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LAVAL, Que.,

Keegan Messing, man of adventure, keeper of the north, tried to be so prepared to make this day special.

He was in love. And he wanted to propose to his girlfriend of 2 ½ years, Lane Hodson. It was supposed to be a surprise early this week.

The venue was to be exotically northern, up beyond the snow line at a ridge high up in the mountains near Anchorage.

Hodson had been working all day and when she came home at about 5 p.m., she really didn’t see the wisdom of backpacking up a mountain for an hour into the wilderness.

Messing had to talk her into it.

He had spent a lot of time preparing a picnic. “If you ask her, it was a stupid picnic that she didn’t want to go on,” Messing said.

“Oh but I really want to go,” Messing pressed. In the end, he won out.

And up the mountain they went, Messing toting the biggest backpack of his life. He had spent the whole day shoving stuff into it: some tent poles from his dad, to make a rain fly, just in case it rained.

He also brought a nice thick blanket, and his down sleeping bag, big enough for the two of them. He made her favourite soup – kale with sausage – he had asked her for the recipe and made it the night before – he brought milk to make some hot chocolate, a treat that Lane had purchased at the world championships in Milan last March. He packed water bottles. He had a pot, a kettle, a couple of tuques, some gloves because “well, it’s winter,” he said.

Never had he hauled so much liquid on his back up a mountain. Never had there been a heavier impost.

Hobson had been from a town three hours north of Messing’s home town. They’ve known each other for a very long time. Messing was 12 years old when Hodson started to skate. “She was just a little kid at the rink at the time,” he recalled.

When she started going to college, she moved to Anchorage and began to skate in Messing’s rink.

They saw each other every day.

She had been skating there for almost a year before they started to date. This happened after a gaggle of kids began to poke fun at Messing: “Oh you like LANE!” they teased.

“They were just trying to be cute little kids,” Messing said.

“I was like: ‘NO, I don’t like LANE!”

And then he realized that he did.

“She’s cute, funny. She’s a great person,” he reasoned. “When I think about it, she was doing all the same stuff I was doing alone, and I was doing all the stuff alone.”

“Well maybe we could do this stuff together,” he thought.

So they made excuses to do something. They began to hang out more and more. Then…the date.

Then she broke up with him. He was heartbroken. It was two weeks into the relationship. Who said the course of true love was easy and trouble free?
“But we both really liked each other and saw things through,” Messing said.

They had lots in common. They did hiking trips. Camping trips, too. “Everything I do, she’s the one I want to do it with,” Messing said.

And all of this led to the evening on the mount. In Alaska.

Messing just wanted to make the trip up the mountain comfortable and nice.

It was anything but.

Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Murphy’s Law settled onto the pair like a dark cloud.

The wind began to blow at 30 to 40 miles per hour. “Just trying to walk in a straight line was impossible,” Messing said.

Eventually, they reached a spot where some folk had built some stones into a fort. Settle into that, and you are protected from the wind, somewhat. In they went. But the wind still howled.

“At this point I’m thinking: ‘This might not work,’” Messing thought. “This isn’t going to happen.”

But he erected the poles and the rain fly and used it as a wind break.

Then, okay, it seemed possible after all.

The quilt came out. They sat on it. They pulled the sleeping bag over them. It was oh so cozy.

Then, Messing decided to heat some of the soup. He set up the stove, and hitched the gas tank to it.

He sat and stared at what he had just done and slowly realized, that although he had been so careful to bring everything but the kitchen sink, that he had actually forgotten the mode of fire to light up the cooking instrument.

“I had thought of everything, but…” Messing said. “Just trying to make this night perfect. But I forgot the one thing to tie it all together. “

So they decided just to enjoy the view. It was the sunset hour. The clouds were clinging to the horizon, but still, you could see the yellows and the pinks glow through. They munched on some chocolates that they didn’t hate to heat.

It was when they started to pack up to return to civilization that Messing popped the question.

Lane said “Of course.”

Messing said he’s been on cloud nine ever since.

Just watch him rotate those quads this week at Skate Canada International.

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Skate Canada/Danielle Earl photo

That Tango Romantica dance? It’s easier said than done.

What a twisty, ticklish, gnarly, knotty, exacting, formidable dance it is. It’s no picnic, for sure. It’s been a jaw-breaker for ice dancers all season, and Canada’s best will be giving it a go Friday at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

None of the Canadian teams has aced it this season. But then, hardly anybody in the world has, not even the willowy-limbed French world champs Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. Their best go at it in competition season was at their only Grand Prix, the Internationaux de France, when they earned only a level one on the first second Tango Romantica section in the rhythm dance and a level four on the second.

Gabriella PAPADAKIS & Guillaume CIZERON Rhythm Dance Championnat de France Elite de Patinage 2018 - YouTube

What gives? Are the members of the technical panels just being particularly naughty and unforgiving, peering down at their subjects from above their spectacles?

The thing is, says Paul Poirier, that these dance sections are particularly long. The rhumba or the Midnight Blues call for only three or four key steps. If you performed them correctly in those dances, judges would give you a “yes” to get higher levels of difficulty.

The Tango Romantica asks for 12 key steps or points. The more key points, the more chance that a team can have a little wobble or find a wrong edge, or have a foot in the wrong place or muff up the timing. “There’s more of a chance for the technical panel to take key points away,” Poirier said.

“This year we believe getting yeses or noes on the key points are not necessarily reflective of someone performing a dance well, skating it nicely, portraying the character of the dance,” Poirier said, looking at the big picture. “I think those are things that are reflected in the GOE [Grade of Execution.] And I think those are the things that in the end are going to separate the teams.”

Papadakis and Cizeron won their only Grand Prix with the season’s highest rhythm dance score: 84.13, well ahead of second-placed Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue of the United States with 80.53. Hubbell and Donohue got levels 3 and 2 at Skate America and 1 and 3 at Skate Canada. Then the eagle eyes of the technical panel members gave them only levels 1 and 2 for their Tango Romantica sections at the Grand Prix Final, which they won, with their highest total score of the season.

Gilles believes that where the technical panel actually sits on the judging podium can make a different in what they see on the ice, whether they are to the right or left, too. (They do have access to replay.] Still, sometimes it’s still all a mystery.

“We’ve had multiple technical specialists come in, and then we’ll go to an event, and those technical specialists are focusing on another thing that we didn’t even think about,” she said. “The hard part is that no one is really on the same page when it comes to this dance, and it really reflects in everyone’s scores.”

The technical panel at one event is judging everybody the same way, she said, so it’s fair, but at the next event, another technical panel focuses on other things. “You can’t really measure up and say what you are doing is or isn’t better than the other team because someone else is looking for something different.”

You won’t find Tango Romantica in any dance books, because legendary Russian coach Elena Tchaikovskaya created it specifically for her ice dance team, Ludmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov who performed it first in 1974, two years before they became the first Olympic dance champions. And then it became a compulsory dance.

