Gabby Daleman taking no prisoners


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Duhamel and Radford: another program change


Timing is everything, isn’t it?

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

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

That should have put an end to it, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why not take the chance?” she said.




Gabby Daleman: what strength is


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






A light shines on novice pairs


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed. What a start.




















Alec Guinzbourg: From broken leg to gold medal


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Patrick Chan, pulling himself to the finish

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

It gives him a restless foot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virtue and Moir: reborn after the Grand Prix Final

Okay, folks. Listen up.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have no intention of finishing second at the Pyeongchang Olympics, although they finished second at the Grand Prix Final last month.

They are not in this race for silver, for second-best, for forgotten footnote. Anybody remember who Sham was? The horse that finished second to Secretariat. Secretariat we know. Sham had to live down his name.

Virtue and Moir haven’t taken their defeat at Grand Prix Final as a result of any nefarious working behind the scenes, as some suggest and fear. They took a look at themselves and knew they could do better.

They weren’t taken aback by the results at Grand Prix Final. Mind you, finishing second wasn’t what they had in mind. Last season they had owned almost all the season’s bests, while this season so far, they still have only the short dance world record of 82.68. The French and the Canadians circled around each other all year in competitions, meeting for the first time at the Grand Prix Final.

Papadakis and Cizeron became the first to best the 200 total mark when they unleashed a world record 201.98 points at the Grand Prix in France, and then again at the Grand Prix Final when they recorded 202.16.

Virtue and Moir finished second at the Grand Prix Final with 199.86, their personal best, only 2.30 points behind the French and almost 12 points ahead of third-placed Maia and Alex Shibutani.

Those 2.30 lost points weren’t happy ones for Virtue and Moir. So they came home and watched their own performances on tape. “We spent a lot of time in this sport,” Moir said. “We know what we want our performances to look like. And when we looked at the Grand Prix Final, we were super happy with our skate. But we know there is more on the table for us to do. So it has been a busy month, trying to live up to what we want our look and performance to look like.”

So, as Moir said, they went back to the drawing board. They have made a lot of changes, especially in their free dance. “We’re just trying to open the programs up,” Moir said. “Hopefully we’ve been successful…We just want a bit more command and I think we’re enjoying it more. We always talk about how we enjoy skating and we felt like we were enjoying it. But when we watched the tape, it didn’t really look like it.”

Virtue said they made a few music edits to the second half of their Moulin Rouge free dance (“Come What May”), trying to emphasize more of their twosomeness and a love story “culminating in a bigger, more theatrical ending.” Indeed, it’s more Olympic.

“That’s been refreshing for us,” Virtue said. “Especially at this point in the season, having trained and performed this program so many times. It’s so engrained in our bodies and we are so committed to the story line and we love it. But bringing in some fresh movement sort of feels like the program has been reborn.”

There were parts where they just “felt suffocated in the movements,” and that is what they saw on the video. “So we are trying to open it up and keep it close to our hearts,” Moir said.

They’ve learned from the Sochi Olympic season, when their free dance didn’t quite pull at their hearts. They wanted to make changes to it, but they didn’t have the nerve to do so in the middle of that season. Not this time. “Here, we’re really trying to challenge ourselves so that when we really do look back on the tape, we’re not regretting that,” he said.

Their coaching staff responded to the call for change. Moir said they wanted to pick the program apart and they did, a bit, but mostly, they wanted to open up the flow and feel. “Hopefully you’ll see that freedom,” Moir said. “We feel it, so hopefully that translates.”

Nationals next week will present a good test for all these changes. Their entire plan is to peak in February. The national championship will be a stepping stone. “But we also need to make a statement, especially after the Grand Prix Final,” Virtue said. “We need to come out strong, with our guns blazing, ready to take on the world in February.”

It’s hard for them to know. They are all so close to it. When they peruse the video, they are gleaning technical bits, trying to maximize points here and there. “It’s rare that we would ever watch something and be satisfied,” Virtue said.

They are pleased with where this has all gone.

Their Moulin Rouge is a different sort of cat. When they began to work on the piece last summer, they wanted “a sleek modern contemporary aesthetic” for it. And it brings a lot of possibilities for them.

