Muse 2.0 gets a bumpy debut

MONTREAL

It’s a shocking ride to go from a beautiful high to a stumbly low.

Two-time world pair champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are trying to figure it out, how and why they fell to a troubled third place in the free skate at Autumn Classic on a blistering hot Saturday in a cold rink.

Ouch.

It’s Olympic year. Ouch.

And they had performed as if they were in a dream in the short program, which they had won the previous day.

Duhamel says she’s confused at their performance, in which she fell on a triple Lutz, a triple Salchow, and a throw quad Salchow and just to add misery to the load, they slipped quite out of synch on a side by side spin.

Think of the energy it took Duhamel to pick herself up three times, and catch up to her taller partner.

”I feel like the times we’ve had to perform it in the last month, it’s all felt so difficult,” Duhamel said. “Whereas the short has just felt as light as air and super easy.”

Radford said they’ve been having troubles trying to translate stellar training efforts of their free skate to Muse into competition success. “In the last little bit, we’ve done five run-throughs and to be honest they’ve all been like this,” he said. “ Just lots of misses. And lots of bizarre misses.

“If you see us practice, you never really see us do stuff like that.”

They are puzzled, both of them. “We need to go back and make some changes so we can access it,” Radford said.

If they were to mess up once in a while, no big deal. But nightmares keep happening.

They shown the program in front of judges three times, once at a training camp, once in front of judge monitors and here. Each time, with somebody watching, and they’ve put the program all together in once piece, everything goes pear-shaped.

“Things just go so haywire,” Radford said.

Musing, Radford said: “Good thing it happened here and not during the season. We’ve got time to figure things out. We’ll give it another go at Skate Canada.”

Another thing: Radford says they always learn so much when things don’t go well. “We have a lot of experience to draw on in that regard,” he said.

No, they don’t feel like all is lost or that it’s all over. This performance was only the beginning. They have work to do. They take comfort in the thought that during the 2010 Olympic year, German team Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, fell afoul of their long program too, changed it mid-season from the dirge You’ll Never Walk Alone to Out of Africa, which earned them a bronze medal.

The idea of changing their routine came up in conversation very quickly (“At this point, we’re open to anything,” Radford said.). But then again, he thinks it’s too soon to jump to that conclusion. “I think we need to give it more time to develop,” he said. Maybe they need to change their layout patterns, maybe even choreography. Maybe they just need to revisit their strategy, he said.

They’ve had nothing but good memories of their Muse routine that they used for their first world title in 2014-2015.

Interestingly enough, they feel that their successful short program has a much slower pace. They have discovered a smoother style. Their lines also match better.

And when they did Muse for the first time “we were younger,” Radford said. They are different skaters now.

Perhaps they were trying to take the feeling of the short and relate it to the long. Perhaps the two just don’t mix, like oil and water. Radford seemed to be thinking out loud.

The fall on the triple Lutz was just a freaky thing. They had changed their entrance into the jump, putting it straight at an end, rather than in a corner. “It’s very uncharacteristic of us. Even if we do a very bad one, it’s never like that.”

Little miscues just piled up. Radford said he missed a little step going into the twist. “Like a brain fart,” he said.

“But then little things start to change. And when we’re not completely comfortable patterns, you just get a little tight and things start to get a little further away from you.”

It’s a mystery and a puzzle. And it’s time for some soul searching. They’ve done it before. They’ll do it again.

 

 

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Javi Fernandez: the charming world champion

MONTREAL

Even while his world is changing all around him, swallowing him, passing him by perhaps, Javier Fernandez is stepping out this year with an I-am-who-I-am elegance.

And it’s refreshing.

He’s not the same skater he was when he showed up on Brian Orser’s doorstep six years ago as a laid-back Spaniard with loads of charm. That’s when he was a quad guy, so innately gifted that his jump prowess prompted Yuzuru Hanyu to come to Canada to skate with Orser, too. Hanyu wanted to learn from Fernandez. At the time Hanyu had one quad. He has learned, in spades.

But in the meantime, Fernandez has became much, much more than a jumper, drafted into the stroking-footwork-skating programs of Orser and co-host Tracy Wilson, whose ice dancing skills have transformed many a skater into well, a real skater. Watch Javi’s footwork. It’s a treat.

