Weaver and Poje watch flood from afar

Skate Canada photo

 

Ask Kaitlyn Weaver what her hometown is and she replies: “My HOME hometown?”

Yes. Although Weaver became a Canadian citizen in 2009, her HOME hometown is Houston, Texas. And who needs to say anything else right now?

Of course, since last Friday, Houston has been lashed by a Category 4 hurricane, Harvey. There have been fewer than a dozen hurricanes of this strength to hit Houston this past century. Almost 60,000 structures in the area have been damaged so far and there are sure to be more. More than a quarter of them are destroyed.

Weaver’s childhood home is under five feet of water. Gone. This week, Weaver tweeted out a row of broken red hearts. Devastated would be the word she would use for all of this.

Thankfully, Weaver’s parents don’t live in the childhood home anymore. They are high and dry in another section of Houston. But flooding is only a mile away. On Wednesday, Weaver’s father texted her that the sun had come out. But Houstonians’ battle to right this ship is far from over.

“My family is all safe,” she said. “But I’ve had very many close friends evacuated, who are losing their houses as we speak. It’s a very tragic environment down there right now.”

Still, she’s amazed at “the kindness and compassion” of human beings who have waded in to help. “The Houstonians and neighbouring counties and states have come to their rescue. And there’s just civilians rescuing people on jet skis. It’s amazing to see that in a troubled time like the world is in right now, that there are good people in the world who are willing to go out on a line, and save their fellow neighbours, no matter race, religion and anything else.”

Her family has been cooped up in their house for a week. The most dangerous thing, Weaver said, is to leave the house. “The highways are just not there anymore,” she said. “It’s tragic. I watched it on TV and it broke my heart to see familiar places where I grew up just totally demolished.

“It happens. It’s nature. People are doing the best they can and it’s incredible to see the help.”

Weaver and her ice dancing partner, Andrew Poje, are in Mississauga this week at a national training camp, to show off their programs in front of busloads of judges and technical reps that can help them figure out what works, what doesn’t before they sally forth to major competitions.

They were gleeful when the International Skating Union announced that the rhythm in the short dance for Olympic season would be Latin. “We LOVE Latin,” Weaver said. “We love the dancing in the clubs. We loved our Latin program from 2011 to 2012. It’s one of our favourite genres and styles. So without repeating ourselves, we wanted to find a way to still be exciting and entertaining.”

In 2011-2012, Weaver emerged in a shiny, animal print outfit and ponytail and they danced to rhumba and samba. This time they are turning to a Cuban set of rhythms in the mambo direction. “They are more of a club rhythm, than strictly ballroom,” Weaver said. They worked with mambo dancers, and had great fun researching and playing with the style. Coach Morozov and a couple of mambo dancers formed the choreography.

But their free dance may take them to different heights altogether. For the first time, they went to Hall of Fame choreographer Lori Nichol. Nichol had never designed a competitive dance number before.

“It’s always hard in an Olympic season to pick free dance music, because you want to say something, but you also want to do something that you feel passionate about,” Poje said. “It took us a while to find the right piece. After months researching, Lori came up with the idea of “Spartacus.”

Remember these costumes? ISU photo

Canadian Olympic Committee photo

 

Based on the ballet by Soviet Armenian composer Aram Khatuaturian, it tells the tale of a slave-turned-gladiator who is forced to kill a friend. Horrified by it all, he incites other slaves to escape in rebellion. In the ballet, Spartacus has a wife, Phrygia, who is captured as well, and freed by the slaves. Sadly, Spartacus dies in the end.

“The story of Spartacus is so relevant now, although it’s 2000 years old,” Weaver said. “The story to fight for what you believe in, the equality of human beings. I feel like it’s so relevant in today’s word and it’s a way for us to be very Olympic in our choice. We wanted to do something that people could relate to and that meant something to us. We found our perfect piece.”

Working with Nichol has given them new fascinating tools. “One thing we really like is to bring purpose to our movements,” Poje said. “She’s very strong about bringing that to it as well. It feels good to have someone who really wants this and we live off that.”

Lori Nichol (International Heritage Sports Foundation photo)

 

For example, during the summer in Toronto, Nichol would have them do special exercises and tricks. “Some things I had never even tried, that I thought I couldn’t do,” Weaver said. “I just thought I couldn’t do it. Then I would go out and do a twizzle sequence. She’d say: ‘Why not?’

“She pushed our limits,” Poje said. “Before I think when you are in the same box, you kind of think you have limits. She pushed those.”

They have some different elements this year because of Nichol. She has brought a fresh perspective to their tasks in dance, because although she had not choreographed dance before, she understands movement on the ice. And she understands skating, and the technical aspects of the blade.

ISU photo

 

“It’s quality,” Weaver said. “She’s such a legend. She’s so incredibly wise. She saw “Spartacus” for us and had an image. So we just try out best to be what her image was.”

Without the spectre of changing coaches and locations this year, they have approached the season with a more relaxed aura. “What was nice about this season is that we didn’t feel rushed,” Weaver said. They did not participate on the Stars On Ice tour this year, just to have more time to relax and to think about what they wanted to say with their programs. And what style they wanted. They spent all summer in New York, soaking up the culture. The result of their liaison with Nichol is a new “softness” and patience.

