Lend a helping hand to an icon: Karen Magnussen

One must never forget the sight of Karen Magnussen, dressed in snow white, flying aloft into a split jump that hovered in the air, then another in the opposite direction, free, dynamic, fierce.

The Vancouver skater had to fight for everything she won: five Canadian titles, an Olympic silver medal in 1972, a world title in 1973. Magnussen is the last Canadian woman to win a world championship gold medal, but nothing was easy for the skater with the pixie blond cut. Case in point? The battle she fought to come back from stress fractures in both legs that put her in a wheelchair on the eve of the 1969 world championships. Doctors told her that if she skated, she might not walk again.

“I don’t ever want to be told I can’t do something,” she said before being inducted into the Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Fame. She came back the next season with full force.

This was a typical Magnussen response to a hardship: she covered the 1969 world event for a newspaper, and turned the proceeds over to the Bursary Fund to help other skaters.

Now, once again, doctors are telling Magnussen that there is something she cannot do. It’s this last battle that is most formidable for Magnussen, so a tribute show to her, organized by the Connaught Skating Club on March 14 in Richmond, B.C. is “like a bright light in my life,” Magnussen said.

It’s a club with a heart that knows her story. On Nov. 28, 2011, after inhaling a blast of ammonia, a poisonous gas, as she prepared to teach young skaters at the North Shore Winter Club (where her parents had been one of the founding members), she has suffered catastrophic injury damage, lingering after-affects and endless battles with insurance companies that are loathe to pay up. She coughed for six months after the incident. Sleep was impossible. Magnussen can no longer work, can’t breathe properly, now suffers two autoimmune diseases linked to her medications (12 pills a day), has arthritis in her joints, and worst of all, can no longer even walk into an arena again. Any sort of fume could trigger a reaction. Before the accident, Magnussen was healthy. The ammonia had seared her lung tissue and her vocal cords, too.

Magnussen had hoped to coach into her seventies or eighties or even nineties, like Ellen Burka. Instead, with income halted, Magnussen and husband Tony Cella are now about to sell their home. It’s a devastating turn for a brilliant career. Connaught is trying to put that right, as much as they can with a fundraiser.

Magnussen didn’t think of herself first that fateful day. She scurried to get her students out of the rink first. There had been no warnings of a gas release.

Insurance? The Winter Club, so much a part of her life, did not reach out to help. Her administrative duties were handed off to someone else. Some insurance didn’t cover her because she wasn’t actually on the ice when the incident happened. The Workers Compensation Board of B.C. won’t allow. A workman’s compensation deal dating back to 1917 allows payments to injured parties, but doesn’t allow the victims to sue the employer. The Canadian icon has fallen between all the cracks that could possibly exist for insurance.

“To have everything taken away from her is tragic,” said Ted Barton, head of the B.C. Section of Skate Canada. The section decided to take action, and when it discovered that the Connaught Club had once offered a charity fund-raising show, Barton approached them.

Connaught skating director Keegan Murphy, whose mother Eileen had been a close friend to Magnussen, jumped at the chance. “We always want to teach the younger generation that we can give something back to someone with our skating,” Murphy said. “We are honored to do such an important project.”

About 100 skaters will take part in the show, including Larkyn Austman, Mitchell Gordon, Garrett Gosselin and even a cast of 5-year-olds at their first ice show. Murphy, co-producer of the event, has tapped into some of Magnussen’s classics. One of the numbers? “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” – one of Magnussen’s exhibition numbers with Ice Capades, when she carried an umbrella. The little kids get to do that one.

Because of her issues with fumes, Magnussen will not be able to attend the show. Therefore the Connaught came up with a brilliant, thoughtful idea: to hold a meet-and-greet in one of the private rooms in the rink last week, where Magnussen could meet every single skater in the cast. Murphy has taken it upon himself to educate the youngsters about Magnussen. “It’s so important that the kids get to meet her,” he said.

Who knows this about Magnussen anymore? The three-year contract for $300,000 that she signed in 1973 to skate with Ice Capades was the largest it had ever offered a skater turning pro. “I liked Karen a lot,” said Lynn Nightingale, who skated against Magnussen. “I liked her sincerity. She was pretty down to earth. People who had her as a coach loved her. Life hasn’t been all that kind to her.”

What was it about Magnussen, aside from her medals that made her a skater to be remembered? She was a fierce competitor. Magnussen offered up wonderful skating moves that set her apart.

Some:

A change-direction, endless spiral, created by Magnussen and coach Linda Brauckman, in which Magnussen changes the position of a leg and her body to make a turn;

A layover camel spin, another Magnussen-Brauckmann invention;

An Ina Bauer into a double Axel combo

Splits going in both directions, followed by an Axel- butterfly-back sit spin;

A change of edge Ina Bauer into a flying sit spin;

A side layback spin that opened into a full flat layback spin.

Magnussen said she is “overwhelmed” by the helping hand offered by the Connaught club. “It really is very special. “

For years, Magnussen has distributed cheques to young skaters from her Foundation. One recipient of Magnussen money was Murphy, who said the attention paid by a former world champion meant the world to him.

