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.