“We didn’t have that [patience] before,” Weaver said. “We were energy. There are times that you can just be quiet. I think that was the first thing we learned from her.”

They are coming back to the wars refreshed with new tools and a new look.

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Patrick Chan: Dust in the Wind

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan is searching for perspective this Olympic season.

Patrick Chan has come a long way since he posed for this family photo.

 

Experience has taught him that he must pick his way thoughtfully about his tasks in a season that could be overwhelming and intense. He’s been there, done that. He knows he needs to duck mind boggles. And with the men’s event being what it is now (crazy quad after crazy quad), control can slip away so easily.

His music choices will be a daily reminder to let go of all of this. His short program to 1977 hit “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas is perfect. So is his tip of the hat to Canadian artist Leonard Cohen, who composed his free skate music: “Hallelujah.” It’s all very spiritual, really. Music that is quietly beautiful.

“I close my eyes, only for a moment

And the moment’s gone,” goes the Kansas song I know so well. Every word, actually.

“Same old song. Just a drop of water

In an endless sea.

All we do crumbles to the ground

Though we refuse to see.

Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind.”

The title of the song is actually rather biblical. So is Hallelujah. If you know anything about Native American poetry, there is a verse that goes: “for all we are is dust in the wind.”

There is a story that Kansas songwriter Kerry Lindgrin had created the guitar line for the song with a simple finger exercise for learning fingerpicking. When his wife heard him fiddle with the notes, she thought it beautiful and encouraged him to write lyrics.

So he wrote music that was a departure from the usual Kansas fare. He didn’t think the band would be interested when he presented it to them. But when he finished playing it, he was met with a dead silence, until one of the band members said: “Kerry, where has this been?” And it became a memorable hit, rather melancholic and philosophical. And its melody gently cocoons you.

Chan and choreographer David Wilson found the music two years ago, and decided to save it for the Olympic season. There was no frantic searching. The music was already beneath their feet. “I love the story behind it,” Chan said. “It’s raw. No matter what kind of successes you have in your life, no matter what disasters happen in your life, we all have a full circle and we all turn into dust in the end. We go back to the ground where we came from. It’s all part of this earth and this universe.”

These thoughts lend perspective, he said. He’s taking it as his motto for the season. “Just doing it the way I want to and not thinking so much about the results of this year, while everyone else is going crazy about it,” he said. “I’m really working hard, not to put so much emphasis [on the season], but for my own mental health. “ The song takes the stress away from anything.

“The last two Olympics, I realized I really didn’t enjoy them,” Chan said. “I was just so caught up with ‘Go win the gold for everyone,’ ‘Beat everyone,’ It’s not about that. I think it’s a higher intellectual learning experience for me going to a third Olympic Games.”

He knows that even if he were not to win Olympic gold, he would be the same Patrick Chan that loves to surfboard and take his mountain bike up a steep path. If he were to win gold, he knows that would not change him, either.

“Hallelujah” was written in 1984 by Cohen, who couldn’t convince his record producers to even use it at first. Chan doesn’t at all like Cohen’s own version, sung with his gravelly voice and sounding like a dirge. “It’s not skateable, I think,” he said. “But I think despite the piece not being compatible to skating, I think it’s made a mark in the musical industry. I hope my skating will, too.”

But Jeff Buckley, with his haunting eyes, delivered one of the most acclaimed versions of the song before he died prematurely. And Chan feels this one gives him what he needs to create beautiful music on ice. Buckley’s version goes to the bone. It’s more sorrowful. It mixes beauty with pain.

Cohen’s version hit Billboard’s Top 100 for the first time after his death almost a year ago. In 2007 a group of 50 songwriters listed “Hallelujah” as one of the all-time top 10 greatest hits. More than 300 others have used the music. Many think Buckley’s version is as perfect as you can get. John Legend calls it “one of the most beautiful pieces of recorded music I’ve ever heard.”

“Some people like my skating. Some people don’t,” Chan said candidly. “And so it’s the same thing with this piece. We found the right version. I think it still emotes the same feeling and the same emotion and idea to the audience.”

All of this music relates to Chan’s plans to keep his goals in sight as youngsters are exploding with quads around him. Chan’s plan this year is to do two quads in the short program: a quad toe loop and a quad Salchow. He says his quad Salchow has improved over the summer.

He’s been flirting with a quad flip, but don’t expect it to be part of his routines this year. “I’m not really pushing myself overly hard to do a quad flip,” he said. “Honestly, I think it’s more to ease a bit of the pressure off the Sal. I know the Sal is a lot more realistic than the flip and it makes less of a burden.”

His long program plan is to go with what he had last year. Three quads: two quad toe loops and a quad Salchow.

“The question is now in the long, if you do two quads and two Sals, you lose the second [triple] Axel,” he said. “That’s why everyone does three different kinds of quads, in order to keep the second Axel. I don’t know if that’s in my future, because that’s pretty outrageous for me to do. I don’t know physically if I can do it at the moment. I definitely can’t at the moment. It’s something that would be a building process.” So for now, he’s focusing on doing two quads in the short, and allowing himself to come to the long with a more relaxed state of mind.

