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National Team Skater Elladj Baldé Retires from Competitive Competition

OTTAWA, ON: National team skater Elladj Baldé, 27, Montreal, Que., has retired from competitive competition. Baldé has been an active member of the Canadian figure skating team since 2007 and has competed internationally for Canada 27 times as a junior and senior competitor.

“I can’t express the amount of gratitude I have for all of my peers and fans who have given me such endless support throughout the years. Finishing my career the way I did at Canadian Nationals was one of the most fulfilling moments of my life and I am so thrilled to forge ahead with the exciting opportunities that lie in my professional career,” said Baldé.

Baldé won the Canadian junior title in 2008 and would go on to compete at nine senior Canadian championships, making the national team five times. In 2015, he won his first gold medal on the international scene at the Nebelhorn Trophy.

“Elladj’s innovative style of skating combined with his powerful technical abilities left a lasting impression on all those that saw him skate. His drive and dedication to skating made him a long-time fan favourite who has been exciting to watch over the years and will be dearly missed on the competitive scene,” said Mike Slipchuk, High Performance Director, Skate Canada. “Skate Canada would like to thank Elladj for inspiring Canadians to embrace the joy of skating and wish him the best of luck with his future plans.”

Baldé will continue to stay involved in skating through professional shows, where he is already entertaining crowds around the world. Alongside his new career as a choreographer, he is also keeping busy inspiring the next generation of athletes with his new company, Skate Global. Founded with friend and fellow figure skater Liam Firus. Skate Global is a multi-faceted platform that provides insight, assistance and training methods to coaches and young figure skaters all around the world.

Gold for Duhamel and Radford; World record for Virtue and Moir

SAPPORO, Japan – Canadian two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won the gold medal in pairs while Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir set a world record in the short dance at the NHK Trophy, the sixth stop on the ISU Grand Prix figure skating circuit.

In pairs, Duhamel and Radford moved from second spot after the short to win their second gold medal this season on the circuit with 204.56 points. Cheng Peng and Yang Jin of China were second at 196.87 and their compatriots Xuehan Wang and Lei Wang were third at 185.32.

“There were some strong elements and there were some unfortunate mistakes,” said Radford from Balmertown, Ont. “But sometimes we have to make these mistakes throughout the season so we can learn from them and they don’t happen again.”

The Canadians’ program featured a great triple twist, side-by-side triple Lutz and throw quad Salchow.  They mistimed their first side-by-side jump and final lift.

“I don’t know what happened with the lift,” he said. “My body felt very tight and tired and we mismatched the timing on that last lift and it was a bit of a struggle.”

In the short dance, Virtue and Moir produced a 79.47 score which eclipsed the previous world mark of 78.89 set by Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France are second at 75.60 and Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy third at 72.00.

“We had some work to do to bring our levels up for this competition and it was nice to get a couple of level fours,” said Moir from Ilderton, Ont. “It felt pretty similar to what we’ve been doing in training and it is exactly what we wanted to accomplish with our performance.”

Other Canadian results: Nam Nguyen of Toronto, Ont., and Elladj Baldé of Montreal, Que., were eighth and 10th in the men’s competition and Alaine Chartrand of Prescott, Ont., was 10th in the women’s competition.

The free dance is scheduled for 9:45 p.m. (EST) tonight and will be streamed live on cbc.ca.

Full results: ISU GP NHK Trophy 2016.

Canadian team headed to Japan for final stop on ISU Grand Prix circuit

OTTAWA, ON: Skate Canada will send five entries, for a total of seven skaters to the sixth and final stop of the 2016-2017 ISU Grand Prix circuit, the 2016 NHK Trophy. Canada will have one entry per discipline in ladies, pairs and ice dance, and two entries in the men’s discipline. The event takes place from November 25-27, 2016, at the Makomanai Sekisui Heim Ice Arena in Sapporo, Japan.

Nam Nguyen, 18, Toronto, Ont., is the first of two Canadian men entries. This will be his first time competing at this event. This season, Nguyen placed fifth at the 2016 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic and sixth at Skate America. He is coached by David Glynn in San Jose, CA, USA.

