Podcast: J. Senft | We Go Live in 3, 2 … | Musings from my experience at 2013 Worlds | Baby News | And More…

Featuring Jean Senft

Retired official Jean Senft has been front and centre in the sport with a judging career which spanned events at her local club all the way to the Olympic Games. Her daughter, Lauren, a competitive international level ice dancer, retired and now a technical specialist, leads the chat where they both share memories about their skating adventures and discuss the special bond they share as a result.

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We Go Live in 3, 2 …

By Christopher Mabee, 2007 Canadian Silver Medallist

The Battle of the Blades logo pops up on the monitor, Ron MacLean’s voice says, “Battle is Back,” and away we go. The skaters enter the ice to warm up as the whirlwind hour-long episode begins. An episode full of great skating, wonderful choreography, and an upsetting elimination.

After, I bring the skaters some fresh sharpies so they can sign autographs. I hug the eliminated pair, feeling disappointed that a team actually had to go. I get home, lay my head down to sleep, wake up, and prepare for the next episode the following day. This was my life in a nutshell.

How did you get that job? Can hockey players really become figure skaters? Can you tell me any drama between the skaters? And, Is Andrew Poje that dreamy in real life? These are common questions that I get asked when I tell someone I worked on the CBC original series Battle of the Blades. I can answer all of these and more for you so, let’s start at the beginning.

I was sitting with Elizabeth Putnam at a restaurant in London, Ontario, not far from the Budweiser Gardens. We were catching up on life and what projects we had in the pipeline when she mentioned she had auditioned for “Battle of the Blades”. Obviously, I had heard of the successful television show and was immediately intrigued. She gave me more details about it, and I mentioned it would be awesome to work on the show. We dreamt of working together and how much fun we would have. She gave me the contact information for Sandra Bezic (the show’s Executive Producer and Co-creator). I emailed Sandra, expressing my interest in the show and being a part of it.

The last time I worked with Sandra was March of 1999, on a show called “Legendary Night of Skating”. I played Osborne Colson as a young kid. Emanuel Sandhu played him as a young man, and the number was complete with a small performance from Osborne himself. So, here I was inquiring about being a production assistant and starting an email with “Hi Sandra, I know it’s been a while …”.

I wasn’t familiar with television, as my background is in live production (yes, they are different!), but new challenges always excite me and I figured, why not? Sandra replied, excited to discuss further and explaining I was overqualified to be a production assistant, but she wanted me involved in some capacity.

We organized a meeting for the beginning of June at the Insight Productions office. There I was, sitting in a room with two Executive Producers, one Producer, and a line producer, and I hear myself say, “So, I used to be a competitive ice skater …”. An hour and a half later, excited about my skating background and my previous experience with ice shows, they welcomed me with open arms.

Fast forward to the beginning of August, a couple weeks before production was set to begin. I get an email from Insight Productions saying that filming starts in a couple weeks and I need to be here on this day. I gasp and cover my mouth, amazed that it’s actually happening!

I will never forget Bootcamp, the first day the hockey players try skating in figure skates. I was standing by Paul Martini. We were catching up on where we were in life after not seeing each other for more than a decade, when he interrupts me to inform me, “It will happen at 2:30 pm, that’s my guess,” before skating away. I was confused and looked to see what time it was. It was 2:16 pm. “What on earth will happen at 2:30 pm?”

A few minutes later, there was a loud yell, a bunch of gasps, and big cheers—and there was Sheldon Kennedy diving head and body first into the ice, eventually crashing into the barrier. I looked up at the clock and it was 2:30 pm on the dot. “Ahhhh …” I said to myself, realizing he was predicting the first toe pick moment from the hockey players. I would later learn that predicting events like this was Paul’s specialty.

The first person I had the chance to interact with was Amanda Kessel, a beautiful woman who stepped on the ice for the first time in figure skates and was paralyzed with the fear of hitting her toe picks, face planting and probably wondering to herself “How the hell am I going to do this?” Her partner, Eric Radford, was not at Bootcamp yet, so I was his stand-in. We skated around a bit. In her figure skates, Amanda was having issues with crossovers and being able to gain speed. I started to ask myself, “How is she going to do this?” I had watched videos of Tessa Bonhomme in season 3 of Battle of the Blades, gob smacked at what she was able to do with her partner, David Pelletier.

