Tag Archive for: Junior Men

Conrad Orzel overcomes injury, ready to face a new season of challenges

Conrad Orzel, wrapped in a sheepskin vest, took his opening pose at the novice contest of the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships and quickly began to rumble.

The program? “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,” a 1966 spaghetti western in which a trio of gunslingers go on the prowl to find buried gold.

Orzel didn’t find the gold that January day in Kingston, Ont., (he won the bronze medal), but his effort was a triumph nonetheless. It was a testament to his grit that he was there at all. For a skater so young, he learned a big life lesson last season.

Orzel, of Woodbridge, ON, was as ready as he could be heading to Challenge the previous month but just before the event, suffered a torn ligament in his left leg and also an avulsion fracture, in which a piece of bone chips away from the main part of the bone as a result of a fall, or a muscular contraction that is stronger than the forces holding the bone together.

The young skater had no idea just what was wrong at the time. He just knew it was very painful. Coach Eva Najarro found out about it the day before they were to leave for Challenge. Then during a morning practice, Orzel approached her, close to tears, and said he just could not spin on his left foot.

This was just not like Orzel. He wouldn’t jump at those practices, either. And he loves to jump, more than anything. “It was like he wasn’t there,” Najarro said. “I know that he loves practices, because he likes to show off. He wants to show what he can do. I knew there was really something wrong with him. He was just skating around.”  Massage didn’t help. She gave him the option of withdrawing.

Spins were not always Orzel’s forte, but they were improving. But he took on an extra challenge by having Najarro recreate all of his spins to take the pressure off the left leg. “He was not able to do the spiral on the left foot, so we had to change it totally to a backwards entry to the spin,” she said. “We revamped, basically on the practice at Challenge.”

In other words, Najarro had to change his spins from forward to backward entries.  Najarro’s skating daughter, Alexandra, who knows all about dealing with injury, had a chat with Orzel, and bucked him up psychologically.

When Orzel got off the ice, he had qualified for nationals. The tears came, Najarro, too. “It was just so emotional,” she said. “We were both pretty stressed about it, because it was really hard to watch him.’

“I just wanted to try my best,” he said. “That was my goal for nationals, nothing more.”

He took four weeks off after that event. Immediately upon returning home, a doctor told him that he didn’t know how he had skated at all. He was still not fully healed when he went to nationals in Kingston.

Another problem surfaced too. Orzel was sprouting like a weed, and he outgrew his boots. He had to also try to break in a new pair before Kingston. “I just wanted to try my best,” he said. “That was my goal for nationals, nothing more.”

His good, bad and ugly was all that and more. He landed seven triples. “I was very proud of what I did,” he said.

Currently, Orzel is fine. He has healed. There is no more pain. And now he’s trying to create the next chapter of his career. He did win a gold medal for novice men at the Canada Winter Games. But now he’s pushing on.

He knows what he wants. When he was three, he started in CanSkate at a local club and Najarro spotted him. What was most remarkable about the young boy in front of her was that he wanted to skate. “The thing that caught my attention was that here was a 5-year-old boy who already knows what he wants to do,” she said. “That’s rare.”

Conrad OrzelOrzel said he became interested in skating because that’s what Canadians do. “I think I was thinking of growing up to be a hockey player,” he said. “ But then once I saw the high-end skaters jumping and that really got me into it.”

His heroes are Elvis Stojko and Evgeny Plushenko.

“He always liked to turn,” Najarro said about Orzel. “He has very quick twitch. Rotation is easy for him.”

Because Orzel has always focused so much on jumps, Najarro has been trying to turn his attention to the other side of skating: edges, details, flexibility, that second mark. And he gets it. (After all, he trains every day alongside the exquisite Roman Sadovsky at the York Region Skating Academy.) Orzel has improved already and his goals for the coming season are getting level-four spins, and level three or four footwork. “When I started, I wasn’t really a big fan because my core wasn’t strong,” Orzel said. “But now I’m getting deep into the edges and I realize that it is fun.” He also wants to get a triple Axel into his programs.

For the past year, Orzel has been training the triple Axel – and both the quadruple toe loop and quadruple Salchow jumps. The triple Axel isn’t consistent yet. “I’ve landed a few but it’s not there yet,” he said. He says he tries the quads without harness.

“I’m not a fan of the harness,” he said. “I feel like it’s an artificial feeling and I don’t feel in control of my jumps.” Soon, he’s heading off to Vancouver to work with Joanne McLeod on his quads.

Another remarkable thing about Orzel. He’s only 14.

While Grzegorz Filipowski has designed many of Orzel’s programs – Najarro likes his work very much – she is taking her young charge to Allison Purkiss this year to give him the experience of working with another choreographer.

