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Posted By SkatingPj

Joannie Rochette in Honduras with young World Vision friend
Joannie Rochette is one woman who knows how to pack a lot of living on and off the ice.Catching up with her recently in Toronto at the annual Canadian National Exhibition where she is the headliner in a fun-filled half hour ISF Entertainment skating show, her warm smile was as big as ever.

The 2010 Olympic Games is where many people first came to know Joannie where she captured the Bronze medal only days after the sudden death of her mother Therese. How did she do it? "We're lucky in skating to have music to relate to in our programs and my goal was always to step on the ice and push the "go" button and let the training take over." Does she remember skating those outstanding programs in Vancouver? "No. I remember stepping on the ice and the music starting but I don't really remember skating. I do remember talking to family and friends after and trying to over compensate for how I was feeling. I wanted to look good so that people wouldn't feel bad for me." 

It is this sense of compassion for 'the other guy" that has led Joannie to numerous charity projects including the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Audi Best Buddies and World Vision to name a few.

On the ice, she is up to her eyeballs in performance work as one of the mainstays of the Stars on Ice cast since 2006, also in shows like the one at the CNE and  at upcoming Disson shows like Fashion on Ice where she will get the chance to perform "She Works Hard for the Money" in a maid costume being designed by legendary Betsey Johnson.  In a somewhat awestruck tone, she also revealed that she will be skating to a live rendition of one of Aretha Franklin's newest songs sung by the lady herself! 

"I thought when I wasn't competing that the stress would be over but now there is stress in a different way from having to travel and have always new programs." This year those programs were put together by David Wilson and Shae-Lynn Bourne and Joannie acknowledges that she would love to be able to work with Lori Nichol again sometime.While at the CNE, she says she wishes she could skate more in the show and loves the fun and games going on backstage. "It is so much fun. And did you see the gymnasts? Cool eh?"She told me that when she signed on it was for a grueling 36 shows in 18 days;no days off and yet she is having a great time.

The question on everybody's mind is about Joannie coming back to competition: "I want to keep my options open. I don't know if I will need it (my eligibility) but I want to have it until 2014. Past 2014; I will let it go."

Joannie explains the huge differences in training between competiton and show work this way: "When you practice for competition it's very methodical." With 3 triples in her show program, it looked to me as if she was staying at the top of her game which she does by skating at least one hour a day when she is home.

Are there any perks being Joannie Rochette? Well, at a function last Fall with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Scott got to chatting with an Audi executive about how cool it would be to have an Audi to drive to the rink. Audi now sponsors Joannie's ride and when asked about the car she almost purrs that it is a white A5 convertible whose top she has down even when has to wear a down jacket in Montreal to do it!Thanks Scott AND IMG for making it happen!The other perk for Joannie is being able to work at something she loves, surrounded by the love friends, family and fans.this is the story of how Joannie "got her groove back." 


 
Posted By SkatingPj

I don't know if I was more excited to have Kaitlyn Weaver join my Skating Warrior Princess group (total members: 3) or if I was simply catching up with them. I hadn't clapped eyes on them since their 5th place finish at the World Championships in Moscow this past Spring.  I reminded them that prior to Worlds, Kaitlyn told me that they wanted to finish n the top 5. Mission accomplished.

Getting to the top is one thing; staying there is another and Kaitlyn and Andrew have come up with a plan for this season's programs to accomplish just that. "We know that in the top group that success is in the details: the emotion and connection. We want to work at going from a good to a great team." says Kaitlyn. An addition to their support team this season is Kathy Johnson whose specialty is helping skaters learn movement with purpose and intent. According to Andrew this has brought about "a whole new dynamic about how movement is created whether a crosscut or complex footwork. Kathy is helping us on an emotional level from a dance perspective."

Their short dance is 'Una Historia de Uno Amor' with 'Batacunda' as the Samba' choreographed by Pasquale Camerlengo, who, along with wife Angelika Krylova and Shae-Lynn Bourne provide the core coaching for the team. Weaver and Poje are also working with Massimo Scali, Elizabeth Swallow and Natalia Annenko-Dellar and comment on the well-roundedness of their coaching team.

The story of how they came to select their free dance music is an interesting one. Listening to hours and hours of music, the team was tempted to capitalize on the success of their SD from last year and maybe use 'My Fair Lady' but were still mulling over the idea when Kaitlyn heard an through a fan on their website (www.weaverpoje.com). The fan suggested that with Worlds in France in 2012 she listen to a Lara Fabian version of 'Je Suis Malade' originally written for and performed by European chanteuse Dalida. Kaitlyn was so taken with the music that she texted Pasquale immediately who told her that it was one of his all-time favourite songs. The upshot is they decided to do it and also decided to have a piece composed by Karl Hugo to create musical changes not originally found in the piece.

