There will only ever be one Toller

There is only one Toller.

You don’t need to say Cranston to flesh out the spirit of the man: Creative. Flamboyant. Outspoken. Voraciously well read. Colourful. Generous. Prickly.

Toller was a diva. A master of outrageous one-liners. A big spender. A clever self-marketer. A larger-than-life guy who always cut to the chase.

And perhaps, a lonely artist, gone too soon at age 65. There’s a ghostly photo of him walking out of his San Miguel de Allende studio into the Mexican light, a lone figure, reluctantly leaving his work behind.

In his book, “Zero Tollerance,” Cranston noted: “I spent 20 years looking for love (any kind of love) without finding it. The subset of that, ironically, is that at the end of 20 years, I’m not sure that I would have recognized it if I had found it. It might have been right under my nose, but I didn’t have the sensibilities to discern it.”

He always walked his own path. He was an island, even in his own family, he once said. His mother left him nothing in her will. She didn’t support his skating. At the 1974 world championship in Munich, Toller had her kicked out of the rink. His father, an ex-football quarterback, was by Toller’s admission, a kindly man with whom he had no bond. His father once said he was immensely proud of his son, but Toller would never let him become close. “He has always been that way,” Monty Cranston once said. “Out there on his own.”

One of Cranston’s toughest crosses to bear, so he said, was his failure to win an Olympic gold medal in 1976. He took home bronze instead. He later said that loose end largely dictated his “lust for acceptance and recognition.” And that it led to “exaggerated personal behaviours and ruinous conspicuous consumption,” he said.

His novel skating style was not always accepted by the establishment. (When he won his Canadian junior title at age 14, his placements ranged from 1st to 22nd, he said.) Nor was his art accepted. Canadian art has been described by some as the “frozen art of a frozen people.” But Cranston’s work burst with warm colour, arabesque forms and exotic Silk-Road characters. He was completely an outsider. Perhaps his fantasy art wasn’t taken seriously. To Cranston, it was very serious, an expression of his inner vision.

“Do you have any paintings by Toller Cranston in your gallery?” Maia-Mari Sutnik, a curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario was asked after Cranston’s death. “No,” she replied quickly. “His work doesn’t fit into any of our collections. His work is decorative art. And then he left the country. He wasn’t part of the community. If you have a Toller Cranston piece, just keep it and enjoy it.”

In June of 2011, Cranston was awarded an honorary doctor of law degree at Carleton University, where he addressed a convocation of students. “This is important to me,” he told the begowned ones. “This is the first time I’ve received a pat on the head.”

Ron Shaver, a contemporary of Toller, who pushed him to the max at Canadian championships, knew the artist-skater since he was six years old. “I don’t think he was ever anyone that people got close to,” Shaver said. “He just didn’t let people in. “

Shaver burst into tears when he heard that Toller had died.

Cranston was well known for his conspicuous consumption, so rampant that at age 40, he sold the entire contents of his Toronto home at an auction at Waddington’s in Toronto, hoping to stem the over-the-top collecting and pay for a new abode in Mexico. But in Mexico, it eventually continued apace. “Usually it means that something is missing in your life,” said one of his best friends, Thom Hayim. “When he goes on a spending spree, I know he’s feeling inadequate.”

Other close friends acknowledge that he was a lonely man. “He lived a very independent, alone life,” said Clive Caldwell, who has known Cranston for almost 44 years. “But he was never alone. He was always the life of a party. He wasn’t the guy sitting in a corner, feeling sorry and sad because he was alone. He was hell bent and determined to take over the world, and he was trying to do it every day.”

Caldwell never felt that Cranston missed anything or that he wanted more. He was a driven painter, and hated distraction. Solitude was necessary to create.

“He always used to ask me things like: ‘What’s it like to have a partner?’” said John Rait, an ice dancer who has known Cranston since he was 16. “He didn’t understand how normal people lived and how those relationships worked. He was always quick to ask: “Well, what happens then, and how does that work? Or how do you feel when that happens?’ He was interested in how other people existed, but I think his existence was so rarified.’

Everywhere Cranston went, people followed. He was always surrounded by people. Some of his friends called it “the circus.”

“And everybody wanted something from him,” Rait said. “Everybody was there to take and very few people were there to give. Those are the people that have stayed with Toller over the decades: the givers. The takers have come and gone several times. And there’s always somebody new.”

Toward the end of his life, however, Cranston was getting the “circus” under control and many of the people in his life were the givers, generally concerned about his welfare. Some helped him sort out financial issues. He was in a good place, at peace, calmer than he’d ever been. He began to paint in pastel hues, rather than the fulgent reds and blues. The future looked bright.

His death stunned his long-time coach Ellen Burka. “I think now he’s in peace,” she said. “I think now at least he can smile. He lived his last years in a most beautiful environment.”

Coaching legends prepare to share their wisdom in Winnipeg

The National Coaches’ Conference in Winnipeg May 27 to 30 for both coaches and officials will offer a hint of just how Canadians are taking the lead in all pressing questions relating to skating.

