Calgary named as host of the 2015 Skate Canada Adult Figure Skating Championships

OTTAWA, ON: Skate Canada announced today that Calgary, Alberta will host the 2015 Skate Canada Adult Figure Skating Championships. The competition will take place at the WinSport Canada Athletic and Ice Complex, located at Canada Olympic Park, from April 3-5, 2015.

The event will see hundreds of adult skaters from across the country competing in four disciplines:  free skate, interpretive, ice dance and synchronized skating. This will mark the return of the Skate Canada Adult Figure Skating Championships to Calgary, which was also hosted there in 2007. Most recently, the WinSport Canada Athletic and Ice Complex hosted to the 2013 Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships.

“Calgary is a city in which many skating dreams have come to fruition. The city has always displayed a tremendous love for the sport and the adult skating community here is a great testament to this,” said Dan Thompson, Skate Canada Chief Executive Officer. “Skate Canada is extremely proud of our adult skaters in their continued pursuit of skating for life.”

“We’re pleased to bring the 2015 Skate Canada Adult Figure Skating Championships to Calgary,” said Marco De Iaco, Vice President, Sales, Sport & Major Events with Tourism Calgary. “Our city has a long and proud history of hosting world-class sporting events that promote active lifestyles while contributing to the local economy and the promotion of Calgary as a destination. We look forward to welcoming Skate Canada’s athletes, coaches, judges and fans to our city.”

Skate Canada offers recreational, test and competitive opportunities to adult skaters through our AdultSkate program. Programs available to adult skaters include CanSkate, STARSkate, CanPowerSkate, and SynchroSkate.

Craig Buntin turns to technology to advance sport

What’s a pair skater to do when he hangs up his skates at age 29, and contemplates the future?

If he’s Craig Buntin, he takes care of business.

In five years, Buntin, now 34, has taken a fascinating journey – in the world of business – from tea connoisseur to skating software company executive. And he just might have the perfect tool to revolutionize figure skating – perhaps even to curb subjectivity in the sport.

Buntin is a principal in a Montreal start-up company that uses computer vision software to analyze the movements of figure skaters: how high they jump or throw, the distance the move travels, the speed at which it travels, the flow, the ice coverage. It’s called VeriSkate for good reason. “Veri” is a root word that means truth.

“It’s super cutting edge,” said Buntin of the action recognition software that was actually developed for security concerns, with the ability to recognize and then pinpoint movement that is unusual. Buntin and his software development buddies from McGill University are using it to recognize figure skating movements and define them analytically.

“In sport, there is very little action-recognition happening right now,” Buntin said. But there is definitely a move toward using analytics to gauge performance quality in athletes. After all, the Oakland Athletics baseball team has a budget that pales in comparison to that of the New York Yankees and has to find promising young prospects by using the analytical evidence-based approach to assembling a competitive team. It worked for the club.

“I think figure skating has something that no other sport has – we’re judging specific movements,” Buntin said.

This software that keeps Buntin awake with excitement at nights when he should be sleeping can be used for evaluating kids at a summer competition. He intends to build an app that will give skaters all sorts of data about their skating. “In the future you will know if you have the fastest Axel in Canada,” Buntin said. And a young male skater, for example, can take this information and compare it to Patrick Chan’s. They can scientifically see what they have to do to improve. The software is a step beyond Dartfish, Buntin says.

“We’re measuring the speed overall in a program, how fast skaters are accelerating, the power output,” he said. “We know how much time skaters are spinning in their programs versus how much time they are accelerating versus how much time they are standing there, doing artistic things in a stationery spot.

“We can measure the actual ice coverage for a footwork sequence. Inch by inch, we can tell much ice skaters are covering. So we know, more or less, how difficult a program is.”

Needless to say, the software would be an excellent tool for media and broadcasters and it could also be one more valuable aid to judging officials.

