The 1993 Canadian Figure Skating Championships


Brian Mulroney was just weeks away from resigning as Canada's Prime Minister. Booker Prize winner Michael Ondaatje's novel "The English Patient" was on everyone's nightstand. Walkmans blared with the Snap! hit "Rhythm Is A Dancer". Grunge fashion was the recession rage and for some unknown reason, pacifiers were a thing. The year was 1993 and from  February 4 to 7, Canada's best flocked to Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario for the Royal Bank Canadian Figure Skating Championships.


The use of such a large venue paid off in dividends for the CFSA. With sellout crowds of upwards of over hundred and sixteen thousand over the three days of senior championship events, it was the highest attendance ever at the Canadian Championships at that point in time. In fact, more people attended the event than one of the Toronto Maple Leafs' NHL home games the week prior.

Left: Barbara Ann Scott backstage. Photo courtesy Hamilton Public Library. Right: Commemorative lapel pin sold at the event.

A who's who of Canadian figure skating were in the stands - World and Olympic Champions like Barbara Ann Scott, Donald Jackson, Donald McPherson, Brian Orser, Kurt Browning, Petra Burka, Karen Magnussen, Frances Dafoe, Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini and Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul. A CFSA Hall Of Fame ceremony was held during the event, where Suzanne Morrow and Wally Distelmeyer, Mrs. Ellen Burka, Dr. Sidney Soanes and Granville Mayall were inducted.

Clipping about Mrs. Ellen Burka's CFSA Hall Of Fame induction. Photo courtesy Hamilton Public Library.

Fans were thrilled with a new technological advancement - an electronic scoreboard which showed the standings of the top five skaters or teams right after the marks were shown. Previously, many die-hard's were forced to scribble down marks on scrap paper and try to figure out 'who was where' on their own until the announcer read the read the results at the end of each event.

Hop in the time machine - we're going to take a look back at the stories, skaters and scandals from this fascinating event!

THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR EVENTS

Left: Collin Thompson. Right: Novice ice dancers Nicole and Derek Brittain. Photos courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Teams from Quebec dominated the novice pairs and ice dance events. Representing the CPA Boucherville and CPA Jonquiere, Guylaine Brasseur and Kevin Boucher were victorious in novice pairs. Julie Lirette and Jonathan Pankratz took gold in an all Quebec medal sweep in novice dance.

Although compulsory figures had been eliminated from the junior and senior events, novice men and women were still required to perform the scales of skating in addition to technical programs and free skates. Louis-Georges Dufour of Quebec City led the way after the novice men's figures but lost his early lead, finishing off the podium. The winner was Toronto's Collin Thompson.

Photo courtesy Hamilton Public Library

In winning, fifteen year old Collin Thompson made history as the first skater of colour to win a Canadian title at any level. When reporter Larry Moko asked him about the significance of this, he said, "I think I'm just a regular person. It doesn't matter what colour I am." He had been skating for six years, was coached by Osborne Colson and came from a single-parent family.

In the novice women's event, Victoria's Lisa Murdoch and Dorval's Della Pike tied for the lead in the figures, but neither skater earned a medal. In fact, Pike dropped down to eleventh. The title went to Isabelle Thibeault of the CPA Chicoutimi, who had won the Eastern Divisionals the month prior but finished only twelfth at the 1992 Canadians.

Junior men's medallists Ravi Walia, David Pelletier and Matthew Knight. Photo courtesy Skate Canada Archives.

Julie Laporte and David Pelletier of the CPA Rimouski defeated Isabelle Coulombe and Bruno Marcotte and Kelly McKenzie and David Annecca to take the junior pairs title. Laporte and Pelletier's winning free skate featured a triple twist and throw triple Salchow - tough elements for a junior pair. After winning, Pelletier said, "I think it's the international experience that helped a lot and the fact that we've been skating together for three years. Many junior teams haven't been together that long." They'd previously placed fifth at the World Junior Championships and won a silver medal at the Blue Swords event in Germany.

After the junior compulsory dances, Quebec held the top six spots. As in novice dance, Quebec dancer made a sweep of the podium, with Martine Michaud and Sylvain Leclerc besting Elizabeth Hollett and Pierre-Hugues Chouinard and Josée Piché and Pascal Denis for the gold. Nineteen year old Ravi Walia of the Kerrisdale Figure Skating Club won both phases of the junior men's event and landed five triples in his free skate to win gold ahead of future Olympic Gold Medallist David Pelletier and his twenty year old training mate in Kerrisdale, Matthew Knight.