“It’s so emotional and layered and nuanced that you feel the spectrum of emotions,” Virtue said. It’s completely different from the subtleties and understated elegance of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” that the French have adopted for this season. Moulin Rouge calls for aggression, and passion and anger and jealousy and love.

“We’re trying to tell that a little more physically than anything,” she said. They incorporate the tango movements while also doing the unexpected. They think of what the normal approach to a specific beat is or a melody and try to go in a different direction.

“We know that we want to get that extra lyrical feeling in the second half of the program,” Virtue said. “We wanted to make sure that when we took the ice for our third Olympics, we weren’t the same team. It [would be] a different Tessa and Scott, moving differently, expressing differently, skating differently and that’s what we continue to strive for.”

They know it’s inescapable for people to make comparisons between them and the French. It’s a battle between the two training mates. People try to label them. They seem to need to. If there is a label, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron tend to adopt the soft, lyrical long-lined approach. Virtue and Moir go all over the map to different styles and genres for their inspiration.

“I think there’s something about wanting to label a style and compare and contrast,” Virtue said. “It’s no surprise that people want to identify what it is we do, and compare that directly to the French team. We love what they do. It is soft and lyrical and intricately woven and there’s a contemporary look to it.

“I think what we’ve chosen to do this year is perhaps more dramatic and intense, but it was more just to change our own personal look. We wanted to have a departure for ourselves as a team, and that was really important to us, not taking into account where Gabby and Guillaume were taking their free dance this year.”

Partly, it comes down to music selection. “How can you not respond aggressively to a piece of music like Roxanne?” Virtue said.

As the program evolves – and their programs always do throughout the season – Virtue and Moir feel they are right on track.

Mirai Nagasu: It’s time

Honestly, it feels like you are treading through a snowstorm, body leaning into the howling wind, when it comes to figuring out the outcome of the women’s event at the U.S. championships in San Jose, Calif., this week.

You know there will be vehicles on the road, but you just can’t see them and you can’t predict what they will do. It’s come to this at the women’s event in San Jose. You check the snaps on your Russian hat with the flappy ear lugs (perhaps envious of their embarrassment of riches) and you press on.

And this is what we figure: Mirai Nagasu. She’s due. She’s more than due. She’s weathered all sorts of things: youth, injuries, doubt, focus, a laundry list of coaches, life. She’s 24 and she’s coming armed to the US championships with a triple Axel, for heaven’s sake.

But it’s not just that. It’s the steps she’s taken over the past couple of years since she’s been with coach Tom Zakrajsek, who recognized her untapped talent, and who told her when she tugged at his sleeve, that he didn’t just want to coach somebody in the twilight of her career. She had to be aiming at world and Olympic medals.

There have been flashes of brilliance: a win at the U.S. championships – senior level, mind – when she was only 14 and still competing internationally as a junior. She didn’t get to go to the world championships that year because of the top four finishers, only Ashley Wagner was old enough to go. She went to junior world championships instead.

She earned her way to the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 after finishing second at U.S. nationals, after having won the short program. She won the U.S. silver medal, but she was the one who excelled at those Games, finishing fourth at only 16. Tired, she went on to worlds and won the short program, before falling apart in the free to finish seventh overall.

Then the heartbreaker. She was left off the Olympic team going to Sochi, even though she had finished third at U.S. nationals and there were three spots. Ashley Wagner, fourth, was sent because she had a better international record.

So here she is again at the U.S. championships during an Olympic year, 10 years after her only U.S. championship win. But she’s a different person. There were hints of it when she won the Autumn Classic in Montreal  in the early fall of 2016. She was magnificent.

This season, Nagasu drew into the two most difficult fields in Grand Prix events in Russia and Japan, meeting Evgenia Medvedeva both times. She came into these events, having landed rotated triple Axels in each of her short and long programs, although landed with flaws at the U.S. International Classic. In her free, she had lost only .4 of a point, and still chalked up 8.10, but she slightly underrotated four other jumps and suffered a fall.