What the female hockey player must do in this competition versus the male is very different, and in my opinion, much harder. Yes, getting the girl into the air is difficult, but hitting a beautiful position—trying to emulate a pose like Violetta Afanasieva, Ekaterina Gordeeva or any of the female figure skaters—is no easy feat. I left Amanda after Bootcamp feeling like she had a lot of work ahead of her as she moved into her regular training with her coach and choreographer Julie Marcotte. Julie was breaking down the simplest skating elements to help her understand how to push, gain speed, and keep her balance, and providing positive feedback on the elements she did well while also pushing her to go for more. Amanda started getting lifted over Eric’s head, and was performing tricky pair elements.

Chris Mabee and Julie Marcotte

On Wednesdays, before a live performance, we would all go to the venue and the teams would perform their number for the director of the show, a process called “camera blocking”. This way she could get the shots she needed to best show off the team when it came to the live show.

Amanda didn’t seem like herself. Her legs were as stiff as 2×4’s, and she had a look like a deer in headlights. Terrified is the only way I could describe it. She finished her camera blocking without hitting a solid performance. She was upset, and probably more scared than ever. Eric and Julie swooped into the rescue with affirmations and letting her know it was normal to feel the way she did. The next day was the premiere, and I could see on her face that all she was thinking was, “Here we go—ready or not.” That night, she performed the best version of her number I had seen so far! She was smiling, engaged, and executing tricks I thought she wouldn’t be able to do so early in the competition. I was so proud of her. She went from barely being able to do crossovers to performing overhead tricks with choreography. My mind was blown, and I realized it was happening… she was becoming a pair skater.

When you speak to people who work on Battle of the Blades, it becomes apparent that it is not your average reality TV show. Now that the show is over, I don’t even like calling it reality TV. If you see me around and ask “So, what was the drama on the show?”, I won’t have much to say.

People created deep connections with each other that will go beyond the show, and they devoted their time to something that wasn’t for themselves, and that is a really beautiful thing. Remember, these people don’t get a part of the $100,000. Hell, they don’t even necessarily get a flood of Instagram followers.

This isn’t about fame. It is about people, families, and, for some, animals. It is about the stories of the hockey players and the skaters and their charities.

PJ Stock said it best. “If we can at least start a dialogue about our charity, then we are doing our job.” This show isn’t about the drama between athletes or coaches. It’s about greats skating with greats for a cause that’s greater than them.

After the show ended, I made my way home and back to “life as we know it.” For me, the experience, admittedly, was a bit of a roller coaster. Finding your way through something that is familiar in some ways but new in others is an interesting experience. Live production is my background, but the world of television was brand new.

I learned so much about the ins and outs of television, and it was such a great opportunity to learn something new and to develop new skills. All my moments of frustration were balanced out with lots of laughter and great moments with wonderful people. I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.

I grew and developed, and as I enter my late 30’s I am glad to be still pushing myself and not fearing the unknown. Living “the gig life,” there is always a bit of unknown. You have to find the work and put yourself out there. That is exactly what I did by emailing Sandra, and I am grateful I did. Now onto the next challenge and seeing what other learning opportunities are out there for me. But, until then you will find me horizontal on the couch, open-mouth breathing and re-watching my favorite performances from CBC’s Battle of the Blades.

Kurt Browning and Chris Mabee

Musings from my experience at 2013 Worlds in London, Ontario

By Kevin Reynolds, 2014 Winter Olympics team silver medallist and a six-time Canadian medallist

With another great year of skating well underway and the ISU Grand Prix Series coming to a close, skaters have already delivered impeccably skilled performances unlike anything we have ever seen before.

Excitement is building, and the focus is shifting to the grand prize of the year: The ISU World Figure Skating Championships.

With the year soon turning over to 2020 (how time flies!), Canada will be honoured once more with hosting this exceptional event, this time in beautiful and historic Montreal.

Canada has a rich history of skating and has been host to the World Figure Skating Championships a total of 9 times previously. Being a competitor at a home country Worlds requires a bit of luck, coming to Canada once every few years or so, but I was fortunate enough to have been a competitor at the previously held championships in London, Ontario in 2013. With Worlds in Montreal fast approaching, it has caused me to reminisce about one of the most memorable experiences in my skating career.

Having unexpectedly won the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships a month before the World Championships were to be held, there was an unusual heightened focus on the Canadian Men with two potential challengers for the top 5. There were countless interviews stemming from the seemingly sudden interest from local media who were enthralled with the possibilities of what all the Canadian skaters could achieve at a home country Worlds.