Now, for a top-drawer skater who has given so much in her life, it’s time to give back. People can not only buy tickets for the show, they can donate. Dick Button has already signed up.

 

 

Day Three, Four Continents, men’s final

Denis Ten knew he wasn’t in his best condition when he contested the Four Continents championship in Seoul on Valentine’s Day, exactly one year after his Sochi Olympic medal-winning effort.

What’s he going to do when he is in top shape?

The 21-year-old from Kazakhstan gave a drubbing to all competitors when he won the men’s event with 289.46 points, a stratospheric mark, third highest mark ever awarded to a men’s competitor in front of international judges, behind only Patrick Chan and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

His winning free skate score of 191.85 was higher than Denis Margalik’s total score, which placed him 16th at this event. It was 16.13 points higher than second-placed Joshua Farris. His total score was 29.45 points higher than Farris’s silver medal- winning effort. There don’t seem to be enough superlatives to explain Denis Ten at this event. He even extracted a couple of 10s for component marks (performance and execution and choreography). He’s the only male to get a 10. Clearly, the judges at this event were placing Ten in a very special category.

Ten chalked up the marks by landing two quads, one in combination with a triple toe loop, both with great ease. His solo quad, worth 12.30 points, earned the highest score for a single element in the men’s event. He did put a foot down on a triple Axel – double toe loop combo, but judges didn’t seem to mind because he actually gained .29 bonus points from it. Only two of the nine judges gave him a minus. He turned out of his next triple Axel, but he still lost only 1.14 points for that.

He was so relaxed, he managed an impish grin just before he started some moves in the field. And the jumps kept coming. As soon as he finished, people were standing and Ten was collapsed onto the ice, his head in his arms.

Ten later said that final embracing of the ice was a way for him to say thanks to all of his supporters in the rink, who carried him along. Really, he just looked exhausted. He said he wanted to do his best. After all, in five previous attempts at the Four Continents, Ten had never so much as won a medal. Now he had gold, in a most emphatic, gauntlet-throwing-down kind of way.

It was fitting that this wild, big win came in South Korea, because Ten’s heritage is Korean. He feels close to Korea, he said, (and good thing that the next Winter Olympics will take place in South Korea.) “I feel like I am in my home city,” he said.

In a post-competition interview, Ten was clever enough to push all the right promotional buttons, to talking about the pretty Korean girls he saw in the audience as he skated by, and to mentioning Yu Na Kim, which got a whoop from the audience. And he knew it would. (He has taken part in her All That Skate shows in Korea.) The kid wasn’t born yesterday.

Ten wasn’t the only revelation in the men’s event. Joshua Farris picked himself up from the basement of his career after a dismal international season, in which he finished last in both the short and long programs at NHK Trophy, an effort that earned him only 111.53 points for his free skate. No wonder Farris was in disbelief when his free program marks came up: 175.72. Do the math and that means he exceeded his previous season’s best effort by 64.19 points.  And then came the total mark: 260.01. Way beyond expectations. Clearly, he has technical abilities – his quad wasn’t far off, and he’s been injecting it into the program longer than Jason Brown. Interesting note? Farris’ sole triple Axel was worth more points than Ten’s triple Axel combo. Judges loved Farris’s step sequence, where he maxed out points. And Farris was able to even almost double the points from a choreographed sequence.

The coolest part? Farris’s artistic sensibilities come from within. The acid test of how special a performance his Schindler’s List routine was? Among those giving him a standing ovation were other skaters, watching in the rink. At the U.S. championships, Farris gave a hint of all this when he was a surprise bronze medalist. At Four Continents, he showed it to the world.

This time, Farris got the measure of Jason Brown, who has been flying high since last season, what with his stunning effort at the 2014 U.S. nationals. Farris and Brown have been two kids riding in the same bumper car since they were 10. Farris is 22 days younger than Brown. When Farris won the world junior championship in 2013, he defeated Brown. Then the following year, Farris took a back seat to his ponytailed friend, while he sorted himself out. Now, it appears to be Farris’s turn. He’s still only 20.

Brown finished sixth after he did lots of stuff(no quad). His spins were generally awesome, his footwork got level fours. But in the end, Farris defeated him by 16.80 points. Watch for the American bandwagon to shift.

Chinese skater Han Yan dialed in “Fly Me To the Moon,’’ to win the bronze medal with 259.47 points – and Yan says he hasn’t reached his full potential yet. He’s 18. He has a powerful look to him and does the biggest, longest triple Axel in the business. He may also be the most expressive men’s singles skater to come out of China.

Yan actually finished fourth in the free skate after having turned out of his quad toe loop, and was defeated by Daisuke Murakami of Japan, who landed two quads, delivered lots of goods (he didn’t experience a single negative GOE for any element) and collapsed on the ice when he finished, with 256.47 points for fourth place overall.

Shoma Uno, the 16-year-old sensation of the short program, crumbled under the pressure and finished fifth overall. Takahito Mura, the veteran of this team, made too many mistakes to finish seventh overall.

Canada’s champion Nam Nguyen roared back to finish eighth in the free skate, although he clearly underrotated his quad Salchow and earned only 2.10 points out of it. There were more troubles with his triple flip combo, but as Nguyen does, he pulled things together to finish 11th overall (209.33 points), tops among Canadian men.

