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New Canadian Champions in Kingston

KINGSTON, ONTARIO – Gabby Daleman has mixed emotions when she finished her long program at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships on Saturday.

She had made some mistakes, had a fall, was chugging on after her sixth bout of strep throat this season, and she didn’t know if she had done enough.

She did, by 1.78 points. Daleman, 16, of Newmarket, Ont., won her first Canadian title with 186.02 points over a high-flying, very tough Alaine Chartrand, who actually defeated her in the free skate.

Chartrand, 18, or nearby Prescott, Ont., looked entirely shocked when her marks came up on a monitor. She had won the free skate with 123.99 points, only .88 points more than Daleman. But she had been third in the short program, and she finished with the silver medal and 184.24 points.

Véronik Mallet, 20, of Sept-Îles, Que., took the bronze medal by finishing third in the free skate with 111. 24 points and ending up with 172.43 points.

Kim Deguise Léveillée, 16, of Sorel-Tracy, Que., burst into tears when she discovered she had finished fourth in the free skate and fifth overall, meeting her goal of finishing in the top five.  She was the Canadian junior champion last year.

“When I finished, I was relieved because I skated my heart out,” Daleman said, the tears coming out on the ice. “I was also so proud of myself,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘You want to be Canadian champion, you deserve it, you’ve been working hard, you want it bad, don’t give up. If you give up, you’re going to lose. I gave it my everything and held on.”

Chartrand earned the first standing ovation of her career to her Doctor Zhivago routine. “That was really exciting,” she said. “And it wasn’t just my family because they did that last year.” She improved her personal best by 12 points.

The men’s event was just as tough a fight, although Nam Nguyen, only 16, left the field in the dust with the 175.10 points he received for the free skate and 256.88 overall.

“That is just gigantic,” said Liam Firus, who ended third with 222.40 points, only .18 behind a rejuvenated Jeremy Ten. “That’s comparable to top five in the world.”

What’s it like to be called Canadian champion after a seven-year rule by Patrick Chan (who congratulated Nguyen afterward), “It feels pretty cool,” Nguyen said. “I’ve been dreaming of becoming Canadian champion since I was eight years old (and won the juvenile title.)”

Coach Brian Orser was not surprised. Nguyen’s potential is limitless, he said. “He keeps pushing it,” Orser said. “He surprises me, but the thing he’ll want to do now is put a quad in the short. We’ll discuss that. But he’s been landing some quad toe loops. He keeps pushing the boundaries. And he’s consistent.”

Orser hopes for a finish in the top eight at the world championships.

Ten, who returned only for a farewell year at the Canadian championships, may also be on the world team. “I’m just beyond myself right now,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that at all.”

Coach Joanne McLeod was emotional in the kiss and cry. “I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” she said.

Firus was hoping for second, but he’s okay with third. One of the most beautiful of skaters in the field, he outpointed everybody, including Nguyen in program components, earning 82.52.

Teenagers Daleman and Nguyen leads in women’s and men’s after the short programs

KINGSTON, ONTARIO – Nam Nguyen began to felt the pressure this year, the chatter that he could win this national title.

Last week, while training, he had a bit of a meltdown. Coach Brian Orser took him aside, and told him he he’d been there in 1981, when Brian Pockar had been three-time Canadian champion and Orser was a young upstart who had such a good year, people were talking about him, too.

Both Orser (back then) and Nguyen (now) swept the pressure aside. On Friday, Nguyen won the short program with a nice little cushion with a lofty score of 81.78, his best score in a short.

Jeremy Ten, who said earlier that this is his final year – a farewell and a challenge to himself, is in second place with 77.80 points. “It’s pretty cool,” Ten said. “I just left my heart out on the ice.” Roman Sadovsky, only 15 and in his second year of senior, is third with 73.46, a personal best by about three points. Sadovsky had hoped to finish in the top five, to make the national team. “What’s not to be happy about?” he grinned.  He didn’t do a triple Axel: it’s still an inconsistent element for him.

