Thursday, 28 January 2016

Guy In The Sky: The Story Of Maribel Vinson-Owen's Leading Man


If I wasn't in the research process for a book on the late, great and utterly fabulous Belita Jepson-Turner, my next choice definitely would have been Maribel Vinson-Owen. Three time Olympian, North American Champion, U.S. Champion, legendary coach, professional skating star, author, journalist and larger than life personality, Maribel was a woman ahead of her time. In the many writings about her over the years, a central figure has of course always been Guy Owen. He was once her husband, the father of her two daughters and for many years, her partner on the ice as a professional skater and coach. However, Guy Owen's story has always been secondary to Maribel's. Today, I want to take the time to shine the spotlight on him.

Born June 20, 1913 in Ottawa, Ontario, Guy Rochon Owen was the only son of Welsh parents James Arthur and Laurence Owen. His grandfather, Alfred Rochon, was a lawyer, Superior Court judge and Liberal politician who represented Ottawa in the Legislative Assembly of Quebec from 1887 to 1892. Young Guy got his start skating as a young boy at the Minto Skating Club and by fourteen, he was already winning competitions in both singles and pairs skating. The March 14, 1927 issue of The Ottawa Citizen noted at that at the Minto Club "in the Gymkhana graceful exhibitions were given by the junior boy champion, Guy Owen, holder of the Sifton Cup, and by the junior pairs, Betty Carter and Guy Owen, holders of the Soper trophy." At that same carnival, Guy also won a quarter mile speed skating race.

By 1929, he was the Canadian Junior Champion in men's singles, beating W.A.H. Kirkpatrick of the Toronto Skating Club and Fraser Sweatman of the Winnipeg Winter Club. That same year, with Frances Claudet, Melville Rogers and Katherine Hopdell he was part of the Minto Four that finished second to the Toronto Four of Veronica Clarke, John Machado, Margaret Henry, Stewart Reburn. Although Guy Owen won four consecutive medals in the senior men's competition at the Canadian Championships from 1932 to 1935, his absolute speciality during his amateur career was without a doubt fours skating. He won a total of eight medals at the Canadian Championships in the category and with his Minto teammates was undefeated from 1933 to 1937.

At the North American Championships, The Minto Four was undefeated from 1931 to 1937, with Guy Owen and Melville Rogers being the two static members of the winning four during that span. The Minto Four were so popular that in 1935 they were asked to perform for the Governor-General of Canada and The Countess Of Bessborough at Rideau Hall. During Guy's reign as North American Champion, he struck up a friendship with Maribel Vinson. They skated together in an operetta organized by Guy's coach Gustave Lussi in Lake Placid and over the years, their friendship blossomed into a romance.

Guy Owen turned professional in 1936. Although he had been a hugely successful fours skater, he had skated in the shadow of other talented Canadian men - notably Bud Wilson and Osborne Colson - for many years. He quickly found the success he was looking for. In the Monday, March 23, 1936 issue of The New York Sun, journalist George Trevor wrote in that at the Madison Square Garden in a benefit show, Owen's performance "eclipsed" none other than three time Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie. Trevor said, "the smash hit of the evening was slender Guy Owen of Ottawa who held the Garden crowd spell-bound by his sinuous grace and rhythmic fire. Imagine a vivid Goya painting come to life and you will have an impression of the languorous yet vibrant Owen as he executed a Spanish fandango on blades that clicked like [Castanets]. The functional beauty and graceful movements of a Belmonte or Joselito - heroes of the Madrid bull ring - characterize Owen's every motion. Lithe and supple as a matador, he swooped in for the death thrust as described a 'veronica' as he swirled out of range. Hemingway would have exulted in Owen's performance. The Canadian wore baggy black trousers, black leather boots, a gold-embroidered black tunic, set off by a giddy scarlet sash, and a flat-brimmed hat of black glazed straw held in place by a chin strap. He was called back for encore after encore as the Garden thundered its tribute." The program Trevor wrote of was of course Guy's Gaucho program, which would be his trademark throughout his professional career. He performed it following that Madison Square Garden show at the Minto Follies in Ottawa to a similar response and then promptly took a job as a banker in Montreal, eager to settle down and make money after so many years living in the shadow of the strict rules of amateurism.

Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland

It was Maribel who convinced him he had the chops to make a living in skating. She encouraged him to join her Gay Blades tour. Skating his "Hey! Hey! Farmer Grey" program to thunderous applause nightly, he often upstaged yet another Olympic Gold Medallist, Vinson's co-star Karl Schäfer on the tour. He headlined at the Minto Follies and at the Montreal Skating Club's carnival. Melville Rogers said that "Mr. Owen was one of the most sought after skaters for exhibitions." Maribel was right. Guy had the goods to make it in skating. He was also, in her mind, husband material.

The couple planned their engagement. In March of 1938, Owen got his affairs in order to leave Canada and take up permanent residency in the States. After spending the summer apart, the couple officially announced their engagement in late August of that year and married shortly thereafter in a private ceremony at the Winchester home of her parents. Maribel and Guy first settled in Minnesota where they coached at St. Paul Figure Skating Club for two years. In 1940, they moved out west to teach at new East Bay Iceland rink in Berkeley, home of the St. Moritz Ice Skating Club, summering out east. While at Iceland, they attracted many skaters to Bay area. At one point, the rink got so crowded many skaters had to double upon on patch. Together, they produced weekly pops concerts at in which both students and coaches performed. In 1940, the couple's first daughter, Maribel Yerxa Owen, was born.


While coaching in California, Guy and Maribel continued to remain active as professional skaters. In February of 1941, they headlined the Spokane Figure Skating Club's revue. The Spokesman-Review on February 16, 1941 noted that "Owen's solo effort will be the famous 'Gaucho' number, most widely-known and popular male figure skating act, which he himself originated. [Vinson and Owen] will skate together twice, one of the duet numbers being the great life and death number, which was termed 'the most dramatic ever seen' by reviewers at several of the large ice shows in which Miss Vinson and Owen have appeared this fall. They present a stirring interpretation of the struggle between life and death, with the inevitable triumph of death." Another Spokane reporter noted that Owen's performance "was full of difficult leaps and figures that he made look easy." That summer, Guy and Maribel made history by starring in the first ice show in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At 5'9", the tall, dark and handsome mustachioed skater fit right in while in South America. The duo were well received and upon their return, they brought back their interpretation of the samba on ice to carnivals in America.



In 1943, Guy installed a private 20 X 25 portable ice rink at a former auto repair shop on the corner of Milvia Street and University Avenue in Berkeley. He called it Maribel Lake. In the September 12, 1943 issue of the Berkeley Daily Gazette, he stated that he could install portable ice rinks "anywhere there is room and have the ice in perfect condition in 12 hours, provided electrical wiring of the place is built to handle the sizeable portable compressor. He found hunting for a downtown site for the lake just about as tough as locating a desirable house in Berkeley." Guy's installation was notable in that it was one of the first private portable rinks in California at the time.

The following May, little Laurence Rochon Owen born, named after Guy's mother. While Maribel took a few months off to be with her daughters, Guy shone while coaching and organizing pops concerts and ice ballets at Iceland. The following year, the family of four packed up and headed to east to teach at the Skating Club Of Boston. While there, Maribel and Guy's performing career as professionals got a second wind.

