James and Cipres turn a corner

From across the sea, we are told that a set of hair clippers is at the ready to sheer pair coach John Zimmerman into baldness.

Didn’t Zimmerman say – we’re sure he did – that he would shave his head if his new team, Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France won a medal at the European championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic?

Well, they did, in dramatic fashion on Thursday. The medal was bronze, but it felt like gold, looked like gold, sounded like gold. The Czech crowd adopted them, screamed for them, cheered for them like they were their own, gave them a standing ovation. The joy of James and Cipres in both the short and long program was infectious. At the end of the free skate, Cipres fell to the ice, his face to the freeze, hands over his head, drinking it in. James was in tears, almost in disbelief.

It had been a long time coming. And with the switch to Zimmerman’s school in Coral Gables, Fla., last June, James and Cipres are finally finding their stride. And they are exciting to watch, to boot. They skated one of those routines that will live in the memory – much like what Zimmerman did himself at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City when he and partner Kyoko Ina skated out of their skins, one of the performances of the night, unheralded unfortunately, as they finished fourth, just off the podium.

So Zimmerman knows how to do it, to face the pressure head on, to insinuate all sorts of cool, difficult tricks into the equation. Last summer, James and Cipres picked Zimmerman to lead them out of the wilderness they had been in for five years, showing hints of athletic prowess, never quite getting it.

“We picked him because when John skated with Kyoko, they were the classic Russian team, classic and pretty,” James said. “They were athletic and did crazy lifts and crazy elements. I felt like we look like them and we just needed a little bit more help to bring it out. It’s working really well.”

They had spent only three months with Zimmerman before they went to the Autumn Classic in Montreal last October. Zimmerman said he didn’t want to change too much – what time did he have? – but just take what they had and heap layers of good things on it all.

In Florida, James and Cipres work with Zimmerman’s entire team, which includes his wife Silvia Fontana, Jeremy Barrett (who won the U.S. championship title in 2010 with Caydee Denney), and former British ice dancer John Kerr. “We are happy to come to the rink,” Cipres said. “We find it good because our team is like a family. It’s a big team and we are together. That’s what made it for me. I want to find this before, but it’s life.”

Zimmerman and friends knew little about James and Cipres, other than they had seen this French team skate. Still, they presented them with music that was new for them and that they thought would just do the trick: “Earned It” by The Weeknd for the short program and “The Sound of Silence,” performed by noise-blasting band Disturbed for the long.

“They said we think this will work for you guys,” James said, speaking of Disturbed’s intense but uncharacteristically quiet music. “And we’re like: ‘Ummmmm, we’ll see.’

“And then I started liking it. And then Morgan didn’t know because we’re so used to skating to slow, strong music like “The Temptation of Christ.” That’s what we wanted to skate to. And this was completely different. It was a whole song.

“So finally, okay, the more they did the choreography and all the in-between elements and transitions, we started to just blend with the music. And when we skate like that, it just brings everything out in us.”

Zimmerman and his team also choreographed steps into their triple twist and added choreography after it, too. No longer did the choreography stop while they executed a difficult element. During Autumn Classic, they had been training a crazy throw triple flip that James did with her arms raised in the air. It didn’t prove consistent, so they dropped it later.

Also the throw quad Salchow became an element they tried in the free skate at every event this year, without being quite able to land it cleanly, also drawing negative GOE on it. But it’s a process. It’s becoming more and more consistent as they train it. They landed it on two feet in Ostrava. Judges deemed it rotated.

“We didn’t want to change too much our technique,” James said. “We wanted to make what we already had better: which was skating skills and transitions. We can see a complete difference since the beginning of the season. Our components are much higher than last season.”

For eons, James and Cipres fired off impressive elements – or tried to – all the time looking like two single skaters performing the same program. In Zimmerman’s hands, the relationship between them improved and magically so did their elements. By Autumn Classic, they were an exciting team, together, an emotional unit. The look was magic. When they do it, the crowds feel it.

At Autumn Classic they finished to a standing ovation. “That was amazing,” James said. “It wasn’t the cleanest program, but we got that standing ovation. It means a lot.”

Still, they did not qualify for the Grand Prix Final after finishing fourth at Skate America (short program was infected by a loss of levels, in the long they fell three times to finish seventh); and third at Trophee de France, although they did finish second to Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot in the free skate, while defeating Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.

Cipres has always skated for France, but as a junior singles skater before he was matched up with James in September of 2010. They didn’t skate the first year because Cipres had to learn pair elements. And because they started late, too.

James had already skated pairs with Yannick Bonheur for two seasons and before that, she had been a singles skater for Britain, winning the 2006 British championships and silver in 2007. Her last event as a singles skater was at the 2007 Coupe de Nice, when she won a bronze medal.

Yes, James is a woman of the world. She was born in Canada, in a borough of Toronto called Scarborough. James began skating in Virginia, admiring Michelle Kwan, held a permanent resident card in the United States, but also held a British passport by virtue of her father being from Bermuda. Now she holds French citizenship.

She found her first partner on a pair search website. “We were either going to skate for Canada, U.S., or England because my parents came from all of them,” she said. “I’m a French girl now.”

In Ostrava, James and Cipres blasted their previous best free skate score by about 12 points to 145.85 for a final score of 220.02, the eighth highest score ever. The bronze medal was their first at a European championship and the first by a French pair skater in 14 years.

“We were never as happy as we are today,” James said. “Of course, we were also happy yesterday, but we needed to stay concentrated for today and we are so proud of us now. It’s just fantastic. We have worked and sacrificed so much over the last years. This third place finish is for sure another step in the right direction.”

Their excitement and joy is contagious at the reach they have finally made into medal territory. “It’s good timing,” James said. “A year before the Olympics.”

As for Zimmerman, the loss of his locks will be a shock. He has worked as a model in the past.

 

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Nicolas Nadeau and his Blue Suede Shoes

Send Nicolas Nadeau out onto a big ice surface, and you do him a favour. There, he’s at home. He may as well have the slippers on and – with a ready smile and some catchy music – offer up a few drinks to his guests. It’s where he belongs.

But he has skates on, and he’s attempting quads, all very interesting and difficult for a commanding form like Nadeau, who has grown a little lately, now standing about 6-foot-1. For a figure skater, that’s tall.

At 19, he’s causing a ripple in the senior men’s ranks in Canada, and perhaps even the world, considering he was the only man that represented Canada at the world junior championships last year and won the silver medal – and three spots for Canadian men this year, all by himself. Last week at the Canadian championships, he finished third in the senior division free skate behind Patrick Chan and Kevin Reynolds after a memorable routine and fourth overall.

Even though he didn’t make the podium – it was one of this season’s goals – it’s unlikely that anybody will forget him soon. That long program? Unforgettable.

As soon as Nadeau took his opening pose, looking up from under his brow, white studded moto jacket with the collar flipped up, hand holding an imaginary microphone, people started to smile. They couldn’t help it. Of course, he was skating to Elvis Presley. Who would do that? (Well, Javier Fernandez is doing it this year too, so why not?) Of all the Elvis Impersonators there ever were in the world, Nadeau is a most intriguing one, even though Presley died 40 years ago, and Nadeau is from a generation that may hardly know who he is.

