Thirty years ago Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister, lovers of great literature were mourning the death of famed author Margaret Laurence, Wang Chung's "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" topped the Canadian music charts and many of Canada's best figure skaters convened in Ottawa, Ontario for the first Canadian Figure Skating Championships to be held in the country's capital city since 1958.
Held from February 1 to 8, 1987, the 1987 Canadian Figure Skating Championships were a star-studded affair attended by a who's who of Canadian figure skating. Compulsory figures were skated at the Nepean Sportsplex and free skating events were held at the Ottawa Civic Centre. The competition marked the first time in history that the Canadian Championships had a title sponsor. Sugar-free sweetener company NutraSweet was the ironic choice, since reporters boasted of the seemingly endless supply of sugar-laden donuts and plates of candy that were served up by members of the Nepean Skating Club in the media room.
The event was broadcast on CTV and commentated by Johnny Esaw, Debbi Wilkes and Brian Pockar. Prior to the event, then CFSA President David Dore remarked, "We have dynamic power in our lead people, but we don't seem to have the same quality below them. We're hoping that others will come along this week to offer challenges... Our elite athletes have qualified us for a large world team and it's very important that the backup people also perform at a high level." If the remarkable stories from this event are any indication, skaters at all levels lived up to their potential. Grab yourself a cup of coffee - sweetened with NutraSweet, of course - and hop in the top machine. Today we're taking a look back at the skaters and stories from this exciting competition!
THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR EVENTS
Thirteen year old Brigitte Richer and sixteen year old Michel Brunet, Quebecers representing the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa, dominated the novice ice dance event from start to finish. Stacey Ball and Jeffrey Gavin of Ontario won the novice pairs event ahead of Quebec's Marie-Josée Fortin and Jean-Michel Bombardier and Jodi Dawson and David Wood, young students of Kerry Leitch from the Preston Figure Skating Club. Winning her first medal at the Canadian Championships, a young Karen Preston of the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club finished third in the novice women's event behind Margot Bion and Josée Arseneault. In his debut at Nationals, seventeen year old Glenn Fortin of the Quinte Figure Skating Club narrowly defeated Andrew Hoddinott in the school figures. He maintained his lead in the free skate to win the novice men's title ahead of a young Sébastien Britten. Hoddinott dropped to third.
Jacqueline Petr and Mark Janoschak. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.
Michelle Menzies and Kevin Wheeler, representing the Preston and Brussels Figure Skating Clubs, vaulted to victory in the junior pairs event ahead of fifteen year old Twana Rose of Weyburn, Saskatchewan and her nineteen year old partner, Colin Epp of Vancouver. Jodi Barnes of Pitt Meadows and Rob Williams of Maple Ridge, settled for the bronze. Ontarians Catherine Pal and Donald Godfrey dominated the junior dance event. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "they had not only presence... but also a commanding, well-matched style. Dressed in purple and orange folk costumes, they lit up the ice with their flashy Hungarian program skated in European style." A young Jacqueline Petr and Mark Janoschak finished second, followed by Pamela Watson and Aimée LeBlanc.
After finishing third in the junior women's event at the 1986 Canadian Championships in North Bay, Angie Folk of the Glencoe Club moved up to take the gold when the two skaters who had placed ahead of her the year before moved up to the senior ranks. Josée Arseneault of the Club de Patinage Artistique Stellaire de Baie Comeau finished second ahead of 1986 novice champion Joelle Batten of Chatham. Twenty year old Norm Proft of North Vancouver shouldn't have even been in Ottawa. He finished sixth at the Western Divisionals but when two skaters who ranked ahead of him pulled out, he got the fourth spot in his division after paying a twenty five dollar late fine out of his earnings as a waiter to his section, who had to meet at the eleventh hour to approve his entry. He was fifth in figures, skated a clean short program to finish second behind a young Marcus Christensen of Toronto. In the free skate, he moved up to take the gold ahead of figures winner Bernard Munger of Ste. Foy, Quebec and Saskatoon's Brent Frank.
THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION
At twenty eight, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia's Rob McCall was the oldest of the two hundred and forty three skaters in Ottawa. McCall and his twenty five year old partner Tracy Wilson were clear favourites in the senior ice dance event. It was a year of change for the defending champions. They had parted ways with longtime coach Bernard Ford and were working primarily with Marijane Stong and John Brisco, They took a strong lead in the compulsory dances ahead of Calgary siblings Karyn and Rod Garossino, Jo-Anne Borlase and Scott Chalmers, Penny Mann and Richard Perkins and Michelle McDonald and Michael Farrington but their biggest test of the event would be the OSP. After a poor review from the referee at the Novarat Trophy in Budapest, they had ditched their German military themed Viennese Waltz and opted for Strauss' "Tales Of Vienna Woods", which McCall termed "a parody" of the theme. At the time, he explained, "I'm a prince - which is perfect type-casting - and she's a pauper. She's my prop. We always sort of add a little story to our numbers." The new program earned them marks from 5.6 from 5.8 and only expanded their already healthy lead. Disaster struck Jo-Anne Borlase and Scott Chalmers. They finished a shocking sixth in the OSP after a fall and a stumble and dropped to fifth overall, behind the Garossino's, Mann and Perkins and McDonald and Farrington, who actually placed third in that segment of the competition. Lynn Copley-Graves recalled that in the free dance, "Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall had no competition. The intricate footwork in their free dance brought out the best of Duke Ellington. Clever stunts and antics took this dance beyond the traditional... The circusy march tunes of Karyn and Rod Garossino from 'The Great Waldo Pepper' did not hypnotize like their allegorical 'Romeo and Juliet', but they entertained and skated well to retain second place. Jo-Anne Borlase and Scott Chalmers, 20 and 22, trained by Roy Bradshaw, seemed reticent to interact and reveal themselves through their skating and would have benefited from acting or mime classes. Skating controversially to Southern American tunes, Scott presented Jo-Anne much of the time, and in these segments she opened up. They skated with power and unison." They managed to move up and take the bronze ahead of Mann and Perkins, McDonald and Farrington, Erica Davenport and Mark Mitchell and Melanie Cole and Martin Smith and earn the third spot on the 1987 World Team.
THE PAIRS COMPETITION
Mark Rowsom. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.
Christine Hough and Doug Ladret at the 1987 Canadian Championships. Margaret Burwell photo.
In the end, it was Coull and Rowsom first, Benning and Johnston second and Hough and Ladret third. A notable face missing in Ottawa was Lloyd Eisler. When his latest partner Karen Westby retired due to injury, he had teamed up with a young woman named Isabelle Brasseur. They intended to make their debut the following season.
THE FOURS COMPETITION
For the fourth year in a row, Lyndon Johnston found himself atop the podium in the fours competition at the Canadian Championships. In 1987, he shared the victory with his pairs partner Denise Benning, Laureen Collin of the Preston Figure Skating Club and John Penticost of the Club de Patinage Artistique Chateauguay. Again sporting his helmet, Doug Ladret finished second with Christine Hough, Michelle Menzies and Kevin Wheeler. The bronze medal went to Cynthia Coull, Mark Rowsom, Melanie Gaylor and Lee Barkell.
THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION
Charlene Wong and Elizabeth Manley at the 1987 Canadian Championships. Margaret Burwell photos.
Twenty one year old Elizabeth Manley got a bye through the Eastern Divisionals to Ottawa as she had a flu over Christmas that laid her up for two weeks. Asked about losing her Canadian title to Tracey Wainman the year before prior to the event, she said, "It's in the past. I got some satisfaction out of beating her at the Worlds at Geneva a month later." In her 1991 book "Thumbs Up!" Manley recalled her confidence in Ottawa in 1987: "Just before we drove to the arena for the compulsory figures, Peter [Dunfield] looked at me and said, 'Elizabeth, this is the moment to take your title back. You can do it. Your figures are there, your programs are right, and you're prepared. Just go out there and remember all the things we've discovered.' He hugged me, and I felt a surge of confidence that stayed with me all the way through the competition." She followed his advice, tying the Royal Glenora Club's Patricia Schmidt on the first figure and winning the other two. A surprising third was St. Albert, Alberta's Joelle Tustin, who had missed the 1986 Canadian Championships and placed eleventh in 1985. Linda Florkevich, who had beaten Schmidt at the Western Divisionals, was fourth and Pierrefonds, Quebec's Charlene Wong (also training with the Dunfield's in Gloucester) was sixth. An unlucky thirteenth and last was Mississauga's Lindsay Fedosoff, who arrived at the Nepean Sportsplex for the school figures with a mismatched pair of skates - a left free skating boot and a right figures boot.