The story of the short program was as much about rough goes as triumphs.

Kevin Reynolds, hobbled by boot problems for the past couple of seasons, got a new pair that enabled him to train for the past four or five weeks. But it wasn’t enough. He fell on all of his jumps elements – both quads and a triple Axel – and dropped to 12th place.

“I gave it everything I had,” Reynolds said sadly. “It was too much for me to handle today…I just wasn’t underneath my feet.”

Elladj Baldé fell on a quad and popped the first jump of his combo, but he sprained a knee a few weeks ago and then caught a virus that swept the Detroit Skating Club last week. Baldé felt horrible for three days, and slowly worked his way back to doing his program only last Saturday. He got 64.79 points.

In the women’s event, Gabby Daleman had one big aim, coming to these Canadian Tire National Skating Championships: to win her first title.

For a moment, Daleman suffered a hiccup on that path, when she fell on a triple Lutz in the women’s short program on Friday, but she steamed ahead to win it with 62.91 points, narrowly ahead of Veronik Mallet, 20, of Sept-Iles, Que., who skated cleanly, putting an exclamation point on her season.

Alaine Chartrand, 18, of nearby Prescott, Ont., and one of the favourites to take the title, stumbled out of a triple loop. Chartrand had the most difficult combination of all, a triple Lutz – triple toe loop, but it appeared under-rotated. She is third with 60.25 points, her highest score in Canada. She got a 61 when she won the short program at Cup of Russia earlier this season, an effort that put her on the international map.

Daleman has had a season of setbacks but decided to follow the advice of choreographer Lori Nichol who told her: “the power of the will is more important than the skill.”

The 16-year-old skater from Newmarket, Ont., came down with her sixth episode of strep throat of the season last week and immediately found a way to frame it in a positive way.

“Skating without breathing is like extra cardio,” she said. “If I can do my program when I can’t breathe, imagine what I can do when I can.”

Daleman also hasn’t recovered from a stress reaction in her right foot that she suffered in Sochi. It’s better, but still hasn’t healed, and on top of that, she has developed plantar fasciitis in that right foot. And the ailment is also affecting her left foot somewhat.

“My right foot feels like a frozen water bottle,” she said.

The senior women and men conclude on Saturday at the Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston.

Jump by jump Gabby Daleman is shooting for the stars

A trip through Gabby Daleman’s twitter account leaves you breathless with inspiration.

There’s a thread that runs through them all, and it’s easy to decipher.

“The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do,” she says in one of them.

“Tell me I can’t, then watch me work twice as hard to prove you wrong. #WatchMe,” reads another.

And this: “There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.”

It has always been thus for the 16-year-old who trains in Richmond Hill, Ont. She will allow nothing to stand in her way.

A stress fracture in her right foot last season hobbled her efforts at the Olympics (she placed 17th). And just as she was ramping up for the Thornhill Summer Skate, Daleman contracted strep throat. Her throat numb, she powered through a short program to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – all frothed up in white gown and lace, and landing a triple toe loop – triple toe loop and a triple flip. She’ll do the triple Lutz – triple toe loop through the rest of the season.  She said she scaled back the trick because she wanted to focus on the component mark in Thornhill. She’s also working on a triple Salchow – triple toe loop.

The long routine, where her ability to breathe came more into play, was a rougher go. Skating to “Aranjuez” vocals, she scored 103.36.

Never mind that she popped a jump, rolled and turned out of some others. She was wearing some boots that were on their last legs. The way Daleman trains, she’s hard on them. It seems there isn’t a women’s boot on this planet that can match Daleman’s fierce intent to succeed.

Daleman admitted that she broke those boots she wore at Thornhill the Monday before the competition. She has to get a new pair, and she’ll get a second pair by sometime in September and they will be very different indeed. They will be custom made for her in Italy – and they will be constructed from a more robust male model. When she gets those skates, it will be the first time she’ll have two in hand at once. She’s taking no chances. She’ll have about a month to break them in before the Skate Canada Autumn Classic International in Barrie, Ontario in mid-October.

