Skate Canada Archivist – Emery Leger
Skate Canada Hall of Fame & Heritage Committee member, Diane Imrie chats with Emery Leger, Skate Canada Archivist about Skate Canada’s collection from photographs, trophies, medals, costumes, films… and much more.
Keeping with our theme of early-season memories, here are a few from recent Hall of Fame inductee Steve Milton, one of the most prolific and highly regarded skating journalists in the media business.
Skating Memories – Written by Steve Milton
I have a confession to make about the start of the competitive figure skating season during the early years of my journalistic career.
I had no clue what I was looking at.
And this was even after a few years of being widely referred to as an “expert figure skating journalist.” I think that was a relative term because there were no speciality websites or blogs in the late ‘1970s and early ’80s, and most “mainstream” media members who covered other sports, as I and my colleagues did, didn’t know the difference between a Salchow and a Jersey cow.
I did know the difference but for the first near-decade or so, in the fall it always took me a few weeks of prep time—cramming or cheating are other words for that—to get up to speed, or even out of neutral.
For a non-figure skating guy, I had had fairly early (age 17) exposure to figure skating, but I didn’t grow up with the sport. I never practiced a loop or watched a million flips, so it wasn’t deep inside of me. I had no, instant, innate, recognition. No long-rooted “feel”, for five of the six jumps.
The Axel, which was glaringly obvious in its entry, was the exception, mostly because I spent so much time around Brian Orser, whose middle name was Axel.
Each year, I’d finally find that feel—or as much a feel as a non-skater would ever get—by mid-season, usually at Canadians or just after.
But, without the constant repetition, I’d forget absolutely everything over the spring and summer. By September, the five distinct jumps all looked like the same human tornado again.
Back then, there weren’t that many competitions to help an outsider re-recognize the jumps on instant sight and very little skating on TV. There was no internet you could watch over and over again to help your skating mental-muscle memory click back in, without anyone knowing you were doing it. So, when you got dumb again, you were really dumb.
We didn’t have the ‘cheat’ sheets that organizers now provide every journalist at every event, detailing what elements every skater will do and in what order. I was that cheat sheet for so many of my writing friends, and all the new-to-skating writers who had been advised by their bosses to come and stand by me.
And every fall I was afraid I’d be found out.
I knew that at Skate America or Skate Canada some other sports writer, on a day pass from football or hockey, was going to ask me “Hey Milt, what was that jump?” and I was supposed to reply confidently in a split second. There were, to be sure, real experts hanging around, but I guess it seemed easier to ask another writer.
Every fall, I’d pull out the technical definitions of the jumps but if you’ve always figure skated, you can’t possibly realize how difficult it is for the layman to tell–in flash, at a distance and at speed– an inside edge from an outside, and if the takeoff foot was the same one as the landing foot.
So, I’d cram on morning-of-competition with non-judgemental folks like Debbi Wilkes and a week or two before the first competition would always spend more time than usual at the old Twin Lakes Arena in Orillia (later named for Brian Orser). I was officially there to talk to his coach Doug Leigh about one thing or another, but really was there to watch Brian practice jumps repeatedly. I’d casually ask Doug—as if I were asking something I already knew the answer to— what jump he’d just landed. Then I’d hope the mental image would stick.
I did that a lot.
And I did this a lot: At the first couple of competitions, until I knew I was developing that recognition that had gone AWOL while I was chasing a sun tan, I’d try to anticipate when a “Hey Milt!” was coming. Then, unless it was an Axel, I’d pretend I’d had my head down and didn’t see it.
I guess that’s better than making up an answer… but I probably did that too.
“The Thank You Canada Tour”
Featuring: Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir
Oct. 5, 2018 at Abbotsford Centre, Abbotsford, BC
Inaugural ice-show of 27-show Cross-Canada tour + USA shows
by Barry & Louise Soper, Canadian Ice Dance Champions 1971-74
Louise & I had the opportunity and privilege to attend the unveiling of what our talented 2018 group of Senior Canadian Champions & decorated World & Olympic medalists (Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, Megan Duhamel & Eric Radford, Patrick Chan & Katelyn Osmond) plus Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje [Silver medalists at Canadians in 2018], and Elvis Stojko [7-time Canadian Champion & 3-time World Champion) have been creating and practising for these past few months. What a thrilling experience!