Held as part of Skate Canada’s Annual Convention General Meeting (ACGM), this year’s theme “Partners in Progress” promises to offer an excellent range of workshops and social networking opportunities to the participants – Skate Canada coaches, officials, and international coaches as well.  As a result of Skate Canada changing their bylaws, NCCP certified Skate Canada coaches will become full voting members of the association for the very first time, which marks the importance of the voice of coaches.

“Skate Canada is really working on the coaching and I think that is so key,” says Tracy Wilson, slated to give two skating skills workshops at the conference. “It’s such a resource and we share information because we all have our fields of expertise and when we come together and share, we all benefit.”

Skate Canada has identified partnerships as the glue that binds together all of their strategic imperatives to 2018. One of those partnerships is with Hockey Canada to bring the joy of skating to all Canadians. Guest speaker at the NCC opening dinner is Melody (call her Mel) Davidson, coach of the women’s hockey team that won gold at the 2006 and 2010 Olympics. She’s a builder of her sport, which now emphasizes speed and skill so much.

Speaking of partnerships, the 2015 ACGM/NCC will also feature Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and Olympic women’s hockey team gold medalist Meaghan Mikkelson, who also teamed up with hockey colleague Natalie Spooner to win seven legs of The Amazing Race Canada during the show’s second season.

Yes, a big field is opening up to skating, with its well organized skills system, especially with the new CanSkate program, which teaches  learn-to-skate skills   to youngsters who may become speed skaters or hockey players, or ringette players or adults who skate for the love of it.

At the conference, Wilson will go through many of the exercises she has used and developed over the years, starting with her work as an Olympic medalist in ice dancing with Rob McCall, her work with hockey players, and finally with international skaters such as Olympic champions Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, Yu Na Kim, and Yuzuru Hanyu and European champ Javier Fernandez. She and coach Brian Orser have both “honed in on what works to help different skaters,” she said. Her first workshop will show basic skills and exercises (“It’s everything that everybody knows but with a different slant,” she says) and the next class is about how to develop them.

The conference is packed with other gems: renowned Winnipeg sports psychologist Dr. Cal Botterill will speak about how to prevent burnout and “under-recovery” in athletes and coaches; sport headliners Sally Rehorick, Dr. Jane Moran and Monica Lockie will probe the burning problem of troublesome boots and blades; and judge Karen Howard will expound on what the referee says to the panel before an event (information coaches don’t want to miss!). Dr. William Bridel offers up chats about currently hot topics of bullying in sport and pain and injury from a socio-cultural perspective; Donna King and Lockie will preview the next chapter of the CanSkate juggernaut with new materials, resources and activities; and choreographer Mark Pillay will present on-and-off-ice workshops on musicality (and as an extra treat, his pupil Liam Firus will show off his new programs for 2015-2016.).

Rehorick and friends have already been busy behind the scenes conducting an informal six-month investigation into the effects of boot and blade selection on the performance of skaters at all levels and will try to propose the next steps toward research and education.

Rehorick has spoken with coaches, doctors, parents, researchers, skate technicians, distributors, team leaders and administrators about the problem. Sadly, she’s seen skaters at the Learn-to-Train and Learn-to-Compete levels struggling with boots that “seemed to control the skater, rather than the other way around.” The problem is a world-wide one. The ISU has been studying it through medical commission chair Dr. Moran, a Canadian.

Dr. Bridel, a former Skate Canada employee and now a professor at the University of Calgary’s department of kinesiology, will discuss preventive measures with bullying issues, rather than reactive strategies and how kids are exposed to bullying in the larger sociocultural context. He sees bullying becoming more of a problem because of social media. He’s also involved with a bystander intervention group at the university.

He also describes a culture that prevents skaters from revealing an injury, so that they don’t get help when they need it. Again, prevention is the key.

Dr. Botterill’s chat will be vital. “Under-recovery is kind of like an epidemic,” he says. “In high performance fields, people are pushing the envelope so hard, life in this era has so many distractions, and people aren’t recovering in the way they need to.”

Over the past 15 years of his 40-year career, most of Dr. Botterill’s work has been focused on helping people get rest and regain their health – and performance levels. Technology is addictive, he warns. He believes a high percentage of people are burned out and don’t even know it.

Last year, the National Coaches’ Conference reached a height of 275 registrants. And oh yes, names like Olympic cyclist Tanya Dubnicoff, now an executive coach, synchronized skating coach Shelley Barnett, and others such as Manon Perron, Lee Barkell, and Skate Canada’s Coaching Development Committee members such as Laurene Collin-Knoblauch, Raoul Leblanc, Paul MacIntosh, Pascal Denis, Keegan Murphy, Mary-Liz Wiley, Megan Svistovski, and Chris Stokes  will unleash their wisdom in workshops, too.

Have you booked your trip yet?

Canada’s Nam Nguyen roars to top-five finish at worlds

SHANGHAI – Nam Nguyen of Toronto surged to a fifth place finish in men’s competition on Saturday at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships.

Javier Fernandez of Spain earned the gold, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan was second and Denis Ten of Kazakhstan third.

Nguyen, 16, was ninth after the short program.

“In the long program I needed to be more aggressive,” said Nguyen.  “I achieved that today and I’m really happy with myself.”

Jeremy Ten of Vancouver was 22nd.

In women’s competition, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia won the gold medal, Satoko Miyahara of Japan was second and Elena Radionova of Russia third.