For my part, I was looking forward to the challenge and relished the extra attention. I was confident in my training – jump repetitions, skating and choreography sessions, gym workouts, ballet and dance training, … Working from the high of the last competition, the grind seemed less effortful than usual, goals clear in mind. Then, with less than 2 weeks to go before the event, my expectations and preparations were thrown abruptly off course.

I was training my long program and was not quite perfect with some of the elements, but as skaters are accustomed to doing, I carried on with doing the best I could through the rest of the program. I took part of my combination spin and I remember distinctly hearing a pop and then weakness in my left knee. I stepped out of the spin and my coach stopped the music. After a lap or two, my coach became concerned. I gingerly tested the knee in another spin, but I couldn’t continue; I somehow injured my knee. She immediately arranged for me to see a sports doctor, and my mind was suddenly racing and doubting – what if had to withdraw from Worlds? In Canada of all places? Unthinkable just a couple of hours earlier?

It was determined that I ruptured an undetected cyst in top of my left calf muscle, which caused acute pain and inflammation, but fortunately was not damaging – I would have to take a couple of days off before working through the pain with physiotherapy as my body absorbed the fluid. Definitely a major obstacle to overcome, but I had hope once again that I could compete. Thankfully, there was less media attention in the days immediately before I arrived, and I was able to concentrate on doing what I could to fast track getting back into competition-ready form.

Once I arrived in London, the turmoil created by the sudden curve ball thrown at me was absent from my mind – I was exhilarated with a rush of excitement for the week ahead yet determined to do my best and compete well for Canada. The atmosphere was positively electric from the get-go – people would stop by in the hotel to get autographs signed and pictures taken and lined up outside the arena to get a glimpse of their favourite skaters passing by. But it was more than just these usual points of interest from skating fans – people who might not have known about figure skating at all previously were stopping by to say, “good luck!” or “do us proud, we’re rooting for you!”.

The Covent Garden Market nearby, where I often went to eat, was a fun location to interact with everyday people who were caught up in the skating frenzy and delighted to welcome the world to their home city. While skating has been (and still remains to this day) very popular in Japan, and there is always a certain kind of buzz and excitement surrounding a World Championships, this kind of personal interaction and support with Canadians on the street was truly something special and filled me with pride and confidence.

Two of the moments I remember most in my competitive career came from my competition experience in London.

Short Program
Short Program

The first was the incredible reaction of the audience following my short program performance, having performed better than my expectations. I remember seeing a sea of red and white flags – Canadian maple leaves – rise as I took my bows. In that moment, time seemed to slow down as I took in the surroundings… thoughts of how difficult it was to get there were quickly washed over by a feeling of unparalleled warmth, pride, and gratitude to all the fans watching and supporting. I remember thinking definitively: these are the kind of moments you dream of. Hugging my long-time coach, Joanne McLeod, after reaching the Kiss & Cry, and hearing the audience react to the scores was also a special moment to share in together.

Joanne McLeod and Kevin Reynolds

The other came from the free program under changed circumstances. After finishing an unexpectedly high 3rd place in the short program, I had earned my spot in the final warm-up group – something that I was experiencing for the first time at a World Championships. That is an experience in itself, but with a home country audience, Patrick Chan already having just likely secured a World Title, and with just me to go as the last skater – a second Canadian within striking distance of the podium – the audience’s excitement was reaching a fever pitch.

I remember feeling heaviness from the tension in the air as I took to the ice and prepared for my name to be called. When the announcer started to call my name, “Representing Canada…” I could not hear the rest. The cheering was deafening. As I glided to my opening pose, my adrenaline was on overload: I felt both hyper-energized yet exhausted, my legs filled with energy to the point of shaking with weakness. My heart rate was probably nearing my max training rate of 200bpm. And I hadn’t even started. Then, before it had even gone down a bit, the music played. I took a breath and went.

While it was not my best performance, I somehow managed to fight away my nerves and walk away proud, if not slightly disappointed, with a top 5 overall finish.

Kevin Reynolds and Scott Russell

Some of the most enjoyable aspects of Worlds in Canada were the media opportunities throughout the week, both during and after the competition. It was a blast, getting to engage in multiple media scrums and autograph sessions with Canadian teammates, and participate in several TV interviews, including with CBC’s Scott Russell.

Some of the other standout moments include having a local artist create a custom winged skate art piece with inspiration from my skating (https://lfpress.com/2013/03/10/local-artists-create-amazing-art-skates-to-reflect-personality-of-celebrated-skaters/wcm/5daf9333-054e-de8c-9505-5eef2a90b5bd ),as well as the opportunity and honour to meet personally with the Governor General of Canada in the post-competition celebrations and festivities.