After all, she’s setting her cap boldly to win the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships this year, she said, and she’s working on unleashing a triple Axel.

This summer, Daleman has already gone through three pairs of skates. Shortly after her international exploits last spring, the heel broke off one of her boots. The ones she wore in Thornhill had been in action only about seven weeks.

“It’s never happened before,” she said. “It’s just because I’ve been working on my jumps and my speed and we’ve been working on the triple Axel, too, so it’s more jumping, higher jumps. It’s just more padding on the skates.”

She says she trains triple Axels for about an hour a day – for about 20 minutes a session. She’s landed some in the past, but now she’s been doing nine or 10 out of 10 attempts, using a harness. Currently she cheats the landing by about a quarter or a half rotation on the ice. “That’s really good, because we started it about two weeks ago,” she said at Thornhill.

The jump that is rare to women will be in her program this season, she said. Only five women in history have landed the jump in competition: Midori Ito, Tonya Harding, Yukari Nakano, Ludmila Nelidina and Mao Asada. Over the past decade, Asada has been the only one toying with the difficult jump.

Once again, Daleman has turned to Lori Nichol for vehicles that will pull as many component marks out of judges as possible. Daleman cherishes her free program to Aranjuez. The vocals don’t distract her; they carry her.

“The thing I love about it is the lyrics,” Daleman said. “I really feel I can do this program, where it just feels like a show program. I’m having fun with it.

“It’s a love story and I love it because it doesn’t get faster, it just gets more intense, so it’s really pushing my limits.”

Aranjuez is a small city in Spain, where Joaquin Rodrigo wrote the music for the world-famous song in 1939. Figure skating aficionados have heard the haunting and beautiful music many times, but not the exquisite lyrics. It starts like this: “Aranjuez, a place of dreams and love/where a rumour of crystal fountains in the garden/seems to whisper to the roses.” And it becomes more wistful from there.

As beautiful as the music is, Daleman will be doing plenty of work throughout this routine. Instead of putting three jumps in the second half, like last year, she’ll put five. (No wonder she had troubles breathing at Thornhill.) She figures she was at only 70 per cent of her readiness at Skate Detroit, and 85 per cent in Thornhill. That encourages her; she’s improving.

Canadians will not see Daleman at Skate Canada International in Kelowna, B.C. this season. After the Autumn Classic, she’ll prepare for the Cup of China and NHK.

She comes into this season having learned much from her dramatic Olympic season. (She’s still wearing that team jacket.) “Just set your goals and don’t expect too much of yourself,” she said. “We’re all human and just have fun with your skating. Just show the people what you do every day, and how much you love the sport.”

She skated at the world championships with two shin splints and the stress fracture, and took it easy, took time to enjoy the ride. It seemed to work. She finished 13th. “I just tried to relax and have more fun with it and not really worry about anything,” she said. It seemed like a good strategy.

Bright future ahead for Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabby Daleman

Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond and national silver medalist Gabby Daleman will have much to remember and much to learn from their Olympic experience in Sochi.

Neither quite met their goals: Osmond hoped for top 10 (she ended 13th) and Daleman aspired to top 15 (she moved up to 17th after finishing 16th in the free), but this event was meant to be a start, a learning experience for the next one. And they got an eyeful.

For one, Daleman was able to breathe in the advice of bronze medalist Carolina Kostner, who, like her, worked with choreographer Lori Nichol. “She’s a beautiful person,” Daleman said of Kostner, who is 11 years older. “She’s a wonderful skater and I love to watch her.”

Kostner gave Daleman great advice during her trips to Toronto: “Even if the jumps don’t go the way you want, never give up on your program,” Kostner told her. “Always skate with your heart.”

Kostner followed her own advice, skated two high quality programs and finally had the Olympics she wanted, in her third attempt. This bronze was her first medal.

Adelina Sotnikova won to the huge adulation of her home crowd with 224.59 points, defeating defending Olympic champion Yuna Kim, whose routine was one for the ages. Kim finished with 219.11 while Kostner had 216.73. Kostner admitted she was totally spent afterwards.