Happy days with choreographer Jeff Buttle

 

Chan feels like he’s coming into the season with nothing to lose. He’s already established himself. He knows there is always the temptation to try to do more at a competition, when energies all around him and inside him are firing. “It does influence you and it does become hard to stay focused,” he said. “I don’t need to do more than I normally do, as much as my body is having all this energy and I want to do more. It will work against me. So I’m really trying to have a personal dialogue in these situations.”

He will let fly this year, the way he can. He has his feet and skating ability to carry him. He’ll do what he can do. “I’m still a human being and normal person,” he said. “Why put emphasis on something that makes such little difference in your life?”

It’s all about perspective.

The Waddell Brothers: an extraordinary test

They have the same eyebrows. The same eyes. The same smile. Same hair. Bruce Waddell is the Mini-Me to his older brother, George. Teenagers both, they are separated in age by three big years.

 Photo by Danielle Earl

Bruce Waddell and Natalie D’Alessandro

George Waddell and Sabrina Bedard (Skate Canada photo)

They are both ice dancers. They both are musicians, pianists. They both played high-level municipal hockey up to a year ago. (And why not? They are grandsons of the venerable National Hockey League star Red Kelly – now 90 years old.) They have traveled so many of the same steps.

But nobody on the planet would ever have dreamed that they would have ended up competing against each other while skating for different countries at their first Junior Grand Prix event in Brisbane, Australia last week. (They aren’t the first to do this. American born dancers Cathy and Chris Reed finished 18th at the 2010 Olympics while skating for Japan. Their sister, Allison, skating with a partner from Georgia, finished 20th at the same event.)  

 They were neck-in-neck in this brotherly rivalry, waged so far from home. George, 18, and his new partner Sasha Fear, finished seventh with 110.32 points. Bruce, 15, finished just ahead of him in sixth with 113.25 points. The younger Waddell skated with his partner Natalie D’Alessandro, who at 13, was the second youngest woman at the event behind a Russian singles skater. Both efforts were remarkable, all considered.

While Bruce competed for Canada, George skated for Britain.  George’s switch in allegiances happened all very quickly, so quickly it would make your head spin.

Both of course were born in Toronto. Both learned their early dance steps from former British dancer Andrew Hallam, who now coaches at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club. George has a twin, Charles, who danced, too. When Charles decided to hang up his skates, George’s partner had quit. So George skated with Charles’ former partner, Victoria Oliver. For seven years, Oliver skated with a Waddell twin. There are many tight twists in this story.

A year ago, George moved to Montreal to skate with Sabrina Bedard in the school of Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. His coach and choreographer there was former French skater Romain Haganauer, who had taught Hallam in France. (Haganauer moved to the Montreal school in July 2014.)Haganauer also choreographs routines for D’Allessandro and Bruce. All in the family, right?

George found himself without a partner at the end of last season. What to do? He had been accepted into the commerce program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. – not an easy task – and he had already deferred his start by  a year when he moved to Montreal. He decided to try out with a few dancers, just to see.

But on a weekend in April when he came home to Toronto from Montreal to attend the funeral service of much-loved Skate Canada volunteer Barbara Rogers, things sparked quckly to change his life. He had taken the train home on a Thursday night. On Friday, he got a message to call Haganauer. “You need to call me between 7:30 and eight,” the message said.

The call? Would George be interested in skating for Britain? If he wanted to consider it, the parent of the British girl, Sasha Fear, was to call at that time. If he wasn’t interested, no call necessary.

“Oh yeah, I’d consider it,” said George, who had finished seventh at the Canadian junior level last season. The Waddell family already knew the Fear family. Fear was an accomplished dancer, who had competed for Britain at the world junior championships last season. She and her older sister, Lilah, a British dance champion, had trained periodically at the Cricket Club with Hallam, but she sprouted up like a weed and outgrew her partner. Her parents were Canadians who had moved to Britain. Both Sasha and Lilah had dual citizenship. And George? He had a British passport, just like all of his brothers. The Waddells have known the Fears for a very long time. And guess what? Haganauer had already coached Sasha with her previous partner.

“George has always had a British passport because my husband is from Glasgow,” said George’s mother, Casey Kelly, an international judge for Canada. “When they were babies, we got them all British passports, because we thought for travel, it would be great. And who knows, maybe they would want to live there, or go to school there. But we never thought it would be used for anything related to skating.”

George and his family discussed the opportunity over the weekend. On Monday, he returned to Montreal to pack. On Wednesday, he was in Britain. On the following Sunday, members of the British skating association showed up to have a look at the new team. They have been together only since May.

Another bonus: George had never skated internationally for Canada, so there would be no one-year wait for him to switch countries.

“I knew she was a good skater,” said George. “I knew her from before. I thought it would work well, so I just went over there. And it worked well, so I just stayed over there.”

George and his partner had to get international minimum scores and they did that at an event at Lake Placid. A few weeks ago, they won a competition in Sheffield. With only five teams in Britain competing for international spots, George wasn’t surprised when they got Brisbane.

George is happy in London. He trains at the Alexandra Palace in north London, an impressive old structure with a beautiful rink built in 1990 and a nickname: Ally Pally. “Everything is pretty close to us,” said George, who shares a flat in Kensington with Lilah’s partner Lewis Gibson. The rink is close by.