Engaged in the Oval Room at the Copley Plaza Hotel, they became two of the more prominent names in skating involved in the hotel circuit at the time. Their first show was called "Deep Purple". The November 24, 1945 issue of Billboard magazine noted that"Guy Owens' lightning fast solo to 'Jazz Pizzicato' had ringsiders gasping and won solid applause." As a pair, Vinson and Owen skated a waltz and a "laugh-collecting satire on the tune 'Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing In A Hurry'. Near collisions and spills had the customers sitting on the edge of their chairs." The couple staged two shows in the Oval Room in 1946. In the first, "A Mardi Gras Ballet On Skates", Guy performed a speedy solo to "Louisiana Purchase" as a gambling villain. In the latter, titled "New York Vignette", Maribel and Guy reimagined a Manhattan nightclub in their "Pink Cocktail" program and Guy skated a Broadway inspired solo to "Smooth Sailing".

Maribel and Guy's success at the Copley Plaza Hotel led them next to Boston's Center Theater. In 1947, the couple directed, staged and starred in "Everything's On Ice", a musical comedy on ice. Unfortunately, the show was panned by critics and short lived. An April 19, 1947 review of the show from Billboard magazine opined, "Maribel Vinson and Guy Owen, whose exciting night club shows have played to top business [have] had a hand in nearly every phase of the production, and the fact is
evident, because they have tried to do too much. What they need now is the services of a highly competent director who will weed out the deadwood and point up the good things." Reviewer Bill Riley was critical of the fact that Vinson and Owen, themselves "wonderful to watch", had allowed
themselves to be upstaged by inferior skaters by giving them too much of a spotlight.

In the fall of 1948, Maribel and Guy left Boston and returned to Berkeley, California. As it turned out, the poor reviews of their Center Theater show were the least of the couple's woes. In her fabulous book "Indelible Tracings", Patricia Shelley Bushman explained that "returning to California couldn't reverse the difficulties in the Owenses' marriage. Friends conceded that Owen had a drinking problem that became too much for Maribel. They skated beautifully together, but off-ice their disparities were readily apparent... Instead of shining alongside his wife, Guy withered in her presence. However, his drinking was not evident to everyone, and he maintained his composure and demeanour while teaching. Guy taught for eight months in California, then left his family and took a position with the Sault Saint Marie Club in Michigan. The following summer he taught at the Michigan State University in East Lansing and directed the MSU Skating Show."

During this period, the couple divorced but Owen's work as a coach continued. After coaching at Michigan State University and in New York, he signed on as the professional of the Spokane Figure Skating Club, where he and Maribel had performed in 1941 and 1943 to great acclaim. In the winter of 1942, he was already shoring up plans to teach in East Lansing that summer. His contract to teach in Spokane again in the fall of that year had already been renewed. While visiting his parents in Ottawa, Guy passed away suddenly on April 21, 1952 of a perforated ulcer. He was only thirty eight at the time. Maribel was shocked and troubled by Guy's passing. Despite the fact he'd left her and her two young daughters, she worried that she had indirectly in some way caused Guy's drinking and despite their divorce, did still care about him. To Guy, she dedicated her book "Fun Of Figure Skating". She recalled that, "the late Guy Owen, one of the world's great jumpers, used to lift so high and poise so long on one of the simple back toe jumps... that audiences used to gasp and wonder when he was going to come back down!" It's with tragic irony that while flying high over Brussels, it was her that never came back down. Perhaps now together these long lost souls both hover midair in an Axel and have found peace together on the ice in the sky.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The 2016 Canadian Championships: The Good, The Bad And The #NoSheBetterDont


In my ten years performing as a drag queen, I did the odd show. Well, maybe the odd hundred. One of the bigger events was called Coronation weekend. Performers from across Canada and as far south as California and Las Vegas would descend on the weekend for a three day extravaganza of shows. There were hundreds of performances in a three day span - some spectacular, some forgettable - and by the end you were so exhausted you couldn't even think. The 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships were a completely different but similar beast. I have been at the Scotiabank Centre watching and covering skating for six to twelve hours a day since Monday and let me tell you, although it has been physically exhausting the energy from the performances I have seen on the ice this week would put absolutely any drag queen to shame. Glitz, glamour, surprises and spectacular skating were in no short supply in what was arguably the most exciting Nationals this country has seen in many years. Before the blog returns to its regularly scheduled programming of sifting through the sport's fascinating history, join me in a journey to the present as I explore the good, bad and #NoSheBetterDont of the senior competitions here in Halifax, Nova Scotia this week:


THE WOMEN'S EVENT: The buzz in the Scotiabank Centre yesterday was that the women's final was the most exciting of all time at the Canadian Championships. As someone who studies figure skating history, I can tell you that you're pretty much right on the money. 



In the short program, Kaetlyn Osmond of the Ice Palace Figure Skating Club was resplendent, landing a beautiful triple flip/double toe, triple Lutz and double Axel in her short program to Cyndi Lauper's cover of "Unchained Melody" to take the lead with a score of 70.63. Alaine Chartrand followed closely behind, borrowing from the Jeremy Abbott songbook with an excellent performance of her "Pina" short program and a score of 68.81. Gabby Daleman, who started off strongly with a triple/toe combination, fell on her triple Lutz and found herself in third place with a score of 133.55. Based on her practices and the absolute sense of ease with which Kaetlyn skated her short program, it seemed to many that a third National title would be a distinct possibility. That's not how it all played out. 



First of the three gold medal contenders to skate was Newmarket's Gabby Daleman. Skating to "María de Buenos Aires Suite: Tema de Maria, Yo soy Maria" by Ástor Piazzolla, the defending Canadian Champion started with a triple Lutz/double toe/double loop combo and proceeded to skate lights out - reeling off triple after triple in her spirited performance and earning the first standing ovation of the day on Saturday. Four of Daleman's jumping passes (a second triple Lutz, a triple loop, a triple Salchow/double toe combination and a double Axel) all earned her extra credit for being in the second half of the program and her score of 133.55 actually ended up being the highest free skate score of the competition. The vibe in the rink was electric as Alaine Chartrand took to the ice. Who could top that, right? Chartrand did. 



Skating to "Gone With The Wind", the powerhouse from Prescott had the skate of her life and once again the crowd was on its feet losing it. Chartrand actually received credit for five jumping passes late in the program to Daleman's four, but an underrotation call on her opening triple Lutz/triple toe combination and an edge call on her next jump kept her behind Daleman in the free skate by 0.37! Her short program score gave her the edge and it was Chartrand in first, Daleman in second when Kaetlyn Osmond took to the ice. 



When she stepped out of her opening triple flip, it seemed a forgone conclusion that wouldn't only go downhill from there but that's not what happened. Osmond fought hard, landing her next three jumping passes (a double Axel/triple toe, triple Lutz and triple Salchow) but a doubled flip, a step out and a popped double in the third part of her double Axel combination at the end of the program assured her fate. In the end, it was Chartrand first, Daleman second and Osmond third and based on the atmosphere in the rink, if it would have gone any other way yesterday, the crowd would have gone bananas and not in a good way. I haven't watched the women's event at the U.S. Championships (yet) but based on what everyone was saying about the short program and what I saw in person here in Halifax, I think there will be a few Americans who have taken pleasure in mocking Canadian women's skaters who will enjoying a delicious meal of crow. These women were positively spectacular and all three medallists deserve all the credit they've been getting this week and then some.  