The software has been on Buntin’s table for only the past few months. The idea caught Buntin’s imagination while he was at the Skate Canada Grand Prix in Saint John, N.B., last October. He’d attended the event as a delegate for Skate Canada’s major game-changing strategy session. After the session he spoke with Skate Canada’s Chief Sport Officer Patricia Chafe, put a proposal together on the Sunday night and pitched it to Chief Executive Officer Dan Thompson on Monday. Two days later, he was on a flight to the United Kingdom to a sports analytics conference. He’s been running at top speed ever since.

Buntin had started a tea company about the time he was wrapping up his career, having missed a shot at the Vancouver Olympics in his home province. He knew he needed a break from the sport. After a while, he realized that he knew absolutely nothing about business and decided to get some education. He’d been out of school for 12 years.

Buntin, who had finished skating at age 29, approached a couple of universities to find out his options in education. McGill University in Montreal made an exception for Buntin, allowing him into their MBA program without an undergraduate degree if he passed the GMAT exam. As it turns out, McGill had never made such an exception for any student.

Buntin graduated from university, sold his tea company to his distributor, and then thought: “Now what?”

In the meantime, he felt the pull of figure skating again. During his MBA studies, he’d taken part in a business plan competition. One of the judges had been the chief executive officer of a venture capital firm in Montreal that deals in technology company start-ups, getting university research to market.

The company, investing in a new computer vision, was looking for people to start high-tech companies. During a meeting with Helge Seetzen, the CEO of TandamLaunch, the executive asked Buntin to look through all of the company’s technologies and see if anything excited him.

Now Buntin is the co-founder of VeriSkate, and has raised $500,000 for the start-up. (Who knew?) He’s working with a student who has just finished his PhD in computer vision at McGill and he’s also brought in a project software developer.  The company is developing an app, and it’s hiring. It’s an industry that is “exploding,” Buntin said.

Buntin had never foreseen himself getting involved in anything high-tech. This opportunity fell into his lap. “I walk into a skating competition now and I feel like I’m home,” he said. “The smell of the rink, the people, the lights. Yeah.”

What gives Buntin goosebumps is the thought, that if he’d had this software when he was a skater, it would totally have changed the way he trained. His goal is to introduce it at some summer competitions and if all goes well, have it in place for Junior Grand Prix events this coming season.

He’d love to see it used at Skate Canada in Kelowna, B.C., his home town. He dreams big. And he dreams fast.

Beverley Smith

Canadians merging figure skating with the digital app world

Who knew that an elevator ride could have such far-reaching consequences for a figure skating coach?

Brian Orser walked into an elevator in his condo building one day about three years ago, and emerged as a future developer of a skating “app.” Never mind that he’s not on Facebook and has never tweeted in his life. His app is now called Peak Performance Skating, all in aid of helping athletes on blades  get by those rough mental bits, like relaxing enough to fall asleep, or finding the energy and the perfect mental picture for success.

Ben Ferreira, who won the hearts of a country with the skate of his life at the 2004 Canadian championships, when he landed a quad-triple in the short, and seven triples plus a quad in the long to take the silver medal, loves the tech world too, but never saw himself as a developer of an app. Now he, too, has his hands on the latest technology, all in aid of teaching skaters to wrestle that jump, single or triple.

Not to mention former pair skater, now businessman Craig Buntin, also developing a fascinating app from his perch in Quebec. More on that later.

It seems as if Canadian skaters have a grasp of this world of iPhones and iPads and iPods and Androids and getting vital information with the brush of a fingerprint on a digital device. And they all seem to be ahead of the curve, not only trail blazers in the world of figure skating but also in digital contexts.

For Orser, the timing was perfect. The stars were aligned when he stepped into that elevator and met Asad Mecci, a hypnotist/motivational coach who knew who Orser was (but not vice versa.)

Mecci had been involved in mental training, visualization and meditation for more than 10 years and had worked with members of India’s junior national tennis team on mental strength and imagery. He had an idea to develop apps to help athletes in other sports with mental training.

The timing was perfect.  “It was something I was looking for,” Orser said. He knew it was important, from his own experiences. He hadn’t had to worry about it much with Yuna Kim, blessed with all sorts of mental strength, he said. “I’m sure at night she visualized,” he said. “A lot of kids don’t.”

