Virtue & Moir win gold with emotional free dance at Skate Canada International

SAINT JOHN, N.B. – It was emotional for sure.  With their elegant routine to concertos by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov (with a little help from Alexander Scriabin), Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir wrapped up their fifth Skate Canada title in their storied career.

They brought an audience to its feet in the Harbour Station arena, as they played out the story of their lives, from carefree youngsters, to people overcoming tragedy, all centred on the bond between them.

Virtue and Moir, the 2010 Olympic champions, plunked down a final score of 181.03, not their personal highest, but that mark of 185.04 came at the world championships last March in London, Ont., when they took the silver medal – at the end of the season. There is still room to grow.

Virtue and Moir finished 5.80 points ahead of emerging stars Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who skated a fiery tango and earned the silver medal – and another standing ovation – with 175.23 points. Third and winning their first Grand Prix medal was American team Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue with 153.20 points.

Hubbell came to Skate Canada exhausted at her second competition in a week and dealing with aches and pains, including a hip and a history of a concussion. The final straw hit at a practice Saturday morning when Donohue accidently elbowed her in the head. She cried a river. And she learned one thing: that she could continue despite all the disadvantages.

Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam pulled from seventh to four in the free skate with a fast-moving but elegant free dance that helped them move into fifth place overall.

Virtue and Moir’s piece is reminiscent of their Olympic Mahler routine in a way – it has the same elegance of line and movement – but the twosome wanted to show something different. Their skating has changed. So has ice dancing in the past four years. It’s a new statement and one that is personal to them.

And some would say it’s an unusual choice, using Russian music that has not been heard in ice dancing before. It’s a continuation of their risk-taking in musical choices.

“Winning the Olympics is our main goal,” Moir said. “We don’t want to use music that others have used. We don’t want to be compared to anyone else. We want to create something that is special.”

“We have always been like that. Even when we picked Carmen, we’re trying to do something different than what the skating world is used to. We’re trying to win the Olympics, but we’re not willing to sell out ourselves.”

Weaver and Poje took a long time to choose their tango music until finally Shae-Lynn Bourne gently pushed them to take a soundtrack from an operetta she had found. “Shae-Lynn always has our best interests at heart,” Weaver said. Tango had been on their wish lists for a couple of years.

“We wanted to make sure that if we did a tango, it wasn’t your usual tango, because a lot of it has been overdone,” Poje said “We wanted to bring a little more lyrical side to it and show more of the story between a man and a woman.”

Beverley Smith

Patrick Chan reclaims his Skate Canada International title

SAINT JOHN, N.B. – Even Patrick Chan gets nervous. On Saturday night, Patrick Chan competed against nine other men, but mostly he competed against himself. Luckily for him, he won.

“I was nervous, honestly,” he said after earning 173.93 points for his free skate, (187.96 is his best) and 262.03 in total, well behind his record of 280.98 from the 2011 world championships.

For some reason, Chan began harbouring negative thoughts that defeated him last season at times. He found it a real challenge even before he started to skate the long program. When he took to the ice tonight, he tried to channel what he learned doing the short program the night before: look forward to doing the competition, do it for the joy of it and take one quad at a time.

He accomplished that mission, at least sometimes during his Vivaldi routine. His opening quad toe loop – triple toe loop was easy, and so was the following quad toe. He racked up high grade of execution marks for both. But then the pesky triple Axel came back to haunt him; he doubled one, and then he singled a double Axel later.

He doubled the last part of a triple Lutz – single loop – triple Salchow sequence. And in the final moments of his program, his combination spin went loopy. He received only a level one for it. When he settled into his final pose, the audience erupted.

It was enough for now.

Yuzuru Hanyu, a world bronze medalist in 2012, took a hard fall on an opening quad Salchow, then put a hand down on a quad toe loop. He left a lot of points on the table when he eked out only a single Axel – single toe loop out of something that was supposed to be a triple-triple. He gathered force after his rocky beginning and then chalked up enough point currency to earn the silver medal with 234.80 points on Saturday. “I am not so happy with my program,” he said. “I don’t know why I fell down.”

