if the change he’d like to see will happen. “We will see,” he said.

Yes, Fernandez has not only worked on footwork, but he’s also paid special attention to spins. And you could see the improvement in his short program to Charlie Chaplin.

Fernandez said he’d had the same spins for the past three years, but he wanted a change. If everybody has the same spins, your spins won’t be a wow, he reasons. The answer: different spin positions. He felt it important to update his spins in a season that means a lot to him.

He doesn’t know if he’s going to continue competing after this Olympic season. He said he wants to show people his best skate, in case it’s his last.

So the spin positions, thanks to help from Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club spin coach, Paige Astrop, (Brian Orser calls her the spin doctor), he’s found spin positions that match the music. That’s a rare treat, actually. He’ll do a spin that looks like a bird with a broken wing. He’ll do a spin that jumps a bit for joy.

It’s all possible because although Fernandez has done a Charlie Chaplan program before, this short program version is very different and far more sophisticated than the usual fare with mustache and cane and turned out shoes.

.”It’s not easy to find positions that fit the program 100 per cent,” he said. “And also something that not everybody is using. But we actually did find some and they don’t bother the spin much.”

The Charlie Chaplin that Fernandez did in the past suited his personality: charming, happy, romantic. “He was always in love,” Fernandez said.

“This one is in the beginning more dramatic. It’s like, what is going on? This is not Charlie Chaplin! This is a different idea of Charlie. That’s what we were looking for. It has a little Charlie touch. We wanted to give Charlie Chaplin a second chance. “

His free program is to “Man of La Mancha,” ending with “The Impossible Dream.” It almost sounds like a farewell and it’s magnificent. It’s perhaps the story of his life.

Fernandez’s effort in the short program also left Orser speechless. Fernandez isn’t used to competing this early in the season, and he’s still looking for the pacing and rhythm of his routines. It’s easy at home. Not so easy at a competition. “It was his first pancake,” Orser said.

Fernandez told Wilson he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to smile. Said the sage Wilson: “You can never lose, Javi, by smiling.”

His marks were remarkable, Orser said. He did only a quad-double, when he intends quad-triple. He got all level fours. Although Fernandez was about 10 points behind Hanyu in technical bits, he was close on his heels in components: only two points back at 46.55.

And choreographing elements like spins? “You don’t see that very often,” Orser said. “You don’t see a lot of creativity. Yuzu is extremely creative and Javi’s going that way. When we get to the stage where we’re starting to choreograph spins, we’re in a good place, rather than just teaching them to count [rotations].”

Should Fernandez step aside after this year, it will leave a very large empty space. He’s a beloved two-time world champion. And he’s revolutionized skating in Spain. He has rained on a dry spot. And he’s done it with charm and integrity.

 

 

 

Duhamel and Radford finding their feet

MONTREAL

It was a moment. Perhaps the moment of the night. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford had just finished their short program at Autumn Classic. They sat on the ice, facing each other, triumphant, just looking in each others eyes, seemingly speechless.

“Thank you,” they said to each other.

In the kiss and cry that followed, words didn’t tell the story. Faces did. Coach Bruno Marcotte took one deep exhale, and you knew he had been affected by what he had seen, too.

This, after a troubled season beset by injury, early scrambles and a seventh-place finish at worlds. Radford referred to it as a “tumultuous” season.

“Like there were seriously days…..” he said.

“I know there are a lot of people who questioned if we could do it again and we questioned it too,” said Duhamel, who had won the two previous world titles with Radford. “It has to reach the level we were once at. And we have those moments in training where we’d feel: ‘Wow, we’re better than we ever thought we could be.’ But it was only us and our coaches that would see those moments.

“I just feel like we are back.”

The Canadian titlists scored 77.14, so close to their personal best of 78.39, to win the short program on Friday. Ask Duhamel and she thinks of a raft of ways they could improve, so it bodes well. They won by almost four points over exciting French team Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres.

What a crowd saw on Friday was exactly how they had been training. “I think that we’re just really happy to have the training translate to the competition,” Radford said. “For the last month, we’ve been training so well. So well, I’d think we should be going to the Olympics right now. “

But up to now, it would have been different if they did a run-through in front of somebody, like a judge. Things would fall apart. “We have to figure out why that happens,” Radford said.