“Well, he was the king,” Nadeau said afterwards, now somewhat educated.  “And today I really felt like I was the king. Maybe not winning the competition, but in my own heart, doing these kind of programs at Canadians, I felt like the king.”

The standing ovation started before Nadeau had taken his final pose. “I saw that,” he said. “It was amazing.

“The crowd was so nice tonight. They were cheering during the footwork. I love that footwork. I love this choreography. It’s amazing.” He received 86.42 for his component marks (79.98 for technical), second highest among senior men at the event.

He’s the kind of guy who can take any sort of music and pull it off. Last year, he skated to Mary Poppins and made it work, although it wasn’t his idea and he wasn’t sold on it either, at first. “’He said: ‘It’s about a girl,’” said his coach Yvan Desjardins. “No, no, you’re not going to BE Mary Poppins,” Desjardins persuaded him. You are going to be Chim Chim Char-ee.” In other words, the chimney sweep. And with that program, he achieved much.

After junior worlds, Desjardins said he was casting about for this season’s encore when his wife suggested Elvis Presley. “But we need a story for that,” she said.

The story? It is a reflection of Presley’s last concert on June 26, 1977 in Indianapolis. And if you’re wondering why Nadeau doesn’t start out skating to Presley’s singing voice, actually, he’s skating to “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” written in 1896 by Richard Strauss, a score best-known as the opening fanfare to the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. From 1971 until his death in 1977, Presley used the movie’s opening fanfare as his opening fanfare, as he made his way out onto the stage. Nadeau follows the tradition and also skates to some of the music that Presley sang in that last concert.

Skating to Presley wasn’t Nadeau’s idea, either. “It was my coach’s idea,” Nadeau said. “He always finds my ideas all the time. I don’t know how he does it, but he always finds a way to impress me more. And it’s always better and better. Sometimes it’s just weird music, but it’s: ‘All right, I’ll do it,’ and it comes out super good.”

Because Shae-Lynn Bourne had done such a crack job on his short program, the little group wanted her to do Elvis, too.

Nadeau really isn’t hugely familiar with Presley’s schtick: the curled lip, the swivelling hips, the voice that can’t be measured in octave reach. Nadeau has viewed a few Youtube videos to get a taste of him. His father is in the know. Bourne did the choreography and he just followed her. “It is her Elvis on ice,” he said. “She’s so good.” Recently, Bourne sent him some photographs of Elvis, just to set the mood for him.

“It was nice of her to do that,” Desjardins said.

The routine, mind you, is very difficult because it’s so fast that Nadeau has no time to rest. He’s really only now getting it under his belt, hampered this season with an injury.

Nadeau has been seldom seen this season because just before the Junior Grand Prix season started, he injured himself, trying to do a quadruple toe loop. He landed the quad on two feet, and because the landing was cheated, the ankle twisted.

Bad timing. Nadeau had set a goal for this season to become the first skater in the world to land a quadruple loop, but his injury took him out of competitions. In the meantime, Yuzuru Hanyu jumped up at the Autumn Classic in October and became the first man to land a quad loop.

“I was like: ‘NO!’” Nadeau said.

Nadeau said it took about three months for his ankle injury to right itself, and he didn’t compete again until the Golden Spin in Zagreb, Croatia in early December. Skating in front of empty stands, it was a disaster. He hadn’t competed in months. “My foot was feeling good,” he said. “I wasn’t injured any more. We figure out that we missed some training.” He had only three weeks to train before going there and as Nadeau said, it really wasn’t enough time if you wanted to try “normal” jumps, let alone quads.

He had trained better than that, Desjardin said. He landed one of his enormous triple Axels at Golden Spin and popped another one, something he never does. His triple Axel shoots up into the air like a geyser. All of the misses gave him a wakeup call. It focused him. He was hungry for competition.

At last year’s junior worlds, he had attempted a quad toe loop, but cheated it. For this season, he intended to do two quads in his Elvis program, but with the injury scaled it back to one, the magical quad loop, leaving the quad toe loop for the short program.

He hadn’t been training the quad toe loop when he first got back on the ice, because frankly it scared him: it was the jump that caused his injury. But after Challenge – only about a month ago – he started to train it again. The first one he tried, he landed. He had been trying quad loops, because they didn’t affect his injured foot. His Salchow, toe loop and Axels had been affected by his injury.

Nadeau sailed into the Canadian championships, feeling confident, with the goal of finishing in the top three. But in the short program, he finished fifth, after an explosive triple Axel. But then he landed his quad toe loop on two feet and stepped out of it. Then he singled a loop. Because he hadn’t been able to make the quad into a combination, he had to try and make the loop one, but he was able only to eke out a single toe loop. He earned zero points for that element.

“I was not stressed, but I was really pumped to try the quad toe and I was really happy about that, even though it was not the best landing in town,” he said. “At least it turned and I got it clean for the first time.

“So finally, the quad is the next step. It is so hard. When you are going about it, you are like: ‘Oh my god, it’s the quad now. It’s the quad.’ And now I didn’t feel like that today. It was more like the rest of my program. I was going into it relaxed.

“Then I didn’t do a worse entry into the triple loop, ever,” he said. “I knew. I did my crosscut and I was like: ‘Oh no, It’s so going to be bad. My entry was so bad and then it popped into a SINGLE! And since you need to do a triple-double at least, I thought: ‘I can’t even do my combination. It was kind of messed up.”

“But the spins were great. It was a good program in general, just the loop. I lost 10 points there. So it’s like, dumb. Like [72.82] with 10 points gone. That’s crazy. And such the worst error – the loop. Like I’m trying the quad loop in the long program and I’m missing the triple in the short? “

If he’d landed the loop the way he intended, he would have finished second in the short program, behind Patrick Chan.

But Nadeau made up for it in the long, shocking the crowd with a quad loop landed on two feet. Judges deemed it rotated. “The quad turned in the program,” he said. “It was clean. I guess I can’t really say I was first in all of Canada to land it on one foot with zero GOE, but I guess we can say I was the first one to land it.” (It had -2 GOE across the board.)

In all, Nadeau has taken a big step up from last year. It’s what he does. He needed to get a triple Axel for a chance to get to junior worlds a couple of years ago, and he not only perfected one, he perfected a second one in combination and won the spot. “At the beginning, it was difficult,” Desjardins said. “But in the last year, it was easy.”

Same with the rest, he said. Because Nadeau is so tall, “we need to work on edges,” Desjardins said. “I think the edges work a lot better now than last year.” Working with Shae-Lynn has really helped him.”

The program may not have been perfect, Desjardins said. But it was a big step. And they know the program will grow, be even more explosive. After all, in ways, the Desjardins picked Elvis music because both the singer and the skater are showmen. They like to entertain a crowd.

“It is really him,” Desjardins said.

So off Nadeau goes once again to the world junior figure skating championships in Taipei City March 15 to 19. In his Blue Suede Shoes.

Keegan Messing: his excellent adventure

OTTAWA

Finally, they got Keegan Messing, a 24-year-old high-flying, quad-jumping, tousle-headed guy from Alaska, who is just not like anybody else at all. At all.

Messing has been skating to Pink Panther for a couple of years now. I can’t explain how it fits, but it does. And what he did with The Pink (actually it’s a renewed version) in the crowded TD Place at the Canadian figure skating championships on Saturday defies description.

