Tag Archive for: Skate To Win

World-class coaches work with Canada’s rising stars at Development Camp

Markham, ON – In one corner of the Angus Glen Community Centre Arena was Brian Orser, perhaps one of the most-sought coaches on the planet these days.

Just down the ice was Orser’s coach from his competitive days: Doug Leigh. Twenty-five sets of young eyes were transfixed on them at various times during the three-day development camp for Canada’s future rising stars.

Skate Canada started the development camp four years ago to target skaters that are potential candidates for the Junior Grand Prix circuit (no senior skaters here). Orser, Leigh, Tracy Wilson, Anne Schelter, Lee Barkell, Joanne McLeod and Yuka Sato all directed skaters aged 12 to 17, teaching them basic skating skills and edges, transitions, jumps, spins, all the goodies they’ll need in years to come.

It seems to be working. Skate Canada high performance director Michael Slipchuk says four of the girls who attended early camps have already been to a world championship, even an Olympics. Nam Nguyen and Roman Sadovsky were in that first group. Now both have moved into the top echelon of senior skaters in Canada, with Nguyen breaking the speed limit to be fifth at the world (senior) championships in March.

“It just shows us that we are targeting the right level of athlete,” Slipchuk said. “We want to have a better idea of our talent pool coming up. And it gives us a chance to see them in a training setting.”

It’s also a development camp for coaches, to hear and watch and see and take the torches that have been passed by others.

So there was Leigh, a coach for more than 40 years, the creator of Olympic silver medalists and world champions Orser and Elvis Stojko at the mighty Mariposa Skating School in Barrie, Ont. Leigh was carrying a torch, too, for he’d been coaches for a couple of years by coach-to-the-stars Sheldon Galbraith. “Everybody… has fingerprints on the person you become,” Leigh said.

On ice, Leigh was part teacher, part entertainer. He kept talking about “threads and strands” – the minute details that make the difference between success and landing on one’s butt. It was about control and balance, the placing of the free foot just so. He talked to girls about doing triple Axels. It’s clearly here. “Let’s get the party going,” he said. ”We’re not sitting on the park bench.” If you master these details, he proffered, “you will go to first class. If not, you’ll go to the cargo bin.” The result will be like an insurance policy.

His subjects grinned. “He’s so funny,” said Rachel Pettit, a 16-year-old from Whitehorse, Yukon, who is Canada’s reigning novice women’s champion, set to become a junior this season. She’s heard the points he made before, but “the way he explains it is so different, that you just think of it a whole new way,” she said. “He has a very cool way of teaching.”

Stephane Yvars, now head coach at the Boucherville Centre Elite, decided to train with Leigh as a competitive skater, but in 1993, he already had a long-term plan in mind: to learn about coaching skaters, too, from the best. “He’s really generous,” Yvars said. “He’s the most generous person I know. He gives everything,”

When Yvars was a skater himself, he had landed a triple Axel only once (at age 16) before injuries took over. He knew he needed one when he returned. “We spent a month on the back edge,” Yvars said. “He’s so patient.” Yvars arrived in April. By the end of May, he was doing triple Axels. “He’s a great mentor,” Yvars added. Every year now, he invites Leigh to give seminars at his club.

So out there on ice, Leigh was now working as a colleague alongside Orser. What is it like for him to watch Orser ascend to international coaching heights? “He asked me if he was allowed to call me grandfather,” Leigh said.

“He was a world champion, and he’s got an Olympic and world champion,” Leigh said. “It’s really cool. It’s the person that is left after you’ve done that chapter. And you watch them go onto the next chapter. And they are great coaches and they can step up and take on the world and doing a good job.”

Orser said he’s taken much of what he learned from Leigh as a coach to what he does now, although he’s evolved with the times. “Skating has changed and technique has changed,” he said.

The takeoff and flights of jumps are now different than in Orser’s day. “We used to say we’d climb up into the jumps,” Orser said. “We’d swing that free leg through, whether it was an Axel or a Salchow or even a toe loop. You’d bring that free leg and you’d climb like you were climbing a stair.”

