Patrick Chan hits a low point

REGINA

It hurt to watch.

This “Hallelujah” was a broken Hallelujah, in Leonard Cohen’s world. In any world.

Skating to Cohen’s masterpiece, Patrick Chan finished seventh in the free skate at Skate Canada International on Saturday. And his voice sounded hollow.

Second in components (90.86) but only 10th of 12 in technical prowess (61.41) , Chan had to let the churning waters rush over him and wait for a better day.

Trouble is, his next go-around is in only two weeks at NHK Trophy in Japan, only the second time in his career that he has competed there. He contested NHK the first year that he turned senior internationally, so many years ago. “It’s come full circle,” he said. “It’s been quite a journey.” But this part of the journey is a little cloudy.

“I never had a skate like that in a big event,” Chan said. The problems started early: he fell on his opening quad toe loop that was to be part of a quadruple-triple combo, had a hand down on the triple Lutz, tripled another quad toe, and then suffered a endless string of doublings.

“I felt good and calm and when they called my name, I felt confident and my body felt somewhat good then,” he said. “But then I think the first fall kind of shocked me. It was a bit of a surprise. It’s been a bit of a rough road here.”

The bumpy ride started when his travel plans from Detroit went awry and his luggage didn’t arrive until just before his short program. It was a frustrating, unsettling trip. Perhaps it lingered behind his brows.But Chan said his problems in the free were physical. Sometimes, they are connected, even when you don’t know it.

In replays, Chan could see that his upper body was a little high and his legs weren’t being patient (sometimes they have a life of their own), and they weren’t taking the time to “load and jump.” The timing was too quick.

“I can only control what I can control,” he said.

Coach Marina Zoueva told him that it was good that Chan came to Skate Canada nonetheless. He needed to get started. He had only a minor local competition early in the season and then pulled out of Nebelhorn Trophy because new skates he had ordered had been delayed in arriving and he didn’t feel confident at the time in them. He hated to miss Nebelhorn. So he had to be full throttle at Skate Canada, at home.

“It was hard for me to get started this year,” Chan said. “Maybe because I know the end is near. So it’s getting harder and harder and harder to push myself and keep grinding it out at the very highest level. It gets tough.”

“Yeah it sucks but I’ve had great days too, so I’ve got to trade it off sometimes, too,” he said.

Chan doesn’t have very long to right his ship at the NHK Trophy. He’s going to take things one day at a time. “But it’s hard,” he said. “It’s definitely much harder now. I come to these events and the novelty has worn off a bit and eventually on a year like this year, I just really want to take my time and not panic.

“If making mistakes is how I have to get to the Olympics, then that’s how it is and that’s okay,” he said. “I really have had a lot of success this whole career. If I have another one, great. If I don’t, then it’s okay. I know it’s part of the process.”

He was asked if he would ever just withdraw from NHK and focus on gathering his strengths for nationals, the Olympic qualifying event.

Okay, that’s an idea, he said, and it’s a strategy. But travel for Chan is tough – not just this past week but he’s always felt drained from long trips and long hauls.

“Look at this week,” he said. “You got moments like that, you just kind of throw your hands up and …I’m not a fan of this. I’d rather be home and be in my own bed and be comfortable.”

It’s tempting to just give NHK a pass, he said, “But sometimes you’ve got to define when to push yourself through the tough times. When you really don’t want to, you have to push yourself or whether it does mean just pulling yourself back. “

He’ll have to figure this out in the next week.

Meanwhile, getting through that rough skate, Chan said he just started thinking out how he felt. He felt tired, like he was just about to go to bed. His legs were heavy. He tried to keep the intensity of the program,

“I hope I at least did that and finished the program with a strong footwork sequence,” he said

Then he paused, realizing what he was saying. “I mean, look at me,” he said. “I’m trying to find the good in this footwork sequence, when everyone is doing quads.

“Not much positive I can say at this event, but it’s okay.

“It’s okay. I just keep telling myself that it’s okay.”

The heartwarming part, the heartbreaking part, was that when Patrick took his final, wilted bow, the crowd at the Brandt Centre began to stand and cheer. And cheer for Patrick Chan.

 

 

 

 

 

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Brian Orser: dance coach to the stars

REGINA

Brian Orser added a new dimension to his career persona Thursday at Skate Canada International: ice dancing coach.

People took a double-take at the sight of the coach of Olympic and world singles champions leaning against the rink boards, overseeing the first practice of the day for Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

So how long had Orser been working with the 2010 Olympic dance champs? the duo were asked.

“About three hours,” Moir said.

Truth be told, Virtue and Moir’s coaches, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon were delayed getting into Regina. So Orser stepped in. He did, in a pinch.

“It was like we had won a radio contest,” Moir quipped. “GET COACHED BY BRIAN ORSER FOR A MORNING!”

“I think when Patch and Marie texted us to tell us, we went: ‘Oh my god! That’s awesome! Brian Orser is going to be coaching us?” I think maybe they were a little insulted,” Moir said, tongue in cheek, as usual.

They were back with their normal coaching staff for the second practice in the afternoon.

But meanwhile, Orser didn’t just go through the motions. He advised them. Arms waved. Things were said.

‘He’s lived it,” Virtue said. “He knows exactly what to say. He coaches the best of the best singles. It was just so neat to look over and see him by the boards.”

And tips? “Oh yeah,” Virtue said. “He has great key words. Just about the glide of the blade and managing our patterns. He was incredibly helpful and more than anything, it’s just that sense of comfort and a nice little confidence boost.”

Actually, Dubreuil and Lauzon and Orser have had a longstanding friendship. Before the past world championships, the schools met at a mid-way point between Toronto and Montreal- Kingston, actually – and staged a two-day camp. “We all connected on the ice and did stroking classes,” Orser said. Virtue and Moir were part of it. Virtue thought it “invigorating.’’

Still, Orser doesn’t think he really did much on this Regina dance-coaching expedition. “Especially at this level,” Orser said. “They seemed to be in charge.”

He hasn’t forgotten that Lauzon also helped him out one time at a European championship at which Orser had a time conflict, Lauzon looked after Javi Fernandez at a men’s practice, while Orser thinks he may have been tied up with a women’s practice elsewhere.

