Tag Archive for: British Columbia/Yukon

Kraatz honoured for his impact in Canadian Sport

Victor Kraatz hadn’t expected to be inducted into the Hall of Fame of the British Columbia/Yukon skating section on May 2. The memories fluttered back from long, long ago. It was a great honour.

In recent years, he’s been out of the loop. He’d moved on, left figure skating behind. He hasn’t set foot in a figure skating rink in about 2 and a half years, since he began teaching skating skills to young hockey players all over the lower mainland of British Columbia.

But the glittery Hall of Fame night came, the crowd gave Kraatz a standing ovation, and of course, everyone had to watch a video of Kraatz and partner Shae-Lynn Bourne, in green garb, skating to their signature routine, the high-energy “Riverdance” from the 1997-1998 season.

Kraatz’s 4-year-old son, Henry, tugged at his father’s sleeve and said: “That’s not Mommie. Who is that woman?”

Kraatz is married to former Finnish ice dancer Maikki Uotila, and has two sons, Oliver, 8 and Henry. ”My oldest understands that there was a figure skating background of some sort,” Kraatz said. “And that I may have accomplished something. He’s not quite sure.”

“But the little guy just thinks I play hockey. That’s all he’s known of me. I coach hockey. I work with kids all the time. I’m on the go, so the little guy was really confused.”

Kraatz’s new world doesn’t necessarily realize that he was a 10-time Canadian ice dancing champion with Bourne, a three-time Olympian, and a world champion in 2003. And that this unforgettable duo brought hydroblading to the vocabulary of skating, that they dared to be different with their Riverdance routine, in which they transferred a stationary dance to the glide of the blade with blinding footwork.

On learning of his induction, Kraatz’s mind immediately went to the people who had input into his skating career and his life.

Born in Germany, Kraatz started out as a hockey player when his family lived in Switzerland. But that all ended when a coach bluntly told him that he was too short. “You’re done,” he was told.

He learned his first skating skills with former Swiss pair champions Mona and Peter Szabo, who taught him the fundamentals and all sorts of caring life lessons. Kraatz moved to Vancouver at age 15, and coach Joanne Sloman played a major role in teaching extra skills sessions. Kraatz invited her to the Hall of Fame ceremonies.

During the early 1990s, Kraatz moved to Montreal to train with Eric Gillies and Josee Picard, also instrumental in his career.  He loved Picard’s tough work ethic. “I liked her style and I liked who she was as a person. I really respected her,” Kraatz said. It was tough for him to leave, he said.

A relationship with Uschi Keszler, was also important: she was “relentless” in having he and Bourne show communication between the two and that they remain true to themselves. Tatiana Tarasova took the team to a new level.

Most of all, there was Bourne, who Kraatz called the most important person in his life at the time. They were completely different people, Kraatz found. “I just loved the freedom that she had,” Kraatz said. “There were no boundaries. She wanted to experience the joy of life. And I was very set.

“She would always say: ‘Let’s have fun.’ And I would go: ‘No, fun in German means just not working hard. Fun is fun. And work has to be work.’ She’d say: ‘Canadian fun means just enjoying it.’ For the longest time, I never understood that having-fun part of training.”

By their final year together, Bourne’s life force rubbed off on Kraatz. Kraatz learned to trust his training and relax. It worked.

But it all ended a short time after Bourne and Kraatz won the world title. Today, Kraatz acknowledges that the breakup of the team was his fault. He had been so driven to work, even on breaks and vacations; he’d head straight to the gym. “I personally did not have the release,” he said. “I never wanted to be out of shape. I always wanted to be on the top of my game, because that’s who I wanted to be.”  Things fell apart.

Today, Kraatz has huge admiration for Bourne, who has made a career of being a world-class choreographer. “She was such a wonderful person,” Kraatz said. “It’s unbelievable what she brought to the table. I was very lucky that I skated with her, that I was able to spend that much time with her. We always had a great professional relationship and I’m so grateful for that.”

In 2003, Kraatz needed something else. He moved back to Vancouver, and taught skating for a while. But to truly forge his own path, he went to school and studied marketing. But it wasn’t easy, when all of his credentials were as an athlete. He found work at a marketing agency in Yaletown, when one day his life changed on a fluke. A friend told Kraatz he was going on a break and could he look after his hockey team? Sure, said Kraatz and promptly went out and bought hockey skates, a helmet, a stick and a puck.

His first session with the hockey players “went really horrible,” Kraatz said. But the coach said: “We want you back. You’ve got to come back tomorrow.” About 2 and a half years ago, Kraatz decided to ditch the marketing career for the open arms of hockey.

These days, Kraatz moves with ease in his new life. It allows him to contribute, to create. He has some 6-year-olds that are doing well. He has some teenagers. He has a player who was on the roster for a Junior A team in Kelowna. Like Szabo, Kraatz tries to teach life lessons to his young charges. And he has gone back to the gym, to meet the increasing physical demands of his new work.

“I’ve come full circle,” Kraatz said. ”It’s something as a kid I always wanted to do and I didn’t have the chance to do it.” When he pulled the hockey skates on, all of his muscle memory came back from his teens. The boots felt light.

He feels like he used to when he was a figure skater: he wakes up every morning and it doesn’t matter if he feels tired. He also feels energized. “That feeling is back,” Kraatz said. “I’m finally back. I’m finding myself. I am myself again.”

