Tag Archive for: Craig Buntin

Skate Canada Podcast Episode 1: Craig Buntin

In this inaugural episode of the new Skate Canada Alumni podcast, Debbi chats with three-time Canadian Pair champion, Craig Buntin.

Buntin is a three-time Canadian Pair Champion, first finding success with partner Valérie Marcoux. Together they won three Canadian pair titles from 2004-2006 and competed at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy.

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By Debbi Wilkes

Craig Buntin, Skate Canada International’s Athlete Ambassador, was 10 years old and had never been on a pair of skates when his family moved from Vancouver to Kelowna.

He soon discovered that skating was BIG in Kelowna. The entire community and particularly all his classmates seemed to live and breathe hockey. Of course, like every child, he wanted to belong and suddenly, learning to skate went to the top of his priority list. He’d never stepped on the ice but he was hungry to discover what made skating so great in the eyes of his new friends.

His Mom joined him up at the local Memorial Arena where the Kelowna Figure Skating Club operated.

Next he needed hockey skates. Off to Canadian Tire.

That first CanSkate lesson showed Craig that he was different. First of all he was several years older than everyone else, older and bigger, but he recognized that he was also keener and more motivated. If he was going to learn to skate, he had to do it fast. And by the end of the first week he was already skating backwards and doing simple jumps to test his daring despite being in hockey skates.

He realizes now that he fell in love with skating the second his blades hit the ice.

Part of this was due to the attitude of his first coach, Karen Bond, a patient and caring teacher whose love for the sport was contagious. (To this day if Craig is in Kelowna, he’ll make a trip to the rink to visit with Karen.)

As a result, Craig soon recognized that it was figure skating rather than hockey that was so exciting. That meant another trip to Canadian Tire to select figure skates … but they were all white! That necessitated visits to every shoemaker in town to see if those white skates could be dyed black. Everybody said, “No!” probably because his skates were likely made of plastic rather than leather. No dye would take. Finally one shoemaker agreed to see what he could do.

“I think he used black spray paint” says Craig, “but I didn’t care, my skates looked great.”

With his new black figure skates, Craig was on his way. The adjustment to those new skates, however, wasn’t as easy as he thought and he found himself tripping over his toe picks a lot, something that he admits now taught him quickly how to balance and control his speed and edges. It was either learn to balance or end up face first on the ice.

It wasn’t long before the first coaching bill arrived too, the moment when both Craig and his Mom realized that skating was an expensive sport. As a single parent, Craig’s Mom knew this could be a disappointing moment for her enthusiastic son and sat Craig down for a family meeting to discuss what this meant for the future of his involvement in the sport.

Deep down she wanted him to continue with skating recognizing that the sport teaches great skills beyond the athletics, building character and teaching determination.

At 10 years of age and after just one week of lessons, Craig already knew what he wanted to do and immediately announced to his Mom, “I’m going to the Olympics.”

If the Olympics were really his goal, his Mom agreed to support him … on one condition. He had to work hard. This was a defining moment in young Craig’s life.

The rest, they say, is history. Craig’s mother never had to remind him about their deal.

The hard work she described did indeed take him to the Olympic Games in 2006 in Turino, Italy. It also took him to the top of the national podium where he and his partner, Valerie Marcoux, won three consecutive Canadian Pair titles from 2004 to 2006; to four World Championships with Val and to two with partner Meagan Duhamel.

Craig was proud of his Kelowna roots and continued to represent the Kelowna Skating Club all the way to the national championships. Even after he changed his affiliation, the club was always there for support offering words of encouragement and inspiration.

Looking back on his career, Craig identifies sport as a guiding light in his life. It was skating that taught him all the important lessons and helped in developing all aspects of his personality, teaching him about winning and losing gracefully, setting goals, and supporting everyone involved, even your competitors. It also released his creativity to the point where he now believes there is a sense of artistry in everything.

Craig was 18 when Skate Canada International was held in Kamloops in 1998. He remembers sitting in the stands watching the event, wanting to be out there on the ice and being inspired by the competition. He also remembers thinking back to when he was starting out, 10 years old, an age in skating considered too old to realistically make the Olympic Games.

But like all great champions, he refused to let anyone else write his story, believing that wherever you’re competing, you’re closer to your dream than you think.

Olympian Craig Buntin returns home to Kelowna to act as the 2014 Skate Canada International Athlete Ambassador

OTTAWA, ON: Olympic figure skater and Kelowna native Craig Buntin, 34, will return to his hometown to act as the Athlete Ambassador for the 2014 Skate Canada International. The prestigious international competition will take place at Prospera Place from October 30 – November 2, 2014.

Buntin will make a stop in Kelowna this weekend leading up to the event. He will be available for media interviews on Friday, September 19 and will attend the Kelowna Rockets home opener on Saturday, September 20. Buntin has special ties to the team; he was the original ‘Rocky’ the Kelowna Rockets mascot.

“Hosting Skate Canada International is a huge milestone for figure skating in Kelowna and I am both honoured and proud to be a part of it. The last time it was held in the Okanagan, I was a teenager with big dreams and watching the event was an early step in what would become an unbelievable journey. It will be inspiring to see that same spark in the eyes of Kelowna’s next generation of athletes as the best skaters in the world take to the ice in October,” said Buntin.

Buntin is a three-time Canadian Pair Champion, first finding success with partner Valérie Marcoux. Together they won three Canadian pair titles from 2004-2006 and competed at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy.  In 2007 he teamed up with Meagan Duhamel.  At their first world championships in 2008 they placed 6th and landed on the podium three times at the national championships.

Since retiring from skating in 2010 Buntin has completed an MBA at McGill University and worked as an entrepreneur. His most recent project is VeriSkate, a software app that is used to analyze the movements of figure skaters: how high they jump or throw, the distance the move travels, the speed at which it travels, the flow, the ice coverage.

Over the course of the four-day event Buntin will step into the role of athlete ambassador, handling speaking engagements, media interviews, making appearances on behalf of the competing athletes, and making time for his fans.


Tickets are on sale now! The single event ticket prices range from $15-$60, plus applicable surcharges. Children under 12 are free on Thursday for practice sessions. Tickets may be purchased online at www.selectyourtickets.com, by phone at 250.762.5050 or in person at the Prospera Place Box Office.


Headlining the field in Kelowna are four members of the Canadian 2014 Olympic silver medal team: Kevin Reynolds; Meagan Duhamel; Eric Radford; and Kirsten Moore-Towers.

Joining them will be Canada’s reigning world silver medalists in ice dance, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, along with a number of world-class skaters including Spain’s Javier Fernandez, USA’s Ashley Wagner, Japan’s Takahiko Kozuka and many other Olympic and world competitors.


Skate Canada International is the second competition in the annual ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating® series. The other events take place in the United States (Skate America), China (Cup of China), France (Trophée Eric Bompard), Russia (Rostelecom Cup) and Japan (NHK Trophy). Skaters are awarded points based on their placements in the series’ events.

At the conclusion of all the events, the top-six men and ladies and the top-six pair and ice dance teams qualify for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final to be held in Barcelona, Spain from December 11-13, 2014.

Craig Buntin turns to technology to advance sport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beverley Smith