Widely respected skating official Laura Carr learning the ropes in new sport

Laura Carr is learning all over again.

A widely-respected national level figure skating judge and controller for more than 17 years, Carr, the deserving recipient of the 2014 Skate Canada Section Volunteer Award of Excellence at this week’s  ACGM and National Coaches’ Conference in Quebec City, is in learning mode in speed skating, a sport that is essentially foreign to her. Carr’s oldest daughter, 15-year-old Rosalyn, moved from figure skating to short track in December and has already left her mark, advancing to the Canada West Short Track Championships earlier this year.

As Carr explains, Rosalyn didn’t want to leave figure skating but, like many athletes her age, she simply outgrew the sport.

“She (Rosalyn) told me ‘I love figure skating, but figure skating doesn’t love my body’”, says Carr with a laugh.

And with that, Carr is starting from scratch and learning the basics. With a lifetime of experience as a figure skating official, Carr has recently been approached to train as a Level I speed skating official.

“Getting a child involved in a sport I know nothing about has been really eye opening,” she admits. “When you eat, breathe and sleep figure skating, there is a lot of information you know that you take for granted.

“I think I drove everyone at speed skating crazy because of the questions.”

Success seems to run in the Carr family. The youngest daughter, Daria, captured the BC/YK Super Series pre-juvenile under-11 crown this year.

“It’s great having kids in different sports,” says Carr.

“They have their individual passions, and both of them have found something they’re very good at. They both love to compete. It’s my job to try to keep up to them.”

Taking home a Skate Canada national award is becoming a bit of a habit for Carr, who is Vice Chair of the BC/YK section. Just two years ago, she was the recipient of the Skate Canada Officials Award of Excellence.

“It is very humbling when your peers recognize you like this,” says Carr. “It’s nice to be recognized, but that is not why you do it. It is in honour, but you do this for the love of the sport.”

“You see where you can help out, and you just step in and do the job. As you discover where your strengths and skillsets are, you channel you energy into trying to make a difference.”

Carr is a vital asset for the BC/YK section, and has been instrumental in developing program criteria and standards while overseeing implementation of the STARSkate pilot for her home section.

“Laura is an incredible resource for this organization, not only here in BC, but across the country,” says BC/YK Executive Director Ted Barton. “As with all our great volunteers, Laura is essentially an extension of the staff because of the amount of work she does. She shares the type of vision that helps us grow. I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this award.”

A year ago, Carr was invited to judge at Skate Detroit, and will make a return trip this summer. As for career aspirations on the international stage, Carr is playing that one close to the vest.

“I’ll see where it takes me. If I feel I have the skills and support around me, I’ll go for it. For now, I am just taking things one day, one event, at a time.”

Carr is quick to deflect some of the credit to others she has worked and brainstormed with, including Patricia Chafe, Sally Rehorick, Janice Hunter, Susan Heffernan and Ted Barton, stressing their progressive thinking and complex data analysis is helping grow the sport at the section and national level.

“The knowledge I have gained from those around me is invaluable,” says Carr. “If you can turn yourself into a sponge, something good is going to come of it. Don’t be afraid to question something, or try something new. If you can do something that makes a difference, it is better for skating and creates a better environment for everyone.

“That’s what keeps me going. We all have these minds that say ‘What can we do? Where can we go?’ Not ‘We can’t, we can’t’ – but ‘why not’?

“You’ll find success if you keep going down that road.”

From Hamilton to the Northwest Territories, Lynda Thompson spreading her teaching expertise across the miles

If history is any indication, Lynda Thompson could very well be witnessing the next monumental Canadian sporting moment from a hotel room.

Much like that October Saturday night 22 years ago, when the highly-regarded skating coach watched the Toronto Blue Jays capture their first World Series championship from the cozy confines of the Sheraton in downtown Hamilton, Ontario.

Or four years ago, as Vancouver took a bow before the world during the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, Thompson looked on from her hotel in Inuvik, where she had ventured to lend her vast coaching expertise.

“That is how I relate to those two events,” Thompson laughs, referring to the World Series and Vancouver Games.

“I know when it was, because of where I was when it happened. I’ll never forget either of those nights.”

This week, just six years after being bestowed with Skate Canada’s Best of the Best Award for CanSkate delivery, Thompson, from the Hamilton Skating Club, will be honoured with the Skate Canada Club and Recreational Coach Award of Excellence during the organization’s ACGM and National Coaches’ Conference in historic Quebec City, Que.

“It’s extremely humbling, and it’s been very emotional for me since I heard the news,” Thompson admits. “It really means a lot to me. I can’t even really talk about it without getting choked up.”

