Patrick Chan: Dust in the Wind

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

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

 

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

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

“I close my eyes, only for a moment

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

“Same old song. Just a drop of water

In an endless sea.

All we do crumbles to the ground

Though we refuse to see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy days with choreographer Jeff Buttle

 

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

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

It’s all about perspective.

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The Waddell Brothers: an extraordinary test

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

 Photo by Danielle Earl

Bruce Waddell and Natalie D’Alessandro

George Waddell and Sabrina Bedard (Skate Canada photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Boys to Men

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

Skate Canada photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Messing with coach Burghart.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s his character,” Burghart said.

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

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

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

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

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

Orzel as a preliminary skater

Orzel, more recently

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roman Sadovsky in the early days with coach Tracey Wainman

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iliya Kovler Skate Canada photo

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s kind of special.”

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

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

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

Corey Circelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Run boy, run

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

Photo by Danielle Earl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tomorrow is another day,” chants Woodkid.

“And you won’t have to hide away.

You’ll be a man, boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Legends Day

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

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

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

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

 

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

Campbell’s bobblehead doll.

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

 

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

Dave Miller, the lone American

 

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

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

The Magic Man

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

Keith Waples

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

Marv Chantler flew in by helicopter for Legends Day.

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

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

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

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

 The lineup for autographs

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

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

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

 

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

 

Campbell, the grandfather

Queen: Love of My Life

Okay, boys ands girls, indulge me.

I did a posting some time ago of my discovery of Queen and Freddie Mercury, especially as they tie to figure skating, because ever since vocals were allowed, so many people have turned to the emotional, theatrical, endlessly creative and varied work of the foursome from England.

Freddie died almost 26 years ago of AIDS, and bass player John Deacon retired to become a recluse a few years after the loss of the lead singer, declaring that Queen wasn’t Queen without him. And so there are two. And last night they were in Toronto, a little longer in the tooth and a little greyer (well, a lot, actually) but they hadn’t lost a step. And I was there to finally see it all, to see Brian May’s fingers pluck his Red Special guitar, the one he made with his father as a teen out of wood from an old fireplace and a table, and a motorcycle and his mother’s knitting needles. And he’s still using it. It’s a shiny wondrous thing, with its own guards. And Roger Taylor is still beating powerfully away at his drums with a cool vengeance. He wears hearing aids now.

Roger Taylor in his younger days.

I’ve been waiting for this two-hour show for months. As always these days, there are throngs of people walking the streets of downtown Toronto, but members of this crowd on this day sported many Queen t-shirts. I knew where they were headed. I stopped for dinner at a local eatery around the corner from the Air Canada Centre and heard the barman tell a patron that yes, Queen was in town, and the clientele tended to be mothers bringing their daughters. What? Really? Okay, Queen was popular in the 1970s and 1980s, but their music is timeless. And in this newest incarnation, 35-year-old Adam Lambert, he of American Idol fame, is fronting them. (Brian May turned 70 the next day, and we all sang happy birthday to him. Taylor will turn 68 next week. If Freddie had lived, he would be approaching 71.)

And let’s not forget Deacon, the quiet one, the latest member to join, the youngest one. He will be 66 in another month.

The Air Canada Centre was packed. A sellout crowd, with people of all ages and more security than I’ve ever seen there. The concert was to begin at 8 p.m., but didn’t actually start for another 45 to 50 minutes. People stayed in their seats, piqued by an occasional burst of dried ice mist from the end of the stage, shaped like May’s Red Special guitar. (Queen does seem to like to launch their shows with lots of fire and brimstone and rising clouds of vapor. It’s great and somehow very Freddie!)  It all heightened the suspense. It was a successful tease. I felt wound tighter than a yo-yo ball.

For the longest time, we could hear rumblings of music from behind an enormous stage that featured a large curved wall, supposedly made out of pieces of metal riveted together with life-sized letters of QUEEN emblazoned across the front. At my first sighting of this, I knew I was in the right place, that it wasn’t just any other visit to the Air Canada Centre.

Suddenly, this enormous “tin” stage started to heave from its moorings, then drop back down with a mighty bang. Again and again as if it was so heavy, forces couldn’t quite lift it. But Frank could.