Jeremy Ten was 12th after taking stumbling out of his quad (which really became a triple toe loop), falling out of a triple Axel, and flipping out of a triple flip. Canadian bronze medalist Liam Firus fell hard on his opening triple Axel, and again on another one, and singled a double Axel later. Firus finished 14th with 199.81 points.

 

 

Day Three, Four Continents, pairs final

It wasn’t easy for Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, even though they won the Four Continents championship title by 18 points. The week seemed long. By the time they finished the free skate, they felt quite tired.

Perhaps that’s why they missed that triple Lutz, with Duhamel stumbling and Radford hopping, something they rarely do on that element. But they quickly righted themselves and did what they do: hum along, throw in a quad Salchow (one judge gave them a GOE of -2, another of +2) and don’t forget that formidable throw triple Lutz, too. Their 143.81 fell slightly short of their season’s best, but they finished with 219.48 and for faraway Valentine’s Day, that was enough.

Radford spoke Korean to the crowd in a post-interview. (And I thought he was just learning French.) “We’re going to use this as a stepping stone to the world championships,” he said in English. It wasn’t their best skate, the twosome admitted. They will bring both the artistic and technical parts up to a peak in Shanghai.

The scramble for the rest of the podium was fascinating. Actually, the fight further down the line was interesting too. All season long, Lubov Ilyushechkina  (this is how she’d like her name spelled, and by the end of the season, we’ll get it without looking) and Dylan Moscovitch and his old partner Kirsten Moore-Towers and her new partner Michael Marinaro have faced each other on the same warmup groups and practices, and here too.

If there is a rivalry between the two, and often “rivalries” are made for headlines and story angles, it was all defused when Moore-Towers  fell on a throw triple loop and then – disaster – a lift didn’t go up, looked like an abort, although Marinaro eventually pushed his partner up, but too late: they got no marks for it at all. They finished ninth of 10.

Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch had troubles with their triple twist, with Lubov landing on his shoulder. There were other little bobbles, but Lubov skated with elegance and a shining face. They looked quiet when their marks came up: 113.37 for the free, 173.50 overall. It ended up putting them sixth. A sign in the sparse audience said: “Lubov and Dylan: Attack on the top,” which we guess to mean they should try to get into the final group. But they remained behind the U.S. champs Alexa Scimeca and her leggy fiancé Chris Knierim, whose quad twist was beyond the pale, at least in height. Judges docked some marks from their GOE. Things that fly high above the planet don’t always dock in the exact correct spot. The Americans ended up fifth.

Yes, there were THREE attempts at quad twists in the free. Who got the highest marks for theirs? Cheng Peng, only 17, and her gentle giant of a partner, 30-year-old Hao Zhang, who got a level three for that move, earned a mass of +3s and some +2s for it and got 10.87 for that move alone. (Duhamel and Radford’s triple twist got them 7.40.)

Peng and Zhang finished third in the free (131.64) and second overall (201.45), thrilled to bits, with Peng doing a finger dance in the kiss and cry.

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han were the first Chinese team to skate and their quad twist earned them 10.10 points, and it was a lovely thing, too, assigned a level three with a row of +2s. They got no marks for a combination spin and ended fourth in the free (129.69) and just off the podium with 198.88. They sank lower in their seats as their compatriots skated and squeezed them out of the medals. They had worked hard this year, gone to Canadian choreographer David Wilson, got more mature programs, like Stray Cat Strut and classical music for the free.

But a ripple went through the meagre crowd (the television cameras always wisely panned the most populated section), when Qing Pang and Jian Tong took to the ice for their first competition of the season.

After being on the sidelines for almost a year, Pang and Tong were brilliant, and they may be even better at their ultimate goal, the world championships in their home country. And for the first time, they skated to vocals and what vocals! Their music was Andrea Bocelli, singing one of his hits: “Lo Ci  Saro,” which in translation is a song of love appropriate for both Pang and Tong, who became engaged in 2012 at an ice show in Shanghai. And it could also speak to their relationship with their fans.

In translation:

“My love, maybe you know

That tomorrow you will not find me.

It is not my fault.

It is life that takes me away from you

Every time you will hear

A piano, you will remember

Our hours together playing

And listening to music.

But I will be there.

If you will suffer,

I will find myself beside you

If you want.”

And so here they were, in the Seoul arena, skating to this glorious music as they can, with Pang having a little issue with jumps, but none at all with GOE, racking up rows and rows of +2s and +3s. They had far lower technical marks than Duhamel and Radford, but slightly higher component marks. Their bronze medal upstaged Sui and Han, who are 19 and 22. Pang and Tong are both 35. Their return is a season highlight.

What will it possibly be like when they skate at the world championships in Shanghai? You just have to be there.

 

Day Two, Four Continents

The come-from-behind victory of Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje at the Four Continents championship on Friday (the 13th, no less) sets up an interesting confrontation between them and the new surprising European champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at the world championships in Shanghai next month.