And he has relatives in the country. His grandmother Waddell is 98 and living in Edinburgh. He can see her a lot, now. He has an aunt that is a 40-minute train ride away. (He’s had dinner there.) He has cousins in Manchester. When he competed at Sheffield, he had a little cheering section. (Waddells, unite!)

“It’s an incredible opportunity,” Kelly said. “The family has been so warm and welcoming and it helped that he knew them beforehand.” Because Sasha is only 15, they must train in England where she goes to school. When school is out, they will go to Montreal with Haganauer. Karen Quinn, who competed at European championships for England and did a four-year stint with Holiday on Ice in Europe, looks after the new team at the Ally Pally.

When George and Bruce met in Brisbane, they hadn’t seen each other in months. “I was impressed with his [Bruce’s] skating,” George said. “They have really improved.”

They hadn’t always skated even at the same sessions in Toronto because Bruce had been at a lower level. Perhaps three times a week they were on the same ice. And they had always had a friendly brotherly rivalry. “We compete with each other in everything,” George said. “He was always better than me at free skate, so I stopped doing that. [Bruce also skates singles, as does D’Alessandro. But to do it, he had to give up hockey. George kept the hockey but dropped singles skating].

“I guess we were pretty close at this competition,” George said. “That starts it off and we’ll see what happens. But we’re not bitter with each other.”

“They certainly have a friendly rivalry, which they would have developed in the days of hockey,” Kelly said. “They would do pickup hockey too. And they certainly wouldn’t go easy on each other. They hope the best for each other, but they’re not going to give an inch. That’s part of the fighting spirit.”

Kelly never dreamed that her two sons would ever compete against each other, much less for different countries. Bruce seemed to be at another level, but in his three years with D’Alessandro, he has spun up the domestic dance ladder with alacrity. Two years ago, they were pre-novice national champions at first crack. Last season, they won the novice title in their first try. This is their first year at the junior level and hadn’t expected a Junior Grand Prix assignment at all. The fact that they got one shows that Skate Canada feels they have promise.

George and his partner had the Brisbane assignment first. Suddenly, Bruce and D’Alessandro were going, too.

Truth be told, Bruce has missed his older brother. In Brisbane, they hung out a lot off the ice. On the ice, they paid no attention to each other as they warmed up. George was more focused at the sight of American and Russian dancers whizzing past him at great speed. As an older, more experienced team, Fear and Waddell have more power and speed than the younger team, but D’Alessandro and Bruce have built up a togetherness over three years. Fear and Waddell match quite well. They both have long legs, and power. She is still growing, but George stands about six feet tall.

In Brisbane, Bruce and D’Alessandro were part of a Canadian team. George and his partner were the lone Brits.

Back home in Toronto, parents watched online. Even Red Kelly and wife Andra, a former figure skater, watched too. The first night, they stayed up late. The second night, because the Waddell brothers competed later, Red and Andra set their alarms to wake up later.

They all noticed Bruce’s wink – a new move – at the beginning of their short dance. “My favourite part,” said a cousin watching from Scotland “was that cheeky wink.”

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Kelly said. “I thought it was funny.”

Both teams have easy relationships with their partners. Bruce and his partner fall in like brother and sister.

They were all on the same flight back from Brisbane to Vancouver. George and Bruce sat together on the plane for the long flight back.

And next? George and his partner have already been assigned to a Junior Grand Prix in Minsk on Sept. 20 to 24. It’s a tougher field, and a bigger one too, with 17 entries.

It’s not clear that the young newbies, Bruce and D’Alessandro have another assignment. But they are on the substitute list for Minsk – with five other Canadian teams. Should the Brothers Waddell end up there together again, it will be a fascinating rubber match.

 

 

Boys to Men

One thing leads to another. Keegan Messing finished fifth at the Canadian championships last season. That landed him on the national team. That meant he got some financial help for training. And it means that this season, he is actually a full-time skater.

Skate Canada photo

All of these upticks in his personal situation rolled into his quad Lutz attempt in the free program at the Thornhill Summer Skate last week. Alas, he underrotated it and fell. But undoubtedly, the 25-year-old who lives in Anchorage, Alaska, feels pressured to always step it up. And now he has time to work on it.

Last year, when Messing didn’t qualify for national financing, he worked as a stock room boy at Pier One Imports in Anchorage. “I got to pick things up and put them down. Over and over, up ladders,” he said.

He was the only “official” stock room worker at this business. “So I was walking up 12-foot ladders with Lazy Boy couches on my shoulder,” he said. Don’t forget he stands 5-foot-4 in his socks.

By himself, he would lug dressers and 100-pound boxes on his shoulders up the ladders to stock the stock room.

“I’m very comfortable with myself on a ladder,” said the man with the daredevil way about him. But he felt uncomfortable about being alone trying to do these monumentally physical tasks.

The money from Skate Canada allowed him to quit. “I’ve been happier ever since,” he said.

Instead, he courts danger with quad jumps, all too necessary these days.

He’s worked very hard on this quad Lutz, which seems to have become the jump de jour on the men’s circuit. He has landed it. “Going into such a difficult jump, it’s not really the fall that scares you,” he said. “But the possibility of what could break.”

