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.”