Alaine  Chartrand of Prescott, Ont., was 11th and Gabrielle Daleman of Newmarket, Ont., 21st.

“Pretty much every performance I do I feel I could do better,” said Chartrand, who turned 19 this week.  “But today was not the performance I wanted.  It didn’t flow as well as in the short and that caused some mistakes.”

Canada ends the competition with two medals.  Meagan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford of Balmertown, Ont., took gold in pairs while Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., won bronze in ice dancing.

Full results:

Weaver and Poje win bronze at world championships

SHANGHAI – Ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., won the bronze medal on Friday at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships.

It was Canada’s second medal of the competition. On Thursday Meagan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford of Balmertown, Ont., took gold in pairs.

In Friday’s ice dance, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France roared from fourth after the short dance to win the gold with 184.28 points. Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the U.S. took the silver at 181.34 and Weaver and Poje followed at 179.42.

“We were very happy with the performance today, we went out there and gave it all we had,” said Poje. “We were disappointed with our scores because we were aiming for another gold.”

Weaver and Poje entered the worlds undefeated this season. They won three ISU Grand Prix events including the Final, the Canadian championships and the ISU Four Continents.

“This sport is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Weaver. “This is the first year of a four-year Olympic cycle and the momentum will not be lost. It makes us hungrier to work even harder.”

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto were sixth and Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam of Barrie,Ont., 13th.

“It’s really great for us to get a season’s best in both programs and improve on our eighth place from last year,” said Poirier. “We just allowed ourselves to relax and let our training do the work for us.”

In the men’s short program, Nam Nguyen of Toronto set a personal best international score to stand ninth while Jeremy Ten of Vancouver is 15th

“It’s really enjoyable to perform in front of a big crowd,” said Nguyen. “It’s very cool for me to communicate my program to them.”

Competition ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates.

Full results:

World champs! Duhamel and Radford complete perfect season

SHANGHAI – Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won Canada’s first world pairs figure skating title in 14 years on Thursday to cap a perfect season.

The Canadians posted the top score in both the short skate and Thursday’s free program, finishing with a total of 221.53 points, a personal best score. Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China won the silver medal at 214.12 and their compatriots Pang Qing and Tong Jian got the bronze with 212.77.

‘’The dream has become a reality,’’ said Radford. ‘’We had a little error at the start of the program but we recovered and fought till the end.

‘’We are so excited and proud of ourselves. You never know if you’ll be able to stand on top of a world podium no matter how hard you work.’’

This is Canada’s first victory in the pairs event at worlds since Jamie Sale and David Pelletier won gold in 2001.

Thursday’s victory capped a perfect season for Duhamel, from Lively, Ont., and Radford, from Balmertown, Ont. They won three Grand Prix events including the Grand Prix Final as well as the Four Continents championships and Canadian championships.

Duhamel left the ice unsure how the judges would score their program.

‘’All I knew is that we had given everything we had,’’ she said. ‘’Ironically this season we wanted to put the focus on enjoying our skating and we started to win.’’

World junior silver medallists Julianne Séguin of Longueuil, Que., Charlie Bilodeau of Trois-Pistoles, Que., were eighth and first-year partners Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch of Toronto 13th.

“It’s our first international competition at the senior level and we are proud of our performances,” said Séguin. ‘’We reached our goals and learned a lot.’’

In women’s competition after the short program, Alaine Chartrand of Prescott, Ont., is 10th and Gabrielle Daleman of Newmarket, Ont., 21st.

Russians Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Elena Radionova are 1-2.

“It was quite the experience,” said Chartrand celebrating her 19th birthday. “I had a good skate and to get close to my personal best at worlds is very satisfying.”

Daleman dislocated her knee two weeks ago.

“That wasn’t a good skate,” she said. “I was proud though that I fought through it and I know I can get it back together for the free skate.”

Competition continues Friday with the men’s short and free dance featuring Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., who are second after Wednesday’s short dance.

Full results:

Canadians in gold medal hunt at worlds

SHANGHAI – Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are in first place after Wednesday’s pairs short program at the world figure skating championships.

Meanwhile Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., stand second after the short dance.

The Canadians earned 76.98 points followed by Chinese pairs Qing Pang and Jian Tong at 72.59 and Wenjing Sui and Cong Han at 71.63.

Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Radford of Balmertown, Ont., had drawn to skate last out of the 19 couples.

Performing to “Un peu plus haut” by Ginette Reno, the reigning ISU Grand Prix Final Champions hit a triple twist, side by side triple Lutz and throw triple Lutz.

The two-time World bronze medalists collected a level four for the side by side spin, the lift, footwork and death spiral to set a new personal best.

“We are at one of the biggest competitions of our career and we’re heading into the long program for the very first time at worlds in first place,” said Radford. “Having a great skate in the short helps us feel more relaxed and also our scores allow us more freedom. Overall we feel very confident going into the free.”

World junior silver medallists Julianne Séguin of Longueuil, Que., and Charlie Bilodeau of Trois-Pistoles, Que., are 10th and Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch of Toronto 11th

In ice dancing, Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the U.S. lead with 74.47 points. Weaver and Poje follow ed with a personal best 72.68 and Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy are third at 72.39.

