News and Views from the world wanderings of Pj Kwong.  Finally!  A place for all of the things I write and think about!

Posted By SkatingPj

Pj and Kevin Reynolds
I was speaking to a coaching colleague the other day and it’s funny but we both agreed that “the year” doesn’t start with the calendar in January but rather in September when the kids go back to school and to the rink and order returns to my life.

 Nothing signals the start of my professional life more than Skate Canada’s High Performance Camp where many of this season’s competitors are brought together in one place. The reason for the camp is two-fold:  to introduce skaters to the media and to have them perform their programs under a bit of pressure for Skate Canada officials who are on hand to evaluate and ensure that skaters’ programs follow the rules and take advantage of all of the opportunities to rack up points.

There is also team building and off-ice evaluations and a chance for the skaters and coaches to wrap their brains around what work has to be done in the fine tuning of programs before competition season starts in earnest.

My purpose for being at the camp was to capture video interviews in a series we’re calling The Next Step:  with some of Canada’s top skaters for CBC Sports. 

My joy was in finding myself lost in the exuberance of this ad-hoc family reunion.

Here is the link to the videos and CBC's video player for figure skating:

if we can go by what the skaters say, it's going to be a great season!


Posted By SkatingPj

Ice dance at its very best is about the connection between the skaters. Paul Poirier, half of the reigning Canadian ice champion came into the summer having conducted a fairly exhaustive search for a new partner.

In mid-June of this year, American ice dancer Piper Gilles made the trek to Toronto for a 2 day tryout with Paul.  Paul says: "Carol (Lane) told me that I would know within the first 5 minutes if the skating would work out with someone else." He coninues by saying: "Piper was the last girl I tried out with and if anyone was good fit it would be her." Piper's mother had heard that Paul was looking for a new partner and approached Piper's former coach, Patti Gottwein who knew Carol,  to phone and see if a tryout could be arramged.

On the ice at the annual exhibition put on by the ice dancers from the Scarboro Ice Dance Elite school, Piper and Paul went through their paces including part of a short dance that may or may not be incorporatd into a program for the upcoming season.

Skating together for only three weeks and with brand new choreography, allowances have to be made for working out the differences in style, and yet there were some elements that jumped off the page for me: namely their speed and their unison which was very impressive. If you have never seen Piper Gilles think along the lines of American glamour girl Kate Hudson in the movie 'Nine'. Gilles has a fresh-faced, playful quality that is a welcome contrast against some of the over the top kookiness that can be found in the international ice dance field. 

Although they wouldn't comment on whether their arrangement was 'for good', they both acknowledged "why wouldn't it be?" By all accounts, they hit the ice very day training with determination and building towards the future.  Even if they were ready for the Fall's events, they are not able to compete internationally for Canada for another year according to ISU rules.  That will not stop them from working hard and readying themselves for Nationals where they want to blow the 'socks off' the field. Paul says with a grin that they will be the 'wildcard' come Canadian nationals in January. 

In the meantime, Piper continues to get used to her new life in Canada, Paul settles into a new partnership and coach Carol Lane plans how to develop the team of Gilles and Poirier:

For more from Paul (in English and French) and Piper - view my video:

Time will tell where this team is concerned although it is clear that they may be on to something.


@@@Pj's YouTube Channel is  called PjKwongWordBroker for more videos @@@

Posted By SkatingPj

Jessica Dube and Sebastien Wolfe 2011
Canadian pair champion Jessica Dube found success with longtime former partner Bryce Davison who was sidelined in the Fall with a serious injury to his knee requiring surgery. Looking to make a fresh start, Dube is joined this season by new partner Sebastien Wolfe who is a pair skater looking to make the leap on to the big stage with only three years of pair experience.  Not knowing what to expect, I stayed late the night before they competed their free to watch them practice. At 6'2" tall, Sebastien already has a physical presence that is hard not to notice. Watching them in practice, their potential is clear. They have speed and strength on their side even with only about 6 weeks of solid training experience.

Coach Annie Barabe's perspective can be summed up this way: "The biggest challenge in the last couple of years has been Jessica's consistency in the jumps and the throws. I want her to get confidence and consistency and that is what I am working for."

Annie's thoughts:

In the midst of interviewing fellow Canadian and 1989 World Silver medallist, Lyndon Johnston, Jessica and Sebastien got on to the ice and into position without me noticing them. It was only when Lyndon had to go because he wanted to watch them that I wrapped up what we were doing and turned my attention to the rink and started to record the team on the ice. At a certain point in my line of work, you can recognize skaters, even  from a great  distance based on their (familiar) silhouette. As I was taping the team on the ice, it took me much more than a moment to recognize the skaters. The broody intensity of the Philip Glass music (including selections from Heroes) and the intricacies of the David Wilson choreography coupled with the elongated body line of the team paints a completely different picture from what I expected. The skaters, coach and those of us standing around watching would have to agree that this program is a departure for them from the 'expected'.. "We knew we needed something different" said Jessica.

