Sportswriter Neil Stevens Remembered for his Contribution to Skating

Neil Stevens was a beacon in the sport of figure skating. Not to be remembered for his twizzles, fast feet, or incredible jumping ability – Stevens will be remembered for his words. A wire reporter with Canadian Press for over 34 years, he covered every national and international figure skating event through the better part of the ‘80s and ‘90s. In total, he covered 22 World Figure Skating Championships, eight Olympic Games and every Canadian Championship during that era.

Stevens passed away from a battle with cancer on April 1, 2022.

He came on the scene in the mid ‘80s, covering numerous household names, such as Kurt Browning, Brian Orser and Elizabeth Manley as well as many other national and international stars. Stevens was the eyes and ears for figure skating fans when Kurt Browning won the world championships in 1989. He was there to tell the story of Jamie Salé and David Pelletier at the 2002 Olympics and, on the cusp of his retirement, he brought us the story of Jeffrey Buttle’s world championship gold medal win in Sweden in 2008. To say he told us many stories about the athletes we love is an understatement.

Just as he will be remembered for his writing, Stevens will also be remembered for his character.

“Neil was a character with character and one of the most professional sports writers to grace his profession. He said what he said he would do, and he did it well,” said Steve Milton, fellow sportswriter from the Hamilton Spectator.

National team members, Kurt Browning and Mike Slipchuk, both spent many hours being interviewed by Stevens during their competitive skating days. Both described Stevens as a reporter who brought comfort and familiarity.

“He was a very familiar face in the crowd,” remembers Slipchuk. Browning recalled that, “mix zones and press conferences felt like wrap parties and Neil was a big part of that.”

Browning would characterize Stevens as a quiet man, almost shy. On his interview style, Browning added, “he had a slow, methodical approach…that had you feeling like a bomb was coming any minute.”

“With Neil, skaters could expect to be asked the unexpected. Still, whether he was asking you an easy or a hard question you could expect it would be fair. With Neil, you had to be prepared for everything. His reporting was true and accurate, whether the story was good or bad,” added Slipchuck.

Browning and Slipchuck both expressed how Stevens had this way of making people feel interesting and special. Stevens was a constant, reliable, and true voice – one that got the respect of the athletes he covered. That respect extended to his fellow media colleagues.

“Neil made the road feel like home. When covering events, days are long sometimes pushing 15 hours. People are away from their families for weeks on end, but Neil kept it light, an essential quality in a group of people all fighting for the same story,” said Milton.
Stevens was soft spoken, poignantly funny and brought familiarity and kindness to a very competitive profession.

“You always knew an event had started because of the balloons tied to the back of his chair,” added Milton.

Well known for bringing flowers and balloons to the media centre at events, Stevens also often brought chocolates for the volunteers. His classic black hat, not quite a fedora, not a cowboy hat either but somewhere in between stood out in a crowd, so skaters always knew, Stevens was in the rink.

His infamous hat. There is a funny story about that hat as told by Kurt Browning. At the World Figure Skating Championships in 1989 in the press conference on the cusp of being crowned world champion, Kurt Browning made a deal with Stevens.

Browning told Stevens, “When I win worlds, you have to give me that hat.” Well, low and behold, Browning won worlds that year and Stevens, true to his word, walked up to Browning in the press conference and gave him his hat.

“Hot damn and the hat fits,” exclaimed Browning.

Browning enjoyed the hat for many years, he eventually returned it to Stevens. The hat had to go back to its rightful place.

A Hall of Fame member in both Hockey and Lacrosse, he contributed thousands of stories over his 34 years and the story was always about the story. Stevens covered 20 Stanley Cup finals, four Canada Cup hockey tournaments, 8 National Lacrosse League Championship games as well as countless other sporting events during his tenure.

Stevens was there in 1987 when Mario Lemieux scored the winning goal in 1987 Canada Cup. At Silken Laumann’s silver medal at the 1996 Olympics and again when Canada’s men won Olympic hockey gold in 2002.

As an expert in many disciplines Stevens was able to bring an eye from more traditional sports, which permitted him to tell the story of figure skating as a sport onto itself. He was the consummate professional who always hit his deadline. Something not easy to do, especially during the 80’s. As a Canadian Press reporter Stevens would be responsible for collecting all the standings, typing in every score and making sure it was correct. Which it always was.