Frank is the name May and friends have given to the robot that graced the cover of their “News of the World” album, released in 1977 that includes the hits “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Of course, it’s the 40th anniversary of the album release. On the album cover, the robot is fearsome, a giant intelligent force that has scooped up the dead bodies of all four Queen members, with blood dripping from a metal hinged finger. That scene always scared the wits out of me. I never wanted to look at it.

But the Frank on this tour seems a handy accomplice to Queen. Rather a treat. Suddenly and loudly, his giant metal hand “broke” through the wall of steel, allowing Frank and his purple eyes to peer through. (Queen loves the dramatic. Queen members never just stand around and jiggle on stage. They create. It has to be big and glam.) You are never entirely sure whether or not Frank’s big fist is going to come out and grab you, as he has done others in the past. The crowd fell silent as this fist meandered in and out of the hole that Frank had made.

Suddenly, Frank’s hands clamped against the sides of the stage and lifted it up to reveal Queen and Lambert. And when I saw them, for the first time in my life, I felt tears welling up in my eyes and yes, even the odd one running down my cheeks. Sorry. No control over this. Thankfully, it was dark, save the light illuminating the stage.

Well, really, I had shed all of my hard-won dollars for a ticket to see May and Taylor. Just those two, to be sure. Lambert eventually brought up “the pink elephant in the room” (dressed in a three-piece pink suit with lofty heels, all sparkly). And this elephant is of course the argument that Queen is not Queen without the powerful voice and persona of Freddie. I buy that.

There will never be another Freddie. It’s not possible. Yes, Lambert has a powerful voice, a miraculous voice that hit notes uncommon to man (Freddie’s notes). In Toronto, he was brilliant in “Under Pressure.” (Roger Taylor’s husky voice filled in for David Bowie), “Radio Ga Ga”, “I Want to Break Free” and “Who Wants to Live Forever.” He rocked those tunes. He was quite effective in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” too.

Queen inserted one of Lambert’s own new pieces: (I Don’t Give) “Two (Fuddle Duddles).” (And if you are Canadian, you know that Fuddle Duddle is a kinder, gentler version of a swear word made famous by the current Prime Minister’s father, Pierre Trudeau, ever the edgy one.)

I could have done without this Lambert “Two Fux” song. The crowd had quickly risen to its feet when Queen came on stage, to run through some famous numbers, but as Lambert began to sing his Two Thingies song, they all sat down. “Killer Queen” was next, with Lambert rising high in the air on the head of Frank, his eyes rolling up at the pink-clad cargo. The crowd rose to its feet again at the sound of traditional Queen fare.

I can see why Queen embraced Lambert, with his voice and his amazing abilities. Without him, these tours would have been impossible. They would have been finished. There’s an old video of Taylor and May returning to the studio in England where they recorded “Bohemian Rhapsody” and it seemed almost poignant that they were picking up the sticks and strumming the guitar again, their careers a fond memory. But they have made it happen, brought the magic all back again, with Lambert in tow. And they can still rumble with the best of them.

Still, Lambert is not Freddie. Freddie had me during the 20-minute video of Live Aid concert from 1985. Actually, I think he had me after 10 minutes. Hell, probably five. His persona and voice were so very powerful. Every move was charged. He was lord and master of the stage. There was a palpable connection to the crowd. As great as his voice is, Lambert doesn’t quite always reach the Freddie mystique. It’s not just that Lambert can’t possibly replace someone else, it’s just that he can’t quite do what Freddie did. Freddie could direct an entire crowd of hundreds of thousands and have them all in the palm of his hands, the sweep of his arm, the cheekiness of his delivery. Lambert couldn’t get this crowd to sing along.

So of course, in stepped Freddie himself in Toronto. The loveliest moment was “Love of My Life,” a duet that Freddie used to do with May. May played an acoustic guitar, not his Red Special, and Freddie sang this beautiful ballad that he had written. But in Toronto, May appeared on the stage alone, sitting on a chair far out on the neck of the guitar-shaped stage, directly across from me. There’s something wistful about the sight of May going it alone. It was singalong time for the audience.

But for the final verse, May turned and behind him on a huge screen was Freddie, singing the way he did during the final tour of his life. Was there a dry eye in the house? Not in my corner. On the screen, Freddie took his bows, impishly showed his rump as he was wont to do, and quietly walked away into the darkness. May appeared to wipe tears from his eyes, and as he walked back to the main stage, I could see him take a deep breath. He’s done this routine many times in the past few years, but it still affects him. And us.