Photo courtesy Hamilton Public Library

In the junior women's event, Keyla Ohs, a student of Linda Brauckman from Maple Ridge, British Columbia, defeated Jessica Sheard and Andreanne Plante to claim the gold medal. Ohs was the youngest of sixteen entrants in the event, having just turned fourteen the week prior the event.

Photo courtesy Hamilton Public Library

Seventeen year old Christy Ness student Tammy Smigelski had the third best free skate but was an unlucky thirteenth in the short program and only able to move up to sixth overall. A young Jamie Sale placed eighth; a young Jennifer Robinson eleventh. After winning, Keyla Ohs said, "I'm excited. My goal was top give when I came here."

THE PAIRS AND FOURS COMPETITIONS

A unique Canadian specialty, fours skating, was included on the bill of senior competitions in Hamilton and proved a big crowd favourite. A cross country team featuring skaters representing both British Columbia and Ontario came out on top: Jodi Barnes, Rob Williams, Jodeyne Higgins and Sean Rice. Tiina Murr, Cory Watson, Alison Purkiss and Scott MacDonald took the silver for Ontario, followed by Julie Leithead, Jonathon Allen, Shannon Robb and Scott Cornfoot. The number of fours skaters that came out of the Preston Figure Skating Club spoke to the strength of Kerry Leitch's school and his important role in keeping the discipline alive for so many years.

Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler. Left photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, right photo courtesy Hamilton Public Library.

It wasn't an easy year for twenty two year old Isabelle Brasseur and twenty nine year old Lloyd Eisler. Though the team took a new approach to training, focusing on having fun rather than taking things so seriously, Isabelle was grieving the loss of her father. Though they were the reigning Olympic Bronze Medallist, they'd finished off the podium at the NHK Trophy in Japan in the fall, held just two weeks after his death. Neither of the teams that had beaten them at the Albertville Olympics had competed. Just prior to the event, Isabelle told Steve Milton, "I didn't want to pack it in. You can't stop your life. I mean my Dad died, and he showed me so much stuff... He wouldn't be proud if I did that."

Left: Allison Purkiss and Scott MacDonald. Middle: Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz. Right: Jamie Salé and Jason Turner. Photos courtesy Hamilton Public Library.

Whatever may have been going on in Isabelle Brasseur's head, you wouldn't have known anything was wrong in Hamilton. In the short program, she and Lloyd Eisler skated clean as a whistle to "Tequila", earning marks mostly in the 5.8 and 5.9 range and a standing ovation. They easily outranked Michelle Menzies and Jean-Michel Bombardier, Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz, Jodeyne Higgins and Sean Rice and Jamie Salé and Jason Turner, with first place ordinals from all nine judges. Menzies and Bombardier and Sargeant and Wirtz were both new partnerships; Higgins and Rice were competing in seniors for the first year. Lucky to even compete were Higgins and Rice's Preston training mates Tiina Muur and Cory Watson. Watson had been in a car accident just ten days before the start of the competition. He'd spent nearly a week in the hospital with a collapsed lung and only started practicing lifts during the pre-short program practice.

Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler. Photos courtesy Hamilton Public Library.

Despite a fall from Isabelle on the side-by-side double Axels in their free skate to Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini", Brasseur and Eisler won their fourth Canadian pairs title in a convincing fashion. They received 5.6's and 5.7's for technical merit and 5.8's and 5.9's for artistic impression and again received first place ordinals from every judge. Menzies and Bombardier remained in second and Higgins and Rice moved up to take the bronze medals. Higgins and Rice's medal win was so completely unexpected that their coach Kerry Leitch was teary-eyed.

After the event, Lloyd Eisler told "Montreal Gazette" reporters, "The program is world-calibre gold material if we do everything we're supposed to do... Axels are jumps that strong individual skaters nail all the time but if we could nail them one after another, we would be in singles not pairs... We really are revved up now for Prague, very optimistic because of our program what we feel is a good combination of artistry and athletics."

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz. Photo courtesy Hamilton Public Library.

