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Posted By SkatingPj
Meagan Duhamel says that only one word can be used to describe skating: Passion. A person would have to be passionate to continue after what she has been through in this sport. Take last season, when Meagan and former partner Craig Buntin  were on the hunt for an Olympic berth. Meagan had to contend with 2 stress fractures and a bulging disc in her lower back and then a peculiar nerve dysfunction in her leg whereby any pressure from a skate boot or even a running shoe against her foot produced a burning sensation. Meagan resorted to physio 5 days a week, with massage and acupuncture on 2 of those days as well as time off. At the end she was sleeping on the floor and trying  medication to manage pain all in an effort to keep skating. She says a shot at the Olympics made it worth it.
She had already decided definitively that she would quit skating after the Olympics but not making the team threw her into a state of flux. Having to compete at the Four Continents’ Championships meant she was able to go home for week where she definitely felt lost.  When it was all said and done, she thought about it a lot and came to the conclusion that not skating meant she could do what she wanted and would be free of the pain and the pressure. She says with a laugh that “being done” lasted “for about a day” and then it hit her: “I realized I didn't want to do anything else. I have such a love for skating that I can’t imagine  not doing it."

Enter Eric Radford. Eric and Meagan have known each other since their Northern Ontario childhoods. Craig was the first one to mention to her that he thought she should skate with Eric. When it's all said & done, they balance each other.It works.

I caught up with Meagan after winning the Senior Ladies short at the Thornhill competition. Singles skating too? Megan and Eric are planning side by side triple Lutzes and Flips in their pairs program and competing in singles is a way to get those elements out under the stress of competition for training purposes. Eric choreographed a Short Singles’ Program for them to compete where they are using the same music. .

The pair's first event was the Quebec Summer competition and despite the extreme nervousness they felt in trying to show people what they had, Meagan was pleased with the result They made enough of an impression that they will be competing at Nebelhorn and have secured a spot for the Skate Canada International event.

Their short program is a piece called “For one Voice” sung by a French woman (they don’t yet know the name) which Meagan describes as soft, powerful and passionate and works well with their style. Their free program is to the Meet Joe Black theme song. Both programs were choreographed by Julie Brault and Meagan raves about the chemistry between them.
You can hear the joy in her voice as she talks about skating again. She thinks that stress may have played a huge part in her injuries and that is thrilled to be injury free. She is also thrilled with the team surrounding them including coaches Richard Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte saying they are all part of the puzzle.
She enjoys spending time  with Eric. “For people who are such extreme opposites we have found common ground.”
Her advice to young pair girls is to “never give up” and it appears as if she never did.
****Advance copy of Pj’s book available at www.takingtheice.com ****

 
Posted By SkatingPj

The easiest way to describe Christina Gao is to call her an Iron Butterfly.  She is beautiful to watch with a sweet finesse that belies her unbelieveable strength and steely resolve. 

This is a young woman who has come a long way in terms of her relationship to and with skating.  It wasn't that long ago when she wasn't all that sure about why she was skating.  That has all changed and she says candidly that she doesn't want to ever leave the ice with anyone having worked harder than she has.  That work ethic was clearly in evidence as I watched her recently on a practice session and she never stopped.  She says: "I want to know that I have given it all.  There is no holding back and no reserving energy."  She goes flat out each and every time.

That strategy seems to be working to her advantage.  In Summer competitons in Detroit and in Thornhill where she competed as a Senior and Junior respectively she walked away with both the short and free programs each time.  There is a definite buzz about this young skater.

Her coach Brian Orser said to me: "It's interesting.  It's like she has been  skating under the radar, but it doesn't look as if she will be for much longer."  No kidding.

Christina says her goal would be to make the World team and to perform well as a Senior at Nationals and as a Junior on the Grand Prix circuit this Fall.  So...how does she do it?  I mean that has to be tough to train both as a Junior and a Senior at an elite level. In case you don't know, the Senior free program is 30 seconds longer than the Junior program and the 2 shorts are the same length but differ in a couple of the elements.  This year's programs were choreographed by David Wilson.  The short program is to Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto and the Free is to the Yellow River Concerto. She says: "the music is Chinese and I am Chinese and it's really pretty." (So is she!) The best part was that David is fun to work with. She says: "I love working with him. He feels the music like I do."

Christina says that she focused on her Senior training before Detroit and has now switched gears and is working on her Junior programs in preparation of her Junior Grand prix event in Austria.   If she does well there, her hope is that she will be sent to an additional event and hopefully qualify for the Junior GP Final in Beijing in December.   It will only be at this point that she will re-focus her attention on the Senior event at US Nationals which will take place in January in North Carolina.

As you might imagine, having a skater at this level requires a tremendous amount of effort and sacrifice on the family's part.  The Gao family is no different in that Mr Gao has re-located to Toronto so that Chrisitina can train while her Mom and younger sister are still in Cincinnati.  She says she misses them and the family does its' best to visit  back and forth as much as possible.  Also on the Honourable Mention list for effort is Christina's home school which has allowed her to do her schooling online.  Her favourite subject is Math and she likes it because there are no gray areas:  in math, it's right or it's wrong.