The way it was, the duet:

Freddie showed up twice more. Very effectively doing the “ Aiyo!” routine he did at Wembley stadium in 1986, dressed in his yellow jacket. The one where he tosses a glass of water (?) into the crowd. Entices them into crazy flights of song. (And they answer every time). And then finally, smiling, he says: “F…. you!” The crowd in Toronto did the same, as if he was still alive. When he came onto the screen to do this, there was a mighty cheer. Let’s be honest: whenever Freddie appeared, it was bedlam.

Freddie returned for the final song, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a song that he wrote, engineered, developed and used to mystify the world about its meaning. It’s a deeply personal song, so to have Freddie return to the screen at the Air Canada Centre to sing the famous, ground-breaking video (“Bismillah! I will not let you go!”) was truly as it should be. The crowd began to swing their lighted cell phones to the music. Magical.

On his final tour, Freddie wore a crown in the finale. This time, Lambert donned it for the final few numbers. But at the end, he planted the crown atop May’s head. As they took low bows, May’s crown toppled unceremoniously onto the floor. He quickly grabbed it, and Taylor got  a crown too. Another bow, and May had to push the crown back on with his Red Special. It was wonderfully imperfect and human.

An encore, a puff of smoke, and gold streamers, and Queen had left my life, at least physically, again. I’ve been floating on some ray of happiness ever since.

And yes. We miss Freddie.

Longshots don’t always finish last

In the midst of the frothy Hats and Horseshoe party, the shiny shoes of the storied horse owners and breeders, and the proven stakes winners that move on unseen springs around the walking ring of the Queen’s Plate, there is a horse called Vaughan.

Vaughan is a late-comer to the 158th running of the Queen’s Plate, Canada’s premier race, the one everybody in the game in this country dreams of winning. He’ll be the longest longshot of the field, overlooked by many. The morning line says 50 to 1. That’s just a guideline. It could be more. After all, the colt has won only $8,436 in his life. (The two richest horses in the race are State of Honor at $423,736 and King And His Court at $426,412). Vaughan has run in only two races, winning none. He almost forgot to leave the gate in the first race of his life only a month ago.

The Vaughan family. Vaughan will wear a red hood like this when he runs in the Queen’s Plate

Vaughan will be only the second Queen’s Plate starter for trainer John Mattine, the first being Okiyama six years ago in 2011. Okiyama was a longshot, too.  At odds of 63 to 1, he finished last of 17 after forcing the early pace. That Plate was won by a filly, Inglorious. This year, a filly, Holy Helena, is favoured to win the Gallop for the Guineas. Mattine is hoping that history won’t repeat itself this time.

Holy Helena, winning the Woodbine Oaks.

Vaughan, the horse, is owned by John Romanelli, whose RCC company is best known as a restorer of waterlogged basement foundations.  Romanelli owned a couple of ears of Okiyama, one of his early plunges into a nine-year history of horse ownership. He’s also owned the likes of Buongiorno Johnny, that made everybody feel like they were in Italy when they spoke his name. It’s no secret that Romanelli has Italian roots, like much of Vaughan, the city.

Romanelli, lover of Vaughan, the horse and the city

Last November, Romanelli bought a colt called Conquest Zipped Up, from the dispersal sale of Ernie Semersky’s Conquest Stable for $17,000 US. Because of the dispersal, there are now multiple Conquest horses with new home all over the continent, almost to the point that you can’t remember which Conquest horse is which. Romanelli wanted to put his own stamp on this colt and renamed him Vaughan, after his home city. He loves Vaughan, north of Toronto. Like the horse that bears its name, Vaughan is a town lurking under the radar in Canada’s largest metropolis. Even though it is a city, it doesn’t even have its own listing in the phone book, nor does it have its own hospital.

Still, it was Canada’s fastest-growing municipality from 1996 to 2006, when the population exploded by 80.2 per cent. It’s the home of Canada’s Wonderland, the McMichael Art Collection, and the megamall, Vaughan Mills.

The task of Vaughan (the horse) seems improbable and impossible. The cast of characters surrounding him also includes 46-year-old jockey Slade Callaghan, who hasn’t ridden in a Queen’s Plate in seven years, since he piloted Seawatch to finish sixth, his best finish ever in five previous attempts at the Plate. There’s a reason for Callaghan’s long absence from Plate consideration. Three or four years ago, he semi-retired from riding, deciding to ride only the horses trained by his wife, Kelly. At 5-foot-8, he’s tall for a jockey. And he loves dabbling in real estate.

