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Canada’s Figure Skating Win Silver Medal in Inaugural Team Event in Sochi

SOCHI, RUSSIA – Canada has reached the podium for the fourth time in two days at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Patrick Chan (men’s short program), Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (pair’s short program), Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (ice dance short program and free program), Kaetlyn Osmond (women’s short program and free program), Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch (pair’s free program), and Kevin Reynolds (men’s free program) captured silver in the Figure Skating Team event in Sochi.

“The introduction of this discipline at the Olympic Games has allowed Canada to show the world the depth, creativity and brilliance of our national figure skating program. The performances by our skaters had Canadians and skating fans on their feet, here in Sochi,” said Marcel Aubut, President, Canadian Olympic Committee. “On behalf of the entire Canadian Olympic family, and all Canadians, I congratulate our Canadian Olympic skaters on this silver medal and wish them success as they pursue more Olympic glory in their individual events.”

Canada now has four medals at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games (1 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze).

Release and photo courtesy Canadian Olympic Committee

Canada wins silver medal in Olympic figure skating team event!

Despite all of his skating boot issues and a lack of international competition this year, Kevin Reynolds clinched an Olympic silver medal for Canada in the team event.

Canada has been the favoured team going into the event, but faced an onslaught of talented Russians, including a rejuvenated Evgeny Plushenko who won the men’s long program. He was helped by a 15-year-old sprite, Julia Lipnitskaia, who won both the women’s short and long programs, the number 2 pair team, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov and by a second Russian dance team, Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, who finally unleashed their talent.

Reynolds got help from Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch finishing second in the pair long program, Kaetlyn Osmond snaring fifth in the women’s long, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir finishing second in the free dance.

Patrick Chan finished third in the men’s short program, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford finished second in the pair short, Virtue and Moir were second in the short dance, and Osmond didn’t put a foot wrong in finishing fifth in the women’s short program.

The bronze medal went to the United States.

Reynolds missed the entire Grand Prix season and the Olympic Games represented his first international competition of the season. What a way to start. “I definitely didn’t get the experience I wanted this year, especially going into an Olympic Games,” he said. “But I got in three good weeks of training and I’m happy with what I did. It’s a great start.”

Reynolds has gone through eight pairs of boots to find the right fit. He calls his current pair “tolerable.”

The Canadian silver medalist found out only a few days ago that he would do the long program in the team event.

Plushenko fired off a quadruple toe loop off the start, landed a couple of easy triple Axels, then double a couple of jumps (Salchow and loop) at the end of his program. His 168.20 points was only .28 points better than Reynolds’ effort.

Reynolds showed the old king that others can do quads, too, and in combination. In all, Reynolds landed three quads in his routine, his first one a big, long quad Salchow, then a quad toe – triple toe loop combo, and then eventually a quad toe loop, with perfect calmness and ease. He stumbled out of a triple Axel, but was mobbed by his teammates when he finished with 167.92 points.

Tatsuki Machida of Japan, landed one quad, two big triple Axels, and just about everything else, and finished third with 165.85 points. “I really thought I had a chance to win this group,” Machida said. “I needed to finish first to give the Japanese team a true shot at a medal. There was no room for error. I feel bad for letting everyone down.” He said he was never so nervous.

Plushenko said he felt of pain in his back during his doubled Salchow and blamed that for his mistakes. “Now I cross my fingers for a gold medal,” he said. He said he will try two quads in the individual event. “Today is just a warm-up,” he said. “I’m not skating with Yuzuru or with Patrick Chan, so we decided on no quad today but just land clean.” (He did land a quad toe loop.)

He said he also has a triple Axel – triple flip combination in his back pocket, one nobody else in the world has done.

Osmond set the stage for Canada, gaining 110.73 points at her first Olympics. She took a hard fall on her hip on a triple Lutz, and doubled a triple flip, but picked herself up and finished the plan. “We had Kaetlyn Osmond out there, 18 years old and we asked her to do two skates at an Olympic Games,” said Moir, the team captain. “The great thing about the team is that everyone pulled their weight. We’re so proud of our team.”

Lipnitskaia said she got nervous in the middle of the program and doesn’t know why. It’s unlike her, calm at all times. Errors crept in. She admitted she was nervous to skate after Plushenko because she didn’t want to let the team down. “He was very happy for me at the end and congratulated me in the kiss and cry,” she said. Lipnitskaia was called for doping control late the previous night, after she had finished the short program quite late. “It was quite difficult for me.”

Virtue and Moir had a shaky entrance to a lift, but got it quickly under control to finish second with 107.56 points, far from their best score. Meryl Davis and Charlie White set a world record of 114.34 points although the timing was off on their entrance into twizzles.

Virtue came out with a new vermillion costume, decorated with gold. “We wanted to make a statement,” she said. “We’re performing this program twice and I wanted two dresses.” She’ll wear her pastel costume for the individual free skate.

Moir said they had a good skate but “the levels weren’t where they needed to be,” he said. “We skated strong and we put in a lot of hard work, so we’re happy to bring home a medal for Canada.”

He said five or six of the points they missed are on the technical side and they can work on that for next week.

“It’s a very demanding program but we’re still building on it,” Moir said. “Up until now, I’ve only thought about the team, but now it’s time to move forward.”

Virtue said it was incredibly meaningful for them to share the experience with the rest of the Canadian team. “There were a lot of personal bests here and I can’t wait to stand on the podium with everyone.”

Canada’s silver medal was watched by other athletes, too. On twitter, bobsledder Jesse Lumsden said: “So proud of our figure skaters getting some hardware in the team event. Pulling off all those Salchows and spinny things.”

Beverley Smith

Canada in medal position going into final day of the Olympic team event

Canada remains in second place behind Russia in the team event after Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir finished second in the short dance, Kaetlyn Osmond fifth in the women’s short and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch second in the pair free program.

Russia leads with 37 points, to Canada’s 32, while the United States has moved up to third place with 27 points after a dismal first day. Japan and Italy have also qualified.

A twizzle gone awry left Virtue and Moir in second place behind Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Virtue fumbled her rotation on the second of three twizzles, but kept herself upright, stayed on her foot and soldiered on, finished with 72.98 points.

Davis and White finished three points ahead with 75.98 points, giving the United States the impetus it needed to try to win a team medal.