“For this to come together, this is a good step. It gives us confidence. It lets us know this is what we’re capable of each time we go out.”

It was easy to see that the performance to “With You, Without You” was emotional and meaningful. “When it got to the footwork sequence, I think we just felt both right where we wanted to be,” Radford said “Right where we always knew we were supposed to be. Sometimes we can’t always get there. This is what we want to feel like all the time.”

Why so different this season? Radford says it’s like one of those days when you wake up and you just feel good. For an extended amount of time. “At the beginning of last season, things started not working,” he said. “We started getting frustrated and then things kept on not working and we got more frustrated.”

Duhamel admitted they had programs last year that didn’t make them feel comfortable. They never started their short program last year feeling settled.

“We had this dance lift at the beginning of our short program [Seal],” she said. “We used to be so nervous for it and it wasn’t even a technical element. So to start with that tension is never fun. We just assumed throughout the season, it would have gone away. It never did. “

From the first time they did this new short program, they felt settled. Everything feels within their reach. Last year, they felt out of reach of what they needed to do.
“It feels like we’re on the right track,” Radford said.

Besides, choreographer Julie Marcotte gave them an important piece of advice: “Skate stupid,” she said.

“She said we needed to stop being so hypersensitive about everything,” Duhamel said. “It’s the exact advice we need at times.”

They know their competitive careers are coming to a close. They know they will not have many more opportunities to compete, and to compete at home. They are savouring these moments. The crowd screamed wildly when Duhamel and Radford landed triple Lutzes –the jump that Radford found so impossible at the world championships when he was suffering from herniated disc.

“It’s the last time we are doing this competition,” Radford said. “So we might as well enjoy the moment.”

 

 

 

 

Yuzuru Hanyu, the maestro

MONTREAL

At Autumn Classic International on Friday, Japanese star Yuzuru Hanyu took a step beyond – in his first appearance of the Olympic season no less.

Returning to an old Chopin routine he had done during the 2015-2016 season, Hanyu, still only 22, so young and so old at the same time, became a maestro.

With every flying movement of an arm or a hand, he was in total control of a packed audience that was, mind you, dominantly Japanese, but it didn’t really matter. Everybody who was there felt it, saw it, bowed to it.

Honestly, he looked like a conductor and the orchestra was the audience. He pulled their strings and their hearts at the same time.

Hanyu did the most beautiful short program – choreographed and rechoreographed by Jeff Buttle – in the most breathtaking way, setting a world record of 112.72 points, even though he decided to leave his quad loop at home this time.

So, inscrutable Yuzuru, how can we possibly describe thee? He skated with patience that comes with confidence. He let fly a quad Salchow, landed with such soft knees, you couldn’t hear it. Judges loaded that thing up with GOE of +3, all across. Same thing with a triple Axel coming out of footwork. (He loves the triple Axel.)

And that quad toe loop – triple toe loop, done with both arms above his head (that’s new) Honestly. When he came down from the heavens on that one, his arms floated down by his sides, such a simple move, so effective. The crowd roared. And oh god, the footwork. And the spins, one of them a sit spin in which his arm and hand constantly floated, turned, and wrote “War and Peace” in a gesture.

His coach, Brian Orser, was speechless in the minutes afterward.

“For this time of year…..” he said. “There is a patience to this program that is comforting to everybody when you are watching it. It doesn’t feel awkward. You can hear a pin drop. You know when the next movement is going to happen. There is a little bit of anticipation for it. It’s really nice to be in that kind of comfort. “

Hanyu left out his quad loop – he became the first to land one in competition last season – because “he was just feeling a little bit of pain in his [right] knee,” Orser said. “It wasn’t one particular thing that made him go ouch. It just started to gradually get a little achy.”

After a little discussion at home, Hanyu decided to drop the loop for the moment, instead of pushing it. If not, he could have developed a more serious problem with his knee that would have been difficult to correct all season. They were smart. They stopped the nag. Orser said by the time he competed the short program on Friday, he actually was in no pain.