In my mind, the race for gold is between these two teams. Weaver and Poje have motored through victory after victory this season after taking the world silver medal by .02 points last March, as the 2014 world champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte have suffered doubt, withdrew from sight for a time, to revamp their free dance and arrived at Europeans with something to prove.

Cappellini and Lanotte do not look like world champions. Papadakis and Cizeron defeated them at Cup of China, and then wildly surpassed all expectations.

The French team, who moved to Montreal less than a year ago, hoped only to finish on a Grand Prix podium once this season. Instead, they won twice, earned a bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final and took the European championships, an event in which they finished only 15th last year. At the world championships, they were 13th.

A young team, Papadakis and Cizeron have made amazing strides throughout the past season. They improved their skating skills. They endured draining work over the summer to improve their interpretative skills, too. Strategies were put in place.  Their coaches threw them an uncommon challenge, asking them to skate to Mozart, which is not easy for ice dancer to interpret, especially skaters so young. Obviously, all obstacles can be overcome. The French certainly have done that – and quickly. And what’s most pleasant about the whole thing: the judges of the world have rewarded what they’ve seen on the ice. That makes a competition so much more fun. And sporty.

Weaver and Poje have won Four Continents before – when they failed to make the Olympic team in 2010. They made the best of a disappointing position, put a brave face on it and won the thing. This time, they won it with improved skills, and a Four Seasons routine with constantly changing positions and dance holds, so intricate that a misstep would mean disaster. One movement blends into the next.  It’s an intriguing dance, rather less like their previous fare, their routines that would get tear people out of their seats to give standing ovations. Weaver and Poje got a standing ovation in Seoul, but my feeling is, the routine has still much room to grow. That could be a scary thought to their competitors.

In the short dance, Weaver and Poje’s technical mistakes put them in third place, still only two points behind, but it was a bit of a kick, perhaps a healthy thing just before the world championships. They were headed by two Americans: Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the U.S. champions and by former world bronze medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani.

The Shibsibs earned the highest tech marks in the short dance and it’s a forte: they seem to know how to put the fine points on technical requirements, although Alex wobbled wildly on his twizzles in the free dance. Still, it’s surprising how very far apart they dance. Mind you, these days, it’s easier to count the numbers of ice dancers who dance close together, which brings added risk.

As for Chock and Bates, I haven’t warmed to them. I can’t fathom a jolly toreador; Bates was said to be putting a different interpretation on it, an effort to be different, to stand out from the crowd perhaps.  Nothing wrong with the thought. But a toreador is most like a toreador when he’s facing down death, and an ugly, angry animal is charging at him with head down and horns poised, ready to rip his entrails. A toreador breaths unflappable confidence, and focus, and heightened intensity, and it’s all life and death out in that ring. It’s not a jolly exercise. (Never mind Poje, Weaver’s eyes during the paso doble could melt stone and send the beast packing.) I can just hear, in my mind, what Toller Cranston would say about this.

Their “American in Paris” free dance? Bates is too smiley. It’s cheesy. The smile isn’t real. It doesn’t come from within. Chock knows how to sell the program but wears the same expression for every emotion.  In the free dance, one drifted away from the other on twizzles, all fixable, but something  is missing. One thing they do have in spades: speed, speed, and more speed. But are judges confusing speed with skill, like they did last season? Why were their marks so wildly high so early in the season?  Were they really 11 points better than the Shibs at Skate America? Methinks no.  At the U.S. championships, the Shibs came close to defeating them in the short dance, and then Chock and Bates got the win by about four points.

That being said, I’m stoked about the future of Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker.

Youth scored in the women’s short program at Four Continents, when that driven little Japanese butterfly Satoko Miyahara won with  64.84 points. Miyahara doesn’t have the strength and power yet to score high GOE on some of these elements, but it’s a different story with her layback spin: level  four and an array of +2s and even a couple of +3s. This girl is clearly intrepid. She got 10.50 for her triple Lutz- triple toe loop.

Gracie Gold saved second place with 62.67 after turning and bumping into the boards after her triple Lutz – triple toe loop (she got 9.40 for it) and singling her double Axel. Since things like single Axels are verboten with the new rule changes, Gold got no points at all for that. Had she cleaned that up, she’d be on top of the heap, no question.

Rika Hongo finished third with her typically dependable effort, despite the nerves at her first Four Continents and is third with 61.28, close on the heels of the leaders. She’s just a skate blade’s width ahead of Polina Edmunds, who got a bit of an edge call on her triple flip. Only 4.56 points separate the top five.

Of Canada’s two women: Alaine Chartrand  sits sixth after a bobble (and an underrotation) on the back part of her triple Lutz – triple toe loop combo.  She did however, rack up level fours for all elements.

Gabby Daleman, the Canadian champion, is eighth after she doubled a Lutz. Again doubles are forbidden in the new world, and she got no points for it, giving her a total of 55.25, which is 3.25 points behind Chartrand.

Canadian bronze medalist Veronik Mallet fell on her triple flip combo and a triple loop and sits in 13th place.

 

 

 

 

 

Day One, Four Continents

In faraway Seoul, where the Mokdong Arena lies bereft of spectators a great deal of the time, the Four Continents Championships are offering up lots of unexpected dramas.

