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Posted By SkatingPj

I am coming down to the home stretch in writing the first draft of my book.  It is going to be published in the Fall and the Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) is going to be ready at the end of this week.  The thing I like best is the picture on the front (I chose it) and the letters are blue.  Who doesn't like blue? 

The other cool thing of course is that I have gotten the chance to talk to some of the most important and fascinating skating people of our time.  There are still a few interviews yet to be done (Do you hear that Toller?  You can run - but you can't hide forever!  Actually - please don't hide forever :)  Pretty please?) 

Ok...back to the interviews...my idea was to try and capture in a  written "snapshot" who my subjects are rather than just talk about  their numerous accomplishments.  Not always easy to do as skaters are used to people asking them about what they do and not who they are.

My strategy?  To be vewy, vewy quwiet - like Elmer Fudd - patience is the key.  Eventually, if you wait long enough and repeat the question in an encouraging way, you will get an answer.

The only hitch is, when you get the chance to speak with 1948 Olympic Champion,  Barbara Ann Scott, like I had the privilege of doing yesterday, all you want to do is stop pounding on the keyboard and grab a coffee and listen.  Just listen.  Of course, you can't do that because you won't be able to remember anything that you can put into the book.  Sigh.

Regardless of having to pay close enough attention to be able to record what she was saying,  it was a special moment in my life.  Am still smiling today.  Thanks Barbara Ann!


 
Posted By SkatingPj

I was lucky enough to be invited today to go and see my young cousin Stephanie in her club's skating show. 

The show started in the typical way with a number choreographed for some of the more senior skaters to skate, which was well done.  To be honest, I was wanting to see Stephanie skate as a Train Conductor and then in the second half as a Lightning Bolt the most but along the way there were some delightful surprises.

The first was a number that featured dads in tuxedos and hockey skates skating with some girls.  It took me a minute to realize that the men were skating with their daughters in a scene that was achingly tender and charming.  The girls ranged in age from about 11 to about 14 years old and  were so sweet and earnest in how they guided their dads to where they had to be and getting them through the choreography.  The dads on the other hand beamed with pride seemingly unaware that they were being "managed" as they were so intent on not making a mistake, sensing the importance of the occasion.  The piece de resistance came when each of the eight dad/daughter duos skated along the end of the rink, one team at a time, doing something unique with the final two dads picking up their daughters in a dance lift.  It was lovely and I wasn't the only one dabbing my eyes just a little.

So often the dads are the ones at the skating show who are doing the "heavy lifting" so to speak. To see dads skate in a Club Carnival not as a joke or for comedy relief but in a way that those girls will remember for a long time was really touching.

Speaking of memories...it brought me right back to my own experiences as a young skater as I watched a group of dressed up little girls hit the ice.  There was the usual line and "intersection of death" (ok that's not what it is really called...but I love upping the drama...) and then there's the part when clusters of little girls gather in a group to create a circle.  There is always one bossy little one whose voice you can almost hear and whose body language is clearly visible from the audience as she tries to get her group "with the program."  I guess it takes one to know one. 

I have to say that the Cotton Candy kids were the best!  They were the wee-est ones and my favourite had to be a little fella in pale blue with a hat covering his helmet that had pale blue organza on top to resemble cotton candy. In any event, this little guy is not much of a skater - more of a stander- so an older girl carried him out to where the rest of the group had skated near the bottom of the ice. He stood there and waved, while all of the other Cotton Candy Kids skated around and when the number was over he was scooped up by a a "big girl" and carried offstage again.  Hilarious!  Skate Canada has a CanSkate program that we teach to our youngest skaters (it's a learn to skate program) maybe they should look at a CanStand program as the pre-cursor??!  Remember you heard it here first! <lol>

The Train Conductors were wonderful as were the Lightning Bolts!!!!  My cousin Stephanie, in my opinion, was the best one of all! In fact, her younger brother Kyle (almost 6) overheard me telling the guest skaters, Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier (who were also outstanding!!)  that they were "good too just no match for the Lightning Bolts".  He was wide-eyed, looking like his world was suddenly upside-down.  First off his cousin Pj (an "off the ice person") was talking to Vanessa and Paul ("on the ice people") AND she was telling them (THE GUEST STARS!!) that his sister was better??!!!!?  What can I say?I calls 'em as I sees 'em.

Congratulations to the Markham Skating Club - a great show!


 
Posted By SkatingPj

The two best things about the World Synchronized Skating Championships were the people and the skating. 

Being at a skating competition, regardless of the level is one of my favourite things; surrounded by an arena full of people who are as into skating as I am.  the next thig is running into friends that you don't expect to see. 

Take Josh Babb for example, who, along with sister Rebecca, were Junior Dance champions of Canada some years ago. He has moved on to coaching and is coaching a team at the top of the Junior ranks in the United States and has already been to Junior Synchro Worlds.  Not only is he up to his neck in Synchro, he is an amazing choreographer and totally committed to the sport of figure skating.  His passion is infectious and his ability to help identify some of the nuances of the programs was invaluable to me. 