For the most part a writer’s voice is silent, the words we hear in our head when we read them don’t necessarily sound like the person who wrote them and for 34 years Stevens was that voice in many figure skating fans heads. He was the public’s gateway to some of the biggest moments in sporting history and he elevated the authenticity of figure skating at a time when it felt like everyone was falling in love with it. He brought comfort, familiarity, and fun to those around him.

Skate Canada thanks Stevens for his contribution to skating and sends its sincere condolences to his family and friends. His legacy in skating will live on through his words and there is no doubt that his reputation and professional presence will be the benchmark for many sports writers to come.

Community Story Series – The Men Behind the Music

Take a minute and envision what figure skating would be without music? We all know that music has the ability to amplify emotions, it can pump people up, and bring up feelings of happiness or melancholy. The difference of where a beat lands, or a certain instrument enters the song, can change everything. Meet Hugo Chouinard, the owner/founder of Sk8mix and the man behind much of the music in figure skating. How many routines do Hugo and composing partner, Karl Hugo, contribute to? (Yes, they are both named Hugo 😊) Well, at this year’s Olympic Winter Games, Hugo and Karl lent their talents to 51 different athletes from 14 different countries.

This is not Hugo’s first endeavour in figure skating. He used to be an ice dancer – and a pretty good one, in fact. Hugo and his partner finished fourth on the Junior Grand Prix circuit in 1993 and used to skate on the Canadian National Team before retiring from competition in 1995. At that time, when he was just 16 years of age, Hugo began tinkering with musical arrangements for his own routines and started out on a four-track tape recorder in his bedroom. One year later, he purchased his first computer system designed solely for music editing.

Over time, word got around, and skaters started coming to Hugo with requests for their own programs. Today, what started out as a way to improve his own figure skating programs, has grown into a full-scale business. On average, Hugo creates approximately 2,200 arrangements a year, for any level of athletes, some of which include original composition by Karl.

Cool fact! Most skaters design their music to fit their routine. What does this mean, though? To design the music to fit the routine? Well, sometimes it can be slowing down the crescendo, so it hits just perfectly on the throw in a pairs program. Or, it might mean having his partner Karl compose a song for an athlete from a video of their choreography, much like how movie soundtracks are composed. In addition to this, sometimes Karl will compose a musical bridge bringing two songs together. It is all dependent on the needs of the skater for that particular routine.

So, how much is there to the music that backs figure skating programs? Quite a lot, it seems. First off, you need to find the perfect music to highlight the skaters’ skills and Hugo has put together numerous Spotify playlists to help this crucial part of the process. There are strict rules about the length of routines. In Ice Dance, you must have audible beats throughout the program, so overlay composition is frequently required to make sure there won’t be any music deductions. According to Hugo, skaters from the National level and above often continue to modify their arrangement throughout the season, as choreographers and/or athletes rearrange and fine-tune their programs. This means the finished product that is unveiled at an event, such as this year’s Olympic Winter Games, has gone through numerous iterations before we see it in competition and it may be different from one competition to another. There is so much more to music than one could imagine.

This is quite the job, as Hugo and Karl create arrangements for artistic swimming and gymnastics, as well. When you add this to the work they do in figure skating, Hugo has created over 51,000 arrangements to date, adding up to countless hours in the studio.

Hugo and Karl really are the music men of figure skating. One could also argue given his previous participation as a skater and as a coach, as well as the top music service provider to the world’s most elite figure skaters, that Hugo Chouinard lives, breathes, and genuinely loves figure skating. Hugo has found a way, through the combination of his passions, to stay involved in skating for life and his legacy will live on in legendary and recognizable figure skating programs for all time.

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Skate Canada’s Skate for Life programs support and encourage skating for well-being, health and enjoyment. Information about our programs can be found at www.skatecanada.ca.

You can find Hugo Chouinard on Instagram @sk8mixhugo and via his website https://sk8mix.pro/.

The Skate Canada Community Story Series will cover exciting stories from our sections, community skaters and coaches. If you have a story from your club or section that you would like to share with us, we would love to hear from you. Please contact Skate Canada at [email protected].

A Community Story Series – “The Harder You Work, The More Results Will Come”

Community Story Series – Andrew Evans – Episode 4 

“The Harder You Work, The More Results Will Come” 

Andrew Evans came to his coaching career the way many athletic coaches do; he was an athlete first. At the age of five his parents enrolled him in Skate Canada’s CanSkate program at Chinguacousy FSC in Brampton, Ontario.  