“It was funny, because for a couple of the practices I had with Javi, he was terrible,” Orser said.

“And then I asked Patrice to look after him…and afterwards I saw him and said: ‘Patrice, how was it?’”

“It was perfect,” Lauzon said. “He didn’t make a mistake.”

“Like really?” Orser thought. “I guess well, you’re it, then.”

Lest anyone think Orser is as out of place in a dance venue as a knife in a fork rack, well, you’re wrong. Orser has his silver and gold senior dance tests.

His partner for the tests? Michelle Leigh, coach of 2016 Canadian women’s champion Alaine Chartrand.

“All the way to the end,” Leigh said. “We had fun doing it.”

Was he a good dancer? “Oh yeah!” Leigh said. “We both got our gold dances when we were young.” Orser passed his at the first try.

It was a thing that the Mariposa Skating Club coaches insisted upon: that singles skaters must learn dance, too. Leigh said it was a good strategy: extra ice time.

Once, she recalls, they danced a test for the Argentine tango which has a series of steps at the beginning. One of them tripped. It was so long ago, Leigh doesn’t remember which one of them did.

“And we laughed the whole way through the test,” Leigh said. “Our mothers were so mad at us.”

That wasn’t all. At club carnivals, Leigh and Orser also skated as a pair. There is a photo in Orser’s autobiography that shows Orser trying to hoist Leigh up in a pressure lift, but managed to get his partner only up to his chin.

They also did cartwheels and side-by-side Russian splits. “It was always a contest to see who could jump higher,” Leigh said.

The friendship still thrives. And Virtue and Moir count Orser as a close personal friend, too. Actually, they very well know what to do in a dance practice. Their coaches have prepared them well. They coached by text.

So mostly, having Orser at the rink boards served as a definite confidence boost. “It didn’t even feel weird at all,” Moir said. “It’s a good sign.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hallelujah, Chan finally arrives at Skate Canada

REGINA

What a day (or two) Patrick Chan has had.

He missed the first men’s practice on Thursday at Skate Canada International. And he arrived just in time to take the ice for the second men’s practice. Without a suitcase. Which means, at the moment, he has no clothes, just practice clothes. And thankfully, his skates.

Chan was to arrive in Regina on Wednesday. His itinerary? He was to fly from Detroit to Toronto and then on to Regina.

He couldn’t get off the ground in Detroit. His flight from Detroit was delayed by four or five hours and he missed is connection in Toronto. By then, it was late in the day, so he stayed the night in Toronto.

Somewhere, and somehow, his luggage went missing. “I might have to borrow a shirt [for competition,],” he said. Luckily, I have friends here.”

Chan has his skates because in North America, skaters can take them in their carry-on luggage. “The TSA has allowed it,” Chan said. “In Asia and Europe, I don’t know. But in the past, they’ve made me check in my skates once I arrived in Europe and was connecting in Europe.”

Chan said all the problems he’s had the past two days have been a good test. “The whole hectic travel day,” he mourned. “It’s frustrating. I’ll be honest. Like anybody, I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I’m running around like a dog in the airport, trying to get on a plane. It’s a bit ridiculous.

“But that’s travel. You can’t really control that.”

Chan said he looks at the incident as an opportunity. He said his misfortunes have relaxed him here. He’s going to roll with the punches. “If I don’t have a costume, I don’t have a costume,” he said. “I have my skates. I’ll show up. That’s all I can do.. It’s a good adventure.”

He went out on the ice and practiced his “Hallelujah” free skate, obviously not making jumps the priority. You could see the beauty of it.

There’s no chance his luggage will arrive by the end of Thursday. Perhaps the luggage will finally show up tomorrow, if he’s lucky. He’s hoping it will arrive before competition starts. The men’s event is in the early evening Friday. He at least would like to see his long-program costume again.

So Chan is chilling. Skate Canada International is like a reunion for him, to see his teammates and old friends. He’s here. And ready.

Weaver and Poje: Je Suis Malade

REGINA

“Je Suis Malade” isn’t just music. It’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje’s music.

When anybody else skates to it, Weaver and Poje automatically come to mind. You see Weaver and Poje. Not somebody else.

When they created it during the 2011-2012 season, they breathed it. They lived it. It was magic. It made them. It was their signature piece.

On Thursday, on the eve of Skate Canada International in this flat prairie town, Weaver and Poje created the ripple of the day – a mountain really – when they revealed they were setting aside their current free dance to Spartacus and bringing back “Je Suis Malade” for the Olympic season.

They just had to.

Everywhere, people are going: “YES!”

‘It still lives in us,” Weaver said Thursday after a practice.

We last saw “Spartacus” at the Autumn Classic. The response was lukewarm. It was medium. It’s not what you want during an Olympic season. You want HOT. And you want it now.

“I think in an Olympic season, you have to be out of the gate, stating your case, especially in ice dance,” Weaver said. “There is no time to persuade anybody, including ourselves. We are taking the ice now, knowing that we have the absolute best program for Kaitlyn and Andrew. No doubt about it. And that’s the confidence we need going into this Olympic season.”

Of course it won’t look the same. Weaver and Poje aren’t the same skaters they were six years ago when they stopped traffic and made people weep with this heartfelt routine. Rules have changed, too.

“We had to [make changes],” Weaver said.

“We’ve grown since we did the program last, so there were rules changes, but aside from that, we’ve changed as skaters and made some things [in the original routine] not suited for us that we want to express in our techniques and really just try to get the essence of the program,” Poje said. “And keep everything we love but still show off all our strengths and show the progress that we have made over those seasons.”

For example, some footwork rules have changed. Now “Footwork B” is much more open. Years ago, the ISU required cascades of one-foot sections. Now the rules are much more lenient about the positions and one-foot sections. “Back then we were all tied up doing this footwork, so now we’re able to express the music better,” Weaver said.

“In fact the program is better than it was before,’” she said. “We are better. We are wiser. We are more mature and I think that the six years of life that we’ve lived since then is perfectly funneled into this program.”