In the short program, Manley expanded her lead with a clean but cautious program. Instead of going for her planned triple Lutz combination, she instead performed a gorgeous triple toe-loop/double loop combination and ended up with marks ranging from 5.6 to 5.8. Schmidt and Florkevich both also skated cleanly to finish second and third. An overrotation on a triple toe-loop attempt only allowed Charlene Wong to climb one spot in the standings. Dressed in black and gold for the free skate, Manley reclaimed her Canadian title despite errors on four of the five triples she attempted, including a hand down on the Lutz and a fall on the loop. Interviewed by Paul Hunter in the February 8, 1987 edition of "The Toronto Star", she explained, "I'm not trying to make excuses or anything but the second knot on my landing [skate] broke and my whole skate became loose. I just couldn't get a grip on the landings. I was unsure what to do so I just skated with it." Why didn't Manley stop? She simply was not sure what to do at first but ultimately just decided to just power through. Quoted by Martin Cleary in the February 9, 1987 edition of "The Ottawa Citizen", she explained, "After the fall, I panicked. I said to myself, 'You can't stop now, girl.'" Sixteen year old Diane Takeuchi actually finished second in the free skate with the only two triple performance of the competition ahead of Florkevich and Schmidt, but Patricia Schmidt's strong performances in the figures and short program kept her in second overall ahead of Florkevich.
THE MEN'S COMPETITION
Crediting his improvement in the school figures to his work with sports psychologist Peter Jensen and former Olympic Medallists Karol Divín and Jimmy Grogan, twenty five year old Brian Orser skated three of the best figures of his career to that point to take a strong lead ahead of 1986 Canadian Silver Medallist Neil Paterson of British Columbia, although Paterson did beat him on the final figure, the loop. Twenty one year old Kurt Browning of Caroline, Alberta was third, twenty year old Michael Slipchuk of Edmonton fourth and Mark MacVean of the Gloucester Skating Club fifth. After badly spraining his right ankle in a pre-competition practice, 1986 Canadian Bronze Medallist Jaimee Eggleton finished a disastrous eleventh and withdrew from the competition.
Orser was spectacular in the short program, landing a triple Axel and earning 5.9's from all seven judges for technical merit and one 5.9 and six 6.0's for technical merit. Paterson remained in second, ahead of Browning, who landed a rare (for him) triple Lutz combination.
All Brian Orser needed to do was show up for the free skate and the gold was pretty much his. Instead, he skated his "Ladyhawke" program lights out, went for two triple Axels and earned ten 5.9's and four 6.0's. In winning, he became the first person since Montgomery Wilson to win seven consecutive Canadian senior men's titles. Browning moved up to second. In his 1991 book "Kurt: Forcing The Edge", he recalled, "The free skate was my best to date. Only Orser received higher marks. I landed five triples, was marked in the 5.6 to 5.8 range... [and stood] on the podium with the silver medal around my neck. As a bonus, Slipchuk came on strongly enough to win the bronze, ensuring that we'd be headed for the States together. The door to the world championships had swung open at last." Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, when one door opens another closes. After landing a triple Axel, Paterson two-footed his triple flip and triple toe and doubled his triple loop and tumbled off the podium. Considering he had cracked the top ten at the 1985 World Championships in Tokyo, his loss had to have been devastating at the time. Matthew James Hall of the Minto Skating Club finished sixth in his senior debut; Mark MacVean seventh.
The names and faces may have changed since 1987 but one thing is certain this week in Ottawa at the 2017 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships... we're in for another exciting competition full of the same amount of drama, excitement and fabulous skating!
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