It’s been an often alluring, always rewarding journey for Thompson, who began skating at the Richmond Hill Arena as a youngster and later went on to spend two years with the Ice Capades in the mid-1970s. Half a decade later, she began teaching in Richmond Hill and, when her husband accepted a job transfer to Hamilton, she began teaching at the Dofasco Skating Club in Steeltown.

Not long after her arrival in Hamilton, she met Ron Shaver, who convinced Thompson to come teach part time at the Hamilton Skating Club. After splitting her time between the two clubs for a few years, Thompson made the jump to Hamilton full-time.

She’s been there ever since.

Of all the memories she carries close to her heart, one that stands out is the unique relationship formed with each and every skater under her tutelage.

“You know the impact you have had on each and every skater is truly special,” she says. “And they’ve had the same impact on me. You’ve been part of their life, they’ve been part of yours, and that will never change. There will always be that connection.”

For Thompson, those relationships are personal.

“Ages three, four or five, it’s because mom and dad want them to skate. After six or eight weeks, it becomes almost magical. You see the kids standing up on the ice and taking those first strides, and you see the parents smiling. You get tears in your eyes watching those parents.

“At the other end, you have the adults, and they’ve never skated in their lives. Maybe they just want to skate with the family on the canal in Ottawa, and they come to us to help get them there.

“Whether they are 3 or 53, everyone is there for the same reason. No matter the age, they just want to skate.”

In the fall of 2009, Thompson broadened her coaching horizons by making the long trip to the Northwest Territories when a temporary opportunity became available.

Thompson says that initial two-month experience changed her life. Weeks later, she returned to the Northwest Territories and watched the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Opening Ceremony with two of her students – Kathleen and Megan – from an Inuvik hotel room.

“It gave me more than I ever thought it would,” Thompson admits.  “Helping others out was very rewarding. It was a total life experience.”

She has remained loyal to her Hamilton coaching roots, but still makes the annual trip to the Northwest Territories to teach.

“I still like going to those communities, to share my experiences in places that don’t necessarily have a lot of teaching resources. Those kids have the same love of skating as anyone else.”

With the dawning of the new CanSkate curriculum on the horizon later this summer, Thompson says Hamilton, one of the pilot clubs for the project, is raring to go, adding it won’t take long for other clubs across the country to hop on that bandwagon.

“The new CanSkate is going to be tremendous for our clubs and coaches, coast to coast,” she says. “We always want to make our programs better, always want more, and this is going to do that.

“This is the gold seal, and it is going to be even better. We’re on a good path.”

“This will be game-changing.”

Something Lynda Thompson knows a thing or two about.

Marty Henwood

World Junior Medallists Purdy and Marinaro end skating partnership

OTTAWA, ON: The 2013 world junior silver medalists in pair, Margaret Purdy and Michael Marinaro, have ended their skating partnership and will be moving on to new challenges.  Purdy, 19, Strathroy, Ont., will attend university this fall, while Marinaro, 22, Sarnia, Ont., plans to continue skating and will be looking for a new pair partner.

Purdy and Marinaro have competed together nationally since 2008, and were Canadian Junior Champions in 2010. They won medals on the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Circuit, including two golds in 2012, which qualified them for the 2012 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final.  The pinnacle of their career was the silver world medal, won at the 2013 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships, in Milan, Italy.  They were members of Canada’s national team for the 2013-2014 season.

With Marinaro’s decision to pursue skating with a new partner, Purdy made the difficult decision to retire from competitive skating and begin her university studies. She will enter the social science program at Western University in September, and plans to pursue a career in business and law.

“I’m so proud of what we accomplished. I have so many amazing memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life, and I’m so glad that I was able experience them with Mike. It was a really hard decision to retire, but I knew it wouldn’t be the same for me to skate with another partner,” said Purdy. “We have a very strong friendship with one another, and I wish Mike the very best in the future and I hope all goes well for him.”

As she reflected on what skating has meant in her life, she said, “skating has taught me how to deal with success and failure, to be organized, how to balance your life and how to constantly push yourself to be better and better. These are all valuable life lessons that will help me with what I plan to do in the future.”

Marinaro paid tribute to the friendship that was the hallmark of their partnership. “The last eight years have been a wonderful and exciting partnership. I’m blessed to have had Margaret as a partner. She is an extremely dedicated skating partner and an extremely close friend. We are just as close off the ice as we were on the ice, and we tried to bring that friendship into our skating. I’m so glad we got to share that podium moment at junior worlds together. I know she will be very successful and wish her the best for the next chapter of her life.”

Marinaro came straight out of CanSkate right into figure skating, while Purdy began as a hockey player who switched to figure skating. The pair trained for their entire career with coaches Scott Rachuk and Alison Purkiss at the London Competitive Skating Centre. They both wanted to thank their coaches and the team at the Centre.