“I think this season is going to change a lot figure skating,” he said, after finishing second to Yuzuru Hanyu with a big score of 101.20, still about 11 ½ points behind the Japanese star.

If left to current devices, Fernandez sees skaters of the future loading up their programs with quads galore, but what else? He thinks things need to be reined in a bit.

“A lot of things are going to be fixed,” he said optimistically. “A lot of things are going to change. I think the younger boys are pushing into a different way, and something is going to go after this year.”

Of course, he’s speaking about a push to limit the points allotted to quads at the International Skating Union congress that takes place after an Olympic season in the wake of young skaters like Nathan Chen, Boyang Jin, Hanyu, Shoma Uno and Vincent Zhou loading up with four-rotation jumps.

“I think if skating doesn’t stop the quads, it’s going to be everything quads,” Fernandez said. “And what about the person who do only one quad and have the best skating in the world? He’s not going to have a chance… So my point is, if we don’t stop the quantity of quads that we do in the free program, then we are going to lose a lot of figure skating. “

He’d rather a world championship become a battle of who is the best all-around skater, the best spinner, the best footwork artist, rather than “the person that does seven quads.”

He does not know if the change he’d like to see will happen. “We will see,” he said.

Yes, Fernandez has not only worked on footwork, but he’s also paid special attention to spins. And you could see the improvement in his short program to Charlie Chaplin.

Fernandez said he’d had the same spins for the past three years, but he wanted a change. If everybody has the same spins, your spins won’t be a wow, he reasons. The answer: different spin positions. He felt it important to update his spins in a season that means a lot to him.

He doesn’t know if he’s going to continue competing after this Olympic season. He said he wants to show people his best skate, in case it’s his last.

So the spin positions, thanks to help from Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club spin coach, Paige Astrop, (Brian Orser calls her the spin doctor), he’s found spin positions that match the music. That’s a rare treat, actually. He’ll do a spin that looks like a bird with a broken wing. He’ll do a spin that jumps a bit for joy.

It’s all possible because although Fernandez has done a Charlie Chaplan program before, this short program version is very different and far more sophisticated than the usual fare with mustache and cane and turned out shoes.

.”It’s not easy to find positions that fit the program 100 per cent,” he said. “And also something that not everybody is using. But we actually did find some and they don’t bother the spin much.”

The Charlie Chaplin that Fernandez did in the past suited his personality: charming, happy, romantic. “He was always in love,” Fernandez said.

“This one is in the beginning more dramatic. It’s like, what is going on? This is not Charlie Chaplin! This is a different idea of Charlie. That’s what we were looking for. It has a little Charlie touch. We wanted to give Charlie Chaplin a second chance. “

His free program is to “Man of La Mancha,” ending with “The Impossible Dream.” It almost sounds like a farewell and it’s magnificent. It’s perhaps the story of his life.

Fernandez’s effort in the short program also left Orser speechless. Fernandez isn’t used to competing this early in the season, and he’s still looking for the pacing and rhythm of his routines. It’s easy at home. Not so easy at a competition. “It was his first pancake,” Orser said.

Fernandez told Wilson he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to smile. Said the sage Wilson: “You can never lose, Javi, by smiling.”

His marks were remarkable, Orser said. He did only a quad-double, when he intends quad-triple. He got all level fours. Although Fernandez was about 10 points behind Hanyu in technical bits, he was close on his heels in components: only two points back at 46.55.

And choreographing elements like spins? “You don’t see that very often,” Orser said. “You don’t see a lot of creativity. Yuzu is extremely creative and Javi’s going that way. When we get to the stage where we’re starting to choreograph spins, we’re in a good place, rather than just teaching them to count [rotations].”

Should Fernandez step aside after this year, it will leave a very large empty space. He’s a beloved two-time world champion. And he’s revolutionized skating in Spain. He has rained on a dry spot. And he’s done it with charm and integrity.

 

 

 

Duhamel and Radford finding their feet

MONTREAL

It was a moment. Perhaps the moment of the night. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford had just finished their short program at Autumn Classic. They sat on the ice, facing each other, triumphant, just looking in each others eyes, seemingly speechless.