“It was amazing to be here and honoured to be here,” she said. “It was a dream to skate a dream competition and it happened to be at the Olympic Games.”

Sotnikova was the first Russian/Soviet woman to win the Olympic gold medal and only the fourth to win on home ice, following Madge Syers of Britain in 1908, Carol Heiss in 1960 and Sara Hughes in 2002.

Sotnikova is also the youngest medal winner for Russia in a singles event. At 17 years, 234 days, she smashed Evgeny Plushenko’s mark of 19 years, and 103 days. Her score was the second highest women’ score of all time.

Osmond started her Cleopatra routine, looking as if on fire, landing a triple flip- double toe loop and then nailing a powerful double Axel –triple toe loop. She later doubled a triple flip, and fell on a triple toe loop. But she dusted herself off, and fought on, getting level fours for a layback spin and her step sequence.

Osmond finished with 168.98 points, after earning a season’s best 112.80 in the free. “This is only the second time I’ve competed this program internationally,” Osmond said. “So I’m happy with how it went.”

It wasn’t perfect, but Osmond said it was a big step up from the team event. “I was more comfortable out there today than I was yesterday,” she said. “Today I managed to enjoy myself and execute most of my jumps. I’m satisfied”

After Osmond fell on the triple toe loop, she came back fighting and that in itself is a win. (Witness Mao Asada, after her devastating 16th place finish in the short, returning to deliver the third highest score free skate, enough to finish third in that portion of the event). “I’m happy that I started my Olympic experience with a strong short program in the team event,” Osmond said. “And I finished with a strong free tonight.”

Her Cleopatra routine – in which she emerges beautifully and exotically dressed, is her favourite. “I thought after last year, that I would never love any program more than those, but this program really trumps them.”

Daleman, known for her powerful entrance into the triple Lutz – triple toe loop, made mistakes on it again in the long, as she did in the short. The triple toe loop was deemed to be under-rotated. She singled her triple toe loop that followed a double Axel. But she delivered a three-jump triple flip combo, a triple Lutz, a triple loop and a flying camel spin that got a level four.

She finished with 95.83 points for the free skate, for 148.44 points overall.

What did she learn? “No matter what happens, don’t give up,” she said afterward. “Just keep trying because things can’t always be perfect, so you’ve got to push through and work your hardest.”

They both will be back. Their journeys have only started.

Asada’s free skate was Olympic. After so many years of missing the triple Axel and suffering through a short program on Wednesday, when she fell on it, Asada did not buckle and went for it in the long. She was awarded full rotation of it. It was landed on one foot. She did get under-rotations on two other elements and an edge call on a Lutz, but it didn’t matter. It was the comeback of the ages.

The stoic Asada dissolved in tears and later said: “I was determined to carry out what I’ve been working on all along. I wasn’t that sharp in practice this morning and yesterday was a massive disappointment.

“I owed a lot to those people that supported me over the years, and I wanted to pay them back with a great long program. I wasn’t worried about the score. I had to fight the fear in me. “

That’s what it’s all about.

Beverley Smith

First-time Olympians Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Daleman advance to Thursdays free programs

Okay, so it was less than perfect for the Canadian women in the women’s short program at the Olympics. Note: it was their first Olympics. It was Gabby Daleman’s first senior international competition.

The short program is a tough place for a miscue. It can be costly. Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond’s first triple-triple turned into a triple toe loop – double toe loop in a flash and it’s not a combination that gets a lot of points. Then she slipped off the edge of a double Axel, but sold the rest of the program, well enough to land her in 13th place with 56.18 points. She’s aiming for a top-10 finish at these Games.

Daleman, early out of the box, went for the gusto, and may have tried to make her combo too big. She put a hand down on her triple Lutz, and had the presence of mind to squeeze in her triple toe loop. She’s in 19th place with 52.51 points and hoping for top 15.

“I messed up my Lutz-toe, but I’m still so proud,” Daleman said afterwards.