“Thank you to Scott and Alison for everything they have done for me. They have been my coaches from the very beginning, and they are just two amazing people who not only helped make me the skater I am today but also made me the person I am today,” said Purdy. She also paid tribute to her family. “They have been along my side the whole time through the good and the bad and they have always been my biggest fans and have always supported me no matter what I chose to do, so I want to thank them so much. I hope the next chapter of my life is as wonderful as the last.”

“Our career wouldn’t have been possible without the help of many people,” said Marinaro. “I want to thank Scott and Alison and the whole London Competitive Skating Centre for everything.  They have done nothing but support us over the last eight years. And of course, Skate Canada has given us terrific support, and our families have always been there for us as well.”

Purdy plans to stay involved with the skating community because it has been such a big part of her life. She has enjoyed helping the younger skaters at the rink on the presentation and movement apects of skating, as a nice transition from the competitive side of skating. And come September, she plans to try out for the varsity skating program at Western.

Marinaro plans to continue competing in the pair discipline with a new skating partner.

Skating community saddened by the death of Peter Dunfield

Canadian figure skater and renowned coach Peter Dunfield passed away in his sleep peacefully next to his wife Sonya yesterday at 82 years of age.

Dunfield was the 1951 junior national champion and the senior bronze medallist in 1952 and 1953. He went on to represent Canada on two world teams and one North American team before teaming up with wife Sonya Klopfer to become one of the world’s top coaching duos.

Among their success stories was Elizabeth Manley, whom they guided to three Canadian national titles and 1988 Olympic and world silver medals. The Dunfields were inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame in 2001 as builders.

Dunfield was awarded the Longines-Wittnauer Coaching Excellence Award in 1988 and the Wittnauer Coaching Excellence Award in 1994, both presented by the Coaching Association of Canada. He was named CFSA Coach of the Year in 1993, and the Professional Skaters Guild of America Coach of the Year in 1994.

Dunfield will be missed by the skating community for his dynamic coaching style and his life-long passion for the sport.

Skate Canada offers its sincere sympathies to Dunfield’s family and friends and a special condolence to his wife Sonya and their two sons.

Canada’s Skating Community Heads to Quebec City

OTTAWA, ON:  Quebec City, Que., will welcome more than 500 members of the skating community for Skate Canada’s Annual Convention and General Meeting (ACGM) and National Coaches’ Conference (NCC).  The events will be held from May 28-31, 2014 at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac in Quebec City.

Over the four days, delegates and coaches will be reminded that it’s our individual experiences that provide the basis for our sport’s growth and when those experiences are combined with a passion for skating, it’s clear: Canada Skates!

The NCC kicks off officially on Wednesday evening when coaches will be joined by 2006 Olympic bronze medalist Jeffrey Buttle at the opening dinner.  The action continues all day Thursday, when coaches from across Canada will attend workshops from world-class coaches, including Manon Perron, Richard Gauthier, Janet Champion and Cathy Dalton. Off-ice sessions will include a wide variety of topics ranging from “Sport-Related Pain and Injury” with Dr. William Bridel to “Coaching Business: Apps 101” with Cyndie Flett.

Thursday evening the ACGM begins by celebrating our success in Sochi and for the first time ever, having nine Olympic medalists in figure skating.  All members of the silver medal winning team event will be in present to share their inspiring stories at the convention opening: Patrick Chan, Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford; Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch; Kaetlyn Osmond; Kevin Reynolds; and Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir.

On Friday, attendees participate in a variety of workshops, presentations and social events.  All of the workshops cover hot topic items including “Sport Psychology: Skating Begins in the Mind” by Dr. Sylvain Guimond, “Teaching the New CanSkate Program: Keys to Success” and “Bullying in Sport” by Dr. William Bridel.

A number of awards will be presented on Friday evening during the Skate Canada Achievement Awards Gala and Banquet. The program honours skaters, coaches and dedicated volunteers who have donated their time to improving the quality of skating in Canada. World renowned coach Kerry Leitch will also be inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame during the evening.

The event concludes on Saturday with the 101st Annual General Meeting of the association.

Media looking to attend any ACGM or NCC workshop or presentation are asked to arrange times through Barb MacDonald, Skate Canada Director Corporate Communications, by contacting her at 613.894.1769 or [email protected]

Canadians en Route to Germany for 2014 ISU Adult Competition

OTTAWA, ONT: A record fifty Canadian skaters will be competing at the 2014 International Skating Union (ISU) Adult Figure Skating Competition. The event takes place in Oberstdorf, Germany, from May 25-31, 2014.