As life went on, Andrew became more involved in figure skating. Originally competing as a singles skater, Andrew eventually moved to pairs and began skating with partner Carolyn MacCuish. As a team, Evans and MacCuish enjoyed some success, culminating in 2007 when they were crowned National Junior Pair Champions at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia 

In 2008 MacCuish and Andrew went their separate ways. For the next few years Andrew found himself working with a variety of different partners but never producing “super impressive results.” Working with new partners was bringing something out in Andrew at the time that would eventually bring him to the next step in his career, coaching. As a pairs skater working with new partners, he often found himself teaching, and sharing his experience. A skill that lends itself exceptionally well to being a coach.  

Fast forward to today, Andrew is part of the coaching team at the Canadian Ice Academy and the Mississauga Skating Academy. To Andrew being a coach means, “helping skaters achieve their goals and learning lessons along the way. High-level sports help teach athletes discipline, punctuality, respect and perseverance. All skills athletes can use further on in life.”  

Like all things, coaching requires motivation, planning, and discipline. All of this in conjunction with his ability to oversee his own success keeps him motivated. Every day he works with an athlete, “there is always a next step to take.” It is about teaching skaters that it is normal to start with a goal, such as qualifying for Sectionals, then a few years down the road to set your sights a little higher. Andrew is there to help skaters learn, the harder they work, the more the results will come. A motto he also carries with himself as he continues to develop his coaching career.  

Andrew is a reminder of how dreams develop over time. His first ambition to skate competitively has taken many forms since he started skating at five years old. The one thing that has never changed though is his love of the sport. “Figure skating is my life. It’s how I met my wife, it’s what bonds me with my best friends. It’s taught me work ethic and discipline. I could talk about it all day, every day – and often do.”  

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Skate Canada’s Skate for Life programs support and encourage skating for wellbeing, health and enjoyment. Information about our programs can be found at www.skatecanada.ca. 

You can find Andrew Evans on Instagram @coachandrewevans. 

The Skate Canada Community Story Series will cover exciting stories from our sections, community skaters and coaches. If you have a story from your club or section that you would like to share with us, we would love too here from you. Please contact Skate Canada at [email protected]. 

A Community Story Series with Abby Bennett – Live From 2022 Skate Canada Challenge

A true story of family and triumph, learn how Abby Bennett overcame a cancer diagnosis to skate her personal best at the 2022 Skate Canada Challenge

Community Story Series – Skating Through Time

Written By: Melissa Dimech

I was a very energetic and athletic child. I played various sports growing up and then one day, I fell in love with figure skating!

I seemed to have a natural ability to learn, paired with a fearless attitude, which in my opinion is exactly what someone needs to progress in this sport. My favorite aspect of skating is jumping. I absolutely loved jumping when I started skating and I still do to this very day!

As years went on, I tested, competed, skated in ice shows, taught others, and grew, not only as a figure skater but as a person. Figure skating contributed to developing some very important traits – discipline, determination and hard work! Growing up in a competitive sport shaped my life in many different ways.

As time went on, I grew older, my priorities changed, and life just got in the way. However, one thing that never changed is my huge passion for skating!

I’ve had a few breaks away from skating. My first break was close to a decade, which found me returning to the sport in my mid-twenties.

Returning to skating as an adult is exciting yet terrifying at the same time. Skating as a child and skating as an adult, is very different – not only physically but mentally. As adults, we tend to over think and that over thinking is an obstacle along the way.

Fast forward to the present, I am now 40 years old, this is my third comeback and I am loving it! I started an Instagram account (@meliskates) to track my progress, gather motivation, and to help other skaters by sharing my journey and experience. I’ve made some wonderful new friends from around the world, who also share a love of skating.

I still carry the desire and drive to keep skating and I enjoy every minute on the Ice. Luckily, I have also managed to pick up some new skills along the way.

So much has changed in this sport over the last three decades and being adaptable and open to change has proved vital to me in returning to this sport.

If you’re thinking about making your own comeback, my advice to you is to believe in yourself, and do what you love! Follow your heart and you won’t be disappointed.

Being on the ice, is one of my happy places! And I will continue to skate for as long as I can.

