Keegan Messing, speechless


Keegan Messing got the call late Saturday night, hours after the men’s final at the National Skating Championships.

His coach, Ralph Burghart called him to tell him that yes, he was on Canada’s Olympic team and he’d better be ready to pack his bags for Pyeongchang next month.

Because it was so late, Messing, 25, could only mouth the words: “I’m going to the Olympics.”

“I couldn’t scream or yell or anything,” he said. “I couldn’t really do anything like jump up and down.”

After that, he barely slept. Maybe three hours. He’s burning through the gala today on adrenalin.

Today, he can say the words, but “It still feels foreign coming out of my mouth. At this point it’s a dream come true.

“I’m living the dream.”

As he told reporters yesterday: “I’m in hog heaven.” This while wearing his leather Stetson, something he sports all the time at home in Alaska. He’s a different kind of cat on this Olympic team, but a fast-footed, smooth-spinning, charismatic Charlie Chaplin/Gene Kelly sort of a guy. This guy can skate.

He finished the men’s event in second place behind Patrick Chan, and earned 259.25 points, only a point ahead of Nam Nguyen, who skated so splendidly that he doubled over in tears in mid-ice and rained them all the way to the kiss and cry and beyond. It was a tough loss, but hints that Nguyen is back.

Messing punctuated his routine by letting fly a back flip on his way out of the rink. “Honestly, when I was getting off the ice after the short program, I wanted to do a back flip,” he said. But no, he thought better of it and decided to do it after the long.

And then Elladj Balde did one after his free. And he skated just before Messing. They embraced as Balde exited the rink and Messing was about to step in.

“Well, I’ve got to do one now,” Messing said. And he did.

And guess what? They will be doing side-by-side back flips in the gala on Sunday. Choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne was quick to use material that flashed before her eyes during the week.

Messing has been friends with Balde since Messing used to skate with the United States, mostly as a junior. “He’s a down-to-earth guy [so is Messing], and just a fantastic, great sportsman.

“Oh my gosh, he’s an amazing guy. I’m so proud of what he did [Saturday. – Balde finished fourth overall, despite having to overcome a serious concussion].”

Messing says he never watches another skater skate. But he watched Balde. “His performance helped my nerves just go away,” Messing said. “And I was able to just go out there and perform like a show. I’m excited. I can’t talk. It’s so cool.”

Making the Olympic team means everything to Messing. He’ll turn 26 in nine days. He’s been skating for 23 years. He’s had the same coach, skating in isolation in Alaska, for 20 years.

It takes him eons to fly anywhere out of there to compete. He broke in a new pair of boots recently, and says they’re just starting to feel comfortable after five weeks. It takes longer for boots to break in while in a cold rink.

Making the Olympic team recalls “every day of hard work I pushed through,”Messing said. “I took every hard fall and got up and kept pushing my body.”

.And with the help of Balde’s free-wheeling performance, and after his first quad, “something sparked in me,” Messing said. “And I fought for every step and position.

“I don’t think I’ve fought this hard for a long program in my life.”

Messing will accompany 16 other Canadians heading to Pyeongchang. He’s considered a rookie, having never been to a Games. He’s one of only five rookies on the team. The rest are all seasoned Olympic veterans, some more seasoned than others.

There will be a tide of retirements after this Olympics, but Messing won’t be one of them. He said this week that he does not know if he will go to another Olympics, but he will stick around for at least another two – until the world championships in Montreal. He’s just starting to roll, late in his career.

“It’s going to be a real change of the guard,” said Skate Canada high performance director Michael Slipchuk. “We haven’t had times like this since I can remember. We will see a wholesale change in all disciplines.”

Canada won’t be alone in going through this evolution, this loss of veterans. It will be a world-wide phenomenon.

It will be time, said Slipchuk, for the next generation to step up. Canada may find itself doing through more of a medal drought than it has for years, but there is development behind it all.

Nguyen signaled a return to the year – four years ago – when he finished fifth in a world as a young teenager. Joseph Pfan, only 16, finished fifth in the free and sixth overall at nationals. He has a quad and has been a consistent skater this year, landing jump after jump at both Challenge and the national championships. And of course, there is 13-year-old Stephen Gogolev, who landed a quadruple Salchow-triple toe loop in his first year as a senior – and attempted a quad Lutz.

In pairs, two of the three teams who made the Olympic team are young skaters who will stick around for another quadrennial. Ice dance still has Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who took the silver medal this year, a fraction ahead of Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. (Weaver and Poje have no idea if they will stay or continue.) And fourth-placed Carolane Soucisse and Shane Firus have stepped things up a notch and show a lot of promise.

“Are we going to have people on the podium right away?” Slipchuk mused. “No. But we feel as we build for the next four years that we will have a good base of building back up.”

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Olympics is next up. And Meagan Duhamel says Canada is going hard for a team gold medal., after just missing the first one in Sochi.


The men’s short program in Vancouver


From the mists of Vancouver finally emerged Patrick Chan. And he is shedding some rust.

“It’s slippery,” he said, after he fell on his opening quad toe loop, then sliding unceremoniously on his side. Thinking on his feet, he added a triple toe loop to his triple Lutz, but then stepped out of a triple Axel.

But, oh, those wonderful feet. Nothing like it. We have missed this Patrick Chan.

Chan still leads with 90.98, a rather healthy 4.78 points ahead of Kevin Reynolds, who meant to do a quad Salchow – triple toe loop, but it turned into a triple-triple, still getting him 9.30 points. He edged Chan on the technical mark, and was well behind on components.