Nobunari Oda, whose career has been rocky for several years, has been working at building himself back into contention this season, trying to get one of those three Olympic spots that six Japanese men are fighting over. He took the bronze medal at Skate Canada, after both of his quad attempts went poof, and then he fell on a triple flip. It could have been worse. “I feel regrets,” he said. “My performance was far from my best.” He’s still trying to qualify for the Grand Prix Final and will need another top result; the Grand Prix Final serves as one of the qualifying criteria for the Japanese Olympic team.

Michal Brezina of Czech Republic did the opposite of his peers. He almost surprised himself when he landed two quad Salchows, one with a double toe loop, for the first time in his career, but his efforts tailed off later, when he said he couldn’t feel his legs. He finished fourth with 218.32.

Elladj Baldé, the 2008 Canadian junior men’s champion who seems to be finding his footing tried a quad, but it turned into a triple when he felt he lacked the right power for it. He’s seventh overall.

Andrei Rogozine finished eighth.

Beverley Smith

Virtue & Moir first; Weaver & Poje second after short dances at Skate Canada International

SAINT JOHN, N.B. – The 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are in first place after the short dance with a score of 73.15 at the Skate Canada International Grand Prix. Their lead is just 2.80 points ahead of compatriots Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who expressed pleasant surprise at their personal best marks: 70.35, and this happening early in the season.

Virtue and Moir skated a strong, performance, with level fours on their rotational lift and step sequence, but bobbled on the twizzle section of their sparkling short dance.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the United States, fourth at Skate America last week were thrilled to be third and able to attend their first Grand Prix press conference with 60.92 points in the bag, more than 10 points behind Weaver and Poje.

Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam, so deft with their pink quickstep fluff at Obertsdorf that they won the short dance there, before getting the bronze overall, finishing seventh of eight teams, even though they drew a standing ovation at the Harbour Station Arena.

“Obviously we have a few technical things to work on,” Paul said. “But the actual performance of the program felt amazing and the crowd really got into it. “

They received only a level one on the second Finnstep sequence, but level fours on twizzles, and a rotational lift. “It’s not the most consistence dance for everybody, just looking at levels from past competitions,” Paul said.

Virtue and Moir navigated that trap well, but admitted their trip into twizzle territory was “adventurous.”

Moir acknowledged he and Virtue had “a bit of a moment” before they skated. “You never know where your career is going to go and if we’re going to skate next year, those questions that we don’t want to answer yet.”

Moir found himself very emotional while in the start position, thinking this might be his last Skate Canada.

“We had a great feeling the first minute and a half,” he said. “They’re telling in the scores, so we’ve got to clean that up.  At this time of year that is really important.”

Virtue said they’ve trained the twizzles really well at home, but at both of their previous competitions, they’d had a stumble or two on twizzles. Now they have to get down to business, maybe change the placement of them.  “It’s not something we want to risk going forward,” she said.

Weaver and Poje were visibly surprised while watching replays of Virtue and Moir’s errors. “Tessa and Scott are Olympic champions,” Weaver said. “They are everything we strive to be.  And while their errors are quite uncharacteristic, to me they are the quintessential ice dancing team of our time.”

Poje said they challenged themselves to get every level and every key point they can and it’s not easy: there are such minute differences between levels, but they can add up. “We were pleased to see that we achieved a lot of the key points that we wanted so early” he said.

Weaver and Poje earned level fours on all of their elements, even both of the Finnsteps, except for the midline step sequence, where they earned a level three. Their tap interpretation of 42nd Street worked for them.

Beverley Smith

Patrick Chan takes a significant lead after the short program in Saint John

SAINT JOHN, N.B. – It took only a tiny moment of doubt to turn a quadruple toe loop – triple toe loop into a triple-triple, good by the standards of some women’s competitions, but not for three-time world champion Patrick Chan.