Weaver/Poje’s passionate performance to “La Virgen de Macarena” was highlighted by fast twizzles, precise footwork and a rotational lift.

The reigning World silver medalists picked up a level four for four elements but the first Paso Doble sequence was graded a level two.

“We put pressure on ourselves in practice since Four Continents to improve our technical mark since this was our weakness in the last competition,” said Weaver.

“Today we did much better, we were able to focus and we were in the zone. We feel like we are in a good place and we’re look forward to the free dance on Friday.”

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto are seventh and Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam of Barrie, Ont., are eighth.

“This was a great way to start our last competition of the season,” said Poirier. “It’s a program that’s really challenging and we have grown into it.”

“We reached levels that we hadn’t attained all year,” said Paul. “To skate our best at worlds is really satisfying.”

Competition continues Thursday with the pairs free skate and the women’s short program.

Full results:

Jennifer Beauchamp-Crichton named as Athlete Ambassador for the 2015 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships

Jennifer-Beauchamp-Crichton-2OTTAWA, ON: Skate Canada has announced that Jennifer Beauchamp-Crichton, 33, of Burlington, Ont., will be the athlete ambassador for the upcoming 2015 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships in Hamilton, Ont., from April 10-11 at the FirstOntario Centre.

Beauchamp-Crichton was the captain of the NEXXICE team that won gold at the 2009 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships in Croatia. She was captain of the NEXXICE senior team from 2000-2011, winning five Canadian championships (2007-2011) and three world medals (bronze 2007, 2008; gold 2009).

“We are thrilled to have Jennifer as our athlete ambassador in Hamilton. She is a true example of a champion and also what it is to skate for life. Her experience at this event as an athlete will certainly provide some insight on the rigorous demands of the sport and the dedication it takes to compete at this elite level,” said Dan Thompson, CEO, Skate Canada. “Canada is proud to be seen as a leader in synchronized skating, and as the sport continues to grow around the world our ambassadors like Jennifer will be there to push it forward.”

Since retiring from competitive skating after the 2010-2011 season, Beauchamp-Crichton has continued to be involved in the sport coaching the Nexxice novice and intermediate teams, and has recently become a mother.

“Representing the Canadian athletes as the athlete ambassador at the ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships is an incredible honour. Having competed at six world championships I understand the determination, dedication and teamwork it takes to compete at this elite level,” said Beauchamp-Crichton. “Skating at the World Championships in London, Ontario, was one of my favourite moments as a skater and I am so thrilled that our amazing Canadian athletes will be able create these lasting memories in Hamilton. This is sure to be an exciting and memorable event for both the spectators and the athletes. I am truly looking forward to cheering on all the teams from near and far.”

As the athlete ambassador, Beauchamp-Crichton will be handling speaking engagements, media interviews, making appearances on behalf of the competing athletes, and making time for fans.


Beauchamp-Crichton will be available for in-person interviews on Thursday, March 26 at the

Appleby Ice Centre on rink four in Burlington, Ont., from 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. (ET). She will be joined by members of the Nexxice novice, intermediate, and junior teams.

Media are asked to RSVP to Emma Bowie, Communications Manager, at [email protected] or 613.747.1007 ext. 2547 (office) or 613.914.2607 (cell).


This will be the 16th edition of the championships with Canada having won medals at 10 of those previous events. Most recently, NEXXICE from the Burlington Skating Centre won the world silver medal at the 2014 championships held in Courmayeur, Italy.

Twenty-five teams from 20 different countries will participate in the event, with Canada having two entries, NEXXICE from the Burlington Skating Centre, and Les Suprêmes from CPA Saint-Léonard.


Tickets are available and can be purchased online at, by phone at 1-855-985-5000, or in person at the FirstOntario Centre box office.

Strong Canadian Bond between Duhamel/Radford and Weaver/Poje heading into the World Championships

Fate and destiny have bought Canada’s top two upwardly mobile duos to much the same place, on the same path, so much so, it’s almost chilling to behold.

Never have Canadian doublets been in such step as pair skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and their ice dancing counterparts Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

At every bend this season, they have been matching steps to the ISU World Figure Skating Championships where both are favoured to win gold. And it would be a first if they did. Although Canadian skaters have won double-gold at world championships before (Donald Jackson and Maria and Otto Jelinek in 1962, Kurt Browning and Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler in 1993, and Patrick Chan and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in 2012), it’s never happened to two Canadian twosomes.

Partway through the season, both noticed the similarity of their journeys. “After the NHK Trophy, we had both won the event, and we looked at each other and said: ‘Wait a second. We’re the exact same right now. We’re three for three;” Weaver said.

Last fall, Duhamel and Radford and Weaver and Poje both scored victories in early season internationals in Barrie, Ont. and Obertsdorf, Germany for win No. 1. Afterwards, they never competed apart. They were assigned to the same Grand Prix events, and swept them all. Then they both won gold at the Grand Prix Final (four for four); gold at the Canadian championships (five for five); then gold at the Four Continents Championships (six for six.). In Shanghai, China next week, they’ll go for seven, a lucky number that signifies divine perfection, completeness, something that is finished.