At Thornhill in the free, Messing had planned three quads. The first four jumps out of the gate had more than three rotations.

“We’re not playing anymore,” said his coach, Ralph Burghart. “This is serious.”

Messing with coach Burghart.

 

But Messing is answering the call. He won the short program at Thornhill with 84.91 points, a slight improvement on his score at Skate Detroit (84.56.) It was encouraging.  Both skates were clean, including a quad toe loop – triple toe loop, all ablur. “My second 84,” he said. “I keep all of my components on the phone so I can compare, competition to competition.”

On the heels of routines like “Pink Panther” and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” (Thank you, Monty Python), Messing will now be able to present two new programs. The nod to Monty Python had lasted three seasons, “Pink Panther”, two.  The new music that has carried him to his two early season top efforts is “Singing In the Rain.” He conjures up Charlie Chaplain for his free. And don’t these choices suit him?

“I’ve had this idea for ‘Singing in the Rain’ for probably 10 years now,” Messing said. “We always wanted to save the program for a good year. We waited last year to have it this year, so the plan was to have it Olympic year. And I’ve always loved it. I love Gene Kelly’s version of it. And I loved Kurt Browning doing it. Kurt Browning was probably the biggest inspiration to do ‘Singing in the Rain.’”

Messing says there are three or four direct hints of Kelly’s gregarious stepping in his new short program. He kicks up water. He dances on a curb. He dances with an umbrella. (Browning did this, too.) Lance Vipond, as choreographer, showed him the way.

“We had such a blast doing it,” Messing said. “We had so much energy going into this program, we actually had to go back and tone it down, because the energy level was through the roof. “

Okay, Vipond said. There’s no way you are going this fast into footwork. The week after Thornhill, Messing remained in Toronto to work with Vipond, to revamp the program and bump the footwork level up to a solid four.  (He got a level three in Thornhill.)

He’s so happy to have found Vipond, who also has done choreography for world silver medalist Kaetlyn Osmond. He and Vipond work well together.

Messing doesn’t know where the idea germinated to do Charlie Chaplain. “I think somebody kind of said it in a joking fashion and I started looking into it a little bit.”

“It’s his character,” Burghart said.

Although the routine is heavy on the elements, it has a fun feel, Messing said. “I just hope I can continue breathing through it, or my legs will continue working for me. When I skated it at Skate Detroit, I wasn’t training hard enough then, and kind of realized it before the competition. But I’ve been picking up the training.” It’s still pre-season.

Yes, all the kids are pushing him. He finished second at Skate Detroit behind American Vincent Zhou, who is only 16, has a devastating arsenal and who has already taken a silver medal at the U.S. SENIOR championships.

“All these kids are pushing the envelope,” Messing said. “They’re pushing us old guys around.”

Told that Conrad Orzel has been training all of the quads, save the Axel, Messing said: “Who is Conrad?”

Well, Orzel is Canada’s junior silver medalist. At 17, he’s going for the gusto, as one must in this quad-crazy time. Coach Eva Najarro says he’s landed all of the quads: flip, Lutz, loop, toe loop and Salchow, but attempted two quads at Thornhill in the free to figure out how to plot the remainder of the season.  Last year, he did only one quad.

Orzel as a preliminary skater

Orzel, more recently

Orzel competed at the junior level at Thornhill, and didn’t attempt a quad in the short, but actually attempted three quads in the free. And just as Elvis Stojko has often said: there will be falls when inserting new difficult jumps into a program. Orzel doubled a Salchow, underrotated a quad toe loop and fell, tried the quad toe loop again, but couldn’t get it into a combination. Result for the early ambition: three falls. But it’s an early season test. It’s what Thornhill is for.

Orzel hit 71.41 points in the short program – which he won – and that’s what he was looking for. He hopes to get into the eighties by season’s end. He noted that he’s used to training on an Olympic sized rink at the York Region Skating Academy, but the ice surface at Thornhill was far smaller. It took him by surprise. “I totally couldn’t do my footwork, and the music, I had to turn it around,” he said. “I learned from this, to adjust to different rinks and check out the size of the rink, maybe train with less ice surface.”

Earlier this summer, Orzel spent some time with Rafael Arutunian to work on new quads, and try to spark up the ones he had. “I think my quads are getting along quite well,” he said. He’s landed quad Lutz, but took it out of Thornhill to focus on the performance aspect of the program, not the quads. He hopes to add in quad Lutz by the end of the season. He did try the quad Lutz at Minto Skate, and officials deemed he had rotated it.

Orzel will be going to Junior Grand Prix events in Austria and Poland. He’d like to make the finals.

So yes, the challenges are coming from everywhere, Keegan.

Nguyen, once fifth in the world, has gone through an unsettled period, and has changed coaches twice, now skating at the York Region Skating Academy alongside Orzel and Roman Sadovsky. Sadovsky said the atmosphere is now very competitive at the rink. “There’s a healthy competitiveness,” he said.

In warmup for the short program, Nguyen let sail a fabulous quad toe loop and quad Salchow. However, in the actual performance, he fell on a quad Salchow and did a quad toe – double toe. The 78.51 he got was enough to put him second behind Messing. In the free, he did only a triple toe loop, put a hand down on a quad Salchow, accomplished a triple Axel that seemed telegraphed, and then let fly for the rest of the “American in Paris” routine. He says he feels his technique is settling now. “I kind of did my job,” he said of the short. “It wasn’t the best but a step up from Minto.”