The underrotations continued, including on the triple Axel, although she did rotate one in the short program at NHK. In her free skate, she finished fourth and underrotated only the triple Axel.

But that was last November. She’s been under the radar, training in Colorado Springs. Well, not really under the radar. There is this incredible Instagram video of her landing a triple Axel – triple toe loop – double toe loop – double loop combination. It’s a lot easier to do in practice than in competition, but, still, all I can say is: EXCLAMATION POINT.

And the task: just getting that tripleAxel out in the program, along with everything else. As Elvis Stojko says, there will be mistakes, but it’s stuff you have to weather to find success.

What is she up against in San Jose? Ashley Wagner, the 2016 world silver medalist; Karen Chen, the reigning U.S. champion that finished fourth at the world championships last season; and Bradie Tennell, who shocked everybody by outskating her U.S. counterparts at Skate America, her very first senior Grand Prix event.

Tennell is different because she’s on an upward trajectory, after having overcome stress fractures in her back several years ago. She didn’t put a foot wrong in Lake Placid, finishing with a score of 204.10, which is surprisingly the highest score achieved by a U.S. woman on the Grand Prix series this year.

Only two other U.S. women have higher personal bests than Tennell: Wagner tops that list with 215.39, while Gracie Gold – out of action right now – has 211.29.

Karen Chen is at 199.29, Sasha Cohen has 197.60, Nagasu sits at 194.95, Mariah Bell at 191.59 and let’s reach way back to find Kimmie Meissner, the 2006 world champion at 189.87.

Among those ahead of Tunnell, a 19-year-old who earned her way to Skate America through a minor summer competition in Philadelphia are a group overcoming problems. Wagner withdrew part way through the free skate at Skate America, citing an infection in her right ankle that surfaced the week before, and since then, she’s switched her free program back to LaLa Land, which she had trained, but didn’t use for the Grand Prix season.

Then Karen Chen, admitting to nerves at her two Grand Prix events, has switched programs several times and before Skate America, had again gone back to an earlier routine. She says with a couple more weeks of work, she feels comfortable with it.

And Wagner? Her training mate and friend Adam Rippon says she looks really fit. “My honest opinion is that Ashley does best when she feels like the odds are against her,” he said. “And I think at some level, subconsciously, she put herself in this sort of position where people are [asking] how is she doing?’ And she put herself in this position so that she can be the underdog. I told her that it’s unnecessary that she does this. We’ll, she’s the underdog and she’s putting the work in. And looks really great.”

Tennell’s greatest drawback may be her lack of experience, and here she is at U.S. nationals, in a spotlight, as the country looks for its Olympic heroes.

And then there’s Nagasu, who plans to go for the triple Axel in both programs, as she has been doing all year. She’s had her head down working. She just wants to put out two good programs and let the chips fall where they may.

She really wants to take part in the Olympic team event. She thinks you’d have to finish within the top two to have that chance.

So after all these years, she and Wagner are going toe to toe again. Both started out young. “We’ve been fortunate to be at the top of the field,” Nagasu said. She’s read that at age 27, an athlete reaches peak condition. She figures she still has a few years to go, and she feels she has more to learn still. “I have the determination,” she said.

She doesn’t mind that folks are putting so much emphasis on her triple Axel, a jump that has been done by less than 10 women in the world. “I can assure you, I love attention,” she said. “And I love that I’m being recognized for having the ability to be able to accomplish such a different jump and to be recognized internationally as one of two U.S. women to land it in competition.”

She says it took her three years to learn a double Axel, and it took her a long time to get the triple as well. But she’s proud to be recognized for something that no one is doing right now.

She’s going into the U.S. championships, using visualization, imagining herself in every scenario. “I’m not going to be afraid to make a mistake,” she said. “I’m not going to be afraid of failure. I think, knowing that, I would be more upset with myself if I didn’t go for everything.” She feels that’s her mental shift going to the U.S. championships.

And then she had a practice yesterday. It was sublime. She motored. She seemed on a different planet. It was a practice like those Ilia Kulik had turned in at the Nagano Olympics in 1998, after he had missed Europeans with a back problem. You don’t like to come up to the Olympics with a problem, but during the week of practices, he sparkled. To me, that means Nagasu could be on a similar upward trajectory, too.