“I had a bobble on the twizzle,” Virtue said. “But our base value is so high that even with that, we’re in good shape.” They received a level four for the twizzle, and with the mistakes, emerged with 5.29 points on that element. Davis and White earned 7.36 for the same thing.

“I might have lost a little bit of speed up to the first one,” Virtue explained. “It wasn’t a mental lapse. I actually recovered. I stayed on the same foot.”

Moir admitted the miscue was a bit disappointing because they wanted to lead their team. Moir is captain of the team, Virtue the assistant. But he said they are still very happy with their performance. They earned level fours on all other elements but the midline step sequence, which was a level three – the same level that Davis and White got for theirs.

“Tessa and I take the team event very seriously,” Moir said. “There’s an Olympic medal on the line.”

Davis said she and her partner were very excited to be able to put the team back in the running for a medal.

“Charlie and I were definitely focused on our performance today.”

White, who is the captain of the U.S. team, said “the beautiful thing about our team is that all our guys know what we need to do.”

“It started before we got out there,” he said. “We had a good mindset and when you can do that, it’s that much easier.”

In the women’s short program, Julia Lipnitskaia, the 15-year-old Russian wunderkid, solidified Russia’s position at the top of the standings with a flawless performance, earning 72.90 points to defeat seasoned veteran Carolina Kostner of Italy, whose “Ave Maria” routine was breathtakingly beautiful. Kostner finished with 70.84 points and a simpler triple-triple combination. The intrepid Mao Asada tried her trademark triple Axel – seriously under-rotated it and fell, landing her back in third with 64.07 points.

Kaetlyn Osmond, competing at her first Olympics, electrified the crowd with a flawless skate, earning 62.52 points, just about half a point behind U.S. veteran Ashley Wagner with 63.10.

Osmond flew into her triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination, earning bonus points for it and actually outpointed Wagner, who had done a more difficult combination, a triple flip- triple toe loop, although she under-rotated the second jump and landed on two feet. That meant Osmond actually scored more points for her simpler triple-triple combo.

Osmond admitted she was a bit nervous before she set foot onto the ice, “but to go out and skate a perfect short program at the Olympics is great and it’s even better to do that for our team.”

A ferocious competitor, Osmond decided to think of the task as any other competition. “The ice is nice and even, though it’s a big stadium and a big event, it felt like I was at home practising,” she said. She went into the jumps with confidence although they felt shaky to her, perhaps because of the excitement, she said.

Before she skated, she was subject to a drug test on the day of the competition – before she skated. “I was in the middle of a nap,” she said, with her “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door. “I knew there was a possibility of it happening,” she said.

For her, the team event is special, with an enthusiastic team behind her in the kiss and cry area. The bench almost tipped over, she said. “That would have been really funny,” she said.

Tiny Lipnitskaia stepped out onto the ice to a spectacle she had never seen before. “There wasn’t any silence for a single second,” she said. “That kind of support made me so happy.”

She heard “RU-SSI-YA” and “Julia” but her coach Eteri Tutberidze, told her to focus on the music all the way through. The background noise was so loud, it couldn’t escape her. She knew she had to be calm.

Kostner, who turned 27 the day of the short program, says she isn’t the type to celebrate it, but finishing second with an inspired skate was the perfect gift. And she did it for her team. “We have to be realistic,” she said. “For us, as a team from a small nation, it is an important opportunity to show that we can do.”

Asada apologized to her teammates for the fall, and was relieved that Japan made it through to the final. “I was unbelievably nervous,” she admitted. “I felt more pressure than I expected. It just wasn’t my performance. I‘ve got to settle my nerves.”

Her triple Axel did not go the way it had gone in practice, she said. She couldn’t land one in the six-minute warm-up. Those miscues followed her into the performance.

FREE PROGRAM PORTION

Strong performances by Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch kept Canada in second place after the pairs free skate on Saturday at the Olympics.

Russia is in first place, its lead strengthened by a team that has never been at a world championship, but that took centre stage and won the pairs long program. Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov skated to a very un-Russian theme, the Addams Family, to win with 135.09 points, about six points ahead of the Canadians with 129.74.

Only five teams returned to the pairs long program after France, China, Germany, Ukraine and Britain did not advance.

Moore-Towers and Moscovitch, skating to a Fellini medley, sped around the ice and impressed with their opening triple twist, and then a triple toe loop – triple toe loop sequence. Their main error came when Moore-Towers planted two hands down on the ice after a triple Salchow. A spin went slightly out of synch, but it was a performance that bolstered the Canadian team.

“It went well tonight,” Moore-Towers said. “There was a little brain fart on my part and I made a mistake that shouldn’t have happened.” They felt a build-up of pressure going into their free skate.

“Everyone wants it so badly,” she said. “We really wanted to do our part to help the team. I feel like the individual event will be easy-breezy after this.”

Klimov said he and his partner felt as huge responsibility but they were ready.

Stefania Berton, suffered an injury during the free skate with her Italian partner Ondrej Hotarek, after falling on a triple Salchow jump. Hotarek helped her off the ice. They had had to take three days off about 10 days ago after a bad fall from a lift, when she initially hurt her hip.

The final day of the team event begins Sunday with the men’s, women’s and ice dance free programs.

Beverley Smith

Strong first day as Canada sits second in Olympic Team Event

At an Olympics on home soil, Russian figure skaters mean business.

They have set aside the disappointments of finishing the Vancouver Olympics with no gold medals for the first time in memory, and are going for gold, early, in the team event.

Russia is in first place with 19 points after the men’s and pair’s team events, while Canada, ranked first going into the event, is second with 17 points and China is third with 15 points.

Canadian hope Patrick Chan finished third in the men’s short program behind Japanese rival Yuzuru Hanyu and a rejuvenated Evgeny Plushenko, competing at his fourth Olympics.

Zhenya, as they call him back home, has won one gold (Turin) and two silver medals (Salt Lake City and Vancouver), but has never had to contend with a team event before. Nobody has.

Skating to his short program that has garnered him world records in the past, Chan opened with a quad toe and landed it forwardly, just enough that he could stick only a double toe, rather than a triple, on the end of it. That earned him 12.17 points, compared to Plushenko’s powerful quad-triple ( 16.40). Chan then stepped out of a triple Axel and he landed a triple Lutz a little back at the heel, seemingly tense. It put him in a bit of a hole, but he finished with a good score: 89.71.