The mental aspect of skating made the difference for Orser. In 1986, he was the red hot favourite to win the world championships – but he admits he “choked.”

“It was devastating for me,” he said.

Immediately afterward, Orser contacted sports psychologist Peter Jensen, who helped him to relax and focus on the competitions, to be in the moment. He won the world title in 1987. “I was so happy and I wanted to tell the world!” he said. He told journalists about the importance of Jensen’s contribution at every single interview for a month afterward, but he didn’t feel they listened. “To this day, the mental side of skating is still not talked about enough and there are zero resources that are easily accessible to the average skater,” he said. “Only the top tiers of athletes today are fortunate enough to have access to the kind of help that I received.”

Ferreria’s journey to technical wizardry began with the seminar company he started alongside wife/choreographer/dancer Jadene, and with the help of performance coach Steffany Hanlen as partner. The idea, he said, was to take seminars to the next level – and they do this by, for example, offering a Master Class in doing one jump, like the Axel, and poking into its every nuance and angle. They call their seminar company “Skating Success.” Jadene offers transitions and choreography. Ferreira knows positions and jump fundamentals.

Ferreira comes armed with Dartfish training, and offers consultations. One of his clients is Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond. Ferreira can determine the proper body angles with Dartfish and even measure the flight time and flight angles of skaters.

“Before Dartfish, I wouldn’t call myself a technical guy,” Ferreira said. “But Dartfish changed everything.”

Dartfish has led him to become a partner in a just-released app called FS Tech Jump 1, which teaches the technique of jumps from singles to triples.  There are very few skating instructional apps out there, really, but Mark Fitzgerald, a former ice dancer married to Naomi Lang, created a series of them for US Figure Skating. “Birds of a feather flock together,” said Ferreira, and the two have become a team, crossing borders to each add to an idea. Fitzgerald’s company is called Rink Tank Interactive.

Fitzgerald handles the monumental task of filming skaters, like Michael Weiss and Lang and Peter Tchernyshev, and his strength is as a computer programmer, kicked into gear when the iPhone came onto the scene. Ferreira adds his Dartfish expertise to the project. Currently, the apps serve as a reference to skaters, coaches and parents on proper technique – and the content can be updated anytime. They warn their clients not to look at their iPhones when trying out the tricks! The app was released on December, 2013.

Ferreira says he’s spoken to Fitzgerald only perhaps eight times on the phone. They  communicate mainly through Facebook messenger. “It’s really getting content to the masses,” Ferreira said. “It’s a continuation of the Skating Success seminars. We have a really big vision for this. We really want to make a difference on a large scale. I think we can.”

At the beginning, Orser wasn’t certain that visualization and hypnotic processes would be effective without an actual instructor to go through sessions. So he kept the app to himself for a while. Instead, he gave it to some of his students to see if it worked. One of them was Yuzuru Hanyu, among the first to use it.

Hanyu wanted to leave all emotional baggage aside when he hit the ice. He wanted pure focus and to be in the moment. The app helped him with that “immensely,” Orser said.

That was the proof Orser needed. “You don’t need to hire an expensive hypnotist to do this for you before and after training sessions and competitions,” Orser says. “You can simply listen to the audio contained in the app anytime you need it!” Orser’s words are on the app, leading a skater to visualize what it feels like to finish an event, satisfied at having done his best. The voice is Mecci’s.  It’s rather hypnotic.

Beverley Smith

Sarah K. Clarke joins Skate Canada as Partnership Director

OTTAWA, ON: Sarah K. Clarke has been named as Partnership Director for Skate Canada. The native of Toronto, Ont. is excited to bring her passion for the sports business to developing and managing the relationships with Skate Canada’s broad spectrum of partners.

The graduate of the Radio and Television Broadcasting degree program at Ryerson University has worked across a variety of industries, media and digital platforms and brings over 20 years of wide-ranging experience to this position.