Surely the Canadian fans had seen nothing like it. As soon as he finished this memo to silliness, the crowd jumped to foot, cheering noisily. It was the loudest standing ovation of the week, all this for an American-turned Canadian who stands 5-foot-4.

He’s been skating for Canada for a few years now, but for the first time, Canada took notice.

How did it feel to finally be warmed by the embrace of the storied Canadian crowd? “It feels pretty danged awesome,” he said. And that’s the nut of Messing, not all chrome and glitter. He’s very real. Around the rink, he wears a black cowpoke hat.

“I really felt like I gave 110 per cent,” he said after he sped about the rink, springing up into quads and triple Axels with no warning and seemingly no preparation.

“The reason I say above 100 per cent is that I actually threw different choreography moves inside that program that I’ve never done before,” he said proudly, the flush of excitement sitting on his brow.

He did it because of a symbiotic meeting of minds, forged in a few instants. “The crowd was giving it back to me,” he said. “They were fuelling me and I was fuelling them. It was, I have to say, the best performance I have ever given. Not the strongest skate, but it definitely was the best performance I have ever given.”

At one point, Messing skidded onto his behind after a triple flip near the end of his routine. But he brushed the ice off his boots with a thought, got up, shrugged and continued. A large section of the crowd burst into loud laughter.

“I could see their faces when I fell,” he said. “I came up and their faces were kind of down. They were disappointed. I came up and smiled. I looked at them, and their faces lit right back up. And the support was there and it was a fantastic feeling.”

He knew he had the crowd by the quadruple toe loop, the first jump in his routine, one that earned him a mass of +2s and a couple of +3s. He learned something from Alberta choreographer Lance Vipond (the architect of Kaetlyn Osmond’s stunning short program to Edith Piaf), who revamped the centre portion of his Pink Panther routine and made it shiny new.

Vipond told him he had to capture the crowd early in a routine. The earlier the better. As soon as the music starts. He had only 20 seconds from the start of his routine to the quad toe loop. And that’s when he laid the groundwork.

“Going into it, I have to be pretty out, like from the heart, with the same amount of effort that I put into a quad,” he said. “And it really seemed like the audience fed off of it and it was great.”

Messing has never been so ready for these moments although he trains by himself with Austrian-born coach Ralph Burghart, a tall slender reed of a man with tousle hair, too, down his shoulders, a rock-band look.

“My practices coming into this, this whole year have been building to this point,” Messing said. Because he trains alone, his practices have an up and down swing, good one day, not so good another time. But this year, he’s dug in, able to keep competitive fires burning in the north. “I came here feeling ready,” he said.

He wasn’t so pleased about his short program, in which he finished eighth with a couple of falls. It was a rough go. When he hit the ice for the long, he could see that the crowd had looked past his earlier miscues and appreciated the performance. “That was amazing,” he said. He finished fifth overall, good enough to make the national team.

Messing lives in a world far removed from skyscrapers and bistros. It has made him what he is. He jokes that he has a secret compartment in his knees with hidden springs and that’s what gives him that quick lift into big jumps.

But really, it’s the athletic side of his youth that perhaps led him to this. No figure skater on the planet has ever prepared for a career in the sport like this guy. “We have an 18-foot wing set in our backyard with ropes and swing sets on,” he said.

“We have a 20-foot climbing tree . We took all the branches off and then we drilled holes into it.”

He and his brothers would swing their way up the tree, using pegs planted into the holes. The rule was: you can’t use your feet to make the climb.

“When kids my age were using the monkey bars, me and my brothers were on top of the monkey bar, walking on top of it and giving our parents heart attacks,” he recalled.

“My babysitter always made us wear helmets when she watched us,” he said.
“Get your bike helmets on. NOW!” she’d say.

This would take place on the swing, made of angle irons and a beam across the top. The beam had a swing and a rope that one could put ones foot in, through something that looked like a fishing buoy. There was a platform up there, where they could do backflips. Helmets indeed!

Whatever it all taught him, it is made him entirely likeable. Moments after his rousing free, he peered at a TV set, watching the next contender, cheering him on. The skater was attempting a quad Salchow, could have defeated Messing in fact.

“Come on, you’ve got this,” he said to the tiny figure on the screen.

“We all train too hard,” he said. “I really wish the best for everyone. It’s too hard to wish ill on anyone.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moore-Towers and Marinaro, their broken Hallelujah

OTTAWA

They look ready. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro fly around the ice, all velvet black and frothy grey-pink – and sparkle, too, of course. But it hasn’t been an easy road to this Canadian figure skating championship for this team looking to finally make a mark.

Concussion. Nuff said. Neither knew how hard it could be.

It all started innocuously enough. They were training in Montreal last Aug. 3, attempting a jump combination when Moore-Towers fell – right in the path of her partner. It all happened in a split second, so quickly. There was no avoiding it. Marinaro collided with her head, her temple actually.

“It was such a silly, small thing,” she said. “If you were watching it from the side, you wouldn’t think anything was wrong. But it was just so right on my temple and it shifted everything just so.”

Moore-Towers had suffered a concussion earlier in her career – as it turns out, not nearly so serious as this one – so she knew immediately what had happened. Nobody else really noticed how painfully dramatic this little accident was. It didn’t look like a train wreck.

They had a competition in two days, and Moore-Towers burst into tears. Coach Bruno Marcotte, concerned, asked her if she was nervous, perhaps with this test in the offing.

Moore-Towers likes to think of herself as tough. Most pair skaters are, particularly gusty pair females. She did not feel well. She threw up immediately and felt very dizzy.

“I was a little bit in denial,” she admitted. “I thought it would be fine.”

They actually competed at that summer provincial event, and they competed well.

Afterward, Moore-Towers took about three days off and the team devised a plan for them to train a little bit, day by day.

They thought they’d be better by the time the national training camp rolled around a month later. They went out on the ice, but kept the big dramatic elements under wraps. They were to have competed at the U.S. International Classic at Salt Lake City. They wanted to. They had to skip it. Of course, Salt Lake City is at altitude, too. Not the best plan to go.

She wasn’t improving. “I don’t think we shut it down enough,” she said. “The difficult part about concussions is sometimes in the mornings, I felt really good, and so we would do a little bit more and a little bit more. And then it gets to be the night and it’s very not okay.” Those brief good times proved to be nasty teasers.

The worst were the constant headaches. Still, Moore-Towers convinced herself she could push through those the way she always pushed through injury. But even difficult were the bouts of dizziness and disorientation and the feeling of nausea that wrapped her like a heavy blanket. That scared her more.

Having a high heart rate is not the way to go for someone with a head injury. Training was not the bet thing.

‘It’s a very frustrating injury because I can’t physio it, really,” she said. “I can’t rehab it. The only thing I could do is rest and not read a book and not really be in the sunlight. “

She had just started to take French lessons at university and she loved it, could see the progress. But that was all put on hold. Best not to make the brain active, at all, at all. Frustrating.

‘It’s tough because it changes your whole life,” she said.

She heard from those close to her that her personality had changed as well. But she liked her perky self. “I don’t want to be dramatic about it, but it’s something that changes more than injuries I’ve had in the past,” she said. “It really has a lot more to do with everything.” Marinaro tried to tell her. He’s been the voice of reason through it all.