Hanyu didn`t do a quad combination, but opened with a quad that just soared, good for 12.44 points, more than Chan got for his quad combo. Hanyu skated with complete confidence, even swagger, finishing with near record 97.98 points (Hanyu holds the short program world record of 99.84.)

Plushenko is in second place with 91.39, a marvellous result for a skater who has competed only five times in the past two years. Plushenko appeared at the top of his game, skating with plenty of snap and verve, although he front-loaded his programs with jumps (it worked for him) and wobbled on his Lutz and a spin, for which he received a level two.

“All of the jumps weren’t great,” Chan said of his performance afterward. “But in a way, I’m glad I did that here. It was good to get the jitters out.” He’ll hand the baton off to Kevin Reynolds, who will skate the long program on Sunday.

“It wasn’t the best,” Chan admitted. “But I’ve learned that I enjoy what I do. The crowd was great and I could feel the energy out there. That’s why I do this. Winning and getting a medal would be great, but at the end of the day, it’s not why I’m out there.”

He said he did not watch Plushenko because he “wanted to get in my own world instead of someone else’s.”

The biggest letdown was by Jeremy Abbott, who missed both his quad and his triple Axel and finished seventh of 10 men. The quad didn’t snap into the air as high as he would have liked.

“It’s a very unfortunate day for my teammates,” he said. “I’m torn about it….Now I just have to shake off the demons. We all know I have a lot of demons…But I’ve had my Olympic disaster and now I can move on.” Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir helped the US rise to a tie for fifth position with a good skate. Only the top five teams move on to the final on Sunday. The United States had been rated third going into the event, but it still has strong dance and women’s competitors to come.

Canada’s world bronze pair medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford helped the Canadian cause by finishing second in the pair short program with one of the best short programs of their career, hardly putting a foot wrong. It is the first Olympics for both of them, although she is 28, he 29. When they skated, the Canadian kiss-and-cry area was packed with teammates.

Not only do they deliver the most difficult tricks in the world (throw triple Lutz and solo triple Lutzes), Duhamel and Radford also accomplished a beautiful triple twist, and a very interesting, difficult entry into a back inside death spiral, all to Radford’s own musical composition, “Tribute.”

“After the men’s short program, we had a little extra pressure after Patrick,” Duhamel said. “He was in third place. We were: ‘We have to do it for the team.’”

Radford said the experience was memorable. “It was amazing,” he said. “Everything about it. It all just happened. Our goal was to be top two….We just put ourselves in a little bubble. We had high expectations.”

Perhaps Plushenko had the hardest job, skating in front of his home crowd.

“It was so difficult to calm down,” he said. “So difficult with applause from there, from behind, from everywhere. It was like I was knocked down. It was difficult, but it also helped.”

“I am so happy I can skate with 18-year-old guys,” said the 31-year-old. “I skated for my fans and I skated for my young sons.”

On Saturday, ice dancers and women skate their short programs.

Photos: Patrice Lapointe

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Beverley Smith

Figure Skating Team Event in Sochi begins Thursday

OTTAWA, ON: Today in Sochi, Russia Canada announced its entries for the men’s and pair short program for the first ever figure skating team event at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. The event features the top 10 countries, each comprised of one man, one woman, one pair and one ice dance couple. A country is allowed two substitutions between the short and long programs.

Canada will be represented by three-time world champion Patrick Chan, 23, Toronto, Ont., in the men’s short program.

World bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel, 28, Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford, 29, Balmertown, Ont., will skate the pair short program for Canada.

Reigning Olympic ice dance champion Scott Moir, 26, Ilderton, Ont., will serve as Canada’s team captain, and his partner Tessa Virtue 24, London, Ont., is the assistant team captain.

The event begins on Thursday, February 6 with the men’s and pair short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia.

The entries for the ice dance and ladies short programs will be made on February 7. The pair free program skaters will be announced on February 8 and the men’s, women’s, and ice dance free will be announced on February 9.

Canada will enter the competition as the number one ranked team. The other countries that have qualified, in order of points are: Russia, United States, Japan, Italy, France, China, Germany, Ukraine and Britain.

The top five teams from the short programs will advance to the free skates. Team standings will be decided on aggregate placement points for each skater/couple. First place earns 10 points; second place earns nine points down to tenth place earning one point.

For further explanation on the team event the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has produced a short video.

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Olympian Profile: Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir

Paul MacIntosh tells people he’s just the lucky person who was standing by the boards when he saw Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir first skate together. “They could always move magically together,” he said, recalling the charismatic little twosome.

“From the beginning, it was small and it was tiny, and now, it’s big and huge,” he said. “They always were the best team in the world.”

He felt it all again when he went to the Canadian championships in Ottawa last month and watched them move. “It kind of starts from somewhere down in their ankles and knees and goes right through them,” he said. “It seems to have a reaction through the whole body, which interprets the music. They’ve done this since they were babies. They’ve always heard and interpreted music so well. I find every movement has a meaning.”

MacIntosh was watching Virtue and Moir, sitting with the father of Andrew Poje’s first partner, a New York City man, a skating dad who doesn’t know an inside edge from an outside one. When Virtue and Moir finished the first 45 seconds of their free skate – they hadn’t yet done a lift, a twizzle, a spin, nothing – the skating dad looked at MacIntosh and said simply: “Oh my god.”

MacIntosh said to the skating dad: “Look, they’ve just done more steps and more things in the first minute than the other teams will do in four. It’s just things they do, subtle little movements and turns and interactions with each other. They move like a unit.”

Sure, they were Olympic champions back in 2010, just barely turned 20 both of them, the youngest dancers to do so. There was a reason for that win. And now, with even more miles under their feet, more experiences, more experiments, more work, their timbre is even more finely tuned.

So what is it that they do so well that makes them the best ice dance team in the world, perhaps of all time (Robin Cousins once compared them to Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.)  Well, the way their bodies move, for one thing. They stretch their bodies. One canny expert explains that they straighten their knees and point their toes, they extend their necks upward, they open their chests, using their entire bodies to interpret music. Virtue in particular has a very mobile torso and they both arch their backs to create shapes, and they involve their hips and shoulders like no one else to produce movement that the style and rhythm of dance commands. Their movement is beautifully coordinated. They complete their movements, with extended legs and arms. The tension in their bodies’ changes as the music dictates. The tension is never static.