Roman Sadovsky in the early days with coach Tracey Wainman

 

Sadovsky has left behind the Junior Grand Prix for this season and is entirely a senior. “[Coach Tracey Wainman] is not letting me slack off, for sure,” he said.

This season, Sadovsky has bravely inserted a quad Salchow – triple toe loop combination into his short program, but at Thornhill, turned after both elements. He did two quad Salchows during the free, the first one getting +2s across the board, the second one in combination, but doing several turns after the Salchow. He says he’s changed the technique of his Salchow, and although he started to do it differently toward the end of last season, it wasn’t ready enough to really shine. Now he’s improved it.

And the triple Axel, the jump that has always been his nemesis? “It’s getting better,” he said. He landed it in the short program in Thornhill, although he stepped out of it. And he landed the first one in the long, with a turn. He singled the second one.

Sadovsky has lived through some growth spurts, but feels all of that growing has really slowed down. Good thing. He’s pushing six feet tall. “I don’t even know if it was the growth,” that caused inconsistency of the past few years, he said. “Now it’s not like everything is changing every day. Some weeks I would be good. Some weeks it would be worse. I would just feel different.”

Right now, he feels more stabilized and is looking forward to the rest of the season. All in all, he’s had a good start to the season, more encouraging than last when his efforts were up and down. At Minto Skate, he won the short program with a quad Salchow-triple toe loop, and he finished a close second in the free, with his quad Salchow-triple toe loop gaining 16.80 points.

The Sadovsky style at national championships last season. Free program – Romeo and Juliet.

“I can use this as a tool to work off of,” he said of Thornhill.

And there are more Canadian men working hard to step up in the years that will follow the retirement of stalwarts like Patrick Chan and Kevin Reynolds. Iliya Kovler finished fifth among junior men at the national skating championships last year. But he’s determined.

Iliya Kovler Skate Canada photo

 

At Thornhill, Kovler finished second in both the short and long programs in the junior competition and second overall. There isn’t a triple Axel in the picture yet, but he’s only 14.

He looks up to Yuzuru Hanyu, Patrick Chan and “of course I like Nathan Chen’s quads, yeah!” he said.

He’s currently working on all the quads and the triple Axel in the harness to prevent injury. He started work on the triple Axel last February, after the national championships. “Quads have always been on and off,” he said. “I’ve tried a couple of toes, and Sals, but I’ve never really done it every day. My main goal is to get the triple Axel. And when I get the triple Axel, I can work on the quads.”

He’s going through a growing spurt, which may not be helping. “He’s growing every single month,” said coach/choreographer Andrei Berezintsev. “That’s why it’s difficult to keep him in shape, in balance. But he’s very engaged in doing the difficult jumps. The triple Axel is very close.”

When Berezintsev and Inga Zusev first saw Kovler, they saw an artistic skater, physical weak. “That was fun, because he had already tried some stuff with arms and upper body, to be an artist on the ice,” Berezintsev said. “He couldn’t handle the technical stuff. “

But he’s a quick learner and wants to do everything right immediately. “For him, mistakes are unacceptable,” Berezintsev said. “He starts thinking, what should I do, do more. And sometimes it’s too much.

“He’s kind of special.”

Kovler’s parents were both born in Ukraine, but he was born in Canada. He focused on skating after trying hockey, basketball and soccer. “I love the speed and I love the jumps,” said the artist. “I like learning new jumps. I like spinning. Just everything about figure skating.”

His free skate is to “Carmen.” He really wanted to do it. “Super classic,” he said. Yes, he is special.

The other factor in the junior men’s event at Thornhill was reigning Canadian men’s novice champion Corey Circelli, who skates out of the Toronto Cricket Curling and Skating Club in Toronto. As a first-year junior, he held his own, finishing third to Orzel, and actually winning the free skate. He ended with a Toller-like pose, bending his body back to touch the ice.

Corey Circelli

Was Toller’s flamboyant style an influence on this routine? “Definitely,” Circelli said. David Wilson designed the program and “there’s a lot of that stuff,” Circelli said. “Toller is more his era. But I find a lot of those little choreography pieces in the program and I really like it.”

Circelli also doubles as an ice dancer with Katerina Kasatkin, and together they are jumping to junior as well. They were 10th in junior dance at Minto Skate. He and Kasatkin were winners of a Toller Cranston Memorial Fund Award after the Canadian championships last season, celebrating novice or junior skaters who display exceptional artistry. Circelli also got recognition as a singles skater. They got a free pair of boots and blades.

Last year, Circelli skated to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” in the short program. But Wilson had finished choreographing it without vocals. Two days later, the ISU allowed vocals. “We were like: ‘Whatever. We’ll just have to wait until next year,’” Circelli said.

So at last, Circelli is now skating this season to “Hallelujah” with vocals for his short program, and he’s using his favourite version by Jeff Buckley.

In the long, he’s skating to “La Boheme” as he did last year, but Wilson has changed the last half entirely.