Elladj Baldé, 26, Montreal, Que., is the second Canadian men entry. Baldé has previously placed sixth at this event in 2014 and 11th in 2015. This season, he placed eighth at his first event, the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, followed by a sixth place finish at his first ISU Grand Prix of the season, the Rostelecom Cup. Baldé trains in Montreal, Que., with his coach Bruno Marcotte.

Canadian champion Alaine Chartrand, 20, Prescott, Ont., is the Canadian entry in the ladies category. This will be her first time competing at this event. She started this season winning the silver medal at the 2016 Autumn Classic International, and earned a fifth place finish at the 2016 Skate Canada International. Chartrand is coached by Michelle Leigh and Brian Orser.

Two-time World Champions and Olympic silver medallists (team) Meagan Duhamel, 30, Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford, 31, Balmertown, Ont., are the Canadian pair entry. They are two-time defending champions at this event. Duhamel and Radford won their first two competitions this season, the Finlandia Trophy and Skate Canada International. The five-time consecutive Canadian champions are coached by Richard Gauthier, Bruno Marcotte, and Sylvie Fullum in Saint-Léonard, Que.

Olympic and World champions Tessa Virtue, 27, London, Ont., and Scott Moir, 29, Ilderton, Ont., are the Canadian entry in ice dance. They previously competed at this event in 2007 and won the silver medal. In their return to competition this season, they won the gold medal at both the 2016 Autumn Classic International and the 2016 Skate Canada International. Virtue and Moir are coached by Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon in Montreal, Que.

Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada High Performance Director, will travel with the team as team leader. Dr. Ed Pilat of Winnipeg, Man., and physiotherapist Mike McMurray of Oak Bluff, Man., will be the Canadian medial staff onsite. Leanna Caron of Timmins, Ont., and Reaghan Fawcett-Fortin of Aurora, Ont., will be the Canadian officials at the event.

For results and full entries please visit www.isu.org.

CANADIAN ENTRIES AT 2016 NHK TROPHY

Discipline Name Age Hometown Club Coach
Men Nam Nguyen 18 Toronto, Ont. Toronto Cricket Skating & Curling Club David Glynn
Men Elladj Baldé 26 Montreal, Que. CPA Anjou Kinsmen Bruno Marcotte
Ladies Alaine Chartrand 20 Prescott, Ont. Nepean Skating Club Michelle Leigh / Brian Orser
Pairs Meagan Duhamel / Eric Radford 30/31 Lively, Ont. / Balmertown, Ont. CPA Saint-Léonard / CPA Saint-Léonard Richard Gauthier / Bruno Marcotte / Sylvie Fullum
Ice Dance Tessa Virtue / Scott Moir 27/29 London, Ont. / Ilderton, Ont. Ilderton SC / Ilderton SC Marie-France Dubreuil / Patrice Lauzon

Bronze medal for Weaver and Poje at ISU Grand Prix

MOSCOW – Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., won the bronze medal on Saturday at the Rostelecom Cup, to conclude the third stop on the ISU Grand Prix figure skating circuit.

Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia took the gold with 186.68 points. Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the U.S. were second at 182.13 while the Canadians followed at 178.57.

‘’We are really pleased with how the performance went,’’ said Poje. ‘’We really wanted to come out there and show the work we’ve put into creating our story and our emotion. We felt really connected to the audience. It’s early in the season but we wanted a strong technical score and to feel like we are on the right track.’’

Weaver and Poje’s new Spanish-flavored long program was ranked second on the day as they nearly reeled in the Americans for the silver. They ended a six Grand Prix event winning streak dating back to 2014.

‘’We’ll take the feedback from here and analyse what worked and what didn’t work in our programs,’’ added Poje. ‘’This being our first competition we want to take the best direction from here until the rest of the season.’’

In pairs, Julianne Séguin of Longueuil, Que., and Charlie Bilodeau of Trois-Pistoles, Que., remained fifth overall following their free skate. Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany won the gold medal ahead of two Russian pairs.