Tango - La cumparsita (Pakhomova - Gorshkov) - YouTube

It’s a sinuous thing, with curve upon curve upon curve, requiring deep edges, with foot and body movements that must be deliberate and exact, with the correct carriage, with precise timing (oh lord,  those half-beats!) and foot placement and correct use of edges at every point. It’s full of complicated steps and turns, twizzles, Choctaws, rockers, the whole nine yards. Every step must start and end in a specific way. It’s a minefield. And all the time, the skaters must maintain an air of dignity bordering on arrogance. And make it look ridiculously easy.

The last time it was skated in its entirety as a complete compulsory dance was at the 2010 Olympics, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, still fuzzy cheeked and precocious, finished second in that portion of the event, then steamed ahead to win the original dance and the free dance and their first Olympic gold medal.

[HD]Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir CD 2010 Vancouver Olympics (Tango Romantica) - YouTube

During their season, Gilles and Poirier have faced the whirlwind to find their best tango footing. At the Nebelhorn Trophy, they earned levels 3 and 2 for the tango sections on route to a lofty rhythm dance score of 77.40. But at Skate Canada, Gilles fell against the boards, and their levels were 1 and B, indicating that the section requirements hadn’t been fulfilled. That trip put them behind the eight ball, negating a trip to the Grand Prix Final.

At their other Grand Prix, the Internationaux de France, they finished third with tango levels of 1 and 2. Highly frustrating, considering what they earned at their first event.

With no Grand Prix Final in sight, they hustled off to the Golden Spin of Zagreb, which they easily won with huge marks, including a career best of 79.80 for the rhythm dance, helped with levels 3s on both tango sections.

Piper GILLES / Paul POIRIER CAN Rhythm Dance 2018 Golden Spin of Zagreb - YouTube

Weaver and Poje have had only one shot at an international competition this season, as they took a detour to the Thank You Canada tour. At the Autumn Classic International, they received levels of 2 for both of their tango sections. And for this, they earned 76.53 points.

Autumn Classic International 2018 . Kaitlyn Weaver Andrew Poje. Rhythm dance. - YouTube

So who is going to win this toss-up between these two teams in Saint John? Gilles and Poirier have long been in Weaver and Poje’s shadow, but constantly nipping at their heels, and this season, their marks are higher – but they’ve had more chances.

“We’re definitely excited to have them [at the Canadian championships,]” Poirier said of the two-time Canadian champions, who have also won silver and bronze medals at world championships. “I think the higher the level of competition, the more exciting it is for everyone.”

Weaver and Poje say they have been showing off their routines every night on the tour, and have had a little help from Virtue and Moir along the way.

But Poirier makes no bones about the fact that one of their goals is to win the Canadian title. “I don’t think that changes whether or not Kaitlyn and Andrew are there,” Poirier said. “We know they are very strong competitors. We do feel that we have the advantage having competed throughout the fall, and after having gotten feedback from a lot of international panels. And we feel we are prepared for this event.”

Still, no matter whether or not the Canadian contingent is as power-packed as it was with Virtue and Moir, Poirier says they look to the strong competitors internationally – and that’s who they will measure themselves against.

“We want to be competing with those top couples, Gabby and Guillaume, Maddy and Zach, so we need to be on our best no matter what,” Poirier said.

So how have the rest of their international competitors been handling the Tango Romantica? It’s been tough for all:

Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia earned two level 3s at Skate Canada, and Internationaux de France, and finally got a four for one of the sections at the Grand Prix Final, at which they finished third.

Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov (RUS). Rhythm Dance. Skate Canada. - YouTube

Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin of Russia earned two levels threes at Grand Prix of Helsinki, which they won, and took a step back at home at the Rostelcom Cup, with a B and a level 1. They won that event in a weak field. At the Grand Prix Final, these Russians had another B and a level 3.

Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy, in a breakthrough season, earned two levels 3s at Skate America (finished second in the rhythm dance) And they earned a rare level four at Grand Prix of Helsinki, along with a level 2 – levels they repeated at the Grand Prix Final, where they upset Sinitsina and Katsalapov.

Anybody else get a level four throughout the season? Tiffany Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro earned a level 4 at Skate America (third), a level 4 and a 3 at NHK, and a 1 and 4 at the Grand Prix Final.

Shiyue Wang and Xinyu Liu of China earned levels 4 and 3 at Autumn Classic after starting to work with the Patrice Lauzon/Marie-France Dubreuil school in Montreal, but had a much tougher time of it at Skate Canada, where they had a 2 and a 1. And they had a 3 and a 1 at NHK Trophy.

And guess what? Kudos goes to German team Shari Koch and Christian Nuchten who train in Milan with Barbara Fusar-Poli. They seem to be the only team in the world that have earned two levels 4s for tango sections and they did it at the Golden Spin of Zagreb. Gilles and Poirier easily outscored them with much higher GOE.

And yes, Gilles and Poirier are buoyed by their scores this season. Currently, they have the fourth best total score of the season: 201.27, behind Papadakis and Cizeron (216.78), Hubbell and Donohue (205.35) and Sinitsina and Katsalapov (201.37.) Weaver and Poje got 197.27 at the beginning of the season, mind. Seventh best.

Gilles and Poirier also have the third highest rhythm dance score at 79.80 behind Papadakis and Cizeron (84.13) and Hubbell and Donohue (80.53). Hubbell and Donohue, world silver medalists, are only .73 ahead of Gilles and Poirier on the season’s rhythm dance scores. Weaver and Poje’s score ranks them seventh (76.53).

And Gilles and Poirier have the fifth highest free-dance score of 121.47, behind Papadakis and Cizeron (132.65), Stepanova and Bukin (124.94 at Rostecom Cup), Hubbell and Donohue (124.82) and Sinitsina and Katsalapov (124.47). Weaver and Poje are sixth, right behind Gilles and Poirier with 120.74.

Both Gilles and Poirier and Weaver and Poje have outstanding free dances. In Saint John, it will be fought, out on the ice, at Harbour Station. It will be epic.

The post The Tango Romantica Blues appeared first on Bev Smith Writes.

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The Anchorage airport road off ramp after the Nov. 30 earthquake

It had to happen this way: Keegan Messing finding an endlessly adventurous way to prepare for a figure skating competition. There are no straight lines in his approach. He has swung up ladders with heavy merchandise on his back, hurled his way up tall poles, Leaped across a mountain peak or two, picked through the parts of an old jalopy to make it run, huddled with a Husky, paddled to an iceberg.

But this one takes the cake. In the week before the Grand Prix Final last month, Messing had to find his feet as a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit home in Anchorage, Alaska and rattled the land all around.

“I’ve actually been in bigger earthquakes than this one,” Messing said on a conference call Thursday. “This was the biggest shaking earthquake that we’ve ever had in Anchorage.”

He had already endured a magnitude-8.0 earthquake that occurred 100 miles north of Anchorage, so the shaking wasn’t as severe as the one last month. “We get earthquakes up here quite a lot so when they happen, you just kind of brush them off,” Messing said. But he was able to brush this one off, he said, because everybody that he knew was safe. Considering the amount of damage done to the city, there were no casualties.