This year, Circelli said he’s really been pushing triple-triples, (triple flip – triple toe loop) although they  didn’t really happen in the short – or the long. He’s also been working hard on the triple Axel, which is not quite ready for programs. He’ll try to insert it later this season.

Based on his work at Minto and other events, Circelli was just assigned a Junior Grand Prix in Riga, Latvia in less than three weeks. “I’m excited,” he said.

 

Run boy, run

Yes, Stephen Gogolev is still only 12 years old, a ghost-like little form who expresses his intent on the ice.

Photo by Danielle Earl

He’ll be 13 in December, too young yet for the Junior Grand Prix circuit, but nationally, he’s making the huge leap from junior to senior. “It was kind of an easy decision,” says coach Brian Orser. “But now if you’re going to skate with the big boys, you’ve GOT TO SKATE WITH THE BIG BOYS.”

In other words, step it up to that level.  So far, Gogolev is handling that part and it’s really only pre-season. At Minto Skate earlier this month, he won the senior men’s event over Roman Sadovsky, Nam Nguyen (fifth at the 2015 world championships), Bennet Toman, and Olympian Liam Firus. He defeated Canadian bronze medalist Nicolas Nadeau in the short program. Nadeau didn’t compete in the long.

Nguyen is 19. Sadovsky is 18. Messing is 25. Bennet Toman, who will represent Canada at the U.S. International Skating Classic next month, is 20. He has a couple of quads in his bag, too. Nadeau will be 20 next month.

Last Friday, Gogolev also finished second overall in the Thornhill Summer Skate behind Nguyen, although the wonderkid had to come from behind after a short program that left him in fifth place. He won the free skate, as he had at Minto. At the Ottawa event, he had emerged with 218.28 points overall. Thornhill? 227.94, about 10 points behind Nguyen.

At Thornhill, Gogolev tried two quads in his free program for the first time.  He’d done only one in Minto. He landed the first one, a formidable, big quad Salchow-triple toe loop, and then sat down on the second solo quad Salchow. However, he dusted that miscue off, and didn’t put a foot wrong afterwards. The jumps kept coming. And coming. (At the Canadian championships last year, when he won the junior title over Conrad Orzel, Gogolev  attempted no quads in the short, and only one in the long. His winning score was 210.06 points.)

Interestingly enough, Gogolev’s scores in the past two competitions would have made him eligible for the world SENIOR championships last year. The threshold for the free was 64 technical points. At Minto, Gogolev earned 76.96 points. At Thornhill, he dazzled, with 92.90 points.

So now, it’s time to run boy, run. “This world is not made for you,” goes the song by French singer/songwriter, video director Yohann Lemoine, whose stage name is Woodkid. “This ride is a journey/The secret side of you.” The song is part of the Golden Age album; to Lemoine, childhood is a golden age. And Gogolev is still in it.

Lemoine wrote the words for the song with another perspective in mind. But they fit Gogolev’s quest this year. And cleverly, it has become the music for Gogolev’s short program. With its neofolk sound, it’s a different approach for the youngster.

“Tomorrow is another day,” chants Woodkid.

“And you won’t have to hide away.

You’ll be a man, boy.

But for now, it’s time to run. It’s time to run.”

Orser always seems to have an answer for every push, every problem and this run of Gogolev’s . He’s a creative coach, says Oula Jaaskelainen, who represented Finland at the 1992 Olympics and is now a coach in South Africa. He trained with Orser at the Mariposa Skating Club.

Jaaskelainen sees Orser’s passion, and sees the mind constantly at work. There is never one answer to a problem. He finds a way.

Orser’s answer to his plan for the progress of his young protégé was to send him for five days to Montreal  to work with Patrice Lauzon, Romain Haguenauer and Marie-France Dubrueil. “It was one of the best things we did,” Orser said. “He did power stuff. Stuff he can learn with us, but he just needed a change.”

Gogolev earlier had connected with Lauzon during a Skate Canada development camp. And what great fun: Shoma Uno was training in Montreal at the same time during this summer’s sojourn. “They were doing edge class with the dancers and they were just telling me that he’s such a better skater,” Orser said. “That sort of validates what we do.”

In the free program, Gogolev is going with the classics, to a medley from the Mozart movie, “Amadeus.” In the free, Gogolev is Amadeus, at least musically. Mozart was a prodigy, too. He wrote his first symphony at age eight.

Not only has Orser and friends bumped up Gogolev’s technical content, they have also been working to bring out his performance side. “But for 12, that’s hard,” Orser said. “I just go back to when I skated. It took a while for me to start putting it out there. You can’t fake it. Then, maybe just let the edges be your voice. His speed is so much better than last year.”

Spins? He does a donut spin that sinks low into a sit spin. Beautiful.

And the jumps are bigger. His quad Salchows are a tour de force. He did not attempt a quad toe loop in Thornhill, because Orser put that jump temporarily on the back burner. “He was having a few little injury things,” Orser said. (At Minto, his second jump was a triple toe loop). But Gogolev can do a quad Lutz very well. He’s landed all of the quads: toe, Salchow, flip, loop, Lutz.

Although his quad toe loop is on sabbatical, it was quite good too. “We’ll get it in next,” Orser said. “So now that he has the two quads, then maybe it will be three quads.”