Slade Callaghan

However, more than a year ago, the Barbados-born Callaghan began to feel the tug of riding good horses again. Earlier in his career, he’d scaled the heights with Rahy’s Attorney, which he rode to win the $1-million Woodbine Mile, defeating top North American milers.

And although Callaghan had never won a Queen’s Plate, he had won a Canadian Triple Crown race on Portcullis and two legs of the filly’s version, taking the 2003 Bison City Stakes with Seeking the Ring (in a dead heat for the win) and the 2000 Wonder Where Stakes with Misty Mission, who made only three starts in her life. All three were Sam-Son Farm horses. Callaghan often got the mounts when somebody else couldn’t honour a commitment. And he made the most of those chances.

However, two weeks into the Woodbine meet last year (and his comeback), he had a morning training accident, and broke his right leg and his right ankle. Surgeons inserted a rod into his leg, starting from beneath his knee cap right into his bone. His ankle, more problematic, got some screws. All of that hardware is still there. That put him out of action for much of last season.

But he understands patience, and the time you need to put yourself back on track. He found a way. For weeks he lay in bed, watching television series. But he wasn’t idle. He couldn’t put any weight on his leg, but he could lie in bed and stretch and do certain things to keep the injury mobile.

He never went to rehab. “I did everything myself,” he said. “With my experience dealing with horses. I used a couple of machines that we use on horses, like lasers and ice packs. “ He would get periodic medical check-ups to ensure the bones were in place and mending properly.

At the end of 12 weeks, he could put away the crutches, although at first, he limped for a while – not so much because of the fractures. His hardest work was to deal with inflammation and scar tissue, and the tightening of his tendons, and shrinking muscles.

He never considered giving up. Not once. “It never crossed my mind,” he said. He rode a race in September, and by the end of the year, had only a handful of rides.

He’s had injuries before. Back in Barbados, Callaghan suffered a serious shoulder injury that prompted him to have nerve transplant surgery in Toronto, but when he caught sight of Woodbine for the first time, he knew he had to ride here. He moved to Canada in 1994.

Callaghan warming up for his Plate ride during a Saturday race at Woodbine

He knew that this season, he would have to start from scratch again, drumming up business from nothing. He made regular daily stops to Mattine’s barn. With the Queen’s Plate coming up, Mattine took a second look at Callaghan, who had experience.

“Slade can ride a horse,” Mattine said. “He kept saying: ‘Give me a chance on him.’ I said: ‘You know what? Let’s give him a chance on him.’

“I know he’s been on nice horses. He was pretty cool and calm and collected at the [Plate draw.] I’ve always liked him.”

CAllaghan “can ride a horse.”

 

The way Romanelli sees it, Callaghan isn’t the sort to lose his head and get into a speed duel in a major event. “He’s not going to get overly excited,” he said. “He’s going to ride a smart race and if things open up, you never know.” So much can happen in a 1 ¼-mile race, he said.

Callaghan discovered that he was to ride Vaughan only the day before the Plate draw for post positions. It’s given him a lift, like nothing else. “It means so much that someone has confidence in you to put you on a horse in the biggest race in Canada, after not riding full-time for a while,” he said. “It’s not like you forget how to ride.”

The thing about Vaughan is that it’s not as if he doesn’t belong in Plate chatter. His mother is a mare called Destroy, who was Canada’s broodmare of the year in 2011, after having produced brilliant horses such as multiple graded stakes winner Smokey Fire, as well as Utterly Cool and Ghost Fleet.

And Destroy’s mother was another diva of the racetrack: Eternal Search, Canada’s champion sprinter in 1981 and champion older mare in 1982 and 1983. The awards don’t tell the whole tale of the horse. Eternal Search as a racehorse was as tough and speedy as they come. A star, back in the day.

Mattine says he’s liked Vaughan from day one, and has no regrets in buying him for Romanelli. “He’s a horse that’s improving and we’ll see if he fits in with this calibre,” he said.