You want to talk drama? Let's talk about the ice dance competition at the 1993 Canadian Championships. To give you some perspective, we need to look back on what happened in Canadian ice dance the two years prior. In 1991, former rivals Michelle McDonald and Martin Smith joined forces to win the Canadian ice dance title ahead of Jacqueline Petr and Mark Janoschak and Penny Mann and Juan-Carlos Noria. The following year, Petr and Janoschak claimed gold in a five-four split over Mann and Noria. McDonald and Smith dropped to third. The Canadian Olympic Association kept Mann and Noria off the Olympic team even though Canada had earned two spots but the CFSA sent them to Worlds, where they finished just four spots behind Petr and Janoschak. McDonald and Smith turned professional and everyone was expecting the next two seasons to be a seesaw battle between Petr and Janoschak and Mann and Noria... and then a third team entered the picture.

1992 Canadian Junior Champions, seventeen year old Shae-Lynn Bourne and twenty one year old Victor Kraatz moved up to the big leagues and placed a strong sixth to Petr and Janoschak at the Skate Canada International in Victoria in the autumn of 1992. Rumours swirled that the talented young team was being fast-tracked forward ahead of Petr and Janoschak and Mann and Noria before they even took the ice in Hamilton. There were even whispers that Bourne and Kraatz might pull a 'Duchesnay' and skate for another country, as Kraatz was born in Germany and held a Swiss passport. Coach Josée Picard admitted that both countries had made inquiries about Kraatz. Jacqueline Petr pointed out that since her parents were born in Czechoslovakia, she could have represented another country as well but she "was born here and [wanted] to represent Canada." Both Mark Janoschak and Juan Carlos Noria weren't buying into the hype over Bourne and Kraatz. Juan Carlos Noria told Steve Milton, "I know they are very young and very talented. They are the 'dream team'. But they're pretty young and in dance you need experience. Of course it is between us and Mark and Jacqui. How could it not be?"

And so... in the compulsory dances, Bourne and Kraatz placed ahead of Petr and Janoschak and Mann and Noria. Then, in the original dance - the Viennese Waltz - Mann and Noria took top spot, followed by Bourne and Kraatz and Petr and Janoschak. In the free dance, Petr and Janoschak opted for an avant garde program set to music by Michael Nyman dressed as the King and Queen of Hearts.


Mann and Noria took a traditional route with a Fred and Ginger program and Bourne and Kraatz showed off youth, exuberance and strong edges in a gypsy-themed program. Eight of the nine judges placed Bourne and Kraatz first in free dance, with one opting for Mann and Noria. Bourne and Kraatz won their first Canadian title, Mann and Noria settled for silver and the reigning Canadian Champions Petr and Janoschak were pushed down to third... a similar scenario to the one McDonald and Smith had faced the year prior.

Quoted in the "Ottawa Citizen", Victor Kraatz said, "I'm amazed at how quickly things have picked up for us. We came here just to get experience. There was no pressure on us to win at all." Bourne added, "I'm surprised. You usually have to wait your turn. This is just amazing." Their competitors didn't hide their frustration with their losses. Penny Mann said, "It's really frustrating. We worked really hard this year, with the one goal in mind: to win. We put it all out there. I don't like to say that we got dumped on, but it is a bit of a slap in the face." Mark Janoschak said, "I'm disappointed and a little bitter. I don't necessarily agree with the results, but they were so unanimous that it's hard to disagree. At least we went out fighting. We can hold our heads high and say we did our best job." Quoted in the "Toronto Star", Bourne and Kraatz's coach Eric Gillies defended the judge's decision: "We tend to talk a lot in Canada about the so-called 'norms' and sometimes have a fear of making big moves, even when that's the right thing to do. But this time, what was right was done and the best pair in this competition was judged to be the best, the way it should be, even if it isn't the norm."

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Twenty one year old Karen Preston of Mississauga, a part-time humanities student at the University of Toronto, was the reigning Canadian Champion and as is always the case, there was the expectation for her to defend her title. Prior to the event, she told reporter Larry Sicinski, "I'm really trying not to think about what's on the line. What I did last year in Moncton is a completely different competition. A lot of skaters at other times have, maybe, put too much emphasis on whether or not they were going to lose their title. So I'm just trying to look at this year's Canadians as an event by itself... A lot of personal confidence came out of last year. I worked real hard and learned what I needed to do to get my job done. What kind of schedule I needed to be on. How much on-ice, off-ice work needed to be done. I learned an awful lot about myself as an athlete and it's given me a lot of confidence."


