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Olympian Profile: Gabrielle Daleman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beverley Smith

Olympian Profile: Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje may be going to the Sochi Olympics as Canada’s number two ice dancing team, but they have turned into a charismatic force in their own right.

They choose music that sticks with you. They hold nothing back when they perform. They fly around the ice at great speed, he a 6-foot-3 force majeure, she an expressive, silky-footed coryphée with intense wattage. Together, they have earned the third highest scores (175.23) in the world in ice dance this Olympic season, although less than four points separate four teams who desperately want that bronze medal in Sochi.

Weaver and Poje have been together eight years and it’s been a whirlwind of quick success, stunning disappointment, brutal injury, triumph and lots of lots of standing ovations. Weaver had been a junior dancer from Houston, Texas, one of many trying out with Poje, a native of Waterloo, Ont., in the summer of 2006. Poje had tagged along to the rink with his sister, Julia, and found ice dancing suited him better than anything else. “At the very first tryout, we knew there was something,” Weaver said. “I knew I should do this.”

“People could tell right from the beginning,” said Poje. “We did so much so fast. We were thrust into opportunities. And then we had some growing pains.” Poje started with coach Paul McIntosh when he was five or six. MacIntosh was one of the early coaches of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. He’s good at incubating ice dancers who become magnificent, apparently.

Now they’ve won seven medals at Canadian championships, bronze in senior after only five months together. Troubles: after Weaver raced to get her Canadian citizenship, they missed a trip to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics by three-tenths of a point, a crushing disappointment.

“It’s still a sore spot,” Weaver said. “I can tell you as I’m standing here right now that it makes me emotional about how we felt about that event four years ago. But that is the reason we don’t want to ever let that happen again and have been pushing ourselves so hard for the past four years. It feels like a lifetime ago and we’re different people now.”

She said they had to engage in a little “short term” memory for the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships that followed a week later. But they decided not to feel sorry for themselves, vowing to show the world what they could do. And they won it, with grace.

Their short dance this season to 42nd Street has received high praise on the international scene.

Their transitions into elements are mainly seamless. They have a lot of good connecting steps. They deliver a lot of innovative lifts, but they are never the sort of lifts where the arms and legs flail around into impossible positions. Each lift creates a picture, framed with the music. Their programs are spun by creative people: Pasquale Camerlengo and Shae-Lynn Bourne.

The free dance, to the crushing rawness of “Maria de Buenos Aires,” is a masterpiece of interpretation, according to Rod Garrossino, himself an ice dancer in his day. It is not easy to portray that raw sort of tango, he says, and they have captured it perfectly.

“This dance is the polar opposite to the short dance,” Poje said. “It’s very passionate and the program relies heavily on our connection and it’s to tango operetta.” The music has soul and emotion: perfect for this team who can wring tears out of thin air.

Indeed, they got a standing ovation at their first practice for just showing up at the world championship in London, Ontario last season, after Weaver suffered a fractured fibula, the small bone in the lower leg. The doctors’ prognosis: Weaver need not expect to get her foot back into her boot until April, 2013. The world championships were in March. Weaver skated in pain, with pins pressing against her boot. It was as gallant a comeback as Silken Laumann’s effort to get ready for the Barcelona Olympics after a training accident mangled a lower leg.

Weaver says her mother, Jackie, is the wind beneath her wings. “She is everything to me,” she said. “Every time I doubt myself, she tells me: ‘You can do this.’ She’s helped me to become the sublime optimist that I am. I have taken that into my partnership with Andrew.”

She says now that she’s forgotten about the injury, but acknowledges that their gritty comeback – and fifth-place finish at worlds – drove them both to greater heights. They found out how much they could push themselves to do what seemed impossible.

Now their aim is to be on the Olympic podium, standing beside Virtue and Moir. “I think we have every right, every ability to be there,” Weaver said.

They will go to the Olympics with no regrets. “I feel like we’re in a great place,” Weaver said. “Now we just need to keep working.”

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: Patrick Chan

Patrick Chan wears a heavy mantle on his shoulders heading to the Sochi Olympic Games.

He’s going into the event as a three-time world champion – a difficult feat in this era of the Code of Points judging system. He sets and resets world scoring records. And Canada has never won Olympic gold in the men’s figure skating event, despite its storied history with skaters such as Donald Jackson, Toller Cranston, Brian Orser, Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko and Jeff Buttle.

Chan’s path to Sochi hasn’t always been smooth. Since he finished fifth at the Vancouver Olympics, a fledging who had been overcoming an injury, he quickly learned a consistent quad, and dominated competition, until his peers began to find ways to catch up. But there is no denying his power. He has a rare skill set.