Both didn’t have their best Olympics in Sochi last February. Both realized that they had to do their jobs on their own terms, for the joy of it. Not training in a relaxed way (“We’re exhausted after every practice,” Weaver said), but shutting out the distractions of opinion and result.

“We both feel the same pressure,” Weaver said. “To have someone else to share that with, not only with your partner, but another team altogether, has been really fun and enlightening.”

“I feel like we are sharing this special journey with them,” said Duhamel, who will room with Weaver in Shanghai. “I think we share a really special energy between the four of us.”

In Barcelona, Duhamel and Weaver started a tradition together: finding a yoga class when they first get to an event. The texts fly back and forth. Last Monday, Weaver texted Duhamel: “Last Monday of the regular season of training!”

“Yay,” Duhamel said in return. “She’s always checking up on me to see how things are going.”

They find that they share the same feelings, the same trouble getting their feet under them after a trip, the same jetlag, the same ease that things have settled back to normal at the same time. “Every time she texts me about something, we’re both feeling the same way, or our energies are the same,” Duhamel said.

Ditto for Radford and Poje, who roomed together in Barcelona. “At every competition, I think there is an unspoken connection and feeling because we’re both in the exact same situation,” Radford said. “And it’s comforting and nice to know in those really high intense moments of pressure, when you’re feeling nervous, we have teammates that are in the exact same situation. And they are still alive. And they survived. And they are doing an amazing job. It gives us confidence to know we are going through the same situation with some of our best friends.”

It’s not as if they are forged from the same pieces of clay. They are in different disciplines for Pete’s sake: pairs with their fearlessness, ice dancers with their twizzles and emotion. They have decidedly different personalities, all of them.

“What’s neat is that you get to see how someone else handles the situation,” Weaver said. “I really admire Meagan’s tenacity and I love her aggressiveness when she skates. So we can learn from each other in that way.”

If Weaver and Poje arrive to the rink after a pair practice, they’ll ask how Duhamel and Radford fared. They’ll say (so many times this year): “Awesome!”

“And you know what? We can have awesome practices, too,” Weaver said. “They are very confident and we feed off each other in that way. I think we are all very different personalities, but we are able to come together and know that we are all feeling the same thing.”

Case in point: In Barcelona both wanted to do so well and Duhamel was feeling butterflies about it all. Weaver advised her that they do the same program every time, the same quads, the same twizzles, the same lifts. Nothing changes from one competition to another. “We both really kind of hung onto that,” Weaver said. “We have that little reminder for each other every time we go out.” They both won gold at the Grand Prix Final – quite decisively.

And what if they both were to win in Shanghai? The thought gives Weaver chills up her sparkly arm.

“It would be monumental for sure,” Poje said. “It would be such a powerful message for Canada to be able to display those two champions. We both have to go out there and do our jobs and make sure that we put everything we can out there.

“But it’s a wonderful picture to think about and to be able to share the same memories and the same moment with them, coming from the same country and hearing the same anthem. It would be amazing.”

Weaver says she rarely misses watching Duhamel and Radford skate, at least for the long program. She thinks she’s seen them five out of six times, perhaps all of them. “I’m very proud to witness their growth and the incredible strides that they have made as a team, especially with that long, which is gorgeous,” she said.

And what if there is an incredible double-barrelled win, two golds for two teams?

“It would mean a lot of champagne for Team Canada,” Weaver said.

Synchronized Skating – Tracing Back

Compared to other skating disciplines that have been around for nearly 150 years, synchro is the new kid on the block.

Historically, as early as 1838, there are references to something in England called “combined figure skating” practiced at the Oxford Skating Society, but after that, reports of organized group skating dry up. Over a century would pass until the 1950s in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when the sport would get its first foot-hold as an official skating pursuit in North America.

It was called “precision skating”.

Les Supremes. 2003.The activity began rather innocently as a fun hobby in which more recreationally-based athletes could concentrate their efforts on team skating, groups of skaters performing moves in unison across the ice. Initially those performances were full of cutesy moves … toe tapping, hand clapping and hip slapping … more attuned to glitzy show biz than to quality skating.

But all of that was about to change. As experts began to recognize the young sport’s potential for promoting good skating in a new and different form, precision skating started to get some well-deserved attention.

Up until then, outside of tests up to the gold level, there were few places for non-traditional competitors to go, no competitive arena to build those skills that helped promote goal-setting, perseverance, creativity and artistry. If you weren’t in the elite competitive stream, skating was a dead end for many participants. With precision skating, suddenly there were new opportunities to advance, bringing fresh life to the sport and welcoming a whole new community of individuals, including athletes, coaches, officials and volunteers.

During the 1960s the sport spread in popularity in Canada and the US bringing with it competition and new ideas. It was an exciting time of growth and rapid development when teams were pushing precision skating boundaries by performing more creative and innovative routines. Gradually, focus on the types of choreographic content was evolving too, identifying and discarding more clichéd moves in favour of adding difficulty and skill … in other words … with the goal to develop quality skating.

Synchronized Skaters Podium.

Finally in 1977, the Ilderton Winter Club in Western Ontario hosted the first ever Canadian Invitational Precision Skating Competition and in 1983, next door in London, the first sanctioned National Precision Skating Championships were held. Overall, there were 60 teams registered to compete … 22 teams made it to the finals. Just one year later, the U.S. followed Canada’s lead and established its own National Precision Skating Championships.