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Skate Canada’s Skate for Life programs support and encourage skating for wellbeing, health and enjoyment.  Information about our programs can be found at www.skatecanada.ca

You can find Melissa Dimech on Instagram @meliskates

The Skate Canada Community Story Series will cover exciting stories from our sections and community skaters. If you have a story from your club or section that you would like to share with us, we would love too here from you. Please contact Skate Canada at [email protected]

Community Story Series – Episode 1: Kimberly Moon-Chong

For The Love of Skating”

Meet Kimberly Moon-Chong. When Kimberly was three and a half years old, she asked her mom if she could play hockey. Wanting her child to learn to skate, her mom enrolled her in a figure skating program at the West Toronto Figure Skating Club. It was here that Kimberly met her first coach, Donna Ijiima. As she started to train more in figure skating her desire to play hockey gradually shifted. She enjoyed the elegant movements and not having to lug around all the heavy equipment. Years went by and Kimberly continued to learn and master the basics with Donna at The West Toronto Skating Club.

At the age of 10, Kimberly changed clubs and began to skate at the York Region Figure Skating Academy with Greek National Champion Katerina Papafotiou. She continued to train here for the rest of her skating career. Training was a joy to Kimberly. She got a thrill out of her triple/triple combinations, triple lutzes and strived to always be her personal best. All of this culminated in a life-defining moment when she won the 2010 Novice Ladies National Championships. “Looking back on it now, I really felt like I was onto something big” Kimberly shared.

Then in the off-season of 2010, things began to shift. She had gotten new boots, that didn’t quite fit right. The leather felt ridged, and Kimberly struggled both in training and competition. “I struggled to get back into the same state of mind that I was in, coming off my National Title win.”

As the struggles continued, Kimberly started to move into a place of fear and doubt. She had lost the hunger for the podium she once so strongly craved. It did not help matters that her friends and previous teammates seemed to be moving onward and upward without her. This had a profound impact on Kimberly and on April 2, 2012, she decided to let go of competitive figure skating.

“I looked up at my mom in the viewing area and exited the session about 20 minutes in. That one glance I gave told her it was time for me to go. We had spent enough time trying to make it work, but I just was not able to fill the shoes of my own ghost from 2010.”

Since that day, Kimberly remained active and competed in a variety of other sports and activities, such as martial arts (boxing/ kickboxing/ taekwondo/muay thai), visual arts, skiing/snowboarding, and inline skating. Kimberly graduated with a degree in Environmental Studies and a Masters in Musicology.

“Keeping active was always a priority for me and I was constantly trying to find something that would bring me the joy that figure skating once did,” explained Kimberly.

In the winter of 2020, without even knowing it, Kimberly began her journey back to the ice. A former teammate called explaining that as a choreographer he was looking for someone to film short solos to upload to social media. Eventually, they became a dynamic duo, taking turns filming one another, growing their social media presence while doing what they love along that way. Before she knew it, with the pressure of strict training routines and competitions a thing of the past, Kimberly rediscovered the joy that skating once brought her. Her hope now is to share the artistry of the sport with others as she continues to lace up, hit the ice, share Instagram Reels and skate simply because she loves it.

Skate Canada’s Skate for Life programs support and encourage skating for wellbeing, health and enjoyment.  Information about our programs can be found at www.skatecanada.ca

You can find Kimberly Moon-Chong on Instagram @moonchongalong and on her website https://www.kimberlymoonchong.com/

The Skate Canada Community Story Series will cover exciting stories from our sections and community skaters. If you have a story from your club or section that you would like to share with us, we would love too here from you. Please contact Skate Canada at [email protected]

Pride Profile: “I believe the world is changing but I know there is still more work to be done”

June is Pride Month and an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the LGBTQI2S+ community. Skate Canada has done and is continuing to do substantive work in relation to LGBTQI2S+ inclusion but we know there remains critical inclusion work to be done moving forward.

To support an inclusive environment this Pride Month we are sharing personal stories from our skating community. Below is the story of two-time world champion Eric Radford.

When I first watched figure skating on TV, I was instantly enamoured. It seemed as though the skaters could fly and as a kid, I was obsessed with planes and being able to fly. At that moment, I had no idea that skating would bring so many incredible experiences into my life, but also many challenges.

Being the only male figure skater in a small northern community where hockey was the most popular sport was not easy. There was a lot of name calling and bullying. I couldn’t understand why the other kids hated me so much because I liked this amazing sport. As I got older, and I started to have more success, the bullying never completely disappeared, but it diminished.

When I was 17, after a lot of internal struggle, I finally accepted that I was gay. My closest friends at the time were my training mates and when I came out to them, they were nothing but supportive and positive. Their acceptance and support of who I was, made a profound impact on me and was the catalyst for the self-acceptance and freedom I began to feel.