WHAT'S A SKATING COMPETITION WITHOUT AN UGLY CRY?: Lack of sleep makes tends to make me a tad overemotional but the tears that welled up the corner of my eyes in the first minute of Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje's free dance to "This Bitter Earth/On The Nature Of Daylight" by Dinah Washington and "Run" by Ludovico Einaudi had nothing to do with that. These two are the real deal and the vehicles they have chosen this season are on a completely different playing field than most of their international competitors. Although Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier were just outstanding this week in claiming silver with unique and edgy material, Kaitlyn and Andrew outdid themselves and the standing ovations that followed both of their programs made their win with a score of 191.73 (11.91 points higher than their closest competitors) almost secondary. They're crafting high art out there and finally, with the judges resigning themselves to do the right thing at the Nationals down in the States and giving the Shibutani's the nod, the road to a World title appears to be free of one less roadblock. They were just so, so special.



PATRICK CHAN'S COMEBACK: Speaking of eating crow, there were an awful lot of naysayers when it came to Patrick Chan's comeback, weren't there? I'll be the first to admit that Chan seemed perhaps a little more confident than I would be if I were in his shoes. He finished off the podium at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, his practices here in Halifax were not all smooth sailing but in both the short program and free skate here he was nothing short of spectacular. He made quad/triples look like a walk in the park; he oozed confidence, control and attack. Chan is one of those skaters who you have to see live to really appreciate just how good he is and was he ever on top of his game here! The best part? All of that Chanflation at Nationals that folks relish harping on about... you couldn't say that here. He earned 103.58 in his short program, 192.09 in the free for a total of 295.67 and the marks (PCS included) were truly reflective of the performances he delivered both days. Yes, he's going to face a ton of competition going up against Yuzu and friends at Worlds, but his efforts here yet again reminded us all of just what he is capable of when he's on.  


IT TAKES TWO: After the excitement in the women's and ice dance competitions, I don't think I was ready for another nail biter but the pairs event was just that. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford may have had bobbles in both of their programs, but they fought so, so hard and their win with a score of 221.75 was well deserved. With five consecutive Canadian titles now, they join the likes of Dafoe and Bowden, Underhill and Martini and Brasseur and Eisler in the history books. The throw quad was there, the throw triple Lutz was there but beyond the big ticket items, there's really such an improvement in the PCS side of their skating this season that correlates exactly with their music choices and program layout decisions. Yes, there may be Russians but there always Russians... I don't doubt for a second these two have what it takes to repeat as World Champions.


Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau delivered two flawless performances and sold the heck out of their free skate to "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" (alas, not the Annie Lennox version) for second place with a score of 211.40. Their standing ovation was well deserved and I thought the scores could have been a smidgen closer. If you think about how quickly this team's rise in the ranks from juniors has been, it makes them all the more exciting. They couldn't have done anything better.


And Lubov and Dylan? Wow! They brought it in both performances too and they really offer something different style wise juxtaposed with their competitors. That lift with the one-foot feature in the free skate right in front of the judges is always a show stopper and 204.22 is a great score especially when you look back and realize they were in the 160 range at last year's World Championships in Shanghai, China.


AN UNEXPECTED STANDING O: Bronze medallists in the ice dance competition Élisabeth Paradis and François-Xavier Ouellette represented the CPA Loretteville and CPA Lames D'argent de Laval wonderfully with two very solid performances here in Halifax. Their free dance set to Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and a composition by Karl-Hugo Van de Kerckhove was mesmerising and a credit to their coach and choreographer Marie-France Dubreuil. Their unexpected edge on Paul and Islam in the free dance on the strength of their TES score and levels on their lifts and the standing ovation they received was so well earned. I really thought they kind of got gypped a little last year and it was nice to see their hard work and performance quality appreciated by the domestic judges here. About time.


KEVIN REYNOLDS' COMEBACK: Not taking a thing away from Liam Firus' silver medal win - - which was totally deserved and quite fabulous actually - it was so nice to see Kevin Reynolds back on the podium with his 2014 Sochi teammates. He was kind of under the radar this week but his short program to "Tank" by The Seatbelts proved that the twenty five year old student of Joanne McLeod is back and in fantastic form, quad/triples and all. Just to be clear here... if you're wondering if his result was a fluke, you may want to guess again. He was one of the most consistent jumpers in both practices and warm-up's here in Halifax and with scores just shy of Firus (who also landed a quad) his skate problems appear to be a thing of the past.

MARIE-FRANCE IN THE KISS AND CRY: Whether it was drooling over Fabian Bourzat or rolling eyes at the fact they had TV cameras shoved in Brian Orser's face during Nam Nguyen's entire free skate, the audience was as distinctly aware of what was happening off the ice as much as what was happening on it. Marie-France dancing along with her many student's programs this week at the boards is seriously like the most adorable thing ever. In my interview with her last year, she told me, "Music has a lot of influence on my mood and I listen to a wide variety through out the day. Hip hop in the morning to pump me up as I drive to the rink, classical music or jazz when I drive back home to relax and disconnect from coaching and hard rock when I clean the house!" Can a Best Of Marie-France Dancing In The Kiss And Cry dance/fitness DVD please be a thing that happens? Because I would so buy the hell out of that.



THE BEST OF THE REST: I'm kind of a big fan of positivity, in case you haven't guessed. If I don't like someone's skating, for the most part I don't harp on it or mention it at all because really, who needs to listen to someone bitch about skaters and drag them through the mud? That's not how most of us roll here in Canada and thank God for that. One of the things I did want to do when blogging about this event was recognize the great things many of the skaters who aren't on the podium accomplished this week. In the women's event, there was Véronik Mallet, who showed such an improvement from last year even if she did drop a spot in light of Kaetlyn's comeback. Her free skate featured a triple flip and double Axel/triple toe combo and such a nice lightness to her presentation. Roxanne Rheault, Michelle Long and Larkyn Austman all had some great moments in their programs as well. Vanessa Grenier and Maxime Deschamps might have finished fifth but gosh, did she ever sell that free skate. The lifts were fantastic! The new partnership of Nicole Orford and Asher Hill is one of my favourite new pairings and their short dance to "My Heart Cries" by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua and "It's Not For Me To Say" by Johnny Mathis was actually one of my top five favourites in the entire dance event. There's so much to like about their skating and Carol Lane sure knows how to highlight their strengths. A free dance that really stood out in terms of attention to detail and performance quality were Timothy Lum and Brianna Delmaestro's intricate Bollywood program to "Silsila Ye Chahat Ka" by Shreya Ghoshal, "Dev's Last Journey" by Raqhav Chatterjee, Supra Adhikari and Rashmi Sharma, "Balak Balak" by Udit Narayan, Vinod Rathod and Shreya Ghoshal and "Dola Re Dola" by Kavita Krishnamurthy and Shreya Ghoshal. Did they ever sell that! Another one of Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe's teams, Alexa Linden and Addison Voldeng, performed a similarly detail oriented, theatrical program to "Alice In Wonderland" that I just loved. The legacy of Wing and Lowe's unique style is alive and well in their work with so many ice dancers coming up through the ranks and a welcome addition as so many other teams have opted for safer program choices. Among the men, Bennet Toman who trains in Richmond Hill with Robert O'Toole had such a great free skate! Although I have to admit that "Who Wants To Live Forever?" is becoming the new "Carmen" in terms of overused skating music, his program was chock full of difficult content and transitions and I thought he got a little lowballed. He's definitely a skater on an upward trajectory. Keegan Messing's short program (choreographed by Douglas Webster) was delightful and he really worked the crowd in the free skate, as did Nicolas Nadeau with his "Mary Poppins" program. In a sea of serious programs, it was wonderful to see these guys just going for it and in turn, having the crowd behind them.