Chan did only a triple toe loop – triple toe loop at the beginning of his short program, the Rachmaninoff gem that earned him world record points at the world championships last March. But still, the skater gathered himself and made sure he scored all the points he needed to throw up a healthy score of 88.10 seconds and finish first in the short program

Chan had some top Japanese skaters breathing down his neck, but when a revitalized Nobunari Oda fell on a quad, and Yuzuru Hanyu singled a triple Lutz that turned into a single Lutz-triple toe combination, the Japanese assault sputtered a bit.

Oda finished second with 80.82 points, saving himself by tacking a triple toe loop onto the end of a triple Lutz. Significantly enough, Oda’s technical score of 43.61 Chan’s by .44 points. Chan creamed him on program components, by almost seven points.

Hanyu sits in third with 80.40 points, only a fraction behind Oda.

Former U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott redeemed himself by landing quad in the short program, although he doubled a triple Lutz that was too close to the boards and put a hand down on a triple Axel. He is in fourth place with his routine choreographed by his childhood idol Robin Cousins, the 1980 Olympic champion.

“That was such a big hurdle to overcome on my step back,” Abbott said. “This shows I can be a contender with every man in the world.”  He scored 74.58 points.

The men’s event also provided a battle within a battle: the one for the third Canadian Olympic men’s spot. This time, Elladj Baldé took a major shot by landing the first quad of his career in a competition. And not only that, he tacked a double toe loop on the end of it, after putting a hand down on the quad. He planned a triple, but the hand scuttled that idea.

Baldé is in sixth place ahead of Andrei Rogozine who earned the trip to the world championships last year over Baldé. Rogozine decided to play it safe yesterday to regain confidence and skated cleanly – without a quad. Rogozine is currently in ninth place of 10 men with 68.31 points. His combo was a triple flip – triple toe loop, the only man in the event who did not try a quad.

“It’s a big plus for me,” said Baldé, who said he’s been helped by hard work and training alongside his new best buddy, Chan. They seem inseparable.

As for Chan, he said he landed his quad-triple perfectly in the warm-up, when he had no pressure on him. Even so, during the competition, doubt entered the mind of the mind of the three-time world champion and he hesitated, skated slowly into that first comb.

After that, Chan pulled up his socks, told himself to snap out of it, and rediscovered his rhythm. That’s all it took.

Beverley Smith

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford win bronze at Skate Canada International

SAINT JOHN, N.B. – With their enchanting Alice in Wonderland routine, Meagan  Duhamel and Eric Radford peered through a looking glass and found themselves with a bronze medal, with scores they didn’t expect. Their tally? 190.62.

Duhamel and Radford feel their exquisite Alice in Wonderful routine is Olympic medal potential, but errors in Saint John left them with a much lower score than usual. “Despite the mistakes, we could feel the energy in the building,” Radford said.

One of the toughest things to take was an aborted lift in the second half of their program. They lost about eight points with that element alone. Radford revealed that Duhamel had suffered a shoulder injury three weeks ago and during rehab, they had to change the technique on the lift. Perhaps that had a bearing on it. But they lost plenty of points elsewhere too, on just about every element in fact except a lift near the very end of their program. They got a standing ovation.

And coming when the lift did, they were depending on muscle memory to carry them through and it didn’t work. “It’s hard to put a finger on it,” Radford said.

That left the improving Italians, Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek, the winners of their first Grand Prix gold medal. They were third last year at Skate Canada, their previous highest finish. Canada has been good to them. Hey, they came armed with Dracula, their long program choreographed by noted Canadian designer David Wilson.

Berton and Hotarek finished with 193.92 points, but they didn’t actually win the long program. That honour fell to the pocket Chinese pair, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who fired off a quadruple twist – the first one they’d done since they won junior world championship in 2012. Injured for much of last year, they came back with an exclamation point.

Berton and Hotarek actually finished second in both the short and the long program.

Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers finished fourth, despite injury, but it was a good step up from the short program, in which they finished sixth. They got their moxie back for the long, what Lawrence calls their “wild animal thing,” the urge to do battle. And they did land a throw triple Lutz near the end of the routine and they showed off a mighty never-ending lift.