“Patience is a virtue I have none of,” she admitted.

Finally it began to sink in, especially since Moore-Towers’ symptoms got worse. Her head got worse. Her nausea got worse.

Finally on Sept. 23, the coaching team took Moore-Towers off the ice altogether. She didn’t get back on the ice until early November. She spent all of October off the ice.

They had been assigned to two Grand Prix events and they got back onto the ice just before the first one, Cup of Russia. But it was too late to be ready for that one so they had to withdraw.

But next, they eyed NHK Trophy. “It’s my most favourite place,” she said. “There was extra incentive to really get better.”

They were skating well. Maybe they could have gone. But Moore-Towers and her doctor decided that the long flight, the jet lap, the air pressure and all wouldn’t do her any favours. If she had done it, she would have lost a couple of days completely. The choice was to do either NHK or Challenge. With Challenge they had an extra 1 ½ weeks to train and repair themselves – and no travel. They opted for Challenge. “It sucked, but it was the smarter decision,” Moore-Towers said.

They had run through their free skate only three times before they competed at Challenge. Their short program was a welcome breeze. The long program? Not so much.

“The long was extremely tough,” Marinaro said. “It was extremely demanding but it was what we needed. We needed to get that under our belt to come here so this wouldn’t be our first event.”

They ran up against their anguish and attitudes and learned from it. At Challenge, they wanted to chalk up big scores, to make a mark, to prove they were back and get a little recognition. The problem was: they went in with zero confidence.

“We didn’t believe in our long program because we didn’t have a lot of mileage on it,” Moore-Towers said. “We didn’t believe in our ability to get through the long. And when you don’t think you can get through it, the elements became much more challenging.”

They learned from this. They did not embarrass themselves. They don’t regret it. They found a clearer picture of what they needed to do. Choreographer Julie Marcotte worked steadfastly with them to understand their routine, what had to shine from their faces.

And it does.

After being away from a sport they love for three months, Marinaro says they do not enjoy it more than they did. “But we definitely cherish it more.”

And they cherish each other more. “If the concussion taught me anything, it improved our relationship in areas that I didn’t even know we needed improvement,” Moore-Towers said.

It forced them to communicate with each other. It forced Moore-Towers to be honest about how she was feeling, rather than button it up, as she was accustomed to do. She calls it “sugar coating” things. In doing so, she appreciated Marinaro more for the way he acted throughout the journey.

He didn’t put pressure on her. He was understanding. “I felt extremely lucky to have Mike through it all,” she said.

And it has made Marinaro grow as a person as well. Before the accident, he admits he took their career together for granted. Why wouldn’t he? The sun would come up each day, just the same, wouldn’t it?

Marinaro found this is not so. There are no guarantees in life. “I thought it was just going to be like this forever,” he said. “But then I realized this is not the case. This is going to end some day. I don’t want it to be right now but there will definitely be an end some day.”

And so they need to take in each moment, they say. They need to strive for the stars every day. These thoughts have made them improve even faster. They are trying to make some magic. Maybe now they can.

 

 

 

 

The magic of Canada’s junior men

OTTAWA

Stephen Gogolev looks like somebody’s lost little brother who wandered up on the medal podium for junior men, slipping out unnoticed from the cheap seats, looking for ice cream.

But no. The 12-year-old with the shy glance won the darned thing. He could have taken his opponents out by the knees, because he stood so close to that part of their anatomies. But no, he became the Canadian junior men’s champion with stealth and talent, two triple Axels and a quad Salchow attempt and a jump series he never should have landed but did.

On the night in question (Wednesday), Gogolv set out to do an ambitious triple flip – loop – triple Salchow thing, but when he landed the triple flip, he appeared in big trouble. It just didn’t come down well. But he didn’t stop. He did it, somehow. And up in the stands, watching incredulously were multiple world champion Kurt Browning, his old friend Mike Slipchuck, now the high-performance director for Skate Canada (and winner of the men’s senior title 25 years ago) and the ever-cheerful songbird Scott Rachuk, a man with his eyes on talent for Skate Ontario.

All three almost fell out of their seats at the utter audacity of tiny Gogolev. “God!” they all voiced.

Had they just witnessed him pulling it off? It seemed unbelievable. ‘He had no earthly right to try that last triple,” said Browning, still reeling from the display. “And he still did it. He didn’t give up. It’s not like you need this, you don’t need this. Maybe he thinks he did.”

Gogolev, second after the short program, won the long program with 142.88 points, almost five points ahead of the spectacular 16-year-old Conrad Orzel. Overall, Gogolev won the gold medal with 210.06 points over Orzel with 206.06. It was a most entertaining contest.

Browning extended his hand to Gogolev off the ice. Gogolev’s eyes lit up at the sight of him. They know each other. Browning first saw Gogolev at a summer camp when he was about eight years old. They spent 20 minutes together. Gogolev scarcely seemed to know what to think: Browning was loud and unpredictable and lively. Gogolev is a person of another ilk.

“He’s got a very kind heart,” Browning said of the youngster. “He’s a good boy. He donates triple Axels to charity.”

And although he did not land the quad Salchow in his free – he landed his first one in a qualifying event leading to Canadians last month – coach Brian Orser said it wasn’t far off.

“It looks like everything is where it should be,” said Browning, the first man to land a quad almost 28 years ago. “He’s like a well-organized kitchen. You don’t have to look for that paring knife. It’s always where it is.

“It’s just very under control. With him, you can sit back and relax and watch him skate and you know it’s going to be 95 per cent of what the potential is.”

Browning told Gogolev what he thought of him: “”You’re not big on the ice,” he said. “But you share. You don’t keep it to yourself. You’re very humble but you share. And it’s not gregarious and it’s not outgoing but it’s real. It is really nice to watch.”

Gogolev unleashed two triple Axels and they are as textbook a jump as one will see – and he’s coached by a guy – Brian Orser – who broke ground as one of the first to do a jump that some find more difficult than a quad.

As for that magical triple flip – loop – triple Salchow, Slipchuk said that Gogolev has a keen sense of rotation and knows instinctively where he is in the air. “That’s something you either have or you don’t,” Slipchuk said. “He obviously has that quick twitch. It’s fun to watch him.”

Gogolev is currently training a quad Lutz and a quad toe as well as the quad Salchow. So is his new nemesis, Orzel, who defeated him in the short program and finished with the silver medal. Gogolev is too young to even go out on the junior circuit, but Orzel would like a spot at the world junior championships in Taipei City. It’s crowded at the top, though, with a couple of guys of junior age, who currently compete nationally at the senior level (last year’s world silver medalist Nicholas Nadeau, and Roman Sadovsky, now a clubmate.)

Orzel has been an explosive new addition to the ranks pushing up against the big senior boys. He’s extremely talented and showed grit in his long-program effort.

He didn’t go into it with all of his limbs intact.

“I had a tough time in the practice,” he admitted. He did something to his knee, perhaps on a quad toe attempt, because the knee hurt most when he tried that jump again. He was in such pain, he could barely do a triple Axel. “Thanks to adrenalin and the whole crowd and the energy, I just really focused on my training and not on the pain,” he said. “And that’s why I was able to pull it off.”