LEGENDS OF THE FALL: Can we talk for a minute about how terrifying Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro's fall in the short program on the triple twist was? It was beyond frightening in person and last night, PJ Kwong said to me, "you NEED to watch it again on tape" so I did and honestly, the second time I was like just "giiiiiiirl"... And you know what? WHAT a sin. Kirsten and Michael's practices have been spectacular this week, they look so well trained and the programs this season are such a better fit for them. It was honestly just one of those freak things. Come on. We all know they can do a triple twist. That said, from the 'bad' to the 'fabulous', when they landed the twist at the start of their "Romeo And Juliet" free skate, you could just hear the crowd letting out a sigh and relief and despite a fall on the side by side Salchows, their free skate was gutsy and sensational. Mad respect to these two for coming back and skating the free skate and doing it so, so well. That cannot have been easy.



SAY MY NAM, SAY MY NAM: It just wouldn't be a figure skating blog written by a former drag queen without a Destiny's Child reference, now would it? I spoke with Nam Nguyen last week leading up to this competition and got the distinct vibe he was phased by Patrick Chan's return and the skating this week unfortunately reflected that. I think going back to "Sinnerman" in the short program was an intelligent decision but unfortunately, when you miss your quad and everyone else isn't, you end up a bit buried in the standings. A score of 76.04 to Chan's 103.58 in the short all but ruined his chances of unseating the Olympic Silver Medallist and his free skate set to Bach did have some good moments but the mistakes weren't enough to take him any higher than fourth, just higher than Nadeau in fact. What worked for Nam Nguyen last season wasn't just the jumps, it was the programs and taking the safe route with a classical free skate just didn't pay off enough in the second mark for him to be competitive. Defending a national title is hard for anyone - it has been since the freaking 1920's for heaven sakes - so hopefully he'll come back stronger than ever. He's under twenty and has two quads. I'm sure he will land on his feet just fine. 



DOWN A SPOT: When someone moves up a spot, someone else moves down. That's how figure skating competitions work. It was disappointing to see Olympians Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam lose ground and drop off the podium considering the improvement they have made technically this season. The move to Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon really strikes me as a wise one but after such a gorgeous short dance to "The Mouse Waltz" and "The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin" by John Lanchbery, the free dance set to Barbra Streisand seemed to leave both the judges and audience a little colder than the "Bridge Over Troubled Water" program that earned their training mates a standing O. Their free dance last season to "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel was a gem and I think a big part of this loss came down to the program and not the content, levels notwithstanding.


THERE'S FANDOM AND THEN THERE'S FANDOM: Back in 2013, I wrote a blog on the darker side of figure skating fandom. While I highly doubt there were any Annie Wilkes' in the house in Halifax, damned if I know. Canadian figure skating fans (for the most part) are some of the most highly intelligent, knowledgeable, passionate and kind people you could ever meet but I will be real here and say that it never ceases to amaze me how some can take it a bit past healthy fangirling. I'm all for being interested in who's coaching who, which pairs and dance teams are gelling and which aren't and who is doing well in practice and who is consistently bombing. However, I think there's a very fine line between being passionate about Patrick Chan's programs and being passionate about finding out what Patrick Chan had for breakfast and I will admit, I did chat with the odd person this week who had some difficulty in making that distinction. By all means, cheer on your favourites, take an interest in their lives, whatever... But for the love of Annie Lennox and all that is sacred, if you're concerned that you might want to take that obsession down an octave, you probably should.

THE FOOD: Because I live here, for some reason all week people have been complaining about the food to me like I somehow responsible for it. No, I didn't have a hand in baking anyone's cardboard cheese "pizza" or frying up anyone's soggy French fries, but the food that was being offered up at the Scotiabank Centre this week was appalling in terms of both quality and selection. It's kind of a shame it took until Friday night for them to clue in and open more of the kiosks to offset the line-ups of people just wanting a water or a coffee. Considering that when Stars On Ice rolls into town, they have all the bars and food stations open and you never run into this program. To the venue's credit, they got it together by Saturday, but Friday during the day was atrocious. Thank goodness for the fact this was right downtown and there are so many decent restaurants a stone's throw away.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Friday, 22 January 2016

The 2016 Canadian Championships: From History To Mystery

Back in 1966, the Canadian Figure Skating Association's membership was swelling at over one hundred thousand and was expected to triple within three years with government support from the Physical Fitness and Amateur Sports Council. At the previous year's World Championships at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Petra Burka had won the gold medal in the women's event. In the men's event, Donald Knight had claimed the bronze. Knight, Burka, Valerie Jones, Susan and Paul Huehnergard and Carole Forrest and Kevin Lethbridge had all won medals at the 1965 North American Championships in Rochester, New York. The future looked bright as thousands packed Peterborough, Ontario's Memorial Arena to see Canada's best contend for medals on home turf at the 1966 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. Due to a February 8 entry deadline from the ISU for entries for that year's World Championships in Davos, Switzerland, the competition schedule had to be overhauled, with senior events held at the beginning of the event on February 5 and 6 and novice and junior events scheduled afterwards. The senior events were broadcast on television and commentated by Bruce Hyland and unlike today, there were no press conferences where journalists jockeyed for positions, no cell phones, no social media. It was a different time.

In the senior pairs event, siblings Susan and Paul Huehnergard, representing the Upper Canada Skating Club defended the national title that they'd won the year before in Calgary ahead of two other sibling teams, Alexis and Chris Shields and Betty and John McKilligan. However, it was another pairs team who would be the talk of the competition. After an IOC investigation found that German skaters Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler had signed professional contracts before the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, they'd been (at that time) stripped of their Olympic silver medals. It was in Peterborough that IOC executive James Worrall presented the bronze medallists in Innbsruck, Canada's Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell with an upgrade - a gorgeous pair of Olympic silver medals - in a special ceremony. In ice dance, Carole Forrest and Kevin Lethbridge, also of the Upper Canada Skating Club, also defended their national title. With the retirement of Lynn Matthews and Byron Topping, Gail Snyder and Wayne Palmer moved to second and Judy Henderson and John Bailey claimed bronze. Predictably, Donald Knight of Dundas also defended his national men's title, handily fending off challenges from 1964 Canadian Champion Charles Snelling and three time Canadian bronze medallist Jay Humphry of the North Shore Winter Club.

