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Posted By SkatingPj

Hold that thought.  I will be coming back to it in a bit.

Today I found myself in 'ice dance heaven' on a visit tp Ice Dance Elite at the Scarborough Figure Skating Club.  I was there, along with my Mom who is an ice dance judge, at coach Carol Lane's invitation to see some skating, specifically to start to wrap our brains around the new Short Dance component in the ice dance competition.  I was also looking forward to chatting with Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill - look for their story in an upcoming blog.

I have to tell you that this is a particularly busy summer program.  It runs for 8 weeks and boasts 14 dance teams at all competitive levels including 4 Junior, 2 Senior and an International team in attendance.  The  program structure is quite simple:  it runs from 6:30 - noon weekdays and the skaters are divided into a higher or lower session depending on their level and skaters are also expected to participate in a ballet class in the morning followed by a fitness class a little later on.

What we arrived to see was Performance Day, where the skaters get the chance to do a more structured run-through of their program(s).  It was fun to bounce around from one level to the next and from one kind of program to another.  The thing that amused me more than anything was the large bristol board pinned to a cork board with the days of the week going across the top and the skaters' names running down the left side.  There were lots of colourful push pins already in place underneath the day's name and beside the skaters' names.  On closer inspection (which I then confirmed with Carol) there is a unique system in place to evaluate run-throughs based on the colour of the push pin:

CLEAR = Outstanding Performance

GREEN = Clean run-through

BLUE = One error

YELLOW = Up to 2 errors

RED = You're in trouble :)  Do it again!

Sometimes it's the small things that can help motivate an athlete the most!

The best thing was seeing the short dances.  They have been described as a combination of a compulsory dance and a choreographed part with required elements.  The Junior skaters have to incorporate 2 patterns of the Viennese Waltz, while the Seniors have to incorporate 1 pattern of the Golden Waltz and as long as the tempo is correct, you have your choice of music.  Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier wowed us their short dance to Alicia Keys'  "Falling".  Without seeing it, I wouldn't have expected it to work and work it does in a very sultry and sophisticated way.  I wasn't sure about the concept, but I think the short dance is going to work and hats off to Carol and coaching partner Juris Razgulaevs for getting all those programs put togther in the last 6 weeks! (All dance coaches were in the same boat of having to wait for the Short Dance and it's rules to be passed by the ISU Congress mid-June)

During a quick goodbye hug, Vanessa and Paul mentioned that they were going to be at the Mariposa Gala in Barrie on the night before they were performing in their own gala.  What gala I asked? Ice Dance Elite's teams will all be performing and previewing all of their programs for the coming season.  I am going to be there to see not only some great skating but some more sort dances.  Call it research :)  You can come to this fundraiser too if you like.  Tickets are available for purchase at the door, with the price of $10 for adults and less for students and seniors.  The date is Wednesday, August 4th at Thornhill Community Centre at the corner of John St and Bayview.  Paul said that the audience can leave comments for the skaters and the show is called "So You Think You Can Judge?"

It took me a minute, but I told you I would get back to it! :See you there :)


 
Posted By SkatingPj
Thailand. Singapore. South Korea. Just part of Patrick Chan’s travels since we last spoke. True enough I did see him skate at Liberty in Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago, but at the time, we didn’t get the chance to catch up. The catching up took place in a Toronto are rink on a hot July weekend during the shooting of a new commercial for Skate Canada.
Patrick has an ease about him which makes it very easy to have a “normal” conversation. He is grounded, well raised and has an open curiousity that is delightful. In between graciously signing autographs and taking pictures, he told me about taking a trip to Korea for a Yu-Na Kim show when he and his parents decided to keep going to Singapore to visit family and then Thailand for a well-deserved vacation. His eyes grow wide as he talks about his culture shock in Thailand as well as his experiences rock climbing and snorkeling. 
Ever the sportsman, it doesn’t take much to get Patrick to talk about his non-ice pursuits in Colorado where he now makes his training base. He talks with enthusiasm about the mountain biking he does on Saturdays, the occasional white water rafting and the golfing he does on Sundays. I asked Patrick about his golfing handicap. (Side note – I don’t really know what the word means – but I have heard it bandied about so felt confident I wouldn’t be letting my dopey-ness showing) Patrick considered for a moment and then said “15” I said “mhhmmm” (my default response when I know I am supposed to acknowledge something but don’t really know on which side of the fence my response should fall.) I asked pair skater and Patrick’s Olympic roommate Bryce Davison who was sitting close by if this was good. Bryce said “for a full-time elite skater, a handicap of 15 is very good.” With the mystery of the extra-curricular sports solved, I said “Patrick, what about the skating??!!”