In third place is bubbly Keegan Messing, who descended from the rather chillier Alaska, looking for an Olympic spot. There are only two of them. As Roman Sadovsky says, it’s a “free-for-all” for that second spot.

And that newly minted Sadovsky, always thought to be a pretty but not a technical skater. Sadovsky was the ONLY man to attempt two quads in the short. Sadovsky lost a GOE or two on his quad Salchow –triple toe loop, but it still earned him 13.09 points. And for the first time in his life, he landed a quadruple toe loop in a competition, getting 8.59 for it.

“It’s a good step up for me,” he said.

He had been working on a quad toe loop just before he found out – at the last minute – that he was going to Skate America in Lake Placid, so he took that jump out, because he didn’t feel it was ready. If he’d only had another week of training, it would have been there. Sadovsky doesn’t believe it makes a lot of sense to try a quad if it’s not totally ready: it erodes confidence when you miss it.

It was a good experience for him nonetheless. He had never competed at a senior Grand Prix before, and there he was skating with Nathan Chen and all the rest.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself, hoping that I could skate the best that I could, but I wasn’t completely ready, “ he said.

Now he has the training behind him.

Sadovsky underrotated and fell on a triple Axel, but he said he just didn’t quite get the takeoff. “But I had it there,” he said. “I had the right mindset but it didn’t quite work the way I wanted it to.”

Indeed, Sadovsky has been through a lot over the past four years. Then, he was the smallest skater in the group, now he’s one of the tallest. He isn’t sure just how tall he is, and throws out six feet. Some think he is taller.

“I had maybe last year and the year before where I was really up and down when I just really wanted to skate with a bang, really,” he said.

He admits he’s going all in with two quads, trying to earn that second Olympic spot. Hoping and thinking that will help him out.

“People always said I was a good skater, but I never quite matched the group technically,” he said. “So now I feel like I’ve stepped up the game with two quads in the short and if I can do more in the long….”

Sadovsky is in seventh place with 78.72 points, behind Elladj Balde, Nam Nguyen and Nicolas Nadeau. Only Balde had no quad.

Most heartbreaking moment of the day: Liam Firus, an Olympian four years ago, is in only ninth place after a strange replay of an incident that plagued him in the short program last year.

Last year a suspender came undone at the end of a spin – a huge distraction – and everything went wrong in the program. He ended up seventh, off the national team. He had won a medal he previous three years.

This time, a pant strap came undone. Firus looked down, saw it, stopped skating, ripped it off, shoved it in his pants – nobody wants a program-stop deduction – and then tried to sail into his triple Lutz-triple toe loop combo. But the distraction hobbled him. He turned out of the Lutz, and couldn’t do the second part. “I wasn’t focused at all,” he said.

He’s in ninth place and came off the ice, understandably upset.

“Unfortunately, I think that Olympic dream might be over,” he said, sadly.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he added, his voice breaking. “It’s just bad luck. I did everything I could. But everything was just out of control. It ‘s happened two years in a row.

“The Lutz-toe would have put me in first or second.” He’s now hoping for a spot on the Four Continents or world team, if he can redeem himself in the free.

Chan remains hopeful. He knows that missing competitions last fall contributed to his effort last night. “It’s just getting out more to compete more,” he said.

“Unfortunately I spent time during the Grand Prix season in a different way,” he said. “I’m kind of finding the right place for myself, which is also a big part of skating. I’ll just make the best of today.

‘”I’m excited for tomorrow as opposed to dreading it. That’s a big bonus.”

This event will serve as good training for him.

Chan admitted that nerves kicked in because this event is only his second of the season. “But that’s where I can look back on my experience and look back at the 15 nationals I’ve been to and even world championships and it’s not a race. It’s just going along, with my process, how I want to do it.”

Chan said he fell on his quad because his right arm was already in front of him while he launched and his body wasn’t square. So the jump didn’t have much height or lightness. This heavier, into-the-ice feeling could have caused the trip. Chan skates by feel.

“It was a bit of a shock,” he said. “But you know what? I got up and recovered.”

This year has taught him a strategy: he goes week by week. He won’t look too far ahead and “stress yourself out for no reason.”

He still dreams of doing that quad combo with a “swish.

“That’s what we live for,” he said. “And I think I lost that a little bit. I kind of got pulled away and pulled in many directions.

“But I think I’m starting to find it again.”






The miracle of Elladj Balde


You have your Patrick Chans, your Kevin Reynolds, your Keegan Messings. All good.

But Elladj Balde stole the show in the men’s short program at the National Skating Championships Friday night.

He expected nothing. Perhaps no more than a fond farewell. This is his final season as a competitor. He so wanted this season and this night to be special.

And it was.

The crowd who witnessed Balde’s miracle thanked him the only way they could: a standing ovation that started before he had even finished his final spin. He finished fourth with a fat mark of 84.91, only 1.29 points out of second place. His was the performance of the day, a performance among performances among all disciplines.

“About a month ago, I didn’t even know if I was going to be here,” he said, with no small amount of emotion. He’d had the best summer of his life, with the quads clicking, the programs humming and he was in the best shape of his life.

Then, in early September, in the strangest of accidents, he hit his head while simply doing a Mohawk turn, and slammed into the boards. And within a moment, he had suffered his fifth concussion in three or four years.