However, it was another skater from the North Shore Winter Club that would capture the imagination of the packed audience that year. The youngest of the skaters in the senior women's event was none other than thirteen year old Karen Magnussen. The 1973 autobiography "Karen: The Karen Magnussen Story" (written by Karen with Jeff Cross) noted that although five thousand people had packed the Memorial Arena for the women's free skate - most there to see Petra Burka defend her title - it was Magnussen who stole the show: "It was the kind of challenge she could not resist. Karen placed fifth in the compulsory figures, in itself a fine performance in her first senior national competition. But the best was yet to come. Her free-skating performance at Peterborough is still regarded by many as the most electrifying ever seen in the Canadian championships. It earned an ovation from the crowd. Dr. Suzanne Francis, an international judge, awarded her a mark of 5.9 (out of 6.0) for artistic impression - the highest mark of the competition, and higher by one-tenth of a point than the same judge's mark for Miss Burka. When the marks were added up, Karen was in second-place in the free-skating section, right behind world champion Petra. She had been practicing [her senior free skating program] for only two months... [She] finished in fourth overall, but veteran observers there had seen enough to convince them they were watching a future champion." They were right. Although Petra Burka won her third and final Canadian title that year in Peterborough ahead of Valerie Jones and Roberta Laurent, it wouldn't be long before Karen Magnussen was Canadian Champion. Jim Proudfoot, writing for the Toronto Star in February 1966 noted, "it was [in Peterborough] that Canadian figure skating officials became excited about her, and instructed coach Linda Brauckmann to make sure Karen got through the tests necessary to qualify for international competitions." The people of Peterborough were right on the money. The future of Canadian figure skating couldn't have been brighter and Karen would prove to be its biggest star looking forward to the seventies.

A lot has changed fifty years later. Gone are school figures and compulsory dances; here to stay is the 'new' judging system that replaced the beloved 6.0 system following the scandal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The sport barely resembles what it once looked like but the standard of skating this week at the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships couldn't be higher.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage speaking at the opening press conference for the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships

At the opening press conference for the event on Thursday, January 21, two time Olympic Silver Medallist Elvis Stojko (the Athlete Ambassador for the event) reflected on his experience competing in Halifax at the 1990 World Championships and Skate Canada CEO Dan Thompson and HRM Mayor Mike Savage welcomed athletes, their families and fans to Halifax. History continued to emerge as a theme throughout the day. Although I unfortunately ultimately missed the Ellen Burka documentary at Pier 21 that I was so excited about attending, I did have chance to meet and chat with four time Canadian Champion Louise Soper, who was sitting in the row behind us while we watched the pairs practice. She was there with her husband and dance partner Barry and explained that while she no longer skates, she does still follows the sport. This month marks the one month anniversary of the passing of the late, great Toller Cranston and she remembered her former teammate fondly.


From the past to the back to the present! Today the Canada's elite men, women, pairs and ice dancers will take to the ice for the phase one of the senior competitions. Who doesn't love men? I know I do! No less than eighteen of Canada's best on blades will be showing each other up in the senior men's event. The buzz surrounding the comeback of Olympic Silver Medallist and three time World Champion Patrick Chan is no joke. And why not? He's won seven Canadian titles and took gold at his first major international competition since the Sochi Olympics earlier this season. Based on his short program result as the free skate was cancelled in light of the Paris attacks, he finished off the podium at the Trophée Éric Bompard. It was fourth place for him at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona. Undaunted, Chan has taken a more big picture approach to coming back, stating, "I'm going for my eighth title but I think there's a lot more at hand that I'm trying to achieve at Nationals in terms of adding technical elements and trying it for the first time and seeing how it works... and also, like I said at the beginning of the season just getting my legs under me this year and get myself ready for the next two years to make them a lot smoother than this year." His biggest competition will of course come from the defending champion Nam Nguyen, who trains at the Cricket Club in Toronto under Brian Orser, the coach of Olympic Gold Medallist Yuzuru Hanyu and World Champion Javier Fernandez. I have a feeling that Nguyen's decision to switch back to his fabulous short program to Nina Simone's "Sinnerman" from last season could very well pay off dividends today. There's always something to be said for going back to something that you know works, right? The fight for bronze is perhaps going to be as interesting if not moreso than the media driven rivalry between Chan and Nguyen. A half a dozen or so men could all quite easily enter the medal conversation. Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, British Columbia, Elladj Baldé of Montreal and Liam Firus of Vancouver certainly have the experience, but there are any number of men who could challenge for the podium. One to keep your on? Keegan Messing. After rolling in the deep field of American men's skaters, this Alaskan made the clever decision to compete for Canada and with choreography by Douglas Webster of the Ice Theatre Of New York and Ice Dance International fame and coaching by Olympian Ralph Burghart, he's going places.

Interview with three time Canadian Medallists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier

3X Canadian Medallists Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam.
Due to a technical glitch, my interview with them didn't
make it, but they're going to be fabulous! 


In the ice dance event, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, Ontarians who train at the Detroit Skating Club under Pasquale Camerlengo, Angelika Krylova, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Natalia Annenko-Deller, are heavy favourites for the lead. They have been unbeatable so far this season, claiming gold at the Finlandia Trophy, Skate Canada International, the Rostelecom Cup and the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, Spain. On the journey this season, Weaver said, "I feel like we're really enjoying ourselves this year and we're growing with each competition and enjoying the day to day and I think that's really important with overall well-being. We're not spring chickens anymore and I think that happiness is an advantage and it helps us to perform better and better." Among the other thirteen senior ice dance teams, their biggest threats will come from Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of the Scarboro Figure Skating Club and Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam of the Barrie Skating Club and Élisabeth Paradis and François-Xavier Ouellette, who train at the Club de patinage artistique Gadbois in Montreal.
Interview with Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford

Interview with Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau

Interview with Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro


Interview with Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch

The senior pairs competition is looking like it's seriously going to be quite the epic showdown. The favourites are of course Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. They have won the last four Canadian titles, a silver medal at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, last year's World title in Shanghai, China and both of their Grand Prix assignments this season. Although they have two quad throws (the Salchow and the Lutz) in their bag of tricks, after finishing second at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona sportswriters have opted for the tired 'having a difficult season' storyline based on one result. Don't buy into it. They've got the goods to perform well here, their practice last night was near perfect and with the support of a rowdy East Coast crowd and their programs this season, I have a feeling we are going to witness something really special from these two in Halifax. The battle for the other two podium spots is a different story altogether. If I was a betting homosexual, I'd put my money on Quebec's Julianne Séguin and Charlie  Bilodeau for the silver. They've been on an upward trajectory, winning the bronze medal at both of their Grand Prix assignments this season and their free skate to "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" (alas, not the Annie Lennox version but fabulous nonetheless) really brings the wow factor. But then again, I don't know nor does anyone really. There's a whole host of other extremely strong teams who will be putting the heat on Duhamel and Radford, among them Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch, Hayleigh Bell and Rudi Swiegers and Vanessa Grenier and Maxime Deschamps. I wouldn't dream of counting anyone out for a second in the pairs event this season based on how they were all practicing last night. It's going to be a battle!

Interview with 2013 and 2014 Canadian Champion Kaetlyn Osmond

Interview with 2015 Canadian Champion Gabby Daleman


Interview with 2015 Canadian Silver Medallist Alaine Chartrand

The women's event is going to be equally interesting. After missing last season due to injury, two time Canadian Champion Kaetlyn Osmond (originally of Marystown, Newfoundland) is on the comeback trail. A crowd favourite, Osmond said, "If I had any little injuries through the beginning of my season, they are completely healed now and I'm feeling better than ever. I haven't been practicing better in my life... Nationals is always my favourite competition of the year so I'm really happy to be back." Her results on the Grand Prix were less than stellar - eleventh at Skate Canada International in Lethbridge and sixth at the NHK Trophy in Nagano, Japan - but the past is the past and this is the present. Her biggest competition will of course come from defending champion Gabby Daleman of Newmarket, Ontario, Alaine Chartrand of Prescott, Ontario and Véronik Mallet of Sept-Îles, Quebec. It's going to come down to who lands the jumps and as we all know, anything can happen.