By the end of the ‘80s, Canada was dominant on the international stage sweeping the podium in the senior category at the first international precision skating competition in Sweden. With such remarkable success and the resulting international attention, more and more enthusiasts were interested in joining the blossoming precision movement.

Black Ice. Synchronized skating team. 2000.Precision skating was becoming the rage! As a result, countries had to move fast to expand membership, develop more categories for a greater variety of participation and agree on clearly defined rules and standards of competition.

Despite the growth in Canada and the US, it would take the International Skating Union (ISU) another decade to recognize precision skating as an official discipline of figure skating and in 1994 to sanction international competitions. Back here at home in 1995, Canada hosted its first ever ISU international precision skating event, the Precision Canada International in Toronto.

Perhaps the biggest change came off the ice a few years later in 1998 when the sport officially changed its name to “synchronized skating” to adopt more internationally understood terminology. After that, growth was so fast around the world that just two years later in 2000 at the very first official ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota, there were 21 teams competing from 17 countries. Canada’s team, black ice, made history by winning the silver medal.

Nexxice. 2007.Since then, Canadian teams have been on the podium ten times including in 2009 when Canada hit another milestone. After years of finishing in third place, Canada finally struck gold. NEXXICE, from Western Ontario and the Burlington Skating Club, coached by Shelley Simonton Barnett and Anne Schelter, won Canada’s very first gold medal, the only gold Canada has won to date against the currently dominant Nordic countries.

At this year’s World Championships in Hamilton at the FirstOntario Centre April 10th and 11th … and with home ice advantage … NEXXICE will once again carry Canada’s banner into competition along with Les Sûpremes from Quebec’s CPA St Leonard.

To claim that honour, both teams competed recently at the Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships in Quebec City where NEXXICE won an unprecedented ninth consecutive senior title. Along with Les Sûpremes, those two teams are considered role models for the 800 other skaters on forty of the country’s best teams competing at nationals.

It’s no surprise that to have that kind of national and international success, synchro runs deep in Canada.

This year 6500 skaters were registered on 467 teams at all levels of expertise across the country. From beginners to experts, for fun or for medals, skating at home or abroad, participating in synchro is good news for everyone! It can be as light-hearted or as competitive as the motivation of the individual skater.

While teams around the world concentrate on continuing to push the level of skating to amazingly high standards; while more countries and more skaters become involved, the sport is approaching another major turning point.

The dream to compete in the Olympic Games may be coming into focus.

Canadian team heads to Shanghai for 2015 ISU World Figure Skating Championships

OTTAWA, ON: Skate Canada will send 10 entries for a total of 16 skaters to the 2015 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Shanghai, China, from March 23-29. Canada will have two entries per category in men’s and ladies and three entries per category in pair and ice dance.

Leading the Canadian pair entries are Olympic silver medallists (team) Meagan Duhamel, 29, Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford, 30, Balmertown, Ont. The four-time Canadian champions have won two consecutive bronze medals at this event (2013 and 2014). Duhamel and Radford won gold at each of their events this season: Skate Canada International, NHK Trophy, ISU Grand Prix Final and Four Continents Championships. The representatives of Walden FSC and CPA Saint-Léonard are coached by Richard Gauthier, Bruno Marcotte, and Sylvie Fullum at CPA Saint-Léonard.

Lubov Ilyushechkina, 23, Moscow, Russia, and Dylan Moscovitch, 30, Toronto, Ont., will be Canada’s second pair entry, competing together in this event for the first time. In their first season together, the representatives of the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club won gold at the Warsaw Cup, silver at the 2015 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, and placed fourth at the Four Continents Championships. Ilyusheshkina and Moscovitch are coached by Lee Barkell, Bryce Davison, and Tracy Wilson.

Canadian bronze medallists Julianne Séguin, 18, Longueuil, Que., and Charlie Bilodeau, 21, Trois-Pistoles, Que., will be the third Canadian pair entry at this event. This will be their first senior international assignment. On the junior international circuit this season, Séguin and Bilodeau won gold at their junior grand prix assignments in Czech Republic and Germany, gold at the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final, and silver at the World Junior Championships. They are coached by Josée Picard in Chambly, Que.

World silver medallists Kaitlyn Weaver, 25, Waterloo, Ont., and Andrew Poje, 28, Waterloo, Ont., are the first of three Canadian entries in ice dance. This will be their seventh time competing at this event. This season, they won gold at each of their events: Skate Canada International, NHK Trophy, ISU Grand Prix Final and Four Continents Championships. Representing Sault FSC and Kitchener-Waterloo SC, the 2015 Canadian champions are coached by Pasquale Camerlengo and Angelika Krylova in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Canadian silver medallists Piper Gilles, 23, Toronto, Ont., and Paul Poirier, 23, Unionville, Ont., will also represent Canada in ice dance. Last season, they placed eighth at this event. Earlier this season, they won silver at Skate Canada International and Trophée Eric Bompard, placed fifth at the ISU Grand Prix Final, and placed fourth at the Four Continents Championships. The representatives of Scarboro FSC are coached by Carol Lane, Juris Razgulajevs, Jon Lane, and Roy Bradshaw at Ice Dance Elite in Scarborough, Ont.

