Kevin Reynolds: finding his feet

It seems as if Kevin Reynolds has finally found his magic slippers.

Here’s hoping.

He’s optimistic.

New custom boots arrived recently from Italy and Reynolds says right now, he’s trying to relax. “I’m at the peak of the off-season,” he said. He’s spent the first part of it in search of new brogues, after the nightmare of the Olympic season.

All last season, Reynolds, who had been fifth at the 2013 world championships, was hobbled by boots that wouldn’t fit his very narrow heel. He went through eight or nine pairs, trying to find the answer, and lost his entire Grand Prix season. It was a costly nightmare.

“I had to spend more money than I earned to fix the problems,” he said from home in Coquitlam, B.C. “That was a hit on the finances, but I received some support from Skate Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee in terms of funding and I think that helped, especially in the month leading to the Olympic Games.”

Reynolds didn’t have to pay for the boots from the Italian manufacturer – they were comps – but each time he had to import a pair, he had to pay sizeable import duties, which all added up. Not only did he lose chances at winning prize money in Grand Prix events, but he lost quite a few points in the ISU ranking system by missing them. Now he has to build those points back up and good performances are necessary this year. He’d love to do the Skate Canada Grand Prix in Kelowna in late October. It’s only a short drive from his home. It would be meaningful for him.

Still, his biggest hurdle with the never-ending boot problems was the toll it took on his confidence – “things not going the way I wanted them to,” he said. That was the unkindest cut of all. Actually, on the brink of podium possibilities (he was closing a point gap with Patrick Chan), he went backwards. It was tough to take.

That’s why the team skate at the Sochi Games was especially gratifying, when Reynolds earned 167.92 points (only a quarter of a point behind winner Evgeny Plushenko at 168.20) in the men’s long program. In fact, he clinched Canada’s silver team medal with that skate.

Skate Canada showed faith in Reynolds by including him in the team event, after such a rocky, unsatisfying season. He stepped up to the plate, landing three quads in what was his first international competition of the season. His first, the quad Salchow, was the longest, biggest one he did all week. His quad toe loop – triple toe loop was easy. He was patient and calm in landing his third, a quad toe loop. Coach Joanne McLeod was emotional in the kiss and cry. So were the members of the team, who mobbed him.

“That proved I could be there, with the top men in the world,” said Reynolds, who finished ahead of the brilliant Tatsuki Machida, Japan’s next skating star.

“That’s what was so frustrating about the first part of the season. I felt like I finally belonged in the upper echelons of skaters, and to be feeling like an inferior skater again, just didn’t feel good,” he said. “It was crushing defeat.

“To build myself back up from scratch a couple of months before the national championships was one of the hardest things I had to do.”

Reynolds had already participated in two World Team Trophies, so he had a taste of what a team event could be like, to have teammates in the kiss and cry, cheering him on. “I really like that feeling,” he said. Still, the Olympics was a completely different atmosphere, requiring a different sort of approach to the more laid-back World Team Trophy.

He admits it was one of the oddest feelings he’s ever had, having to sit idle in the kiss and cry during the short program. He was only watching. He didn’t feel part of the Olympics yet. “It was a very odd feeling to be watching your competitors and at the same time, cheering Team Canada on and cheering Patrick [Chan] on. I wanted him to do well.”

Reynolds excelled at what for him was the toughest part of the Olympics: the team event. “I felt more pressure in the team event than in the individual event,” he said. “I wanted to do well for the team. I didn’t want to let them down. We had such a strong team all-around of course, and I didn’t really want to be the weak link.” It was a huge relief when he pulled it off, big-time, almost defeating a legend.

Reynolds has heard that Chan wants to take the coming year off, and that makes him Canada’s new kingpin. But for now, his goal will be all about getting on track and ensuring that the boot problems are behind him. “I’m optimistic that things are solved,” he said.

During the spring, Reynolds travelled to the boot manufacturer in Italy to sort things out, once and for all, opting for custom boots this time. “We were able to think things through clearly,” he said. “The machine was working – the machine that creates the 3D-mold of your feet. We got what we hoped for and I’m feeling much more positive after that visit.”