“Thank you,” they said to each other.

In the kiss and cry that followed, words didn’t tell the story. Faces did. Coach Bruno Marcotte took one deep exhale, and you knew he had been affected by what he had seen, too.

This, after a troubled season beset by injury, early scrambles and a seventh-place finish at worlds. Radford referred to it as a “tumultuous” season.

“Like there were seriously days…..” he said.

“I know there are a lot of people who questioned if we could do it again and we questioned it too,” said Duhamel, who had won the two previous world titles with Radford. “It has to reach the level we were once at. And we have those moments in training where we’d feel: ‘Wow, we’re better than we ever thought we could be.’ But it was only us and our coaches that would see those moments.

“I just feel like we are back.”

The Canadian titlists scored 77.14, so close to their personal best of 78.39, to win the short program on Friday. Ask Duhamel and she thinks of a raft of ways they could improve, so it bodes well. They won by almost four points over exciting French team Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres.

What a crowd saw on Friday was exactly how they had been training. “I think that we’re just really happy to have the training translate to the competition,” Radford said. “For the last month, we’ve been training so well. So well, I’d think we should be going to the Olympics right now. “

But up to now, it would have been different if they did a run-through in front of somebody, like a judge. Things would fall apart. “We have to figure out why that happens,” Radford said.

“For this to come together, this is a good step. It gives us confidence. It lets us know this is what we’re capable of each time we go out.”

It was easy to see that the performance to “With You, Without You” was emotional and meaningful. “When it got to the footwork sequence, I think we just felt both right where we wanted to be,” Radford said “Right where we always knew we were supposed to be. Sometimes we can’t always get there. This is what we want to feel like all the time.”

Why so different this season? Radford says it’s like one of those days when you wake up and you just feel good. For an extended amount of time. “At the beginning of last season, things started not working,” he said. “We started getting frustrated and then things kept on not working and we got more frustrated.”

Duhamel admitted they had programs last year that didn’t make them feel comfortable. They never started their short program last year feeling settled.

“We had this dance lift at the beginning of our short program [Seal],” she said. “We used to be so nervous for it and it wasn’t even a technical element. So to start with that tension is never fun. We just assumed throughout the season, it would have gone away. It never did. “

From the first time they did this new short program, they felt settled. Everything feels within their reach. Last year, they felt out of reach of what they needed to do.
“It feels like we’re on the right track,” Radford said.

Besides, choreographer Julie Marcotte gave them an important piece of advice: “Skate stupid,” she said.

“She said we needed to stop being so hypersensitive about everything,” Duhamel said. “It’s the exact advice we need at times.”

They know their competitive careers are coming to a close. They know they will not have many more opportunities to compete, and to compete at home. They are savouring these moments. The crowd screamed wildly when Duhamel and Radford landed triple Lutzes –the jump that Radford found so impossible at the world championships when he was suffering from herniated disc.

“It’s the last time we are doing this competition,” Radford said. “So we might as well enjoy the moment.”

 

 

 

 

Yuzuru Hanyu, the maestro

MONTREAL

At Autumn Classic International on Friday, Japanese star Yuzuru Hanyu took a step beyond – in his first appearance of the Olympic season no less.

Returning to an old Chopin routine he had done during the 2015-2016 season, Hanyu, still only 22, so young and so old at the same time, became a maestro.

With every flying movement of an arm or a hand, he was in total control of a packed audience that was, mind you, dominantly Japanese, but it didn’t really matter. Everybody who was there felt it, saw it, bowed to it.

Honestly, he looked like a conductor and the orchestra was the audience. He pulled their strings and their hearts at the same time.

Hanyu did the most beautiful short program – choreographed and rechoreographed by Jeff Buttle – in the most breathtaking way, setting a world record of 112.72 points, even though he decided to leave his quad loop at home this time.

So, inscrutable Yuzuru, how can we possibly describe thee? He skated with patience that comes with confidence. He let fly a quad Salchow, landed with such soft knees, you couldn’t hear it. Judges loaded that thing up with GOE of +3, all across. Same thing with a triple Axel coming out of footwork. (He loves the triple Axel.)