His first concussion occurred in 2014 just before Skate Canada International. He had to withdraw.

It took a lot longer to heal than he expected. Two and a half months went by with no improvement. Mainly, the condition stagnated, no matter what he did. “I went through a lot of emotional and psychological pain because this season was so important to me,” he said.

Time was running out, and if Balde wanted to get to the national championships, he had to qualify through the Challenge event in Montreal in early December. He was no longer on the national team and he had had no Grand Prix events.

Balde’s life up to that moment? He tried everything to improve his condition. He’d try one thing and it didn’t work. Another. Forget it. “We tried everything until I literally was at the point of giving up,” he said.

One person changed all of that: Jennifer Ann Scott, who is one of the authors of Quebec’s protocol that guides athletic therapists how to manage concussions.

“She is an angel,” Balde said. “The moment she came into my life, she taught me how to manage the symptoms…She teaches you how to go through your day without triggering too many symptoms.”

Before Balde met her, he would find that if he felt better, he’d skate for 15 minutes, then end up in bed for three days. Next time, skate for 10 minutes, bedridden for another three days.

The first three days that Balde was allowed back on the ice with her, he was allowed to skate only forwards. Not backwards. Not sideways. He could not even turn his head. Eyes were to be straight ahead.

He began eventually to skate in circles, and this did not trigger symptoms. But if he tried to turn a little bit, the symptoms would return immediately.

“We had to teach my body how to turn this way and that way,”Balde said. And he was trying to learn these things two weeks before Challenge.

Everything started coming back about a week before Challenge, he said. His goal was only to qualify for the national championships. He didn’t have to get fancy.

He did make it through. “It was a lot of falls and a lot of mistakes,” he said. “But I made it through.”

After that, his symptoms improved markedly and he “just grinded hard” to prepare for this week. “I had so many obstacles to deal with this year,” he said.

When he stepped out on the ice on Friday, his only thought was to be “in the moment.” He had no expectations. Normally, he would be hoping to perhaps make the Olympic or world team, or at least dazzle everybody with his charisma. But he had no pressure this time. But that is when Balde is at his best.

Then something unusual happened. When Balde landed his first triple jump, the crowd roared. It was as if they knew. “The second jump, it was more. The third, even more,” he said.

“Then halfway through my footwork [toward the end of the routine], I could already feel the energy of everyone,” Balde said.

“I was trying to contain it a little because I was starting to raise my energy with them, but I had to remember, I still had to finish because now is not the time to make any mistakes.”

Before his final spin, he could see the people standing up. “The whole time that I was in the spin, I was just: ‘Okay, just focus on the spin. Just do your rotations.”

Balde says the crowd reaction was “the most beautiful gift they could ever have given me.

“My performance here was for my audience. I mean all the fans that were there watching, all the skaters that were watching, the coaches, the judges. The judges were the audience for me. They weren’t judges. I was performing for my audience, for myself.”

So yes, he walked away pleased. Some people who witnessed it, were in tears. Coach included.

“My whole goal was to come here,” Balde said. “And I am here.

“I did it. I did it. I did it.”





Perfection cometh after the fall


Close to perfection, judges seemed to say. Not far off it.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir claimed victory in the Latin short dance with a score of 85.12, and that is only .18 short of all they can possibly get if they max out their components and grades of execution.

On the other hand, former world silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje dropped to fourth place with 70.31 after Poje fell on the first set of three twizzles. And received o points at all for that element.

It all happened so fast. Poje lost an edge he said. The next moment he was on his hands, and shocked and trying to peel his way back for the next move.

This left Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier in second place with 78.37 points – a first for them. “This is a new place for us, being ahead of Kaitlyn and Andrew going into the free dance,” Poirier said. “We’re going to have to make sure we are in the right frame of mind.

“We just have to trust the training we have done and don’t try to do anything extra to cement that.”

Carolane Soucisse and Shane Firus are in third place with 70.97, only .66 points ahead of Weaver and Poje.

Although they are so easily in first place, it wasn’t easy for Virtue and Moir. “We actually had to fight for it,” Virtue said. “The elements didn’t come easily but I think it’s a testament to our training that we were able to maintain our composure to execute them as well as we did.”

Moir said he felt the same. “Sometimes you have to fight and there is a tendency to go a little scratchy.

“You want those gritty performances leading to the Olympic Games.”

Virtue did not hear the gasp that went up when Poje, skating before them, fell on the twizzles. But Moir did. And it affected him.

“There is a friendship there with Kaitlyn and Andrew as well as being competitors,” Moir said. “We always want them to skate their best…It’s a particular reminder to us that we’ve really got to focus on every move.

“It sapped my energy in a different way,” he said. “I was feeling very free. It was a great thing for me to refocus but I feel bad for them.”

He doesn’t think Weaver and Poje’s wobble will mean anything in the long run. Everybody knows who they are, he said. A strong free could put them back in their place.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” Poje said. ”Knowing the training and the preparation we had for this event, we felt really strong and we were really ready to attack the program. To have that performance today was kind of deflating.”

They are treating this as a learning experience. Weaver said she had already put it behind her. “We’ve moved on,” she said. “The good thing is that we had amazing training coming into this and that is not lost.”

Weaver said she had empathy for Poje. “I know how hard he works and how strong we felt, especially on that element,” she said of the twizzle that has been “sticky” for them in the past.

“The biggest role for me is supportive,” she said. “He knows that I’ll still love him, no matter what.”