While he waited for his new boots, Reynolds stayed in light training with what boots he had, and has been keeping up his physical condition. “I don’t want to let things go too much,” he said. He’s been doing dance classes, just to keep his body limber. Nothing too intense. That will come later with the new chaussures.

 

 

Reynolds hasn’t done any new programs yet. He’s waiting to see what rule changes the ISU could establish at the Congress in June. He’ll get a new long program. He would like to keep his mesmerizing short program to AC/DC, but it all depends on rule changes. Some of the rule changes could be major: if the ISU cuts 30 seconds off the length of the men’s long program, it will also drop one jumping pass to seven, same as the women. “That would drastically affect the construction of the program,” Reynolds said. Choreography is pencilled in immediately after the Congress.

What about skating to vocals for the first time? It’s not Reynolds’ cup of tea. “I’ve never been a fan of them and I’m not sure how that will work without a partner to relate to,” he said, bringing up an interesting point. While vocals may work with a dance team or a pair, because the lyrics emphasize a relationship between two people, it may be different for singles skaters.

“It should be interesting to see the first year what everybody comes up with and who will be able to try with the lyrics or not,” he said. “I’m not sure I will be doing something like that.”

Reynolds, an expert on point values and system rules, said he’d already been pondering the possibility of vocals over the past four years. “I think skating is more of a relation to movement with music and I’m not sure movement with lyrics and a language – and one language in particular – is what skating is all about.

“You can equate it to contemporary dance, where you can dance to the lyrics, but I’m not sure if that is what figure skating is looking for.”

Besides, he said, it seems odds to do quads and triple Axels in an athletic competition to lyrics. Maybe, he admits, the concept is just still so new and foreign to him, it doesn’t quite fit.

For now, Reynolds can smile again. He’s surprised by the positive feedback he’s received since the Olympics. At home in Canada, people now recognize him – and he’s never experienced that before. “It’s been really special to hear from people just passing by the side of the rink and it’s very surprising the amount of recognition that being in the Olympics has given me,” he said. He missed the 2010 Olympics by one placement and had to watch the event from the sidelines in his hometown.

He also gets gifts from Canadians, Japanese and even European fans. It’s been overwhelming, he said.

And after a difficult long program in the individual event at the Sochi Olympics, Reynolds took his final bow and smiled to the appreciative Japanese crowd. “The fans were incredibly supportive,” said he, a fan favourite in Japan. “Even though the skates weren’t exactly what I wanted, I was satisfied on a personal level because I knew I had done everything I could to that point in time. “

And at worlds, he kept two men’s spots for Canada, also a goal.

Now, he says, he’ll be working on the things he can improve, now that he’s shod appropriately.

 

Not To Be Missed: the Garrison show

The lights dimmed. The sun was warming outside, but still, about 3,400 people sought the chill of the Powerade Centre in Brampton, Ont., outside Toronto. And they were about to witness a happening of the Canadian-skating-community kind.

No little backwoods skating show, this, the Margaret Garrison Awards Ceremony and Ice Show.  It follows the tradition of Canadian skating back to the 1940s, when carnivals were lavish productions. This one was engineered by one of Canada’s skating sections (Central Ontario), in honour of Garrison, a section administrator, who devoted many hours to the sport, doing everything at one time or another, preparing meals in the kitchen, and from October to May working at rinks all over the section, which has 96 clubs. It is said that when Garrison called a meeting, she made sure everybody had their tea cup topped up.

Garrison lost her battle with cancer five years ago, and ever since, her section has played host to this show, distributing more than $76,000 from the Skaters` Trust Fund to more than 75 athletes and 16 synchro teams in recognition of accomplishments during the season.

All those who saw this show got an eyeful. There were spotlights, a string of LED lights along the ice edge, in front of tables, covered in white table clothes. David Dore, vice president of the ISU attended. (He received a lifetime achievement award, but he also handed out other awards). Canada`s chief executive office, Dan Thompson was there, too. They all watched the play of colourful lights across the ice: purples, blues, greens.