Orzel landed that magical quad in the long program (even though he hadn’t been able to do a quad toe in practice), and a couple of triple Axels too, one in combination with a triple toe loop. He sailed along at the top of his game and only in the closing moments did he fall on a triple loop.

He landed his first quad toe at a Junior Grand Prix in Dresden, Germany, but found that his nerves kicked in for the first couple of times he tried it in competition. Now, it almost seems old hat.

Next year, he’d like to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final, but sometime in the summer, he may start working on his other quads. He says his quad Salchow, quad loop and quad Lutz are all there. He’s landed each one at least once. His main focus will be a quad Lutz.

All this despite the fact that he has grown about nine inches over the past two years. He’s a different person from the boy who skated to tumbleweeds a few years ago.

They are the future, these two. For now, they looked so very fascinating, Gogolev as Little Lord Fauntleroy, creamy jabot and all; Orzel blazing onto the stage in the brightest of bright emerald greens. That’s just the way they are. Certainly not two peas in a pod.

 

Bugs and ice dancers

OTTAWA

Paul Poirier and his moustache were ready to go at the first practice session for senior ice dancers today at the revamped TD Place arena. But his partner, Piper Gilles wasn’t.

Poirier had to face the music alone, since Gilles fell ill yesterday after arriving in Ottawa and was busy upchucking elsewhere.

“We think it’s the flu,” Poirier said today after practice. “Right now we are just taking it practice to practice. And we’ve been just trying to do everything we can to compete at our best [in the short dance Friday].”

Gilles is battling this virus with rest. Because it’s a virus, there’s not much you can do about it, Poirier said. “But I think we are extremely well prepared. We’ve done run-throughs sick this year. It’s a matter of getting as much energy and fluid and food back into her body for tomorrow.”

Poirier spends a lot of time in Gilles’ arms, breathing the same air she breathes, and he’s probably embraced that bug as much as anybody can. He said he’s taking as many precautions as possible. Washing hands. Staying as far away from his partner as possible, perhaps. “So far, so good,” he said.

Today he had to practice the free dance alone, and that proved terribly difficult, since it’s a tango. “It’s very reactionary so a lot of my movements don’t make much sense without her, and some aren’t certainly possible.”

So Poirier focused on what he could do: some twizzles, marvelous stroking about the rink, some footwork. “Make sure that I’m just in the best place physically and mentally to get on the ice,” he said. “I just wanted to get on the ice and feel what it feels like.”

It’s hour by hour. Viruses have their own time schedule. Hopefully Gilles can will it into bay.

And if she does decide to go for it, she won’t be the first skater who felt a lump in the throat through all the strenuous elements of skating. Once at junior nationals, a young male skater pushed himself to the utmost, and suddenly took a detour to the boards, and left his lunch on the other side. Stuff happens.

 

Where have all the pair skaters gone

OTTAWA

Patricia Andrew is a 4-foot-8 dynamo, looks a tad like 2002 Olympic pair champion Jamie Sale, and is an emerging force in pair skating.

She’s only 11 years old.

She and her partner Paxton Knott surprised everybody, perhaps even themselves, perhaps anybody who put reason above spirit, when they won the silver medal at the novice level at the national figure skating championships on Wednesday.

They had been third to Quebec-trained Chloe Panetta and Steven Lapointe in the short program. (Should we mention there were only five pairs in the novice event?)

Andrew and Knott had been together only since September. Somehow, in the four months that whizzed by as they toiled at the London Competitive Skating Centre, they learned how to set sail a nice little double twist, a floating lift, and a throw double Salchow, just as the music launched into “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and forgive me if I misplaced a consonant or two.

They were like, together, the little engine that could. When they launched their side-by-side spins, tiny Andrew made the vocal calls for the team to shift positions, her little voice delivering the message quite well enough. As coach Alison Purkiss says, she’s the boss.

Knott couldn’t stop grinning through the whole thing. He had found his home.

They out-finished teams from Quebec and Alberta, chalking up 92.91 points, their best score ever, to win that silver medal, about 20 points behind the more experienced gold medalists. Mind you, Panetta is only 13, Lapointe, 19, but they train every day with talented senior skaters, such as two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and world team candidates Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro.

The secret weapon possessed by Andrew and Knott is coach Purkiss, a former pair skater who is an unsung gem in the skating world. She also coached new junior gold medalists Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud, crowned within an hour of the novice contest. Neither Andrew nor Walsh had skated pairs before Purkiss gently gathered them into the pair fold. Both had been lifted – for fun – by experienced male pair skaters during club shows. They had been exposed to it all at an early age.

Walsh and the very talented Michaud got together only four months ago. Walsh, who also competes in the junior women’s event, which ends Thursday night, never imagined she’d be standing atop a national podium a few months after she signed up. She gritted her teeth through the steep learning curve she experienced with death spirals – and she hasn’t had time to learn all four of them, just the ones she needed at hand. She still hasn’t been taught all the lifts – just the ones needed to get to Ottawa. The first lift Walsh learned was one of the most difficult. She skipped all the rest of the steps, just to be ready.

“She did her job,” Purkiss said. Michaud sells it. He’s also a good patient partner, a budding star, as is Andrew with her partner. She’s led him gently to success, too. They’ve all done what they could in the time they had, with what they had, a little collection of happy misfits.

Last year, Michaud won the novice title with partner Hope McLean, and they lit up the Halifax arena with their emotional Tango Roxanne, from the Moulin Rouge list. The piece, choreographed by Purkiss, sent shivers down spines. In the end, the crowd gave a standing ovation to a novice pair. After they finished, a judge walked by Purkiss and blurted: “That gave me goosebumps.”

Right now, pair skaters are as scarce as fiddlesticks on a frosty January day. Only five pairs contested the novice event. Also only five showed up for the junior event. And Wednesday, rising Canadian senior stars Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau were forced to withdraw after Seguin suffered a concussion in December – and hasn’t yet been cleared to compete. That withdrawal drops the senior numbers to seven.

Yes, Canada, traditionally a force in pairs at the highest levels, is running a little short. And the country has never been so short of teams.

“I come from a time when we needed to eliminate pairs [leading to the national championships in qualifying events called divisionals, now called Challenge],” Purkiss said. “There were alternate spots, particularly in novice and junior.”

Actually, this week, there had been seven pairs listed to start juniors, but some dropped out along the way for reasons that had nothing to do with the perceived dangers of pair skating. Missing in action from pairs competition this week: One had a blister that became infected from an ill-fitting skating boot. One got an ankle injury that occurred during a foot fumble while walking. In shoes. A young pair trained by former Olympic pair competitor Annabelle Langlois dropped a coffee mug on his foot and suffered a stress fracture. Really? Really.

There are so few pairs on the national scene (actually it’s a world problem) that Skate Canada had a meeting of pair coaches this week to discuss the problem and figure out how they could change things.

“It’s hard to get people involved in pairs,” said Langlois, based in Calgary with husband and former pair partner Cody Hay.

It seems that folk think it best to fulfill their singles career until they can’t do it any more, then switch to pairs. But pair skating requires many more sorts of skills that can’t be learned overnight. If they show up later in their careers, it can just be too late.

