Elvis Stojko still pushing the envelope post career

There’s no doubt about it. Three-time world figure skating champion Elvis Stojko walks into a room, and at age 41, there’s still an energy that surrounds this guy. There always has been. There always will be.

He’s tanned and lean, looking just as fit as his competitive days when he won two Olympic silver medals and seven Canadian championships. “Fear less and hope more,” is his mantra.

Now he’s levelled his sights at new challenges: kart racing (“These things rip,” he says of his karts. It’s so Elvis.) and singing in the broadway show, Chicago in New York and Toronto. And he’s still skating in shows and carnivals. He’s finishing up his autobiography, which will be out next year. He’ll work as a journalist for Yahoo.com at the Sochi Olympics, just as he did in Vancouver. He’s so busy, but his eyes are alive, with all the juggling and all the fun.

These Olympics will ring differently for Stojko than the last one, when he sided with Evgeny Plushenko and the idea that a guy shouldn’t be Olympic champion without a quad. Since Vancouver, the quad has been reborn with a vengeance, with rule changes that award more marks to the four-rotation jump and a change in the under-rotation rules that make a slight cheat not a life-threatening event. Even Russian’s young Maxim Kovtun, who may not make it to the Games, plans five quads.

“Now the guys are pushing the limit,” Stojko says. “Guys are doing quad Lutz’s now. That’s what I call pushing the envelope. And it’s awesome to see and it makes it exciting again. It puts some risk back into it. Now it’s back up to a standard to where I feel it should be.”

He’s well aware of his weaknesses and his strengths when he competed. “No athlete is going to have absolutely everything,” Stojko says. He’s seen athletes who focus too much on their natural talents, but neglect their weaknesses, to their peril.

“I was naturally gifted just as an athlete, naturally gifted being able to focus and have will power,” Stokjo says. He wasn’t called the Terminator for nothing: in the annals of figure skating, there will always be the picture of Stojko doubling over in pain after he completed his long program at the Nagano Olympics, despite the fact that he endured a groin injury that week and he’d aggravated it during the program.

“There were other things in skating that I really had to work at,” he said. “One was cardio. One was because I was very athletic on one side, a lot of people thought I wasn’t artistic, so I had to. That was always a fight for me. It was always something I had to work for and really train.”

Stojko met Patrick Chan last year during some shows over the winter: Stojko, 2008 world champion Jeff Buttle, four-time world champion Kurt Browning and Chan were part of a show. He and Chan hit it off. “He’s a great kid,” Stojko said. “It only makes you stronger if you only know the truth. And people are going to tell Patrick he is awesome all the time.”

Chan knew he could learn a lot from Stojko, as tough a competitor as ever stepped onto an ice surface. He picked Stojko’s brain about preparing, training and competition.

Stojko advised Chan not to get caught up during the week with winning every practice. “You start doing that, and you’ll have nothing left,” Stojko said. “You’d be an easy target if I was competing against you.”

“What do you mean?” Chan asked.

“I would make sure I would do my jumps in front of you,” Stojko told him. “I would land them all the time, get you pumped up, to just blow your wad for the week and have nothing left in the tank for the end.”

Stojko told him that when he competed at the world championships in 1997, he went out on the practice the morning of the long program, landed three jumps, blocked out his program and got off the ice. People wondered if something was wrong with Stojko.

He skated the long program cleanly and won the world title. “I trusted myself,” Stojko said. “I didn’t have to win every practice and impress at every practice.” He told Chan that people would talk about his practices but they’d remember only his competition.  “It’s part of the confidence you have to have in yourself,” Stojko told him. “You have to be confident that you don’t have to constantly win everything and keep yourself believing that you can do it. You should already know.”

Stojko isn’t short of confidence. He competes in kart racing with athletes half his age. It won’t be a hobby for him. He’s pushing the bar, using his focus to get faster. It will become his No. 1 thing as he eventually leaves his skating world behind. In March, at the Princess of Wales theatre in Toronto, he will play the daunting role of smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn in Chicago – and it won’t be his first time on stage. He also sang in Grease in Toronto and has released an album. Little-known fact: his father, Steve Stojko was a talented singer.

It seems there is nothing that Stojko can’t do. It’s a mindset.

Beverley Smith

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