Here are some highlights from their Liberty free program:

At this point in their training, appearing at the Liberty competition is for experience. Jessica said: "We don't know each other really well. We have been friends from the rink but in this case I didn't know what to expect. Now that the 'ice is broken' we can get home and working on things." Their short program was choreographed by Marina Zoueva and the skaters say simply  is a blues which again will give the pair a sophistication that will impress as they start to try and carve out their own niche on the Canadian landscape.

"It's normal to be a bit off." Jessica commented and in July it makes sense that with the programs so new, they would be considered a work in progress. With relaxed and happy faces they talked about their nervousness taking the ice, she not as much as usual and he more so. Satisfied on balance with getting 'out there' some of the highlights in their free included gorgeous side by side triple flips and strong triple loop and Lutz throws.

"Of course we have lots more to do." Jessica said. Clearly from both skaters, it looks like they are on the right path.


@@@ Visit my YouTube Channel: PjKwongWordbroker - @@@


Posted By SkatingPj

Cynthia Phaneuf pic at Liberty 2011
At the Liberty competition a little earlier today, all eyes were on the beautiful and graceful Canadian champion Cynthia Phaneuf as she took the ice for her short program.  Composed, it looked good as she started into her opening moves and what struck me was the huge leap in her maturity and confidence. Skating to the same music she used last year, Spanish Guitars, the nuances seemed to have been expanded and along with her powerful skating the program filled the rink.  Here is her Liberty SP posted with Cynthia's permission:

Although she had a problem with her Lutz today, history was made when she landed a triple loop for the first time in competition in her short program. "Training has been going very well at home and I landed the triple loop in this program first a couple of weeks ago and I think it was always Annie's (coach Barabe) to do it here so I am very happy with that." Annie told her that the loop was working very well for her in shows and she rarely missed it which would make it a good choice for the short.

Last season was filled with ups and downs for Cynthia who talked about feeling depressed after skating to less than her potential at both Skate Canada and World. For that reason, she is making "performance" her goal this season rather than focusing on numbers or results.

This is a good strategy for a skater who, when she is "on", can easily compete with the best in the world when it comes to musical connection, strength and power.

Cynthia spoke of feeling realxed coming into this competition and understands that this is the very first step in a very long season. Her goal is to create consistency from one competition to the next and to continue to become a better skater.  "I feel more ready this year than I felt the year before. I feel ready for this time of the year. I feel confident." That confidence translated into support from the crowd of "strangers" at Liberty which was a thrill for Phaneuf.

Here is a quick bilingual interview:

As always, Cynthia has a gold  pendant around her neck engraved with a Chinese symbol which she says means "always happy". Her mom bought it for her in about 2004 and it should serve as a reminder of how she makes us feel as the audience when she skates her best -

Always Happy :)

Posted By SkatingPj

Once again my good friend and I are on the road to the Liberty competition taking place in Aston, PA where almost 1000 entries were received and I have it on good authority that about 800 will in fact take their place at center ice.

On the slate for today (in between stops at the ubiquitous and very tempting shopping malls and Target locations) were the senior pairs short including the new partrnership Caydee Denney and John Coughlin. Each of these skaters are national champions with other partners and it would seem that putting them together would make a lot of sense. The funny thing is that on paper is one thing but in reality can be something quite different. In the case of Denney and Coughlin - think better. I know that there is the temptation to compare these two together with each of their former partners. I wouldn't bother only because they are beautifully suited and seemingly very comfortable and did I mention talented?? (Their triple twist is as good as anyone else's anywhere :)  )

John talked about returning from Worlds and was ready to walk away from skating. He spoke with Dalailah Sappenfield (his coach) about maybe starting to coach. She asked him to hold on for just a little bit because she had an idea that he should try out with Cadey. "There is no accident that Caydee and I got together. I think my (late) Mom was looking out for me." This statement is accompanied by a warm and engaging smile from John who continues by saying "Caydee was the one person who would have been able to have me continue in skating."  Both skaters showed real promise in their debut here with a short program choreographed by coach Dalilah who said that she knew that they would be able to get the "tricks" once they got their timing down.
Aside from the 3 Twist, they also had beautiful side by side 3 Toes and a great throw triple Lutz.  The free program was choreographed by Marina Zoueva to a version of Nessun Dorma which includes selections from Vanessa Mae and Jeff Beck. John says wryly that Marina doesn't believe in transitions that would be easy for pair skaters and has them doing various hand holds and changes of position. "It's a tough program - especially the transitions" he says.

Catching former Canadian champion and World silver medallist Lyndon Johnston who was in the building at the boards for another up and coming US team - Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay  had this to say: "I think the pair's field can be summed up in one word : Exciting!"

Caydee Denney is a young woman living in the moment but with her eye on the future: "I have talked a lot about pushing towards Sochi but also want to enjoy the process along the way."

With their first outing out of the way, they can settle in and continue to develop their potential which they have in boatloads. Keeping in mind that they have only really been working for under 2 months - it will be wonderful to see what they will be able to do given more time.

With a smile on his face, John Coughlin says: "I am very happy and very blessed."

If I said it once - I'll say it again - the pairs will be taking centre stage this upcoming season.



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