This year’s competition, which marks the 10th anniversary of the event, will see a record number of entries – 432 skaters plus 12 synchronized skating teams from 28 countries. In order to compete at the ISU Adult Figure Skating Competition, skaters must be between the ages of 28 and 78. Many entrants are former international competitors, including Canada’s own Gary Beacom, 1984 Olympian and 1988 World Professional Champion.

“The Canadian team at the 2014 ISU Adult Competition represents what it is to embrace the joy of skating. Their passion for the sport and dedication to skating for life is something we encourage all Canadians to adopt,” said Dan Thompson, Skate Canada CEO. “We know that this group will make us proud as they excel on the greatest international stage for adult skaters.”

Over the seven-day competition, skaters will compete in the following categories:

  • Ladies and Men Free Skating
  • Ladies and Men Artistic Free Skating
  • Pairs Free Skating
  • Ice Dance – Pattern Dance
  • Ice Dance – Short Dance
  • Ice Dance – Free Dance
  • Synchronized Skating

Since the event’s inception in 2005, Canada has been well represented in entries and medal count. In 2013, the Canadian team earned a total of 25 medals, including 12 gold medals, seven silver medals, and six bronze medals.

The adult figure skaters representing Canada are:

British Columbia
Alexandra Gunsett (free skate & artistic)
David Dickey (free skate & artistic)
Diana Barkley (ice dance)
Gary Beacom (free skate & artistic)
Gloria Purvey (free skate & artistic)
Geoff Squires (ice dance)
James Wilkins (ice dance & artistic)
Janette Wood (free skate & artistic)
Linda Maundrell (artistic)
Luda Kalenuk (free skate & artistic)
Michelle Lamothe (free skate & artistic)
Raye Ryan (free skate & artistic)
Sue Edwards (dance & artistic)

Annette Nymeyer (free skate & artistic)
Bobbie Joe Donovan (free skate & artistic)
Catherine Taylor (free skate & artistic)
Denis La Rochelle (free skate & artistic)
Diane Gilders (free skate & artistic)
Isabelle Ciocoiu (free skate & artistic)
Jennifer Soeder (free skate & artistic)
Joan McGrath (free skate & artistic)
Leonard Baker (pairs)
Susan MacFarlane (pairs)

Tracey Muir (free skate)

Alison Clark (ice dance)
Angela Justason (ice dance & free skate)
Francesco Ventura (free skate & artistic)
Hisayo Shibata (free skate & artistic)
Jacob Brunott (ice dance & artistic))
Jeff Bullard (ice dance & artistic)
Joan Cheng (free skate & artistic)
Ken Langlois (ice dance)
Sarina Tsai (free skate & artistic)
Takeshi Ikeno (free skate & artistic)
Terri-Lynn Black-Calleri (ice dance)

Nova Scotia
Donald Murrary (free skate & artistic)
Heather Dawe (free skate & artistic)
Jennifer Powell (artistic)
Kate McInnis (free skate & artistic)

Scotian Waves Synchronized Skating team:
Alicia McNeil
Ashley Stewart
Deborah Fountain
Elsa Pihl
Jennifer Harvie
Jennifer Powell
Jill Jackson-Rutledge
Kate McInnis
Katie Malone
Kayleigh Butler
Ola Smyth
Shannon Sutherland
Tracy Lovett

For more information, please visit www.adultskating.org or www.isu.org.


Canadian choreographer Lori Nichol takes her place in the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame

These days, Lori Nichol has a spring in her step. There’s an extra lift to her walk. The world seems brighter.

It’s because this Canadian choreographer was just granted entry into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in mid-March, and the gesture of world support has deeply affected her. “It’s an incredible honour,” said Nichol. “For them to give this nod of approval gives me an extraordinary feeling. I didn’t even think it was possible.”

This from the woman who has choreographed exquisite routines for Michelle Kwan, Patrick Chan, Mao Asada, Carolina Kostner, Evan Lysacek, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, Qing Pang and Jian Tong, Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, Denis Ten, and Daisuke Takahashi. In all, she designed programs for 11 singles skaters and one pair team, representing seven countries, at the Sochi Olympics.

Still, she’s surprised. “I was profoundly honoured and amazed that that could happen to me,” she said.

Because of this nod from the majordomo of the sport, Nichol says she’s having an uncommonly good choreographic season. “I feel more confident on the ice,” she said. “I keep being able to say to myself: ‘Just trust yourself, Lori, other people believe in you.’ I’m enjoying the process quite a bit more this year than I have in the past.”