“He’s unlike any other skater,” says Buttle, who choreographed his current, record-setting Olympic short program.

“His skate-ability is the best, bar none,” says current choreographer David Wilson, who has designed his epic Olympic free skate to the “Four Seasons.”

Chan currently holds two world scoring records, mainly from his brilliant win at the Trophy Eric Bompard in France last fall.  He regained his world record of 98.52 in the short program from Yuzuru Hanyu during that magical effort in France, until Hanyu took it back at the Grand Prix Final, where he defeated Chan.

But Chan’s marks for the free skate (196.75) and for total score (295.27) from France still stand. He did chalk up a score of 302.14 points (winning by 62.70 points over runner-up Kevin Reynolds) at a past Canadian championship, but of course, national scores don’t count. Hanyu earned 297.80 points for his win at the Japanese championships in December, 2013.

Born in Ottawa on New Year’s Eve of 1990 to Chinese immigrants Karen and Lewis Chan, Chan really wanted to play hockey, but ended up in the CanSkate program. He was already a going concern as a tiny 10-year-old when he finished third at the national juvenile championships under gravel-voiced coach Osborne Colson, who even then, knew he had a special skater. From there, Chan went from victory to victory in Canada, winning pre-novice, novice, and junior championships. His win at the 2014 Canadian championships in Ottawa was his seventh national senior title.

Chan is a skaters’ skater, with skills honed by Colson, who demanded the young boy spend half an hour each day on basic stroking. He’s left a legacy with Chan, probably the most powerful skater on the continent, able to gain top speed with a few strokes, seemingly effortlessly. Choreographer Lori Nichol also moulded Chan into her vision of what she thought a male skater should be: with feet as intricate as those of an ice dancer. Nichol, who took Chan from a young teenager to a world star, says she could give him a simple step, but add his speed and depth of curve and the lean he gets on his blade, and suddenly the step isn’t so easy. He rarely uses simple crossovers to gain speed. There are hops and turns and unexpected changes of direction in his routine. His feet are never still. It takes incredible conditioning to maintain that effort over the four minutes, 40 seconds of the long program. Because of it, Chan has had to carefully find a rhythm, a pace throughout it.

To every student she teaches, Nichol shows videos of 1976 Olympic champion John Curry, with whom she used to skate professionally. Curry, she said, was “a true master of refinement and quality.” Chan is a more powerful skater than Curry was, but she says now that Chan has mastered his power, “a gentler refinement can come into play,” she says.

Now that Chan is 24, he’s taken responsibility for his work, his training, his music choices, his nutrition and his off-ice time. He won last season, without having the right tools, he notes. “But this season, I’m in a very different place,” he says. He’s in a much happier place, training in Detroit, surrounded by friends such as Canadian teammate Elladj Baldé and American skater Jeremy Abott. It could make all the difference.

He hasn’t added any more quads this year, staying with the quad toe loop, solely and in combination with a triple toe loop. “I believe I have all the elements I need,” he said. His biggest challenge will be triple Axels, and the mental aspect, conquering doubts. He’s trained diligently all last summer, instilling the muscle memory and the pacing into his programs. He didn’t tour.

Chan wants to put himself into the same mindset as Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, considered one of the best pitchers of his generation, who, after he won a game against the Boston Red Sox during the World Series, was asked when he knew he was going to win. “The minute I stepped on the mound,” he said.

“I noticed that when I won my first world championships, when I stepped on the ice, I knew I was going to win,” Chan said. “There was no question. There was no doubt. There was no worry.” Everything he has done this season, win or not, has been a step to Sochi, working through the things he needs to nail.

Everyone around him sees it. Chan says Baldé has helped him tremendously. “He’s training better than ever in his life,” Baldé says. “I’ve personally never seen him skate the way he is right now. And that’s kinda scary, because he’s already three-time world champion. He’s going on the road where he’s going to be one of the greats.”