To a completely sold-out and enthusiastically engaged audience, Abbotsford Centre was transformed into a magical venue for our beautiful sport to be showcased in a uniquely creative and inspiring manner that had the audience of approx. 8,500 adoring fans transfixed. Louise & I were struck by the innovative staging, modern production, and diverse display demonstrated by this cohesive group of decorated Canadian athletes. Intertwined amongst the performances were frequent expressions of gratitude from the athletes for their fellow skaters and Canadian supporters.
Helping to create a memorable ambience for the first-half display of competitive program proficiency and the second-half production of an eclectic array of surprise individual & group skating performances, was the background of upbeat, engaging music that literally had the audience up and dancing along. To further ‘set the stage’ for anticipation of something very special to come, the skaters’ entrance was thoughtfully crafted to display a repeating, linearly-moving “Thank You Canada” banner to backdrop the stylishly, blue-light-lined ice surface.
Excitement was generated from the get-go when Olympic medalist, Broadcaster and Coach, Tracy Wilson, appeared on each of the 6 very large video screens (3 suspended over each end of the ice – in triangle form, so as to be clearly seen from anywhere in the arena) to welcome us all to the Tour Show and introduce the first skaters to take the ice, namely Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje. Thereafter, each successive performer would be similarly introduced for their first appearance, but by a variety of fellow performers or, as in Elvis’ case, by the whole cast of skaters in the show. This kind of personalized introduction for each cast member added a classy and intimate touch for each performer!
While the first half of the Show showed the competitive side of each performer’s abilities, the second half of the Show entertained the audience to standing ovation delight! While not giving away all the innovative nuances of the ‘Experience’, there was no hiding the sense of excitement created at the end of the first half when Samuel Chouinard, one of the Show’s Artistic Directors and Choreographers (along with Marie-France Dubreuil), appeared on the big screens to further engage the audience. His role was to encourage the audience’s further participation by teaching a doable sequence of basic dance moves that could be performed at a key point in the latter half of the Show. As forecast, and to very lively ‘get up and dance’ music, the whole cast filled the ice while performing the same dance sequence just taught, all while encouraging the audience to let loose with their newly learned choreography. The crowd loved it!
Based on the level of applause and crowd involvement, there were too many highlights to determine any particular one that stood out above the rest. For Louise and me, it was a toss-up between:
- Witnessing Patrick Chan skating to Eric Radford’s masterly live piano playing to yet another moving personal composition – on an actual grand piano rolled out to mid-ice; and
- Tessa & Scott performing a wonderfully engaging off-ice dance number to ultra-exciting, crowd-pleasing music on a large, square dance floor lowered from the arena ceiling at centre ice. Of course, this surprise element allowed everyone to focus on how this multi-talented duo were able to enhance their already proven skating prowess by further developing their body movements!
A couple of other interesting notes which set this show apart from other contemporary productions: it was intentionally announced that photos could be taken and was encouraged (as opposed to “No Photos”), accompanied by a stern request not to throw anything on the ice, as the creative lighting would have made it dangerous for the skaters; and at one point, just prior to turning out the lights in the arena, it was requested that everyone turn on the flashlight function on their phones – creating an amazing effect throughout the arena!
In summary, there seemed to be no end to the surprises created by this wonderful production.
To say that the audience received their money’s worth for this thoroughly captivating two hours of skating would be an understatement! This was/is a show not to be missed! And what a way to underscore the sincere gratitude felt and expressed by these skaters to this wildly appreciative Canadian audience!
This Show delivered on its commitment to thank the audience for supporting figure skating in Canada. It was a celebration of fans and skaters acknowledging all of those individuals whose commitment to representing this country around the world is an inspiring and historic legacy.
“Thank You Canada!”
Tour dates and locations can be found at http://thethankyoucanadatour.ca
A fun Facebook Live interview between alumni, Elladj Baldé and Joannie Rochette at the 2018 Skate Canada International in Laval, QC.
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