Already last summer, some fans were suggesting that they go back to “Je Suis Malade” for the Olympic season. And Weaver and Poje listen to their fans. After all, “Je Suis Malade” was a suggestion from a fan in the first place.

But Weaver and Poje had loved that season so much with that routine, they wanted to close the door on it, with fond memories. They had used it with glee partly because that season they had performed it in so many francophone settings: Grand Prix Final in Quebec City, national championships in New Brunswick, world championships in Nice.

“No, let’s push ourselves to try something new,” Weaver said.

But the seed was planted.

After Autumn Classic, coach Nikolai Morozov looked at them and said: “I think you need to do [Je Suis Malade.”

They said okay.

“We didn’t fight it,” Weaver said.

They had had a few notes about Spartacus from their team, their coaches, some judges, some fans. It was the general lay of the land with the reaction to this routine.

Weaver and Poje had to head back to Toronto anyway, planning on making many changes to Spartacus with choreographer Lori Nichol.

And they skated “Je Suis Malade” and “Spartacus” back to back for her. And Nichol agreed. They had to do Malade. “It was another nail in the coffin for that program,” Weaver said.

They loved Spartacus. It just hadn’t totally developed. And there is no time to make it grow into what they need. Spartacus hasn’t disappeared totally. It will return sometime. Just not this season.

So will they dust off their old costumes? They thought about this. “We pulled them out of the closet,” Weaver said. “And went UGH.”

They were old and sweaty and the colours had drained from them.

So they are designing new ones.

“Besides, I think we’ve matured a lot and found our real image and our aesthetic, so we redesigned them, keeping the same vision,” Weaver said.

We may not notice a difference.

“It was honestly a labour of love,” Weaver said. “It was fun and exciting and hard and challenging but these past three weeks have been very rewarding.”

Sometimes, Weaver still finds herself thinking: “Did we really go back to that program? What? Were we crazy?

“But then we get out on the ice and it all makes sense.”

 

Queen Carolina. Nuff Said.

Carolina Kostner speaks a different language. She just does.

It’s not Italian, German, French or English  – although she does speak all of these. It’s the art of movement. At 30, she’s a master of it.

And on Saturday, it unfolded in her free skate at the Rostelecom Cup, the first Grand Prix of the season. She won the silver medal, but the medal or the marks don’t tell the story of what she did with the haunting understated, melancholic  “Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune,” one of the best known works of Claude Debussy. Debussy was known as the man who broke the rules of modern harmonies, using dissonances and untraditional tones, using – in The Faune – layers of motifs that float from phrase to phrase, stirring up music that combines fragments of previous melodies. All carefully composed and complex. Debussy  developed his own musical language.

And Kostner, in all of her delicate glory, understood and spoke it with refinement. Kostner rendered people speechless. As she floated past the spectators, you could see folk in rapt attention. It was magic.

Half a world away was her long-time choreographer Lori Nichol who had led her to these moments, shaped her development, saw her grow, and took her through all the rough bits of her career and her life. And vice versa, actually.

Nichol was not at her home near Toronto, but in China where she has been working with the Chinese team. She was still awake in the wee hours of the morning, watching the Russia Grand Prix in her hotel room. And she saw what Kostner did – in her first Grand Prix of the season.

“I was just so happy for her and proud of her,” Nichol said. “Her journey has been very difficult and very tumultuous. To see her love and passion in the last several years to develop movement in an incredibly refined way, and to see her feel comfortable tonight to perform that kind of standard, well I’m just still in my “wow” zone.”

Nichol and Kostner have collaborated on “Afternoon of a Faun” before – during the 2011 season when the Italian skater was trying to return from injuries and had suffered just too many ups and downs in her career. Nichol suggested Debussy’s piece, which had also been done by John Curry, a mentor of Nichol. Janet Lynn also did it, too. Only the best did. It took a great deal of courage, Nichol said, to skate to something that had been done “to such a divine level.”

(Above) John Curry COMMENTATING on Janet Lynn doing a routine he made legendary as a pro.

 

Kostner wasn’t keen at the start. Nichol was able to convince her that it was perfect for her: the “ethereal nature of the music” suggested that Kostner could be her natural self in the piece. Talk to Kostner and you can feel her natural self. Nichol calls her a “pure, Zenlike person.”

So Kostner used that piece for her first artistic breakthrough, at a time that she was troubled that she couldn’t do two of her most difficult jumps because of injury. Nichol told her to use this time to develop her artistry. And with that routine, Kostner finished second at the Grand Prix Final and took the bronze medal at the world championship that season.

Now, Kostner is returning to this magical piece, so good to her in the past. So good in the way it softened her knees, gave her patience, taught her so many things about beauty.

“We listened to so many different pieces of music and of course, at this point, she is so experienced, she could have done many things,” Nichol said. “But it was about finding the piece that made her feel at home, and be able to really dive into the character, the emotion, the divinity of it all. It was just a pleasure from start to finish in choreographing it [again.]” Nichol said.

Still, she and Kostner went through many difficult times trying to sort out the structure of the program, to allow her to be technically sound, but not let go of the artistry. There were many challenges along the way. They were at a rink in Milan Italy several weeks ago, after she competed at the Lombardia Trophy in Bergamo, in northern Italy, not all that far from Kostner’s home town to touch it up.

Kostner had finished third in the event to two young sprites, Alina Zagitova of Russia and Wakaba Higuchi of Japan. Kostner had finished second in the short program (another exquisite routine to Celion Dion’s version of “Ne Me Quitte Pas” – note her beautiful arms positions in spins) and fifth in the free, with lots of jump bobbles. Still, Kostner easily had the highest component marks of 71.12.

“We decided: ‘Let’s just love being Carolina and love the music and just build toward the moment,’” Nichol said. “Some of that had been compromised.” And she did that in Russia. And straightened out the technical problems, too.

Of course, Kostner doesn’t yet have the technical content of others – hey, no sight of the two triple Lutzes that others do  – but it’s a shame if judges use that to discount her artistic mastery. “Skating is both sport and art,” Nichol said. “Tonight, she did the technical. Her two triple flips were absolutely gorgeous. And if you watch how she lands, you watch that actual moment of landing, and see the clear running edge with no wobbles through to the second jump, there is such mastery there. “

Yes, she will increase her technical content.