And they saw an ice surface (rather wet for the first half), populated by all manner of blades and boots and little skaters and some Olympians and a few who hope to be. Who couldn`t help but warm to the tiny girl in the Thailand group number (theme of the show was “Exploring Our Culture”) when tiny little CanSkaters were led out hand-in-hand by the program assistants, and the ice filled with a wave of tiny beings. She was part of it all, shaggy white fur coat, gauzy red skirt, black skates, and blue legwarmers to her knees – and don`t forget the helmet. She had a little trouble skating backwards, but she was where she should be. Somewhere behind the curtain were choreographers who had mapped out all the complicated comings and goings of a mob of skaters. Rehearsals and program creations took the day. You know that somewhere in this mix will come Canada`s future stars. For now, they were just adorable.

One of the top highlights for me was Roman Sadovsky, 14, who slid from behind the curtain in blue jeans, and skated to “Stairway to Heaven.” He looked like a rock star, and yet, out of his bag of tricks came some big triples. Sadovksy made the water from the ice fly in front the lights, like ribbons from a rhythmic gymnast.  Wish I had the camera to catch that sight.

Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam made the small ice surface seem large when they skated to “I Wanna Be Loved by You” – the song notably sung by movie icon Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like it Hot.” They were charming, in a piece choreographed just that morning. They captivated. They looked mature, in command, but at the same time playful.

Nam Nguyen, the reigning world junior champion, used every note to high effect with his chutzpah in “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and to show that it didn’t matter what time it was, he landed his biggest new toy, the triple Axel.

Gabby Daleman, 16, youngest member of the Canadian Olympic skating team in Sochi, skated with exuberance, dressed in shock-pink glitter. No half-way measures from her. Read her tweets, and they are all inspiring. There doesn`t seem to be a gram of negative self-talk in her.

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier skated to intriguing music, with rhythmic, repetitive words: “I noticed you and I find you very attractive” and turned it into a sassy tour de force. One lift aborted and Gilles emerged with a scraped shoulder.

Others: Alexandra Najarro’s beautiful routine to Celine Dion’s “All By Myself” was memorable and so was Andrei Rogozine, who cast off the ball and chain of competition and skated with verve and snap. It was actually the best I’ve ever seen him. He threw a little fist at the end. No wonder.

We didn’t get to see Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill, because Ralph was ill. It might have been their final performance. Ralph has stepped away from skating and Hill is in search of a new partner. Hill skated with Lauren Collins in a dance group number.

And you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the adult skaters perform to Bollywood, the Gold Ice elementary synchronized skaters skating to a race car theme with “Born to Be Wild” with complex choreography and a peanut-sized member who skated with joy; and a group of Special Olympians who performed to an ABBA medley.

There was plenty more to see and Garrison would have been proud. Yes, Canadians know how to do a big show. Skating is in the blood, here.

Goodbye (but not farewell) to Rudi Swiegers

It’s true. Yet another top Canadian pair has separated: Rudi Swiegers has decided to take a year off from competitive skating for personal reasons and that spelled an end to his nine-year partnership with Paige Lawrence.

The personalities of the two from Saskatchewan always filled the room. Swiegers is known for having offered up his own skate to U.S. rival (and sometimes training mate) Mark Ladwig, who had broken the heel of his boot during the short program at the 2011 Four Continents championship. Swiegers had already skated, so ran down to the ice to offer up his boot so that Ladwig, skating with Amanda Evora, could continue skating within a time limit.

Swiegers later received an award for good citizenship from U.S. Figure Skating.

Lawrence was a gutsy competitor from a rodeo family. She sustained a concussion the month before the 2012 Canadian championships, but competed and won a bronze medal. Their career is one of a string of bronze medals: third at four Canadian championships, third at the Four Continents, third at a Skate Canada International, always believing they were capable to being the best in Canada, always held back by injury and circumstance.

The team trained in Virden, Man. But both endeared themselves to the world with their utter joy at just being able to compete at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. (They were 14th). They finished 12th at the world championships in Japan after that.