The earthquake hit at 8:29 a.m. November 30, with the epicentre 10 miles north of Anchorage, shuddering the earth from a depth of 29 miles. The Grand Prix Final – Messing earned a spot when Yuzuru Hanyu had to withdraw – took place from Dec. 6 to 9 in Vancouver, only a week later.

Messing lives three miles away from his rink in Anchorage, and it was the only rink in the town of 300,000 that did not shut down. Others needed repairs. Roads fell apart. Fissures split the earth. Walls cracked. One home collapsed.

Messing was home when the earthquake struck and his apartment shook for a little more than a minute. The shaking continued for two minutes in other parts of Anchorage. “About 10 seconds into the shaking, all the power went out, too,” Messing said. And because it was so early in the morning, and Alaska has such long nights at that time of year, it was pitch black outside.

“So you could just hold on in the dark and just listen to everything destroy itself,” he said.

A tow truck holds a car that was pulled from on an off-ramp that collapsed during a morning earthquake on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, in Anchorage, Alaska. The driver was not injured attempting to exit Minnesota Drive at International Airport Road. Back-to-back earthquakes measuring 7.0 and 5.8 rocked buildings and buckled roads Friday morning in Anchorage, prompting people to run from their offices or seek shelter under office desks, while a tsunami warning had some seeking higher ground. (AP Photo/Mike Dinneen)

And the city is still experiencing tremors. Three days after the quake, the area had endured 3,000 aftershocks, and now the count is up to more than 6,000. A few days ago, the area had another 5.0 aftershock. “It caused a lot of us to look up what an aftershock is, and why it’s not considered an earthquake by itself,” Messing said.

(An earthquake is called an aftershock as long as the rate of shakes is higher than it was before the main earthquake. Usually the rate of aftershocks dies off quickly. And it hasn’t in Anchorage.) The highest magnitude quake ever recorded happened in 1960 in Chile: 9.5. A 10.0 earthquake would flatten everything in sight and cause a tsunami that would last for days.)

In 1964, Alaska suffered the second highest quake ever recorded in the world: 9.2. That quake prompted Alaskans to shore up their buildings and make earthquake plans. Within days after this latest rumble, they had fired up an asphalt plant and at least temporarily repaired the paved roads that had been severely damaged by the quake. It meant Messing could make it to the airport.

Anchorage after the 1964 earthquake, second largest in history.

Messing posted a photo on his Instagram page of a car stranded in the middle of a buckled road, only  five miles from his apartment. He also posted a photo of another damaged roadway close to home, which actually was the road he travelled so many times from his hometown of Girdwood, a 40-minute drive from Anchorage.

For 15 years, Messing’s mother, Sally, drove her son to the rink in Alaska on the road. For another six years, Messing drove himself on that road, a two-lane road that he says is considered a very dangerous one.

“We have friends who have huge cracks in their walls, and foundation damage,” he said. “Their ground actually cracked open in a couple of spots. My fiance’s parents had a giant crack going through their yard. My little brother’s apartment had cracks up their walls.”

Even though Messing’s rink was still open, the city was still having blackouts. “It happened on a Friday, and we were still having blackouts early Sunday,” Messing said. “Yeah, the rink was open at the time, but we weren’t sure it was going to be able to stay open.”

So Messing and coach Ralph Burghart called an audible; They left several days earlier than they had planned so that he could train without interruption in Vancouver. He wasn’t supposed to leave until Wednesday, Dec. 5, but he left on the Sunday evening (Dec. 2.) He got to practice in Vancouver with three Japanese girls. “It was a great experience,” he said.

As for the Grand Prix Final, he finished fifth, but landed a quad Lutz in competition for the first time.

Keegan Messing. 2018 Grand Prix Final. FS - YouTube

He has been working on the difficult quad all season, but skipped it when he won the Nebelhorn Trophy. He attempted it at both of his Grand Prix (Skate Canada, Rostelecom Cup), and turned them into triples. But he decided he would bring it back at the Grand Prix Final because he had nothing to lose. “I just pulled in and I ended up on my feet,” he said. “Honestly, I’m pretty happy with that.”

You probably will not see it at the Canadian championships this week in Saint John, N.B. He’s been breaking in new boots lately and although they are working well for him and he has landed a couple of quad Lutz in practice, he’s going for consistency on his other quads and on his triple Axel. He’s the top candidate to win a national title.

And what a road he has travelled this year. As usual, it has been unusual. He sizzled through the short program at Skate Canada, with a HUGE score of 95.05 that bettered Shona Uno. And then he won the silver medal overall, his first Grand Prix medal.

MESSING Keegan | Short Program Skate Canada 2018 - YouTube

Russia was another story, and it was back to adventure. Travel from Alaska is always complicated and long. It took him 31 hours to get to Russia and then he had to deal with a 12-hour time change. “It was a big trip for me,” he said. He had only 1 ½ hours of practice before he competed, and ended up fifth.

He’s learned from that interminable trip. Believe it or not, to fly from Anchorage to Saint John would take 24 hours, what with all the connections and he’s not crossing oceans. So he’s coming to spiff up his choreography with Lance Vipond in Brantford for a few days, before he climbs into a puddle jumper to New Brunswick.

Because of his successes in recent months – don’t forget that eighth place finish at his first world championships – Messing and his joyous routines have been in demand for shows. He was home for only two days after the Grand Prix Final before he had to jump onto a plane and do a show in Germany. Then he was home for three days before he was off for another show, all while skating in brand new boots. He got sick when he returned from Germany, a lung, throat kind of thing that wasn’t serious, but just enough to take the wind out of his sails. “Just enough to lose momentum,” he said. He had to work a little harder with the training to get his conditioning levels back up.

“We had a lot of offers for the Christmas season and leading up to nationals,” Messing said. “We had to turn down quite a few shows this year because of the lead-up to nationals.” Had he done the shows, he would have had only this week to train. And it wasn’t enough. He wants to make sure he is ready.

“Then maybe depending on how this year goes, I might take more onto the plate,” he said. “It’s all a learning experience. We’re just trying to figure out how to take it all.”

In Saint John, mother Sally will be in the audience. So will his fiancé, Lane. “I love having her there,” Messing said. “It helps a little bit with the nerves, having her there. You start getting in your head. But all I do is look up in the crowd and it’s easy. It’s not difficult any more.”

The post The Road Less Travelled appeared first on Bev Smith Writes.

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Evgenia Medvedeva at Autumn Classic (Skate Canada/Danielle Earl photo)

Evgenia Medvedeva knew it would be tough, moving away from everything she had known in Russia to come to Canada to train with Brian Orser.

Perhaps she didn’t know how tough.

It was tough enough, finishing second at the Olympics after appearing unbeatable in previous seasons. But at Skate Canada last month, she faced things she had never encountered before in the short program in which she finished seventh.