Now the feet stay together more. Skaters get into the rotation sooner. “You’re still climbing, but you’re not climbing like you are stepping on a stair,” Orser said. “”If you are talking about quads, this is imperative. You have to start teaching it this way now. “

The beauty of Dartfish showed that Orser was one of the only people who could do the big step up into a triple Axel and still get 3 ½ rotations completed while he was a skater. He does not teach Axels the way he learned them.

Other things he learned from Leigh have been vital to his success as a coach. “He was the hardest working person in the rink, who was always the first one there and the last one to leave,” he said. “He stepped on every session on time and with lots of energy.

“And you can still see that in him, that fantastic energy, but that’s what you need to have in a centre, when you try to create a community of skating. You have to do it with enthusiasm and energy and excitement and everybody feeds off that.”

Over the past two years, Leigh has stepped back from the boards at the Mariposa Skating School that he founded and works now as more of a general manager. But he’s always willing to pass on what he knows and he finds the development camp “wonderful.”

“Coaches are the leaders of the next generation,” he said. “This is team building. It’s great to be a part of it. It’s fun watching everybody develop.”

2015 Skate Canada Development Camp Participants
Justine Brasseur, 14, Brossard, Que.

Edrian Celestino, 17, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que.

Antony Cheng, 17, Richmond Hill, Ont.

McKenna Colthorp, 14, Fort St. James, B.C.

Marjorie Comtois, 15, St-Hubert, Que.

Kim Decelles, 16, Quebec City, Que.

Cailey England, 17, Quesnel, B.C.

Gabriel Farand, 14, St-Antoine-Sur-Richelieu, Que.

Ajsha Gorman, 14, Kelowna, B.C.

Brian Le, 15, Delta, B.C.

Grace Lin, 14, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que.

Nicolas Nadeau, 17, Boisbriand, Que.

Conrad Orzel, 14, Woodbridge, Ont.

Rachel Pettitt, 16, Whitehorse, Y.T.

Joseph Phan, 13, Gatineau, Que.

Alicia Pineault, 15, Varennes, Que.

Triena Robinson, 15, Fort St. John, B.C.

Alison Schumacher, 12, Tecumseh, Ont.

Gabriel St-Jean, 15, Grand-Mère, Que.

Sarah Tamura, 14, Burnaby, B.C.

Amanda Tobin, 14, Burlington, Ont.

Bruce Waddell, 13, Toronto, Ont.

Semi Won, 13, Barrie, Ont.

Matthew Wright, 14, Waterloo, Ont.

Megan Yim, 13, Vancouver, B.C.

Tracy Wilson Brings Elite Skaters Back to the Basics

Tracy Wilson figures she learns as much as she teaches.

Yes, we all know she’s a crack skating analyst for various television networks, having won Gemini Awards for her work. But the former Olympic ice dancing medallist has quietly and behind the scenes fashioned a stellar career as a skating coach to some of the world’s best. Teaching all manner of skaters the true art of the blade, Wilson has become the wind beneath the wings of Olympic champions and world contenders.

And she’s done it through partnerships: Learning from other sports as she teaches their athletes. She’s deconstructed puzzles, and has come out on the other side with exercises and methods that seem to work wonderfully well. Several weeks ago, three of her students placed among the top five in the men’s event at the world championships in Shanghai: new world champ Javier Fernandez, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and the irrepressible Canadian champion Nam Nguyen who made believers out of many with his fifth-place finish at age 16.

Wilson’s exercises are a hybrid of many things, starting with what worked to make her and partner Rob McCall seven-time Canadian champions, three-time world bronze medalists, and the first Canadian ice dancers to win an Olympic medal (bronze in 1988.) She and McCall did foundation exercises every day as they trained. “It really helped us to find our balance, to create muscle memory so that we weren’t ever having to think,” Wilson said. “Our bodies just know how to maximize efficiency.”

After the death of McCall in 1991, Wilson didn’t skate for five years. She returned to the ice only because her children wanted to skate. Her oldest son, Shane, started playing hockey. Everything changed after a chance meeting with a hockey coach at a cocktail party. Wilson found herself telling him: “Guess what you guys need to do?” The coach asked her if she’d like to do it. Wilson said: “Sure.”