She’s not tormenting herself so much. She bears the perfectionist’s burden: great is not good enough, every detail must be splendid. She can spend 20 minutes on a rocker, a change of edge. She’s always had this pervasive self-talk as she works, when she choreographs in her head and she’s watching her skaters and analyzing what parts work and what parts don’t. “Come on, Lori,” she says to herself. “You can do better than that. You know there is something more in that. Find it!’

“And having said all that, as tortured as it all sounds, I love it to death.”

Every time she sets to work to design a routine, she’s “petrified” the night before she starts it. She agonizes. Did she choose the right music? Has she given the right amount of breathing space to the skater to be able to perform and interpret? Has she balanced the athlete and artist enough? Will the choreography interfere with what the coach needs technically? Has she compromised the art too much for the technical? “Oh my goodness, the skater has come so far, or their family has sacrificed so much for them to be here,” Nichol worries. “Or is this the last program that this person will skate in an eligible career?” All sorts of things go through her head.

But then there are those moments when a skater does something amazing. “Then you feel so proud,” she said. “It could be as simple as four beats of movement that are just so fabulous and I get really excited.”

That’s just how it is when she works. She’s made friends with the process in a way. She’s even been tortured that she was tormented. Now Nichol says she’s able to accept that it’s just going to be like that. But now, “I just have this little burning ember inside of me that I didn’t have before that says: ‘You really can do this.’” Nichol said.

A case in point: the divine short program “Ave Maria” that Nichol did for Carolina Kostner, who ended up winning the Olympic bronze medal after so many Olympic disappointments. “It was a very difficult year, very emotional, and it was our ninth year together,” Nichol said. “And I felt sick almost for six months. It was Olympic year and for so many, it was their final year – or could be.”

Nichol had choreographed a Humeresque short program for Kostner, but when it received mixed reviews early in the season, Nichol’s experience allowed her to ditch it rather than try to fix it – and she brought in Ave Maria. Kostner wasn’t sure about it, but Nichol (as usual) convinced her that it would be the perfect complement to her earthy, sensual Bolero long program. “Ave Maria showed the sweetness and ethereal feeling,” Nichol said. It fit the skater.

So far this season, Nichol has already done two new programs for Gabby Daleman (“I’m very excited for her year,” Nichol said) and U.S. champion Gracie Gold, too. She’s excited about doing American Ross Miner’s long program. Right now, Nichol is doing one or two programs a week. She’s booked until the middle of July.

She attended the world championships in March after Kostner decided to compete and was asked to come first to Obertsdorf, then Japan. She returned from overseas on a Sunday. The next day, Nichol was at work, choreographing. She hasn’t had a day off since.

But still, she feels rejuvenated, even if she is tired. Her walk to the rink feels different and it’s because she’s been accepted into the World Hall of Fame.

Every day, when she opens the rink door, she tells herself that she will do everything she can to make a difference, no matter how small, in a person’s life or in the skating world, the art of skating. And now she knows she can.

“Just trust yourself,” she said. “I’m saying that to myself much more than other dialogues now. It’s a really beautiful gift and it’s an unexpected feeling from it. I never thought about what it would make you feel like. But it’s really something very, very special.”

You can only imagine what her programs will be like this year.

Beverley Smith

Amélie Lacoste announces retirement from competitive skating

OTTAWA, ON:  Amélie Lacoste, 25, of Delson, Que., has retired from competitive skating. The 2012 Canadian Champion, representing CPA du Roussillon, was a mainstay on the Canadian National team for six years. Lacoste represented Canada many times in international competition including two 16th place finishes at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships (2011, 2012), seven appearances at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships (2005, 2009-2014) and various ISU Grand Prix events, notably earning bronze at the 2011 Skate Canada International. She is a four-time Canadian medallist at the senior level, and one of few skaters to win the Canadian title at the novice (2003), junior (2005) and senior levels (2012).

This season, she placed fifth at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, fifth at Skate Canada International, sixth at Trophée Eric Bompard, 12th at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and earned bronze at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. Lacoste started in private lessons at the age of six with her first coach Lynn McKay. From 2009 – 2013 she worked with Nathalie Martin at CPA Saint-Léonard in Montreal, Que and concluded her competitive career with the team of Christy Krall, Damon Allen, Erik Schulz and Janet Champion in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“This was a difficult decision for me, but I am excited to start a new chapter in my life. This past year, with changing my training base, helped renew my passion and love for training and competing,” said Amélie Lacoste.  “I’m very happy with all that I have accomplished and I would like to thank everyone who made my journey and my career a success. Even though I had “ups” and “downs” during the years, you were always there to help and give me advice to be a better skater and a better person. And I would like to thank my family, especially my parents and my sister. They supported me through 20 years of my skating career, and I truly cherish the commitment and sacrifices they made to allow me to pursue my dreams.”