Evgenia MEDVEDEVA - Skate Canada 2018 - SP - YouTube

This weekend, she aims to set it all right again at the Grand Prix of France, the final of six stops before the Vancouver Final. She’s in an interesting field, including triple Axel-wielding youngster Rika Kihira of Japan, and Bradie Tennell, of the United States, who defeated Medvedeva at the Autumn Classic.

2018 NHK Rika Kihira FS ESP - YouTube

Medvedeva flagellated herself with disappointment and disbelief after crunching a triple Lutz close to the boards, and then underrotating her triple flip combination (didn’t get to the second jump) such that officials in this new system handed her a rack of -5s GOE and she earned only 1.08 points for that effort.

Her short program score of 60.83 was well behind her short program marks from her days of glory. We know it’s a historic mark now, but Medvedeva has become more accustomed to the 81.61 points that she earned for her Olympic short program (second to Alina Zagitova with 82.92).

After an emotional evening, with coach Orser at her side, Medvedeva won the free skate with 137.08 (still well behind her previous record score of 160.46 at the World Team Trophy) and took the bronze medal overall. Her final score of 197.91 was still well behind her old historic score of 241.31.

Evgenia MEDVEDEVA - Skate Canada 2018 - FS - YouTube

So far this season, Medvedeva’s short program score ranks ninth, her free skate score ninth and her total score ranks tenth among her peers. She needs a top effort in France to make the Grand Prix Final. It’s possible. Zagitova has all the top scores this season (80.78 for the short, 158.50 for the free and 238.43 in total.

Don’t be surprised if Medvedeva felt like jumping out a window somewhere that night after the short program in Laval, Que.

“We learned a lot the last 24 hours,” Orser said after the final skate. Most importantly, they learned from each other how they need to approach competitions. Those sorts of things aren’t automatic between coaches and students who haven’t had a lot of competitions behind them.

“I’ve learned how I need to be with her,” Orser said. “It’s different than Yu Na. It’s different from anybody. She [Medvedeva] has a fierceness that she has to skate with, that she has to be.

“Coming with us, it was more light. It was happy, engaging, with conversation. And I think that’s not the answer for her. So she has to be apart from me.”

Orser and Medvedeva did not even speak the day of the free skate in Laval. “On purpose,” Orser said. “I told her if you don’t want to speak, don’t speak. You do what you have to do. Don’t worry about me.”

This, Medvedeva seemed to discover, too. She needs to be in her own bubble. She needs to be somewhere that will put her in an warrior mode.

After Medevedeva finished her free skate, she was totally unaware of the crowd support that she got in Laval. People cheered her when she landed something. They cheered wildly when she finished. Medvedeva said afterwards she did not hear any of it.

“I had a mood like I saw nobody,” she said afterward. “It’s pretty important. I feel like there is a big mirror to the top [of the arena]. And in the mirror is everyone who is sitting in the tribunal. But I just saw myself in the mirror.” (and her coaches, Orser by the boards, Tracy Wilson above him in the TSN commentating booth.)

During the short program, she noticed everything. (And look where that got her.)

“I just know that if I not hear something, then I am ready. If I hear something, it means that I cannot concentrate enough,” she said.

New costumes at Skate Canada. Photo by Skate Canada/Stephan Potopynk

She said she was sorry that she did not notice the standing ovation she got in Montreal for the free skate. “And maybe I didn’t want to see this, that people stand when not so good performance,” she said.

She did not smile, either. “I think I smiled enough before my performance yesterday,” Medvedeva said. “…I don’t want to smile because I did awful work yesterday and it’s like an insult, yesterday’s performance. I just see myself as a loser yesterday and I just didn’t want to smile today.”

All of this came after a long heart-to-heart talk with Orser that went on until 1 a.m. the morning after the short program. She asked to speak to Orser. “I need to talk,” she told him. “I don’t care about what. I just need to talk.”

“I really was so afraid to go crazy a little bit,” she said. “I thought a lot of terrible stuff. …It’s a terrible feeling when you feel sorry to yourself. It’s awful not only for my mind, but for my body also.”

She’s thankful to Orser that he supported her in a hard moment, that he was there to listen and talk her through a dark time. They talked about the performances, what they could do, what they could do in the future, what her main goals were, and her small goals, too. Everything.

“The rest of the night, I just tried to wake up my insides,” she said. “I don’t know how to say: the hunter.

“Today I felt like a wild animal,” she said. “I can’t say wild cat yet, because I don’t have enough grace for this. So wild animal.”

After the event, Orser heard Medvedeva’s voice again. “It’s nice to hear her talking,” he said. “She’s just been focused and quiet.”

But still, he had to deal with some technical issues in her routine. Mot notably, officials awarded her a couple of Vs on two spins at the end of her free skate. “That’s a lot of points,” Orser said. “The spin things were just a bit silly.”

The V signifies a violation, meaning that perhaps she hadn’t held a camel spin longer. In a combination spin, a skater must hit all of the positions, and if he/she is short on one of them, troubles.

“She knows,” Orser said.

It’s only the beginning for Medvedeva. She really wanted to try a lot of new things this season and she was ready to “maybe fall a little bit,” she said. “But it’s impossible to do something new and always good.

“It’s like a darkness. You don’t know what’s forward. You just taking every step and maybe some steps now are so weird, but I think we are doing a good job every day, every minute.”

It’s silly to expect Medvedeva to produce the moon so soon in her new relationships and new life. But it will come. Her story is not over yet. The process will be fun to watch.

The post Medvedeva’s Journey appeared first on Bev Smith Writes.

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LAVAL, Que.,

Size matters, they say.

Some pairs and ice dancers competing at Skate Canada International this week found the width of the Bell Place Arena rather tight.

The size gave French ice dancers Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres some grief in the short program. And Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier suffered a stumble close to the boards during their rhythm dance.

So how small is this rink?

It’s called an Olympic-sized arena, which is normally 100 feet x 200 feet. NHL hockey rinks in this country are 200 feet by 85 feet.

But Bell Place is listed at 200 x 98.5 feet, just a shade under the true Olympic size. It’s only 1.5 feet narrower than regulation.

But, said James, after she and her partner won the short program with 74.51 points: “It was a little tight everywhere. The rink is obviously smaller than Autumn Classic [in Oakville]. So it was very difficult for us to keep our speed.

“And the curves. I almost fell over before the flip because I was very close to the boards and I was doing cross-overs in a straight line.

“So we were not as fluid as at Autumn Classic.”

Cipres found this so as well. “I think it was a little tight everywhere,” he said.

Aside from that, the French team also had to make a change to the length of their short program, because they were deducted a point at Autumn Classic for exceeding the time allowed.

The solution? Since the timer doesn’t start until skaters actually move, James and Cipres stood motionless at their starting point for a few extra seconds, holding off on their opening arm movements. When they started “I wasn’t even on the music so we were a little bit late,” James said. “It was a little distracting.”

Nevertheless, Cipres found the competition stiffer than at Skate America (which he watched), making for good competition for them. They were able to improve some levels lacking at Autumn Classic, although the skating itself was shakey.

Young Chinese team Peng Cheng and Jin Yang were close on their heels with 72.00 points and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro weren’t far behind that in 72.16.