Ad she noted they did feel the love from the crowd. “”They don’t need to clap to help you,” Weaver said “And they do. And they get behind us and they know we are having a rough go and we’re grateful for that.”



Gabby Daleman taking no prisoners


Forget the strep throat, the pneumonia, and all of the inflictions that have ever encroached upon Gabby Daleman’s life.

The 19-year-old (she’ll be 20 on Sunday), powered her way through the women’s short program at the National Skating Championships on Friday, defying all of it, facing it squarely with her brown eyes. And she’s in the lead. A big lead.

She earned 77.88 points (her personal best score internationally is 73), well ahead of Kaetlyn Osmond, who fell on a triple flip. Well, this was to be her triple-triple combination. Osmond, who had the presence of mind to add a double toe loop to her next jump, a triple Lutz and salvaged 71.41 points, 6.37 points behind the high-flying Daleman.

Daleman didn’t find out until yesterday that she had pneumonia. She had strep throat before Christmas, and it supposedly had abated by last week. Her sports psychologist, Judy Goss, had told her that it was better to suffer from it well before the national championships, than during it. This week, Daleman quipped: “Well this back-fired on us.”

Daleman said she knew something was wrong yesterday after practice when she felt she could not breathe. A team doctor diagnosed pneumonia and gave her antiobiotics and an inhaler.

Her friends asked her how she was going to be able to skate. Daleman, in usual form, texted back with emojis, joking that it was actually extra cardio training.

“If I can do this feeling this crappy, I can do anything,” she said.

Before Daleman skated, she disappeared in the bowels of the rink. Her coaches could not find her. “I had to be on my own,” she said.

“We thought we’d lost you,” they told her.

The marks flashed up on the rink board well before Daleman saw them. Her parents and family did and started to celebrate, then stopped, realizing that she didn’t know.

Daleman breezed off the ice like a hurricane. “Honestly,that felt unbelievably amazing,” she said. “After I came off the ice, I said to my coach: ‘That’s how I want to end 19. Last program. Last teenager. New program. Super excited.”

Daleman had shown up with a new costume, new hairstyle, new makeup, even some new choreography to spice up her sassy
Carmen routine, make it more playful to the judges. “I know it sounds bad, but I was just flirting my butt off to those judges in that program and it was a blast.”

Osmond said she was not “overly pleased” with her mistake. “I don’t remember the last time I missed a flip-toe in competition,” she said. “Even since Grand Prix Final, I haven’t missed that jump once in my program.

It was really frustrating. I haven’t missed any of them in practice. So it was really frustrating not doing my first element.”

She said she feels very motivated for the free program tomorrow.

Sarah Tamura finished third, well behind with 54.34 points, while former Canadian champion Alaine Chartrand made mistakes on all jumping passes and is ninth. She seemed stunned afterward and hopes to roar back in the long.

Duhamel and Radford: another program change


Timing is everything, isn’t it?

If not for a chance few moments on the other side of the world a few weeks ago, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford may not have found the answer to that question that has niggled at their subconscious levels all season: Just why is that Muse routine – so special before – giving them more headaches than they had ever imagined?

They thought they had solved the issues after another long trip overseas, to Italy early in the season and they came back refreshed and delivered a humdinger at Skate Canada International.

That should have put an end to it, right?

When most skaters stayed at home with their heads down, eyeing the Olympics, Duhamel and Radford took a side trip after the Grand Prix Final in Japan – where they finished an okay third – to a skating show in China.

They went to China not at all considering making yet another change to their free skate. But in that show, they were to follow the two-time Olympic champion Ekaterina Gordeeva. And she was skating to Adele’s “Hometown Glory.”

Of course, that music more than rang a bell. It was the music that Duhamel and Radford had used to win the 2016 world championship in Boston. It was an emphatic win. An emotional win. A triumphant comeback from a perilous year.

Duhamel and Radford were in the wings, waiting their turn at a dress rehearsal, when Gordeeva skated to this music. Duhamel was so moved, tears filled her eyes.

“This is how I want to feel when I am skating at the Olympics,” she said to herself.

Strangely enough, Radford was thinking the same thing. He had memories of a great energy. “Maybe we should skate to this,” he thought.

Duhamel and Radford know what it is like to feel uncomfortable with a program. Their “Alice In Wonderland“ number from the Sochi Olympics annoyed them all season. Last year, their Seal short program felt all at odds with them. In fact, they considered changing the music after Four Continents, but thought it too late. Later they discovered that their hesitation had done them no favours.

“I didn’t want to feel like that,” Duhamel said. Four years ago, they had gone to Sochi with programs that put them out of their comfort zones.

“Why would we do that again?” Duhamel said. “Go back to an Olympics to be outside of what I know?”

In the years they have been together, Duhamel and Radford have experimented with all sorts of concepts and music. Because of it, they have discovered – even now – what works the best. And what is best is the passionate, emotional music like Adele’s “Hometown Glory.”

“I feel like this Adele program unites us,” Duhamel said. “It’s the style that we have found through our journey.”

Radford says it’s a style that works equally well for both of them: she the athletic bullet, he the long-limbed artistic one.

Okay, Muse was good. They had some good skates to it. But since they skated to Muse the first time, Duhamel and Radford have changed. Their skating has improved. You can see it in their current short program, (“With or Without You”) almost ghostly, lovely. Muse had a different rhythm. They seemed at sixes and sevens trying to reconcile the magic of Muse to themselves and their new style. They just couldn’t connect to it.