A third Canadian team, Margaret Purdy and Michael Marinaro, finished eighth, accomplishing some elements that they missed last week at Skate America but finding new elements to make mistakes on. It’s been a learning experience for this team competing in their first senior Grand Prix. They’ll take the lessons they’ve learned to the Canadian championships in Ottawa in January.

Duhamel and Radford actually earned their second highest component marks ever (66.34), despite the mistakes. It was an odd position for them to be in, with their technical marks down low (54.71) and their program component marks high. The Chinese team that won drew technical marks of 65.76 and the Italians finished with 63.41, whose best finish at a world championship in the past was a 10th last year.

Beverley Smith

Osmond withdraws from Skate Canada International; Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia takes gold in Saint John

SAINT JOHN, N.B. – Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond bore a quiet, somber mien Saturday afternoon, when she withdrew from the women’s event at the Skate Canada International, after having been fifth in the short program.

She had battled bravely back from a “stress reaction” injury to make miracles, just to be here, but a new problem surfaced on Saturday morning. She woke up feeling pain in her right upper leg. It was really sore, she said.

She hoped for the best, thinking perhaps it was only a cramp and that movement would straighten things out. She went to an early practice that began at 9:20 a.m., but spent only five minutes on the ice, when it became clear she could not put any weight on the leg, and she could not lift her leg very high.

Osmond called it a hamstring issue, and already the wheels are rolling to start her treatment on Monday in Edmonton where she trains.

“We just decided that it was better to take the rest of this competition off,” she said sadly. She said it’s an injury she’s had before, that has come and gone every few months. It would bother her maybe only for a couple of hours, but the pain is much worse, and truthfully, she doesn’t quite know what it’s all about this time.

“I’m obviously disappointed that I won’t be able to do my long program that I trained,” she said. While she suffered her stress reaction, she worked on choreography and trained it off the ice. “When I came back, I was really set on coming here,” she said. “My long program is my favourite.”

She hopes to be recovered enough to train for her next Grand Prix, which is Cup of Russia, the last of the six Grand Prix events. That gives her time. The Russian Grand Prix has typically never been the last event, so she’s lucky.

The women’s event at Skate Canada earlier suffered from the withdrawal of 2010 Olympic champion Kim Yu-Na of South Korea, out with metatarsal injuires. And it also lost former world silver medalist Alena Leonova of Russia.

Without them, the event was still strong, with impish and flexible 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia, winning with 198.23 points. Lipnitskaia barely put a foot wrong, dazzled the crowd with her high kick spins and earned a standing ovation.

She received level fours for all of her elements. There is no guarantee she’ll make it to the Olympics: the Russian federation will use its own national championships and the European championships to pick the athletes it will send to Sochi.

The 28-year-old veteran, Akiko Suzuki from Japan won her third silver medal at Skate Canada, moving up from third after the short program to finish with 193.75 points well ahead of short program leader Gracie Gold, who fell on a triple Lutz and staggered out of an underrorated triple Salchow.

Former Canadian champion Amelie Lacoste finished fifth with renewed enthusiasm for her sport and senior Grand Prix newbie, Veronik Mallet was eighth.

Beverley Smith

Duhamel and Radford take small lead after the pair short program at Skate Canada International

SAINT JOHN, N.B. – It was just that kind of day. In the midst of a press conference for the pair short program, a water pipe above the dais spontaneously spewed forth some a goodly amount of H2O upon the winners, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.

‘I’m having a bad day,” said Duhamel, after having stumbled out of a side-by-side triple Lutz and then pitching two hands down on the landing of a throw triple Lutz at Skate Canada, the second of six Grand Prix events. This is what you get for missing your triple Lutz,” she said.

Lutzes out of control or not, Duhamel and Radford are leading the chase, albeit by only .15 points over an Italian team compromised by missing skates during practice day yesterday and on Wednesday too. Only .55 points separate the top three. They are essentially tied going into the long program on Saturday.

Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek of Italy are in second place with 69.38 points, their personal best mark, behind Duhamel and Radford with 69.57. In third place are Chinese skaters Sui Wenjing and Han Cong with 69.02. The Chinese had missed most of last season while Sui was suffering from epiphysitis, a growth plate injury. Sui is back, healed now and can do everything, says Han.

Eventually, all three teams had to move off the dais for the remainder of the conference, with Hotarek fielding the microphone to skaters and reporters in the room. “I feel like a stand-up comic,” he said. (Later, organizers moved the podium further forward so that the leaky water pipe was out of range.)

Duhamel and Radford acknowledged their mistakes philosophically and put things in perspective. “If we had skated clean, it would have spooked us,” Duhamel said. “We don’t start our season like that.”

On the bright side, Duhamel and Radford achieved a level three for their triple twist: a goal.

Last season, the Canadian champions had learned a formula for their progression: by nationals, things begin to really hum. So far, this season, they feel prepared, their mistakes this time were uncharacteristic, and they hadn’t anticipated them. “But I think the flow was better and our second mark (31.96) is right around where we finished last season,” Radford said.

Besides, last year at Skate Canada, with a clean program, they earned a score of 64. By season’s end, at the world championships, when they won the bronze medal, they pushed their short program score to 73. With a 69, they’re convinced their work over the summer is paying off, and they hope to climb into the high 70s by nationals.

They are accustomed to tight scores after the short: at the 2012 national championships in Moncton, N.B. there was essentially a three-way tie for first, too, they won the gold medal.

What is different, is that Duhamel and Radford were skating to Tribute, music that Radford had composed himself. He admits that it felt unusual to hear his own music. He felt a chill when he started the footwork section and the music rose to a crescendo and another at the beginning of the death spiral. Many felt a chill in the opening notes of the music Radford wrote in honour of the coach that taught him much about skating, Paul Wirtz, who died several years ago.

As for the likeable Italians, Hotarek said he felt tired at the beginning of the routine to The Mask. (That explains his neon yellow pants, hoofed up past his waist with suspenders.). “I was a little tired, but I just hold Steffi’s hand and she was so strong and she just said go and do it because we can.” He said. “I really must thank her today. It was a really good day.”

The pair had the crowd gasping with their reverse lasso lift, as Hotarek hoists his tiny partner above his head and then holds her with one hand as she sinks into a position in which her feet are higher than her head –a very high-risk manoeuver.

Hotarek said he would not have attempted such a move if he was unable to get his skates, lost in baggage while leaving Detroit for Canada. Hotarek ended up in Saint John and the mislabelled bag went to Chicago, a city where neither has been.

Hotarek skated the first of two practices on Thursday while wearing a spare pair of skates owned by men’s skater, Ross Minor, but Hotarek felt uneasy because the blade position was foreign to him. He was about to switch to a spare pair from Patrick Chan, but then, with the help of an ISU official who personally called and was able to trace the bags, when Hotarek got his skates back late Thursday, he was up for action.

The ISU allowed the Italians to have a special practice after the day of practices finished on Thursday. It was special indeed. The Italians skated as if on wings. They did their crazy lift twice.

Third place Sui and Han drew very high marks for their throw triple flip and had no minus marks at all. They had just left their long-time coach, Lo Buan for well-known pair coach Yao Bin, and his new coaching mate, Zhao Hongbo, who won the pairs gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics with Shen Xue. “We learn more and more how to skate” Han said. “It makes us grow up.”

Paige Lawrence of Kipling, Sask. And Rudi Swiegers of Virden, Man., finished sixth of eight teams after she touched hands down on an under-rotated triple toe loop and fell on a throw triple Lutz.

The pair has had to adjust their training schedule because of Lawrence’s injuries: she suffered a strained Achilles tendon during the summer on her left landing foot. That improved, but she compensated for the injury and strained her groin/hamstring muscles. She wore a heavily taped left thigh last night. They’ve spent a few months focusing on choreography and performance, because they had to make the best of it.