Looking forward to the next Canadian Worlds in Montreal 2020, it is wonderful to know that countless unique memories will be created for the next generation of Canadian and World competitors seeking to make their mark on the most important stage of the year. For skaters and fans alike, it is sure to be a week filled with anticipation, drama, excitement, and pride.

My advice to those who will qualify to represent Canada in Montreal is this: do what you need to do to prepare for the rigours of competition but be sure to take in all the experience has to offer along the way. A World Championships in Canada is a highlight for what we love most about our sport, the memories from which you will take with you for the rest of your lives.

Montrealers, together with fans congregating from across Canada and around the world, will be delighted to see magic and history created on the ice, and support all the skaters competing who have worked so hard to get there. I, too, can’t wait to see how it all unfolds and will be cheering for all to have their best performances.

See you in Montreal for Worlds 2020!

Duhamel and Marcotte are New Parents to a Baby Girl!

Olympian Meagan Duhamel and husband Bruno Marcotte, Olympic coach, welcomed their daughter little Zoey into the skating world on October 25, 2019.

“Our little princess came into the world a bit earlier and smaller than intended, but she’ll make up for it in big ways,” Duhamel posted on Instagram.

After spending some time in the hospital, Zoey is finally bigger and stronger, and the proud parents are finally at home with their baby girl.

Duhamel and figure skating partner Eric Radford are two-time world champions, Olympic gold, silver and bronze medalists, and seven-time Canadian National Champions in senior pairs.   The pair retired following their performance in 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea, allowing Duhamel to pursue a career as a full-time figure skating coach.

So many happy and wonder-filled times ahead for you both…congratulations!

Mattatall Family Proudly Announces the Arrival of Lennon Marie!

World competitor and Canadian medalist, John Mattatall and wife Shadia, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl Lennon Marie on November 10, 2019.
As new parents may you be filled with much joy and happiness with the arrival of your new baby.  Wishing your new family all the very best!

Patrick Chan and Joannie Rochette named Athlete Ambassadors for the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2020

Not that the ISU World Figure Skating Championships® 2020 needed any more star appeal, but figure skating’s flagship event just got it anyway.

As Montreal, Quebec gets set to welcome the world to the Centre Bell from March 16-22, 2020, a pair of Canadian legends with 16 national titles between them will once again step onto the sport’s grandest stage. Only this time, they’ll be watching from the wings.

Skate Canada today introduced three-time world champion Patrick Chan, who also holds a record ten Canadian titles, and Montreal’s own Joannie Rochette, the 2010 Olympic Winter Games bronze medallist and six-time Canadian champion, as official Athlete Ambassadors for the ISU World Figure Skating Championships® 2020.

As the world championships return to Canada for the first time since 2013, Chan and Rochette, as co-Athlete Ambassadors, will handle speaking engagements and media interviews, conduct appearances on behalf of competing athletes and spend time with the fans who meant so much to them over their careers.

“I am thrilled that the 2020 ISU World Championships are being held in Montreal and very excited to be an ambassador for the event,” says Chan.

“One of my fondest memories in figure skating was when I competed at the 2013 ISU World Championships in London, Ontario. Having the support of a home crowd energized me to be the best I could be and ultimately achieve a gold medal.”

Rochette is ecstatic that the world championships are coming to her hometown for the first time since 1932.

“It means so much to me to be named Athlete Ambassador for the world championships in Montreal,” says Rochette. “Montrealers are known to be welcoming and open to the world and am honoured to represent Skate Canada and all the athletes participating at this incredible event. I wish all the skaters a great week of skating in Montreal and hope they get a chance to see the beautiful city.”

This will mark the second time that Chan and Rochette have served as Athlete Ambassadors as Skate Canada continues to honour the athletes that have contributed so much to its rich and storied history. Most recently, Chan was Athlete Ambassador at the 2018-19 ISU Grand Prix Final and Rochette at 2018 Skate Canada International. Other Athlete Ambassadors at recent Skate Canada events include Kevin Reynolds, Elvis Stojko, Kurt Browning, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, Jeffery Buttle and Shae-Lynn Bourne.