Alexandra Paul, 23, Midhurst, Ont., and Mitchell Islam, 25, Barrie, Ont., will round out the Canadian entries in ice dance. Last year, they placed 10th at this event. This season, Paul and Islam placed fifth at the Cup of China, sixth at Trophée Eric Bompard, and sixth at the Four Continents Championships. The representatives of Barrie SC train at the Detroit Skating Club with coaches Pasquale Camerlengo, Angelika Krylova, and Natalia Deller.

Canadian champion Nam Nguyen, 16, Toronto, Ont., is the first of two Canadian entries in men’s. Last year, Nguyen placed 12th at this event. This season, he won bronze at Skate America, placed fourth at the Cup of China, and placed 11th at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. The 2014 world junior champion is coached by Brian Orser and Ernest Pryhitka at the Toronto Cricket Skating & Curling Club.

Jeremy Ten, 26, Vancouver, B.C., will be the second Canadian entry in men’s. Ten previously competed at this event in 2009, placing 17th. This season, the representative of Grandview Skating Club placed eighth at the NHK Trophy, 10th at the Rostelecom Cup, and 12th at the Four Continents Championships. The 2015 Canadian silver medallist is coached by Joanne McLeod and Neil Wilson at the Champs International Skating Centre.

Gabrielle Daleman, 17, Newmarket, Ont., is one of two Canadian entries in ladies. The 2015 Canadian champion placed 13th at this event last year. This season, the representative of Richmond Hill FSC placed fifth at the Cup of China, sixth at the NHK Trophy, and seventh at the Four Continents Championships. Daleman is coached by Andrei Berezintsev and Inga Zusev and trains at the Richmond Training Centre in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Canadian silver medallist Alaine Chartrand, 18, Prescott, Ont., will be Canada’s second entry in the ladies category. This will be her first time competing at this event. This season, she won bronze at the Rostelecom Cup, placed seventh at Skate Canada International, and placed tenth at the Four Continents Championships. Chartrand is coached by Michelle Leigh and Brian Orser and represents the Nepean Skating Club.

Skate Canada High Performance Director Mike Slipchuk will be the team leader with Carolyn Allwright of Kitchener, Ont. Dr. Marni Wesner of Edmonton, Alta., and physiotherapist Agnes Makowski of Toronto, Ont., will be the Canadian medical staff travelling with the team. Beth Crane of Burnaby, B.C., and Karen Howard of Regina, Sask., will be the Canadian officials at the event.

For results and full entries please visit:


Discipline Name Age Hometown Club Coach
Mens Nam Nguyen 16 Toronto, Ont. Toronto Cricket Skating & Curling Club Brian Orser / Ernest Pryhitka
Mens Jeremy Ten 26 Vancouver, B.C. Grandview SC Joanne McLeod / Neil Wilson
Ladies Gabrielle Daleman 17 Newmarket, Ont. Richmond Hill FSC Andrei Berezintsev / Inga Zusev
Ladies Alaine Chartrand 18 Prescott, Ont. Nepean Skating Club Michelle Leigh / Brian Orser
Pairs Meagan Duhamel / Eric Radford 29/30 Lively, Ont. / Balmertown, Ont. Walden FSC / CPA Saint-Léonard Richard Gauthier / Bruno Marcotte / Sylvie Fullum
Pairs Lubov Ilyushechkina / Dylan Moscovitch 23/30 Moscow, Russia / Toronto, Ont. Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club / Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club Lee Barkell / Bryce Davison / Tracy Wilson
Pairs Julianne Séguin / Charlie Bilodeau 18/21 Longueuil, Que. / Trois-Pistoles, Que. CPA Longueuil / CPA De Drummondville Inc. Josée Picard
Ice Dance Kaitlyn Weaver / Andrew Poje 25/28 Waterloo, Ont. / Waterloo, Ont. Sault FSC / Kitchener-Waterloo SC Pasquale Camerlengo / Angelika Krylova
Ice Dance Piper Gilles / Paul Poirier 23/23 Toronto, Ont. / Unionville, Ont. Scarboro FSC / Scarboro FSC Carol Lane / Juris Razgulajevs / Jon Lane / Roy Bradshaw
Ice dance Alexandra Paul / Mitchell Islam 23/25 Midhurst, Ont. / Barrie, Ont. Barrie SC / Barrie SC Pasquale Camerlengo / Angelika Krylova / Natalia Deller

Irish Kiss: Nova synchronized skating team pays tribute to cherished manager with emotional Celtic program

Just before the music starts, Nadine Tougas glances skyward and blows a kiss towards the heavens.

It’s become the choreographed signature of the season for the Nova Open synchronized skating team. This kiss, this sentimental Irish kiss, for their own Linda McGirr.

“Every time we did that, in every program, it was in Linda’s memory,” says team captain Tougas.

“It is for her.”

Call it the longest goodbye in this most emotional of seasons for the Quebec-based Nova squad, an enduring tribute to their longtime manager who passed away so suddenly one year ago. Linda McGirr

No one ever saw it coming. Hours after Nova returned home from the 2014 Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships in B.C. with a fourth straight Open title, McGirr, a beloved teacher who had dedicated her spare time to Nova for more than a decade, told her family she was feeling unusually tired.