He smiled and said that he is having a great time training and his ratio of landed quads is almost 50/50. You get the feeling that he is gaining maturity and experience at a rapid rate. He talks about skating on a rink that is filled with skaters and the lessons that he is learning as a result; Valuable lessons like learning how to work around other skaters and to really experience the ebb and flow of a competitive session. He is enjoying his Monday - Friday skating week that includes three on-ice sessions and two more off-ice per day. Training at the high altitude in Colorado has had a positive effect on his stamina and he found himself not even a little out of breath at the conclusion of his short program at Liberty. 

He is grateful for the friendships he’ll “have for a lifetime” from skating and recognizes that he has had the chance to see a lot more of the world than most 19 year olds. He considers competing to carry with it an adrenaline rush and feels that this was something he was born to do.

Having won the world silver medal for the last two years, Patrick would be lying if he said he didn’t have his sights set on the top of the podium in 2011. Time will tell but at this early pre-season stage, he is definitely one to watch.

 
Posted By SkatingPj

It was a pleasure to be able to catch up with Canada's pair champions Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison over the weekend.  The setting was a local Toronta area rink and the occasion was a commercial.  I was there volunteering along with my son Peter, because a number of kids that I coach were part of the cast.

What's new for this season?  As has already been reported, coach Annie Barabe is happily anticipating the birth of her first baby which has meant that the skaters had to augment their coaching in another way.  Enter former Canadian pair champion, Doug Ladret who now makes his coaching home in Arizona.  They have already done work together in both Doug's rink as well as in Montreal and the situation has been mutually satisfying.

Bryce says:  "Doug is very technical but also very calming and for me to able to work with someone who is built more like me, in other words not a huge guy, has been great." 

Jessica adds: "I am someone who gets mad at myself if I can't do something well the first time.  Doug has made me see that even if I don't do it the first time, I can do it.  He is very calm and I don't feel any pressure."  She goes on to say :  "A lot of what Doug says is not too different from what Annie says which means that we don't have to adjust too much our technique."

What about travelling to the Grand Prix events in the Fall to Russia and Canada?  Jessica says with a chuckle that Annie says she wants to  come with the baby!  Fortunately, there is enough time to allow the new Mom to be able to figure out what is best for herself,  the skaters, the baby.

Jessica and Bryce talked about their programs and are looking forward to unveiling their new short program at the Summer Provinicial competition in Quesbec.  Working once again with David Wilson they have gone with a program to the soundtrack from The Mask of Zorro...can't wait to see Bryca Bandera(s)-fied!   Jessica talked about moving to something a little different but still allowing them to work on a more character based program, which is one of their strengths.  They said that they would be keeping their free program to The Way We Were and have made some changes around the choreography as well as their costumes.  

Jessica and Bryce have been hard at work since the start of the summer. One of their goals was to create a new entry into one of their lifts in order to conform to new guidelines in the rules.  It seems that a one handed entry, carry and exit on a lift  is no longer worth as much as it was without a variation in the entry or a leg hold by the lady in the air.  Just one example of how they have been "upping" their game in the off-season.

Far too quickly our break was over and it was time to get back to work.   Observing them from a distance, Jessica and Bryce are consummate professionals in front of the camera or behind where they happily chatted with skaters and signed autographs.

Bryce remembers as a six year-old, wearing a Stars on Ice t-shirt and going to a "skate and meet" kind of event with other skaters from his club.  He has a picture showing him being carried on Kurt Browning's shoulders.  Not only did he get to meet his idol, he got to skate with him.  It is that same sensitivity that he brings to his exchanges with the young people in attendance for whom he and Jessica are the idols.

Jessica smiles at the story and says that for her the gift of skating are the close friends and amazing people she has met.

For 11 year-old Sophie, a brand new pair skater - one of her "amazing people" is Jessica Dube.


 
Posted By SkatingPj

The truth of the matter is Josee and I have moved in the same skating circles for a really long time.  I announced her as a competitor and was in the building when she won her 3 Canadian titles. I have talked to her superficially  and we have "air hugged" lots ot times over the years.   I wasn't at all prepared for the woman I got to know in Vancouver at the Olympics where we were both working at figure skating.

This is a woman with a mesmerising combination of charm, warmth and natural smarts; packaged in a whirlwind of energy which is  totally captivating.  To say we laughed in Vancouver would be an understatement.  Our friendship bonded due in no small part to the fact that Josee has a great sense of fun and is someone who does not take herself too seriously  - even when lots of people around her do.  She says in a telling statement that her 3rd trip to the Olympics, her first behind the scenes, was the best for her.  It was awe inspiring to appreciate all that goes on at the Games, not on the Field of Play, which is something she didn't see when she was focused as an athlete competing.