Camille Ruest of Boucherville, Que., and Andrew Wolfe of Montreal were sixth. In the end Séguin and Bilodeau, the Skate America champions two weeks ago, were only 5.5 points from the podium.

‘’It was a tough fight today,’’ said Séguin. ‘’But we continued to believe in ourselves and gave a good performance. It was a learning experience.’’

Bilodeau said it was hard to go into the free skate standing fifth.

‘’We made big errors in the short so we had a strike against us right off the start,’’ he said. ‘’But we were able to stay focused and get through our long program.’’

Ruest and Wolfe completed their debut on the circuit.

“We continued to improve,’’ said Ruest. ‘’We need to continue to gain speed and improve our transitions on our long programs. Our technical scores are where we wanted them to be for now.’’

In men’s competition, world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain took the gold medal with Shoma Uno of Japan second and Alexei Bychenko of Israel third.

Elladj Baldje of Pierrefonds, Que., produced another clean program and was sixth.

‘’There were some small errors but overall it was a satisfying competition for me,’’ said Baldje. ‘’Fitness-wise I felt super strong and that will be a real plus for me in the future. I’m going to continue working on the quad and make it better.’’

The fourth stop on the circuit is next Friday and Saturday in Paris.

Full results: ISU GP Rostelecom Cup 2016

Weaver and Poje unveil thrilling short dance at Grand Prix

MOSCOW – Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., are in third place after a spectacular debut of their Michael Jackson flavoured short dance on Friday at the Rostelecom Cup, the third stop on the ISU Grand Prix figure skating circuit.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the U.S., the Skate Canada International silver medallists last week, are first at 75.04, Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia second at 74.92 and Weaver and Poje earned 69.81.

‘’We are very pleased with our performance,’’ said Weaver. ‘’This is our first competition of the season for us and we underwent many changes through the summer including this brand new short dance. We came out today feeling calm and excited to perform.’’

The Canadians, who skated a highly original program to three Michael Jackson tunes (The Way You Make Me Feel, Dangerous and Jam), received a rousing and extended ovation from the crowd for their performance.  Weaver and Poje will try to extend their Grand Prix event winning streak to seven in Saturday’s free dance.

‘’We were treated like hometown athletes from the crowd here,’’ Weaver said. ‘’We had an error on our twizzle and lost points there but we are taking away a lot of positives. We can’t wait to show of our free skate.’’

In pairs, Julianne Séguin of Longueuil, Que., and Charlie Bilodeau of Trois-Pistoles, Que., the Skate America champions two weeks ago, are in fifth spot after the short.

They are only eighth points from the leaders. Both skaters fell on the side-by-side jumps and Séguin touched one hand down on the throw.

‘’Of course it wasn’t our best,’’ said Séguin. ‘’I expect we’ll come back much stronger tomorrow because our long program is more polished right now.’’

Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert of Russia lead at 69.76, Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany are second at 69.51 and Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek of Italy third at 66.82. Séguin and Bilodeau scored 61.72 and Camille Ruest of Boucherville, Que., and Andrew Wolfe of Montreal are seventh at 60.09.

In men’s competition, Shoma Uno of Japan stands first after the short, world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain is second and Mikhail Kolyada of Russia third.

Elladj Balde of Pierrefonds, Que., produced a clean program but with no quad jump he is ranked sixth.  ‘’The goal was to come here and skate clean,’’ he said. ‘’That’s the way I’ve been skating every day at home. I broke the 37-point barrier for my components which shows that may skating’s improved.’’

Canada has no entries in women’s competition.

All free skates are on Saturday.

Full results: ISU GP Rostelecom Cup 2016

 

Rostelecom Cup marks third stop for Canadian team on ISU Grand Prix circuit

OTTAWA, ON: Skate Canada will have four entries, for a total of seven skaters, in Moscow, Russia, for the 2016 Rostelecom Cup. Canada will have one entry in men’s, two entries in pairs and one entry in ice dance at the event which takes place from November 4-6, 2016.