“We just weren’t feeling it,” Radford said. It all became clear at that moment in China. As soon as they started working on Adele again, they found that it resonated more deeply with both of them.

So once again, a leading team has switched back to an old saw in this very tense Olympic year. The theme for everyone this season, Radford says, is the search for comfort. “You want to feel you are giving yourself the best chance to have a good skate,” he said.

The best part, they say, is that they came to this conclusion themselves.

In China, Duhamel and Radford found some ice time and a Youtube video of their Adele routine and started piecing it back together, without telling their coach Bruno Marcotte or choreographer Julie Marcotte what they were doing.

Finally, Duhamel flipped Bruno a text message, saying “Hey, we’re going to go back to ‘Hometown Glory.’

Marcotte replied: “You’ve waited four years to go back to the Olympics. If this is what you feel is right, do it.”

They had only three weeks to work on the program. They kept the change to themselves, just wanting to go to the rink, put their heads down and make it happen. They’ve had to make a few changes to the structure of the program.

They realize the switch does not guarantee that they will skate with wings, never putting a foot wrong and win the Olympics. But Duhamel feels that it will help put the odds in their favour. She believes their component marks will be better with this type of program. They will feel more comfortable, which will also lead to higher components. And they will deliver better elements.

Had they left things the way they were, Duhamel believes they might have won a bronze medal in Pyeongchang. But with this comfortable sofa of a program, and the feeling that they are one together, they believe they can do better than bronze.

“Why not take the chance?” she said.




Gabby Daleman: what strength is


Gabby Daleman, world bronze medalist, never seems to catch a break.

She has always had to make her own breaks. And she rides a roller coaster through the rest.

You’d think this season that she would have been able to bask in her achievements in Helsinki. But no.

At Cup of China, she suffered from a kidney infection. At Skate America, she was working through a viral infection that stuffed her up. She called it cardio training, always looking on the bright side.

Now, coming into the National Skating Championships, she has been suffering from pneumonia and strep throat. In her first words after a long-program practice, Daleman rasped: “It’s getting there.” With Daleman, it’s always something.

But she’s cheerful, having gone back to her long program from last year, “Rhapsody in Blue,” setting aside her powerful “Gladiator” routine.

But her problems have been far more deep-seated and life draining than a few dark respiratory systems and routines. She’s come through hell to be here.

As we’ve mentioned before in this blog, she’s endured bullying, eating disorders, and very serious health problems.

The bullying started from the time she was in grade one. She has a learning disability. It’s not dyslexia, but although she’s very clever in mathematics, she has troubles reading and writing. She was bullied for this. She was bullied when the school gave her extra time to write tests. She was bullied because she had a muscular body. She was a gymnast when she was young, so her shoulders were broader than you’d normally seen on a figure skater. She’d be bullied for this, her detractors saying that she wasn’t pretty enough, or too fat, and her dreams of becoming a figure skater would die an embarrassing death.

This continued until she made it to the Olympics in Sochi, the youngest member of Canada’s Olympic team at age 16. Say, 10 years. No surprise that her confidence and self-worth took a beating.

Along with all of the bullying came an eating disorder, which started while she was in grade five. She believed the chatter. It’s hard not to. If Daleman did eat, she’d write down the calories. And she’d try to burn off twice as many as she ate. “But it’s life,” she said. It’s an outward shrug. Not really a shrug inside. She talked about it all in a CBC video before the world championships last year. She still can’t watch it.

Since it aired, however, she’s had folk sending her messages: “Oh I didn’t know!” And others have felt compelled to speak about the issue, perhaps their own issues, empowered by Daleman’s message.

“That video is really touching for me because no one should go through it,” she said. “It’s awful. Still, to this day, I cry over it.”

And if that wasn’t enough, Daleman had to endure the growth of a cyst in her abdominal area. To say it’s painful is just an understatement. Some time ago, BEFORE the Helsinki world championship, Daleman first felt the effects of it just while getting up off a couch at home. The pain was excruciating.

She ended up getting an E-coli infection from it, too, that doctors didn’t immediately spot. Disastrous.

She felt better for two months, then it struck again during the Stars On Ice tour last spring. She says she “started feeling kind of weird” around the stop in Toronto. She shrugged it off, as skaters do.

By the time she got to Calgary, she ended up visiting the hospital-doing the show –going to hospital that she finally relented. She went home, hoping it would get better the next week. It didn’t. Doctors told her she needed surgery.

The surgery was serious business. Her abdomen was full of fluid, so ultrasound blocked their view of the problem. She didn’t know how perilous her condition was until she saw the ultrasound photos later.

She quit everything for three months. Unplugged herself from the world. Handed in her phone. Shut off social media. Stopped skating. She went to her family’s cottage in Parry Sound. Went for a swim. Ate. Found herself mesmerized by the gleaming waters. She practiced visualization, something she has found very useful.

Her family and friends have helped her pick up the pieces since. She came back and has been lifted – for a long time – by the work of Toronto sports psychologist Judy Goss. Daleman is happy to be here.

So on Thursday, Daleman hit practice ice for the first time here. You wouldn’t know she had strep throat or anything else. She was a bullet. She and choreographer Lori Nichol had edited the moves and transitions to fit her goals. The music made them seem easier.

And that triple toe loop –triple toe loop? It seemed as if the Thunderbird Arena wasn’t big enough for it. Or her. This is Gabby Daleman motoring forward, again.