Moore-Towers and Marinaro had been 12 points behind James and Cipres during the Autumn Classic short program, but were only 3 points behind here.

“A big goal here was to start to close the gap,” Moore-Towers said. “We respect them tremendously and we love what they do, but at course, we want to be at their level.”

Bring it on, James and Cipres seem to say. “We have to fight because at the end of this season is going to be a very big fight.” he said. “We don’t want to sleep and just skate. We have to skate better and better and better.

“We were happy about today, and we made mistakes, but I think it’s good for the beginning.”

Ice dancers, too, are affected by the size of the rink and the curves in the corners. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier anticipated a small rink and trained up to this event by skating inside of pylons at their home rink.

Still, there is no accounting for adrenalin.

“The steps are set [in the pattern section of the rhythm dance] and we’re used to training in an Olympic rink,” Poirier said. “So when we compete in North America, we know we have to squash it into a narrower rink.”

But they had a bit more energy than usual for their tango romantic and “we were going a little bit faster than usual and we didn’t leave enough space against the boards,” Poirier said.

Their feet tangled.

They say they will have to moderate their energy in the future.

The miscue against the boards cost Gilles and Poirier dearly and they sit only in sixth place among 10 teams with 66.95 points, one hundredth of a point behind Wang Shiyue and Liu Xinyu of China, who have been training with Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon in Montreal in preparation for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are leading with a massive 80.49 points over the comeback kids Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia with 74.66 points.

Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz of Spain, who also train in Montreal under Dubrueil/Lauzon are in third with 72.35. Gilles and Poirier are 5.40 points away from third place.

“We haven’t had scores like that in a long long time,” Gilles said. “So it came as a little bit of a shock.”

“But we picked ourselves up and kept going,” she said.

“That’s not how we trained, but stuff happens.”

The post Too narrow for my boots appeared first on Bev Smith Writes.

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LAVAL, Que.

Keegan Messing is chalking up the good times. They keep rolling in, like a wave.

Last Saturday, he got engaged on a windy mountain ridge. He forgot the matches to light up the stove for soup. Everything went wrong. But Lane Hodson said yes.

“If she says yes when everything goes wrong, you know….” Messing said.

He said he was on cloud nine at the engagement, but “I’m above that now at this point,” he said, after winning the men’s short program at Skate Canada with a very healthy 95.05 points over Shoma Uno with 88.87.

Jun Hwan Cha is third with 88.86. He is just one-hundredth of a point behind Uno.

Messing got a standing ovation for his Charlie Chaplain routine, perhaps his first for a Grand Prix event.

“It felt pretty danged cool,” he said. “Especially with Nam going first and throwing down a clean short , it fired me up to go and do the same. We had back-to-back clean skates from our Canadian men. I’m pretty danged excited.”

So excited, he burst into Nguyen’s arms as the former Canadian champion was explaining his Frank Sinatra opus, that, too, got a standing ovation.

“The thing about Keegan, he is so dope,” said Nguyen, who sits in seventh place, after landing a quad Salchow – triple toe loop combo (alas, technicians deemed the toe loop underrotated.) , a nice triple Axel and a triple flip. Nguyen has 82.22 points.

“Every standing ovation makes you feel that much better out on the ice,” Messing said.

That fat score is a great starting point for a first Grand Prix of the season, Messing said. “And now I can set goals a little bit higher for the next,” he said.

The international world discovered the Messing pulse at the Olympics, but the Alaskan-born skater said he’s ready to be Canada’s leading man. “I think I am, he said. “It’s one step at a time right now and right now, I’m just focused on skating and see where it takes me and it if takes me to the top, okay, I’m going to grasp it with two hands. And smile while doing it.”

Every step of his Charlie Chaplain routine was “a blast,” Messing said. “I just can’t wait to continue to improve and to just keep it fun. It’s so much more rewarding when it’s fun.”

Uno said he was too complacent about his triple Axel, a jump he rarely misses – but he missed it in the short program. “I didn’t take it seriously,” he said. Lesson learned. He did land a quad flip that got oodles of GOE bonus points (3.93) but he also stepped out of a quad toe loop – triple toe loop. He got level three on two spins and his step sequence.

Nguyen’s effort has put a little spring back in his step after Skate America last week. “It was a mixed emotion kind of thing last week,” he said. “The short was not the way I wanted it to be. The long was a better fight.”

He called himself a bit of a “little dummy” for changing things in the second half of a program, haunted by an Elizaveta Tuktamysheva tweet that said the second half of his program was a parody of Nathan Chen’s. “I don’t know,” he said.

He didn’t argue with the underrotation call he got at the back end of his quad Salchow –triple toe loop combination. It cost him .28 points.

“Because I was in the moment when I did the action, I didn’t really think too much,” he said. “I was just so happy because it’s the first quad-triple I’ve done all season.

“But when I saw it on the replay, there was a little bite to it,” Nguyen said.

He figures that technicians were more lenient under the old rules for under-rotations, but with the new: “Whack,” he said. “They are crazy. “

He said he has no opinion about the calling of his own underrotation. But “you saw Vincent Zhou last week, poor guy,” Nguyen said. “There were a couple of them that I completely disagreed with.”

Nguyen said his greatest concern was his performance of the program music he chose himself. “I felt like I put out my energy in my performance and I really just connected with the crowd,” he said. “That’s what really matters to me. “

The crowd was loud for Nguyen – a perfect scenario for him. “I thrive off a crowd’s energy,” he said.

It’s been a while since Nguyen has seen a standing ovation. “It just feels insane,” he said.

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Laval, Que.

Yeah, she’s bad-ass, that Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. In a most endearing way.

Only 21 still, the Russian former world champion has come from nowhere, has risen to the top, has fallen to nowhere, has risen again to be unbeatable. And after a lull in her career while rushes of young teen Russian girls annihilated the world with their technical wizardries, Tuktamysheva confidently came back to the table on Friday night at Skate Canada, on top, with a triple Axel so sweet, she earned a bonus GOE point for it. And she’s surprisingly in the lead with 74.22 points over Wakaba Higuchi with 66.51 in the short program.

Former world champion and Olympic silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva, also of Russia, is in only seventh place of 11 skaters after a missed combo, landing a triple flip forward, unable to do the triple toe loop following it. Jumps she can normally do in her sleep.

Once Tuktamysheva took to twitter (@TuktikLiza) , she became a source of sublime entertainment, too.

“A lot of people call me a queen,” she said in a recent tweet. “Guys, it’s too much….I’m a simple girl. Just call me the empress.”

She critiqued Skate America, saying: “Why am I not invited [to commentate] at this event?” And the zingers flew. Praise too.

“I know some of these tweets are way too mean,” she admitted. “I’m sor…wait. I don’t care!”

She also took to task a Russia journalist who made a racist remark in a story. Bravo!

Back to skating: “It should be GOEnerous!” she remarked. “Beautiful skating by Satoko [Miyahara, who won Skate America.]”