In an interesting story about partnership, the choreography was provided by both Pasquale and Shae-Lynn Bourne who continues to offer mentorship and ongoing coaching support at least once a month. Shae-Lynn started her work on the piece in Toronto before the composition was finished and the music was still in its' original state. Pasquale, in Detroit, added to that and when the music was finished, Shae-Lynn was the first to work with it. Pasquale provided the finishing touches and 'added more meat' as the skaters explained."They both had the same vision" explains Andrew which is the magic in this collaboration.

With great humility, the team says that they could not do what they do without the love and support of their parents and families."We are really lucky to have parents who 'make it happen' if we need something. We try to make wise choices about what we can afford." 

The skaters who finished top 6 in the world were offered the chance to skate in 3 Grand Prix events this Fall and Kaitlyn and Andrew decided to go for it competing at Skate Canada, NHK and Cup of Russia which will mean 4 competitions in 7 weeks if they make it to the Grand Prix Final in Quebec City in December. "We think we can medal at every competition" says Andrew and both skaters agree that they seem to always improve over the season.

Slow and steady wins the race and Weaver and Poje are still on the climb :)


 
Posted By SkatingPj

The first thing you notice when you get the chance to catch up with reigning Canadian champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch is their energy. Together for just over 2 years they have great chemistry which gives you the impression of having been together for much longer.

Competing at the Figure Skating Boutique Summer Skate competition in Thornhill, their goal  according to Dylan was to "get the programs out under some pressure and regardless of the results to carry ourselves professionally." Both skaters admit to not feeling quite as prepared at this stage of the pre-season as they were last year, although for my money, that didn't show.

Last year's season was a bit of a Cinderella story. Getting the chance to compete at a 2nd GP last season at Skate Canada (as the replacement team for Jessica Dube and an injured Bryce Davison) they took the chance and ran with it resulting in 2 silver medals at their 2 GPs and a berth at the Grand Prix Final. Next came a 5th place finish at the ISU 4 Continents and an 8th place finish in the World. Whew. Now what?

Truth of the matter is, they aren't a team to rest on their laurels and having tasted success are determined to not lose ground this season. Coach Kris Wirtz talks about his team.

Trying to hit the high bar they have set for themselves for this season has meant continuing to evolve and to take risks. Working with choreographer Mark Pillay the short program is to Borsolino. Both skaters are loving the ballroom dance aspect to the music and worked with (amazing) dance coach Paul MacIntosh to fine tune their expression. For the free, it is the music from Henry V that provides the backdrop. The skeleton story? Dylan explains "We always have a story. Basically, I am the king and she is my queen. We tire of the battle and there is a tremendous weight on both our shoulders. The story is  romantic but also has pain and angst."  The skaters both feel that the programs play to their strengths: personality, personality and personality:)

Kirsten is described as 'unique' by partner Dylan and behind the darling smile is a tremendous competitor who is harder on herself than anyone else could ever be, It is that common fierce determination that is the glue that binds this team.  Their common goal is to be on top. Kirsten says simply  "our goal this season is we want to continue to improve, come out and look like we belong and make improvements on our 2nd mark and our speed."  In my mind, she makes the case for the adage  'you have to name it in order to claim it.'

The skaters are perfctly in sync in other ways: when asked for one word to characterize their partnership, Kirstn and Dylan said almost in unison "entertaining."  Dylan continued with a grin by saying "we do that all the time where we say the same word."

Kirsten and Dylan are competing this season at Skate America and Cup of China on the Grand Prix circuit.  If their goal is, as they say, to appear "more engaged" with one another and not "simply skating" it would appear by all accounts, they are well on their way.

 

@@@Lots More Video at Pj's YouTube Channel: PjkwongWordbroker @@@ 


 
Posted By SkatingPj

Alexandra Paul, Pj and Mitchell Islam
One of the things I like best about being part of the figrue skating family is the people I knew as children around the rink are some of the same people I still know.Take David Islam and Deborah (Debbie Albright-) Islam. You may know them as the parents of Mitchell Islam or as figure skating experts in their own right - David as a well-known and very successful dance coach and Deborah as an international singles judge. What it also means is that they are ooooooooolllllllllldddd!.(Not Louis Stong old but Pj Kwong old <lol>) I was interested to find out how they as a family are able to balance having not one but 2 elite athletes in the family.( Mitch's sister Rachel is on a track scholarship at a University in the US.)

 Alex and Mitch  had come to watch the competition in Thornhill and cheer on buddies from their rink. They had planned on competing but Alex suffered a minor muscle pull ("no big deal") behind her knee and they opted to play it safe.