Before he was to skate, Orser and co-coach Tracy Wilson advocated the quad Salchow instead. Just think, they told him, it will be easy.
As soon as Hanyu finished the program, he came to Orser and Wilson and grinned: “That was so easy!”

Imagine, doing an easier routine and setting a world record. “It’s all about quality,” Orser said. “It’s the quality of all the elements. It’s the quality of all the skating. It’s the quality of the elements.”

Orser calls Hanyu the best spinner in the world and his step sequence is “magical” when it’s a good night. And it was a very good night.

 

 

Osmond turns back to Piaf

For Kaetlyn Osmond in this very important Olympic year, what is old is new again.

Starting next week at Autumn Classic, the world silver medalist will be going back to her masterful Edith Piaf short program of last season, leaving behind the exquisite “Summertime” on which she has toiled all summer.

It’s hardly a panic move. It’s a carefully calculated weighing of feeling and confidence, of impact and drama.

When judge monitors saw her new “Summertime” short program at the national training camp in late August, they gave a ripple of thumbs up, loving its feeling, the mood Osmond created, the maturity of it all and the choreography (done by Lance Vipond, who also created her Edith Piaf routine). Osmond loved it, too.

At the end of last season, after Piaf’s “Sous Le Ciel de Paris” and “Milord” had given her so much sparkle, Osmond felt that she had had enough of it. After all, she’d been hearing the music 15 times a day. It was all getting a bit cloying. Back then, she was happy to see the end of it.

“At the end of last season, we actually considered keeping the Edith Piaf for a second season,” said long-time coach Ravi Walia. “It was successful and she was so comfortable with it.

“But we knew that if she kept it a second year, she would have become really bored with it. She would have had to train it for a whole other year. So she got a new program choreographed. And we decided that after the summer, we’d see how the new program was going and how it was developing. And we’d decide at the end of the summer which program we thought would be a better choice for the season.”

Two days after she returned from the national team camp, Osmond began to toy with the Piaf choreography. She pulled it up on her computer. She didn’t do a full run-through of it until last Thursday. And it was clear what the decision should be. Piaf was like a comfortable old sweater.

“It felt like the best kind of déjà vu, honestly,” she said. “The minute that I turned the music on and went to skate it, it just felt incredible. It brought back so many great memories from last year. I had forgotten how much fun I had doing that.”

Walia said that even though the “Summertime” routine was very good, the team wanted to make sure that Osmond goes to the Olympics with her strongest programs. “We agreed that the Piaf program is the best program she’s ever had,” Walia said. “Many people have said to us that it’s a masterpiece. It’s obvious that we wanted to go to the Olympics with our strongest program. And that was definitely the Edith Piaf program.”

Vipond helped to refresh the new Piaf with some minor changes, some to the step sequence. It won’t look quite the same as last year. And that’s because Osmond isn’t the same as she was last year. “Now when I see her do this program again, I’ve noticed that it’s a lot better,” Walia said. “She skates it way better than before. She’s a better skater, so the program is ever better than it was before.”

Kaetlyn as a juvenile skater in Newfoundland

 

Last summer, Walia and Osmond worked diligently on her skating skills. Her technical content is very similar to last year’s routines, but they’ve added more details and polish “so that every movement and every second that she is on the ice, she looks perfect,” Walia said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on that. We really tried to work on the technique of her jumps to make them more technically sound and more consistent.  And the other thing we’ve focused on is her endurance. She’s done a lot of both on-ice and off-ice to help with her stamina.” It will help her on those competitive days when adrenalin makes her give more than usual.

The stamina training will help her with the new Piaf, which is a much faster-paced program that the languid and breezy “Summertime.” “I learned that on the first day, doing it again,” Osmond said. The tempo is indeed more challenging. She’s getting used to it and has skated it cleanly.

“But the character is definitely a lot stronger than “Summertime” and for me this year, that is what I want to feel, knowing exactly what the character of a program is and be able to skate a program that I know I love,” Osmond said. “As much as I love “Summertime” – I honestly loved doing that all summer – I just honestly love this program more.”

So now it’s exciting in her mind. Walia believes that wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t had a long break from it.  “Now that she just came back to it, it’s feels fresh for her and I think that’s really important.  You can tell if a program is really stale.” It would begin to show up in her performances. But Walia believes she can grow even more in this reborn Piaf. “I think by the Grand Prix, it’s going to be really special,” Walia said.

