Craig Buntin, with an app that could change the sport

This is a story I wrote for the Skate Canada website on former pair skater Craig Buntin and the interesting steps he has taken beyond his skating career. And one of them has been to develop a fascinating figure skating app.


Joubert isn’t joking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Canadian national team chosen

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

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

There’s always hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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