She worked with her son’s team from the time he was about seven or eight until he was in his mid-teens. Another son, Ryan also played hockey. “I just took my ice dance exercises and that’s what I did with these hockey players with music,” she said. She adapted the exercises to the needs of the players.

And of course, the needs were different. She learned that hockey players didn’t care how they looked on ice. They had no need for the pointed-toe thing. They cared about balance and speed and power. She quickly discovered that she had to always stay one step ahead of nine and 10-year-olds, and always tried to come up with new exercises.

“What I gained from them was a freedom,” she said. “It was really interesting to me.” And in turn, she brought that to her figure skating exercises. It’s great to have the correct technique, but best if you couple it with power and energy.

One day, son Shane was on the ice at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club because he had asked his mother to work with him. Intrigued, U.S. skaters Adam Rippon and Christina Gao, who were training in Toronto at the time, asked if they could train with him. “It was fabulous,” Wilson said. “They got on the ice and you could really see the difference. They were going for style over power. And I said: ‘Guys, just for fun, get in behind Shane. And always listen to his blade and forget about how you look. Just stay in there.’”

She and cohort Brian Orser have both honed in on what works to help different skaters. There is no set formula. When Wilson actually went back to coaching figure skating, her first students were astonishing: Chinese pair stars Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao. Lori Nichol, who had been choreographing for them, sent them over to Wilson to tinker with their skating skills just as both Orser and Wilson had started at the club.

Together, they worked five hours the first day. Wilson took them right back to the basics. At the time, Yu Na Kim’s mother was in the rink, coming to work with choreographer David Wilson, and she asked if Wilson would work with her daughter.

“Sure,” Wilson said. “When?”

“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,” she said. So Kim became Wilson’s second student. She had a whole year to work with Kim. Eventually, whatever Wilson could think up for her, Kim could do.

“If you haven’t really broken down the skating basics to their most simple form, you can’t build on top of it,” Wilson said. She had set Shen and Zhao right back to doing two-foot skating exercises, called bubbles (feet go in and out together), and it was to teach them knee action and balance. They spent about 30 to 40 minutes on the first exercises and then moved to inside edges.

“I just knew if I was going to do for them what they needed, we had to start from the very beginning and I didn’t know any other way,” Wilson said. Later she called Nichol and told her she was going to apologize in advance for frustrating Zhao in particular. Nichol said on the contrary: they had loved it and wanted to do it every day. They trained with Wilson for 10 days in a row.

Last spring, Zhao, now a coach, sent three of his pair teams to Wilson so that she could work with them in the same way. They are the same exercises that Wilson and Orser use to teach beginner skaters and adults.

Wilson has also developed off-ice training over the years, too. She herself had worked Pilates, and dance on the floor and adapted some of those exercises onto the ice. “You can be very creative once you have the basics and see how the principles follow through at all levels,” she said.

Most importantly, in the beginning, Wilson wasn’t sure – coming from an ice dance perspective – if what she was doing was what a single skater or a hockey player, or a synchro skater needs.

“But you know what?” she said. “It is. It’s the same.” Yes, partnerships and cross-discipline learning works.

Gabrielle Daleman top Canadian at ISU Four Continents

SEOUL – Canadian champion Gabrielle Daleman of Newmarket, Ont., produced the best international performance of her career on Sunday to finish seventh in women’s competition at the ISU Four Continents figure skating event.

Polina Edmunds of the U.S. soared from fourth after the short program to win the gold medal ahead Japanese skaters Satoko Miyahara in second and Rika Hongo.

The 17-year-old Daleman, a 2014 Olympian, delivered a clean program and earned a personal best international score with 167.09 points. At the end of her free skate, Daleman raised her arms in triumph and added a couple of fist pumps to show she was delighted with the performance.

Alaine Chartrand of Prescott, Ont., was 10th and Veronik Mallet of Sept-Iles, Que., 14th.