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

New team event in Sochi has Canada eyeing gold

Never has a Canadian figure skating team shown so much strength and depth as it has in the past year, leading up to the Sochi Olympics.
That’s incredibly good timing, because for the first time, there will be a team event in figure skating at the Games. And, judging by the results at the world championships last March in London, Ont., Canadian skaters intend to make a bold statement at the Sochi arena. In London, Canadians delivered in spades:
Patrick Chan won his third world title while Kevin Reynolds finished third in the short program and fifth overall. Olympic ice dancing champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who have drawn parallels to the iconic Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean during their careers, took the silver medal while Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje made a seemingly impossible comeback from injury to finish fifth; and Canadian pair champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won a bronze medal, while Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch were close on their heels to finish fourth. Even in the women’s event, Kaetlyn Osmond, making her world debut, finished fourth in the short program and eighth overall.
In London, Ont., Canadian skaters had won medals in three of the four disciplines for the first time since 2008, but their backups weren’t far behind.
“I think it’s definitely ours to win,” said Moscovitch at the time. “It’s very exciting for us to be part of this generation of skaters.”
Michael Slipchuk wasn’t surprised. “Given the skates people had had at Canadians and Four Continents, we knew our team was skating well,” he said. “To do it at the Olympics is a different thing. But our skaters did what they had been doing all season.”
The team event combines the scores for each of four disciplines. And even though Canada goes in as favourite to win gold, it has never won a World Team Trophy, finishing second twice and third once in the event held in Japan two weeks after the world championships.
But Slipchuk says the Olympic format favours the Canadian team more than the World Team Trophy does, with its two men’s entries, two women’s entries and only one pair and one dance team. “plays to the strength of countries with singles,” he said. “Our pair and dance team really couldn’t make much ground on the points from the singles. The Olympic setup we like much better because it’s one per discipline. Everyone is on an even keel.”
Over the past year, Canada has racked up more points than any country (6,053), well more than host Russia, with 5459 points, is favoured to win the event. The other countries that have qualified, in order of points are United States, Japan, Italy, France, China, Germany, Ukraine and Britain. All 10 teams compete in a short program on February 6, a day before the opening ceremonies, but only five advance to the long programs. A country is allowed two substitutions between the short and long programs.
Alas, because both Japan and Britain failed to qualify a skater in one of the four disciplines to contest the event, they may invoke an “additional athlete quota” to use a non-qualified skater to complete their team. Japan, for example, needs to bring in a pair team, while Britain has not qualified a men’s skater.
During the past year, Canada’s competitors have grown stronger – but so have Canadian skaters, Slipchuk said. Canadian skaters got into early competitions this season to get mileage and feedback on their programs. Some have dealt with frustrations so far: Reynolds with boot problems that caused him to miss all of his Grand Prix events, and an injury to Osmond that caused her to pull out of Skate Canada and miss her second Grand Prix event. Slipchuk says both are back on track. “Kevin has had some good training behind him, and Kaetlyn is building back up to where she’s comfortable,” he said. “I think everybody is where we’d like to see them and we’ll get a better indication this week.
“I think when we get to Sochi, the team will be ready,” Slipchuk said.
Strategy will be important in the team event, and Canada has a plan, but it’s keeping its ideas close to the vest, Slipchuk said. The skaters for the team short program don’t have to be announced until 10 a.m. the day before the event. “It’s like hockey, with the hot goalie, right?” Slipchuk said. Should a country place all of its best skaters in the team event, and risk tiring or injuring them for the individual events? Canada has one big advantage: because of the depth of its team, it has lots of options, more so than, for example, Russia, which can field only one man to the Olympics and therefore has only one choice for its men’s representative for the team event.
And Slipchuk says despite some concerns that the team event could detract from a skater’s ability to do their best in an individual event that not one member of the Canadian team has said they don’t want to be a part of it. “It’s such a unique opportunity,” he said. “You don’t get an option in Olympic year to get in that main rink and compete once before your individual event.” He believes the team event will help them all in their individual events.
And the team must keep pushing, aside from the team event. Slipchuk says that it’s important to keep building the “third rankers” – the ones who will take over in the next quadrennial – with hopes that they will push into the top 12 or 15 at the Games. “We’re not sure what the team will look like, post-Olympics, and we’ll have to go to a world championship and build spots for the next year.
“The responsibility on our team falls on everyone,” he said. “We’re expecting everyone to go to the Games and be their best and not have any regrets.”

Beverley Smith

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir win gold in Ottawa, Ready to peak in Sochi

Yes, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won their sixth Canadian title in front of a house that gave them a standing ovation. Teddy bears rained on the ice. And so it should be for the Olympic champions that wove a spell with their floating quality on ice.

But the tears came for two teams who train together every day, and hope to be Olympic bound when the decision is made Sunday.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje missed the Olympic spot four years ago by .3 points and this time they snared it easily. And their training mates, budding young stars Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam took the bronze medal, a year after their own heartbreak when they suffered a fall in the free dance that cost them a spot at the world championships in London Ont.

Virtue and Moir won the free dance with 117.87 points, ahead of Weaver and Poje with 110.86, a mark that shocked and pleased them. Paul and Islam couldn’t believe their eyes, either. They finally broke 100 in the free, with a mark of 102.97 points.

Overall, Virtue and Moir set a Canadian record of 194.03 points. Weaver and Poje finished up with 183.54 and Paul and Islam earned 170.64.