John Mattine

Winning a Queen’s Plate, of course, would mean a great deal to Mattine, whose father, Tony was a Woodbine trainer. And his grandfather minded the “gap” where horses get on and off the track. Because of his grandfather, Mattine witnessed part of track lore in Queen’s Plate history. He watched Amber Herod go through the gap enroute to a start in the 1974 Plate, but he took an unscheduled roll in the mud (It rained buckets that day) and arrived in the paddock with his new white blanket besmirched. Then he went out and won the Plate by 1 ½ lengths, with his ears pricked.

As for Romanelli, who admits he hasn’t been sleeping all that well the past few nights, he didn’t  want to find out two or three months after the Plate was over, that he had a horse that could have been a contender. “What if he broke his maiden by 10 lengths and I go: “Why didn’t I try?”

Mattine says they are making this a serious pilgrimage to the Plate. It’s not a vanity contest. “We’re serious, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “If you want to have fun, you go to Vegas.”

And then, it seemed an omen, when Mattine and Romanelli won an allowance race at Woodbine two days before the Plate with Broken Meadow, winning the first race of her life, rather impressively. Owned by Romanelli, she was a 24 to 1 longshot. Mattine has always liked this mare, too.

The omens are good. Note the Canadian flag in the back pocket.

Of course, longshots have won the Plate many times. T.J.’s Lucky Moon won in 2002 as an 82 to 1 shot., second longest shot behind Maternal Pride in 1924, at 95 to 1. T.J.’s Lucky Moon had won one of only five previous starts and he was a mean sonofabuck, too. His win was wacky and unforgettable.

And maidens?  Scatter The Gold was the most notable one in 2000. He hadn’t won before the Plate, but he had been bred in the purple by Sam-Son Farm, a leading racing juggernaut in the country. If Vaughan should win, he could become part of Queen’s Plate lore, too. One thing Romanelli and Mattine know for sure: there will be a lot of cheering from Vaughan (the city) for Vaughan (the horse) on Queen’s Plate day.

The King is back: my photos from the Wando Stakes at Woodbine Racetrack

My two worlds are colliding at the moment. Days after the Stars On Ice tour landed in Toronto, a group of Queen’s Plate hopefuls tested out their legs in the Wando Stakes at Woodbine.

The race is named after a spectacular Canadian colt called Wando, a copper-coloured gentle sort that became the first to win the Canadian Triple Crown in 10 years, back in 2003. Nobody has swept the series since. Only seven have ever won it.

Now, 14 years later, Canada’s best 3-year-olds are preparing for the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Queen’s Plate, which Wando won by nine lengths. Wando, bred by Toronto developer Gustav Schickedanz, died three years ago and is buried at Schickedanz’s Scomberg Farms, beside another of his Queen’s Plate winners, Woodcarver, as well as one of Schickedanz’s favourite riding horses.

The Wando Stakes on Sunday was a contest between Queen’s Plate winterbook favourite, Tiz A Slam and Sovereign Award champion 2-year-old from last year, King and His Court, both from powerful stables.

The following are photographs I took at Woodbine on Sunday:

 

This is Tiz A Slam, trained by Hall of Famer Roger Attfield. If Tiz A Slam wins the Queen’s Plate this year, it will give Attfield a record ninth victory in the classic race. Canada’s top jockey, Eurico Rosa da Silva, rides.

In the other corner is King and His Court, ridden by veteran Gary (Boo) Boulanger. He is trained by Canada’s perennial top trainer Mark Casse, who had one of the favourites for the Kentucky Derby last Saturday.

 

Breaking from the gate in the Wando Stakes. King and His Court is No. 3, Tiz A Slam is N. 4.

Pounding in front of the grandstand for the first time.

Down the homestretch, King and His Court battles it out with Tiz A Slam, with Gus Schickedanz’s grey horse, Megagray between them. Megagray ended up third.

King and His Court, winning the Wando over Tiz A Slam. It appears the King is back after two lacklustre efforts in the United States earlier this spring on different racing surfaces.

Winner’s circle glory for the King.

Gus Schickedanz presenting the trophy to Gary Boulanger.

 

Kaetlyn Osmond: the empty space has been filled

Just as Kaetlyn Osmond was about to make her way to the world figure skating championships in Helsinki – only her third – the value of silver, down in the doldrums on world markets, began to pick up. The ticker tapes of the world began to spin in the right direction.

It’s good news for Osmond, who has earned buckets full of silver medals this season, none as spectacular as the silver medal she earned at the world championships.

Osmond, 21, started the season at Finlandia Trophy with a gold medal, defeating Mao Asada and world bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya.