Strangely enough, there is a statistic showing that some skaters that have doubled up on disciplines, are not going to route of the more usual singles/pairs combination, but are moving more toward singles/ice dancing.

Case in point: junior singles skater Bruce Waddell also skates with Natalie D’Allessandro, with whom he won the novice dance title this week. In fact, there is only one team around Canada that is currently doing singles/pairs doubles right now.

Michaud lost his former pair partner to dance. She no longer wished to be thrown or tossed or generally soar through the air any more. Pair females have to like this sort of thing.

Still, Purkiss says parents need to know that if skaters are taught the skills when they are very young, they don’t have to start out with dangerous feats. “Everybody seems to think you have to be like Meagan and Eric, but we have to remember that they are two-time world champions and they had to start somewhere as well,” she said.

Another problem? Canada is a large country. And if an intrepid coach finds a male skater from Vancouver, who is just the one for a female skater in Toronto, somebody has to relocate, leave home, and incur extra expenses. “That’s a big hurdle at a young age,” Langlois said.

Her novice team did, too, even if the miles weren’t vast. Novice pair Josh Venema moved to Calgary from Edmonton. Langlois scouted out his partner, Takara Dei, who she found in Grand Prairie. They’ve been together only since July. “It’s a big commitment,” Langlois said.

It’s just easier in Montreal, which has a large population and the most powerful pair school in the country.

To salve the fears of worried parents, Canada has a clever juvenile pair program that does not allow overhead lifts. Purkiss has a juvenile team that has spent a year learning how to do an overhead lift off the ice in preparation for moving up to the pre-novice level.

Langlois feels that some pair scouting is in order, whether nationally or regionally. “People need to have a talent identification so they know what their best opportunity in skating is, because unless parents are educated about it, they may miss the boat completely,” she said.

All these potential teams need is a start, even if they are ultimately mismatched in the beginning. Few skaters stay with the same partners throughout their careers. Dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are an exception (19 years in the trenches,) Purkiss says. Breakups need not be traumatic. Hopefully, by the time they are junior skaters, they will have met their matches.

 

 

 

Conrad Orzel: his head in the game

OTTAWA

 

These days, one has to look up, way up, to meet Conrad Orzel’s gaze. Yes, he’s grown, in many ways really.

This new Orzel, now statuesque at 5-foot-11, at age 16, has taken the lead in a very very tough junior men’s division after the short program at the Canadian championships this week. With 68.16 points, he’s 1.98 points ahead of wonderkid Stephen Gogolev, who is competing at the junior level for the first time this year, after dominating the novice championships last year in Halifax.

Gogolev is only 12, for heaven’s sake. And just turned 12 last month. He won’t even be able to go out on the junior international circuit until the 2018-2019 season. He lands quads with aplomb. He comes up to Orzel’s armpit.

They couldn’t be more different. Gogolev has that softly flowing blond silky hair that flutters in the breeze he creates. He floats about the ice, hardly making a sound. Orzel is an explosion.

In the short, Gogolev stepped out of a triple Axel that went so high, maybe almost too high, and he squeaked out a triple Lutz –triple toe loop after almost coming to a stop after the Lutz. Miraculous. Orzel landed his triple Axel, which didn’t flow out, nailed that triple Lutz – triple toe loop, and landed a triple loop, as easy as pie. (although I’ve never found pie easy, but there you go.). Little things make a difference in this game.

Besides, for the past week, Gogolev has been ill, suffering a fever and coughing his lungs out. All of this hasn’t helped the Gogolev magic. We’re not quite seeing vintage Gogolev, if you can say “vintage” and “12-year-old” in the same sentence.

Last month, Gogolev won the qualifying event, Challenge, with 215.01 points, getting there with 76.24 for the short program. Orzel was third.

Yes, Orzel has grown.

“Over the past few years, since I’ve been in high school, I’ve had a growth spurt,” he said. “A lot of people struggle with this, but I think it has actually benefitted me. I think it has given me more strength and for some reason, more core control.”

Orzel landed the first quad in his life (a quad toe loop) at his second Junior Grand Prix event in Dresden Germany during the fall. Huge. He intends to try one in the long program on Wednesday.

But he is so talented, so precocious, he has more up his sleeve that we may see in years to come. Just for fun, he’s been playing with the ultra difficult quad Lutz – and he’s landed one. During a team day for Ontario, Orzel told his coach he was actually going to land one. And he did. “It was really exciting,” said Najarro, who has been coaching him since he was five years old.

He’s dabbled with the quad Salchow. He’s done a quad loop. He has very very fast twitch muscle, He can explode, like nobody’s business. Sometimes too quick. His coach, Eva Najarro, works to keep him calm and patient.

He came to the table in the short program with music he loves: “Secrets” by One Republic and “Beethoven’s Five Secrets” by The Piano Guys.” Who found it? Former skater Alexandra Najarro, daughter of Eva. Spotify proved a gold mine. Orzel listened to it for five minutes and knew it was perfect. Former ice dancer, Shae Zukiwsky, choreographed both his programs for the first time.

“They are really good together,” (Eva) Najarro said. “I can see Conrad in that program. I think this program is really him and that’s why he feels it.”

Najarro has called on the help of coach Joanne McLeod in Vancouver to help with Orzel’s quad education. He goes there in the summers. He has’t been working on quads so much this season because Najarro wanted to prepare him for the work at hand. But maybe in the spring.

“It’s going to be something to think about next year,” Orzel said. Najarro said his practices have improved this year and so have his spins, footwork and edges. It’s all important.

Last year, Orzel took a hard fall during the men’s event, and landed on his head. Miraculously, he picked himself up and continued. And even more miraculously, he did not suffer a concussion and all the aftereffects that come with it.

The next week, his friends had wondered about his black eye. He had to tell them he had fallen on his head at nationals. “I guess I have a hard head,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

Weaver and Poje: home at last

Yes, they had won medals at two world championships, chalked up undefeated strings on Grand Prix circuits, ruled Canada’s ice dancers for two years, and earned sheets of standing ovations for their heartfelt routines. But still, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje felt something was missing.

A flutter, a little heat, perhaps. A new energy. After a stellar Grand Prix season last year, they had finished only fifth at the 2016 world championship in Boston. And 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir had announced a comeback for this season. The ice dancing world was getting crowded at the top.

Still, it wasn’t that, they say. “Regardless of their comeback, we knew we needed some new spark to our skating,” Weaver said. “And something inspiring. [Virtue and Moir] only fuelled the fire.

“Their comeback, it’s neither here nor there,’’ she continued. “It’s not involving us. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t worked harder because of it. And that’s just the competitors in us. We’re natural competitors and I think that’s how we’ve made our career as successful as it has been so far.”

Weaver and Poje, who have won the two Canadian titles that Virtue and Moir missed by stepping aside for two years, haven’t gone head-to-head with the dance virtuosos this season yet. That will change next week at the Canadian championships in Ottawa.

“I’m not really concerned how our results will be against them,” Weaver said. “We’re still Kaitlyn and Andrew. People appreciate what we do, thankfully, and we love that they do. We bring something different than anybody else. And that’s because we’re us.

“They have no bearing on that, and will not be able to take that away from us.”

Well, an “us” with a little extra spark this year, down to the fingerless gloves and the heat they engender in their Michael Jackson hip-hop short dance. More on that later.