Where has she been and what has she been doing since you last saw her?

Skating has been at the centre of everything in her life and when asked about what it has given to her, she became thoughtful and said:  "Skating destroyed me and built me."   Wow.  I looked at her face and expected to see pain or bitterness registered there.  Instead, I observed an appreciation for the lessons she learned by not achieving all that she had hoped for.  She went on to say: "To learn the hard lessons as a young person helped me to realize who I am."   More than anything, it is this confidence that "the sun will come out tomorrow" even after disappointment,  that makes her such a valuable resource in her current incarnation as a coach.

Josee is at the Granite Club in Toronto , where she is the Head Competitive Coach.  She talks with pride about loving the technical aspect of the sport and gets a real kick out of "sharing moments" with the skater.  Having been an elite skater, she knows first-hand what has to happen and explains that her entree into the coaching realm was by way of seminars and consulting while she was still skating and performing.   Then came the moment of truth:  she took over the skaters for fellow coach Tracy Tutton who went on maternity leave; all 26 of them!  It was this experience where she really cut her "coaching teeth" and she realized that there was a lot more to the art than meets the eye.  She fell in love with the connection to the skater inherent in coaching and moved away from consulting  Her strength she says is in the technical realm but she also knows that a good coach has to create and manage a team that supports the skater.  It is a multi-faceted approach to skaters and skating that seems to work for her. 

The biggest difference she says between being a skater and being a coach is clear.   The rewards for the skater can be immediate:  they either land a jump or skate well in a competition or they don't.  By comparison, the rewards in coaching are not always immediate and that improvement takes time.  There is nothing more rewarding though, she says than having a skater come back at a later time to say that they have never forgotten what she said.

Her other passion?  Twins!  Her own 5 year olds Fiona and Noah.  Do they skate? "Of course" she says with a giggle "They are Canadian. They  know how to skate and swim." she continues laughing: "They went on frozen water before real water.  One sport is for safety and one is patriotic."

Josee Chouinard, still a Canadian sweetheart.

 


 
Posted By SkatingPj

It took from about 4:30pm until about 2:30am by car to get from Aston, PA back to my house in Toronto.  Lots of coffee, lots of laughs and some great skating conversation made the trip fun on the way back fro the Liberty competition.

The purpose of the trip was to try and get a head start on the season, try and see how the changes have played out in the programs and to also have the chance to talk to some people about my book which comes out in about six weeks, Taking the Ice.  I will tell you more about the book later.

What kept us at the rink yesterday was the senior men's free skate event which included Canadian men's champion and two-time world silver medallist Patrick Chan.  

I also wanted to get a second look at American Keegan Messing from Alaska who had really impressed me in the short program from the day before.  

I can overlook weaknesses in a skater at this point in the season if there is something that captures my attention.   It is true that Keegan is a bit wild but his speed, power and jumping ability alone make him a skater to watch.  Although not originally named to Junior Worlds in 2010, he nevertheless ended up there and finished in 4th place.  I can definitely see that he is one to keep your eye on.

As the final group of skaters took the ice, people filtered in to the rink to settle into a spot to be able to watch Patrick Chan's free program; the second last skater in the flight.

His music is the same from this past season - The Phantom of The Opera - but the program has been totally revamped.   After a superb quad toe in the short, he attempted another one as his first element in the free.  He fell on the landing edge but....and this is a significant but...the jump was fully rotated and the ease with which he went into it makes me think that he is comfortable with this new addition.  The other new addition was a solid triple Axel/triple toe combination -his first in competition  He fell on the second triple Axel so ended up with 2 points in deductions from the totall overall score.

The crowd was very appreciative.  It doesn't mean that there weren's some people who thought that if Patrick was going to go to the trouble of re-doing his Phantom free program then why not go with new music as well.  I am speculating when I say that with the challenges that Patrick had in the Olympic season,  perhaps he never got to totally explore the Phantom character.

I spoke to (friends and) announcers Robin and Carol and it was Robin who said:  "Patrick is one of the few skaters that I watch where I don't care if he jumps or not, his expression is that good." 

What struck me yesterday was if you watched just his skating, he skates faster and with more power than he ever has.   He seems to have come of age over the past few months and his new found maturity has helped him develop a new found and powerful presence and persona that positively fills the rink.  All that even before you realize just how fast he is going.

Patrick took the free program with Keegan in second place.

Just another one of the highlights for me from the Liberty competition.  I am going back next year!


 


 
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