Fast forward 13 years and the opportunity to show the world my true self was presented. When I decided to come out publicly, it conjured up the same fear and anxiety I had when I came out to my friends and family. What if this changed everything? What if it affected my chances at success? Again, I was lucky to have so many wonderful friends and family supporting me, but the biggest and best surprise was the messages and support I received from people I didn’t even know.

Young athletes wrote me about their struggles and related that sharing my story had helped them. This made any fear and anxiety I did have totally worth it. I received so much support from around the world and from within the skating community.

A special moment for me was at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, where at the end of the long program, there were pride flags waving in the stands. I believe the world is changing but I know there is still more work to be done for the LGBTQI2S+ community and for LGBTQI2S+ athletes. I would love a future where an athlete’s sexuality is no longer news and that they simply feel free and comfortable to share details about their life that they otherwise would want to hide. As athletes in figure skating and other sports continue to share their stories about being their authentic selves, let us take a moment and appreciate how far the LGBTQI2S+ community in sport has come.

Happy and safe Pride everyone!

Skate Canada thanks to Eric Radford for sharing his story and bringing awareness to the skating community. If you are a member of the LGBTQI2S+ skating community and are interested in sharing your personal story please send us an email at [email protected].

COMMUNITY PROFILE: “FINDING ONE’S IDENTITY”

June is National Indigenous History Month and an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the Indigenous community. Skate Canada has done and is continuing to do substantive work in equity, diversity and inclusion but we know there remains critical inclusion work to be done moving forward.

To support an inclusive environment this National Indigenous History Month we are sharing personal stories from our skating community. Below is the story of Clifford A. Mushquash, a member of Pays Plat First Nation in Ontario.

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When I started out in skating, I didn’t connect very deeply with my Ojibway identity. I was raised in a bi-racial family in Sioux Lookout but I did not have the deep cultural understanding growing up as I do now. Language and traditional teachings weren’t passed along in my family.

The importance of understanding one’s identity and history wasn’t discussed in my formative years as it is now—especially in the skating community. I became a member of the Canadian Figure Skating Association in 1991, when my parents enrolled me in a Learn to Skate program offered by the Sioux Lookout Figure Skating Club. My ice show debut was as a yellow chickadee performing the Bird Dance—yes, the Bird Dance! I have the fond memories of learning to skate and participating at Ice Shows. Now, my involvement in skating is as an assessor/official.

As I grew up, I began to connect with my identity and truly understand my people’s history.  Finding my identity and learning my culture wasn’t something that happened overnight. It took many years of listening to and learning from Elders and knowledge keepers before I really understood my Indigenous self. It was through academic study and engaging in difficult conversations that I came to understand what colonization is, and how my family and I have been impacted by it.

Today, I am a proud First Nations person, but acknowledge I have more to learn in order to live mino-bimaadiziwin (live the good life). I’m a trained social worker (with a BA Sociology and Honours Bachelor of Social Work from Lakehead University) and am currently completing a Master’s of Public Health, with a specialization in Indigenous and Northern Health. I work as an administrative assistant for the Indigenous Language Instructor’s Program at the Faculty of Education at Lakehead University. This program trains and qualifies fluent Ojibway, OjiCree, and Cree speakers as Indigenous Language Instructors. This program is aimed towards language revitalization by using Indigenous teaching and learning methodologies. My work and education place me face-to-face with culture and the realities of Indigenous people in Canada. It can be emotionally tiring to do this kind of work but knowing that I am learning while I’m helping brings me fulfilment and energy to continue.

We are at a moment as a country and a sport where we are holding a mirror up to ourselves and taking a real close look at what we need to do so that our sport and society can be more equitable, diverse, and inclusive for everyone. To me, it means I can bring my learning and lived experiences to skating and have it appreciated and embraced.  It brings me joy when other officials and volunteers approach me with questions about Indigenous culture or Canada’s colonial history because they genuinely want to deepen their understanding so we can do better together. Skate Canada has a great opportunity to be a leader in how anti-racist and anti-colonial education and action can be done well. Officials and volunteers in the sport can take learnings from equity, diversity, and inclusion education in the skating community and bring it into the other areas of their lives. The organization has set a precedent for other sporting organizations and has offered collaboration, which is the beauty of this work. It makes me hopeful going forward.

Together, we can be champions of this cause.