And that quad toe loop – triple toe loop, done with both arms above his head (that’s new) Honestly. When he came down from the heavens on that one, his arms floated down by his sides, such a simple move, so effective. The crowd roared. And oh god, the footwork. And the spins, one of them a sit spin in which his arm and hand constantly floated, turned, and wrote “War and Peace” in a gesture.

His coach, Brian Orser, was speechless in the minutes afterward.

“For this time of year…..” he said. “There is a patience to this program that is comforting to everybody when you are watching it. It doesn’t feel awkward. You can hear a pin drop. You know when the next movement is going to happen. There is a little bit of anticipation for it. It’s really nice to be in that kind of comfort. “

Hanyu left out his quad loop – he became the first to land one in competition last season – because “he was just feeling a little bit of pain in his [right] knee,” Orser said. “It wasn’t one particular thing that made him go ouch. It just started to gradually get a little achy.”

After a little discussion at home, Hanyu decided to drop the loop for the moment, instead of pushing it. If not, he could have developed a more serious problem with his knee that would have been difficult to correct all season. They were smart. They stopped the nag. Orser said by the time he competed the short program on Friday, he actually was in no pain.

Before he was to skate, Orser and co-coach Tracy Wilson advocated the quad Salchow instead. Just think, they told him, it will be easy.
As soon as Hanyu finished the program, he came to Orser and Wilson and grinned: “That was so easy!”

Imagine, doing an easier routine and setting a world record. “It’s all about quality,” Orser said. “It’s the quality of all the elements. It’s the quality of all the skating. It’s the quality of the elements.”

Orser calls Hanyu the best spinner in the world and his step sequence is “magical” when it’s a good night. And it was a very good night.

 

 

Osmond turns back to Piaf

For Kaetlyn Osmond in this very important Olympic year, what is old is new again.

Starting next week at Autumn Classic, the world silver medalist will be going back to her masterful Edith Piaf short program of last season, leaving behind the exquisite “Summertime” on which she has toiled all summer.

It’s hardly a panic move. It’s a carefully calculated weighing of feeling and confidence, of impact and drama.

When judge monitors saw her new “Summertime” short program at the national training camp in late August, they gave a ripple of thumbs up, loving its feeling, the mood Osmond created, the maturity of it all and the choreography (done by Lance Vipond, who also created her Edith Piaf routine). Osmond loved it, too.

At the end of last season, after Piaf’s “Sous Le Ciel de Paris” and “Milord” had given her so much sparkle, Osmond felt that she had had enough of it. After all, she’d been hearing the music 15 times a day. It was all getting a bit cloying. Back then, she was happy to see the end of it.

“At the end of last season, we actually considered keeping the Edith Piaf for a second season,” said long-time coach Ravi Walia. “It was successful and she was so comfortable with it.

“But we knew that if she kept it a second year, she would have become really bored with it. She would have had to train it for a whole other year. So she got a new program choreographed. And we decided that after the summer, we’d see how the new program was going and how it was developing. And we’d decide at the end of the summer which program we thought would be a better choice for the season.”

Two days after she returned from the national team camp, Osmond began to toy with the Piaf choreography. She pulled it up on her computer. She didn’t do a full run-through of it until last Thursday. And it was clear what the decision should be. Piaf was like a comfortable old sweater.

“It felt like the best kind of déjà vu, honestly,” she said. “The minute that I turned the music on and went to skate it, it just felt incredible. It brought back so many great memories from last year. I had forgotten how much fun I had doing that.”

Walia said that even though the “Summertime” routine was very good, the team wanted to make sure that Osmond goes to the Olympics with her strongest programs. “We agreed that the Piaf program is the best program she’s ever had,” Walia said. “Many people have said to us that it’s a masterpiece. It’s obvious that we wanted to go to the Olympics with our strongest program. And that was definitely the Edith Piaf program.”

Vipond helped to refresh the new Piaf with some minor changes, some to the step sequence. It won’t look quite the same as last year. And that’s because Osmond isn’t the same as she was last year. “Now when I see her do this program again, I’ve noticed that it’s a lot better,” Walia said. “She skates it way better than before. She’s a better skater, so the program is ever better than it was before.”