Time will tell. Three U.S. women get Olympic berths. The U.S. championships will be an event that has no easy favourite. No foregone conclusion. And that makes it interesting.

Adam Rippon, making music

That Adam Rippon. What a card. He heats up the ice when he skates with his patience and confidence and his glorious moves. He’s become an amusing lad. One never knows what he will do. Not that he isn’t serious about his work. He is. And just for fun, we saw him cross off another item on his bucket list when he sang a cover song, “Diamonds” at the NHK exhibitions in November.

So here, if you are looking for more good material for your current state of mind, Adam, why don’t you try a new cover to Leonard Cohen’s “First we take Manhattan.” and notice the birds at the beginning of the video. It’s as if the iconic songster had created the piece with Adam Rippon and his Arrival of the Birds routine in mind. This song strikes me as Rippon’s mindset going into the U.S. championships next week.


They sentenced me to four months of recovery

From breaking my foot one day last year

I’m coming now, I’m coming for the reward now

First we take San Jose, then we take Pyeongchang

I’m guided by a signal from the referee

I’m guided to pick those bees up off the ice

I’m guided by the beauty of my weapons

First we take San Jose, then we take Pyeongchang.

I’d really like to land that quad Lutz, baby,

Last time I tried it, I had to shove my shoulder right back in.

That quad toe just won’t do; my foot won’t take it

I told you, I told you, told you, I don’t need butt pads, see?

Ah you loved me as a loser, but now you’re worried that I just might win

You know the way to stop me, but you don’t have the discipline

How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin,

First we take San Jose, then we take Pyeongchang.

I’ve earned my big a** through hard work, mister.

I’m just rockin’ it with pride to the end.

I always knew I would be a trendsetter

First we take San Jose, then we take Pyeongchang.

I’d really like to land that quad Lutz baby,

Last time I tried it, I had to shove the shoulder right back in,

Nothing can stop me, no matter what you do,

I told you, I told you, I told you, I’m not a hot mess, ever.

No I don’t do that Rippon Lutz right now because

That shoulder thing could kick up then,

If I really want to see one now, I’ll just watch

Any junior ladies event in Russia; they all do ‘em

Ah remember me, I’ve got this secret weapon.

Remember me, I’m going for my coronation,

Remember, ice is slippery, all of you should be careful,

First we take San Jose, then we take Pyeongchang.





Vincent Zhou and his steep learning curve

Oh lordie, Vincent Zhou. What you have had to face. What you are about to face.

It would be different if this was just any year. But it’s Olympic year. And you are still only 17. And competing internationally as a senior for the first time.

It didn’t seem all that long ago that you were sparking up the U.S. Championships as an 11-year-old or a 12-year-old, winning novice and junior championships with no little measure of panache: tugging your little bow tie, tucking your arms bravely under your chin, and all the while landing big triple jumps that few young tads your age are mastering yet.

Yet here you are, off to the U.S. championships next week, an event you call “the most important competition of the year,” because it is, after all, the gateway to the Olympics. And because you finished second last year behind the swashbuckling youngster Nathan Chen, and promise to be able to go toe to toe with him in the quad contest, some of this glaring spotlight falls on you.

Zhou felt it last November, while competing at the Internationaux de France, only his second senior Grand Prix event. He finished only tenth in the short program, after falling on both his quad Lutz (combination) and a quad flip. And then onto the free skate, where he finished seventh, falling on a quad flip, and a solo quad Lutz, and singling and doubling out a thing or two besides.

Distraught, he posted a handwritten tweet, apologizing for his overall ninth-place finish. “I am learning about the danger of ambition,” he wrote. Perhaps the pressure was external, too. Jealousies afoot? “There are those who love me, adore me, see me as a threat, annoyance or source of entertainment and there are those who would rather I quit skating,” he wrote. “I am sorry to those whose respect I failed to earn, those whose expectations I did not meet and those whose standards I did not satisfy.”