A short time later, she won a silver medal at the Skate Canada International, behind only world champ Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia.

Cup of China was next. Silver again, just behind Elena Radionova of Russian. Osmond had won the short program, and finished third in the free.

Grand Prix Final? Osmond was the first Canadian woman to qualify for it since Joanne Rochette in 2009. Osmond finished second in the short program, but fourth in the free, for fourth overall. She was not now going toe to toe with the best six skaters in the world. Behind her after the short program were world medalists from Japan,( Satoko Miyahara) and three other talented Russians. All season long, Osmond was able to spar very well with the tops in her discipline.

Four Continents was an unfortunate hiccup on Osmond’s journey. She says she tries to forget that one. Just as well.

And of course at the world championships, Osmond sped to second place behind only Medvedeva, after finishing second in both the short and the long.

Going into this world championship, Osmond was not thinking about winning a medal or about where she would place at all, despite her successful season. “I was going into worlds thinking I finally wanted to feel proud of how I skated,” she said. “I have had a season of highs all year, so when I went into worlds, I just wanted to end on that same feeling and to feel the best I had felt all season.”

Don’t forget, it’s the first time Osmond got to experience a full season. That idea excited her. She just wanted to feel proud. When she skated the way she hoped and it meant she won a silver medal, Osmond said: “Honestly, it still doesn’t feel believable.”

What is real is hard to explain. Her silver medal is entirely motivating for anything she does from now on. “After I broke my leg, I thought my career was done,” she said. “And the competitions that came afterwards, didn’t go well. It put so much doubt in my head. And I questioned that I would never be able to perform at my best ever again. I hated going home from competitions, feeling like I didn’t compete.

“And I felt lost every time. So this season, each time I went out and skated, I forgot about the feeling that I wanted to find and just focused on finding the love of the sport again. And each time I went out there, that’s what I felt. I felt like that empty piece of me kept getting filled up and filled up. And at the end of my long program [in Helsinki], it was finally like I felt full again.”

She can’t explain the feeling at the moment in which she took her final pose in the free skate. “I just felt like a full human being again,” she said. “It’s something I never realized I felt so lost before that.”

Her silver medal will probably find its way into a case at home full of her other silver medals she won during the season. Aside from an Olympic team silver medal, Osmond hadn’t won silver medals before, she said. “I think I’ll have a box of silvers,” she said. Right now, the shiny world medal is in Newfoundland, her home spot.

One of the first things that Osmond did when she returned to Canada was to return to Newfoundland. She’s lived near Edmonton since she was 10 years old, but the home province is dear to her heart. She hadn’t been to Newfoundland in a year. And she hadn’t been to her hometown of Marystown (population 5,500) in four years, when she was feted for winning her first of three Canadian titles.

Marystown did it up big that day. She rode a red convertible into town, waving all the way. There was no shortage of “Welcome Home, Kaetlyn,” signs. “I wanna be just like Kaeltyn Osmond,” said a young girl’s placard, from her perch in another car. Osmond spoke and spoke. Signed autographs, Posed for photos. Got to take home a quilt. Marystown renamed their rink the “Kaetlyn Osmond Arena.” The town named a street after her.

Kaetlyn Osmond as a young skater in Newfoundland

“Even since post-Olympics, I hadn’t been back,” she said. “For me to get a chance to go home, that was the biggest thing. I have so many supporters in Newfoundland, and so many friends and they’ve kept me going through numerous, numerous things, so it was a chance for me to see them and to hear their stories and for me to share my own.”

Osmond made a trip to the Children’s Hospital, too. “It was a really humbling experience,” said the athlete who has endured a shopping list of injuries, some that could have ended her career. “It reminded me of when I was in the hospital. And seeing so many kids go through way worse things than I was dealing with, was inspiring.”

Osmond has clearly been a star on the Stars On Ice tour this season. And she has easily stepped into that role. With a swish of newly blond-tipped hair, Osmond was spellbinding as she skated to Tori Kelly’s “Hallelujah.” She just looked different, all told. Bigger. More commanding. Soft as she needed to be. Mischievous as she chose in “I Love It.”

“The group numbers are so much fun,” she said. “I love Jeff [Buttle]’s choreography. There’s a reason I go back to him every year now for my long program. [This past season, Buttle choreographed her La Boheme free skate and he’s done exhibition routines for her in the past].