Kaetlyn as a juvenile skater in Newfoundland

 

Last summer, Walia and Osmond worked diligently on her skating skills. Her technical content is very similar to last year’s routines, but they’ve added more details and polish “so that every movement and every second that she is on the ice, she looks perfect,” Walia said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on that. We really tried to work on the technique of her jumps to make them more technically sound and more consistent.  And the other thing we’ve focused on is her endurance. She’s done a lot of both on-ice and off-ice to help with her stamina.” It will help her on those competitive days when adrenalin makes her give more than usual.

The stamina training will help her with the new Piaf, which is a much faster-paced program that the languid and breezy “Summertime.” “I learned that on the first day, doing it again,” Osmond said. The tempo is indeed more challenging. She’s getting used to it and has skated it cleanly.

“But the character is definitely a lot stronger than “Summertime” and for me this year, that is what I want to feel, knowing exactly what the character of a program is and be able to skate a program that I know I love,” Osmond said. “As much as I love “Summertime” – I honestly loved doing that all summer – I just honestly love this program more.”

So now it’s exciting in her mind. Walia believes that wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t had a long break from it.  “Now that she just came back to it, it’s feels fresh for her and I think that’s really important.  You can tell if a program is really stale.” It would begin to show up in her performances. But Walia believes she can grow even more in this reborn Piaf. “I think by the Grand Prix, it’s going to be really special,” Walia said.

Costume?  “We were debating if we would change the costume,” Osmond said. “Or change the colour or try to create a new design. But for me, the dress worked really well with program and I couldn’t imagine skating that program with a different dress on. So I’ll be keeping the dress.”

Osmond still can’t quite believe she won a world silver medal but it’s very real. It’s motivated her further. “Worlds was definitely a big confidence booster,” she said. “But last year, everything seemed to fall in place for me. And I was able to compete well at each competition. But there is still a consistency that I want to be able to accomplish. I’ve had a great sense of motivation since worlds. I think it helped me a lot through my summer training to motivate me each morning to get on the ice and focus and skate my absolute best each and every day.”

Walia says Osmond has always been a hard worker, but she’s now very driven for more success. “That’s not an added pressure,” Walia said. “The great thing when people have expectations of you, it’s because you are doing something well.”

 

Virtue and Moir: The show must go on

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir came back after a two-year sojourn last year because they wanted to skate. And they felt they had more to give.

“We felt like we could be better,” Moir said.

Youngsters

 

No doubt, an Olympic gold medal is on their minds. But it’s not all and it’s not enough.

There are so many days in which they smile the whole time. They wake up wanting to go to the rink. As they said a year ago, they didn’t come back to be who they were – which wasn’t bad, mind you: all those great edges; the intertwining of one movement which unfolds to the next; the novel lifts, new each year; the passion to express.

They spent last year revamping their technique and their style of skating, believe it or not: working on basics and mechanics, shifting the patterns in which their bodies moved. They spent time in the gym. They never fail to mention B2Ten, the group that gives them multi-faceted off-ice support, some of it rather scientific. Their goal was not necessarily to set the world afire last year as they set the groundwork for their second year back: this year.

But they did set the world afire in 2016-2017. They set two world records, for the short dance (82.43) and total score (198.62). And they were undefeated last season against the world’s best, the lone bobble to the exquisite French dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who edged them in the free dance at the world championships, but not overall. Virtue and Moir admitted their free dance wasn’t their best skate.  “That kind of stung us a little bit,” Moir said. “And we were trained. We wanted to perform at the level we thought we should have.”

Even so, they are coming into this season with all sorts of momentum. There should be no surprise if they have taken their skills and their expressive work yet a step further. It’s what they do. It’s the fire that lights them from within. They will be better this year than last. And experience is on their side, too. Last year they had to learn to compete again. They passed that test with flying flags.

”We’re so grateful to have had last year to set us up, schedule-wise especially, just to optimize our training this season and solidify our choreography and give our off-ice team a bit of a chance to home in on our mechanics once again,” Virtue said. “Things have just been rolling along as planned. I think in an Olympic season, you have to be adaptable, but part of that is just giving ourselves a buffer in case anything comes up through the year. I feel like we’ve done that.”