Costume?  “We were debating if we would change the costume,” Osmond said. “Or change the colour or try to create a new design. But for me, the dress worked really well with program and I couldn’t imagine skating that program with a different dress on. So I’ll be keeping the dress.”

Osmond still can’t quite believe she won a world silver medal but it’s very real. It’s motivated her further. “Worlds was definitely a big confidence booster,” she said. “But last year, everything seemed to fall in place for me. And I was able to compete well at each competition. But there is still a consistency that I want to be able to accomplish. I’ve had a great sense of motivation since worlds. I think it helped me a lot through my summer training to motivate me each morning to get on the ice and focus and skate my absolute best each and every day.”

Walia says Osmond has always been a hard worker, but she’s now very driven for more success. “That’s not an added pressure,” Walia said. “The great thing when people have expectations of you, it’s because you are doing something well.”

 

Virtue and Moir: The show must go on

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir came back after a two-year sojourn last year because they wanted to skate. And they felt they had more to give.

“We felt like we could be better,” Moir said.

Youngsters

 

No doubt, an Olympic gold medal is on their minds. But it’s not all and it’s not enough.

There are so many days in which they smile the whole time. They wake up wanting to go to the rink. As they said a year ago, they didn’t come back to be who they were – which wasn’t bad, mind you: all those great edges; the intertwining of one movement which unfolds to the next; the novel lifts, new each year; the passion to express.

They spent last year revamping their technique and their style of skating, believe it or not: working on basics and mechanics, shifting the patterns in which their bodies moved. They spent time in the gym. They never fail to mention B2Ten, the group that gives them multi-faceted off-ice support, some of it rather scientific. Their goal was not necessarily to set the world afire last year as they set the groundwork for their second year back: this year.

But they did set the world afire in 2016-2017. They set two world records, for the short dance (82.43) and total score (198.62). And they were undefeated last season against the world’s best, the lone bobble to the exquisite French dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who edged them in the free dance at the world championships, but not overall. Virtue and Moir admitted their free dance wasn’t their best skate.  “That kind of stung us a little bit,” Moir said. “And we were trained. We wanted to perform at the level we thought we should have.”

Even so, they are coming into this season with all sorts of momentum. There should be no surprise if they have taken their skills and their expressive work yet a step further. It’s what they do. It’s the fire that lights them from within. They will be better this year than last. And experience is on their side, too. Last year they had to learn to compete again. They passed that test with flying flags.

”We’re so grateful to have had last year to set us up, schedule-wise especially, just to optimize our training this season and solidify our choreography and give our off-ice team a bit of a chance to home in on our mechanics once again,” Virtue said. “Things have just been rolling along as planned. I think in an Olympic season, you have to be adaptable, but part of that is just giving ourselves a buffer in case anything comes up through the year. I feel like we’ve done that.”

Mostly, they are excited about their material. It’s not a secret that they are skating to Rolling Stones and the Eagles and a bit of Carlos Santana for their short dance and “Moulin Rouge” for the free dance. What is a secret is just what and how they are using the music.

They did say that the music from their “Moulin Rouge” is coming from the Oscar-winning movie version, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, a wonderfully dark, grandiose film that became the first musical in 10 years to be nominated for Best Picture back in 2001.

It took its producers two years to clear the rights for all of the music, since all but one song – “Come What May” – were covers of music from artists such as David Bowie (“Nature Boy”) and Elton John (“Your Song.”)

Virtue and Moir have always loved the movie and know that “Moulin Rouge” has been used time and again by international figure skaters (especially “El Tango de Roxanne” for ice dancers).

“But we try, as we always do, to put our own stamp on it, and make it unique,” Moir said. “Hopefully, it’s successful. We don’t want to give it exactly too much of where we drew things from. We want people to experience that for themselves,” Moir said.

Skaters have only a few minutes to tell a story, he added, and he doesn’t want to ruin the experience for spectators by revealing the specifics.