“He’s so much fun and his choreography is crazy hard. But it brings out a different side of me each time and it makes me learn new things. So I love it. Being able to do this tour and perform, it’s why I started skating. And it brings me back to my love of skating every time.”

Osmond was also part of the tribute routine to Jeff Billing, the talented costume designer and director for Stars on Ice for many years before he died last September of natural causes at age 71. If there was a number that pulled at heartstrings in the show, this was it. “It was really heartfelt,” she said. She knew Billings from two previous tours with Stars on Ice.

Before she went on tour, Osmond already completed her routines for the Olympic season. She’s staying mum for the moment on the music being used, but she will say they are programs that are very different from the past season. “There’s two pieces of music that I absolutely love,” she said. “My long program is something that I wanted to do for years and years and years and years and years. So I’m really excited for it.”

Lance Vipond has choreographed her short program for the coming season – always her mainstay in the past – and Buttle did her long program. “The choreography is very different from one to the other,” Osmond said. “But I love them.”

Of course, it means that she will leave behind her short program routine to Edith Piaf, singing “Sous le Ciel de Paris,” and “Milord,” but even though it served her extremely well all season, and it gave her a feeling of strength, Osmond is happy to get it go.

The memorable Piaf routine

“I can tell you right now, if I did my short next year, it wouldn’t look the same,” she said. “I love the challenge of having a new character. And even though some people see my program about eight times a year at competition, I hear it about 15 times a day. You are really looking forward to not having that any more.

“Time to get annoyed by a new program.”

 

Gabby Daleman: standing tall

It hasn’t all sunk in yet for Gabby Daleman, at 19, the world bronze medalist. There is a medal now jingling against her heart, even when she doesn’t wear it.

That medal is proof positive of so many things: that she can overcome, that she’s as good as anyone in  the world, and that she didn’t ever, ever, deserve to be bullied. Ever. For any single thing about her.

On her debut appearance on the Stars On Ice tour, Daleman is skating to Demi Lovato’s “Confident.” Perfect. Lovato was bullied as a young girl, too. And Lovato, too, has overcome to the point that she is a spokesperson for mental health.

“It’s time for me to take it,” Lovato warbles.

“I’m the boss right now

Not gonna fake it

Not when you go down

‘Cause this is my game

And you better come to play.”

“You had me underrated,” Lovato sings. So was Daleman, from the start. For all those who have watched her rise from young Canadian medalist (at 16, she was the youngest athlete on the Canadian Olympic team in Sochi) to world medalist, they’ve seen an exhibition of confidence, of positive messages, of power, speed and will. “She never wanted for self-confidence, that girl,” figured one scribe. And so it appeared.

But Daleman has had to fight every step for that confidence. As a young girl, Daleman suffered from a learning disorder, making it difficult for her to read and write. The bullies came out in full force. And the jealousies, too. Daleman was a whirlwind of activity, learning gymnastics for nine or 10 years and figure skating, too. She would leave class to practice. The others gave her a rough ride, because they didn’t get to do the same. Daleman suffered under a double whammy. She couldn’t win.

The taunts were so bad, Daleman didn’t want to go to school. “Personally, it was awful,” she recalled. “I would not want to do anything. I wore long-sleeved t-shirts to hide my biceps because I was getting made fun of for having too much muscle, for not being pretty enough to be a figure skater.”

At every turn, she was being told that she had to look a certain way to do what she loved. She was told how a girl should look. She didn’t love who she was. She was ashamed of her abs. And her strength.

Gabby’s abs

 

Fortunately, her friends and family picked her up. Her younger brother, Zach, also a figure skater, played a major role in boosting her self-confidence. It’s no surprise that they are so close. About a year ago, Daleman began to do fitness exercises on Instagram, and it caught on. People began to tell her how much they wanted to be like her. She was also experiencing some success in the skating world. Now people wanted to have abs and muscles, just like Daleman.

“That really helped me in a certain way, because I’m like, if people want to do this, why should I not want to look like this?” she said.

It wasn’t a simple task to repair the effects of bullying. Daleman has always been hard on herself, personally and in training. Sometimes, she’ll still show up in baggy shirts when she doesn’t feel good, an effect from the past. When this happens, she’s fortunate to have friends like training mate Dylan Moscovitch, who bucks her up when she needs it. The people closest to her get it.