Above both of them, was worse heartbreak. Mao Asada, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist and an icon in the sport, lost her way, tragically. She had landed a beautiful triple Axel in warmup, and she appeared to be on her way to another during her Chopin routine, when she fell. It seemed to shock her. She did not complete a combination, and then doubled a triple loop. Marks disappeared like water through a sieve. She ended up 16th, almost 20 points behind defending Olympic champion Yu-Na Kim, on top with 74.92, the best short program score of the season.

Asada scored 55.21 points, only 2.70 points ahead of Daleman. She no longer has a shot for a medal.

“I don’t know what to make of this now,” she said. “All I can do is give it everything I have tomorrow. I can’t comprehend any of this.”

She said training had been going well, but when she started the program, she said she couldn’t control her emotions or her body.

“Heartbreaking” Michelle Kwan said in a tweet.

“Mao has a gentle grace… tweeted US pair skater John Coughlin. “I’d have watched if she marked all three jumps.”

Kim had the opposite experience. She was so nervous in the warm-up, that she said she couldn’t jump at all. “But I tried to believe in myself and believe in what I’ve done before,” she said.

When the music started, she said she felt as if she was dreaming.

She skated a winsome, magical routine to “Send in the Clown,” choreographed by Canadian David Wilson, and did a triple Lutz-triple toe loop with ease. Her technical points were higher than her program components by about three points.

Carolina Kostner delivered a memorable moment with her “Ave Maria” routine, not only because it was beautiful, but because she did a very Olympic thing. During the team event, she had done only a triple toe loop – triple toe loop, but she upped the difficulty by doing a triple flip – triple toe loop during the short program Wednesday.

“I didn’t even talk to my coach about changing it,” she said. “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I’m thankful that he left the choice up to me. I wanted to show him that I could do it.” She earned 74.12 points, only about half a point behind Kim.

But Kostner ended up third after Adelina Sotnikova of Russia faced the loud, supportive Russian crowd. Sotnikova did the easier triple toe loop – triple toe loop but still finished second with 74.64, only a quarter of a point behind the defending Olympic champion.

Sotnikova said she was a little nervous, but treated the event like a normal competition. “I was very happy that my technical mark was so high,” she said. (At 39.09, it was .06 of a point higher than Kim’s mark and about 1 ½ points higher than Kostner’s).

And she outshone fellow Russian Julia Lipnikstaia, who had skated both sections of the team event, and had suddenly developed a celebrity status at home. Lipnitskaia is in fifth place with 65.23 points after falling from a triple flip – something she rarely does.

“I don’t know what happened,” she said sadly. “I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t feel too much pressure. The crowd helped me.” The marks weren’t as low as she expected.

US champion Gracie Gold is in fourth place with 68.63 points, about six points back of the leader. “I was happy to perform under the bright lights and stress,” she said “It’s a tough event.”

The other two Americans are right behind her: Ashley Wagner is sixth, while Polina Edmunds is seventh.

The Canadian women have their own goals to achieve in Thursday’s long program. “It definitely wasn’t as good a program as I did in the team event,” Osmond said. “The jumps were a little shaky and I just couldn’t save them today. My components felt great, though. Of course, it’s not what I wanted to do, but I still have one more skate to go. Tomorrow I will focus and let things happen.”

In the kiss and cry, Osmond did not think about her miscues. She thought about what she did well.

Daleman got a season’s best mark of 52.61 and admitted she was a little nervous about what she faced: having her first senior international be the Olympic Games. She said she added more detail to both of her programs since finishing second at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

Beverley Smith

Olympian Profile: Gabrielle Daleman

It seemed that there was no way that Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Daleman was going to take off that Olympic team jacket she earned for winning the silver medal at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

In the days following the Canadian Olympic Committee presentation, Daleman stuck around the championships, supporting her brother, Zachary Daleman, who finished fifth in the novice men’s event. Everywhere Daleman went, she wore that red and black jacket.