On Day One, forgiveness wasn’t the name of the game, clearly. Grand Prix Final champs Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje lost a couple of levels in their twizzles and their partial step sequence, and fell to (a close) third behind Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates and the ShibSibs as they’ve come to be called.

These Shibsibs, (Maia and Alex Shibutani) relegated to international close-but-no-cigars territory after their surprise world bronze medal a few years back, tallied up the highest technical marks (35.85) of the day, while the Canadians impressed with their look of danger and all else and got the highest components (36.19). But those level twos (instead of fours) were deadly. Fixable in the future, though.

Getting to the top took perfection and that little extra somethin’. On Day One, Denis Ten had that. He won the men’s short program with 97.61 points, the fourth highest score ever attained by a man since the Code of Points began.

He skated to “Caruso” and what a brilliant choice for a skater like Ten. The voice and the vocals enhanced Ten, made him soar, drove spectators in the audience to tears. (Well at least one had to pull of the spectacles to get the hanky in.) Yes, he got a standing ovation. It was as if he could do no wrong. He landed a quad toe with ease, and a triple Axel with a soft knee. During a sit spin, his hand looked like a leaf fluttering on the wind. Although it seems as if he’s been around forever, Ten is only 21. He’s a neat little package.

Coach Frank Carroll leaned forward in his kiss-and-cry seat and squinted hard to see those marks, almost as if he couldn’t believe them. Then he believed them. The kid from Kazakhstan was on top of this non-European part of the world. And for men’s skating, this is a very tough part of the world.

And who would have expected tiny Shoma Uno, only 17, to be Japan’s top man in this short program? Least of all Uno, who admitted to nerves, evidenced by his shaky warmup. He skated to sophisticated music, a violin sonata, with his boyish, ruddy red cheeks. And then magic happened. He landed his quad toe right on a musical highlight. I love that when it happens. Then came a spread eagle into a triple Axel, and that came, too, on a musical highlight, but on a subtle note. Lovely.

As soon as he finished and took his final bow, Uno immediately looked to his coach with a sheepish grin. The coach reacted with girlish delight and both of them giggled when 88.90 came up. That’s serious territory, especially for such a newbie on the scene. Second heading into the free. Defending Four Continents champ, Takahito Mura is fourth (hands down on the quad), while Daisuke Murakami is sixth with a good effort (quad toe – double toe.)

Han Yan of China dazzled with that powerful triple Axel but flipped out of the quad and ended third.

The carnage came for other aspiring skaters. Both Canadian champion Nam Nguyen and U.S. champ Jason Brown decided to attempt quads for the first time in their short programs. It didn’t go well for either of them. Brown clearly underrotated his and earned only 2.00 points for it. Nguyen’s quad Salchow was deemed an invalid element, because he doubled it, and new rules are harsh on double jumps. He got no points for it at all.

He also fell on a triple Axel, and got right back up like a scalded cat, but the damage was done. He seemed flat. He wasn’t his usual spicy self and ended up 14th.

“Doing your first quad in the short is different from doing it in the long,” coach Brian Orser told Nguyen. “There is a different tension in the body. It’s not for lack of work.”  Nyuyen ended with 63.78. The importance of doing this? He’s getting miles under his belt with this big jump in the short, learning what it takes before a competition with bigger stakes.

Brown is ninth with 75.86, about  11½ points from a bronze medal. That’s a big ask.

There are other kinds of triumphs. Joshua Farris attempted no quad but sits in fifth. Mishe Ge of Uzbekistan skated to soulful, beautiful music and is seventh. Jeremy Ten, who decided late in the season, to skate for one more year at the national championships, found himself with two Grand Prix events, and assignments at Four Continents and world championships. The momentum continues. Ten didn’t put a foot wrong, earned his best-ever 77.09 and an eighth-place ranking as the top Canadian. Who knew?

And Liam Firus, Canadian bronze medalist, came out with a new look, a rather neat moustache and beard that completely changed his appearance, almost landed his nemesis, the triple Axel, and dazzled with strong skating skills and a powerful emotional pull to his skating. He’s 11th. Somebody gave him a mark as low as 6.00 for skating skills. Things like this we’ll never understand.

Although Four Continents has never been one of their strongest competitions in the past, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford delivered this time in the pair event  and earned a season’s best of 75.67. “We were more nervous than usual before we went to skate,” Radford said. They had no expectations, but they are earning +3s for some of their elements.

The only skaters to earn a level four on the triple twist – not easy to do – are third-placed Chinese Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, who are less than a point behind their compatriots Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang, who finally got the skate they wanted with 69.81, which is 5.86 points behind the leaders.

Qing Pang and Jian Tong were to have retired after the Olympics, but the lure of a world championship in their home country next month brought them to Seoul for a test run with longtime coach Bin Yao. Tong put his hands down on the triple toe loop and their side-by-side spins sometimes lost unison but they sit fourth. And it’s good to see them again.

And who could believe this? Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro earned the same technical mark (31.76), but Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch had a slight edge with their components marks and are sixth to their Canadian counterparts’ seventh.

Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch got dinged with a level one on their triple twist, but they earned four level fours on other elements. Ilyushechkina touched a foot down on their triple Salchow, while Marinaro hopped a bit during a camel spin.

Kudos to Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim for earning a 7.40 for their wonderful triple twist. They are fifth. Sui and Han got 7.70 for theirs. The leaders got 7.20 but their triple Lutz is an ace in the hole (7.40 points.)

In short order, the women skate their short programs. More adventures await.

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin Reynolds and the magic slippers

Kevin Reynolds has found his magic slippers.

And that, boys and girls, spells trouble for the rest of the men’s contingent at the Canadian figure skating championships next week in Kingston, Ont.

Reynolds has been living a personal hell over the past year and a half, with boots that just won’t fit – just as he had become ready to make a major international breakthrough, after finishing fifth at the 2013 world championships. No matter the effort, none of those boots were made for a Quad King with narrow ankles to allow him to rock his best tricks.

Nine boots last year – to no avail. He’s lost count this season, but says it might be a dozen. You’d think a pair of carefully custom-made boots would finally allow Reynolds to bust out of his skid. But they fell apart in a week and a half. It took longer just to get them than they lasted on those busy feet. Reynolds was beyond despair.

Now there’s hope. Reynolds gave up the idea of custom boots and instead collected the top boot model from each manufacturer he could find to see which one fit him best. And he found a pair. And he’s been steaming along ever since, skating and training the way he’s always wanted to for the past four to five weeks.

“I tested pairs from every brand that was available,” Reynolds said Friday. “We have come now to the point where we have found an amicable solution and we are looking much better than I have in the past year and a half. So I’m feeling much more confident.”

Reynolds always uses the word “we” because an army of supporters has been helping him solve this dreadful boot problem. After he had to withdraw from Skate Canada last October, he said he felt he had let people down, the ones that had supported him so much. “Not only that, but I couldn’t believe that at that point the issues that I had been dealing with had continued on for so long,” he said.

When he was a kid, Reynolds had read about the sport’s other Quad King, Timothy Goebel, who had won a bronze medal at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 and then faded into obscurity with a series of injuries and boot problems. Goebel had gone through 13 pairs of boots before he showed up at the 2004 U.S. championships.  One pair was twisted. With the next, it was something else. Each pair presented a different issue. Injuries followed. His balance was off. He couldn’t control his edges. The bad boots affected everything, his stroking, spinning, edging. Goebel told reporters that some of the pairs he tried wouldn’t allow him to skate in a straight line.

At that U.S. championship? Goebel finished 10th in the short program and withdrew from the long. He was never really able to pick up the pace of his career again.

Reynolds remembered the stories. “I’ve learned how he dealt with it and I’ve been trying to take it in a different direction,” Reynolds said. “I want to be able to show that I can be back in competitive shape. And I’ve done everything that I can.”

 

Reynolds’ bad boots also contributed to an injury that caused his withdrawal from Grand Prix events this season. After finishing sixth at the Autumn Classic – when he showed up knowing the results wouldn’t be pretty, but he needed to get his programs out in competition – Reynolds was pushing through training, uncomfortably and fell on a quad attempt, spraining his left ankle. That was bad luck, adding to his troubles, a “double whammy” as he put it. He uses his left foot as takeoff for his triple Axel and his two quads. “I was simply unable after spraining that ankle to be in any sort of competition shape for the Grand Prix season,” he said. So he had to withdraw. It was tough.

Reynolds spent two weeks off-ice with no training, or weight-bearing on the leg. Slowly he had to work his way back into shape again, and he still had the boot problem to solve at the end of it.

Now with friendly boots, Reynolds’ confidence is rushing back. Last year, fighting boot issues, he had a short period of quality training before the Sochi Olympics – where he sparkled in the team event – and had “an admirable or satisfactory” performance at the world championships. “This past month or five weeks, I’ve had the most substantial training that I’ve had in the past year and a half,” he said. “I think I’m seeing the results of that now, to be able to train my programs every day, to be able to do the quad jumps every day and gain some of the consistency back.”

Reynolds knows that his lack of competition experience this season isn’t ideal. And he’d like to have had more good training time, too. He’ll be up against competitors who have been training and competing all season. Nevertheless, he’s proven before that he can spin straw into gold on short notice – as he did at the Olympics. “I know that it’s possible to step up to the plate and hopefully take that national title,” he said. “But I know there are other people hungry for it too, so I’m going to try my best.”

His goal is simple and straightforward. He’d love to win this national title because it will mark his 10th year as a senior competitor. “Now that the opportunity has presented itself for me to be the national champion [without any Patrick Chan in the mix], I think that has to be the goal here,” he said.

He’s not looking to try to set any personal bests. “I’m not really looking at that,” he said. “I’ve not really had any competition experience in any real sense.” He’s just going to try to improve upon his performance from the Autumn Classic and keep it up to a level that would be competitive on the world stage. With Nam Nguyen landing quads now, he’ll have to step high.

In the past, Reynolds’ bar was always high: two quads in the short program and three in the long. He still intends to do two quads in the short. He’ll do two quads in the long, but he’ll see how things go in the short. If they go well, perhaps we’ll see those three quads in the long, too. Fortunately, his off-ice training has helped him get back into competitive shape more quickly than he expected.