Zhou did well at his Grand Prix debut, finishing fourth at the Cup of China. But by the time he got to France, he had “zero confidence.” And he felt the pressure. He fought as hard as he could through the programs.

“I feel like the biggest challenge in terms of confidence in moving up to senior this is all the expectations being compared with the top skaters in the world,” he said Wednesday on a conference call. “I know that I’m able to do all the quads that everyone else can do. That’s the reason I’m compared with other people who can do the quads, who are the top skaters in the world. “

He knows that his artistry, presentation and component scores have yet to catch up. He’s working on it. He knows that, this being Olympic year, he’s one of the contenders for three men’s spots that the United States has earned to Pyeongchang. “That’s a lot to handle for the first year senior,” he said. “I think I’ve done a good job of that this year.”

Well, there was that competition in France, a confidence grinder.  When he returned from France, his group of coaches sat down and discussed it all. “We didn’t obsess over what went wrong, because that can lead to negativity and lots of stress,” he said. “We just discussed with a clear mind how we can make things better, what changes to make, based on how I was feeling. We realized that we were kind of pushing too hard.” The Olympics does that to you.

The thing is, Zhou had gone to France with an overly ambitious free-skate plan that was to include six quads. “I think that going for six quads wasn’t smart because the entire goal of this season was to take things by step,” he said.

Last year when he won the junior world championship title, he had done three quads. Then he went to four, which he used to win the gold medal at Bavarian Trophy. Then five, then six. “I haven’t done five successfully in competition,” he said. “So that’s why it wasn’t good to go up to six. We’re staying at five.”

They’ve made changes to his training regimen. And he’s been successful at training five quads in his free program.

Besides, heading into France, he’d been dealing with some shin issues. It’s all cleared up. He doesn’t like to make excuses. And he’s put France behind him. He’s hit the reset button.

Now on top of all of this, last week, he dislocated his shoulder while training a quad Salchow.

He’s seen all the videos of Daniel Samohin at Skate America, falling on a quad Salchow, putting his hands down to break the fall, then painfully dislocating his shoulder, badly enough that he had to leave the ice and withdraw.

“My incident was almost exactly the same,” Zhou said. “I flipped out of a quad Salchow, and I put my left hand down to support my body weight and I immediately felt the crack and the pain.

“I think it popped back in right away. It wasn’t a full dislocation.”

He visited a physical therapist right away to ensure everything was stable and that indeed the shoulder had popped back in all the way. He took the next day off and didn’t skate. There are still a lot of arm and shoulder movements that you do in skating. And those movements are restricted by such a shoulder injury.

The next day, he was back on the ice, but he didn’t do quads. “We have to be very careful right now and make sure we don’t make things worse right before the most important competition of the year,” he said. He feels he’s made a complete recovery now, although there is still one spin position he cannot do. He figures it will be cleared up by the time the men start the short program next week. He’s lucky he’s young and his body heals fast.

He’s had his share of injuries. After he became the youngest U.S. junior champion ever at age 12, he missed the entire 2013-14 season because of injury. He tore a lateral meniscus in his right knee and a discord meniscus. Surgery was necessary.

That old injury causes him no pain, he said, because the tear had been so big, surgeons couldn’t fix it. So they removed his meniscus. But the meniscus acts as a padding between bones and the impact of bones pounding against each other with no buffer is always a worry. But he doesn’t seem to have that problem.

His biomechanics are working well after a trainer at the Olympic training centre in Colorado Springs has helped Zhou strengthen his glutes, his hamstrings and his back to be “able to use the correct muscles and have correct alignment when I land.” All of this has been vital. He also trains smart on the ice, and limits repetitions.

With all of that, Zhou feels ready to take on the nation’s best in San Jose next week. He really can’t control whether or not he will be chosen for the Olympic team: the entire decision will be taken by a committee. He hopes everyone will recognize that he’s made big improvements since the Grand Prix season.

“I performed with all the passion and spirit I could muster,” he said in that tweet after the French Grand Prix. “I made mistakes. I failed my expectations and I am disappointed with the results.

“However, I am Vincent Zhou. I am young, ambitious, hungry and motivated. But most importantly, I am still learning.”