It was the best birthday present she could imagine. Daleman won her way to the Olympics when she was 15, then she turned 16 the following Monday, January 13. Strangely enough, Daleman has the same birthdate as her idol, Joanne Rochette, who won a bronze medal at the most recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“Words can’t describe how excited I’d be,” Daleman said before the team announcement. “The Olympics comes along once every four years and knowing that I’ll be the youngest there [on the Canadian team] will just make my day.”

The petite skater from Newmarket, Ontario, wasn’t initially impressed with the idea of skating. Her mother, Rhonda Raby, was a skating fan who enrolled Daleman in skating when she was four years old. “I was one of those kids that did not want to get on the ice at first,” she said. “I would cry. I would beg not to go on the ice. But then after weeks of crying, my mom just said: ‘Just go on the ice.’ And then they couldn’t get me off.”

When Daleman was eight years old, she saw Rochette on television and began to jump around the living room. “And that’s when I knew I wanted to be a competitive skater and be like her,” Daleman said.

Daleman swash-buckled her way to the Olympic berth, the dream having been born when she finished second at the Canadian championships last year in only her first year as a senior. In her mind, that meant she had to squish three years of senior skating into one to make that team. She turned on the burners, inserting two triple-triples into her repertoire, including the formidable triple Lutz – triple toe loop, a combo that many of the women at the top of the international scale do. “I knew I needed the stuff to get it done,” she said.

Her final score of 182.47 visibly shocked her; her previous best, set earlier in the season, was 174. “I was not expecting that score at all,” she said. “I was not even focused on it from the beginning. I was more focused on what I needed to do to get the job done.” She was a little nervous going out onto the ice, knowing what was at stake, but she said she calmed herself down by telling herself she knew how to do it and she had to trust her training. She fought for every point.

Her favourite part of skating is jumping, but she also put a lot of work into increasing her program components mark, turning to Lori Nichol to design both programs for the first time. Nichol had choreographed her long program last year. “My programs are a lot of fun to train,” she said. “Lori is so much fun. She pushes me really hard.”

One of her coaches, Andrei Berezintsev, said Daleman has improved everything this season. “I think that fact that she could potentially be one of the Olympics, she’s pushing her limits. “

Berezintsev has worked with Daleman for five years. When he first saw her, she had a single Axel and a cheated double Salchow. “But what I liked, she was always the show woman,” he said. “On the ice, you can see her all the time.”

It’s been an intense season. Asked what she does off the ice, away from skating, Daleman’s first thought is: “If I’m not skating, normally I go to physio.” Laughter breaks out, then she says: “I’m an athlete you know.” She does hang out with a group of about six friends, most of who were at the Canadian championships. “But mostly I stay at home and try to relax and stretch,” she said. “My life is pretty much skating. And I’m actually okay with it because I know it pays off in the end and it’s what I love doing.”

Daleman’s career is only beginning. Two-time Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond, who defeated a strong field of women in her first Grand Prix, Skate Canada, one and a half years ago, has pushed Daleman, too. “What Kaetlyn did last year was really big,” Daleman said. “I know that she’s a great competitor. She’s a great skater and nice friend and a wonderful girl and I love competing against her.”

Friendship aside, Daleman figures she doesn’t always need to play the bridesmaid. “One day, you want to beat her,” she said. “So you just keep pushing, pushing and we all try to get to the top.”

She’s learned many lessons in a short time: don’t focus on marks, but the job at hand; trust the training; don’t be focused to a fault; don’t get upset if something doesn’t work; don’t overdo an injury – know your limits.

And as driven as she is, Daleman already knows that perfection doesn’t exist. But she’s driven.  And don’t forget, the Olympics will be Daleman’s first major senior international competition. Internationally this season, she’s been competing on the Junior Grand Prix circuit.

Want to read more about the figure skaters who will compete at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi? Pick up Beverley Smith’s new book SKATING TO SOCHI! The book profiles the top 40 athletes/teams with full-colour photos! Order online: Amazon.com, Lulu.com (ebook) or iTunes (ebook).

Beverley Smith