So will it be that riveting Roxanne tango, perfect for an ice dancer to pluck? Or the winsomely beautiful “Nature Boy,” by Bowie – perhaps the most beautiful song of the movie?  Or perhaps “Come What May,” the ultimate love song – which would play well with ice dancers.

The public won’t know until their first competition: next week at Autumn Classic in Montreal, where Virtue and Moir will go up against two-time world medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and Canadian innovators Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier.

It’s not easy keeping secrets in this social media world. But Autumn Classic will represent an unveiling, before Virtue and Moir get serious at Skate Canada in Regina in October.

There is an excitement when they talk about their  “Moulin Rouge.” It was their idea. They presented it to coaches in Montreal.  There has always been a collaboration in choosing music with coaches and choreographers. “But this just felt like ours,” Virtue said.

“We are super proud of our 2017 programs for sure,” Moir said. “But the one thing we could have improved upon is picking something that we really connect with. We had a piece of music in 2014 that we couldn’t skate to, because people before us had made it special already.”

But “Moulin Rouge” is different. “It comes from within us,” Moir said. “Skating to it feels special. I don’t know what it will look like. It might be a complete mess. But I can tell you, we are having a blast doing it. And we feel we have a special connection to it.” It’s high theatre, for sure.

So “Moulin Rouge” has become their standard piece. “We just didn’t find anything that spoke to us and that we connected with like that,” Moir said. “And Marie [France Dubreuil ) and Patch [Patrice Lauzon] let us play with it a bit. And once they saw our passion and our connection to it, they started to come around a little bit more.”

When they began to create, things fell into place naturally. David Wilson came in to help, as well as their hip-hop man Sam Chouinard. “We give credit to our coaches to not only let us have the opportunity to do something, but also getting on board and making it more special than we could ever believe,” Moir said.

This season, Latin is the prescribed rhythm for the short dance – and it’s not new to Virtue and Moir who have been together two decades. In fact, they danced a fiery flamenco at the Vancouver Olympics enroute to a gold medal.  There will be nothing simple about this Latin piece.

“We want to do something a little bit different,” said Moir. Dubreuil designed the routine for them and it’s a mix of modern rock. “It’s a bit of a party,” Moir said. “But we love the material and we get a chance to dance. It’s what we love to do.”

It starts with “Sympathy for the Devil,” and moves on to “Hotel California,” but it’s a novel arrangement. “It’s kind of a neat way to do Latin differently,” Virtue said.

Behind it all is a lot of training. They know what it is like to win and to defend – and they know how hard it is to defend. They are very motivated. They don’t have to look for it. “We are just trying to control our emotions more than find motivation,” Moir said. “We think about it every day. That’s already started. It’s so funny how quick you’re going to be every night, dreaming about the Olympics. You can’t get away from it almost.”

The nice thing is that their Olympic record sets us them up nicely, said Virtue, speaking of winning the Vancouver Olympics and finishing second in the Sochi Olympics four years ago.

“I think we are the underdogs!” Moir said, jokingly.

 

 

Weaver and Poje watch flood from afar

Skate Canada photo

 

Ask Kaitlyn Weaver what her hometown is and she replies: “My HOME hometown?”

Yes. Although Weaver became a Canadian citizen in 2009, her HOME hometown is Houston, Texas. And who needs to say anything else right now?

Of course, since last Friday, Houston has been lashed by a Category 4 hurricane, Harvey. There have been fewer than a dozen hurricanes of this strength to hit Houston this past century. Almost 60,000 structures in the area have been damaged so far and there are sure to be more. More than a quarter of them are destroyed.

Weaver’s childhood home is under five feet of water. Gone. This week, Weaver tweeted out a row of broken red hearts. Devastated would be the word she would use for all of this.

Thankfully, Weaver’s parents don’t live in the childhood home anymore. They are high and dry in another section of Houston. But flooding is only a mile away. On Wednesday, Weaver’s father texted her that the sun had come out. But Houstonians’ battle to right this ship is far from over.

“My family is all safe,” she said. “But I’ve had very many close friends evacuated, who are losing their houses as we speak. It’s a very tragic environment down there right now.”