I never knew the story of how they got together? Mitch said that after the breakup of his partnership with Joanna Lenko, he spent the better part of a year skating on his own which was in his words "the toughest thing I have ever had to do." Just after Nationals in 2009, when Alex and her partner had also split, the skaters who had been friends for years, skated together for the first time: "At our rink, on any day when 2 skaters are at the rink skating by themselves, they get paired up and skate the exercises together."  Alex continued by explaining that the rationale is there are things that skaters will notice while trying to adjust to a different skater that they wouldn't necessarily with their regular partner which results in an opportunity to fix things.

If waiting to find a new pafrtner wasn't tough enough - so was this last season where Paul and Islam were the alternates for the ice dance contingent competing at Worlds. With the delay after the Japanese tsunami causing Worlds to be moved to Moscow 5 weeks later, it was a very long time to stay focused on programs from that current season on a "what if one of the teams doesn't go..." basis. They stayed training right up until the day the Canadian team left and the overwhelming lesson was: "We don't want to ever be alternates again!" from Mitch.

Already hard at work to make their goal a reality, they have developed programs that will showcase a more 'adult' side to this team. The Short Dance music is from the main theme from the movie 2046 and Havana Slide and was choreographed by Romain Haguenauer. The Free Dance is to Elton John's 'Tonight" and was put together by Kelly Johnson and David Wilson. the skaters said the skeleton story behind the free dance is one of personal struggle. Mitch explains: "Basically we are a couple who have an abusive relationship. It is about her ability to forgive and also be drawn back to him." What excited me about their description was the fact that they also talked about the moments of hope built into the program and the exploration of a relationship. Sophisticated stuff.

Not ones to leave things to chance, the Spring was spent on a lot of grunt work like stroking, stroking and more stroking to improve their strength and speed.

Alex says with a smile that she always loved to skate to music "and singles just wasn't my calling." It's  a good thing  (for us) too  - watch for Paul and Islam at NHK during ther Grand Prix Season.


 
Posted By SkatingPj

Denis Ten and Pj Kwong
As is frequently the case with the Figure Skating Boutique Summer Free Skate in Thornhill, Ontario - there are surprise entries and some great skating. It is always interesting to see a new program at the beginning  and observe it and the skaters as they evolve and develop over the course of the season.

With one thing and another, I was only able to attend the competition on Sunday and after a quick review of the entries, I had my sights set on people I hadn't yet had the pleasure of interviewing. Among them, Kazakhstan's Denis Ten and I wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell you that I am a fan.  The first time I saw Denis was probably at Skate Canada almost 3 years ago but the time I really remember him was from Worlds that same year. He has an innately elegant posture with tremendous musicality.

Truth be told, fellow skating warrior princess (so far it's just us - anyone else want in?) and photographer Justine Chiu (www.justinechiu.com) was the one who spotted him and asked me on the way to the car if I had been able to interview him. I said that I had missed him - she said "You're kidding!  You walked right by him." I sprinted back inside the building and begged him to talk to me and even though his Mom was standing there car keys at the ready, he said yes. 

It is August, so allowances have to be made for how programs are performed at this time of year, nevertheless - Ten's attention to detail and musicality is undeniable. I said "Nice triple Axel." He said "On the warm-up :( " 

Yesterday's free program from Thornhill:

To say that Denis has struggled the last couple of years would be a fair statement although it would need to be tempered with an equally fair statement that he has grown. if you have been in skating for any length of time, how quickly a young person grows can have a huge impact on their jumps and I believe this was the case with him.

Denis' training location is currently Lake Arrowhead, California under the guidance of legendary coach Frank Carroll with input from Rafael Aratunian.  Choreographer Lori Nichol used Rachmaninoff for the Short program and Astor Piazzolla for the Free as backdrop for his lyrical style. "I like everything about my new training location. last year was tyough for me and I am looking to become more consistent"  He even hints at wanting to include a Quad Toe this season as his first jump in the free.

When asked what he would be doing if he weren't a skater - he says: "Maybe music - I used to play the piano or I love films and I would love to be an actor. Now, I am a skater and this is my life." Not only is he a skater, he is a young man who is completing university courses by correspondence from a University in Moscow with his focus on Law.

With a schedule this season that will include Nebelhorn, Skate America and Skate Canada, I wondered if he has his sights set on Sochi in 2014. Grinning, he said "It is hard to say, I still have 3 years so it is still a long way away."

Some more thoughts from Denis:

Ten's favourite skater is Olympic Champion Alexei Yagudin whose influence can be felt as he defines figure skating in this way: "Skating is...passion, it's a fight, a challenge and it's inspiration for kids."

Skating as inspiration - works for me :)

 

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