The foxtrot of the short dance this season calls for a sway – and they have a gorgeous sway – and the rise and fall of a soft knee. Says Ann Shaw, guru of international ice dance: “You’re supposed to have an elegant look, and use your knees in the foxtrot and have a syncopation of approach.  They have an elegant upright, light airy look, and they have the best interpretation of the rhythms required of anybody this year. They interpret the quickstep and foxtrot like nobody else does.”

Speed? It’s supposed to come from rhythmic knee action, since the rules specifically discourage excessive amounts of toe steps. This is no problem for Virtue and Moir, because, Shaw says, they are the most powerful skaters in the world. Speed is just the velocity across the ice, no matter how you get there. It is not the same as power. Some are fooled by speed, but how is it generated? Virtue and Moir have a hidden power, that comes from deep knee bends, and it allows them to float across the ice. Their stroking is so smooth and well-matched, that it appears effortless.

What’s more, Virtue and Moir can vary their speed and change direction seamlessly – important in the transitions category of the program component mark and also the choreography category to some extent. They can slow to a stop, and then regain top speed in three or four strokes. The variation of speed allows for the shades and light of interpretation. They change dance holds frequently, easily, eschewing the same-direction skating that is so much easier.  “Their movement from one hold to another is just like little rose petals unfolding,” Shaw said. “It’s superb. They skate in close relation all the time. But you are never aware that they are changing hold. They sort of fold into each other – and I think that is superior to anybody.”

Footwork? Virtue and Moir have challenging footwork with big curves.  The size of the curve that a skater’s edge creates is important, and never more so than in footwork sequences. Virtue and Moir trace huge arcs with their edges both into and out of their turns. They have dainty, precise feet.

Lifts? From a young age, when Virtue and Moir began to learn more difficult lifts, Virtue was taught to feel like she was doing the lift herself, rather than the male partner forcing the woman somewhere and the women reacts. “She moves herself from one position to another and she doesn’t wait for Scott to move her,” says Marijane Stong, known for her knowledge of dance, music, and costuming. “That was when she was quite young and she has maintained that. Ballet dancers don’t wait for the man to put them somewhere.”

In other words, Virtue has an ability to manage her own body in the lifts. Rather than Moir supporting Virtue, there are fewer points of contact between them during a lift, and Virtue extends her own free leg, without help from the partner. The positions in their lifts require a lot of strength in Virtue’s core and hips and back. Their style of stroking also is taxing on the legs, knees and thighs. This team is physically strong.

On the sidelines, MacIntosh is still watching. He’s seen Virtue and Moir’s peaceful, romantic skate to Mahler from the 2010 Olympics. Their free dance to “Seasons” by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov is also lyrical, pretty, but so different. He wasn’t sure when he first watched it, that it would do the trick. But by Paris, it had developed, as Virtue and Moir’s programs do. “I thought, oh my god, this is everything you said it would be,” MacIntosh said. “It’s magic. It’s totally different from Mahler. There is a totally different emotion at the end of it. Mahler is very peaceful. I find this very dynamic. It takes me on a journey. I love the music at the end.” (Choreographer Marina Zoueva used a proud piano concerto by Alexander Scriabin to finish on a strong note).

Their opening lift, says MacIntosh, sends shivers down his spine. “They strike a line that you know nobody else in the world can do,” he said. “Somebody might be able to do Tessa’s part. Somebody might be able to do Scott’s part. But not together. It’s just magic, and phrased beautifully with the music.”

And just to make things interesting, Virtue and Moir do a footwork sequence at the 3:30 minute mark of their free dance routine, a taxing idea. At Skate Canada, they got a level 2 for it. At Grand Prix Final, it earned a level 3. By the Canadian championships, they had nailed it: level 4. “It went whoosh,” MacIntosh said.

It’s a challenge they take. Indeed, they make everything challenging for themselves, creating new lifts every year, new twizzles, new rhythms, new styles. It’s just who they are, pushing their own boundaries, never content with the status quo.

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

Olympian Profile: Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam

Finally, their time has come.

Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam first twizzled their way into the Canadian consciousness when they showed up at the 2010 Skate Canada International Grand Prix event in Kingston, Ont., as first year seniors – and in only their second season together.

They entranced the crowd with their lyrical routine to “As Time Goes By,” earned their first standing ovation and placed second in the free dance ahead of seasoned British skaters Sinead Kerr, 31, and brother John, 30, ranked fifth in the world. At the time, Paul was 19, Islam, 20.

Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier had won the event, but Islam and Paul won the technical mark in that free dance, ahead of an athletic Canadian team always known for difficult technique. Even then, Paul and Islam skated with an ease of movement, with effortless freedom and close-together positions.

At the time, Paul and Islam evoked memories of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who missed that Skate Canada international because Virtue had undergone surgery on her legs. “We love Tessa and Scott,” Islam had said. “We’ve both looked up to them a lot as young athletes, but we definitely want to distinguish ourselves as a new team in Canada in senior.”

Paul and Islam had a year left of junior eligibility, but wanted to forge ahead to senior. Everything seemed “surreal” at this event. They finished fourth overall, after being sixth in the short dance, but they had created a buzz.

But their road to the Sochi Olympics since then has been anything but smooth. Paul pulled muscles in her ribs in training before their next event, Cup of Russia. They couldn’t train leading into the event. They had a fall in the short dance, and then realizing that she could not do the lifts in the free, because of the injury, they withdrew. “It felt like the wind was knocked out of me every time,” she said. But they did mount a comeback to finish third at their first senior nationals.

The next season, everything went awry. “As soon as I got better, something else would happen,” Paul said. They finished only eighth at Skate America, and then when they got to the NHK Trophy, Paul was cut at the back of her thigh in a practice collision with an Italian team and they had to withdraw from the free dance. They got no Grand Prix assignments during the 2012 season and dropped to fourth at nationals.