So grab yourself an urn of coffee and keep them coming... it's going to be a busy weekend here in Halifax. Who will take home the medals this weekend is a compelling mystery that will only be solved as new history is carved on the ice. You do not want to miss a minute of the action!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The 2016 Canadian Championships: Novice And Junior Highlights


In its prior incarnation as the Metro Centre and in the last two years as the Scotiabank Centre, the host venue for the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships has played host to divas galore over the years - Céline Dion, Elton John, Tina Turner, Billy Idol and Cher among them - and like the divas who have graced the stage to wow audiences, the best young skaters in Canada have been bringing the glitz, glamour and guts this week in the novice and junior events here in Haliwood.

If history is any indication, this week's young winners have bright futures ahead of them. There's absolutely a precedent of skaters who have won medals at the Canadian Championships on the novice or junior level in Halifax going on to great things. In fact, in only those three times (1981, 1995 and 2007) that the city has hosted the country's top skaters in national level competition, no less than ELEVEN medallists in the novice and junior ranks at those events have gone on to become Olympians later in their careers. The first two were Melinda Kunhegyi and Lyndon Johnston, who won the junior event at the 1981 Canadian Championships and went on to represent Canada at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. Since then, Neil Paterson, Karyn and Rod Garossino, Michael Farrington, Patrice Archetto, Emanuel Sandhu, Vanessa Crone, Paul Poirier and Mitch Islam have all proved that winning a medal in the novice and junior ranks in this city can be absolutely be a precursor of Olympic greatness to come.

Whether you've been watching in the stands or at home on the live stream, you also don't have to look much further than the kiss and cry to see the continuing influence of former skaters turned coaches who have won senior medals in Halifax at the Canadian Championships on a new generation of skaters. It's been a who's who of names, names, names sweetie. With Marie-France Dubreuil to Annabelle Langlois and Cody Hay to Kristy Wirtz and of course Brian Orser all standing rinkside mentoring the stars of tomorrow, the past of Canadian figure skating has been meeting the present this week in a very tangible way.

As much as I'd secretly love to be, I'm no Jackie Wong honey. You won't be finding exhaustive play-by-plays here. That said, I've had my eyes and ears open this week, have been watching more skating than you can shake a Skate Guard at and I want to share with you some of my impressions of the standout skaters moving up in the ranks that I really believe are going places:

IT FACTOR ICE DANCERS


Chatting with Mackenzie Bent and Dmitre Razgulajevs in the mix zone after their winning free dance

Coached by Carol and Jon Lane and Juris Razgulajevs in Toronto, Mackenzie Bent and her new partner Dmitre Razgulajevs were just delightful in the junior dance competition. You'll of course remember Mackenzie as the winner of last year's Canadian junior title with Garrett MacKeen and let me tell you, this new partnership is a keeper. They've only been together since last autumn yet already there's a great connection there and sense of interplay between them on the ice and technically, they had good carriage, attack and stretch. The duo claimed the junior dance title with a score of 145.31 and made history as the first skaters to be awarded medals at this year's event. If you haven't watched their short dance to Nelson Riddle's "La Valse Grande" and "Happy Ending" and Margaret Whiting's "Time After Time", make the time. It earned them a mean 57.71 with a TES of 29.73 and PCS of 27.98.


Hometown favourites Gina Cipriano and Brad Keeping-Myra on the ice for their free dance set to "Ammore Annascunnuto" by Céline Dion and "Broken Sorrow" and "Thunder" by Nuttin' But Stringz. They finished tenth in the junior dance event with a score of 116.20 

They weren't the only junior ice dancers who made a strong impression. Laval's Melinda and Andrew Meng's "Danse Macabre" short dance was just lovely and another junior dancer who caught my eye was young Haley Sales (a student of Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe), who with her partner Nikolas Wamsteeker really brought the 'it' factor and personality plus. The Meng's claimed a bronze medal behind Quebec's Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha, exceptional students of Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon and team in Boucherville. Sales and Wamsteeker ended the competition in an impressive fourth and a score of 134.73.

In the novice dance event, winners Olivia Han and Grayson Lochhead of the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club maintained their lead after the pattern dances over Quebec's Alicia Fabbri and Claudio Pietrantonio with a quirky, challenging free dance set to "Steampunk Telegram" by Raphaël Beau to take the title by less than a point. Han and Lochhead's program was cleverly choreographed to place the twizzles and more challenging step sequences right in front of the judges. Their team's gutsy move clearly paid off by dividends.

GO GO GADGET GOGOLEV

Owing the power of social media (which in case you haven't heard is kind of a thing these days) there was considerable buzz surrounding Brian Orser's prodigiously talented eleven year old student Stephen Gogolev from the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club before he even stepped foot on the ice in the novice men's event. In the short program to Meyebeer's "Les Patineurs", Gogolev tumbled on his opening jump, the triple Lutz, but rebounded with a clean triple Salchow/triple toe combination to lead the pack with a score of 46.02.


The final flight of the novice men's free skate at the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Halifax. Grab yourself a cocktail and bunker down - lots of potential among these young men!

In the free skate, Gogolev certainly faced competition. Thornhill's Jack Dushenki (coached by 1998 Canadian Champion Angela Derochie and David Long) reeled off four triples, Benjam Papp (the younger brother of Finnish Champion Béla Papp) landed three as did Corey Circelli, an impressive thirteen year old student of Lee Barkell. Alistair Lam of Hamilton, fresh off a win at the International Children's Games in Innsbruck, Austria only days before, also gave a very impressive performance in his free skate choreographed by Shawn Sawyer to "The Show Must Go On" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen that showed good attack and energy. Yet, Gogolev persevered for the win with an on again, off again swingin' free skate set to "Sing Sing Sing" and "Harlem Nocturne" that included a massive triple Axel. He took the title by over twenty points with a score of 142.30. However, if there was an award for heart, it definitely had to go to the silver medallist. Fifteen year old Matthew Markell of Prescott, Ontario is a training mate of 2015 Canadian Silver Medallist Alaine Chartrand and his free skate to Dvořák's "Cello Concerto Symphony No. 8" was to die for. Despite a fall on his second triple toe-loop attempt, Markell landed two triples and two double Axels and performed a fine Biellmann spin and change edge spiral for good measure. His obvious joy in the kiss and cry on winning his first national medal was enough to even make even the most jaded skating fan smile.

BRINGING THE SASS AND SMILES

Alberta's Grayson Rosen competing in the junior men's event. Photo by Danielle Earl Photography.

I want to rave about a skater I'd never heard of before this week who I thought was just fabulous. Representing the Flightway Figure Skating Club in Edmonton, eighteen year old Grayson Rosen was like a breath of fresh air in a junior men's event where we saw some strong triple jumps but I'm afraid far too many sweater vests and stumbles. Picture a purse sized Shawn Sawyer bringing the flair and big, sassy arms - his short program to Christina Aguilera was sassy as all get out and I just loved it! I ran into him before his free skate and he promised he'd be bringing the glitter factor. He may have finished the competition in thirteenth place with a score of 130.91, but there's a lot to be said for those skaters who add a little colour to the sometimes grey tapestry of jump, jump, jump...

