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.