Their biggest heartbreak came at the 2013 Canadian championships, when they had gathered their forces, moved their training site to Detroit to snap out of their dry spell, and finished in third place after the short dance. A berth for the world championships in London was on the line. But Islam slipped in the free dance, and the dream was gone in an instant. They finished fourth. Only three could go. “It was a wakeup call for us,” Islam said.

“It’s one of those things that feels like rock bottom,” Islam said. It had all been too much: two years of hardship, and then this. For two weeks, their chins were at their boots. “But it’s how you handle things that happen to you like that,” Islam said later. “We had a lot of support from people that gave us confidence, something that we definitely needed after something like that happened.”

They decided they needed to change the way they trained, if they were going to make it to Sochi. “You have to train every day like you mean it,” Paul explained. “You have to go through things, no matter what. You have to recover from mistakes faster. It’s just a no-excuse attitude.”

It wasn’t easy, Islam said. They had to focus on their goals every day, every minute. But it made training a lot easier, he said, because they could take the confidence of being ready, mentally and physically, to competition. “The dividends are quite nice,” Islam said.

Both dancers have histories that suggest success. Islam has skating in his blood. His father, David, was a former ice dancer, now director of ice dancing at the Mariposa School of Skating in Barrie, Ont. His mother, Debbie Islam, was a former national medalist and Olympic judge, who worked the men’s event at the Vancouver Olympics. Shortly after Islam was born, his father carried him onto the ice in his arms. By the time he was two, Islam had skates on his feet.

Paul began skating at age five, but already has a long history of ballet training, quite evident in her beautiful posture and back, and body movement. She and two other sisters enrolled in CanSkate in Barrie, but Alex was the only one who persevered.

She had skated singles up to the novice level, but started dancing with Jason Cheperdak when she was 16, because she was not a fan of attempting triple jumps. Meanwhile, at the same arena, Islam was already making a name for himself with Joanna Lenko, who eventually had to retire because of heart issues.

Both Paul and Islam, of course, had learned the same stroking style from the head coach, who matched them together. “It felt so easy,” she said. Their career took off like a rocket. They outfinished the previous year’s junior champions at a summer competition, got a Junior Grand Prix assignment, and missed a bronze medal by only a point. When they won the Canadian junior championships, Paul thought: “It hit me this could be real.” She had been nervous; she didn’t want to let down Islam, who was a more experienced skater.

They continued on to finish second at the world junior championships. They were so new, they hadn’t established themselves on the junior circuit. And they had been together only five months.

Skate Canada International in Kingston was their “coming out party,” Islam said. It left stars in their eyes. But they have grown in many ways since. And now finally, the Olympics.

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

Olympian Profile: Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford

Long before Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford started to skate together, they knew each other. They both grew up in small northern communities, she from Lively, Ontario, (population 7,000) and he from Balmertown, Ontario, (population 1,000) which is as far north as you can go by train in northern Ontario.

“Balmertown makes Lively look like New York,” Duhamel would joke. They never dreamed of a partnership. Radford is tall and lean with classical lines, Duhamel tiny and muscular with an athletic style. “If I had ever thought of somebody I could skate with,” she said. “I would never have even thought of skating with Eric because we were so different.”

Both ended up skating in Montreal and when Duhamel’s former partner, Craig Buntin retired, Buntin suggested to them that they try out together. Strangely enough, Duhamel had no intention to continue skating after a disappointing season in which she and Buntin missed a berth to the 2010 Olympics.

“That year was a nightmare all around,” Duhamel said. “I had a stress fracture and a bulging disk in my back for a year and a half. I had nerve damage in my leg. And with the stress of the Olympics and everything, I just didn’t want to live through anything like that again.” She took eight weeks off at the end of the season – and then eventually found herself waking up every morning with no pain. She rediscovered the joy of skating.

Radford, meanwhile, had had a discouraging pair career, and had travelled the world, trying to find his niche, even training for a time with Ingo Steuer. “I feel like I’ve waited a while to get to the level that I felt I could be at,” he said. With Duhamel, he was finally where he wanted to be: a contender on the world stage, not just there to compete. “It’s been a big and exciting change for me,” he said. “It totally changed my entire outlook on skating.”

They had doubts in the beginning. After their first tryout, they were skeptical. Coach Richard Gauthier asked them to give it a week and assured them it would work out. In less than a week, they found that everything was just so easy.

Duhamel found it fun. “When I used to close my eyes and dream about skating, I would envision being able to skate freely, like so light, instead of being so heavy,” she said. “How we skate is how I’ve always dreamed I could do.”

Duhamel and Radford joined forces to get to the Sochi Olympics, but along the way, they’ve become three-time Canadian champions and world bronze medalists, always with a close eye on the points, as indicators of the steps they need to get to the top. Where she was weak, he was strong and vice versa. They filled each other’s holes “and met right in the middle,” Duhamel said. He’s into music, she’s a registered holistic practitioner and a vegan.

Always strong singles skaters, they have powered onto the international scene with some of the toughest tricks in the business. Duhamel was the first to land a throw triple Lutz with an earlier partner and she and Radford adopted it too. It’s still rare. No other skaters attempt side-by-side triple Lutzes, either. That carried them far, and then they started to do acting classes to bring out their relationship on ice.

It hasn’t been clear sailing. Radford found it surreal to defeat four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany for the first time in the short program at the 2013 world championships, particularly since he had once trained with them and had looked up to them. Then the Canadians narrowly defeated the Germans on the technical mark in the long program. But others had thundered into contention, too, namely Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, who’s every move is big, spectacular and good for maximum grades of execution.

Duhamel and Radford encountered stiff adversaries at home, too, in Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, who defeated them in the long program at Four Continents last year, and who actually drew a higher technical mark than their fellow Canadians in the long program at the world championships.

Over the past two years, Duhamel and Radford have had to break Canadian-record performances turned in by Moore-Towers and Moscovitch to win their Canadian titles. They came to the table with two outstanding routines this year, the short program to “Tribute” a musical composition created by Radford himself to honour Paul Wirtz, one of his coaches who died some years ago, and their winsome “Alice in Wonderland” routine for the long. They finished both programs with a great deal of emotion – their best efforts of the season. They tend to hit their peak at nationals, not early in the season.