In the next year or two, Daleman plans to write a book about her experiences, to tell others how to deal with a problem that is rife, everywhere. She’ll be working on a project with Skate Canada, too.

Gabby Daleman: not pretty enough to be a figure skater?

 

And so finally, that bronze medal puts the exclamation mark on what Daleman is: no longer underrated.

“I’ve just been taking it day to day,” she said while on tour. “Enjoying myself. I had World Team Trophy [after world championships], which was a lot of fun. So I focused on that. And now I’m just focusing on the tour and enjoying myself.”

How did she make it happen? One foot in front of the other. Doing the work every day. Training. Trusting herself. Believing in herself. “I had a great coaching team and great training mates there to cheer me on and my parents,” she said. “I had my brother, back home. But not only my brother. My country.”

She felt proud that she strung two solid programs together and boy, does she make her triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination sing – the only skater to max out the points and sometimes the +3s on that jump combination multiple times last season.

Gabby Daleman’s cheering section, back home in Newmarket. (Courtesy CNW Group/Pickering College)

The history of her triple toe loop – triple toe loop combo:

At Nebelhorn Trophy, Daleman attempted triple Lutz – triple toe loop in the short program, slightly underrotating it to get 8.30 points on that element. For the long program, she did the triple toe loop – triple toe loop for 10.60, and seven marks of +3 across.

At Skate America, she more noticeably underrotated the triple Lutz – triple toe loop and got 5.80 for that. Back to the triple toe loop –triple toe loop for the free, she earned 10.30 points, with four +3s.

At Trophee de Paris, Daleman left the triple Lutz combo behind, and did triple toe loop – triple toe loop in the short program, earning 10.70, to put her in second place. In the free, she missed the combo, getting only 2.20.

At the Canadian championships, she had hit her stride, took the silver medal and absolutely maxed out her scores, with all +3s for 10.70 points in both the short and the free programs.

At Four Continents, Daleman won the short program over Kaetlyn Osmond, hitting the triple toe loop combo well enough to get 10.30 with three +3s. And in the free, she got eight +3s for 10.70.

World championships? Maxed out those scores at 10.70 for both the short and long programs, while getting eight +3s in both.

Osmond and champion Evgenia Medvedeva did the more difficult triple flip – triple toe loop combo and each got the exact same mark in the free: 11.00. So Daleman was breathing down their necks with a combo considered easier.

How did she make that combination so effective and ferocious a tool? “To be honest, I don’t even know,” she said. “That’s just how I’ve done it. It’s just more controlled and it’s fluid.” She doesn’t know if she’s keeping it for next season. “Anything can happen,” she said.

So no, Daleman doesn’t back down from a challenge. During the tour, she’s been seen doing backflips with ropes around her waist. At one end of the rope on one side is Kurt Browning, who does them (at age 50) in the show, and on the other end, Moscovitch. “I want to try,” Daleman told them. They gave her tips.

Gabby Daleman, so young at the Sochi Olympics

 

“Don’t untie it,” Daleman insisted. “I’m serious.”

Because they both knew Daleman had years of gymnastics training behind her, they tried one. Daleman landed it. “It felt good,” she said. “Let’s film it.”

“They’re actually really easy and a lot of fun,” she said.  The ropes are there in case she bails out and they help to keep her in the air, not on the ice. With Daleman, they really didn’t need the rope. It never occurred to Daleman to bail out.

Her Stars on Ice numbers were apropos and she skated them with confidence. She sparkled. Former Newfoundland skater Joey Russell choreographed them both. “’Confident’ was to help me feel confident,” Daleman said. “And to tell people where I am now in my skating, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be. I’m in great shape. I have the jumps. I have the skills. I have everything else everyone has.”

Her other routine is to “Gold,” sung by Linda Eder, a 56-year-old American with a golden voice. Buttle picked out the music for Daleman because he thought it would bring her luck. “It shows a much softer and gentler side,” she said. “And it actually is really touching. I have had people come up to me at the (post-show) meet and greets and say: ‘You made me cry from that program.’ Yes! That was Daleman’s aim.

“I wonder if when all is done

Anyone heard my voice,” Eder sings.

“I know my voice was just a whisper

But someone may have heard

There were nights the moon above me stirred

And let me grab a hold

My hands have touched the gold.”

So onward Daleman sweeps, living the life she’s been given, standing tall through it all.