Aside from upping the technical ante this year with a solid triple filp/triple toe combo she has worked really hard on her presentation and connection to the audience.  She wants to "look like a Senior"; like she belongs in "the final flight."  Believe me - she is already there.

"When I was a baby for some reason my dad said I would be a skater." Sometimes as a parent you just know. 

 

Advance order forms for Pj's Book now available at www.takingtheice.com

 


 
Posted By SkatingPj

From the stands, both in practice and performance, I am completely drawn in to Kharis and Asher's Short Dance.  Romantic and light and set to Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella Waltz, it takes me a minute appreciate the degeree of difficulty in the skating and not simply just enjoy the performance.  Giving my head a shake, I get down to the task of really watching their skating. I realize that although they have been just beyond the horizon for some as Canada's 4th place Senior Dance team, I have had my eye on them for quite some time and with good reason.

One of their coaches, Jon Lane says "I am maybe not the best person to speak about them - I am their number one fan.  I am entranced by what they are doing.  Someone might critique them and I will say I didn't see that because I am entranced by them.  There has to be something said for that."

Kharis and Asher are warm, friendly and keenly intelligent young people, which should be enough for most folks.  In addition to competing at the highest level in ice dance, they are both into post-secondary studies: Asher  is at Ryerson University studying Occupational Health and Safety and Kharis, fellow Language Nerd (like me!), will be studying Spanish and Mandarin at the University of Toronto.  Here's a tidbit for you:  Kharis once won the chance to go to Europe to compete in a Mandarin competition for non first language Mandarin speakers! Feichang Bang!  Que Bueno!(excellent in Mandarin  and Spanish respectively ;) )

Back to their skating.  One of the mysteries is how coaches Carol Lane and Juris Razgulajevs have been able to weave the magic they do with two skaters who have some obvious physical differences.  He is black, she is not. She is dainty and feminine with a smile that lights up a room and he is a powerhouse of dashing masculinity.  Their solution has been to use the differences to their skaters' advantage and create a picture of harmony on the ice that is perfect. 

Take this year's Free Dance.  The choice of the Gershwin classic "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess was enhanced by the fresh perspective given to the piece from African songwriter and vocalist Angelique Kidjo.  The effect of the music hanging in the air coupled with their innovative choreography is memorable to say the least.

Both skaters are big fans of Olympic Champions and Canadian National Team mates Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and recount watching the Olympics.  Kharis was tied to her Mom's computer waching the event while Asher found himself in a movie theatre surrounded by fans wathing it on the big screen.  he says it was "thrilling and nerve-wracking at the same time." Both skaters are quick to point out the lessons they have learned from skating to this point: Asher:  "Being able to go out and do something while camouflaging your emotions is something I have learned; To just 'get on with it'".  For Kharis, she says it is "the ability to handle nerves and put on a good show regardkess of what else is going on" will serve her well in the business world.

The skaters are competing at Grand Prix events in China and France and see making the Four Continents and maybe even the World team this season as their goal.

Coach Donna Ijima who has been with Kharis since the very beginning says: "They are both very special and have a great connection on the ice." She goes on to say: "Kharis is very special to me. She is the sweetest person, is never mean and is very well grounded."  The same could be said for both skaters.  Just another part of the wave of Great Canadian ice dancers ....or maybe just Great Canadians?

Info about Pj's Book including pre-order forms, go to:  www.takingtheice.com


 
Posted By SkatingPj

Sitting down recently with American 2 time Junior World Champion and 2010 Four Continents Champion, Adam Rippon, I was delighted to find an intelligent, thoughtful young man with a wonderful sense of humour. He told me about trying skating once when he was 8 and again at 9 and "retiring" each time. It wasn't until he received group lessons for his birthday in the Fall that he turned 10 that figure skating "stuck."  With  pasion and single minded determination as his drving force, his mother eventually secured keys to the arena building so that Adam could have the access to the ice when he needed to.  I am even more impressed by a Mom who was able to balance the needs ot a demanding and talented skater's schedule with that of his 5 younger siblings!!

Adam has had some great support along the way and credits first coach Yelena Sergeva with great basics and a satisfying mentor relationship with current coach Brian Orser, whose guidance he sought in moving to Toronto to train in 2008.

Before our interview, I watched him skate and was drawn by the elegant simplicity and beauty of his line and his unbelievable speed.  I saw him run through this year's short program to Romeo and Juliet choreographed by David Wilson and Sebastien Britten.  He says that "it was quite an experience" on the ice with David and Sebastien in which their passion for skating came through and was passed from one skating generation to the next.  Adam says:  "I've always felt the music and had a connection - the biggest thing was to harness it and use it in the right way." Capitalizing on his musicality, the team has chosen Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto for the Free program,.