Elladj Baldé, 25, Montreal, Que., will be the Canadian entry in the men’s category and will be competing at this event for the first time. Baldé placed eighth at his first event this season, the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. He trains in Montreal, Que., with his coach Bruno Marcotte.

Julianne Séguin, 19, Longueuil, Que., and Charlie Bilodeau, 23, Trois-Pistoles, Que., will be the first of two Canadian pairs entries at the event. This season, they won gold at their assignment on the ISU Challenger Series, the 2016 Autumn Classic International, and also won gold at their first ISU Grand Prix assignment, Skate America. Séguin and Bilodeau are coached by Josée Picard in Chambly, Que.

Camille Ruest, 22, Rimouski, Que., and Drew Wolfe, 21, Calgary, Alta., will also represent Canada in pairs. Earlier this season, the duo placed fourth at their first international assignment together, the 2016 Autumn Classic International. Ruest and Wolfe are coached by Richard Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte in Montreal, Que.

Two-time world medallists Kaitlyn Weaver, 27, Toronto, Ont., and Andrew Poje, 29, Waterloo, Ont., will be the Canadian entry in ice dance. Weaver and Poje have previously competed at this event three times, winning the silver medal in 2011 and 2013, and the gold medal last year. The two-time consecutive Canadian champions are coached by Nikolai Morozov and train in Hackensack, NJ, USA.

Terra Findlay of Echo Bay, Ont., will be the Canadian team leader at the event. Dr. Albert Schumacher of Tecumseh, Ont., and physiotherapist Meghan Buttle of Toronto, Ont., will be the Canadian medical staff onsite. Janice Hunter of West Vancouver, B.C., and Leslie Keen of Vancouver, B.C., will be the Canadian officials at the event.

For results and full entries please visit www.isu.org.

CANADIAN ENTRIES AT 2016 ROSTELECOM CUP

Discipline Name Age Hometown Club Coach
Men Elladj Baldé 25 Montreal, Que. CPA Anjou Kinsmen Bruno Marcotte
Pairs Julianne Séguin / Charlie Bilodeau 19/23 Longueuil, Que. / Trois-Pistoles, Que. CPA Longueuil / CPA Chambly Josée Picard
Pairs Camille Ruest / Drew Wolfe 22/21 Rimouski, Que. / Balmertown, Ont. CPA De Rimouski / Glencoe Club Richard Gauthier / Bruno Marcotte
Ice Dance Kaitlyn Weaver / Andrew Poje 27/29 Toronto, Ont. / Waterloo, Ont. Sault FSC / Kitchener-Waterloo SC Nikolai Morozov

Canadian skaters in Salt Lake City for U.S. International Figure Skating Classic

OTTAWA, ON: Canada will have eight entries, for a total of 11 skaters at the 2016 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, the second event on the International Skating Union’s (ISU) 2016 Challenger Series. Canada will have three entries in men’s, two entries per discipline in ladies and ice dance, and one entry in pair at the event which runs from September 14-18, 2016, in Salt Lake City, UT.

Nam Nguyen, 18, Toronto, Ont., is the first of three Canadian entries in men’s. This will be the 2015 Canadian Champion’s first time competing at this event. Last season, Nguyen placed fifth at Skate Canada International, seventh at the Rostelecom Cup, 27th at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships and fourth at the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. He is coached by David Glynn in San Jose, CA, USA.

Elladj Baldé, 25, Montreal, Que., will be the second Canadian entry in the men’s category and will also be competing at this event for the first time. Last season, he won gold at the Nebelhorn Trophy, placed 11th at both the Cup of China and NHK Tophy, and placed seventh at the Canadian championships. Baldé trains in Montreal, Que., with coaches Bruno Marcotte and Manon Perron.

Mitchell Gordon, 20, Vancouver, B.C., will be the third entry in men’s for Canada. Last season, Gordon placed eighth at the 2015 Autumn Classic International and 13th at the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. Gordon is coached by Joanne McLeod, Neil Wilson, Eileen Murphy and Keegan Murphy and represents the Connaught Skating Club.