Mostly, they are excited about their material. It’s not a secret that they are skating to Rolling Stones and the Eagles and a bit of Carlos Santana for their short dance and “Moulin Rouge” for the free dance. What is a secret is just what and how they are using the music.

They did say that the music from their “Moulin Rouge” is coming from the Oscar-winning movie version, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, a wonderfully dark, grandiose film that became the first musical in 10 years to be nominated for Best Picture back in 2001.

It took its producers two years to clear the rights for all of the music, since all but one song – “Come What May” – were covers of music from artists such as David Bowie (“Nature Boy”) and Elton John (“Your Song.”)

Virtue and Moir have always loved the movie and know that “Moulin Rouge” has been used time and again by international figure skaters (especially “El Tango de Roxanne” for ice dancers).

“But we try, as we always do, to put our own stamp on it, and make it unique,” Moir said. “Hopefully, it’s successful. We don’t want to give it exactly too much of where we drew things from. We want people to experience that for themselves,” Moir said.

Skaters have only a few minutes to tell a story, he added, and he doesn’t want to ruin the experience for spectators by revealing the specifics.

So will it be that riveting Roxanne tango, perfect for an ice dancer to pluck? Or the winsomely beautiful “Nature Boy,” by Bowie – perhaps the most beautiful song of the movie?  Or perhaps “Come What May,” the ultimate love song – which would play well with ice dancers.

The public won’t know until their first competition: next week at Autumn Classic in Montreal, where Virtue and Moir will go up against two-time world medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and Canadian innovators Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier.

It’s not easy keeping secrets in this social media world. But Autumn Classic will represent an unveiling, before Virtue and Moir get serious at Skate Canada in Regina in October.

There is an excitement when they talk about their  “Moulin Rouge.” It was their idea. They presented it to coaches in Montreal.  There has always been a collaboration in choosing music with coaches and choreographers. “But this just felt like ours,” Virtue said.

“We are super proud of our 2017 programs for sure,” Moir said. “But the one thing we could have improved upon is picking something that we really connect with. We had a piece of music in 2014 that we couldn’t skate to, because people before us had made it special already.”

But “Moulin Rouge” is different. “It comes from within us,” Moir said. “Skating to it feels special. I don’t know what it will look like. It might be a complete mess. But I can tell you, we are having a blast doing it. And we feel we have a special connection to it.” It’s high theatre, for sure.

So “Moulin Rouge” has become their standard piece. “We just didn’t find anything that spoke to us and that we connected with like that,” Moir said. “And Marie [France Dubreuil ) and Patch [Patrice Lauzon] let us play with it a bit. And once they saw our passion and our connection to it, they started to come around a little bit more.”

When they began to create, things fell into place naturally. David Wilson came in to help, as well as their hip-hop man Sam Chouinard. “We give credit to our coaches to not only let us have the opportunity to do something, but also getting on board and making it more special than we could ever believe,” Moir said.

This season, Latin is the prescribed rhythm for the short dance – and it’s not new to Virtue and Moir who have been together two decades. In fact, they danced a fiery flamenco at the Vancouver Olympics enroute to a gold medal.  There will be nothing simple about this Latin piece.

“We want to do something a little bit different,” said Moir. Dubreuil designed the routine for them and it’s a mix of modern rock. “It’s a bit of a party,” Moir said. “But we love the material and we get a chance to dance. It’s what we love to do.”

It starts with “Sympathy for the Devil,” and moves on to “Hotel California,” but it’s a novel arrangement. “It’s kind of a neat way to do Latin differently,” Virtue said.

Behind it all is a lot of training. They know what it is like to win and to defend – and they know how hard it is to defend. They are very motivated. They don’t have to look for it. “We are just trying to control our emotions more than find motivation,” Moir said. “We think about it every day. That’s already started. It’s so funny how quick you’re going to be every night, dreaming about the Olympics. You can’t get away from it almost.”

The nice thing is that their Olympic record sets us them up nicely, said Virtue, speaking of winning the Vancouver Olympics and finishing second in the Sochi Olympics four years ago.

“I think we are the underdogs!” Moir said, jokingly.

 

 

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.

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.