Don't even get me started about Japan's Yutaka Higuchi who, at one time, was a Japanese men's champion and is very involved as a coach in Tokyo.  When I was a young skater, he would come to Toronto for the summer for training and in subsequent generations has been helpful in encouraging other Japanese skaters to do the same. A tall and elegant man now in his 50s, when you see his name on a skater's bio, he will only ever modestly say with a warm smile "I am helping them a bit with their skating."  The free program from the Jingu Ice Messengers (Japan1 ) was a phenominal example of modern and fresh creativity.

As far as the next best thing - the skating - it is very clear that the skating skills have come a very long way in a short time.  The top teams have access to money and resources that the bottom teams do not and that shows on the ice.  even so, at the bottom end I saw a huge improvement in speed and flow and ice coverage that was not as much in evidence the last time I saw World Synchro live in 2007 in London, ON.

The Free program to determine the World Synchronized Skating champions for 2010 took place on Sunday and it was a nail baiter coming down to the very last team.

What was thrilling was the fact that the top 7 teams all put down solid programs that held my attention and kept me writng notes.

Nexxice (Canada 1) and black ice (Canada 2) both did themselves proud and definitely left the Synchro world with the Scwarzennegger-esque message of "I'll be back." 

The winners from Finland - Rockettes (Finland 1) demonstrated a high level of skill and what I really liked was the creative risk they took in both programs.  In the short they showcased middle eastern music and movement but took a 1 point hit for their costumes which were deemed to be too theatrical and not athletic enough.  In the free, they portrayed jewel thieves who stole diamonds, were pursued by the police and ended up in Hawaii.  This explanation I got from one of the skaters backstage and it is a good thing too because it wasn't 100% clear to me from watching the program.  Either way, I applaud the effort.

Don't forget if you want to watch the whole thing unfold - CBC will air the show this coming Saturday on the main netwrok at 4 - 6pm ET on Saturday - Sports Weekend.


 
Posted By SkatingPj

When it comes right down to it, the practice before the event doesn't really matter as the competition and the results from the 2:50 second short program is what goes down on paper.

Take yesterday, sitting with some Synchro afficionados and later in the back hallways it seemed as if Canada 1 aka Nexxice would be the team to beat in the short program at the World Snchronized Skating Championships in Colorado Springs.  They were strong, confident with sublime edgework and breathtaking speed and as defending world champions had the advantage of "cred"coming into the event.

It took one slip and two skaters colliding during the  angle intersection  element and the subsequent two point deduction and diminished grade of execution for the element to leave them in 6th place 7.96 points out of the lead.

Speaking to Nexxice coach, Shelley Barnett and choreographer Anne Schelter after the event they said that they had already discussed the short program in the dressing room with the skaters and as a group had decided to put it behind them and focus on the free.  One skater brought up skating not for the result but for the love of skating. Ms. Schelter told me  "That was exactly what we hoped they would say."

Stepping up in last night's short program were the Finnish national champions, Rockettes, who earned an impressive 81.40 even with a 1.00 deduction in a fabulously theatrical and complex middle eastern themed program.

Team USA 1, The Haydenettes, exemplified fresh faced energy and youth and with strong skating skills and a program that really packed a punch they are in second place.

Canada 2, Toronto area's black ice showed what they were made of and sit in third place with a score of 76.26 going into the free where they will showcase a beautiful program choreographed by David Wilson.

After the short program, black ice coach Cathy Dalton said "It was nice to be able to do what we know how to do in practice."

It will all come down to the free and although I am going to go and watch the practice sessions, I won't forget that  it is once the judges are in their places and the team name is called that is when the skating really counts. 


 
Posted By SkatingPj

Athleticism.

In a word, athleticism is what describes the new breed of synchronized skating that I witnessed in practice yesterday in Colorado Springs, the home of this year's World Synchronized Skating Championships.

The degree of difficulty and skill was very much on display as each of the 23 teams representing 18 countries went through their paces.

I have had the chance to attend 2 prior world championships in the years since the very first one that took place in 2000 in Mineeapolis, USA.    Both events were in Canada with the last one being in 2007 in London, ON  and aside from the noise and enthusiasm of the fans what has persisted as a constant is the high degree of innovation and creativity that is apparent in the most highly ranked teams.

Canada's Nexxice, Team Canada 1 is here defending their  2009 world title, the first time that it was ever won by a team not from Sweden or Finland. Nexxice along with black ice (Team Canada 2)  are among the frontrunners here and are strong examples of the innovarion and creativity about which I speak.  They , along with the other top teams, seem to float across the rink and are almost noiseless throughout their stroking and turns; remarkable considering that there were 16 skaters on the ice at the time.  The attention to detail in terms of the skating skills tells me that Synchronized skating isn't the less talented skating cousin that it may once have been consideredand that the chorctaw, rochers, counters and twizzles really are "worlds worthy".

It will be interesting to see how it unfolds as the skaters take the ice for the short program a little later today.  Regardless, kudos to the coaches and skaters and judges and everyone else  who have helped Synchro Skating - you've come a long way (in a very short time!) baby!


 


 
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