She handled international distribution of educational, home entertainment, inflight, broadcast and on demand content in all genres including sports, entertainment and news services. As Director of Sales for IMG, she was responsible for broadcast negotiations and content distribution of such sporting properties as Wimbledon, British Open, and World Snowboard Championships. She initiated business development opportunities with Toronto Fashion Week, and served as Executive Producer for skating properties, including Kurt Browning’s Gotta Skate and Stars On Ice. At CBS Studios International, she handled content sales distribution across all media platforms with French and English broadcasters, initiating new market entry into digital marketing on iTunes and Netflix. Most recently she was a Strategic Advisor with Bell Media and Entertainment One on VOD/CRM strategies.

Clarke looks forward to bringing innovation, relationship building and collaboration to find and nurture the best partnership opportunities for Skate Canada. A member of Canadian Women in Sports, she will be based out of the Skate Canada office in Toronto.

Skate Canada Announces 2014-2015 National Team

OTTAWA, ON: Skate Canada is pleased to announce its 2014-2015 National Team. Comprised of 25 senior members, the team includes five men, four women, three pair teams, five ice dance teams.

To be named to the National Team a skater must finish in the top five in senior singles, pair and ice dance disciplines at the Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships, or be added at the discretion of the International Committee. These skaters may be considered to represent Canada at international competitions.

Their appointment to the national team is effective from June 1, 2014 through to April 30, 2015.

Skate Canada also announced the three teams that will make up the Skate Canada Synchronized Skating National Team.

Patrick Chan, 23, Toronto, Ont.
Kevin Reynolds, 23, Coquitlam, B.C.
Liam Firus, 22, North Vancouver, B.C.
Elladj Baldé, 23, Pierrefonds, Que.
Nam Nguyen, 16, Toronto, Ont.

Kaetlyn Osmond, 18, Marystown, Nfld. & Sherwood Park, Alta.
Gabrielle Daleman, 16, Newmarket, Ont.
Véronik Mallet, 20, Sept-Iles, Que.
Alaine Chartrand, 18, Prescott, Ont.

Meagan Duhamel, 28, Lively, Ont. & Eric Radford, 29, Balmertown, Ont.
Kirsten Moore-Towers, 22, St. Catharines, Ont. & Michael Marinaro, 22, Sarnia, Ont.
Brittany Jones, 18, Toronto, Ont. & Joshua Reagan, 24, Waterloo, Ont.

Ice Dance
Tessa Virtue, 25, London, Ont. & Scott Moir, 26, Ilderton, Ont.
Kaitlyn Weaver, 25, Waterloo, Ont. & Andrew Poje, 27, Waterloo, Ont.
Alexandra Paul, 22, Barrie, Ont. & Mitchell Islam, 24, Barrie, Ont.
Piper Gilles, 22, Toronto, Ont. – Colorado Springs, CO. & Paul Poirier, 22, Toronto, Ont.
Nicole Orford, 21, Burnaby, B.C. & Thomas Williams, 23, Vancouver, B.C.

Synchronized Skating
NEXXICE, Burlington SC
Les Suprêmes, CPA Saint-Léonard
Edge, Skate Oakville

Full bios of the athletes are on the Skate Canada website. Hi-res photos are also available for download on the Skate Canada Flickr page.

For information:
Emma Bowie
Manager, Communications
613.747.1007 ext. 2547
[email protected]

Skating for the joy of it, Gary Beacom wins big at the ISU Adult Figure Skating Competition

Gary Beacom’s excellent life adventure took one more turn last month when he decided to enter the ISU Adult Figure Skating Competition in Obertsdorf, Germany for the first time.

He is 54 years old, still with that enigmatic hint of a grin, that inquiring mind, and that wish to step onto a new path – and why walk the way anyone else walks?

He didn’t go to revisit the career of his youth, when he won the Canadian silver medal twice in 1983 and 1984 behind Brian Orser, took 11th at the 1984 Olympics, won the world professional skating championships and attracted the eye of the iconic Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who adopted him into their world-wide tour, impressed with his brand of awe-inspiring transitional tricks and creativity.

His quest at the international adult championships was much simpler. “I didn’t look at it as a competition,” he said during a stop in Toronto on the way home to Victoria, B.C. “It was a chance to get out there and perform and be the best I could be. And make sure the program fit the rules. And play the game.” He had never competed under the most recent ISU scoring system, the code of points. He made sure he checked all the boxes, worked on level four spins and footwork.