“Just as it’s incredibly difficult to do the technical to a very refined state, it’s the same level of difficulty to take artistry to the next level,” Nichol explained. “I think that’s what’s misunderstood in many ways. I don’t want to use the numbers of the new system, I just want to use the concept that refinement of body movement and body line and integrity and interpretation – to achieve her level is equal to being an incredible technical master.”

So Nichol feels proud of her. She feels great for skating. It’s a very fascinating time in figure skating, she said. She watched the men “knock it out of the park” with intensely difficult programs and they still kept the integrity of movement and music.

Nichol also created the free program of Nathan Chen. “I absolutely adored working with him,” she said. “He’s one of the most intelligent skaters I’ve ever met. And the moment where we broke through that intelligence and went into the realm of living in movement and through movement was a very rewarding experience. “

There must have been a great environment at that rink in Russia, she said. The ice must have been great. There must have been a great energy for this to happen, for folks to see what Kostner stands for: great quality and truth.

“When I saw her take her starting position, I thought: she feels at home,” Nichol said. “And whatever created that, through the organization, or through the ice, or through the people, I love watching how well received Carolina is.” She got standing ovations.

With all of her experience and with her performance, Kostner finished with 1.37 lower component marks than winner Evgenia Medvedeva, a 17-year-old, in the short program, and .2.84 points less in the free.

In skating skills, performance and interpretation, Kostner was a sliver behind Medvedeva in all three.

Nichol isn’t puzzling over these things. “Carolina and I decided long ago not to allow marks to validate what she’s doing.” And they clearly don’t.

“She just skates from such an incredibly pure place with that desire to love skating, and it sounds cliché as I say it, but perhaps remembering in this moment the true glory and preciousness of skating is exactly what is needed,” Nichol said.

Kostner comes from a pure place. She’s a freshet in the world of humanity. A Gerard Manley Hopkins sort of water rippling over stones in a creek. She’s the faun.

Nichol knows no one else like her, unless you’re talking about her parents and her brothers and her family. They’re just the same. “She’s divine on the ice and off the ice in a way that blows my mind on a constant basis,” Nichol said.

About two years ago, Nichol had an appointment for surgery on the day her son was to compete at a provincial championship that day. Of course, she could not go. Kostner had been in town, working with Nichol to polish up a routine.

Kostner stepped in, without hesitation. She took Nichol’s son to his tournament. She watched the tournament on her own, because she didn’t know anyone, aside from the team. And she celebrated with Nichol’s son as they won. And brought him home.

Later, Nichol was facing another surgery during choreography season, and wasn’t allowed back on ice yet. Still, she had to work with the entire Chinese team. Kostner flew from Italy on her own dime “to be my body,” Nichol said.

“She knows my teaching. She knows my mind. She knows what I want and I could say things and she would create them as I wanted, and then teach the skaters.”

On her own dime. Her own time.

“I consider her my angel of skating,” Nichol said. She certainly looks the part.

 

 

Patrick Chan deletes a quad – for now

You have to feel for these guys. These single men’s skaters who are going to war this season to out-power all who lie in their paths. They will rotate like spinning tops. They will try to defy gravity, shrug at it, taunt it like fiends. They are coming close to Cirque de Soleil performers who defy death with their tricks.

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan discovered how quickly things change in this discipline when he took a year off. When he won the silver medal at the 2014 Olympics, champ Yuzuru Hanyu did a quad  toe loop and a quad Salchow.

Patrick Chan won two silver medals at the 2014 Olympics.

 

When Chan returned, all hell had broken loose. Kids like Nathan Chen, 16 last year, was doing quad Lutz, quad flip, all sorts of astounding feats, like becoming the first to land five quads in a program. And Hanyu can’t resist the challenge. Last season, he became the first to do a quad loop in competition. Hanyu, by the way, is about five years younger than Chan with a wonderfully noodly-thin body that just flies. And rotates at will.

Strangely enough, Chan’s first Olympic Games was in Vancouver in 2010 and the men’s event was won by Evan Lysacek, who executed no quads at all. And it was Chan who brought quads back, because the International Skating Union increased the value of them. And Chan was quick to take full advantage. It became hard to catch him, because he excelled in all areas of skating.

That’s just not true anymore. There’s a week to go before the men’s event at Skate Canada International in Regina and today we heard of Chen landing a quad Lutz combination and a quad flip enroute to winning the short program over Hanyu at the first Grand Prix of the year, the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow. And  a few hours later, we heard Patrick Chan talking about not increasing the number of his quads, but scaling them back for Regina.

Holy Hannah.

The guy is just overwhelmed. What is a guy that is pushing 27 to do?

“I’ll admit it,” he said. “I’m not a technical genius when it comes to jumps. I’ve done what I needed to do to get to the top during my prime days. I accomplished that. For me to try to compete with the others, adding a quad flip, a quad Lutz, I don’t enjoy that. At the end of the day, I’m skating because I’ve continued to push myself into the 2018 Games, my third Games, because I want to enjoy it.”

At Skate Canada, Chan said he’s dropping the quad Salchow from both his short and long programs – for now. He’ll do only a quad toe loop in the short. And two quad toe loops and two triple Axels in the long. Not two quads in the short, and not three in the long. He intends to bring the quad Salchow back for later events. But for right now, he just needed not to do them.

“My strategy is to focus on the quality of the program,” Chan said. “It’s more what I want to do and what I love to do about skating: the actual performance.” His two new programs – “Dust in the Wind” and “Hallelujah,” are meaningful to him, easily the most meaningful, soulful programs he’s ever done, he said. It’s a meaningful season to him, too, because it will be his swan song.

Chan said that whenever his mind rolled around to the thought of how he would feel standing on the ice with the prospect of some heavy duty elements to face, his confidence to attack vanished. He felt fear. “So I’ve decided I would stick to my old guns and my old tricks and do what I can do at the very best,” he said. And let the chips fall where they may.