Coaches Anjelika Krylova and Pasquale Camerlengo in Detroit knew something was missing too. Change will sometimes  fix that. And so they suggested the Canadian team go to the court of Nikolai Morozov, who hasn’t worked in the ice dancing world for the past two years. He says he just didn’t like ice dance any more.

“I didn’t work for two years,” he said. “Not anywhere. I didn’t see competition. I didn’t do anything.

“I was tired. I didn’t want to do anything. I’ve been working since 1999 with very high level skaters and this was very hard. I didn’t see my daughter, so …I just decided to stop.”

His daughter, Annabelle, currently lives with him.

Morozov had been involved with the coaching and choreography of a wide array of singles skaters (Shizuka Arakawa, winner of the 2006 Olympic gold medal, 2002 Olympic champ Alexei Yagudin, and world champion Daisuke Takahashi), countless ice dancers, including 2003 world champions Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, and most recently, he’d worked as the choreographer for 2014 Olympic pair champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov.

Still, the dangling of world silver medalists before his nose caught Morozov’s attention. He took on Weaver and Poje, finding them easy to work with because of their professionalism. His biggest job, he says, is to keep them from skating too much.

The 41-year-old Russian-born coach first met with the Canadians in June in Moscow for a week, he said. “They are beautiful on the ice,” he said. “They are good skaters. I don’t know why they couldn’t make medals before, because it is so easy to work with them. I is surprising.”

The deal is that Krylova and Camerlengo still serve as mentors, while Weaver and Poje’s muse, Shae-Lynn Bourne, has not worked with them this season. She was briefly married to Morozov years ago. “She’ll always be a part of our lives,” Weaver said. “We still keep up with her so often.”

Morozov was sitting in the kiss-and-cry corral with Tatiana Tarasova when Bourne and Kraatz won the Grand Prix Final in Kitchener, Ont., a couple of months before the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Bourne and Kraatz won that event by using a memorable free dance to Michael Jackson music.  Perhaps not so strangely, Morozov has led Weaver and Poje to a Michael Jackson medley for their short dance, too.

In the beginning, Morozov fashioned for them a country swing that the Canadian team showed off at the national team training camp last September. “We worked really hard through the summer with Nikolai and his new ways,” Poje said. “And we really thought we had the right direction for us with our original short dance. And it was so much fun to perform that country swing that we really pushed ourselves to get it ready for camp.”

But when they arrived at camp, and monitors were scribbling away their thoughts, Morozov said to his new team: “I like this short dance, but let’s try something else, just for fun.”

Michael Jackson took over. “Just knowing [Morozov’s] ideas, we really fully committed to trying something completely out of the blue,” Poje said. “And we knew from day one that this was the right direction for us. We fully accepted.” Out came the fingerless gloves.

The music is fun, Weaver said. “Everybody loves MJ music and it’s easy to dance to.

“And you can just groove and have fun and let loose,” Weaver said. “Right away, we were gelling with this style. It was daunting to take on hip hop because we had to be very strategic about how to transfer that onto the ice, which  has proven difficult in the past.” But along with Morozov came top-notch dance teachers and helpers and choreographers to figure it all out.

While Bourne and Kraatz used well-known Jackson tunes, Weaver and Poje are opting for Jackson that is “not necessarily oversued.” A female voice, Judith Hill, sings “The Way You Make Me Feel,” while Jackson is on board for “Dangerous” and “Jam.”

They trusted Morozov, they said, because one of his biggest strengths as a teacher is “packaging and finding an incredible identity for skaters,” Weaver said. “He created [Alexei] Yagudin, he made Brian Joubert’s “Matrix,” and name one person he’s done something with, and he’s given them something memorable.”

“So when he says try something else, we have to jump in with both feet and trust. Seeing as we made this big change, there is no reason to hold back. We did it and I’m so, so happy that we were brave.”

Because of the change, Weaver and Poje had to miss their first international event. They just weren’t ready. And with Grand Prix assignments outside of Canada, they’ve been a bit of a mystery back home. They now train in Hackensack, N.J., and also at the major Russian training centre in Novogrosk, a suburb of Moscow.

They are also used the tried and true skating routine – used by so many – Concierto de Aranjuez, that should play to their emotional strengths in the free dance. This best-loved guitar concerto, written by blind Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo in 1939, is addictive. He used to play this music, night after night, in the dark.

 

However, they did not qualify for the Grand Prix Final, an event they had won the past two years. “Sometimes you have to take one step back to take two steps forward,” Weaver said. The bright side? They were able to spend more time with Morozov, to knuckle down and perfect their opuses.

They feel rested and energized, coming into the Canadian championships next week. The major block standing in their way now is Virtue and Moir. Last spring, Weaver first expressed surprise at their comeback, but as is their custom, they forge ahead.

Is it awkward for Virtue and Moir, knowing they have elbowed aside a team that has carried the torch in their absence? No, says Virtue.

“We’ve been long-time fans of Kaitlyn and Andrew and long-time friends as well,” Virtue said. “We want them to have their best season yet. And we know that they are going to deliver exceptional performances in Ottawa and we’re going to have to be at our best. We’re grateful that there is such a strong Canadian team in ice dance and in all the other disciplines.”

Moir says he knows them as fierce competitors and they do not assume they will defeat them next week – although they expect to win if they deliver. “We haven’t pushed them down anywhere,” Moir said. “That has yet to be decided.

“There is going to be a fight and we are going to have to go head to head. That’s what competition is all about.”

Virtue and Moir have set world records this season: 80.50 for the short dance, and 197.22 total. Their free dance score of 116.72 is the second highest in history.

Weaver and Poje’s top scores are 73.78 for the short dance, 110.18 for the free and 182.93 for a total score.

The Osmond-Walia Accord

What a duo they are, Kaetlyn Osmond and her bright eyes, and the willowy, calm form of her coach Ravi Walia at rinkside.

They have grown simultaneously together in a difficult sport and are marching steadily (thundering actually) toward world attention. Never more so than this year, when Osmond has been busy defeating world champions and medalists. And this all on the brink of the Canadian championships next week in Ottawa, where Osmond’s goal is to make the world team this year. But she’s a solid factor to snatch back her national title from Alaine Chartrand and Gabby Daleman, too. There are only two world championship spots for three strong women vying for them.

This season, at the Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France, Osmond delivered scores never achieved by a Canadian woman in the current judging system. Her personal best total score of 212.45 points is the ninth highest score accomplished by a woman anywhere, still behind Yu Na Kim’s record of 228.56 attained at the Vancouver Olympics.

Her short program score of 75.54 – unleashed by judges for Osmond’s Edith Piaf medley – is also Canada’s highest, at eighth best in the world, not all that far behind the record holder, Russian Evgenia Medvedeva, who collected 79.21 at the Grand Prix Final in Marseille.

Osmond’s long program best of 136.91 is 13th highest in the world books, behind Medvedeva’s 150.10 from Boston worlds (you know the record that eclipsed Yu Na Kim’s record by four-hundredths of a point). Rochette at 131.28 is 20th on the list.