Margaret Purdy of Strathroy, Ont., and Michael Marinaro of Sarnia, Ont., the world junior silver medalists skating in only their second senior international event, had a rough day, when she landed a triple toe loop on two feet, and they aborted a lift. They too, have suffered injuries. Purdy injured a shoulder during the summer and had only two weeks training time before they competed at Skate America last week.


Beverley Smith

Canadian Team Converging in East for 2013 Skate Canada International

OTTAWA, ON: Eighteen of Canada’s elite figure skaters will be heading to Saint John, New Brunswick to compete against many of the world’s best figure skaters at the 2013 Skate Canada International. The event takes place October 25-27, 2013, at the Harbour Station.

Skate Canada International is the second of six competitions on the International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix of Figure Skating circuit, which qualifies skaters for the ISU Grand Prix Final, taking place December 5-8 in Fukuoka, Japan. This year’s edition of Skate Canada International features many skaters hoping to compete at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Three-time and reigning World Champion Patrick Chan, 22, Toronto, Ont., is the first of three Canadian entries in men’s. Chan, who represents the Granite Club, has won this event three times previously. Last season, he won silver at Skate Canada International, gold at Rostelecom Cup, and bronze at the ISU Grand Prix Final. He is coached by Kathy Johnson and trains at the Detroit Skating Club.

Canadian bronze medallist Andrei Rogozine, 20, Richmond Hill, Ont., will also represent Canada in men’s. Rogozine previously competed at this event in 2011, placing seventh. The 2011 World Junior Champion placed 10th at the 2013 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and 13th at the 2013 ISU World Figure Skating Championships last season. He is coached by Inga Zusev and Andrei Berezintsev and trains at the Richmond Hill Figure Skating Club.

Representing Club de Patinage des Deux-Rives and competing in the men’s division is Elladj Baldé, 22, Pierrefonds, Que. He finished 10th at this event in 2011, and seventh in 2012. Last season, Baldé placed fourth at the 2013 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, and 18th at the 2013 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. He trains out of the Detroit Skating Club with coaches Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen.

Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond, 17, Marystown, Nfld. & Sherwood Park, Alta., will be returning to defend her title at Skate Canada International. Last season, she won gold at Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, placed seventh at the 2013 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, and placed eighth the 2013 ISU World Figure Skating Championships. Osmond is coached by Ravi Walia and represents the Ice Palace Figure Skating Club.

Amélie Lacoste, 24, Delson, Que., will also represent Canada in the ladies category. Lacoste has competed at this event four times, winning bronze in 2010. Representing CPA du Roussillon, she is the 2012 Canadian Champion. Last season, she placed eighth at Skate Canada International, sixth at the Cup of China, and ninth at the 2013 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. Lacoste is coached by Christy Krall in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Veronik Mallet, 19, Sept-Îles, Que., is the third Canadian entry in ladies. Earlier this season, she placed fourth at Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany. Last season, the representative of CPA Sept-Îles placed fifth at the 2013 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. Mallet is coached by Annie Barabé and Sophie Richard at CTC Contrecoeur.

World bronze medalists and two-time defending Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel, 27, Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford, 28, Balmertown, Ont., are one of three Canadian entries in pair. This will be their fourth time competing at this event, having won bronze in 2011 and silver in 2012. Representing Walden FSC and CPA St. Léonard, Duhamel and Radford won gold at the 2013 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. They are coached by Richard Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte at CPA Saint-Léonard.

Paige Lawrence, 23, Kennedy, Sask., and Rudi Swiegers, 26, Kipling, Sask., are the second entry in pair for Canada. Lawrence and Swiegers have competed at this event three times previously, winning bronze in 2010. The 2013 Canadian bronze medalists both represent Wawota FSC. Last season, they placed fourth at Skate Canada International and the Cup of Russia, as well as sixth at the 2013 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. Lawrence and Swiegers train in Melville, Sask., and Virden, Man., and are coached by Patricia Hole and Lyndon Johnston.