Véronik Mallet, 22, Sept-Îles, Que., is one of two Canadian entries in the ladies division. Mallet finished ninth at this event in 2015. Last season, the representative of CPA Sept-Îles also placed 10th at Skate Canada International, 14th at the ISU Four Continents championships and fourth at the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. Mallet is coached by Annie Barabé at CTC Varennes.

Kim Decelles, 18, Baie-Comeau, Que., is the second Canadian entry in the ladies discipline. Last season, she placed ninth at the ISU Junior Grand Prix in Croatia. The representative of CPA Baie-Comeau also placed 10th in the junior women’s category at the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. She is coached by Yvan Desjardins and Violaine Émard at CPA Baie-Comeau.

Brittany Jones, 20, Toronto, Ont., and Joshua Reagan, 26, Toronto, Ont., will be the Canadian entry in pair. Jones and Reagan placed fourth at this event in 2014. Last season, they placed fourth at the 2015 Autumn Classic International and sixth at the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. Jones and Reagan are coached by Bryce Davison and represent Hamilton SC.

Three-time Canadian bronze medallists Alexandra Paul, 24, Midhurst, Ont., and Mitchell Islam, 26, Barrie, Ont., are one of two Canadian entries in ice dance. In 2012, they won silver at this event. Last season, Paul and Islam won silver at the Nebelhorn Trophy, placed sixth at the 2015 Skate Canada International, and placed fourth at the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. The representatives of Barrie SC train in Montreal, Que., with coaches Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer.

Canadian junior champions Mackenzie Bent, 19, Uxbridge, Ont., and Dmitre Razgulajevs, 19, Ajax, Ont., are the second Canadian entry in ice dance. In their first season competing together, the representatives of Uxbridge SC and Scarboro FSC won silver at the ISU Junior Grand Prix in the United States, placed sixth at the ISU Junior Grand Prix in Spain, and placed ninth at the ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships. They are coached by Carol Lane, Jon Lane, and Juris Razgulajevs at Ice Dance Elite at Scarboro FSC.

Paige Lawrence of Kennedy, Sask., will be the Canadian team leader at the event and physiotherapist Karen Seymour of Toronto, Ont., will be the Canadian medical staff onsite. Susan Morriss of Victoria, B.C., and Pam Chislett of Grand Prairie, Alta., will be the Canadian officials at the event.

For more information and full entries please visit www.isu.org.

CANADIAN ENTRIES AT 2016 U.S. INTERNATIONAL FIGURE SKATING CLASSIC

Discipline Name Age Hometown Club Coach
Mens Nam Nguyen 18 Toronto, Ont. Toronto Cricket Skating & Curling Club David Glynn
Mens Elladj Baldé 25 Montreal, Que. CPA Anjou Kinsmen Bruno Marcotte / Manon Perron
Mens Mitchell Gordon 20 Vancouver, B.C. Connaught Skating Club Joanne McLeod / Neil Wilson / Eileen Murphy / Keegan Murphy
Ladies Véronik Mallet 22 Sept- Îles, Que. CPA Sept-Îles Annie Barabé / Maximin Coïa
Ladies Kim Decelles 18 Baie-Comeau, Que. CPA Baie Comeau Yvan Desjardins / Violaine Émard
Pair Brittany Jones / Joshua Reagan 20/26 Toronto, Ont. / Toronto, Ont. Hamilton SC / Hamilton SC Bryce Davison
Ice Dance Alexandra Paul / Mitchell Islam 24/26 Midhurst, Ont. / Barrie, Ont. Barrie SC / Barrie SC Marie-France Dubreuil / Patrice Lauzon / Romain Haguenauer
Ice Dance Mackenzie Bent / Dmitre Razgulajevs 19/19 Uxbridge, Ont. / Ajax, Ont. Uxbridge SC / Scarboro FSC Carol Lane / Jon Lane / Juris Razgulajevs

Baldé finds his roots in West African Guinea

On a blistering, hot February day in Africa, Elladj Balde looked into the eyes of his 99-year-old grandfather for the first time and discovered who he really was.