Still, she’s amazed at “the kindness and compassion” of human beings who have waded in to help. “The Houstonians and neighbouring counties and states have come to their rescue. And there’s just civilians rescuing people on jet skis. It’s amazing to see that in a troubled time like the world is in right now, that there are good people in the world who are willing to go out on a line, and save their fellow neighbours, no matter race, religion and anything else.”

Her family has been cooped up in their house for a week. The most dangerous thing, Weaver said, is to leave the house. “The highways are just not there anymore,” she said. “It’s tragic. I watched it on TV and it broke my heart to see familiar places where I grew up just totally demolished.

“It happens. It’s nature. People are doing the best they can and it’s incredible to see the help.”

Weaver and her ice dancing partner, Andrew Poje, are in Mississauga this week at a national training camp, to show off their programs in front of busloads of judges and technical reps that can help them figure out what works, what doesn’t before they sally forth to major competitions.

They were gleeful when the International Skating Union announced that the rhythm in the short dance for Olympic season would be Latin. “We LOVE Latin,” Weaver said. “We love the dancing in the clubs. We loved our Latin program from 2011 to 2012. It’s one of our favourite genres and styles. So without repeating ourselves, we wanted to find a way to still be exciting and entertaining.”

In 2011-2012, Weaver emerged in a shiny, animal print outfit and ponytail and they danced to rhumba and samba. This time they are turning to a Cuban set of rhythms in the mambo direction. “They are more of a club rhythm, than strictly ballroom,” Weaver said. They worked with mambo dancers, and had great fun researching and playing with the style. Coach Morozov and a couple of mambo dancers formed the choreography.

But their free dance may take them to different heights altogether. For the first time, they went to Hall of Fame choreographer Lori Nichol. Nichol had never designed a competitive dance number before.

“It’s always hard in an Olympic season to pick free dance music, because you want to say something, but you also want to do something that you feel passionate about,” Poje said. “It took us a while to find the right piece. After months researching, Lori came up with the idea of “Spartacus.”

Remember these costumes? ISU photo

Canadian Olympic Committee photo

 

Based on the ballet by Soviet Armenian composer Aram Khatuaturian, it tells the tale of a slave-turned-gladiator who is forced to kill a friend. Horrified by it all, he incites other slaves to escape in rebellion. In the ballet, Spartacus has a wife, Phrygia, who is captured as well, and freed by the slaves. Sadly, Spartacus dies in the end.

“The story of Spartacus is so relevant now, although it’s 2000 years old,” Weaver said. “The story to fight for what you believe in, the equality of human beings. I feel like it’s so relevant in today’s word and it’s a way for us to be very Olympic in our choice. We wanted to do something that people could relate to and that meant something to us. We found our perfect piece.”

Working with Nichol has given them new fascinating tools. “One thing we really like is to bring purpose to our movements,” Poje said. “She’s very strong about bringing that to it as well. It feels good to have someone who really wants this and we live off that.”

Lori Nichol (International Heritage Sports Foundation photo)

 

For example, during the summer in Toronto, Nichol would have them do special exercises and tricks. “Some things I had never even tried, that I thought I couldn’t do,” Weaver said. “I just thought I couldn’t do it. Then I would go out and do a twizzle sequence. She’d say: ‘Why not?’

“She pushed our limits,” Poje said. “Before I think when you are in the same box, you kind of think you have limits. She pushed those.”

They have some different elements this year because of Nichol. She has brought a fresh perspective to their tasks in dance, because although she had not choreographed dance before, she understands movement on the ice. And she understands skating, and the technical aspects of the blade.

ISU photo

 

“It’s quality,” Weaver said. “She’s such a legend. She’s so incredibly wise. She saw “Spartacus” for us and had an image. So we just try out best to be what her image was.”

Without the spectre of changing coaches and locations this year, they have approached the season with a more relaxed aura. “What was nice about this season is that we didn’t feel rushed,” Weaver said. They did not participate on the Stars On Ice tour this year, just to have more time to relax and to think about what they wanted to say with their programs. And what style they wanted. They spent all summer in New York, soaking up the culture. The result of their liaison with Nichol is a new “softness” and patience.

“We didn’t have that [patience] before,” Weaver said. “We were energy. There are times that you can just be quiet. I think that was the first thing we learned from her.”

They are coming back to the wars refreshed with new tools and a new look.