Margaret Purdy, 18, Strathroy, Ont., and Michael Marinaro, 21, Sarnia, Ont., will round out the Canadian pair entries. Representing Watford FSC and Point Edward SC, the pair placed eighth last week at the 2013 Skate America. Last season, Purdy and Marinaro won silver at the 2013 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships, and placed fifth at the 2013 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. They are coached by Scott Rachuk and Alison Purkiss at the Competitive Skating Centre of Strathroy.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue, 24, London, Ont., and Scott Moir, 26, Ilderton, Ont., are four-time Skate Canada International Champions, winning the title most recently in 2012. The 2010 Olympic Champions won silver last season at the 2013 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, 2013 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, and 2012 Grand Prix Final. Representing Ilderton SC, Virtue and Moir are five-time Canadian Champions. They are coached by Marina Zoueva, Johnny Johns, and Oleg Epstein at Artic Edge Ice Arena in Canton, Michigan.

Kaitlyn Weaver, 24, Waterloo, Ont., and Andrew Poje, 26, Waterloo, Ont., will also represent Canada in ice dance. Last season, Weaver and Poje placed fifth at the 2013 ISU World Figure Skating Championships. They also won bronze at both of their assignments on the ISU Grand Prix circuit, Cup of China and Skate America. The duo representing Sault FSC and Kitchener-Waterloo SC won silver at their first event this season, the 2013 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. They are coached by Pasquale Camerlengo and Angelika Krylova in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Alexandra Paul, 22, Barrie, Ont., and Mitchell Islam, 23, Barrie, Ont., are the third Canadian entry in the ice dance category. The representatives of Barrie SC previously competed at this event in 2010, placing fourth. Last season, Paul and Islam placed fourth at the 2013 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. They began this season with a bronze medal at the Nebelhorn trophy in Germany. Paul and Islam train at the Detroit Skating Club under coaches Pasquale Camerlengo, Angelika Krylova, and Massimo Scali.

The team leaders for this event are Petra Burka of Toronto, Ont., and Carolyn Allwright of Kitchener, Ont. Dr. Marni Wesner of Edmonton, Alta., and physiotherapist Cathy Striowski of Toronto, Ont., will be the Canadian medical staff. Canadian officials at the event are Karen Butcher of Greely, Ont., Beth Crane of Burnaby, B.C., and Benoît Lavoie of Baie St-Paul, Que.

Tickets are still available for the event and can be purchased online at, by phone at 1.800.267.2800, or in person at the Harbour Station Box Office.

Skater, Olympian, Artist, Choreographer, Coach, Ambassador… Who is Shawn Sawyer?

So now that Shawn Sawyer has been chosen as the athlete ambassador for the 2013 Skate Canada International Grand Prix in Saint John, N.B., (appropriately enough, in his home province) what does it mean?

The 28-year-old artist (on and off the ice) is, according to dictionary’s best efforts, a diplomatic agent of the highest rank, a plenipotentiary (which sounds very important), an internuncio (it always sounds better in Italian), or an apostolic delegate, a chancellor at this important pre-Olympic contest.

Never mind that Sawyer has never been a Canadian champion, has never won an ISU Grand Prix event and didn’t make it to the Vancouver Olympics. He’s never really played the understudy, what with his incomparable flair:  the incredible stretch of his legs, his flexibility beyond compare, his chameleon-like nature to portray anything on ice, his spins, his spirals, his art.
That’s what Canadian icon, Toller Cranston, spotted when he chose Sawyer to portray himself as a young skater at his tribute show in 1997, when Sawyer was an unknown 12-year-old kid from Edmundston, N.B., a paper mill town.

‘‘“Toller wasn’t a part of my past, or my present or my future at the time,” Sawyer said. “He wasn’t part of anything, and didn’t talk much to me. But he was part of me. He got who I was and who I was going to become. He just knew. And I knew that he knew. He’s a kind of person that has had a huge impact on my life without having to be there, without having to hold my hand the entire time.”