It’s been a long road for Kraatz.

Connaught Skating Club Offers Karen Magnussen A Helping Hand

Karen Magnussen Tribute : A Benefit Show One must never forget the sight of Karen Magnussen, dressed in snow white, flying aloft into a split jump that hovered in the air, then another in the opposite direction, free, dynamic, fierce.

The Vancouver skater had to fight for everything she won: five Canadian titles, an Olympic silver medal in 1972, a world title in 1973. Magnussen is the last Canadian woman to win a world championship gold medal, but nothing was easy for the skater with the pixie blond cut. Case in point? The battle she fought to come back from stress fractures in both legs that put her in a wheelchair on the eve of the 1969 world championships. Doctors told her that if she skated, she might not walk again.

“I don’t ever want to be told I can’t do something,” she said before being inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame. She came back the next season with full force.

This was a typical Magnussen response to a hardship: she covered the 1969 world event for a newspaper, and turned the proceeds over to the Bursary Fund to help other skaters.

Now, once again, doctors are telling Magnussen that there is something she cannot do. It’s this last battle that is most formidable for Magnussen, so a tribute show to her, organized by the Connaught Skating Club on March 14 in Richmond, B.C. is “like a bright light in my life,” Magnussen said.

It’s a club with a heart that knows her story. On Nov. 28, 2011, after inhaling a blast of ammonia, a poisonous gas, as she prepared to teach young skaters at the North Shore Winter Club (where her parents had been one of the founding members), she has suffered catastrophic injury, lingering after-effects and endless battles with insurance companies that are loathe to pay up. She coughed for six months after the incident. Sleep was impossible. Magnussen can no longer work, can’t breathe properly, now suffers two autoimmune diseases linked to her medications (12 pills a day), has arthritis in her joints, and worst of all, can no longer even walk into an arena again. Any sort of fume could trigger a reaction. Before the accident, Magnussen was healthy. The ammonia had seared her lung tissue and her vocal cords, too.

Magnussen had hoped to coach into her seventies or eighties or even nineties, like Ellen Burka. Instead, with income halted, Magnussen and husband Tony Cella are now about to sell their home. It’s a devastating turn for a brilliant career. Connaught is trying to put that right, as much as they can with a fundraiser.

Magnussen didn’t think of herself first that fateful day. She scurried to get her students out of the rink first. There had been no warnings of a gas release.

Insurance? The Winter Club, so much a part of her life, did not reach out to help. Her administrative duties were handed off to someone else. Some insurance didn’t cover her because she wasn’t actually on the ice when the incident happenedA workman’s compensation deal dating back to 1917 allows payments to injured parties, but doesn’t allow the victims to sue the employer. The Canadian icon has fallen between all the cracks that could possibly exist for insurance.

“To have everything taken away from her is tragic,” said Ted Barton, Executive Director of the B.C. Section of Skate Canada. The section decided to take action, and when it discovered that the Connaught Club had once offered a charity fund-raising show, Barton approached them.

Connaught skating director Keegan Murphy, whose mother Eileen had been a close friend to Magnussen, jumped at the chance. “We always want to teach the younger generation that we can give something back to someone with our skating,” Murphy said. “We are honored to do such an important project.”

About 100 skaters will take part in the show, including Larkyn Austman, Mitchell Gordon, Garrett Gosselin and even a cast of 5-year-olds at their first ice show. Murphy, co-producer of the event, has tapped into some of Magnussen’s classics. One of the numbers? “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” – one of Magnussen’s exhibition numbers with Ice Capades, when she carried an umbrella. The little kids get to do that one.

Because of her issues with fumes, Magnussen will not be able to attend the show. Therefore the Connaught came up with a brilliant, thoughtful idea: to hold a meet-and-greet in one of the private rooms in the rink last week, where Magnussen could meet every single skater in the cast. Murphy has taken it upon himself to educate the youngsters about Magnussen. “It’s so important that the kids get to meet her,” he said.

Who knows this about Magnussen anymore? The three-year contract for $300,000 that she signed in 1973 to skate with Ice Capades was the largest it had ever offered a skater turning pro. “I liked Karen a lot,” said Lynn Nightingale, who skated against Magnussen. “I liked her sincerity. She was pretty down to earth. People who had her as a coach loved her. Life hasn’t been all that kind to her.”

What was it about Magnussen, aside from her medals that made her a skater to be remembered? She was a fierce competitor. Magnussen offered up wonderful skating moves that set her apart.


A change-direction, endless spiral, created by Magnussen and coach Linda Brauckman, in which Magnussen changes the position of a leg and her body to make a turn;

A layover camel spin, another Magnussen-Brauckmann invention;

An Ina Bauer into a double Axel combo

Splits going in both directions, followed by an Axel- butterfly-back sit spin;

A change of edge Ina Bauer into a flying sit spin;

A side layback spin that opened into a full flat layback spin.

Magnussen said she is “overwhelmed” by the helping hand offered by the Connaught club. “It really is very special. “

For years, Magnussen has distributed cheques to young skaters from her Foundation. One recipient of Magnussen money was Murphy, who said the attention paid by a former world champion meant the world to him.

Now, for a top-drawer skater who has given so much in her life, it’s time to give back. Not only can people buy tickets for the show, they can donate. Dick Button has already signed up.