“It’s a good feeling,” said Moir, who added that it was good practice for Sochi to have to skate after Weaver and Poje who got a standing ovation. “When they bring the house down like that, it adds to the pressure,” Moir said.  “It’s more real, more what we’ll find in Sochi.”

Virtue admitted to a slip in their final twizzle. “The point is to peak in Sochi,” she said. “It would be alarming if we skated perfectly (at this point).”

Weaver and Poje are just as intent on finishing on the podium in Sochi as Virtue and Moir to take back their Olympic gold.

“We want to be on the podium,” Weaver said. “We want to be standing next to Tessa and Scott. I think we have every right, every ability to be there. Let the chips fall where they may. Let the judges do what they want to do, but we are going to prove to the world that we deserve to be there.”

Paul and Islam could barely speak afterwards. “It’s just an amazing feeling,” Paul said. “I can’t even express it.”

“This whole year, we believed we could do it,” Islam said. “But at the same time, when it happens, it’s still unbelievable. We’re ecstatic. We’re speechless.”

They said they found the day very nerve-wracking but they went into “autopilot” and shed the fears and the stress. “We trusted our training,” Islam said.

Their world championship miss has transformed them into Olympic wannabees. “That motivated the hell out of us,” Islam said. “And it has all year. “

Beverley Smith

SOCHI 2014 CANADIAN OLYMPIC FIGURE SKATING TEAM ANNOUNCED

OTTAWA – Skate Canada today announced their 17 athletes who are formally nominated onto the figure skating team for the men’s, women’s, pair, ice dance and team events for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. The three men’s singles athletes: Patrick Chan, Kevin Reynolds and Liam Firus; the two ladies singles: Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Daleman; the three pairs: Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford, Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch and Paige Lawrence & Rudi Swiegers; and three ice dance teams: Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje, and Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam were nominated during an announcement at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.

“I have thought about this moment for such a long time and it is finally here. I can’t say how honoured I am to be named as a Canadian Olympic Figure Skating team member,” said Eric Radford from Balmertown, Ontario, a Sochi 2014 hopeful. “We will all keep working and training hard in preparation to represent our country in Sochi.”

“When I was little I always imagined what it must be like to go to the Olympic Games,” said Kaetlyn Osmond, from Sherwood Park, Alberta and Marystown, Newfoundland. “Now I am going for sure and I’ve never felt so proud knowing I will represent Canada in Russia. I can’t wait to skate for all Canadians on the Olympic ice.”

“We’re very excited about our figure skating team going into Sochi,” said Marcel Aubut, President, Canadian Olympic Committee. “All of our skaters are very strong contenders and we have tremendous hope heading into the Games. Canada will cheer their skaters on as they compete in Russia to show the world why we are winter.”

The Canadian Team for Sochi 2014 was finalized following the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Ottawa. With 17 skaters, Canada has qualified the largest figure skating team of any country for Sochi 2014: 3 men, 2 ladies, 3 pairs and 3 ice dance. Canada was also the top qualifying country for the team event which will make its Olympic debut in Sochi.

“Canada has a long tradition of excellence in figure skating, and we are proud of the team that has been named to represent our country at the Olympic Winter Games in a few weeks,” said the Royal Galipeau, Member of Parliament (Ottawa-Orleans). “Congratulations to our skaters! Many Canadians will follow you and encourage you as you face some of the world’s best athletes. Good luck!”

The Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games will take place from February 7-23, 2014. The Canadian Olympic Team has set a goal to contend to be the top nation in overall medals won.

List of Figure Skating athletes nominated to the Sochi 2014 Canadian Olympic Team:

Women Singles:

First Last Hometown
Kaetlyn Osmond Sherwood Park, AB; Marystown, NL
Gabrielle Daleman Newmarket, ON

Men Singles:

First Last Hometown
Patrick Chan Toronto, ON
Kevin Reynolds Coquitlam, BC
Liam Firus North Vancouver, BC

Pairs:

First Last Hometown
Meagan Duhamel Lively, ON
Eric Radford Balmertown, ON
Kirsten Moore-Towers St. Catharines, ON
Dylan Moscovitch Toronto, ON
Paige Lawrence Kennedy, SK
Rudi Swiegers Virden, MB

Ice Dance:

First Last Hometown
Tessa Virtue London, ON
Scott Moir Ilderton, ON
Kaitlyn Weaver Waterloo, ON
Andrew Poje Waterloo, ON
Alexandra Paul Barrie, ON
Mitchell Islam Barrie, ON

These 17 figure skaters now join 10 speed skating athletes, 10 Curling athletes, 16 bobsledders, seven lugers, four skeleton athletes, 21 women hockey players, eight biathletes, five snowboarders, 25 men hockey players and three skiers as the next members on the Canadian Olympic Team. Up to eight more teams will be announced between now and February.