Indeed, the record number of competitors (432 skaters, aged 28 to 78, with record-sized fields up to 35 competitors – compared to 332 skaters last year) bodes well for the future of the adult movement, finding joy in skating, staying healthy and fit for life through the sport. Witness the run of Midori Ito, who won last year, but showed up in 2011 with far fewer elements than required, uncertain of the rules. But Ito didn’t care. She competed for the joy of it, and applauded every competitor. Back home, teaching skating, Ito found more and more teaching requests from adults. She knew it was a chance to enjoy her sport again.

Inside, Beacom would have liked to have landed triple flips and triple Lutzes. He still feels that he has the strength and skill to do them – and he takes care of his body. He even dreamed of doing a triple Axel – an ambitious jump for a man of his generation, let alone his age – but never quite got there. He did a triple Salchow last year. A couple of years ago, he did a triple Lutz. He’s still working on overcoming his bad habits and improving his jumps, he said.

His one Achilles heel? An old chronic ankle injury, suffered years ago while he was playing volleyball, trying to block a spike. He leg slid beneath a net and a lumbering giant of a man fell on it, spraining it badly. If Beacom jumps too much, the ankle haunts him. He’s working on a technique so that his landings will be softer. And he got a new pair of boots a couple of months ago, a heavy pair of brogues with stiff imitation alligator uppers and blade hardware that is solid. They aren’t things of beauty, but he needed the support for the gimpy ankle.

At the adult championships for his life stage, Beacom won, big time. Not only did he take the men’s Masters Elite III free skate (for skaters 48 to 57) by more than 17 points, but he won the artistic free skate as well, by almost eight points, attracting marks as high as 9.75 for performance. Beacom didn’t even look at the scores. On top of it all, he won the Paula Smart Award for the highest score in the artistic event (male or female) at the event. That win hit home most.

“I’m really proud of that,” he said. “The top three ladies in the elite Masters Elite II (ages 38 to 48), were awesome and creative.”

Beacom showed up in style, skating to a funky version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, wearing a pair of faded blue jeans (preferring to be himself out on the ice) and doing it Beacom-style: part of that routine was improvised. Sure, he knew where the footwork and the spins would go. The rest came out of the emotion of the moment. “I believe through improvisation we can achieve a certain freshness, a certain life, a here-and-now approach to performance that can’t be achieved through a set performance,” he said.

He knew the competition wouldn’t be stiff: there still aren’t a lot of elite skaters contesting the event, although Beacom believes the popularity of keeping up the skills will eventually attract some of the best. There’s always the argument: didn’t the elite have their day, years ago and it’s time now for the non-elite to have a go? Still, the woman who finished second to Ito last year felt gratified to be on the same podium. And it was fun. And friendly. And the ice was great, and the event was well organized and they can hardly wait to return next year.

For Beacom, the event served another purpose. He wanted to be seen and “make connections with the world.” He conducts skating seminars as a business. He doesn’t coach on a regular basis. He enjoys visiting clubs and working with groups of skaters, sharing his knowledge and creative ideas.

Because his trip to Obertsdorf was self-funded, Beacom made a few extra bucks by stopping in Britain to do seminars at five clubs on the way.

During the summers at home in Canada, Beacom has been known to hop aboard his motorcycle and ride from Victoria, B.C., to Ottawa and Toronto, stopping at clubs along the way to do seminars. Sometimes he just drops in, to do research, he says. It often turns into an invitation to stay for an afternoon. He has a lot to offer the skating world. “There are many different, creative ways to get into spins,” he says, as an example. “This is something that hasn’t been explored in the world of skating.”

But the trip to Obertsdorf has resulted in invitations to attend an adult competition in New Zealand and Australia and some seminars there too. He got 150 “Likes” on his Facebook page after the event and some very “gratifying comments” too.

“It’s been a real boost for my self-confidence and career,” he said. The ISU Adult Figure Skating Competition ? A win-win event.

Beverley Smith