In addition to her family, Amélie had many other people to acknowledge who supported her throughout the years. “A special thanks to my dress maker, Mrs. Luis, my physiotherapists Claude Aquin and Stephane Fournier, my sport psychologist Wayne Halliwell, and all the other specialists who worked with me. I also appreciate all the choreographers who helped me develop that very important aspect of my figure skating. My home club, CPA Du Roussillon, ARPAS (Patinage Rive-Sud), Patinage Québec and SkateCanada were with me every step of the way, and your support is so appreciated. And lastly I would like to thank all the officials, volunteers, supporters and fans, who always had a word of encouragement or cheered me on. Without all of these people in my life, I would never have achieved my goals, or become the person that I am now.

“Amélie represented Skate Canada proudly as a member of our national team for many years and as our Canadian champion in 2012,” said Mike Slipchuk, High Performance Director, Skate Canada. “She worked with great desire and determination to achieve her goals, and pursue her dreams. We are pleased she plans to stay involved in skating, and look forward to keeping her engaged now as a member of our national team alumni.”

Although not completely sure of her future plans, Amélie plans to stay connected to skating and to give back to the sport that has been so much a part of her life. She has a final word for anyone who wants to pursue and achieve a goal. “Believe in your dreams. Dreams do come true if you are willing do anything in your willpower to achieve it. Go after it. The most important thing, listen to your heart and follow your intuition.”


Jeff Buttle’s creative ideas come alive on the Stars on Ice tours

This is what good choreographers can do: They knit music with movement and form and art. They tie all skating elements into a point of view. They lift crowds out of their seats. They keep crowds in their seats, mesmerized, while pins drop silently.

Canada has a lot of choreographers who can do these things, but the most recent one to join the pack, alongside the biggies, is Jeffrey Buttle, 2008 world champion, 2006 Olympic bronze medalist, always known for his artistic flair and his sensitivity to music.

He’s becoming a big deal.

“I think Jeff is one of the great talents in choreography,” says Sandra Bezic, who is, herself, one of the great talents in choreography.

“His work is rich, original and versatile,” said she, notable for memorable routines done by Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Kristi Yamaguchi, Kurt Browning, Josee Chouinard, Tara Lipinski, Lu Chen.

His work, said Bezic, always pushes skaters to be better. “He’s made a huge impact already and he’s raised the choreographic bar,” she said. “His work is fresh, contemporary and exciting. I’m a huge fan.”

Bezic said he did do a little work for her “Battle of the Blades” television show and she wishes he had been more available to do more. She asked for him every season.

Last season, U.S. champion Ashley Wagner got a taste of the Buttle mystique during the Stars on Ice tour, when Buttle became head choreographer for the first time. (He had been assistant the two previous years.)

Buttle created all the group numbers last season, as he has done this year, and Wagner had to work hard to master all the steps and the choreography. “I really feel that it helps me as a skater, because Jeff is definitely not an easy breezy, simple type of choreographer,” she said. “It’s difficult and it challenges me.”

In the beginning, Buttle had no aspirations to become a choreographer. He had been studying chemical engineering at University of Toronto. But when he began working with choreographer David Wilson in 1999, he found Wilson’s passion for the art was infectious. “I fell into it,” Buttle said.

Even while he was still skating competitively, Buttle was already choreographing programs for other skaters. He designed routines for a couple of young girls living as boarders with his family in Barrie, Ont. And he took on work for the long program of a young Korean skater, Yuna Kim, the year she won the world junior title.

“It was difficult at first with the language,” Buttle said. “But with choreography, luckily, it’s a lot of show and tell. Language is unnecessary at times.”

Before you knew it, Buttle was choreographing short programs for two of the sport’s top male skaters, Yuzuru Hanyu and Patrick Chan. Both were completely different skaters, so Buttle went in completely different directions for them. The two traded world record scores for those Buttle programs all year. That success put Buttle firmly on the map.

For Hanyu, Buttle chose “Parisian Walkway,” because he thought it was Hanyu in a nutshell. Hanyu had a “wild abandonment” in his skating, Buttle said. But he was shy. “It was incredible to watch him loosen up a bit and have fun with it, especially in such stressful conditions,” Buttle said. “It was one of those programs that if he didn’t commit to it, it could have been pretty bad. But he really committed to it.”

Chan arrived after his mother asked Buttle to choreograph an exhibition routine for him to Chopin music. But Buttle thought Chan needed something more dynamic, to match the power of his style. Buttle suggested a Rachmaninoff piece that he had always wanted to skate to, similar to a Rachmaninoff that he had done in a short program, too, during the 2004-2005 season. Chan liked it so much, he asked Buttle to turn it into his short program for the following year.