“I think it was the best long we’ve ever skated,” Duhamel said. Those efforts were especially gratifying after a rocky early season. Duhamel and Radford were first after the short at Skate Canada International in Saint John, N.B., then were taken aback to finish third after making several mistakes and getting a standing ovation in the long. Their Grand Prix in France had mistakes too, but they took the silver medal and got to the Grand Prix Final, which didn’t go as they hoped. There, they finished fifth in the short and sixth in the long.

“Being successful at skating is kind of like a puzzle,” Duhamel once said. “If we have one piece missing, we have such a great coaching staff, and great choreography and we have each other. I think all of the pieces will fall into place.”

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

Olympian Profile: Paige Lawrence & Rudi Swiegers

Who could have guessed? Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers grew up in two tiny Saskatchewan towns, 23 kilometres apart, where pair skating is perhaps 25th on the list of things to do behind rodeo.

Actually, Lawrence’s parents own a rodeo production company in Kennedy, Sask. (population 241), home to the Moose Mountain Pro Rodeo, a post office, a bank, a restaurant/bar and a grocery store/gas station. Her father is an ex-professional bull rider and travels all spring and summer to rodeos. On their ranch, they have bucking broncos and bucking bulls. Lawrence’s brother rides bulls. Paige would like to, but coach Patty Hole won’t let her. (“But not for lack of trying,” says Swiegers.)

“It’s on my list, though,” Lawrence said. “It will happen someday.” She has competed in barrel racing, not the usual prerequisite for figure skating. But obviously, she’s fearless, perfect for pair skating.

Their tremendous moxie has driven Lawrence and Swiegers to become perhaps one of the few, if not the first figure skaters from Saskatchewan to make it to an Olympics. They earned the berth when they took the bronze medal at the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Ottawa, seemingly an impossible dream for a couple of prairie kids.

They weren’t matched up in the usual way. Swiegers, born in South Africa, but raised in Kipling, Sask., (population 1,100) had just lost his pair partner and eyed up Lawrence, a tiny skater who, like him, was a leftie. In other words, they both rotate in the direction opposite to which most skaters do (although Swiegers is left handed and Lawrence is right handed, they both naturally rotate to the left). It’s rare to find two lefties, and there they were, in the same little club (they train in Virden, Manitoba).

Hole asked Lawrence to help out Swiegers and before she knew it, she was trying out pairs. Lawrence discovered she liked the feeling of being thrown in the air. They landed a throw triple Salchow during their second week together.

Lawrence started skating when she was four, the daughter of a figure skating mother and a hockey-playing father. There wasn’t much to do in Kennedy during the winter, but there was CanSkate. She landed her first triple Salchow when she was 16.

Swiegers’ mother was a doctor in Saskatoon, before she moved to Kipling, but he started skating late, at age 10. A succession of injuries as a singles skater turned him into a pair skater by age 15. He was 18 when he started to skate with Lawrence during the summer of 2005.

Hole brought on board an old friend, Lyndon Johnston – a world silver pair medalist in 1989 – for some technical expertise. Johnston arrived, expecting to see beginners, but saw a young pair team already doing amazing things. “Paige is probably the toughest girl I know,” Johnston said. “She is fearless when it comes to doing stuff, so now when they want to do more scary tricks, Patty sends them to me. I lose sleep over it.” Lawrence would love to do a throw quad.

They made a splash when they competed at a Skate Canada International in Kingston, Ont., in 2011 with a lift they called “The Missile” or “The Bullet” partly designed by David Pelletier. At one point, Lawrence’s feet are above her head, with her blades near his head and “hopefully he catches me,” she said. The first time they showed it to Hole, she covered her eyes. “That was the reaction we wanted,” Lawrence said.

The team has always shown so much promise, but has been foiled so many times by injury, however. Just before the 2012 Canadian championships, Lawrence suffered a concussion during a practice fall, but a month later, the team won a bronze medal.

They started the Olympic season with high hopes. They were thrilled with new programs choreographed by Lance Vipond (going back to their comfort zone of fun with “Rudy’s Rock” by Bill Haley and the Comets) and the long, designed by Bernard Ford, who gave them the soundtrack from “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

Their long program is not about Oz at all, but they skate to their own story: Lawrence is a mechanical doll, who after a change in melody and some side-by-side double Axels, becomes animated. At first she skates with robotic movement, and that changes when she comes to life.

With these arsenals in hand, Lawrence and Swiegers hoped for big things at the beginning of the year. “Paige and I believe that we are a very strong team and we are very confident with ourselves this year, especially with the new programs,” Swiegers said. “So we’re not going for that third spot. We’re going for national champions and everything is going to come from that.”

However, Lawrence developed an Achilles tendon problem in her left (landing leg) over the summer. By the time she got to training camp in September, her hamstring was pinching her – as her thigh muscles overcompensated for the initial troubles. All season long, the hamstring/groin injury hampered Lawrence. Even at the Canadian championships, she skated with her left thigh heavily taped, although there was less need for it as time went on. They could not do everything they planned. Still, they made the Olympic team.

They are known as a fun-loving team that brightens a room with their presence. At the 2011 Four Continents championships, Swiegers saved the day for U.S. team Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, after Ladwig broke the heel of a skate and had only three minutes to repair equipment. Swiegers, who had already skated, handed Ladwig his own boot and Ladwig was able to continue.

Later, U.S. Figure Skating flew Swiegers and his mother to Chicago to a Governing Council Meeting, where Ladwig presented the Canadian Samaritan with the U.S. Sportsmanship Award. Swiegers met the “higher ups,” as he put it. They both have come far from small-town Saskatchewan.

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

Olympian Profile: Liam Firus

Liam Firus knew it was going to be a dogfight, the showdown for the men’s Olympic spot at the national championships. “But that’s when I skate my best,” says the 21-year-old from North Vancouver.

The young man with the quiet grace has had a shorter season than most as he recovered from a groin injury that had bothered him the previous season. For weeks, he suffered painful injections, did physiotherapy, and centred his life around rehabilitation. He didn’t start jumping again until July. He didn’t start introducing triples back into his training until the middle of August, and it wasn’t until the beginning of September that he started doing full programs. He had only five months to go to the Olympic Games.

He was taken aback when he finished second in the short program at the national championships – ahead of Kevin Reynolds – even though he fell on a triple Axel. Firus held his hands on his head in anguish when he left the ice.

