Miss that junior men’s final at the Canadian national skating championships on Wednesday night? Pity.
The final flight of men delivered as much drama as the Young and the Restless soap opera. But this was in real time on a chilly night at the Scotiabank Centre, with a smattering of hard-core spectators.
Start with Conrad Orzel, who left a lasting impression with his effort. Orzel was memorable last year with his “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” routine when he won the bronze medal at the novice level. He endured a raft of injuries to get there, suffering a torn ligament in his left leg and an avulsion fracture, which means a piece of bone chips away from the main part of a bone.
This 15-year-old from Woodbridge, Ont., LOVES to jump. LIVES to jump. He landed seven triples at that event.
He’s a guy who knows what he wants. He loves Elvis Stojko and Evgeny Plushenko.
This takes us to the free skate Wednesday. Orzel was the only skater to attempt a triple Axel. But that deadly Axel took him on a crazy journey. He fell so hard on his first one that the crowd gasped. You could hear the sound of body hit ice, which slapped his entire left side, from head to toe.
But Orzel quickly scrambled to his feet, and sped off to try his triple Lutz. He fell again. Not what you want when you already have ice rash from the previous tumble. Could this be a train wreck to come?
But no. Orzel wasn’t finished yet. Off he flew to the other end of the ice and hit the most wondrous triple Axel – triple toe loop combo, a big one, with tight rotation, one that took your breath away. (Mind, he did underrotate the toe loop.)
It was like fireworks had gone off in his feet. He was like Roger Ramjet with rocket-fueled heels. He was like Popeye when he gnarled his way into a can of spinach.
Mistakes abounded through the rest of the routine, little ones that dropped Orzel to sixth place in the free, but fifth overfall. Still, his performance was remarkable.
Should someone have called an audible and stopped Orzel after the hard fall, at least to give him pause to figure out where his head was?
Olivier Bergeron finished third in the free skate with a triple flip – triple toe loop combo.
Christian Reekie was third overall, fourth in the free with two Lutzes, one in combination with a double loop (underrotated), and two triple flips.
But if you’re looking for special, there was Edrian Paul Celestino of Montreal, second in the free and overall with a gorgeous routine to Nessum Dorma, choreographed by David Wilson. Celestino, a former dancer, has beautiful knees and movement and pays a lot of attention to detail. He hasn’t mastered the triple Axel yet, alas.
Not surprisingly, Celestino had the highest component score at 65.76. Both he and new junior champ Joseph Phan were in a class above the rest in this department. Phan scored 64.66.
But Phan was the man of the hour, after a big development season. Two years ago, at age 12, he won the novice title in Canada. He was tiny.
Now, at age 14, Phan has had to deal with an aggressive growth spurt, shooting up about five inches since last year. He felt the difference. “When I was skating sometimes, I would just trip,” he said.
But coach Yvan Desjardins scaled back his triples and had him do easier programs until he got a handle on it. He finally did by the end of the summer. In the fall, they came back with two triple Lutzes.
Phan’s big goal this year was to improve his expression and the intensity in his program. “To be more big,” he said. “Smile and stuff.”
“Every time I’m on the ice, I just try to do more,” he said. “My coaches scream at me when I do my programs, but not in a bad way. Just scream.” He also takes a drama class in his school. He is in grade nine.
Desjardins found the music for Phan’s long program: from the movie “ Legend of 1900.” And he brought in Jeffrey Buttle to choreograph it, knowing he was musical, and it would be right for Phan.
“This program is a piece of Jeff Buttle,” Desjardins said. Buttle loved the music and gave Phan more difficult transitions and complex choreography.
The story of the movie, said Desjardins, is about a lost boy who grows into a man. It’s really the story of Phan, especially over the last season. “I can see the transformation since the beginning of the season,” said his coach.
Phan saw Buttle only twice. “He was always smiling,” said the skater. “He was passionate. And he was always changing the movements to make it better all the time. So when he found something wasn’t right, he changed it to make it better.”
Phan also wants to get a triple Axel. He didn’t attempt one this week because it’s not consistent enough.
“The triple Axel is really close,” Desjardins said. “I’m doing it in the harness with him and it’s easy, easy. I’m not doing anything. It’s just like [he needs ]timing and a little bit more confidence, but I know he can do it.”
Phan can also do the quad Salchow and quad toe loop in the harness very easily. “For sure it’s going to happen,” Desjardins said. “It’s effortless.”