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Skate Canada thanks Clifford A. Mushquash for sharing his story and bringing awareness to the skating community. 

 Skate Canada is pleased to announce an Indigenous Stories in Figure Skating Initiative and invites you to share your story. This initiative to collect the stories of Indigenous peoples in figure skating in Canada is informed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission “Sport and Reconciliation” Calls to Action (#87-91). We aim to create space for stories of Indigenous peoples in figure skating. Your stories will provide a better understanding of the lived experiences of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples within the sport of figure skating in Canada. Your stories will also support efforts by Skate Canada to increase visibility of Indigenous peoples in figure skating. 

 Thank you for considering participation in this initiative. Click here to learn more.

 

SKATE CANADA ANNOUNCES BID TO HOST THE ISU WORLD FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS® 2024 IN MONTREAL, QUEBEC

OTTAWA, ON: Skate Canada will formally submit a bid in April of 2021 to host the ISU World Figure Skating Championships® 2024 in Montreal, Quebec. If successful, this will be Canada’s 11th time hosting the championships. Montreal was set to host the ISU World Figure Skating Championships® 2020 but was cancelled a week prior due to the pandemic. Canada last hosted the illustrious event in 2013 in London, Ontario.

The ISU World Figure Skating Championships® is the pinnacle event of the annual figure skating season moving around the globe, attracting more than 300 million television viewers worldwide and showcasing the 200 best athletes from 50 countries in four disciplines: men’s, ladies, pair and ice dance.

“We are thrilled to put forth Montreal as the host city for the ISU World Figure Skating Championships® 2024 for consideration by the International Skating Union. Canada has an exceptional hosting history, and we would be honoured to hold the 2024 event,” said Leanna Caron, President, Skate Canada. “With all the diligence that went into planning the 2020 World Championships, the entire team is ready to welcome the world to Montreal in 2024.  We have confidence that working with all government and municipal partners together with Patinage Quebec, we will deliver an excellent event in Montreal.”

“The ISU World Figure Skating Championships are a staple event. I am thrilled that Montréal was chosen to be the Canadian candidate to host its 2024 edition. I would like to underline Tourisme Montréal’s contribution to this success as well as to the mobilization of the community. This much-anticipated international competition promises to be highly successful and to provide an excellent showcase for our metropolis,” stated Valérie Plante, mayor of Montréal.

In accordance with ISU regulations, Skate Canada will submit Montreal as the host city along with supporting documents in April 2021. The 2024 host will be determined by the ISU Council and a decision is expected later this year.

Previous Canadian host cities:
● 1932 Montreal ● 1960 Vancouver ● 1972 Calgary ● 1978 Ottawa ● 1984 Ottawa ● 1990 Halifax ● 1996 Edmonton ● 2001 Vancouver ● 2006 Calgary ● 2013 London  ● 2020 Montreal Cancelled

 

Gilles, Poirier ready to seize the moment in Stockholm


Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier feel this is their time.

The reigning Canadian ice dance champions head into this week’s ISU World Figure Skating Championships ready to make a run at the podium, 17 months after celebrating their first ISU Grand Prix title at the 2019 Skate Canada International in Kelowna, B.C.

A few months later, after seven podium finishes in eight years at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, Gilles and Poirier left nationals with gold medals draped around their necks for the first time.

Now, after a challenging 14-month hiatus from the international scene caused by the pandemic – including the cancellation of the 2020 world championships in Montreal – Gilles and Poirier can’t wait to press play and resume the next chapter of their story.

“I think right now, we kind of feel we’ve earned that spot to be the number one (Canadian) team,” Gilles told reporters shortly before leaving for Stockholm. “To be honest, it doesn’t feel much different. It does help knowing we’re going in as national champions. I think we’re more proud and more confident having that title.

“At this point, Paul and I know what we need to do. I think we just need to expect the unexpected and do our job.”

“We’re so excited after almost 14 months of not competing to finally get back out there,” added Poirier. “We’ve been very clear throughout all of last season and this season that our goal is to be on the world podium. We’ve done all the training required to do that.”

Gilles and Poirier, one of three Canadian ice dance teams at these world championships, have assumed a leadership role for the national team. With several Team Canada skaters making their worlds debut, including women’s competitors Madeline Schizas and Emily Bausback, the pair tandem of Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud as well as fellow ice dancers Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha, Gilles and Poirier are excited to help guide their younger teammates through this first world championships experience.