And of former Canadian champion Alaine Chartrand, who had an unfortunate short program at Skate America, but who stormed back in the long: “Wow! She’s a fighter! Alaine goes ALL-in!”

But it was Tuktamysheva’s time to shine at Skate Canada in a frosty rink in Montreal on Friday. “I’m really happy because I skate so clean,” Tuktamysheva said. “I am so happy now. I did all what I need today. “ That being, landing a triple toe loop-triple toe loop and a triple Lutz and gaining level four on all of her spins.

Tuktamysheva plans another triple Axel in the long program Saturday, as well as a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combo.

Her goal this year is that, knowing she is in good condition this year, she wants to skate clean and “show everybody [that] I can skate and I can fight with those young ladies and other Russian ladies, too. So it’s interesting. I just want to enjoy it and everybody enjoy my skating.”

Tuktamysheva her confident comes from her mindset: “I just let my mind go and when I can, my body start to do more than ever before,” she said. “So I just don’t think about how I need to skate.”

She felt very calm. “And then I can do whatever I want,” she said.

There is a photo somewhere of Orser and Alexei Mishin, coach of Tuktamysheva, sitting near each other in a warmup area. Mishin is facing straight ahead, but his eyes are sliding sideways to look at the Canadian coach.

But Orser has had a huge task in the past 24 hours, in how to right a listing ship. Medvedeva came off the ice, reeling with her huge mistake. “That mistake is only my fault,” she said. “I feel so disappointment. And I feel so bad because it’s a stupid mistake and it never happened even in practice. But it’s only the beginning of my way.”

She’s talking about her move to Canada to skate with Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson. Even the practice schedules were different from what she had been accustomed to in Toronto. She’s been relearning her double Axel – now much improved. She’s living in another country. Everything she knows is behind her.

“I think I will remind myself of this mistake as a sample [example] not to lose attention,” she continued, her voice close to breaking. “I will remind myself of this mistake all my life for so big fault – I popped jump and it isn’t my habit at all.

“I feel so bad about it because I was really ready to do my best.”

“It’s now a hard time for all of us, for Brian, for Tracy and I’m so thankful to them because they really gave me a piece of their soul on every practice.”

“I really hope to show my love to them with a clean skate today.”

Said Orser: “She’s never been in this position before.”

We’ll find out what she’s made of today.

As for Tuktamysheva, she skated to – appropriately enough – the Assassin’s Tango.

“I really love this program,” she said. “I really love this music. I want to do [this music] first time when I listen.

“And this year, my dreams come true.”

The post The Empress has arrived appeared first on Bev Smith Writes.

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LAVAL, Que.,

Keegan Messing, man of adventure, keeper of the north, tried to be so prepared to make this day special.

He was in love. And he wanted to propose to his girlfriend of 2 ½ years, Lane Hodson. It was supposed to be a surprise early this week.

The venue was to be exotically northern, up beyond the snow line at a ridge high up in the mountains near Anchorage.

Hodson had been working all day and when she came home at about 5 p.m., she really didn’t see the wisdom of backpacking up a mountain for an hour into the wilderness.

Messing had to talk her into it.

He had spent a lot of time preparing a picnic. “If you ask her, it was a stupid picnic that she didn’t want to go on,” Messing said.

“Oh but I really want to go,” Messing pressed. In the end, he won out.

And up the mountain they went, Messing toting the biggest backpack of his life. He had spent the whole day shoving stuff into it: some tent poles from his dad, to make a rain fly, just in case it rained.

He also brought a nice thick blanket, and his down sleeping bag, big enough for the two of them. He made her favourite soup – kale with sausage – he had asked her for the recipe and made it the night before – he brought milk to make some hot chocolate, a treat that Lane had purchased at the world championships in Milan last March. He packed water bottles. He had a pot, a kettle, a couple of tuques, some gloves because “well, it’s winter,” he said.

Never had he hauled so much liquid on his back up a mountain. Never had there been a heavier impost.

Hobson had been from a town three hours north of Messing’s home town. They’ve known each other for a very long time. Messing was 12 years old when Hodson started to skate. “She was just a little kid at the rink at the time,” he recalled.

When she started going to college, she moved to Anchorage and began to skate in Messing’s rink.

They saw each other every day.

She had been skating there for almost a year before they started to date. This happened after a gaggle of kids began to poke fun at Messing: “Oh you like LANE!” they teased.

“They were just trying to be cute little kids,” Messing said.

“I was like: ‘NO, I don’t like LANE!”

And then he realized that he did.

“She’s cute, funny. She’s a great person,” he reasoned. “When I think about it, she was doing all the same stuff I was doing alone, and I was doing all the stuff alone.”

“Well maybe we could do this stuff together,” he thought.

So they made excuses to do something. They began to hang out more and more. Then…the date.

Then she broke up with him. He was heartbroken. It was two weeks into the relationship. Who said the course of true love was easy and trouble free?
“But we both really liked each other and saw things through,” Messing said.

They had lots in common. They did hiking trips. Camping trips, too. “Everything I do, she’s the one I want to do it with,” Messing said.

And all of this led to the evening on the mount. In Alaska.

Messing just wanted to make the trip up the mountain comfortable and nice.

It was anything but.

Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Murphy’s Law settled onto the pair like a dark cloud.

The wind began to blow at 30 to 40 miles per hour. “Just trying to walk in a straight line was impossible,” Messing said.

Eventually, they reached a spot where some folk had built some stones into a fort. Settle into that, and you are protected from the wind, somewhat. In they went. But the wind still howled.

“At this point I’m thinking: ‘This might not work,’” Messing thought. “This isn’t going to happen.”

But he erected the poles and the rain fly and used it as a wind break.

Then, okay, it seemed possible after all.

The quilt came out. They sat on it. They pulled the sleeping bag over them. It was oh so cozy.

Then, Messing decided to heat some of the soup. He set up the stove, and hitched the gas tank to it.

He sat and stared at what he had just done and slowly realized, that although he had been so careful to bring everything but the kitchen sink, that he had actually forgotten the mode of fire to light up the cooking instrument.

“I had thought of everything, but…” Messing said. “Just trying to make this night perfect. But I forgot the one thing to tie it all together. “

So they decided just to enjoy the view. It was the sunset hour. The clouds were clinging to the horizon, but still, you could see the yellows and the pinks glow through. They munched on some chocolates that they didn’t hate to heat.

It was when they started to pack up to return to civilization that Messing popped the question.

Lane said “Of course.”

Messing said he’s been on cloud nine ever since.

Just watch him rotate those quads this week at Skate Canada International.

The post A Proposal, Alaska Style appeared first on Bev Smith Writes.

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Okay, paint your palette blue and grey, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier. Watch the swirling clouds in a violet haze. Nothing could be more painful and splendid than to touch the art of Vincent Van Gogh.

Yes, this new free dance of Gilles and Poirier hits a nerve. Van Gogh is my favourite artist. No reproduction of any of his work comes close to seeing Van Gogh’s canvases in real life, in real time, his actual brushstrokes so clearly soaked in despair mixed with beauty. Not even.