“Sometimes it’s not the most ideal process,” Buttle said. “When you have to cut things out, it diminishes the piece somewhat, but the piece, for once, really fit and it really came together.”

Right from the beginning, Buttle had an impact. “I didn’t realize how quickly I would be able to accomplish as much as I have,” he said. Now, working with Stars on Ice, he has to track the movements of at least 12 skaters, not just one.

Buttle has been stretched physically during this tour. He choreographed group numbers for the cast in Japan, Canada and the United States. After the Japan tour, he flew back to Halifax with five of the 12 skaters on the Japanese tour, arriving at midnight, and started rehearsals the next morning. “It hit like a stone wall around four in the afternoon,” Buttle said. Fortunately, Scott Moir, who had done the tour in Japan, helped out teaching steps.

Last season, Buttle was quite busy, creating 10 to 12 routines for eligible skaters. This year, he’d like to reduce the number to focus more on touch-ups. He’s a perfectionist, after all. Before the Stars On Ice tour ended, Buttle was already doing music searches.

For now, Buttle searches for life balance. He doesn’t want to work all the time. He wants space to breathe, and to spend time with new husband, Justin Harris, who he married in February. Buttle has also joined a recreational hockey league in Toronto, although he had no prior experience playing hockey. Unlike Kurt Browning, he’d never even worn hockey skates. “I like the team mentality because I’ve never had that before,” he said.

And one of these days, Scott Moir wants Buttle to choreograph a routine for him and Tessa Virtue, too. “I have been a big fan of Jeff’s skating for years,” said Moir. “Probably one of our favourite performances ever was watching Jeff win in 2008. I think he’s really explored a different avenue and a new avenue with his choreography.

“He’s so creative. We always knew that. But he always pushes himself and tries to do new things. And he’s trying to do something to make people think, which in skating, is badly needed.”

So life is good for Buttle these days. He’s clearly in demand.

Beverley Smith

All-event tickets for the 2015 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships on sale tomorrow

OTTAWA, ON: All-event tickets for the 2015 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships will go on sale Friday, May 16, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. (ET). The event will take place from January 19-25, 2015 at the Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston, Ontario.

Tickets can be purchased online at www.ticketmaster.ca, by phone at 1.855.985.5000 or in person at the Rogers K-Rock Centre box office.

The Senior Competition Package includes all senior practices, competition and the exhibition gala from January 23-25, 2015. This package costs $160-$185 plus applicable surcharges. Seating for this package is reserved.

The Junior Competition Package includes all novice and junior practices and competitions from January 19-22, 2015. This package costs $40 plus applicable surcharges. Seating for this package is general admission. Children aged 12 years and under are invited to attend the novice and junior events free of charge.

The event will feature approximately 250 skaters in the men’s, women’s, pair and ice dance disciplines, competing in three levels: senior, junior and novice.

Athletes will vie for spots on the Skate Canada National Team and the Canadian teams that will compete at the 2015 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, the 2015 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and the 2015 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships.

Kingston to host the 2015 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships

OTTAWA, ON: Skate Canada and Canadian Tire announced Kingston, Ontario as the location of the 2015 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. It will take place from January 19-25, 2015 at the Rogers K-Rock Centre. The event will feature approximately 250 skaters in the men’s, women’s, pair and ice dance disciplines, competing in three levels: senior, junior and novice.

This will be Kingston’s first time hosting the championships. In 2010 Skate Canada International was held in the city for the first time as well.

“The Canadian Tire National Skating Championships is the highlight of the season for many skaters. This is where we will see hard work pay off as these athletes who began in our CanSkate program now compete to become champions,” said Dan Thompson, Skate Canada CEO. “We are excited to be able to bring this historic event to Kingston for the first time. We know the city and Skate Canada Eastern Ontario will be tremendous hosts as we celebrate 101 years of champions.”

“The Canadian Tire Family of Companies has celebrated skating for over 90 years and we are extremely proud to be title sponsor of this event for the third year in a row,” said Kim Saunders, Associate Vice President, Sport Partnerships, Canadian Tire Corporation.  “The Canadian Tire National Skating Championships is a part of Canada’s heritage and brings much pride and accomplishment to athletes, families, coaches and communities across the country.  We look forward to bringing this exciting event to Kingston in 2015.”

“Kingston is proud to have been selected as the host community for the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in January 2015,” said Mayor Mark Gerretsen. “We look forward to welcoming athletes, coaches, family members, fans, sponsors, and volunteers to Kingston and watching these tremendous athletes showcase their talents.”