“All these kids are pushing the envelope,” sighed Messing, the elder statesman of these summer events.  “They’re pushing us old guys around.”

So Gogolev, his blond hair drifting in the wind, is running as fast as he can. “Running is a victory,” the Woodkid song goes. “Beauty lies beyond the hills.”

 

 

Legends Day

It was magical. A day at little Clinton Raceway – Legends Day to be exact – brought me to my roots. (Racing came before figure skating.) In my neck of the woods, it was what you did. I know of folk in my hometown who kept horses in the back yard – within the town limits. From all of this, Canadian harness racing drivers and trainers sprouted forth, and ruled the world.

And they all showed up at Clinton Raceway at Legends Day, a crazy phenomenon that works. The best drivers on the continent get together in this little town of 3,200, a far drive into Ontario’s farm country. It’s quite a hike from Toronto, but just a short hop  from my hometown. It’s home to me.

On Legends Day, fans came from all over to flood a corner of Clinton at a bright little well organized track that races only once a week during the summer. (Twelve busloads, to be sure.) They came primarily to see two stars of the sport, John Campbell and Bill O’Donnell drive the final races of their careers. T-shirts were sold in Campbell`s maroon colours. Bidders could try to land some John Campbell bobblehead dolls.

A young fan at Clinton (All photos by Beverley Smith)

 

In truth, the eight drivers (Campbell, O’Donnell, Ron Waples, Steve Condren, Doug Brown, Michel Lachance, Dave Miller, and Dave Wall) have earned a total of $1.15-billion and 69,000 races between them. They are not small fry in this small town.

Campbell’s bobblehead doll.

The man himself. He never ages. He looked exactly like this 25-30 years ago.

 

Yet, they all come to Clinton for this biennial event. The most recent convert, American Dave Miller, dropped everything when Campbell asked him if he wanted to be part of the day. Miller has won 12,180 races and horses he has driven have earned $215-million so far in his career. Miller was the junior of the group at age 52.

Dave Miller, the lone American

 

Campbell, 62, retired from driving about a month ago with 10,668 wins (Standardbred Canada has him at 11,058 wins) and $303-million in life earnings, well ahead of the competition. He’s won seven Meadowlands Paces, six Hambletonians and six North America Cups, all races with purses of $1-million. He’s known as a class act, an ambassador of the sport.

O’Donnell, the best tale spinner in the business, drove against Campbell for years at The Meadowlands in New Jersey, a harness racing mecca where he had a nearby locker. And folks dubbed him `The Magic Man` for his driving abilities, for always getting more out of a horse than you would expect.  He`s 69 now, but has chalked up 5,743 wins and $99-million in earnings. But this was to be his last, too.

The Magic Man

Both O’Donnell and Campbell wore specially painted helmets. Campbell wore a camera.

The place was packed. People in little towns an hour away knew about Legends Day and the final drives of a lifetime. A lineup for autographs seekers snaked around to the front of the grandstand. The history in that lone lineup of drivers who scribbled their names could fill books.

The man on the left is from California. The one on the right is from Ohio. They came to see Campbell and the rest.

 

Added to the group – but not driving in the $15,0000 Legends Day Trot – was 71-year-old Bud Fritz, a taciturn local from nearby Walkerton, Ont., who could drive with the best of them, having won a North America Cup with his Apaches Fame. He`s the man who guided trotter A Worthy Lad to 30 consecutive wins.

Bud Fritz. Clinton and Walkerton, Fritz’s hometown, are both in the snowbelt of Ontario. Fritz used to say: “If it’s snowing so hard, you can’t see the horse’s ears, we won’t go out. That is about all that stops us.”

 

Nearby was Keith Waples, considered a class above all of the best. Nobody really knows how many races he has won. In his early days, nobody kept tabs. All of the best bow to him. He`s 93.

Keith Waples

The whole event was like a huge family reunion, of a sport that has changed so much, remembering what used to be. This was my first Legends Day. One thing I know for sure: I will never miss another one.

Marv Chantler flew in by helicopter for Legends Day.

Campbell chats with Gord Waples, another member of the storied Waples clan.

 Dave Wall was born in the same Kincardine hospital that I was and I’ve known him since he got his driver’s licence. He’s now 70. Still driving.

An earlier race at Clinton Raceway. Competitive, despite the small purse.

Don’t mess with Dr. John Findlay, former driver/trainer

 The lineup for autographs

A little red-headed kid who stared and stared at the lineup of legends on the autograph table. Future star?

From left to right: the perfect lawn chair; the lineup of legends signing autographs, Blair Burgess, who will be inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame next week, was driving at Clinton, too; Ron Waples talking to another legend, Trevor Ritchie, just visiting; and Quebec-born Michel Lachance, now 66.

From left to right, Doug Brown, 61, driving Willheorwonthe(trained by Bill Megens in his eighties), the grandstand of Clinton, the view of the field, with O’Donnell at the back of the field, and Campbell in a scramble near the front; Steve Condren, 60, won the race. Campbell finished last after his horse, Happy Holidays, broke stride on the first turn. He said it was a carbon copy of his very first race.

 

Years ago, O’Donnell gave his colours to a young man. Now the man’s son sported the colours at Legends Day. they fit well, don’t they?

 

Campbell, the grandfather