It’s a story that Gilles and Poirier explored two years ago following the release of the “Loving Vincent” movie, the world’s first fully painted feature film that explores his death/suicide. “We listened to the soundtrack, but it just wasn’t full enough or the right music, so we kind of shelved it and forgot about it,” Poirier said.

Loving Vincent - Official Trailer - YouTube

Then along came Govardo, European street buskers, of all things. Coach/choreographer Carol Lane discovered them on social media during the Pyeongchang Olympics. She kept it a secret for a long time, until Poirier started peppering her with questions after the world championships: “Okay, what idea do you have for us next year?”

He kept asking. And finally Lane showed him the video on Youtube of musicians Jack Rose and Dominik Sky taking to the streets, playing their own version of Don McLean’s hit “Starry Starry Night.” Their version spawned more than 80,000 views globally.

Vincent (Starry Starry Night) - Dominik & Jack - Gavardo - Busking - Bath - UK - YouTube

There was just something about their heartfelt style, their voices. “Why don’t you message them on Instagram, because they have an account?” Lane suggested to the ice dancers. And the next thing, they had their email address and then they met them on Skype. Govardo came on board right away, intrigued with the idea of customizing music for another artistic pursuit: ice dance.

Every innovative, interesting program that Gilles and Poirier has done up to this season has prepared them for this momentous undertaking. They will skate to the story of Van Gogh and how his artist journey caused him pain, caused him to go mad, end up in an asylum. The piece is about the relationship between Van Gogh and his art.

From across the Atlantic Ocean, Gilles and Poirier sent a boatload of videos showing their previous performances, illustrating how important story-telling was to the whole thing. So Govardo revamped the Don McLean classic to make it work with the structure necessary for competitive ice dance. The first version wasn’t bad at all. In fact, Gilles and Poirier kept much of the first half.

The first time they heard the music, Gilles and Poirier both sat there for a second after it finished, just to digest it “because it was just so beautiful,” Gilles said.

But as they choreographed the program, they found spots they wanted to adjust, to make louder, or stronger, or slower. “There was one, the instrumental section where we wanted to add a drum beat behind it,” Poirier said. They went on Skype to better illustrate what they needed. Lane began to scat sing: “Bum, da, da, da Bum, da da da, upupup!”

“It was quite comical actually,” Poirier said. “We should have recorded it.”

Govardo mimicked exactly how they wanted the drum beat to be, and where they wanted to pick up the pace, or slow it down. “They were so willing to help us,” Poirier said. “I think our biggest thing was that we obviously needed the musical vehicle, but at the same time, we didn’t want to get in the way of their integrity as artists, so they wouldn’t put out a piece of music that they wouldn’t stand behind.”

Seven or so versions later, they had it. Every good skating program should build momentum to the end. Govardo did that for them. “They were very eager to learn about the sport and what we needed for us to do our jobs, and give it the impact that it needed,” Gilles said.

“They nailed it.”

Piper GILLES / Paul POIRIER (CAN) _ Free Dance _ Nebelhorn Trophy 2018 - YouTube

Jack, said Gilles, is the brains behind the duet, and Dom is the singer. (They did bring in an Irish percussionist to provide the required drum beats.) “And when he sings, it’s magical,” Gilles said. “He takes you to a new place. They are kind of like us: you’ve got the brains and you’ve got the little artsy fartsy one over there [nodding her head towards Poirier]. They are very much like us. We’ve got yin and yang going, and I think it’s very special to work with other people that are like us.”

Govardo call it “a beautiful collaboration.”

Van Gogh seems to spawn artistic activity in many genres. The movie, “Loving Vincent” fuses animated film with art: 125 artists from more than 25 countries painted 65,000 frames. Art fused with movie making.

“It was just like they get who we are as people and as artists,” Gilles said of the British musical duo. “I think that what’s special about this whole thing: It’s two different artistries coming together as one.”

Actually, it’s three. Gilles and Poirier are taking it one step further: an artist’s painting fused with music, fused with dance (on ice.)

All this, and Gilles and Poirier had never met Govardo face to face.

They finally met them for the first time at the Nebelhorn Trophy in the mountain town of Obertsdorf. Gilles and Poirier won the event. But Lane caught first sight of Govardo – unfamiliar with the way skating competitions work – sitting in the practice rink, waiting for something to happen. She directed them to the main rink where the competition was taking place.

Gilles and Poirier met them for a few fleeting moments just before they were to take to the ice for their Vincent free dance. “I think it was really special to have them there for the first performance of the Vincent program,” Poirier said. “We were really glad that we were able to share that with them.”

They did not want the process to feel as if they took what they needed from these artists and then dropped all communication with them. “I think this has allowed for the spirit of collaboration to continue throughout this project and this season,” Poirier said. “It was such a pleasure to finally meet them, and just feel their energy.”

They all managed the day after the free dance to ride a cable car together up a mountain. “We had a grand old time,” Poirier said.

Jack Rose, Paul Poirier, Dominik Sky, Piper Gilles finally meet

They watched Govardo busk at a church in a town square, too. “I think it was really nice for both of us to see each other in our respective elements,” Poirier said. “And to appreciate the art of each. I think it made for a really nice trip and it made it a very special event for us.”

Most memorable were the moments in which Gilles and Poirier met Govardo after their free dance performance. The Govardo guys were in tears. “Both of them were like: ‘This is so beautiful!” Gilles said.

“It was just like waterworks. After meeting them, I don’t know why, I just got really emotional and I started crying. Everyone started crying. They just brought this certain energy into that program that just makes me feel so much.”

The musicians listened to themselves over an arena loudspeaker, and then watched the Canadians dance to it. “It was a whole energy and I think a lot of people just got caught up in it,” Gilles said. “I think it was really special. It was pretty wonderful.”

They hope to meet again with Govardo later this season at another competition.

And it just got better. People watching the program descended the stands in tears. And when Gilles and Poirier took the top step on the podium, they met Angelika and and Erich Buck, West Germany ice dancers who won the 1972 European championships, upsetting eventual Olympic champion Russians Ludmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov. The Bucks, who invented the Ravensburger Waltz (“We won’t hold that against them,” Poirier said) are now in their late sixties.

Angelika and Erich Buck with coach Betty Callaway, later known as coach for Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean

The Bucks had won the 1971 Nebelhorn Trophy. “Fifty years ago, we were the best in the world [give or take a year or two],” Angelika said to the Canadians. “Fifty years later, you are the best in the world.”

It was a journey that validated the plans of Gilles and Poirier (who say they are taking one year at a time.) In deciding what to do about the coming quadrennial, they knew they wanted to continue competing because they love to skate. “But there are lots of ways we can continue to skate,” Poirier said. “If we compete, it’s because we want to compete – and win – and that’s what this quad has to be about.”

“At the same time, I think our best path to getting there – to be on the podium at all events – is to make the programs for the people,” Poirier said. “Programs that people connect with, that people will get behind and programs that people will believe in.” They plan to project a universal feeling and emotion that people, no matter their background, will understand and love. “I think that’s our best chance of doing this,” Poirier said.