Reynolds’ frame of mind after all this sturm and drang? “I think it was more of an issue heading into the national championships and Olympic Games last year,” he said. “I had never really dealt with something of that magnitude before. It has been ongoing for so long that I’ve really almost become accustomed to it, that things have not been as consistent as I’d like. But I’ve just had to fight through and deal with it the best I can.”

So Reynolds is back. And he’s just made the men’s event at the national championships a must-see happening.   Whether the result is good or bad, Reynolds will know that he’s done everything possible to be the best he can be. There will be no regrets.

Pair skaters: start your engines

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have really started something, what with that high-flying quad throw of theirs, the envy of their peers at the moment.

Right now, they are on top of the world, having thrown down a gauntlet that, so far this season, is leaving the competition in the dust. They are changing the sport in a way that Elvis Stojko changed it. They have raised the bar. They are so good at throwing this quad Salchow that it has become their personal norm. And get this: they say they can do better throw quad Salchows than they did during the free program at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona last month.

Over Christmas and New Year’s, they undertook a tour in Germany and Italy and last week, when they finally got back into their training, the quad hadn’t suffered at all. The first time they tried it again, there it was, perfect.

And now others will have to pick up the pace if they want to clamber past them and win. And who doesn’t want to win? Duhamel and Radford won the Grand Prix Final easily by a whopping seven points, over Olympic and world silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, the fetching Russians, who, alas, however, despite their beautiful Notre Dame de Paris routine, chose to stand still technically this season while they solidified their game.

“They are going to have to step it up now,” Radford said. “And I think this will trickle on down to all the teams in the world. They see the teams on the top and they want to get there, and they’re going to have to start figuring out ways to get where we are.”

Now, a cascade of online videos of quad twisting and quad throwing pair skaters abound on the internet.

For four years, Duhamel and Radford were the only skaters to land side by side triple Lutzes. It’s no secret that they delivered the most difficult technical content of any team. The triple Lutz was part of their repertoire since they joined forces in 2010. Now, incredibly, for the first time, somebody is chasing them on this thing: a new pair that has never been to a world championship together: Valentina Marchei and Ondredj Hotarek of Italy.

“We always wanted to push our sport and ourselves,” Duhamel said a week before the Canadian national skating championships in Kingston, Ont. Of course, they know about the Marchei and Hotarek exploits. The Italians train occasionally with Duhamel and Radford’s coaches in Montreal. “It’s exciting for us,” Duhamel said. “It’s taken a long time for somebody else to start doing it. It’s really exciting to see another team follow in our footsteps.”

This season, Duhamel and Radford unleashed the quad Salchow throw with great consistency and it has helped them sweep both of their Grand Prix and the Final as well. Their goals at the outset of the season? Win ONE of their Grand Prix events and get onto the podium at the final. “If you’d ask what my expectation was at the beginning of the season, I couldn’t even think that far ahead,” Radford said. “I just wanted to be able to skate more relaxed and more comfortable. It was a simple everyday goal.

“We knew it was all possible, but I never would have expected to be where I am right at this moment as the Grand Prix Final champion and really becoming one of the favourites for the world title.”

They aren’t the first to do the throw quad Salchow but they are still one of the few. But they are making it an essential element in the way that Stojko made the quad years ago.

Last season, Duhamel and Radford could see that the Russian pairs got mighty component marks from the judges, putting the Canadians at a three or four-point deficit. They couldn’t battle them with components, so they went the technical route. And lo and behold, their relaxed manner and improved technique has not only suddenly made their twists higher, but their chemistry-on-ice better too.

They needed seven good technical points. Enter the throw quad Salchow.  “We understood that that was what we needed to do,” Duhamel said. “We felt last year we needed more of a cushion.” Yup, they got their seven-point cushion.

Radford says you will see some Chinese teams, and some Russians also attempt some kind of quad or other and maybe the odd American. At the U.S. championships next week in Greensboro, N.C. 2013 U.S. silver pair medalists Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim are going for the quad twist , because after all, their triple twist last year sailed to the rafters. So why not? “It’s a lot more mental than physical,” Scimeca said. “It is physically demanding, and you have to be strong. A lot is expected of me in the quad, but as long as I’m there and not distracted, I’m able to execute my part properly. “

Knierim knows he has to be technically sound to launch it correctly. They tried it one day, just to see how it went, and they worked on it off the ice last summer. On ice: “We were able to catch it the first day,” he said. They tried it a few times outside the program, but limited the number to avoid injury. They tried it in the program for a couple of weeks. It only took a couple of days after they included it in their program to realize they wanted to try it in Greensboro “because we want it for next year and hopefully for Four Continents and worlds.” The fight for the U.S. pair gold will be intense and interesting.

Scimeca believes the component marks tend to go up as the technical marks do, too. “We want to be competing with the best,” she said. “If we are fortunate to be on the world team, that will keep us up with the Chinese and the Russians. If we’re capable of stepping up our game, then we want to start taking risk, so that by 2018, we will be prepared.”