“We are extremely delighted that Skate Canada will return to the City of Kingston, building off of the success of the 2010 Skate Canada International event. We are very fortunate to have a supportive figure skating community, state of the art facilities, and a proven event hosting resume to support this event. We look forward to welcoming athletes, coaches, and spectators to Kingston in 2015,” said Rob Carnegie, Director, Tourism Kingston.

Athletes will vie for spots on the Skate Canada National Team and the Canadian teams that will compete at the 2015 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, the 2015 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and the 2015 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships.

Event ticket packages will go on sale this Friday, May 16, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. (ET).  Tickets can be purchased online at www.ticketmaster.ca, by phone at 1.855.985.5000 or in person at the Rogers K-Rock Centre box office.

The Senior Competition Package includes all senior practices, competition and the exhibition gala from January 23-25, 2015. This package costs $160-$185 plus applicable surcharges. Seating for this package is reserved.

The Junior Competition Package includes all novice and junior practices and competitions from January 19-22, 2015. This package costs $40 plus applicable surcharges. Seating for this package is general admission. Children aged 12 years and under are invited to attend the novice and junior events free of charge.

Pair team Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau skating through life’s lessons together

After only nine months together, Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau left a lasting impression at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. They were a dynamic, exciting pair with a world of potential (And doesn’t the world need pairs?).

First after the short program at the junior level at the Canadian championships last January, and, finally (after a few bobbles in the long), silver medalists, Seguin and Bilodeau were set to represent Canada at the junior world figure skating championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Then life happened. Like John Lennon once warbled:  “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” This spring, Seguin and Bilodeau have had to face the toughest lessons of all.

They missed the world junior championships.

But after what followed, their inability to go turned out to be a good thing. Hard to believe, but true.

They had to withdraw after Seguin injured her lower back while creating some programs for shows two weeks before the championships. It was bad. Seguin couldn’t even bend forward. She had done a move with her partner, going up into the air, and her back locked. “I think the year was long and I had to get a break,” she said. “I had to stop. My body wasn’t following me.”

She rested the back, and did some physiotherapy. The worst part was breaking it to Bilodeau that they would have to pull out of the world junior championships, but Bilodeau was magnificent. He showed no wrath at chances missed. “Well, we just have to learn something else,” he told her. “We just have to go with it. I’m not going to be angry at you.”

“I was like, ‘oh my god, thank you,” Seguin recalled. “I was happy about that. That is a nice partner.”

With possible changes in age minimums coming for junior international events, Seguin and Bilodeau might not have another chance at competing at junior worlds. Seguin is only 17, but Bilodeau is already 20. If the age limit drops to 19, they will have to look at senior events only. That would affect their Junior Grand Prix career, too.

No matter. This is a good team, with strong connections. “I really like to skate with him,” Seguin said. “We like each other. And we have a nice friendship.” She illustrates this by interlacing her fingers together. They fit each other. They complement each other. Seguin, too, is a people person. She loves people. She’s not difficult.

But what they faced was.
Bilodeau’s grandfather died. Then his father, Robert, was found in a diabetic coma. Bilodeau rushed to be by his side in intensive care, but it was in a town four hours away. Gradually, his condition weakened, and he died April 11.

March and April disappeared for the pair. For a month and a half, Bilodeau was caught up in things other than skating, really important events. “He would have missed that, if we had gone to the junior world championships,” said coach Josee Picard. “Luckily, we didn’t go.”

The team cancelled all shows. Robert Bilodeau’s funeral was on the Monday of the development camp for singles that Seguin attended. On the Tuesday, Bilodeau finally came back to the ice and Picard set about organizing all the music and the meetings with choreographers. In early May, it was to be Shae Zukiwsky, designing the short program. The week of May 12, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon were to come to work on their free skate. It will be an exciting time for these young pair skaters, working with ice dancers.

The creative work and the bustle will be good for Bilodeau, who says he will turn a page. “Let’s start a new life,” he said.

“You know you always wonder why something happens for a reason,” Picard said. “The injury allowed him to be at his father’s side.”

The team has done nothing since the injury. Seguin lost about six weeks of training. She started training again only one week before the development camp, not so sure she’d make it through all of the fitness testing.

Now, Seguin says her first priority is to ensure her back is sound. As a singles skater (at the senior level), she is keeping her long program and having Julie Marcotte design a new short program. Seguin is doing all triples, up to the triple Lutz. She’s doing triple toe loop- triple toe loop combinations and she’s working on a triple flip – triple toe loop, necessary to go toe-to-toe with the current high-flying Canadian female singles skaters.

Seguin and Bilodeau, uncertain about the junior age rules, are putting senior programs together. All these details will be healing for a pair with so much promise. And so much life knowledge.

Beverley Smith