“We are honoured to have Patrick and Joannie as our athlete ambassadors for the world championships. Skate Canada is thrilled to bring the world championships to Montreal and are proud to have alumni like Patrick and Joannie who are incredible role models for not just athletes but for all Canadians,” said Debra Armstrong, CEO, Skate Canada. “Over their careers they have both taken part and won medals at every major skating event and know firsthand the pressures of competition and we know they will help make an unforgettable event for all participants.”

Chan and Rochette need no introduction to figure skating aficionados, in Canada or around the world.

In eight trips to the world championships, Chan stepped onto the podium on five occasions, including three consecutive world titles from 2011 to 2013. In addition to his record ten Canadian championships, he is three-time Olympic medallist, including a gold medal as a member of the winning Canadian squad in the team event at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang.

Shortly after those Olympics, Chan announced his retirement from competitive skating and regularly performs in skating shows across Canada. He currently resides in Vancouver and continues to give back to the sport that gave him so much, teaching seminars in the Vancouver area.

Chan’s affection for Vancouver is understandable, considering he won his first national title in the city in 2008 before capturing his final Canadian crown in the city.

“It’s great that the next generation of Canadian figure skaters get that same chance to compete on home soil against the world’s best, and I look forward to welcoming the world to Canada,” Chan adds.

Rochette left her footprint on the heart of a nation at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, with her emotional bronze-medal performance, which led to her being named Female Athlete of the Year by Canadian Press.

In addition to her six Canadian championships, Rochette represented Canada seven times at the world championships, winning silver in 2009. During six career appearances at Skate Canada International, she medalled five times including gold in 2006, 2008 and 2009. In 2017, Skate Canada announced Rochette will be inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame.

These days, Rochette keeps a busy schedule as she continues to attend medical school at McGill University, but the opportunity to have a rink side view of a home world championships was too much to pass up.

“There is nothing quite like representing your country on the international stage. I am sure it will bring back a lot of memories for Patrick and I,” adds Rochette.

Along with an entire country.

Worlds Rewind: Calgary 1972

As the countdown to the ISU World Figure Skating Championships ® 2020 in Montreal, Quebec continues, we look back at previous world championships staged in Canada. Part 3 of the ten-part series reflects on the 1972 world championships in Calgary.

For the third time in history – and the first time since Vancouver in 1960 – the ISU World Figure Skating Championships landed in Canada when Calgary, Alberta hosted the world from March 7-11, 1972.

Just like previous world championships that were staged in Canada – Montreal in 1932 and Vancouver in 1960 – the 1972 World Championships, which were held at the Stampede Corral, came in an Olympic year, with Sapporo, Japan hosting the Games the month prior to worlds.

The 1972 World Championship podiums were almost a carbon copy of the Olympics, with all gold and silver medallists from Sapporo earning the same medals in Calgary. Ice dance was not an Olympic event but was contested at the world championships.

In the men’s competition, Ondrej Nepela of Czechoslovakia won his second of three consecutive world titles, edging out the Soviet Union’s Sergei Chetverukhin for gold. Vladimir Kovalev of the Soviet Union earned the bronze medal.

Karen Magnussen

Just a few weeks after finishing second to Austria’s Beatrix Schuba in Sapporo, Karen Magnussen of Vancouver, B.C., once again earned silver in Calgary, with Shcuba winning her second straight ladies’ world crown. Magnussen would go on to win the world championship the following year and was the last Canadian to win the ladies’ world title until Kaetlyn Osmond accomplished the feat in 2018.

Just like the Sapporo Olympics, it was a battle of the Soviet Union’s top two teams for pairs gold and, once again, it was the tandem of Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov holding off compatriots Liudmila Smirnova and Andrei Suraikin for the top spot. A day before the competition, Rodnina and Ulanov had an accident while performing a lift, and Rodnina was taken to hospital with a concussion and an intracranial hematoma. The duo went on to compete and won their fourth straight world championship. They competed together for the final time in Calgary, and Rodnina would go on to win six straight world titles with new partner Alexander Zaitsev starting in 1973.

JoJo Starbuck and Kenneth Shelley of the United States secured pairs bronze.

Liudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov of the Soviet Union took gold in ice dance, narrowly defeating Angelika Buck and Erich Buck of West Germany. Americans Judy Schwomeyer and James Sladky finished third.

The world championships would return to Canada six years later, when Ottawa played host to the 1978 edition of the event.

This photo from the 1982 Canadian Championships features Junior Pair Champs Julie Brault and Richard Gauthier being interviewed by CTV’s Debbi Wilkes and Johnny Esaw. Stay tuned for next month’s blog which will star Richard and his outstanding coaching career.”

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