Could he possibly see himself winning the bronze medal when he started his difficult season? Well, yes, Firus said. “I thought, ‘You know what? You’re going to be on the Olympic team,’” Firus said not so long ago. “It’s going to be tough. Nothing is going to be easy. This is my goal. I told myself I was going to be here. And I was.”

He’s not the type to be boastful. He’s mannered, quietly confident, respectful, shows up to train every day. He started out as a hockey-player-turned skater, learning the ropes from Lorna Bauer in Vancouver. And last summer, to position himself for that Olympic spot, Firus left to train with Christy Krall in Colorado Springs.

“There are no hard feelings,” he said. “She [Lorna] is still part of my team. But Christy runs things now. If I ever need advice, I go to Lorna. But I am now officially at Colorado Springs.”

“It’s a change,” he added. “I miss my old life, my social life. I don’t really have a social life any more, although one of my best friends in Colorado is Max Aaron. We are good buds.”

Alas, Aaron didn’t make the U.S. Olympic team, as Firus triumphed in Canada. The vibes were working, just not quite enough. Just before the long program, Firus called Aaron, who was in Boston at the U.S. championships. “He told me to go out there and be amazing,” Firus said. “He’s a jumper. He knows how to be amazing to the crowd. He’s fun to watch. He’s what people want to see. He brings excitement to the sport.”

Firus is grateful to have an array of top skaters to train with: Jason Brown, Joshua Farris, Agnes Zawadski, Brandon Mroz. “It’s nice to see that when you have an off day, everyone else has them too. Even the best ones,” Firus said.

But he hasn’t forgotten home. He was born and raised in Vancouver. He’s been happy to live there. “I have the best friends there, and I truly feel that they’ve kept me grounded,” Firus said. “They’ve given me support. In high school, being a male figure skater, it isn’t the easiest thing, but they were unbelievable.”

One of Firus’ best friends, Luke, was also a track competitor in elementary school. They’d run neck in neck in 100, 400, 800 metre events. “We had a rivalry, but we were best friends,” Firus said. “He made me the competitor that I am. I owe that to him.”

“It was the hardest thing to leave home, because they made me who I am,” Firus said. “But now I’m so focused on skating.”

His father, Trevor, is an accountant. His mother, Lois Sullivan, is a real estate agent. Firus’s grandfather was the figure skating fan. “My family supports me so much,” Firus said. “Mom has really made this possible for me. I owe it all to my mom.”

When it came time to make a decision to leave Vancouver, Firus’s mother let him leave to see what he could be. “She just said: ‘You’ve got to get there. Just do it. You have all our support.’” Firus said.  Coach Lorna – who he regards as a second mother – told him “You do what you need to do to get to the Olympics.”

“And that’s exactly what I did,” Firus said. “It’s been an awesome year.”

Not surprisingly, Firus lists as two of his idols the consummate artistic skater, Stephane Lambiel – and his younger brother, Shane Firus.  “I’m not joking,” Firus said. Shane was the bronze medalist in junior dance last season, but is currently looking for a new partner.

“I think Shane is absolutely amazing,” Firus said. “I was on the ice with him when I went back to Vancouver after Skate Canada Challenge and he was doing just simple stroking. He’s been off the ice for a while, but he was there…and I was in awe. He’s absolutely amazing.”

“I look up to him. It’s his edges, his presence, even off the ice. Shane really makes me grounded. He makes me laugh. On the way to the long program [in Ottawa], he picked me up and he drove here. We are very close. He’s one of my best friends. He’s truly amazing on and off the ice.”

Another Firus? He’ll bear watching. Never underestimate them.

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

Olympian Profile: Kevin Reynolds

Kevin Reynolds has seen the best of times and the worst of times in less than a year.

The skater from Coquitlam, B.C., was the toast of the country last season when he went from strength to strength: He landed five quads at the national championships; he defeated Patrick Chan on the technical mark in the free skate by 12.64 points; his long program score of 175.94 blasted his previous best by 30 points and his overall score of 261.40 was 40 points better than he had ever scored; he won the Four Continents Figure Skating Championship over skaters like popular world champion Daisuke Takahashi; he finished third in the short program at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships and fifth overall, tidily meeting a goal that many thought was a bit ambitious at the beginning of the season.

Reynolds had finally come into his own. It was a breakthrough season. It was the perfect time to have one of those, with the Sochi Olympics in the offing. It was a huge confidence builder, a momentum builder.

This season hasn’t been so easy. Reynolds hasn’t been able to capitalize on the momentum he created last year. He is going to have to take every scrap of muscle memory and moxie with him to the Olympics. Actually, he’s just relieved he qualified, after the season he’s had. “The last two weeks have been nerve-wracking,” he said.

Reynolds sailed through last season as soon as he got a new pair of boots, after he had finished sixth at NHK Trophy in Japan. They fit him better than most ever had. After all, he has a very narrow heel. He’s not easy to fit. These were like a glove. Reynolds was in boot heaven.

He thought his next pair of boots would be the same. They were not. Throughout the season, as he had to withdraw from both of his Grand Prix events with boot problems, Reynolds tried to find the answer in nine different pairs of boots.  It was a frightening turn of events. His programs were terrific. He was set to improve his performance skills with Lori Nichol doing his long program for the first time. But the stupid boots threatened to destroy his Olympic dream. Remember? Reynolds missed the Vancouver Olympics in his home city by a hair. He’s 23 years old now and it’s his time.

Like many young Canadian boys, Reynolds started skating through hockey. His father, Daniel, was a hockey fan who watched the Vancouver Canucks almost religiously. But when Reynolds started in CanSkate, he veered over to figure skating, not willingly at first.

“I used to hate the figure skates,” he said “After wearing the hockey skates, I was tripping on my toe pick. I absolutely didn’t like the figure skates. But I started jumping soon after that, and I just loved the feeling of being able to fly up into the air. And I loved the feeling of spinning. That really shaped my love of the sport.”

He has a younger brother who was never interested in figure skating and is more of an academic type, probably with a future in biology or the sciences. Their mother, Cindy, is a cytotechnologist, who analyzes slides of human cells, looking for abnormalities such as cancerous cells or infectious disease cells.