“I think he has potential,” Najarro said. “I think his jumping abilities are amazing. I think he has a bright future.”

Celestino ready for the World Scene

When Daniel Beland was 16 years old, he blazed a significant trail on the world scene.

Back then, in 1977, he was the first Canadian man to win a world junior championship title. There have been three others since: Dennis Coi in 1978, Andrei Rogozine in 2009, and Nam Nguyen in 2014.

In taking that event, Beland was also the first French Canadian skater to win a gold medal at an international competition. Ever. As Quebec sport has gained power over the years, so have its figure skaters.

In the years that have followed, Beland has quietly been working as a coach in Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que., giving seminars, teaching skills, and now he has a 17-year-old student, Edrian Celestino with a sensitive touch that could, if he continues on this path, become quite goose-bump worthy. Celestino says he would love to become the Canadian junior champion this year and earn a trip to the world junior championships.

Ask a fresh-faced young guy what he likes most about skating, and he might very well answer that it is about the jump, that soaring feeling, risking it all, landing on a thin edge. What fun.

Ask Celestino the same question and his answer is: “I love edges, stroking, footwork.

“I could probably spend the entire session just doing edges,” he said. “There are so many things you can improve or enhance a little detail, to pointing your feet, the way your free leg is stretched, even your fingers, your arms. It’s endless.”

Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that Celestino’s favourite part of Skate Canada’s 2015 Development Camp in April was the session with Tracy Wilson, a former ice dancing champ who teaches the skill of the blade—right up Celestino’s alley.

“She was explaining so many things I never thought about,” he said. “Such as the way you apply pressure on your blades. And how a simple lean can make a complete difference in the way you accelerate on the ice.”

Celestino attended the 2014 camp as well, after he had finished second at the novice level to Joseph Phan – while winning the freeskate. But that experience was short-lived. Celestino was injured and could not participate, bundling out the door on the first day with his coach. Because of that, Celestino flew under the radar of high performance director Michael Slipchuk, who quickly became reacquainted with Celestino’s qualities at a Quebec summer skate, handing him his first international competition, a Junior Grand Prix in Estonia, in September of 2014.

“He brings a lot of good qualities,” Slipchuk said. “He’s a strong technical jumper, very good skater, good edges, good flow. But what really stood out for me this year was ice coverage. When he did his short program, he just filled the rink. The basic skating of the athlete is so important because as they move up, everyone is doing the same jumps.”

Celestino earned his way back to the camp this spring because he had won the bronze medal at the Canadian junior championships. “It was my first year in junior and I wasn’t expecting too much,” Celestino said. “I just wanted to have fun and gain experience. But at Challenge, that’s where I really surprised myself. I came out at the top. I thought: ‘You know, this hard work is really starting to pay off.’”

Going off to the national championship was more stressful because, as Celestino says, it’s nice to win, but much harder to maintain first place. He was nervous.

Celestino has been to the Canadian championships only twice. At his first appearance in 2014, he moved from eighth place to second with an excellent free skate.

Beland began to coach Celestino six years ago and he noticed right away that the tiny youngster had great knees. No big surprise that he used to be an ice dancer, paired up with Vanessa Bui.  He had good jumping action, too, and good spins. “He had the wow factor,” Beland said.

Currently, Celestino has all of his triples but the Axel. In April, he got a new pair of boots, and then began to work on the Axel, with the help of the “fishing pole,” or harness. Like Denis Ten, Celestino is very sensitive about his feet. He needs to feel comfortable in his boots. ”If there is a little bit of discomfort, I’ll take them off and adjust my socks,” he said.

Both of Celestino’s parents were born in the Philippines, moved to Canada and met while studying. In the beginning, Celestino’s father could speak no English. He now has a degree in aerospace engineering. His father used to play in the Filipino basketball league. His mother was always serious about school. Celestino’s 9-year-old brother, Earl Jesse Celestino, is also starting to skate.

“He has a great family,” Beland said. “You would like to have a family like this all the time. We talk about the year all together and we decide what to do.”

Last season, Celestino worked with top choreographer David Wilson. It seems as if he only skates to beautiful music, not surprisingly. His short program was to Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto No. 2 in C minor.

His free skate during the 2013-2014 season was Puccini’s “Nessum Dorma” – one of the best-known tenor arias in opera. Imagine, skating to this powerful song at age 15! Last season, however, when vocals were allowed, Celestino amped up his game: he skated to a version sung by Liciano Pavarotti, who had elevated the aria to pop status during his career.

He’s looking to have his short program choreographed for the coming season by Shae-Lynn Bourne. Stay tuned for something exquisite.