During his skating career, Sawyer was novice and junior champion in Canada, sixth at a world junior championship, three times a bronze medalist at the Canadian championships, and at his final national championships, a spine-tingling second with an inspired free skate as the Mad Hatter to the Alice in Wonderland soundtrack. He once finished third in a short program at a Cup of Russia to Evgeny Plushenko and he earned a silver medal at the 2009 Skate America behind Evan Lysacek.

“The person that is most surprised about my career is myself,” Sawyer said. “I can’t believe I actually made it to the Olympics Games, and I can’t believe I have a spin named after me [it’s the one where he raises his leg up beside his head in a straight-line, full split position.].” He was always flexible, but he’s more flexible now than ever. He’s worked at it. “Let’s say I show up at an international championship with a Michelle Kwan spiral,” he said. “I can’t show up the next year and have a normal spiral. I have to move up to a Sasha Cohen spiral.” Few men do spirals.

Sawyer has made a career out of that incredible stretch, but now he’s making a career on Stars on Ice with his concepts. People have come to expect him to emerge from the curtains “with something a little bit out of the box,” he said, and the tour indulges his abilities. “Every year, they give me a blank piece of canvas,” he said. “They say they trust me, just don’t go too crazy.”
His signature pieces as an Olympic-eligible competitor were both David Wilson masterpieces of choreography and perfect for Sawyer: his complex Amadeus routine that he used for two seasons and then, Danny Elfman’s Alice In Wonderland.

Playing the Mad Hatter holds a special place in Sawyer’s heart and in Canadian championship folk lore. Sawyer had quit skating, having missed the Vancouver Olympics. “I didn’t want to have anything to do with skating,” he said. Then one day, he saw a photo of Johnny Depp in full costume as the Mad Hatter, red crazy hair and rings for eyes, quite off the wall, really.  The photo had an immediate impact. “Oh no, no, don’t see the movie. Don’t listen to the music,” Sawyer told himself.

The next day, he watched the movie and bought the CD. Then, he started to cut the music. He called up his coach, Annie Barabé and told her: “Guess what? I’m coming back!”

His Mad Hatter routine that he performed at the 2011 Canadian championships was one for the ages. He skated as if inspired.

“I have no words to describe it,” he said. “I don’t know where that came out of me.”

A standing ovation ensued. Strangely enough, Sawyer doesn’t remember skating it. He only remembers feeling as if he was going to faint five minutes before he went onto the ice. He could hardly walk.

That performance qualified him for the world championships, although he eventually gave up his spot after delays from the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. He already had commitments with Stars on Ice, which started about the same time. But in retrospective, he ranks that performance ahead of his Olympic appearance. “It wasn’t about what I was going to get out of it,” he explained. “It was just me, pouring my heart out.”

He does this in other ways, too. Off the ice, he’s an artist, too. From his childhood, he’s always sketched. About five years ago, he discovered something important. He hadn’t really liked art class. “I thought I was painting with a broom,” he said. “It was really hard for me to do details.”
Then he began to see that details weren’t important. He was already steeped in exacting skating detail through the day. His art was to be different. Now he feels a balance in his life by tossing red wine and coffee onto canvases.

“They are my two favourite things in the world,” he said. “Obviously, they stain everything I own.” He’s amazed at the variety of colours he can produce out of those two media; he even extracted a peacock blue-green from a 30 cent bottle of wine he once bought in Paris. He paints mostly female heads, necks, crazy hair. Think Lady Gaga, with an extra explosion. He’s ready to do an art exhibition, if only he had time. Currently, Sawyer spends a lot of time on the road, touring, coaching and handing on the gifts of choreography that he’s learned from some of the best.

“I wouldn’t recommend that path I chose to get where I am right now,” he said. “But looking back, I wouldn’t change anything.  It’s all about perseverance and overcoming obstacles. Whatever you want to achieve in life, there are always obstacles.”

Beverley Smith