Josée Chouinard. Photos courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Twenty two year old Kerry Leitch student Tanya Bingert pulled off an upset and won the short program, ahead of Canadian Champions Josée Chouinard and Karen Preston, who both missed their combinations. Seventeen year olds Susan Humphreys and Sherry Ball followed in fourth and fifth places. 1990 Canadian Champion Lisa Sargeant-Driscoll, coached by Michael Jiranek, bravely attempted a comeback. Overrating on a triple Axel attempt and falling on a double Lutz, she found herself buried in ninth place entering the free skate. Sargeant-Driscoll rebounded in the free skate, vaulting from ninth to fifth with an outstanding performance that featured five triples, including a two-footed triple Axel. Her only error was a fall on a triple loop. It's worth noting that she landed the triple Axel in one of the official practices.

Josée Chouinard. Photos courtesy Hamilton Public Library.

Josée Chouinard's six triple free skate was the talk of the town. Skating to Slavic folk music, she nailed her triple Lutz late in her program and captivated the audience with her charm and athleticism. She received marks ranging from 5.7 to 5.9 for technical merit, mostly 5.9's for artistic impression and received a standing ovation from the crowd for her gutsy effort.

Tanya Bingert. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Karen Preston fell on one triple and touched down on another but was rewarded with second place marks. Susan Humphreys skated very well to move up to third. She'd missed the previous season due to shoulder injury, placed thirteenth in junior in 1991 and fifteenth in novice in 1990, so her medal was considered quite a surprise to many. Tanya Bingert crumbled, falling twice and dropping to fourth place overall. Sherry Ball played it clean but safe and the judges buried her in the standings.


Behind the scenes, things weren't all rosy. In her book "All That Glitters", Chouinard recalled, "In 1993, when I was about to skate my long program that would earn me my second Canadian title, I stayed up all night fighting with Jean-Michel, who had already finished his competition. I wanted him with me during the evening, but he had other obligations with his partner. Because my nerves were raw and I was concentrating only on myself, I lashed out at him when we finally caught up with each other. Wanting to settle the argument before I went to bed, I can remember some pretty serious yelling going on in the hotel hallway. Poor Jean-Michel. Nothing he said made any difference, and I went to bed determined that I wasn't going to let him affect my skating. The following day, I didn't speak to him at all. Arriving at the rink, I realized I didn't have any toothpaste with me. Most skaters rub a little of the substance inside their mouths to keep them from getting dry. Jean-Michel ran to the store to get me a tube and I didn't even thank him. I went on the ice, stubborn and determined. But I won the championship. Afterwards, I hugged and kissed Jean-Michel as if nothing had happened. No doubt about it, I'm totally impossible to be around before a competition."

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


Kurt Browning. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

1993 was a game-changing year for twenty six year old Kurt Browning. He was coming back from injury and a split with longtime coach Michael Jiranek that saw him move to Toronto to train with Louis Stong at the Granite Club. To top it off, he had only debuted his new programs week prior at the Western Divisionals. Though he won and received standing ovations at that event, he'd had to skate his new "Casablanca" free skate in a practice outfit as his costume at the time proved too restrictive.

Photo courtesy Hamilton Public Library

In the short program in Hamilton, both Kurt Browning and his nineteen year old rival Elvis Stojko made identical errors, stepping out of their triple Axels in the exact same spot on the ice. Seven of the nine judges placed Browning first. While Stojko received 5.8's and 5.9's for artistic impression, Browning received a slew of 5.9's and a 6.0 from judge Joy Forster for his new program to Led Zeppelin's "Bonzo's Montreux".

Left: Sébastien Britten poses right in front of the commentators, getting the audience smiling. Right: Kurt Browning gets a kiss on the cheek from a fan. Photo courtesy Hamilton Public Library.

Finishing a surprise third was twenty year old Jean-François Hebert, who was competing in the senior ranks for the first time. The twenty year old from Warwick, Quebec only started skating five years prior and had never placed higher than third at the junior level. He took a year off at one point because he "was tired of skating". Fourth through seventh were Marcus Christensen, Brent Frank, Patrick Brault and Sébastien Britten. Quoted in the "Edmonton Journal", Kurt Browning remarked, "It's not every day Elvis misses a jump... That's very strange. I know my own skating, and when I'm hot, I don't miss. But on a normal day, I miss jumps. Elvis doesn't. He's a machine. So I got a little bit lucky we chose the same time to make exactly the same mistake - and then the strength of the program came through for me."

Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko posing for photographers after both programs. Photos courtesy Hamilton Public Library.

There was a full moon outside the night of the men's free skate - a fact that was chuckled about in the stands when some of the lower-ranked men missed jumps. Jean-François Hebert dropped to fifth and twenty two year old Marcus Christensen of the Royal Glenora Club moved up to third to claim his first senior medal and the third spot on the World team. Kurt Browning's "Casablanca" was a huge hit with the Hamilton crowd. He landed a triple Axel/triple toe-loop combination, solo triple Axel and triple Salchow/triple loop but fell on a triple Lutz and stepped out of a triple toe-loop. He received a standing ovation and two perfect 6.0's for artistic impression and was ranked first by all nine judges.

Senior men's medallists Marcus Christensen, Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko. Photo courtesy Skate Canada Archives

Though the judges unanimously placed Kurt Browning first and Elvis Stojko second, some in the audience felt Stojko, who skated what he deemed "the best performance of his life", upstaged Browning. He received five 5.9's and a perfect 6.0 for technical merit, but his artistic marks weren't enough for first place. Quoted in the "Edmonton Journal", Stojko's coach Doug Leigh said, "I didn't see the other guy skate. I only know what Stojko did. When you see those kinds of marks in front of you, and then you go out and skate like that - well, he's got great courage. Sooner or later, he's got to break through. He can't be stopped." Browning called his performance, "One of the sweetest skates of my life... a very personal victory. Coming back from the injury, moving to Toronto, not having my parents here . . . there were a lot of things that have happened. The last month and a half have been really tough. There were a few days when I was really scared that whatever I had that made me do what I do was slipping away. But these last five or six days I felt it coming back, and tonight something just pushed me over the edge. I think it was the crowd." While Stojko handled his loss gracefully, local radio talk shows were abuzz with 'Elvis was robbed' calls.

THE PARADE OF CHAMPIONS AND AN AMUSING 'CONTROVERSY'

Canada's best let their hair down in the Parade Of Champions, the annual post-competition gala. Both Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler and Marcus Christensen used music by Bryan Adams. Karen Preston and Josée Chouinard both selected music by Céline Dion: Karen an English piece and Josée a French one. Elvis Stojko rocked out to Van Halen's "You Really Got Me" while Kurt Browning mesmerized with a "Casablanca" reprise and a program to Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World".

Photos courtesy Hamilton Public Library

And then there was a manufactured 'controversy' that was so far out of left field that it left many scratching their heads going "are you for real?" On February 9, 1993, the"Toronto Star" published a piece by humour columnist Joey Slinger suggesting that Kurt Browning be stripped of his Canadian title because he was promoting smoking by taking a drag off an imaginary cigarette twice in his "Casablanca" program. Slinger quoted an unnamed anonymous member of an anti-smoking group, who said, "I don't care. He can pee in a bottle all he wants. This is a moral outrage." Joey Slinger also cited an anonymous 'government source' who claimed, "Browning was thumbing his nose at our efforts to improve national well-being... It looked as if he was on the ice as a spokesman for the tobacco industry. What if he had pantomimed buying smack and cooking it in a spoon over a candle and filling a hypodermic syringe with it and injecting it into his vein, and claimed this was based on Frank Sinatra in the old move The Man With the Golden Arm? There would have been hell to pay. Especially if he did it twice." While the piece was obviously poking fun at the Helen Lovejoy "won't someone PLEASE think of the children?" moral outrage bandwagon against smoking in the nineties in Canada, some people missed the joke and took Slinger's article literally. The imaginary cigarette stayed in, and helped Kurt Browning win his fourth World title that spring in Prague.


Thanks to a generous donation of VHS tapes by Skate Guard reader Maureen, you can take a trip back in time and rewatch highlights of the 1993 Canadian Championships in digitized video form. The YouTube playlist, which includes a handful of performances from the men's and pairs events, can be found above or at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6c_NN6KdCfJQb_iLlcFe0hdsDU84Bppq.

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