The thing is, Chan’s motivation this year is to enjoy the process and the Games. He feels this new strategy will make him feel that he can accomplish the most out of every performance this year. “I want to perform with a feeling of complete control of my situation,” he said. He’s thinking about his own personal enjoyment, performing what is still a very difficult routine.

It’s not a crazy idea. Witness Hanyu at the Autumn Classic a month ago. He shelved the quad loop for the event to prevent a potential knee problem and guess what happened? He set a world record of 112.72 without it. Hanyu is one person who can pull off this sort of miracle, because he can wrack up such huge GOE points and component points, too, especially if you do a routine with perfection – which Hanyu did that day.

And Chan has that same gift.

Hanyu did not repeat his stunning short program in Moscow on Friday. He added the quad loop back in this time, but he underrotated it. Minus GOE across. His triple Axel was HUGE (+3s all across) but then he fell on a quad toe loop – triple toe loop combo in the second half. Lots of minus GOE and a point deduction for the fall. He still emerged with highest component marks (46.61) (although not that much more than Russian Mikhail Kolyada, who flipped out of his quad combo. Kolyada’s component marks ranged from 7.00 from one judge to 9.50 from another). Hanyu still received high GOEs in his level-four step sequence, and mostly +2s on both spins, one a level three, the other a level four. It all adds up.

Hanyu finished second in the short program with 94.85 points, 22.87 points behind that magical routine he did in Montreal. That 94.85 points would be a great mark for just about anybody else. But the Olympics is not all about just being great. There’s not much room at the top.

Chen caught Hanyu in a weak moment, but Chen has stepped up the magic markedly this year, serious about improving all of his question marks from last year. In other words, his component marks. He turned to Shae-Lynn Bourne for his short-program choreography and displayed an explosion of body movement. He’s no longer just some kid with quads. He now looks like a powerful contender. His components were about four points behind that of Hanyu. And he’s 17.

He’s not making small steps this year. He’s making giant ones. He finished the short program with 100.54 points, breaking that magical barrier. He topped that last year at Four Continents (103.12), but this is early season. He knows there is lots of work to do. This is his first Olympic season.

Chen still doesn’t maximize his GOEs in the way that a Hanyu or a Chan can. But it’s early days and it will be fascinating to watch how he grows.

Chan’s top short program score is 102.13, set at the world championships last March in Helsinki, when he was third at that portion of the event.

All fall, the prospect of riding that crazy roller coaster of quads had nagged at Chan. And then one Thursday, not so long ago, he tackled a run-through of his short program, with a list of elements such as this: quadruple toe loop, quad Salchow and triple Axel.

“I fell on the toe,” Chan said. “I kept myself in the right mindset to do the quad Sal and I went up and I rotated it and I fell again. Then I went up into the triple Axel and fell on the triple Axel. At that point, I  kind of threw my hands up in the air. At that point, I didn’t even want to complete the footwork sequence, which I love personally. It’s my favourite part of the program. But because of the mistakes on the jumps, I had no desire to keep going.”

He still has his tour de force of a jump sequence: the triple Axel – half loop – triple Salchow, which he says offers a better balance of risk and reward. It gives him headaches, sometimes. But it can work and it’s “empowering,” he said. It leads into his choreographic step sequence. It just works very well. He likes it. It will become valuable to him.

Look how far he’s come.

He’s spent years thinking about Olympic gold, but he hardly thinks of it at all now, because, as we’ve noted before, he does not believe it will change his life. “My priority isn’t to think about gold as much as people love to talk about it,” he said. “It is exciting to think of the prospect of having a Canadian win gold, but my process as an athlete is completely different and my reality is at a different stage.”(A Canadian male singles skater has never won an Olympic gold medal.)

He does know that Canada’s chances at the Olympic team event are very good, and he’s putting his focus on that. “If there’s any kind of focus on podium finishes, it’s doing it as a team with a very good, strong Canadian team,” he said.

Next is winning his tenth Canadian title in Vancouver in January. Montgomery Wilson won nine Canadian men’s titles from 1929 to 1939 (Osborne Colson, former coach of Chan, broke up his undefeated string for a couple of years.) Chan had already surpassed Brian Orser’s mark of eight wins, and last year, he equalled Wilson’s record.  If Chan could break the record this season, it would put a tiny bow on his career and keep him in the record books, perhaps for a long time. And Chan is always at his best at the national championships.

Chan intends to put that quad Salchow back in later, depending on how his body feels. But for the time being, he needs to build his confidence to be able to perform consistently. The strategy is sound. And personal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alaine Chartrand: a new outlook

It was hard, indeed, for Alaine Chartrand to watch the world championships in Helsinki last March – and she wasn’t there. She wanted to be there.

Still, it gave her a head start on this season and she set to work. When she heard that Canadians Kaetlyn Osmond had finished second, and Gabby Daleman, third in Helsinki, thereby earning Canadian women three spots at the upcoming Olympic Games, Chartrand happened to be on the ice, doing choreography for her short program for this season with Shae-Lynn Bourne.

When Chartrand got off the ice, she checked the women’s results on her cell phone. And she started to cry.

So this season is one of hope. Those three spots? Snaring them took the pressure off Chartrand, who would have had to try to defeat one of the other two Canadian women at the national championships in January to get an Olympic spot. “Now I can really focus on me,” she said. “I always try to do that, but having that extra spot is amazing.”

This season has been one of rebirth for Chartrand. There is little doubt that Chartrand has all the tools to make a mark on the world stage. There have been signs of brilliance in the past. Her jumps are HUGE. She’s one of the fastest female singles skaters in the world. Her programs are done by the best choreographers. They are beautiful things. But this season, she’s working on the rest of the package. Including herself. There have been many changes. Many new approaches.

For one, she spent the summer consistently in one spot, in Oakville, Ont., where prime coach Michelle Leigh hangs her hat. In other words, she wasn’t travelling about in the family RV from rink to rink to rink. She bunked up in Oakville with a skating family.

“Some things are a lot easier to manage,” she said. “Like being close to the rink. After skating, I can make sure I have time in the evening to have proper recovery.”