Canada ends the competition with two gold medals earned by Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., in ice dancing and Meagan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford of Balmertown, Ont. in pairs. Both couples continued undefeated seasons with their wins.

Full results: http://www.isuresults.com/results/fc2015/index.htm

Perseverance pays off as Michelle Long realizes lifelong dream in Kingston

Tears began to flow from Michelle Long’s eyes before the music even stopped.

As the 22-year-old put the finishing touches on her free program during the recent Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, Long’s emotions got the better of her, and she wept, an ear-to-ear smile etched across her face.

No, Long didn’t leave Kingston with a medal tucked away inside her suitcase.

She didn’t care. Sometimes, triumph isn’t measured in gold, silver and bronze.

By the time Richmond Training Centre stablemate Gabrielle Daleman stepped off the top step on the podium clutching her first Canadian senior women’s gold medal, Long, along with coaches Robert Burk and Danielle Rose, were long immersed in their own perfect euphoria.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Long beamed minutes after her free program in Kingston.

“This is something I have dreamed of since I was a little girl. To finally be able to make it to the Canadian championships and skate a personal best in the free skate, I am just so happy right now.”

The record book will show that Long finished seventh at her first national championships.

What it won’t show is her story.

Although she went through the CanSkate program at an early age, Long didn’t start skating competitively until she was a pre-novice 15-year-old. It’s just been the past four years that she has seriously chased her goal of competing for a national title.

“I really wanted to focus on my dream, and make it to the Canadian championships,” she says. “That was all I wanted. Nothing more.”

That rather ambitious vision seemed to hit a roadblock in December 2013, when, competing at Skate Canada Challenge, Long came achingly close to earning a berth in the 100th national championships in Ottawa, Ont.

But close wasn’t good enough. Instead of competing, she bought a ticket and travelled to the nation’s capital to watch.

That experience was a painful one, Long admits, but it also steeled her resolve.

“That was a big disappointment,” admits Long.

“That Challenge was tough to take. I wasn’t sure if I should continue or not. That was one of the toughest moments, watching those first couple of groups (in Ottawa) and knowing I should have been there.”

This past December, at Challenge in Pierrefonds, Que., she wouldn’t make the same mistake again, finishing fourth to punch her ticket to Kingston.

“She is a friend with an incredible work ethic,” says Daleman, the newly minted Canadian women’s champion.

“I couldn’t be any happier for Michelle. No one works harder than she does.”

Her unlikely story is even more astounding when you consider Long balances her training by holding down three serving/bartending jobs and part-time studies at York University. On a typical day, she is up at 7:00 a.m., and goes non-stop. By the time she leaves work, it is after 2 a.m. the next morning.

Less than five hours later, she is up to do it all again. All for the love of a sport.

“The passion she has for skating is truly a joy to see,” says Burk. “Michelle can go as far as she wants to go. With her drive, she can keep going up. We keep telling her ‘we believe in you.’ You can see it in her eyes.

”She now knows what we’ve known all along. She is good enough. Now we just have to get her there.”

“It’s special,” adds Rose. “You don’t see that very often. When someone has that much love, that much passion, you have all the time in the world for them. What we see at practice is national level. Now everyone else can see it, as well.”

Five years ago, when Skate Canada International was staged in Kingston, Long attended the event with her mother, rubbing shoulders with a few skaters during the week.

It was then she began to dream.

“Back then, I never really saw myself here,” Long concedes. “It seemed so far off, so unlikely, but I kept pushing myself.”

Five years later, she was back in Kingston. This time, she wasn’t watching from the seats.

“I’ve never skated in front of this kind of crowd before. It was just surreal. To be out here, to see it all happen, to step out in front of those TV lights….”

She pauses, choking back the tears again.

“In the end, it was bigger than I dreamed. It’s a feeling you can’t explain unless you’ve experienced it.”

The dream may have been realized, but Long insists it is just the beginning. She is asked where she envisions herself a year from now.

“On the podium,” she say, not missing a beat.

“On the national team. Why not?”

Why not, indeed.

Michelle Long doesn’t have time to concern herself with odds.

Follow Michelle Long on Twitter @TheMichelleLong