A light shines on novice pairs


Brooke McIntosh just turned 13 years old five days before the National Skating Championships. She hasn’t wasted her time in this life, plucking daisies or fluffing pillows. She’s a speeding torpedo on a mission.

A blurred vision in pink, McIntosh scorched the competition with her 15-year-old partner, Brandon Toste, winning a gold medal in the novice pair event by more than 10 points on Wednesday.

She and Toste out-footed, out-lifted, out-spun, out-twisted and out-threw 10 other teams. Last year, only five duos even competed at this event.

This victory signaled a rebirth of pairs in Canada, perhaps. The best thing about it was that McIntosh and Toste didn’t come from the usual pair schools that have developed so many of Canada’s top skaters in past years. Their coaches? Andrew Evans, a 29-year-old former Canadian junior pair champion, and Brian Shales, a 32-year-old former novice and junior pair champion, working out of the Ice Skating Academy in Mississauga.

Evans used to skate with Julianne Seguin and with Kirsten Moore-Towers, too, both now medal contenders at the national championships this week.

As coaches, Evans and Shales have a tiger on their hands. Evans has coached McIntosh since she was a youngster. She was small and feisty and fearless. In short, a pair girl.

A year ago, Evans brought in Shales to handle the technical side of things. That not only has helped the program, it has helped to bring a measure of calmness to Evans. He’s a pacer, back and forth, hard when his skaters are out. Now he can stand still and take it all in. And a second set of eyes really helps the cause.

Shales, who retired from competition in 2009, is at his first national championship as a coach. “I’m loving it, “ he said. It’s his dream to teach young skaters and now he’s living it.

Evans said he knew he had something special from the time McIntosh and Toste were “babies.”

“You have a very athletic little girl and a boy who is absolutely in love with skating,” he said. “But so many other things have to fall in place.”

In the past year, Toste has grown about eight inches and put on 30 pounds. “He’s got some serious strength,” Evans said. He doesn’t believe Toste has ever lost a lift in practice, so consistent is he. For sure, he’s a power lifter. And McIntosh is very athletic when it comes to throws and twists.

She loves throws, she said. So there they were this week, landing a throw triple Salchow in their Pinocchio free skate, astonishing at this level.

Truth be told, McIntosh may be the boss of the two – although neither is saying this is true – but the matchup of personalities is perfect. Evans said McIntosh is “beyond driven and focused.” Toste is the steel mast behind it all, consistent and stable and being everything McIntosh needs to keep her on track.

“When you are that good, it can get a little erratic at times,” Evans said. “Some really powerful skaters can start to slip. I think he is the rock that she needs.”

Evans and Shales are trying to pass on what they know to this next generation of budding pair skaters. Evans always looked up to coaches such as Lee Barkell, Bruno Marcotte, Kris Wirtz, Josee Picard. They all had a big influence on him. “These other coaches were freakin’ good at what they do,” Evans said. ”And until you are on the other side of it, you really don’t know just how good they are.”

They were always told, Evans said, that the boy in the pair was like a frame, and the girl was the photo. They were not to be the centre of attention, but good enough to show off the woman.

Toste is “the epitome of a pair boy,” Evans said.

He’s also the “easiest kid to coach,” Evans said. “He’s always happy.” He takes direction well.

The next task is further development. Evans had already carefully prepared her for her pair career. “She knew every element in the book before she stepped on the ice with Brandon,” he said.

She started skating later than some, at age eight, when Evans began to work with her. After teaching her some CanSkate lessons, when “she was a cute little thing,” he suggested to her mother that McIntosh would make a good pair skater. “So they dedicated themselves very quickly,” Evans said. As pair coaches have found, the earlier the skaters take on pair skills, the better.

Already, McIntosh has a sense of how to do a triple twist. “And not a small triple twist,” Evans said. “A honker of a triple twist.”

It will be the next step, to teach this team this formidable trick. “There are two groups of pairs: ones with a twist and ones without one,” Evans said. “And you know what? With how strong that boy is and how fast she is, there is no reason they are not going to do a triple twist.”

They learn so readily and so easily, that Evans said he has problems challenging them enough. ”I start to wonder how much more aggressive can I be with my coaching? Let’s try new elements.”

It’s clear that McIntosh can do throws. And she can jump. She shows up to the rink, all business. Her mien? Warmup time is not the time to talk to friends. It’s a time to warm up. “When she steps on the ice, there is no second that she is not working,” Evans said.

In fact, Evans sometimes has to kick her off the ice. “She’ll go and go and go.” At times he has to send her home.

Pair skating comes almost intuitively to these two. And finally, this coming season, they will be just old enough to take part in the Junior Grand Prix circuit. In fact, they will have eligibility for a good many years.

McIntosh has skated with a few other lower-level partners. Toste has skated pairs only with McIntosh. They head to the Ice Academy by 6:45 a.m. to train before school starts at 9 a.m. Because they attend a high-performance school, they attend it only in the mornings, then skate singles in the afternoon. McIntosh is currently in grade 7, Toste in grade 10.

And in their young lives, who would they emulate? Toste loses no time in saying: Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, the Chinese world champions, one of the favourites to win an Olympic gold medal next month.

“I’m a big fan of them,” Toste said. “I really enjoy their artistry. All of their elements have this wow factor to them.”

Indeed. What a start.




