Other things are not so easy. Her mother always did a lot for her at home. Now Chartrand has had to learn how to cook and work the washing machine. And the small-town girl (Prescott, Ont., population 4,284 and maybe less when Chartrand is not in town) had to learn how to navigate driving in Toronto. “It’s been an experience,” she said. “All of those things have been new for me, and fun to get used to.”

Other changes? She’s now making regular trips to Colorado Springs to work on her jump technique with Christy Krall, she of the video/Dartfish fame. Chartrand investigated a few other locations, but decided Colorado Springs was the place to be. And along the way, she’s drafted Olympic dance champion Christopher Dean onto her team of advisors as well.

Chartrand paid another visit to Krall after her less-than-happy performance at the Autumn Classic International in Montreal a month ago, when she underrotated five jumps, some less drastically than others, in the free skate. She ended up fifth overall. She hoped for better. Last year at Autumn Classic, she had won the long program, to take the silver medal overall behind Mirai Nagasu.

The thing is, Chartrand was suffering from a head cold that surfaced the night before the long program this time, even after a stellar practice the previous day. She had a headache, and a fever, and she couldn’t breathe through her nose.

So off to Krall she went. Krall has been helping her to get her jumps organized better, to get into the rotation more quickly, to ensure the left arm is in control, and the exit is quick.

“It’s frustrating, because I jump huge,” Chartrand said. “I’ve been told I have big jumps.”

Krall set the timer to record how long she was in the air between the launch of the jump and the landing. And then looked at the Canadian skater and said: “You should be able to do a quad with this.”

So Chartrand is in search of ways to become more efficient in her jumps so that she can land them cleanly. “There is no way that I should be underrotating with the height I get,” she said.

Krall has lots of little toys and tricks to make this happen. She ties a little squeaker to Chartrand’s ankles. When Chartrand hears it squeak while she is in the air on a jump, she knows she has pulled her feet together. And the sooner she hears the squeak, the better.

The wonderful thing about training with Krall is that she is on the same page as Leigh. They both subscribe to the same coaching ideas. Chartrand also gets to train sometimes with Nathan Chen. The Colorado Springs arena is a busy one, so Chartrand has to go with its flow, in a competitive environment with other top skaters. And she gets to train at altitude. At home in Oakville, Chartrand is the No. 1 skater and gets to skate to her music as much as she likes. The mix is all good.

And Dean, who retired from skating after winning the Olympic title with Jayne Torvill in 1984 and then returned with the reinstatement of pros in 1994, has also played a role this time in Chartrand’s routines. The last time she was in Colorado Springs, she asked him to help. Krall encouraged it.

Chartrand, who was born two years after Dean’s last appearance on the competitive scene, knows all about the blond Briton. “When you think of the beginning of ice dance, he’s it,” she said. “He’s like a king in my eyes and in the skating world. It’s such an opportunity to work with him.”

Dean looked at both of her programs and they spent a couple of hours together on ice, working on facial expressions, bringing out the background story in specific parts of the program, and telling her how to use her eyes and where to look and how to look during a program.

 

“I have a tendency to look down,” Chartrand said. He told her how to use motions with her eyes.

“I think he has so much to give, so anything that he could possible give, I’m going to take and use it,” she said. “So there is a little piece of Christopher Dean in there. And I think that’s pretty cool.”

With the help of all these changes, Chartrand has her eyes set on one goal: to make it to the Olympics. “The Olympics is something I’ve been dreaming about forever,” she said. She missed out on the Sochi Games four years ago. She’ll do what it takes to get to Pyeongchang.

A photo diary of the Canadian International Championship day at Woodbine

All photos by Beverley Smith

 

Nobody celebrates like jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva. He won the big prize.

The day started with a ferocious rain burst. Rain blowing sideways. High winds.

Trainer David Adams grabbed a rain slicker to saddle two horses for the first big event, the Nearctic Stakes.

Luis Contreras rode local 40 to 1 shot Field Courage to defeat horses from Britain and the United States

Contreras and his family in the winner’s circle. He didn’t mind that his daughter’s dirty little boots inflicted mud on his white riding britches.

Get an eyeful of this gorgeous beast, Senior Investment, which finished third in the Preakness Stakes, and was here to contest the Ontario Derby. US jock Robby Albarado aboard.

Local entry, Tiz A Slam is huge and powerful, too, towering over his pony in the post parade.

 And here is dainty little Holy Helena, winner of the Queen’s Plate against the boys, and running against males again in this Derby. She always looks happy, with her ears up.

 Tiz a Slam pulled off the win, rewarding his patient trainer, Hall of Famer, Roger Attfield.

Powerful win. Powerful horse.

Attfield, trying to keep his hat on in the wind.

What a treat to see one of my favourite European jockeys, Ryan Moore, on Irish-bred Rain Goddess in the E.P. Taylor Stakes.

The E.P. Taylor belonged to Irish-bred Blond Me, ridden by Oisin Murphy.

One of the longest shots on the board (42 to 1) was Eugene-Melnyk-bred Bullard’s Alley. Jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva only heard about four days before the race that he was to ride this ship-in from Kentucky and he never jumped aboard him before this race. He saw him in the backstretch barn. Gave him a pat. Da Silva is Woodbine’s leading rider and locals get few chances to ride in , much less win this $800,000 event. (At one time the purse was more than $2-million.)

So imagine Da Silva’s joy when he won the race by 10 3/4 lengths, the largest winning margin in the 80-year history of the race, a more lop-sided victory than Secretariat’s win in 1973. Outrider Rob Love appears amused at Da Silva’s constant celebration after he passed the wire.

Trainer Tim Glyshaw had never won a Grade One race in his life. All of the horses were running into a stiff headwind coming down the homestretch, but that didn’t faze Bullard’s Alley a bit. “Bullard is a great horse and I love him to death, but he’s not the smartest horse in the world. He would have no problem with that. I mean, he might not even know what it is. Some of these smarter horses in the race might be like: ‘What is this? What is this hitting me in the face?'”

Glyshaw tried to get a couple of jockeys from New York to ride Bullard’s Alley, but they had other plans. He picked Da Silva because he was the leading rider at Woodbine and he knows the turf course. Now he has to figure out if he can get Bullard’s Alley into the Breeders Cup in California in a few weeks. He has no clue what it takes to get into the race.