Kevin is the athlete, whose schooling these days is rather on hold because of the Olympics. But he has been studying languages, particularly Japanese. You see, Japanese fans love Reynolds, and he quite likes them back. His stunning Four Continents victory in 2013 took place in Osaka, Japan and he used a routine choreographed by a Japanese man who does not speak much English. It worked.

This year, turning to Lori Nichol, Reynolds was nervous, knowing she had worked with some of his most influential skaters, such as Michelle Kwan. “She’s really gotten me to see a different side to the performance aspect of it,” said Reynolds, who knows that he must boost his program component mark to get to the top.

Shae-Lynn Bourne, his artistic mentor, choreographed his expressive short program to rock music. Nichol’s long program to “Excelsius” calls for a different kind of energy, with long sweeping movement. Reynolds found it difficult from the start. But he mastered last year’s long program by the end of the season. He finds “Excelsius” hard to master, but fulfilling.

Still, all of those good things have been underscored by Reynolds’ boot difficulties. He skated at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships with one old boot and one new boot. (Elladj Baldé did the same.) His training hadn’t been going well at all leading up to the event. He wasn’t nervous about the event, rather more anxious to finally compete and test himself under pressure. And he was tested, when his music stopped seconds into his short program.

The week turned into an exercise in managing, getting his feet under him, and getting himself ready physically and psychologically for the Olympics at the Canadian championships – his first and only competition before the Games.

Reynolds knew he wouldn’t be perfect. “It was a fight the whole way through,” he said after the long. “Nothing was comfortable out there. I’m just glad I was able to get this competition under my belt. I definitely needed this going into Sochi.”

The pressure came off his shoulders somewhat, realizing that he had helped win Canadian men three berths for Sochi – and he would be doing well to finish third, he thought. Still, it all worked out. He took the silver medal.

In the next few weeks, Reynolds will suck it all up. He’ll ignore his boot problems and carry on. He’s had to do this before. Just before his spectacular performance at the world championships in London, Ontario Reynolds suffered from a painful cyst in his leg. This time, it seems worse. He’s most grateful to the members of his team for getting him to Sochi. Now he’ll have to take care of the rest.

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

Olympian Profile: Kaetlyn Osmond

She’s just beginning, this 18-year-old Kaetlyn Osmond, the woman with uncommon flair, and now a two-time Canadian champion on her way to the Sochi Olympics.

She is blossoming, despite a injury-filled season. It was no accident that Osmond decided to have a long program created for her this year in which she would depict Cleopatra, a strong woman in the scheme of things. Cleopatra was the first female pharaoh of Egypt at the turn of time, refusing co-rulership with a man, as was the custom. So powerful was she, and so stunning her charms, that she was a few nasty battles away from becoming the ruler of the western world.

Cleopatra is the perfect metaphor for Osmond’s aims: rising to power. “It’s the exact same thing I wanted to do this year,” she said. “It’s my own rise to the top of the podium in the Olympics. We were aiming to weave the story of Cleopatra into my own life. And that’s exactly what I want to have.”

Osmond has come far and travelled far to get where she is now. She started skating at the only rink in Marystown, Newfoundland as a two-year-old tagalong behind sister Natasha, before the family moved to Montreal, then Sherwood Park, Alberta, near Edmonton. With everything she has learned along the way, Osmond delivered the most impressive debut at a world championship by a Canadian woman in decades: fourth in the short program, eighth overall.

She’s the ultimate competitor, relishing the sounds of battle, filling the rink with her presence. Perhaps she won’t be rising to the top of the podium at thisOlympics. She’s realistic and so is her coach, Ravi Walia. She’s relatively new to the international scene and its demands, landing on it only two years ago. Some of her competitors have been doing this for 10 years (Carolina Kostner.) Some have been doing it less (Julia Lipnitskaia). This season, Osmond’s path to the podium has been hampered by one injury after another. The problems have tempered her plans, if not her spirit.

Last year, she landed a triple-triple combination in the short program to good effect. This year, she planned to carry it over to the long, but after she developed a stress reaction in a left foot during the summer, and then a hamstring tear that caused her to pull out of Skate Canada International in Saint John, New Brunswick last October, Walia had to rewrite the path to Sochi.

The second injury was worse than the first. With her stress reaction, she could still skate on the foot, although she couldn’t do all of the jumps. The hamstring injury completely hobbled Osmond. “When I got back on the ice, I could barely do my crosscuts,” she said. “I had to work so many edges and so many stroking exercises before I could even think about jumping.”

Usually, she would add the spins before the jumps, but on the second day back, she was about to push into a spin when she felt excruciating pain. She lost two and a half weeks to recovery, and then spent another two weeks just doing stroking exercises.

Finally, after a good effort in the long program at Skate Canada Challenge, when she had to come from fifth in the short, Osmond learned another lesson: to forget about the short program, no matter how well or poorly you do in it. Now she’s skating stronger than ever.

All of the problems had a silver lining: Osmond was forced to learn perfect technique. She felt pain if she used the wrong technique. She also learned how to overcome adversity with confidence and “knowing no matter what gets thrown at me, whether it’s good or bad, I can still stay with a positive attitude and stay focused and calm and able to skate.”

Her goals in Sochi are to continue with the same list of jumps she had last season, and with that, finish within the top eight. Osmond won’t try more difficult triple-triples because she says she does not have enough competition experience to throw them in for such a major event like the Olympics – her first international competition this season.

She admits that she’s probably ready to do more difficult triple-triples (she had been working on triple flip – triple toe loop). “They are super easy for me,” she said. She aims to skate two clean programs and show that she can come back from anything and be ready. If she didn’t get hurt, she’d still follow the same path, she said. “The only thing I’m aiming for is to do better than I did last year,” she said.

That’s realistic, Walia said. “She wants to skate two clean programs perfectly and that could put her higher than eighth,” he said. “It really depends on how the other skaters skate, also.” He knows Osmond doesn’t have the most difficult content in her program. If her international peers skate their best, they’ll have great results. Her one effort at a triple-triple in a long program during a summer competition didn’t go well. Her best bet for Sochi is to rely on what she has done many times, with combinations she can rely on.

“Last year, she had just learned these things so quickly and so now she has an extra year with them and that’s why she’s consistent in practice and why she’s so confident,” Walia said. Her tribulations have been a blessing in disguise, Osmond says. She was shocked with her effort at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championship. At the Olympics, anything can happen.

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