Alec Guinzbourg: From broken leg to gold medal


Oh the novice men’s event. Irresistible. It’s all about the beginning of hope growing in and for the little guys (and not-so-little guys), as they skate in a big, big rink, somewhat empty perhaps, but full of life all the same.

Little guys with spidery legs. Hair slicked back, dressed to the nines. “May All Your Wishes Come true…May you build a ladder to the sky,” went the music for one plucky 13-year-old (who ended up 17th.) There was a little corner where four people sat with the flag of New Brunswick across their laps (probably keeping them warm, somewhat, in a cold arena). Peter Gunn flew across the ice. One of these youngsters, bless his heart, attempted a triple Axel in the free program, but underrotated it. That would be Aissa Bouraraguia, a 16-year-old from Montreal, who ended sixth. He skated to a song about dreams – that life killed. Surely, his are just starting.

The youngest member of the crew was Wesley Chiu from Vancouver, very tiny at age 12, with lots of moxie. He’s seventh.

Then there was tiny Alec Guinzbourg who skated very big in the big rink. And won the thing, taking the short program by four points and the long by 10, finishing with 150.73 points. That put him safely ahead of Aleksa Rakic, 13, with 136.76 and Brian Chiem, 15, with 128.78.

There are seniors who would pine for Guinzbourg’s matter-of-fact consistency, seniors who would dream of his outright confidence.

Guinzbourg probably hasn’t hit five feet in height, yet. But he picked his own free skate music, Amarcord: “Italian,” he said. His mother, a piano teacher, put it all together. He’d heard it on the radio. He probably wasn’t listening to a hard rock station.

Guinzbourg wasn’t surprised that, without a shadow of a doubt, he landed a triple Lutz, and a couple of triple flips. That’s because he spent the past month doing four run-throughs each of his short and long programs daily.


Andrei Berezintsev, who has been coaching the young lad for four or five years, said: “He was exactly ready for what he had done tonight.”

“I think in his mind there was no question or doubts. Just go for it. For him, it was just another short, another free, like he did every day, four times per day. That was the deal. You want to win? You have to do that.”

All this, despite the fact that Guinzbourg was only ninth at the novice championship last year and had a slow start this season. Guinzbourg himself admits: “It was just the first time [as a novice skater] and I felt really nervous.

“But this year, I kind of aware of everything. Not so nervous.”

Berezintsev himself says Guinzbourg just wasn’t mentally ready for that level of competition last year. Still, it was a good experience, scraping the curbs with his doubts.

And early this season, he couldn’t work toward it, because he broke his left (landing) leg, while picking in for a jump. He was out two months.

The coach cobbled together a scaled-down program to get through sectionals and then Guinzbourg found confidence in finishing second at divisionals. “Now everything is back,” the Russian-born coach said. “Lutz, flip.”

They will start working on a triple Axel now and it’s on to junior level next year.

Berezintsev first laid eyes on Guinzbourg when he was about eight or nine years old. And he knew he was looking at a special kid. (He’s the former coach of Gabby Daleman and also worked with Brian Joubert in France for a time.)

“We saw right away something interesting,” Berezintsev said. “Something different. “

Even thought the kid jumped the opposite way to most. He’s a leftie. Berezintsev wasn’t worried about that. He’s handled lots of lefties in his day.

“Okay, we have to do something with this boy,” he said. “Because he has the potential. He has already something we can develop for skating. I’m very proud of him.”

He’s only 13 and for two years, he’s being doing triples. As a pre-novice, he was doing triple Salchow and triple toe loops.

“Once I got one, it kind of started to click,” Guinzbourg said. So once I got my double Axel, I started to get my Salchow. Then a year later, I got my loop, flip and Lutz.”

So here, it all starts. And he’s just turned 13. And what a picture, piano keys across his ribs on his costume. He’ll outgrow it, we’re sure, in years to come.


Patrick Chan, pulling himself to the finish

So much of what Patrick Chan does is linked to emotion, his inner life, how it feels to do something, what it means to him.

It gives him a restless foot.

And that’s how he’s found himself in Vancouver for the past couple of months to prepare for the national skating championships and Olympics, thousands of miles away from Detroit, where he’s hung his hat for three years or so.

The final tipping point was Skate Canada International last October in Regina, not the most glamorous of spots in his world itinerary. But everything went wrong. After a frustrating trip, with flight delays, missed connections, and missing costumes, Chan outwardly said it relaxed him, and he’d skate in a borrowed shirt if he had to.

But “running around like a dog in the airport trying to get on a plane,” left him unsettled and unhappy. And then he completely fell apart in the long program, dropping from second after the short to fourth overall. And it wasn’t pretty. Not at all. Chan called it his worst skate on the international stage. It wasn’t the way to get to the Olympics. No doubt the pressure was on.

But it was more than a missing suitcase that hobbled Chan. He had already announced he was scaling back his quads for Skate Canada, because he felt fear every time he took his opening pose, thinking of the formidable jumping tasks he had to accomplish as Canada’s skating flag bearer. It undermined his confidence. He was unhappy. Jumps weren’t his thing. His magnificent footwork and skating abilities – hitting top speed in a stride or two – didn’t seem enough in this new world of quads. While he was away on a respite, the skating world changed.

After Skate Canada, Chan took about 10 days off, just to gather his thoughts and “really think well and hard about my motivation and my determination to go for it,” he said. He had come to a crossroads. He had to decide which path to take. He pulled out of NHK, which also lost Yuzuru Hanyu to practice injury, and he lost any chance of qualifying for the Grand Prix Final. He disappeared completely from the conversation.