The race is on.

Kaetlyn Osmond speaks

Kaetlyn Osmond’s twitter account has been buzzing non-stop today, ever since the news broke that she decided to forget about competing this season.

It was not an easy decision. It’s been a roller-coaster ride for the 19-year-old native of Marystown, Nfld., ever since she broke the fibula bone in her right leg last fall, an accident that put a stop to her fall season. Now the entire season will be wiped out. No Four Continents, no world championships.

She says that public reaction to the news has buoyed her spirits after her difficult decision not to try to win her third consecutive Canadian title. The national championships is in two weeks in Kingston, Ont.

“It’s actually been amazing,” Osmond said today. “It’s helping me cope with this decision. Everyone is wishing me the best, and that I’ll be ready for next year.”

“I hope I will be too.”

The fibula is the smaller of the two lower leg bones, situated to the outside of the leg. This is also the same bone that Kaitlyn Weaver fractured on Dec. 14, 2012, except that she fractured the bone in her left leg, near the ankle. Weaver and partner Andrew Poje were forced to miss the Canadian championships that year but made a remarkable comeback to compete at the 2013 world championships about three months later – and finish fifth. Weaver competed despite pain.

In a tweet, Osmond says she was off the ice for 52 days, 15 hours and 59 minutes since she last put on her skates, after being cleared to skate again on Nov. 2.

“It’s been very slow going,” she said. “The injury is a lot harder to come back from, especially with the plate in my leg. I’ve had to remodel my skates a bit to accommodate that. There’s been a lot done to try and get me back, but it was just not possible.”

Osmond said she was worried about going back out on the ice again for the first time after her latest injury, because she didn’t know what it would feel like. “It was really hard getting back onto the ice and being able to push on that foot without feeling like it was going to buckle underneath me,” she said.

The worries were both psychological and physical. She didn’t have full strength in her right foot when she returned.

She got through that initial uneasy time, and then for two weeks, her recovery seemed “amazing,” and she began to feel that she was going to actually make it to the Canadian championships, her favourite event of the year. She started to run her programs full-out with all double jumps and spins. And she even started working on her triple jumps again.

She got some of those triples back. Strangely enough, she got the tough ones back first, particularly the triple flip. (There is a video somewhere out there of her doing it.) It makes sense if you know that the Axel, Salchow and toe loops bothered her the most, because those jumps involve more of her right leg. Landing jumps weren’t a problem. She lands on her left leg.

A couple of weeks ago, she was doing triple flips, and was working on triple loops and Lutzes. She did manage a double Axel. She put the triple flip in her run-throughs –for one day, before she had to back off and leave the triples on the backburner.

Osmond’s first public performance came in a skating festival at the West Edmonton Mall in mid-December, in which she did only doubles. “But it felt good to perform again,” she said. Shortly afterwards, things began to fall apart. Encouraged, she had increased her training, but her foot couldn’t handle it as much as she’d hoped. The boot began to rub against her metal plate.

It’s going to be rough to miss the national championships and all that comes with it after, but Osmond is in it for the long haul. There’s always next year.

 

Osmond finished for the season

Kaetlyn Osmond has done the smart thing, the hard thing: she’s calling it quits for this season.

The 19-year-old two-time Canadian champion won’t be back to defend her title in two weeks at the Canadian national skating championships in Kingston, Ont.

She won’t compete at all this season.

It’s heartbreaking, especially in light of her one main hope at the start of the season: “to stay away from injuries.” A short time later, she fractured the fibula of her right leg and this injury is holding her back like no other injury has.

Osmond’s career has been laced with injury problems. She had to rush her Olympic preparations last season after suffering a stress fracture and then another injury to her hamstring. Her recovery was miraculous. She lost her fall season, but still made it to the Canadian championships to win her second title, despite a host of other young, able women biting at her heels. She helped Canada win the Olympic team silver medal.

She showed up at the national training camp last September on another little mini-comeback, having aggravated her stress fracture over the summer. She did her run-throughs with no jumps. However, she was hopeful.

The most painful thing about the injury that is currently derailing her is that it wasn’t an overuse injury. It was a silly thing. She was working on choreography, swerved to avoid another skater, caught an edge and fell.

Her recovery has been remarkable, but this time, she just can’t overcome her problems in time. She called it her longest, scariest recovery/injury, ever. She tweeted that she was finally cleared to skate again on Nov. 3, after 52 days, 15 hours and 59 minutes of being off the ice. By December 4, we saw her do a single Axel. The clock was ticking and everybody knew it.

On Jan. 3, she did her first public performance at a festival at the West Edmonton Mall, where she was seen doing double Axels.

She’s not in Adelina Sotnikova’s situation, where she will have a test skate to see if she is ready for Europeans, after having missed her nationals. Osmond is just done for the year, period. She won’t try to get onto the team for Four Continents or world championships. She’s setting competition aside to take the long view; complete recovery. Her body will thank her.

“It was a really hard decision for me not to compete this year,” she said in a prepared release today. “I tried everything to be ready to come back, but I just couldn’t get to where I wanted to be for competitions this year. I’m hoping this break and healing time will set me up for a great season next year.”