“It’s an absolute honour to be even considered the leaders,” said Gilles. “I feel like even at events the past couple of years, we started to feel like we are moving into that leadership role a little bit. You know your journey and how you’ve got to this point, and it’s really cool to see the young ones come in and begin their journey and figure out their way.”

Gilles and Poirier know the importance of mentors. They came up during an unforgettable era in Canadian ice dancing, led by the legendary tandem of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and three-time Canadian champions Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

The reigning Canadian champions have taken the torch and are grateful for the paths their predecessors blazed for them.

“I think it’s hard to know how exactly your career trajectory would have been different should some or other people not have been there, but I think in the end, I don’t think we would change the way that we approach our skating, the way that we approach our selection of our music, the way that we present ourselves, the artistic choices that we make,” said Poirier. “I think those are so quintessentially us.”

“We had some great role models,” added Gilles. “We’ve learned a lot from those guys (Virtue and Moir, Weaver and Andrew Poje). They’ve really been leaders for so long, it’s been nice to watch them and figure out how they’ve dealt with it and managed. Every athlete has their own journey. They were a part of ours.

“Now it’s our time.”

The 2021 ISU World Figure Skating Championships get underway Wednesday, March 24. For start orders and results, please visit the ISU website.

 

 

 

 

Messing leaving chainsaws, car batteries behind as he embraces Team Canada reunion at World Figure Skating Championships


Keegan Messing’s definition of “reining it in a bit” is probably quite different than that of the average person.

As the skating world gets set to gather in Stockholm for the 2021 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, Messing, the charismatic Alaskan who holds Canadian and American citizenship, will proudly represent Canada as the lone entry in the men’s competition, which gets underway Thursday at the Ericsson Globe.

Messing, the life loving, cowboy hat-wearing three-time Canadian men’s medallist, has put his abundance of spare time to good use over the past year, hiking, climbing and just taking in all Mother Nature has to offer.

In recent months, as is his annual tradition, Messing has turned his attention to building and maintaining his backyard rink to help him get through the frigid Alaska winters. This winter, he has doubled the rink in size and, because his backyard has a downgrade slope, Messing built up one end with ice to create an even plane. He also added a few ramps for an extra adrenaline kick.

With the world championships on deck, those ramp jumps will have to wait.

“I was going for a full backyard Crashed Ice course,” said Messing with a laugh. “I just wanted to get the course built. I built some pretty sweet features out there, then I got named to worlds, and it was like ‘well, it looks like I am not going to be able to do any of these features yet.’”

“I am putting some of my wild side on the low burner and keeping myself reined in a little bit. It’s a little bit difficult for me to do.”

Reining it in will likely be the norm for Messing in the coming months, as he and his wife, Lane, are expecting their first child in July.

Like the rest of the world, Messing has had to deal with restrictions over the past year. While the lockdown lasted only a couple of months in Alaska, Messing was hesitant to return to his local gym when his community reopened.

So, he did what he does best. He improvised with, as he calls them, “random odds and ends devices.”

As part of his workout routine, he hauled a pair of 36-pound car batteries from under car hoods to use as weights while doing squats. When he needed a heavier weight for an exercise, he grabbed a chainsaw.

Yes, a chainsaw.

Not your typical home gym, perhaps, but more than enough for Messing to break a sweat.

That training will be put to good use this week when Messing reunites with his Canadian teammates for figure skating’s crown jewel event.

Five months ago at Skate America, an emotional Messing dedicated his bronze medal to his teammates who had their Grand Prix season wiped out due to the pandemic. The gesture was so real, so genuine, so heartfelt.

So Canadian.

“Skating for the team at Skate America, it was one of the best things I feel like I could have done,” reasoned Messing. “I took the ice and, even re-watching the video, I can see right before I took my pose, I can see it in my face on when I thought of the team and I was like ‘this is for you guys.’”

“I really feel for the Canadian team. I really feel for last year’s worlds team, and especially them. They had worlds taken from them, they had Skate Canada (international) taken from them and then they had nationals taken away from them, so it’s like they have been the real MVPs of this fight. I am just really honored I can compete side by side with them.”

Messing is ready for quite the reunion this week in Sweden.

“I haven’t seen the team in over a year,” he said. “Going out to worlds and seeing the team, I’m ecstatic to do it. I can’t wait to go there, see them, catch up and, in reality, skate for them. Skate to make them proud.

“I’m there with them and that, like we can do this. Like, really, we can do this.”

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