Lawrence is looking for a new partner, but she’ll keep an open mind about her future.

“One of my greatest joys is that we’ve been able to succeed and achieve our goals while staying true to our small-town roots,”Swiegers said. He thanks coach Patricia Hole and Lyndon Johnston for all they’ve done for him: “untold hours on and off the ice,” he said in a prepared statement. “Their dedication to me as a person and an athlete has been paramount in making me the man I am today.”

Still, Swiegers, 26, of Kipling, Sask. said that this change was not “goodbye” for him, but “rather see you later.”

Lawrence said she was never happier than she was while skating her Olympic and world championship programs. “We have reached a point now where we both want different things and I wish Rudi all the health, happiness and continued success in whatever path he follows.”

Moore-Towers takes a bold risk

In the days following the world championships, Kirsten Moore-Towers began to think about her future.

She dug deep for the answers.

She and pair partner Dylan Moscovitch had spoken about committing to another four years, for one more Olympics. But Moore-Towers, still only 21, began to feel that she wanted to do two more, when her partner would be 37 years old. And what that meant was mind-crushing. If she wanted to do two more Olympics, she felt it would be in her best interests to start with somebody new right now.

“It was quite difficult, especially since Dylan and I had a great relationship,” she said of the decision to end a partnership that had taken them to the top echelons of the sport (third in the free skate at the world championships). “I think with the eight years difference, we’re at a very different place in our lives.

“We grew differently. We started when I was 16, and Dylan was 24, and certainly I knew that I grew up a great deal within our partnership. And I definitely have Dylan to thank for a big part of that. He really did help me to become the person that I am. I personally feel that I am still growing.

“But I didn’t think that the longevity of Dylan and I made any sense any more. I thought that I wanted to have an opportunity to start with someone new.”

She had come home from the world championships in Japan feeling positive. She wanted to continue with Moscovitch, she said. “We had said in sort of the heat of the moment that at the Olympics we wanted to keep going for another four years.”

But then it came time to plan for the coming year, get programs together, have the pre-season chat with the coaches. She made the decision to leave the partnership entirely on her own, she said. She knows she took people by surprise. Coaches Kristy and Kris Wirtz didn’t know about it. Their choreographer didn’t know. Moore-Towers spoke with her parents about it and some of her friends. “I really felt strongly that it was a good decision for myself,” she said. “And I haven’t regretted it since.”

She’s already had a couple of tryouts, and skated with them a couple of times. “Both of them have been very, very good,” she said. “I think I have a couple of good options.”

She just has to make sure that the partner agrees to skate with her, she said. “It’s not all my decision.” And she’ll have to consult with coaches Kristy and Kris Wirtz to get their take on the future of the partnership. “It’s not always about the skating,” Moore-Towers said. “Obviously, it’s the biggest part, but we need to get along. And I need to be able to see that we’ll be able to work together for an extended period of time. That’s a huge aspect.”

Perhaps, she said, that’s the biggest reason that teams don’t stay together as long as they used to. Maybe they didn’t discuss their goals at the beginning of the partnership. Maybe their ideas about things turn out to be different. “We really need to make sure we’re on the same page,” Moore-Towers said.

Moore-Towers is being realistic about this sea-change in her skating career. She doesn’t expect to get results right away with a new partner. She doesn’t expect to jump back to world-podium contender this coming season or even the one after that. “But I am making this decision with the hopes that one day, I can do something better,” she said.

“It’s definitely a climb,” she said. “It’s not going to come easy and it’s not going to come fast. We’re going to have to work on it a long time and rebuild some credibility and explore new paths and new options. And hopefully we’ll get there.”

One thing she knows for sure: Moscovitch had one of the best work ethics she’s ever seen, ever, in her life. She looks for someone who she can have fun with, but who will also be willing to train hard, and try new things and have the same goals. “Those are the only people that I’m looking at,” she said.

It was a gutsy move and a calculated risk. It’s not so different elsewhere in the world, where partnerships are dissolving and reforming. Stay tuned for more pair adventures.