They know they will have to tackle three-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at the Grand Prix in their home country of France next month. But Gilles and Poirier know there are lots of good skaters in the world, that lots of dancers are doing difficult things, and interesting choreography, too.

“So the challenge becomes how do we get people and the judges to stand behind what we’re doing,” Poirier said. “And this is the way we decided to approach the programs this year, especially in the free dance, where we have more creative latitude.”

So far, it seems to be working. Their vehicles are special and unique.

“We have to have our goals set high if we want to be able to get into the rink and keep pushing ourselves,” Gilles said. “If we don’t have those, we might not do it.”

“Wheatfield with Crows” is believed to be Van Gogh’s final work before his death. A story of sadness and extreme solitude, Van Gogh presented three paths ending blindly in the field or off the canvas. Perspective is inverted, with the paths converging in the foreground, coming aggressively against the viewer. The blue skies and yellow fields are a disturbing contrast. Love this guy.

The post Gilles and Poirier’s Starry Night appeared first on Bev Smith Writes.

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The way Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje planned it, they would have been happy to remain low-key, and chill out in their hotel in the off-hours during a spring visit to the very northerly Happy Valley-Goose Bay town in Labrador. They had come to Labrador’s largest community in the spring to do three shows and a seminar.

But no.

Nothing was ordinary about their time in the twin towns of about 8,000 people, where access is best by air. The former world silver medalist ice dancers expected a fun time with the kids of Happy Valley. But they found so much more.

For the shows, Weaver and Poje pulled out their costumes for their Olympic short dance, yet one more time. For the seminar, they brought their spit and polish.

The kids – “millions of kids,” Weaver said – bubbled into the rink with excitement and wide eyes. They didn’t get to see skaters like Weaver and Poje every day.

And that’s when the Olympians discovered that these budding skaters get 15-minute lessons once a WEEK. (And that’s only during winter.) Because there is only one coach, who also doubles as a school teacher, she just can’t get to every kid.

“It was eye-opening,” Weaver said.

They also can’t afford to go to Halifax to see a Stars On Ice show. The cost of living in the area is very high. Rents are high. The flights are expensive. And they have to fly.

“They were so enthusiastic and so grateful,” Weaver said. From those of wobbly ankles and impish grins, there was wordless bowing to Olympic and world magnificence. “What, us?” Weaver thought. “We’re not that special. But they were just over the moon. That was implanted in our brain.”

They inspired tots to teens. “It was very touching,” Weaver said. “I could have been this kid who couldn’t get the opportunity to move, to train, to get a different coach and I wouldn’t be where I am.”

So Weaver and Poje gave them everything they had that week.

“It really brought us back to what’s important and why we love to skate in the first place because of the joy they had. Just being out there and doing that, was so much fun to be part of,” Poje said. “It was a great life experience. That’s another thing that we really value now more than ever is the life experience, that we bring back to who we are as people and as skaters.”

They found perspective in that tiny northern settlement. The experience left a major imprint on their souls.

Indeed, their entire spring and summer has been about living in all different ways. Weaver and Poje certainly found that in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

The children weren’t alone in greeting Weaver and Poje with open hearts. So did the local adults.

Out for dinner one night with a local woman, they ended up talking about life. The local mentioned that she had gone out dog sledding and snowmobiling and all the sort of things one does in Happy Valley.

Poje let slip: “I’ve love to go dog sledding.” (Be careful what you wish for out loud.)

“Oh really?” she said. “We’ll set it up.

Let’s do it TOMORROW!”

“Really?” said Poje, astonished. “Okay.”

The time was set: after one of their shows. “Get in your gear,” Weaver and Poje were told. “Do you have any snow gear?”

They had no gear. Snow blanketed the ground. It was bone cold.

So the locals dug into their closets and clothed them with everything: big deep-treaded boots, hats, coats.

“This is the type of people they were,” Weaver said. “They were just so generous.”

Out in the wilds, their new friends set up the dogs in the sleds. It was a fascinating sight. Winter wonderland everywhere. Happy-faced, eager huskies, blue eyes and all. It was “so cold,” Poje said. It was a buzz, just being out there with the dogs.

Then the chatter started. “Okay, so this is how you stop,” they were told. “And when you steer, you do this…”

“Wait,” Poje said, the light beginning to dawn. “Us? This is how I steer? This is how YOU stop, right?”

“No,” said their teachers. “This is how YOU stop.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Poje said.

“What?” Weaver said.

“I’m driving this thing?” Poje said.

“If you ever have trouble, just let go,” said the local sledder, whose family had been dog sledding for six generations. “The dogs know where to go. We’ll see you out there.”

“Just make sure you don’t tip the sled.”

“Oh please, god,” Weaver said.

Weaver and Poje have learned many new skills over the spring/summer. All photos courtesy of Kaitlyn Weaver.

Weaver sat in the sled. Poje drove. They realized it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not to be missed. To be cherished. Frigid wind in their faces. Peaceful valley in the middle of nowhere. Bustling dogs. Sun low in the sky. Gold streaks up past the horizon. The way it had all been for generations. They realized what they were being given. They took it.

Oh the life. That’s Weaver and Poje sledding into the sunset.

Their journey didn’t end with husky heaven. Their hosts were determined to get Weaver and Poje up in a prop plane, too.

The skating club had a little contest and some of the children won a plane ride out of it. Weaver and Poje got to go with them. Did we tell you that the runway at Goose Bay is 11,000 feet long, enough to handle NASA’s Space Shuttle, if it needed an alternate landing site? (It never did.) Goose Bay was built in 1941 as a military air base.

The day of one of the shows, up Weaver and Poje went in a tiny plane, with their knees up against the pilot’s seat. The pilot was the father of one of the students.

The plane!l

Then the plane encountered turbulence. Weaver clutched the window for dear life. “I’m thinking that might have been my last moments on earth,” Weaver said. “But if these kids can do it, I can do it.”

Seriously, she thought they were going to do down at any moment.

Poje had a different take. “It was so much fun, because it was a little turbulent,” he said. “The little girls were just screaming.”

They returned intact. More than intact. And everything became clear to them.

They found perspective.

“We’ve learned that figure skating is not the be-all and end-all in life thing,” Weaver said. “It’s just a part of who we are and just a part of what our lives will be. So to do these life experiences gives us perspective to know we can bring that into skating. And then we can leave it there and live the rest of our lives.

“I think that takes so much stress out of it. And we are able to work harder and create better things of it anyway.”

At this moment, before the Stars on Ice tour, they had been asked to be part of the ThankyouCanadatour, and they had said no, preferring to chug along in competitive mode.

But their experience in Happy Valley tipped the balance for them in favour of setting aside the Grand Prix season in favour of the tour. So when you see them going from small town to small town on the tour across Canada, Weaver and Poje will be skating with Happy Valley-Goose Bay in their hearts. Yes, the tiny town had made a huge impact.

The post Magic in a Dog Sled appeared first on Bev Smith Writes.

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