He headed for Vancouver, where he has friends, and finally stepped on the ice a couple of times. And it was only then that he decided to go on. He started with light training. Baby steps. Then in mid-November, he really began to work again. He buckled down, knew he wasn’t going back to Detroit and began to choose the people he wanted to help him make the run to the Olympics.

This wandering minstrel has actually, moved every few years to train. He started out in Toronto under Osborne Colson, but when he died, Chan followed Don Laws to Florida. But it was a lonely existence for a young, outdoorsy guy, and he moved to Christy Krall in Colorado Springs, where she helped his quad game. Indeed, Chan was the first to bring back the quad after the 2010 Olympics. He then forged a relationship with his dance instructor Kathy Johnson and had to find another rink: Detroit it was. When the relationship with Johnson no longer worked, Chan moved to another spot in Detroit. All suburban Detroit. And while he did so, many of his friends, like Eladj Balde and others left. Overall, he’s been in Detroit for several years. He’s been training in the United States for seven years.

So he’s come back home. And he says it feels good. Not only is the exchange rate to his advantage (The Canadian dollar is worth at least 20 per cent less than the U.S. dollar), but he’s able to take advantage more easily of everything that being a national team athlete offers: off-ice training, physiotherapists, massage, chiropractic medicine. His new trainer, Anna Aylwin is just over the Rockies in Calgary, working at the Canadian Sports Institute in Calgary. She’s a specialist in strength and sport physiology. And then there’s Kelly Quipp, an exercise physiologist there. Together, they are mapping out Chan’s training sessions.

The plan? It’s day to day. Week to week. It’s not as if there has been a plan from November. His Calgary family started out by telling him he had so many weeks to get the work done, and this is the way to handle it. “Yeah, I did lose a lot of time,” he admitted.

Coach? Well, Chan now has a team. Ravi Walia, based in Edmonton, has been helping Chan. Chan has gone to Edmonton a few times to work with him. Liz Putman, a former national pair skater, is the creative director at the Coquitlam club in British Columbia. She’s writing plans out, talking to Walia and the folks at the Canadian Sport Institute and making sure everyone is on the same page. “It’s been great,” Chan said. It’s also seems very complicated.

But for his inner life, British Columbia has been a boon. He gets to live in a big city – so different from his last decade – and all he has to do to change his environment is to head for nearby mountains. “It’s a really short commute to beautiful hikes,” he said. “I’m still getting outside and exercising, but also getting some inspiration from my environment.”

Chan said life in Detroit was starting to take a toll. He’d go home from the rink and feel like there wasn’t much to motivate him outside the arena.

“I felt like my environment was taking a toll on my mental well-being and I wanted to be in a place that was inspiring,” he said. “I’m very much an athlete that is influenced by his environment. I’ve noticed that one of the biggest things that attracted me to the western part of Canada, was first of all, being back in Canada, and not feeling like a stranger as I go about my life every day.”

Walia will be the coach that stands by the boards with him at the Olympics. But Walia’s first priority is world silver medalist Kaetlyn Osmond. If there is a conflict, then his mentor from the Detroit club, Oleg Epstein, will stand with Chan by the boards.

Marina Zoueva says she’s still in contact with Chan and is happy to help in any way. And she loves him and feels he’s special and unique.

As for Chan, he’s dealing with a lot more than environment. “At this part of my career, this is where things get really tough,” he said. He’s 27 years old. Already people are presenting him with opportunities for his post-skating career. He can’t think of them right now, but they’re there, all in a “whirlwind.”

While others like Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are celebrating the final competitions that they will do this season, one by one, Chan hasn’t been in that head space. Whilw Virtue and Moir have been setting world records, Chan has been losing a quad race, falling behind his peers. However, he has learned to “embrace every single day that I get the chance to come in and skate and do something that I’m good at and it feels great to do.”

As for all his post-skating opportunities, Chan has to put them at the back of his mind. “They are all kind of waiting in the curtain for their turn,” he said. “I’m going about one goal at a time and right now that’s nationals next week and the Olympics.” He has no idea if he will go on to the world championships. It hasn’t entered his mind. He said nobody at Skate Canada had discussed the world championships. However, he would be particularly useful for Skate Canada, to set up men’s berths for next season.

As for quads, Chan sees himself as a “Switzerland” lying in the middle of skaters who are solely artistic, and those, like Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou and Boyang Jin, who fire out more and more difficult quads. “We all pick our own battles and I’ve picked mine,” Chan said. He’ll stick with the strategy that he adopted before Skate Canada: one quad in the short, two in the long, all of them quad toe loops. His quad Salchows aren’t in the picture. “I shouldn’t feel diminished,” he said. “I can offer a lot in so many other ways than just quads.”

Well, that’s what Adam Rippon does. He has a totally different mindset. Nothing will stop him. He’s proud of what he does and he does it well.

For now, Chan feels motivated, if not inspired. “I feel a push to keep striving, whether it’s a good day or a bad day,” he said. “I always see the light at the end of the tunnel lately and I was missing that. The light thinned quite a bit when I was in Michigan.”

His comeback hasn’t been all he imagined. His focus is to set a record by winning his tenth senior national championship and to contribute to the team event in Pyeongchang. Canada has a good shot at a gold medal. That gold medal would mean just as much as an individual medal to Chan. “It may not be the same for another skater or another teammate, gut for me at this point in my career, anything at this point is a bonus.”