Balde, 24, had never set eyes on his grandfather, Elhadj Mamadou Oury Balde, who is an imam in Tombon, a tiny village in the mountains of Guinea in West Africa, a town where there is no electricity or running water, cattle and goats wander everywhere and the good folk of the town grow their own food. Need some water? Grab a bucket, lower it into a deep hole, pull it back up and good luck.

Mind you, there is no pollution in this remote village, largely untouched by the development of civilization and big businesses. It’s nature at its purest. Everywhere there were banana trees, mango and orange trees. “It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen,” Elladj said.

Yes, Elladj is named after his grandfather, because after all, he’s the first son of his father, Ibrahim, who was the first son of Elhadj, all highly emotional and critical points in this culture.

This brings us to the grandfather, the reason for this unprecedented pilgrimage that was taken despite Government of Canada warnings to avoid travel to Guinea, the epicenter of the Ebola crisis that erupted in 2014. There were also security advisories, warning of political, social and economic unrest, rampant corruption, rebel activity and armed robberies, particularly if you travel to outlying areas. Still, Elladj and his father had to go.

As an Imam, Elhadj was a man of renown, not only in Tombon but also in all of northwest Africa, as the priest of the mosque, the teacher of young Imams, the holy man. So exalted was his status, that convention dictated a holy reserve: Elhadj didn’t hug people like figure skaters do. He was untouchable.

His firstborn son, Ibrahim, had much to live up to, and he did. From age four, he was always at the top of his class. Being tops meant that you received support to go to the next level. When Ibrahim finished first in his university class in Guinea, he earned an expenses-paid scholarship to the Soviet Union, Tashkent actually, which is now the capital city of an independent Uzbekistan.

Ibrahim was given six months to learn the Russian language, and applied himself the way he always had. While studying medicine, he was tops in his class once again. (Elladj remembers his father urging him always to do hours and hours of homework, and when he’d finish an assigned chapter, to read the next one too. “You always have to be ahead of the rest,” he said. Elladj said he has inherited his father’s drive.)

Ibrahim met and married Marina, who was studying meteorology in the Soviet Union, and they had a daughter, Djulde, who at age seven, fell ill with leukemia. Elladj was born in Moscow and when he was only one year old, the family moved to Bonn, Germany to get medical help for his older sister. A year later she died. But the young family had a difficult decision to make: how could they return to the Soviet Union which, in the meantime, was disintegrating, as well as perhaps Ibrahim’s scholarship? And they just didn’t feel it was safe to return.

So off to Canada they went and settled in Montreal, a world away from Guinea. Still, Elhadj’s fondest wish was to see his grandson, Elladj, before he died. However in December, he fell into a coma and it appeared too late.

Miraculously, two weeks later Elhadj awakened from his coma. It was then that Ibrahim knew he had to travel to Guinea to see him one more time. He booked his flight immediately to leave Feb. 22.

Elladj begged him to wait, because at the time, he had nationals coming up, and he had hoped to go to Four Continents and the world championships in February and March. But Ibrahim could not wait. “I don’t know how long he is going to live,” he said.

At the Canadian championships in Kingston, ON, all of Elladj’s skating dreams fell apart. He finished sixth and not only missed a trip to the World and Four Continents championships, but he lost a spot on the national team with all of its funding.

However there was a bigger issue on his mind. The day of his disastrous long program, Elladj booked his flight to Guinea. “I’m coming with you,” he told his father. “I’m a strong believer that everything happens for a reason.”

Many, including doctors, warned Elladj not to go, because of Ebola. Elladj finally reasoned: “If I die of Ebola, then I’m meant to die of Ebola.”

It was a long, exhausting and expensive journey. The Baldes flew from Montreal to Paris and then to Guinea’s capital city of Conakry. When they deplaned, 50 people from Tombon – all relatives (Ibrahim has 29 siblings who are still alive; his father had four wives), all-weeping with joy. Somehow, despite their remote location, they had heard of this figure skater with a Guinean name. They had followed him. Elladj also met the Minister of Sport in Guinea.