And winning this race? “This was my dream to win this race,” Da Silva said. “I need to pinch myself many many times. I was very lucky to steer him today. It’s just a blessing.”

Da Silva won four races that day.He also won a riders’ championship in Japan earlier in the year.

Virtue and Moir, kissing the ice, still

These days, with the Olympics looming, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir prepare by attending team seminars. And there they see their own accomplishments from the past: their youthful gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics and their silver medal from the Sochi Games.

“We see pictures of old Tessa and Scott,” Moir said. “We see the 2010 version, which are two kids we barely know.”

They were the youngest Olympic dance champions when they won in Vancouver, she being 20, he 22. They were the first dancers to score a component score of 10.0 (at the 2009 Skate Canada International). First, first, first. We could go on.

Medals and victories aside, Virtue and Moir haven’t stopped pushing their own limits since that Olympic win (which by the way was their Olympic debut.) Cases in point: their two programs this season. Latin is the prescribed rhythm for the short dance this season, but they’ve been there, done that. In both of their routines this year, they felt their routines had to be special. They had to stand out. As Moir says, “It’s very likely…our last kick at the can.”

They wracked their brains at how to differentiate themselves. “It’s daunting, making music choices for the season,” Moir said. “We wanted to have programs we really connected with. We want to go out and have a blast. It’s really not much more complicated than that. We love to skate. We love to skate with each other. And we’re showing that with three pretty iconic pieces of rock music with a Latin twist, which also is kind of super cool.”

Who could imagine skating Latin rhythms to the Rolling Stones, the Eagles and Carlos Santana? It came from the mind of Marie-France Dubreuil, just to throw a little twist into the genre. Besides, Dubreuil is a genius at translating Latin movement onto the ice. “It’s not just about wearing skates and doing what you do on the ballroom floor,” Virtue said. “It’s really connecting it to edge work and making it just glide and use your body in the way that connects down onto the floor is really complimentary to what we do on the ice.

“We’ve never worked with anyone who was able to do that.”

Dubreuil’s partner in life and on the ice, Patrice Lauzon is also a wizard with technique. It helps that Moir has always been a huge classic rock fan. It’s a dream come true for him to mix it up with these artists.

Dubrueil and Lauzon doing Latin in 2006.

 

Virtue and Moir had once considered skating to the Eagles for an exhibition performance. They never dreamed “Hotel California” could become part of a competitive program. But here it is, in all of its 1976 glory.

“We’re both kind of old souls,” Virtue said. “Especially when it comes to music. It’s not all that surprising that we connect to music from that generation.”

“They’re pretty epic songs,” Moir said. “Yes, they’re before our time, but obviously they’ve withstood the test of time. They are still kind of the best music. That’s the generation that we connect to the most. I think what’s funny is that some of the younger teams we skate with probably think we were around when those songs were out, because they think we’re dinosaurs. We let them think that we have that much experience.”

That being said, Virtue and Moir have a special place in their hearts for last year’s short dance to Prince. “Prince is very close to our hearts,” Moir said. “We love to skate to it. It was a special program. I don’t think we’ve said by to that Prince program for sure. It will poke its head up once in a while.”

Prince

Still, it’s very hard to compare anything to what they’ve done in the past to what they are doing this year. They press on, always. They are still spending time working on technique, to change their patterns of movement. There is no standing still. “There is so much in the way we prepare that is so different,” Moir said. “”That’s what makes it so special. We had no interest in coming back and doing the same thing.”

Strangely enough, even though they have been Olympic champions and silver medalists and world champions, Virtue and Moir have never prepared for a season the way they do in Montreal, backed by their everything-but-on-the ice team, B2Ten.They mention them at every turn. They are now subscribed to a very sophisticated approach to elite training. “It’s going to pay dividends,” Moir said.

They’ve already had one outing, at Autumn Classic and “I’m glad it doesn’t feel like it did last year,” Moir admitted. “To be honest, the first time out is always nerve-wracking. It doesn’t matter if you are in your 20th year together, or your first, you’ve got to break that ice.”

He and Virtue were nervous for the short program at Autumn Classic a month ago. However, last year, their first start back after a two-year sabbatical was heart-stopping. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt like that, and that includes the Olympic Games,” Moir said. “There was a lot of pressure. I wasn’t quite sure how to handle it. I kidded myself that it was just going to be like another snow. And it absolutely wasn’t.”

This year, however, they understand a little more how to control the nerves in a competitive environment. It’s why they did a two-year plan to return. “Hopefully we can ride some of that momentum from last year while picking up that little bit of experience on the way,” Moir said.

The most difficult part of their first event was NOT to see it through an outsider’s eyes. Those eyes expect to see a continuation of the level at which they skated at the world championships last March in Helsinki, where they won the gold medal – and the programs had been developed and nuanced and prepared.  “We really had to wrap our heads around that,” Virtue said. “There was some pressure to create magic and to give people what they expect to see.”

In other words, the public wanted to see their Olympic program at its Olympic level of development.  Instead, the team had to focus inwards and realize how it fit into their Olympic season and what could they learn from it. Note: their performance at Autumn Classic last year didn’t come close to their performance, even at their next event, Skate Canada. It grew. A lot.

At Autumn Classic a month ago, their free dance to Moulin Rouge had been so prepared, their expectations of performance were high. And while it was a strong first outing, it wasn’t what they had envisioned. It wasn’t quite what they had been training at home. They still have to learn how to compete the program. They have already injected more power and speed into the performance we’ll see in Regina.

Even though they’ve been together for 20 years, they’ve never competed in Regina, although they have done Stars On Ice tours there. Regina is also the headquarters for Hillberg & Berk, a jewelry company that Virtue has aligned herself with. Some of her designs with them are just launching. She’ll be able to check out their new offices and see her new pieces of jewelry in stores.

Their first Skate Canada was in Victoria, B.C. in 2006. It was special because they competed against Marie-France Dubeuil and Patrice Lauzon and shared a podium with them, although the people who would become their coaches, defeated them.