Another one of the junior men who made an impression was seventeen year old Christian Reekie of Liz Manley's old alma mater, the Gloucester Skating Club in Ottawa. Skating is a lot of fun and you're supposed to look like you're loving every minute. Whether attempting triple flips or lutzes or showing off his skills as an ice dancer in his footwork sequences, he absolutely did. Reekie, a student of Darlene Joseph, won the bronze medal with his free skate set to selections from the soundtracks of "First Knight" and "Man In The Iron Mask", earning a score of 164.65. The gold went to Joseph Phan of Laval, Quebec and the silver to Edrian Paul Celestino of Dollard-des-Ormeaux, a student of two time World Professional Champion Daniel Beland.


Small but mighty siblings! Olivia and Mackenzie Boys-Eddy skate their short program in Halifax. They earned a score of 46.40 with TES of 27.71 and PCS of 18.69 and earned fifth place in this phase of the competition but their personalities just shined out there!

The same can be said for the young brother/sister pair team of Olivia and Mackenzie Boys-Eddy from Brampton, Ontario. Their short program to ZZtop and "Black Betty" had personality plus and it was clear that they were having a lot of fun out there. Not taking anything away from the top four junior pairs - Hope McLean and Trennt Michaud, Bryn Hoffman and Bryce Chudak, Allison Eby and Brett Varley and Justine Brasseur and Mathieu Ostiguy - but tiny Olivia beaming during the lifts in their free skate to "The Addams Family" was too cute for words. They ended up in fifth with a score of 130.03, well behind McLean and Michaud's strong score of 154.45 but I have a sneaking suspicion we'll be hearing more about this team coached by Ashley Greenhalgh in the future.

EWW... YOUR CANADIAN WOMEN'S ARGUMENT IS SO 1995!


2016 Canadian Novice Women's Champion Aurora Cotop skates her winning free skate to "Sabrina". She earned a total score of 123.85, besting all of her rivals in the free skate with a score of 81.17 in that phase of the event. Her coaches are Jonathan Mills and Myke Gillman.

The novice and junior women also proved that the really tired, cliché sportswriter argument about Canadian women's skating being a splatfest is just that... tired and cliché. In the warmup for the novice ladies short program, a young woman named Béatrice Lavoie-Léonard was going for her triple flip (yes, triple flip in a novice women's short in Canada - process that for a minute) and saved it with knees that many of the senior women would be jealous of. Aurora Cotop of the Thornhill Figure Skating Club took home top honors among the novice women with a score of 81.17. She presented a quite stylised free skate to the theme from the "Sabrina" soundtrack that featured two double Axels, a triple loop, a triple toe/double toe combination and fine spins. The silver medallist, Olivia Gran of Kelowna (a student of Karen and Jason Mongrain) put out a gutsy free skate with a nice triple toe, triple Salchow and two double Axels and demonstrated a mature, controlled style that belied her twelve years.

In the junior women's short program, Sarah Tamura of Vancouver (a student of the one and only Joanne McLeod) skated to "Asturias" by Albeniz with commanding presence and a triple Lutz/double toe combination, triple flip and double Axel to boot. A botched final spin left her with a score of 52.48 that has her just ahead of the Minto Skating Club's Alexis Dion, with eight other women with scores of 45 or better trailing closely behind. The junior women's free skate is happening tonight and it's shaping up to be a nail biter.

Yes, among these young Canadian women there have certainly been tumbles but hey, this is figure skating. It happens in every discipline and country, sunshine. It may be a different ballgame than in Japan or Russia but you know what though? There's a heck of a lot of promise among the women that are coming up in this country. They aren't looking down constantly. They aren't popping jumps. They are going for them! You wouldn't have even said that in back in 1995 in this same building when Netty Kim took home the senior women's title with one clean triple jump. The times, they aren't a-changin'... they have already changed.

CONCLUSIONS

Conclusion number one: Carol Lane is just gorgeous.


Conclusion number two: The skaters I've highlighted today need to be on your radar if they aren't already. To be honest with you honey, the last few days was kind of an unexpected treat. I don't usually even watch novice or junior events so I have zero vested interest in any one skater or team so I really don't think I'm biased.


In all seriousness though, it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there in front of a rink full of friends and strangers and I have to give huge respect to all of the athletes who are doing that this week. They make it look easy and in reality, it's incredibly difficult stuff and it (obviously) doesn't get easier in a pressure cooker environment. The future looks brighter than ever and I think these novice and junior skaters collectively have buckets of potential. Look out world... Canada's a-comin' for you just as they always have been. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Halifax's Skating History (Part Four, From The Forties To The Future)

Violet Snair congratulating Joan Dorey at the 1949 Bluenose Skating Club competition (clipping from the local figure skating history collection at the new Halifax Central Library on Spring Garden Road)

From Patrick Chan, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and Kaetlyn Osmond to the stars of tomorrow, the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships has brought the best skaters in Canada to center stage right here to Halifax, Nova Scotia this week. The last three days, we have explored the host city's rich skating history and today, in the final blog in this four part series, we will take a quick look at how skating in the city developed moving forward after its early days in the Public Gardens and at the Exhibition Building Rink:

FROM THE FORTIES TO THE FUTURE

Alexander Balisch
We have already looked at Halifax's first covered rink in what is today the Public Gardens, the grand Exhibition Building Rink and the legacy of pond skating here in Halifax. Why not take a trip forward in time in the time machine and look at how organized figure skating really developed in the city? By the early forties, the Halifax Skating Club (which operated for a time as the Halifax Skating Assembly) had applied to the Canadian Figure Skating Association for accreditation. By the sixties, the club was using the Dalhousie Memorial Rink as its home base, with its head coach being Alexander Balisch, a former Austrian Champion who emigrated to Canada's East Coast after a career touring Europe as a professional skater.

Concurrently, the Bluenose Skating Club was in operation in the city. It had formed in 1941, using the Shirley Street Arena as its home base, and later moved to the Halifax Forum. An October 28, 2004 article from The Chronicle Herald noted the popularity of the club's annual carnivals from the forties through sixties, which were taken on the road and performed at the Greenwood Air Force Base. Violet Snair, a co-founder of the club with her brother-in-law Roy Snair, recalled, "we had as many as twelve dressmakers for the shows. Kathleen O'Toole, who has since passed away, was instrumental in making and designing the many costumes. She was instrumental in the club's operations."

Many of the club's members went on to become coaches, judges and professional skaters with the Ice Capades. Among the club's members was Evelyn McCall, who is of course the mother of the late Olympic Bronze Medallist and eight time Canadian Champion Rob McCall. McCall holds the distinction of being the first and only Nova Scotian skater to win medals at the Canadian Championships the novice (1975), junior (1977) and senior (1978-1988) divisions. He announced his decision to turn professional in the spring of 1988 after winning the bronze medal at the 1988 Olympic Games and World Championships with partner Tracy Wilson. In a April 28, 1988 interview from The Mail-Star, McCall said, "there would have been nothing better than to win a world championship in Halifax. But unfortunately for Tracy and I it would have been a shallow victory because by that time we would have inherited the title and we didn't want it that way... [but] the only thing I really haven't accomplished is to become world champion. That's the one thing I really wanted to do." Tragically, just three years later he passed away from AIDS-related brain cancer.

Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall's ragtime free dance from the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Alberta, still every bit as fabulous to watch today as it was back then!

McCall's memory lives on here in this province. For decades, the Skate Dartmouth competition was been the premiere open competition in Atlantic Canada, drawing skaters of all levels from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and even Quebec. Renamed in recent years to the Rob McCall Memorial, this year's competition will be held from February 5 to 7 at the Dartmouth Sportsplex, where all of Canada's best skaters have been practicing away all week in preparation for their turns competing on the ice in front of the always discerning judges. Both Marie Bowness (who won the 1981 Canadian ice dance with McCall in this very rink) and Tracy Wilson will be in the house with week and if the rousing reception to Nova Scotian's lone ice dance entry Gina Cipriano and Brad Keeping-Myra in the junior free dance was any indication, Nova Scotia loves its figure skaters more than ever. 

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Halifax's Skating History (Part Three, Pond Skating)

Steele's Pond in Point Pleasant Park, back in the day

From Patrick Chan, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and Kaetlyn Osmond to the stars of tomorrow, the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships has brought the best skaters in Canada to center stage right here to Halifax, Nova Scotia this week. Today, the four part feature on the host city's rich skating history continues. Whereas the last two blogs looked at the role those of affluence played in popularizing skating in Halifax, today we'll look at the role the 'unwashed masses' - in other words, everyday Haligonians - played in developing local skating history:

POND SKATING

Going back to part one of this blog, we recall that Griffin's Pond (the original home of the Halifax Skating Club) was fed by The Fresh Water Brook, now underground and part of the Halifax Commons. This brook actually fed an incredible number of skating ponds all through Halifax's south end and where the brook didn't provide, the Halifax Fire Department would often flood depressions in the North Commons to make temporary rinks to meet the needs of the throngs of Halifax skaters looking for a place to 'cut a fancy figure' or 'turn a Valse'.

In his January 2 and 9, 1988 "Walking" columns from The Mail-Star, late Halifax historian, lecturer and author Lou Collins noted that The Fresh Water Brook "wended its way southeast by way of Fenwick Street and small valleys and gullies until it reached the east end of Inglis Street and then entered Halifax Harbour not far from the present railway pedestrian tunnel. Ships' crews had for over a century rowed ashore to the mouth of this brook to fill casks with fresh water, hence the name: Fresh Water Brook... In the course of the last two decades of the 19th century the Reverend Robert Murray, Presbyterian scholar, hymnodist, and editor of the Presbyterian Witness, took over Studley on Coburg Road, the estate that once belonged to Sir Alexander Croke, stern Judge of Vice-Admiralty and elevated Anglican. In a hollow fringed by willows, just north of the Murray Homestead, was an attractive small pond, popular in winter with skaters. According to a local report, a group of British Army officers from the garrison chose to skate on Murray's Pond [northeast of the Dalhousie University chemistry building] on a Sunday. While they were told courteously that they might skate on the Pond during week days, they were informed, in high Victorian style, that they were to leave immediately and not repeat their Sunday escapade on Murray's Pond."

More accessible South End ponds were the 'Pogey' or 'Poor House Pond' on South Street, on the future site of the Grace Maternity Hospital. Collins' Pond was located in the depression in Collins' Fields between Inglis and South Streets and is long gone as well. Two ponds existed on the north edge of Point Pleasant Park (according to Hopkins's Atlas Of Halifax Of 1878) but only Quarry Pond remained as of 1988. You don't see people skating there these days either. Collins also recalled that "perhaps the best known of the south-end ponds was [Steele]'s Pond, now covered by the Haltern Containerport and its adjacent parking lot. On this pond Haligonians were to enjoy skating for many years. It is said that the historic Halifax Skating Club grew out of the skating opportunities provided by [Steele]'s Pond." So that gives you another indication as to where the members of the Halifax Skating Club might very well have gone after the Murray's Pond and Exhibition Building rinks ceased to be.

In addition to ponds, skaters even ventured on to marshes. In the January 31, 1963 issue of the Mail-Star, E.G.L. Wetmore recalled, "How many who were Southenders in their youth have happy memories of Ritchie's swamp in Marlboro Woods? Now it's all houses, lawns and wide residential streets... Probably a hot potato never tasted better than one retrieved from glowing embers of a wood fire built in shelter of the big rock which was the time honored place for putting on boots and skates. Some of the spuds would be eaten, and others tucked into the toes of the temporarily abandoned walking boots. For some of the skaters there would not even be in need to exchange footwear, they would just clip on the popular Acme spring skates turned out by Starr in the Dartmouth plant."

In the area west of the Northwest Arm were such popular skating spots as Williams' Lake and The Frog Pond. Collins wrote, "in Edmond's Ground, the Duck Pond near the old barn may have known very young participants... When winters were more severe and there was less pollution in the North West Arm, its surface was frozen often enough to be recorded as a popular destination for skating. While not providing the hard, glass-like surface of fresh-water ice, salt-water ice is firm, less brittle and more flexible, although eroded at the tide mark by the rise and all of the tides." Chocolate Lake (between Herring Cove Road and St. Margaret's Bay Road) was the most popular skating spot on the Isthmus until World War II. Collins recalled, "it had become so popular in the years immediately before the Second World War, that change huts, complete with canteens, had been provided by enterprising residents and others. These, for a small charge, provided warmth, safety for footgear, and reduced the need to hide one's boots under the roots of a tree in the darkness of the western shoreline." Other popular skating destinations were McFatridge's Pond on Robie Street, the playfield south of Gorsebrook School, Deal's Pond (east of Bayers Road) and Devlin's Pond (just north of Dutch Village Road) and Stanford's Pond, a shallow pond full of reeds and grass just below St. John's Anglican Church and cemetery. Although people certainly skated on the latter, it was considered the least attractive option in the area as the ice often wasn't great.


"Hints To Skaters" from The January 25, 1883 edition of "The Irish Canadian"

The cutting of ice blocks for refrigeration became a regular problem faced by Halifax skaters. Not only would men from Farmers cut ice from Deal's Pond for their dairy on Windsor Street, citizens would often take matters into their own hands for food storage. Crystal Martin of the Dartmouth Heritage Museum explained, "a lot of people cleared off lakes to skate or play hockey; then they would go back the next day to find that the ice had been cut."

The Northwest Arm would freeze in parts and daring skaters would often venture as far west as Williams Lake but most skaters had the sense to turn back to warnings of 'warm springs' and thin ice. Legends even persist of skaters crossing sections of the Halifax Harbour. Late historian George Mullane wrote that in 1821 "when the harbour was frozen over, but the ice by no means thick enough to be considered safe, many broke through, although many tried to use the ice surface to travel between Halifax and Dartmouth in that January... Drownings were recorded... A son of John Gibbs, messenger to the House Of Assembly who was immersed, was so exhausted that he died in a few hours. Today an ice coated harbour is only a memory."

Speaking of memories, stay tuned to the blog! Tomorrow we'll have the final part of this series and on Thursday, a recap of how the best skaters in Canada are MAKING history in 2016 in the novice and junior events leading up to the marquee events at the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships later this week. You do not want to miss it!

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