Their journey wasn’t over yet. It took 10 hours to drive to Tombon. They drove up into the mountains where there were no roads, only rocks. For two hours, they couldn’t go faster than 5 miles per hour.

Finally in Tombon, Elladj sat down in the house of his grandfather and this man who never hugs anybody, took Elladj’s face in his hands, exclaiming: “Thank you god. Thank you god.” Over and over again.  “It was one of the best moments of my life,” Elladj said. “We held each other for a long time, maybe five minutes.”

Others were looking on in shock, at the Imam’s embrace. “I can die in peace now,”said Elhadj, frail of heart, but sharp of mind. “God can take me.”

“He was so proud of who I was,” Elladj said. “As a human being, not as an athlete. He was so happy for who I was and what kind of person I am. I realized so many things.”

The 11-day experience in Tombon has changed Elladj forever. They were happy people, although they had little.  “It changed me deep inside,” he said. “It does something to you that you don’t expect. It was the best experience of my life.”

In May, Elladj’s grandfather died.

He knows now what really counts. His relationships with his family have changed. He’s back at home in Montreal, now living with his parents and training with Bruno Marcotte and Manon Perron. His skating has changed, because now he appreciates his opportunities in life. (He has a cousin in Conakry who has been looking for a job for six years.) He now skates with joy.

Elladj’s African experience, he says, has rooted him to the ground. He’s become part of the world, of its nature. He saw the origins of time, where his blood had come from and finds family ties are powerful.  “At the end of the day, we are not so different,” he said. “We all strive for happiness. And it’s all that matters.”

Best international showing for Balde

OBERSTDORF, Germany – Elladj Balde of Montreal posted his best international result at the senior level on Friday placing fifth in men’s singles at the Nebelhorn Trophy figure skating competition.

Jason Brown of the U.S., took the gold with 237.17 points, Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic was second at 228.48 and Konstantin Menshov of Russia third at 211.03.  Balde, third after the short program, took fifth at 186.78.

Liam Firus of North Vancouver was ninth.

It was a 1-2 Russian finish in pairs as Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov sailed to gold with 195.89 points. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were second at 178.98 and Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim of the U.S., were third at 166.10.

Canadian junior champions Vanessa Grenier of Sherbrooke, Que., and Maxime Deschamps of Vaudreuil-Dorion, Que., were fifth in their international debut scoring 157.06.

In Thursday’s short dance, world championship silver medallists, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., unveiled their new short program and grabbed the lead with 65.59 points. Madison Chok and Evan Bates of the U.S., follow at 62.80 and Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi of Germany are third at 58.67.

“It was important for us to get off to a good start with a new program,” said Poje. “Obviously this is an event for which we can get some feedback so we can be ready for the start of the Grand Prix season.”

Weaver and Poje are poised to carry last season’s success into 2014-15.

“Our goal this year is to be the top team in the world,” said Weaver.  “Our new programs are a departure from last season with an increase in difficulty.”

Elisabeth Paradis of Loretteville, Que., and François-Xavier Ouellette of Laval, Que., are fifth.

In women’s competition, Veronik Mallet of Sept-Iles, Que., is seventh after the short program.

The women’s free skate and free dance are on Saturday.

Full results: http://www.isuresults.com/results/nt2014/

Elladj Baldé finds his quad in Detroit

A lot has changed since Elladj Baldé was a young boy, hiding his skates in a closet so that his mother wouldn’t press him to go skating.

Now it appears that the 22-year-old skater, born in Russia ( he came to Canada when he was two), has become a contender for one of the three Canadian Olympic berths for men, judging by his bold display at Skate Canada in Saint John, N.B.

It’s been a long time coming. Baldé showed promise when he won the junior title in Canada in 2008, but disappointing results, and the loss of a year because of surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament kept his name in the rushes.