I watched as Adam stay upright on the landings of all of the Quad Toes that he attempted.  They are a work in progress and he says:. "The Quad is just one more element that I can add to my score.  I have never understood the hype - it's important to have but more important to skate well."

Not knowing much about him personally, I was reminded of a young John Curry  as I watched Adam skate.  The same grace, elegance and attention to physical detail that I had seen in ( the late) 1976 Olympic Champion Curry's skating when he skated on this same ice surface in Toronto one summer about 20 years before Adam was born.  John Curry is one of Adam's idols and in fact would like to one day have his own large, well-produced skating show and tour featuring the very best skaters like Curry had done.  Although John reportedly didn't like to compete and Adam does, the pursuit of a World or Oylmpic title to facilitate this dream is the same for both men and is a source of Adam's inspiration.  In hearing that he was on the same ice surface where John Curry had once skated, Adam said with a smile: "It makes sense on a spiritual level that I am drawn here."

Our conversation naturally flowed from one subject to the next and I was interested to hear  his idea of having a GOE scale of -5 to +5, especially for men's footwork and ladies' spiral sequences, that could more accurately reflect what the skaters do.  He is conscious of those skaters coming before him and admires the confidence with which Olympic Champions Evan (Lysacek), Evgeni (Plushenko) and Alexei (Yagudin) skate. He has taken in the way they reach up and connect with the audience and the fact that no matter how they skate "you believe what they are selling." 

He counts clean short and free programs at every outing this season among his goals. He says that being technically sound at GPs in Canada and the US as well as the Japan Open is required to allow his skating to come across.  In describing himself: "Fun-loving, hard-working and passionate - I'm a person who loves what they do."  It shows.


 
Posted By SkatingPj

Hi all!  Ok...dance heaven may be a slight exageration...how about by a nice kidney shaped pool on a lounger with a drink with an umbrella in it?  In any event, where I was last night was maybe the most pleasant place imaginable: a cool rink on a warm night with some hot skating!

I had mentioned in a blog last week that I would be going to a Gala put on by and to support the ice dnacers at Ice Dance Elite at the Scarboro Figure Skating Club which would include all of the skaters form bottom to top.  It was a treat!

The 4 Junior teams skated their Short Dances and Free Dances and I have to say that a special mention has to go to Abby Carswell and Andrew Dolman whose Flamenco inspired free dance had the requisite amount of male/female tension and drama, not to mention speed, power and skating skills to keep me on the edge of my seat.  The Viennese Waltz is the foundation for the Junior Short Dance this year and it was fun to see not only the music and costume choices but also to see just when and how the 2 sequential (obligatory) patterns would pop up.  Depsite all of the teams being in the same boat with relatively new programs, they looked polished and prepared and did not disappoint. I was also intrigued by how well Canadian Novice Dance champions, Kelly Oliveira and Jordan Hockley were able to portray their version of Singing in the Rain for their free dance.

With the very young teams, there is often an imbalance in power between the boy and the girl until the boy starts to grow, get stronger and mature.  One of those teams is Katie Deveaux and Dmitre Razgulajevs who are competing at a Novice level and demonstrated superior speed and edge control in their West Side Story free dance.  Not only did they deliver on the technical elements, they showed confidence and strength, portrayed the Maria and Tony roles perfectly AND they used all of the good bits of the music!  (Gotta love that!).  Another promising young team competing at the juvenile level is 8 year old Irina Galiyanova and partner Matthew Ward who skated to an adorable sailor inspired program.  I first met Irina when I visited the school to interview Crone and Poirier (her favourite skaters she tells me) and coach Jon Lane had her demonstrate her amazing flexibility for me.  Poised and clearly bendy, it was a treat to see her talent put to use on the ice!

Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill are going to be the subject of an upcoming blog and suffice to say that Kharis' sweet smile and dainty presence on the ice are the perfect counterpoint for partner Asher's dashing masculinity highlighted wonderfully in their "Cinderella" short dance.

The piece de resistance came as the show's final skaters,  Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier took their position to skate an exhibition program.  The music failed and instead of bailing, they performed what was supposed to be the first part only of their "Eleanor Rigby" free dance.  This is the program that was choreographed by the legendary Christopher Dean and we were being afforded a first look, however small which was exciting.  I kept waiting for the music to stop.  It didn't and they skated the whole program.  What struck me were the layers of movement and the "oneness" of Vanessa and Paul even more so because the program is still very new.    There is a lift that is so startling in its' originality, it took me a second to register that what I had seen was accurate.

I am really excited about the changes in ice dance and am looking forward to seeing more dancers over the summer in preparation for a great season.  There seems to be ever increasing room for artistry and athleticism in dance.

Inside the rink,  my Mom and I were just another couple of (thrilled) people in the crowd who were on our feet even before the music ended.

 


 


 
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