All season long, Osmond has been sending out smoke signals that she’s becoming a force on the world scene. When she won the Finlandia Trophy in Espoo, she defeated world champion and Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada, a revived Anna Pogorilaya (world bronze) and former world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. Actually,Osmond has defeated Tuktamysheva three times this season, also at Skate Canada and Cup of China.

At Skate Canada, Osmond, in winning the silver medal, defeated world silver medalist Satoko Miyahara. And at Cup of China, she won the short program over Elena Radionova, who roared back to take the overall gold.

At the Grand Prix Final, Osmond finished second, ahead of so many of the world’s best women, in the short program. She dropped to fourth overall, with a strong routine that had two mistakes. “I could watch her all day,” enthused one Eurosport commentator.

Yes, it’s been good this year, a definite turnaround from the previous season when she finished third at the national championships and didn’t even make the trip to Boston worlds. Osmond has a different twinkle this season, and it’s thanks to the soft-spoken Walia.

Osmond’s biggest blow came when she fractured her right fibula (the small bone of the lower leg) during a freak fall while training on Sept. 11, 2014. She missed the entire season. Walia had to navigate all of the swirling emotions, the heavy one at the back of all sorts of minds that perhaps, Osmond would never come back at all.

“I think it was a very good possibility that she would not skate again after she broke her leg,” Walia said. These thoughts entered his mind when she finally returned to the ice. And he could see that the task wasn’t so easy.

“I had to find ways to try to get that to happen,” said Walia, speaking of a comeback.

Walia remembers a day when her doctor told her she could finally start skating again on a Monday. But come Monday, Osmond didn’t show up. “Most athletes would probably have been back that day,” he said. “But I know that she was afraid.”

Walia got busy, trying to find ways to gently coax her back onto the ice, without her knowing that he was doing so. He called her a few times, talked to her about different things, about shows, some opportunities coming in the future. Mostly he was trying to lead her to remember what she loved about skating, to create that in her mind again. The message was an attempt to bring her back, but he never made it the purpose of the calls. It was always, on the surface of it, about something else.

To keep the love of skating alive in her eyes, he was trying to boost her confidence, lower her stress levels.

When Osmond did get back onto the ice, Walia had her do it in a private session, away from eyes and expectations and the sight of young kids whizzing around, doing what she could no longer do.

“I went on the ice with her and just talked,” he said. Osmond could only skate like a beginner. She couldn’t even turn backwards.

“I was talking to her and having conversations with her so she wouldn’t be thinking about skating,” Walia said.

Yes, it was a struggle. The first intent was to try to get her ready for the Canadian championships in January. But eventually it became clear she wouldn’t make it. It was just unrealistic. So they abandoned that pursuit, and with it came relief. “She wasn’t’ healed and she had another surgery,” Walia said. “She was having a lot of pain with the plate in her foot.”

When she had the plate removed in February of 2015, Osmond felt better. Things became more normal.  At first, finally back in the middle of March, still  she “was really not in a physically or mentally in a good place, maybe,” Walia said. “But it was a start. You have to start somewhere.”

Walia set small goals for her every few weeks. She accomplished them. The approach was slow, to be sure. But luckily, Osmond just happens to be a generally positive person. She has strength nobody even knows about. She’s very strong-minded. And she works hard.

When she came back at the start of the 2014-2015 season, she seemed ready. She won Nebelhorn. But then came Skate Canada and it was a definite setback.

“I had the most disastrous skate that I’ve ever done in competition,” she said of her 11th-place finish. And she had injured herself in practice. The success-failure thing threw her for a loop. She didn’t trust herself after that. Not her body. Not her mind.

Besides, what she saw out in the world shocked her. While she’d been recovering, she had retreated into a bubble. She stayed away from the skating world. She didn’t watch. When she returned: “I was almost in shock with how great the world competitors and even the Canadian skaters had gotten in that year,” she said. “I could see it wasn’t going to be as easy as it was in the past years when I had competed.” Confidence fizzled.

Then there was that momentous 2016 Canadian championship in Halifax, where she finished only third and missed the trip to the world championships. “It was an eye-opener and a kick in the butt for me,” she said.

She hadn’t realized how much faith she had lost in herself until that event. “I didn’t feel like myself at all,” she said. “I didn’t feel how I like to skate in competition.

“After my long program, I was upset, obviously, but I was more upset over the fact that I was able to finish that program and not feel like I actually skated. It’s hard to explain how that feels. I just didn’t feel like myself on the ice and I don’t like that feeling.”

But with Walia at her side, Osmond picked herself back up and restarted her career. At the Four Continents championships in February, she finished sixth overall, but skated well in the long program to be fourth in a good field. Placements weren’t as important as the effort.

“She’s a very positive person,” Walia said. “At the rink each day, she’s always very happy.  I wouldn’t necessarily see that she was devastated. I know she had high goals and that was a big setback for her [the 2016 Canadian championships.] But I think, in the end, it taught her a lot. “

After Four Continents, Walia and Osmond had a discussion about what they could improve for the future. At the centre of it all was Walia’s realization that Osmond was no longer the coltish 16-year-old that had burst onto the scene with such oomph a few years ago. She was now 20. “She was a completely different person,” he said.

“I gained a lot of maturity over the last year,” Osmond said. “I gained a lot more self-awareness. Last year was such an eye-opener, knowing that I wasn’t going to go out and be perfect every time. That’s something I had to come to grips with in practice.”

This season, it’s being mindful about what she needs. And she knows what she needs and now to get herself in the right frame of mind, what state she has to be in, how she’s training, how her body is working and feeling. Walia also nudged her toward talking to a sports psychologist.

“One thing that has improved is her ability to work and her love of the work,” Walia said. “This has improved compared to when she was a teenager. She can handle it. She pushes herself and it’s never a struggle for her. “

Walia, a 43-year-old former Canadian bronze medalist (behind Sebastien Britten in 1995), has been just the ticket for Osmond. He knows what it’s like to comeback from injuries. His crowning moment was at Skate Canada in 1997, when he landed a quadruple toe loop – triple toe loop combination at a time when such things weren’t so common. Walia got a standing ovation.

Since then, he worked at his coaching skills by being an assistant to Canadian skating guru Barbara Graham in Alberta until she died. And he became a certified technical specialist. Osmond came into Walias’s coaching fold when she was only 10 years old.

“Ravi has been unbelievable,” Osmond said. “Last year, he expected the season I was having more than I did. He knew how to build me up after each competition, whether to calm me down after I did well, or build me back up after something not so great.”

Osmond describes him as a “great motivational coach,” trying to get her to enjoy skating. “He knows what I need to do on the ice to make myself feel better. And that’s what he’s been doing all year this year, to keep my confidence up, pushing me in ways that boost my confidence, to make me push myself every day.”

Walia has been on top of everything: getting her to see a sports psychologist, getting to see a physiotherapist, ensuring she does warm-ups and cool-downs. “He knows my body better than I do,” Osmond said.

Last year was a learning experience for both of them. But they are both coming out on the other side, and it’s working, in spades.

The message and the lesson from all of the tough experiences she’s had in the past couple of years, says Osmond, is more of a message for herself: that she could come back from anything. “I want to show everyone that it doesn’t matter how many setbacks you have in life,” she said. “It might take a while, but you can come back.”

And it also helps to have a friend in your corner, thoughtfully and carefully pointing the way.