In Saint John, he finished seventh overall (sixth in the short), but it was clear that the gregarious skater had donned a new attitude – and he came armed with a quad, the magic word this year in men’s skating. There was to be no tippy-toeing with this big trick: he planned to do it in both the short and long programs.

Many would inch into it, trying it in one or the other.

And when he landed the first quad of his career in the short program at Saint John, he managed a double toe loop at the end of it, despite putting a hand down on the big jump. His first quad – and he’d made it part of a combination. “It’s a big plus for me,” he said.

What the crowd didn’t know was that Baldé accomplished the feat while skating on two different boots. He got new skates four weeks before the event, but every time he put them on, he fell on his triple Axel, a jump that had been solid for him. “I was freaking out,” he said. Short program, long, it didn’t matter.

He couldn’t land it. When he looked at his boot, he could see that the blade was not in the right spot; it made his body twist in the air. He was so frustrated that a few days before the event, he thought he couldn’t possibly compete that way.

He was ready to try anything. An experiment: skate with the new, stiff boot on the right foot, and use his old, broken-down soft-sided old boot for his left foot. He landed the triple Axel and he started kissing that old boot.

Baldé knows he’ll need new skates. He also skates with his knees taped up, because he has tendonitis in both.

Two things have launched Baldé on this high road he’s on. One of them? His deep disappointment about his effort at the 2013 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, where he finished only 18th in his debut appearance at the event. He’d earned the trip by being fourth at the national championships.

“I knew I couldn’t waste any time,” Baldé said. “There were a lot of good things to take out of, but there were a lot of things to change.” When he returned, he changed everything.

The other?  Patrick Chan moving to his club in Detroit. Always friends, he and Chan became best buddies in Detroit. They train together. They hang together. Baldé goes to Chan’s apartment, Chan to Baldé’s. Their coaches work together. Baldé learns some of the off-ice dance training that Chan has learned from Johnson. Chan is training better than ever, with Baldé in the rink.

“I’ve learned so much from him, just being around him, like how to be a world champion,” Baldé said. “He does things that are similar to what a lot of other people do, but small things, like his eating habits, that makes a difference. He’s the best training partner you could ever have.”

While Baldé used to dine on fast food, Chan got him eating wild rice and quinoa. For three weeks, Baldé queried Chan: “So how many scoops of quinoa do you eat?”

Chan replied: “The one scoop of quinoa that I cook is enough for a week.”

Baldé: “Man, I’ve been eating one scoop of quinoa EVERY DAY. And it’s a little crunchy.”

Chan would watch him cook and noticed that Baldé wasn’t cooking it correctly, but he wouldn’t say anything “because it’s his way or the high way,” he said. Baldé mysteriously gained weight.

Finally Chan’s coach, Kathy Johnson intervened to tell Baldé that he wasn’t cooking his quinoa long enough. His quinoa became fluffy, Baldé enjoyed it more, and he lost six pounds, Chan said.

Since Four Continents, Baldé has changed the way he thinks about training. He has more sessions on the ice than ever. He does more off-ice work than ever. He’s paid more attention to the details of jump technique. He gets the right amount of sleep. His first thought was working on that quad, but all of his jumps have become more consistent, too, under the watchful eye of Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen, two coaches that bring an air of calmness to the rink.

Baldé landed a quad for the first time last year in practice, but never landed it again. Last May, he finally landed a quad again. And then again. And then again. And again. “It’s been going pretty well since,” Baldé said. “It’s still up and down because it’s not even been a year since I started doing them. You develop your confidence with it every time you go out.”

But most of all, Baldé finds hard work is the only answer. “There’s no other,” he said. “It’s nothing else. It’s one thing and it’s hard work and it’s believing and never giving up. That’s all it is. There is no magic trick. There’s no hoping for something to happen.”

As for Chan, he sees Baldé going through what he went through before the Vancouver Games, still feeling his way, trying on the big leagues. “Once I arrived in Detroit, I wanted to help Elladj a lot, because he has a big heart,” Chan said. “I really like him as a friend. He has so much potential.”

Beverley Smith