“We just looked up to them so much,” Moir said. “They always looked out for us and were mentors to us. That really stands out to us to be on a podium with them at such a young age, was a pleasure. It really was a great start to our senior Grand Prix days. “

Dubreuil and Lauzon are still taking them by the hand. But mostly, Virtue and Moir never tire of skating. Not a little bit. Moir expected the fun to wear off after a while. It hasn’t. And that’s what will drive them to Pyeongchang.

Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch: skating for the Maple Leaf

Lubov Ilyushechkina is glowing. Positively glowing.

She and her pair partner Dylan Moscovitch will go to Skate Canada next week as a completely Canadian duo. On Sept. 21, she became a Canadian citizen.

“It was definitely a big day for me,” Ilyushechkina said. “Being Canadian means being warm and friendly. And I also associate Canadians with being very friendly. I always felt supported and welcome and now I am proud to call myself Canadian.”

She’s changed, personally, since she came to Canada from Russia to skate with Moscovitch after the Sochi Games.  “I started thinking more about people,” she said. “I became more open and more talkative.” She has more friends, she said.

“It was one of the proudest moments of my life,” she said on an Instagram post with Moscovitch, posted during Citizenship Week. “To be Canadian means to be warm and friendly.”

“To look after your neighbour,” Moscovitch said.

“To be accepting,” she said.

“To be inclusive,” he said.

“To do things right,” she said.

“To be concerned with issues domestically and abroad,” he said.

Her new Canadian citizenship will allow Ilyushechkina to represent Canada at the Olympics next February. It’s been years in coming, but it arrived just in time. While Moscovitch has been to an Olympics before, Ilyushechkina has not. “I can see the level of excitement is higher at our rink,” she said. “It is, too, for me, but I try not to get overthinking.”

The twosome started off their new penny of a season a few weeks ago at Finlandia Trophy, where they finished fourth overall, and third in the free skate. The reigning Olympic silver medalists, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov had a nightmare of a free skate, a meltdown in fact. and finished behind the Canadians in that portion, but they outfinished Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch by 1.48 points overall.

Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch were buoyed by their sixth-place finish at the world championships last March – the top-finishing Canadian pair – but Finlandia wasn’t their finest moment. It was not a meltdown, but as Moscovitch put it: “sloppy.” That performance gave them a kick, as they realized they had left points on the table that they could easily have snatched. They’ve bucked up since.

“It kind of set us on track for where we need to be leading into the Grand Prix,” Moscovitch said. “Since coming back, I would say we stepped it up quite a bit. In terms of the quality of our training and just our mentality and approach day to day, I think we’re getting ready properly for Skate Canada.”

They were fit enough in Finlandia, but their training wasn’t. Too many details lost, too many silly mistakes. Some are expected early in the season. Some just not what they planned.

Their triple twists were a little tight in both programs. They got no marks at all for a pair spin in the free. And they had some jump issues, an underrotation here, a double there, and two-foot landing, too. Now they want to ensure they do enough rotations in the pair spins, make the changes smooth. “ It was just a reminder for us to hold our standards to a higher level while we are doing our run-throughs,” said  Moscovitch. They have been working on evolving the sharpness and clarity of movements in both programs.

Movement is extraordinarily important in their short program, to “In the Air Tonight,” by Phil Collins, a routine choreographed by David Wilson and Marie-France Dubreuil. The movement is contemporary (are we surprised if Dubreuil is in the mix?) It has an edge to it.

“The short program is kind of speaking for us,” Ilyushechkina said. The words: “I’ve been dreaming of this moment all my life, oh lord,” rings a bell with them. “It’s a phrase that outlines our work and living towards the Olympics,” she said.

The free? Fasten your seatbelts for some angst as they skate to “At This Moment,” by Billie Vera and the Beaters. While Wilson enthusiastically presented the music for both programs, Sandra Bezic has also had a hand in choreographing this number. It’s a step up from last year’s routines, with more drama, a story about a relationship that is falling apart. “It’s about unsureness and love and a little frustration and trying again,” Ilyushechkina said.

“My side of the story is that I’m trying a little harder to hold it together and Lubov’s side of the story is trying, but she kind of knows that it’s not going to work.” There’s a back and forth, until they realize that it’s not going to happen. A relationship on the rocks.

Neither of them knew this song from the 1980s. “It’s another step up for us, another movement in the direction of growth,” Moscovitch said.

Both routines have the potential to become phenomenally emotional and beautiful to an audience. It’s all there. You can see it from the Finlandia skeleton.

In Finlandia, Ilyushechkina and Moscovith landed a throw triple Salchow as their fourth element in the free skate – but the program has been choreographed to allow a throw quad Salchow. Interestingly enough, Iyushechkina had never done a throw Salchow in any of her programs in the past. She’s learned it as a new element to her.

For the past couple of years, the team has been training throw quad Lutz, but mostly as a training routine. They never inserted it into a program. But this spring, they turned to the throw quad Salchow. And they’ve landed them. There are videos to prove it.

“We just thought it would be a good tactic to work on the Salchow, seeing that our Lutz is our short program triple,” Moscovitch said. “And sometimes the quad can make the triple a little funky.”

Back in late August, at the national team camp, Moscovitch said the move was “a work in progress,” but it’s coming along. “When it’s ready in the run-through, it will go for sure [in the free],” he said. “We’re hoping we can get it in early in the season to get some mileage on it. The goal is to have it in the program for the better part of the season.”

They worked on it a bit last year, but did only throw triple Salchows. They tried a throw quad twice, but they weren’t realistic back then. “This spring is when we really started putting some real work into it,” he said.

Now that they’ve been skating together for more than three years, their ability to work together has gelled. “It’s an interesting relationship,” Moscovitch said. “I don’t know if there are many sports where a man and a woman are in that kind of a relationship – at that level of trust. It’s a very unique kind of experience. It puts a unique set of strains on a relationship and I think over time, we’ve gotten better at it. It’s one of the main keys to becoming a successful pair skater – to manage those stressors and those challenges when you’re skating with someone every single day and physically relying on them.”

Yes, pair skaters are a different breed. And this pair has a new joy behind it all.