“At competitions, she was always the last one to bed and the first one up, she was always doing something for the team,” says team coach and choreographer Marie-France Sirois. “It was just who she was. We thought that was why she was tired. We never thought it could be anything else.”

McGirr went to the doctor for what she thought would be a routine check-up.

Instead, what followed was the devastating news that she had been diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer, and she did not have much time left.

Linda McGirr never went home again. Instead, she went straight to the hospital. A month later, she was gone, at just 51 years of age.

“The last thing she did in her life was with this team,” Sirois adds. “That is how much she loved us. That is how much she loved this team.”

“We didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. We honestly thought we still had lots of time with her…”

McGirr seemed to have a profound effect on everyone she ever met, whether it was her students at Champlain College Saint-Lambert, where she taught for over 30 years, or her skating families at CPA Brossard and the Nova Synchronized Skating Club. Even after her daughter, Caroline, stopped skating with Nova a few years ago, Linda’s bond with the team only grew stronger.

In her final days, McGirr found comfort in the Celtic music she had listened to her entire life. Her battle was brief yet courageous.

And then she was gone.

At her funeral, several of McGirr’s favourite Irish songs were played, including Danny Boy. As she struggled to hold back the tears, Sirois found herself captivated by the music.

“It was such a sad day, but that music…” says Sirois of the funeral, before pausing.

“Beautiful music for a beautiful person. It was then I decided we would honour her with our program.”

Without a chance to bid a final farewell to McGirr, Nova created their own goodbye, set on their terms, to their music, their program and their season.

Sirois, looking to find that perfect balance for their four-minute routine, began listening to Irish music night and day. Once she decided on the songs, Sirois brought in Hugo Chouinard, renowned in skating circles for his music design mastery, to build a medley that opens with a moving Celtic rendition of Amazing Grace and culminates with a toe-tapping Riverdance number.

Once the music was cut, Sirois turned to esteemed Quebec designer Josiane Lamond to create the team’s Celtic-inspired outfits. She also enlisted the help of Montreal Irish dancer Martin Côté, who has performed all over the world, to work with her team.

The final product was an exquisite four-minute labour of love that kindled a year-long tribute, culminating with Nova claiming their fifth consecutive national Open championship two weeks ago in Quebec City.

Irish Kiss. Synchronized skating team.

“It was very emotional, and people came up and told us we were able to pass on that emotion to the story,” adds Tougas. “I will never forget this moment.”

“Linda inspired us right up until the end,” admits Tougas. “Each time we performed the program, we let her know, ‘This is for you. Enjoy.’”

“She loved to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and loved everything Irish,” says Sirois, adding she was always inspired by the famed Riverdance program of Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz. “Her sense of humour helped make her who she was. She always had us laughing.

“I just wish we would have done this program when she was still here with us.”

“It has been very emotional, but we want people to remember her, to talk about her and let people know what she meant to us,” Sirois continues. “I always tell the girls to skate for themselves – not for their parents, not for me – but for themselves.”

“This season it was different. Something was missing. They were also skating for someone else.”

In Quebec City for the national championships, their first without McGirr, Nova taped a photo of their beloved manager on each of the team’s hotel room doors.

On the final day of practice, as Nova went through one last dry run on their biggest stage of the season, a lone bird glided into the arena, circling high above the ice for a few minutes.

The moment was not lost on anyone.

“Someone said ‘it’s her. She’s here,’” says Sirois.

“It almost felt like a sign that she was still with us.”

Some things are just not meant to change.

Canada wins bronze medal at ISU World Junior Synchronized Skating Championships

ZAGREB, Croatia – Les Suprêmes from St-Léonard, Que., won the bronze medal on Saturday at the ISU World Junior Synchronized Skating Championships.

Teams from Finland took the top-two spots earning 172.98 points and 166.73 points. Les Suprêmes followed at 162.09 to remain in third despite skating the second best long program of the day. Nexxice from Burlington, Ont., was fifth.

The Suprêmes team members were Rebecca Allaire, Alessia Arsenault, Julia Bernardo, Audrey-Anne Blouin, Charlotte Brière, Claudia Elizabeth Casillas Stone, Rachel Maria Cecere, Emma Maria Corona, Alessandra Criscuolo, Marie-Eve Deschenes, Gabrielle Gauthier-Roy, Kathleen Grandchamp, Nadia Lemay, Dana Malowany, Serena Miscione, Christina Morin, Alexia Nadai-Plante, Alessia Polletta, Florence Poulin and Sofya Squalli.

The Nexxice team members were Cassandra Ablack, Katelyn Blowe, Stephanie Collier, Alycia Giro, Julianna Fischer, Alycia Giro, Celina Hevesi, Taylor Johnson, Caitlin Lakowski, Laura Lorenco, Caroline Marr, Emiko Marr, Carolyn Matheson, Jessica Morgan, Rachel Ng, Inka Serkia, Johana Smalen, Claudia Smith, Alessandra Toso, Kayla Walker, Erica White, Brooklyn Williamson.

The ISU World Senior Synchronized Skating Championships are scheduled for Hamilton, Ont., April 10-11.

Full results: