Holiday Message | Synchro’s Olympic Dream | The Dragon Lady | Worlds at Home | and More…

Special holiday message from Olympic medalist Kaetlyn Osmond!

Synchro’s Olympic Dream                            

Cathy Dalton

by Cathy Dalton, Skate Canada Hall of Fame Member

You would think it would be easy for me to write an article about a memory or experience I have had in Synchronized Skating (SYS)… ha! Not so much.

I have watched this discipline develop from its early days and so you can understand my dilemma. There are so many memories: about the discipline, the athletes, the fans, the skeptics, the development both nationally and internationally and of course the Olympic Dream.

I have many fond memories of the past, but I am most excited about the future. So, I decided to write about the Olympic Dream.

Being part of the Olympic application process was a thrill and a huge challenge which I experienced as a member of the ISU Synchronized Technical Committee who worked on the first application made by the ISU for SYS to be considered for the inclusion in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. The process and the day that the result was announced will always be one of my most distinctive memories.

The second time that the SYS application was made was also an amazing experience, but you know what they say about the first time… and with any luck the third time will be the charm.

In the spring of 2014, the International Skating Union (ISU) emailed the SYS Technical Committee a blank application form from the International Olympic Committee to apply for inclusion in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games (OWG). What a heart stopping moment it was when the message and application form arrived in my inbox. It was quickly decided that three people would work on this submission and I was honored to be one of them.

I had no idea about the submission process but soon learned that the written part of the application had many complex questions and required supporting documents a video be included. OMG! We suddenly realized that this also meant we needed to create a video and a booklet of information highlighting our discipline. ALL of this had to be completed and ready by a September 2014 deadline.

The pressure was on!

Everyone contacted was very helpful. Skate Canada as well as the ISU and other ISU members were very supportive in providing all and any information requested. A digital brochure and video were created in record time thanks to many people who worked diligently to make it happen. Our little team worked almost around the clock near the end, focusing on how SYS would enhance the Olympics rather that what Olympic inclusion would do for SYS.

Our mission was to prove that the discipline was popular with a young demographic audience and a growing fan base. We knew that our dedicated, passionate officials, athletes and coaches were deserving of being on the Olympic stage too.

Those messages to the IOC needed to be strong and clear.

Once the application form was submitted, we impatiently waited to hear if SYS would go on to the next phase of the process which would be a visit by IOC members to observe the new sport in action.

We happily learned that three people from the IOC were assigned to observe SYS. Again, the strategic planning began for this very important occasion. With due consideration and much deliberation Rouen, France, was selected as the site for the visit during an International Competition in February 2015.

What a momentous moment it was when the IOC arrived at the rink for the senior short program. The skaters and coaches were all aware of the importance of this occasion and they, and the audience, did not disappoint. I was very excited to notice that the IOC observers were videoing the standing room only audience during the competition. The SYS fans were crazy enthusiastic and impressively patriotic … unexpected for a figure skating event in France.

The next morning a formal meeting with an ISU group and the IOC was held, one of the most stressful encounters I have ever experienced in SYS with questions which were both specific and challenging. At the conclusion of the meeting we felt happy with our efforts and that we had left no stone unturned. Now the waiting began for the final verdict. Fingers crossed.

How impressive to have reached each step in the process for a first-time application. This was an achievement and gave us much hope for a positive final decision. However, as you know, the decision did not go in our favor. A collective disappointment was felt globally as this decision rippled through the Synchro Community. Heartbreaking … but in the true spirit of sport we vowed to continue and try again … as many times as needed to get Synchro included as a sport in the OWG – next stop 2026!

If you haven’t seen a Synchro Team recently, you will be amazed at the development of this discipline. The ISU 2022 SYS Championship has been provisionally allotted to Canada and will be held in Hamilton, Ontario but don’t wait until then to check it out. The Canadian teams are amazing and can be seen at many local competitions and of course at the 2020 National Championships in Calgary.

To be part of this discipline and its rapid development continues to be an honour.

The Dragon Lady

by Nancy Sorensen, retired Official

Barbara Graham

The Dragon Lady had arrived.  She was very visible with her blonde hair cut in a Dutch boy bob, steno pad on her lap.

She would be viewing the skating performances with expert eyes since she, herself, had participated in all aspects of the figure skating scene.  Her expertise and knowledge of the sport put her in a masterful leadership role, enabling her to encourage and assist skaters with the support of the national figure skating body.

The electricity and adrenaline flow created by her presence always heightened the aspirations and anxieties of every coach and skater.  All wanted to perform their very best when she was in the rink.  Her being there was important and meant something.

Barbara Graham put skating first and foremost in her priorities. She wanted success for Canada’s skating athletes so she shot straight from the hip.  She told it as it was: the inappropriate costume, unsuitable music, the sluggish spins, the scratchy footwork, etc.

Sometimes the truth hurts! It unravels our denial and we don’t like to hear it.  Barbara’s brutal honesty was meant to benefit the skaters, but even when tactfully delivered, her comments were not always well received. Hence, the Dragon Lady label.  Yet, Barbara was always forthcoming with praise for commendable performances too.

I first met Barbara through Interclub competitions consisting of Hamilton, Granite, Oshawa and Peterborough. Barbara’s involvement was with the Granite Club; I called Peterborough home. Our paths crossed again at Cobourg Summer School established by Granite professional, Marcus Nikkanen, who brought skaters with him, Barbara amongst them.

As time passed, we occasionally met as judges.  Both of us had become school teachers, a common denominator. Barbara had had a successful competitive run winning Canadian Junior Pairs with partner, Tom Monypenny, but now opted for officiating and the administrative branches of the CFSA (Canadian Figure Skating Association, now Skate Canada).

Demeanor and protocol were important to Barbara.

We were on the same judges’ panel for a Gold figure test in Toronto.  I had driven in from Oakville. The candidate, a teenage boy, appeared in baggy jeans, shirt tail hanging out, cuffs undone, unkempt hair, and a bad case of attitude. His figures didn’t measure up to Gold standards but that isn’t what bothered Barbara.  She felt he showed a total lack of respect – for himself, with his untidy appearance and his “I don’t care” shrug, for the judges brought in to evaluate him, and for the sport itself.

Teaching aside now, Barbara became fully active in all aspects of figure skating.  She travelled extensively and had skating contacts worldwide.  If it involved figure skating, Barbara was there.

Sitting beside her at competitions was an eye opener.  In her steno pad she “worked” each competitor.  Every element was documented in order of performance to show the layout and balance of the program.  She put her own “marks” down then listed the judges’ scores.  Barbara was keeping her judging skills honed!  Hour after hour, skater after skater, competition after competition.

My move to New Brunswick meant I saw Barbara only intermittently at skating events.  Once, she called from her CFSA office with a task for me.  There was controversy about sending the dance team of Rob McCall and Marie McNeil to the Ennia Cup in The Hague.  Would I fly to Halifax, see their dances in competitive costume and relay my impressions?  I reminded Barbara that I was strictly singles/pairs, not a dance specialist.  She, herself, was confident of their dancing but needed an objective viewpoint to bring to the committee.  Barbara was right.  The dancing was impressive.  Rob had musicality coming out of his fingertips and Marie’s smile could light up the arena.  Send them!  The duo ended their partnership as Senior Canadian Dance Champions.  Marie retired but Rob continued to dance with new partner, Tracy Wilson.

We had a number of skating and non-skating associations over the years.

As Technical Director of the CFSA, Barbara had fingers in all skating pies.  Call her office with a question, she likely had the answer.  If not, she referred you to someone who did or she would find out for you.  She was always approachable.  Still, her appearance at any arena was guaranteed to make waves and get hearts pumping.

Derring-do was not lost on Barbara.

A return to teaching took her to Singapore.  Barbara read the classifieds in the local papers and found work and lodging the day of arrival, just like that.  She could be most enterprising, resourceful, fearless, and had no qualms about being on her own.

Her tenure as Technical Director over, Barbara was hired as State Coaching Director by Queensland Ice Skating Association, in Brisbane. “If you want to visit Australia, Nancy, now is the time to come.” The day after school finished, I was on a plane for Down Under.  After the usual touristy activities, I headed for Brisbane and bunked in with Barbara.

She was doing a wonderful job.  She made deals with the YMCA to allow skaters to dry land train in their facilities.  Australian skaters were of the impression that more skating meant better skating.  Barbara introduced off ice training to improve strength, stamina and flexibility.  Clinics were held to expose skaters to the media and how to conduct themselves in various situations.  I followed her around like a puppy dog while she checked the sign-in sheets to see which skaters were faithful to her off ice program.

The culmination was Australian Nationals in Canberra.

Russians were everywhere!  It seemed most coaches and hangers-on were Sergei or Igor. Deborah Lynn Paul and Paul Huehnergard were a Canadian presence. Anthony Liu was a marvelous skater while Joanne Carter led the ladies with a super short and a promising long program. Barbara’s influence was showing.

Much later, Barbara and I met at an international competition.  Joanne was competing.  Her short program was dynamic and flawless, a great skate. She placed sixth. You could see the disappointment on her face.  Joanne followed with an excellent free program, her best skate ever.  She remained sixth anyway.  Barbara felt she should have been in the top three, in podium position with her fine performance. In hindsight, Barbara often wondered whether there was such a thing as “country” bias considering that at the time Australia was not a strong force in world figure skating.

From Australia to Alberta with Barbara’s new duties as Skater Development Specialist for the Alberta/North West Territories/Nunavut Section.  After the Wild Rose summer competition, she invited me to accompany her on her rounds to various summer schools.  In Red Deer and Calgary we worked with skaters at all levels.

Duties over, we began our “Thelma and Louise” ride, if you are familiar with the movie.  Rockies, here we come! Barbara drove while I navigated. In Jasper, we cruised the art shops and I noticed a Norval Morrisseau painting hung sideways.  Morrisseau is an indigenous artist, signs his work in Cree and the symbols are distinctive.  The signature indicated that the painting was displayed on its side, not properly upright.  When I pointed this out to the shop owner, he took great offence and our argument grew rather heated.  Barbara firmly propelled me out of the shop and I cooled down with a glass of wine at Jasper Park Lodge, one of Barbara’s favourite places.

Back to reality with Barbara in Edmonton and me in my Burlington art classroom.

Barbara Graham

A message on my phone did not identify the caller but I recognized Barbara’s voice.  “I’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.” She was well looked after, the best of care and she rallied admirably. Special friend, Ann Shaw, hosted a party for her in Toronto.  Barbara never looked better, slim and trim with a most becoming wig to hide chemotherapy results.  Our next meeting was at Hamilton airport.  Her hair had grown back, no more blonde Dutch bob but grey and curly, to her amazement and amusement. She continued her skating duties as much as possible.

Meanwhile, I had retired, which I found totally boring.  I called Barbara with exciting news.  I had a job offer, to teach senior English and set up art programs… China! Barbara didn’t miss a beat.  “Do it, Nancy.  You must do it!” My China experience was a success and another offer would take me to Guangzhou, in southern China this time.  Barbara was adamant that I take the position.  “There is nothing you can do for me by staying here.  Go!”  A serious drop in Barbara’s condition prompted e- mails from Ann Shaw, updating me periodically.  Barbara died while I was still in Guangzhou.

Ann called me months later.  Barbara had left something for me.  Displayed in my den is a large cartoon showing a group of judges standing on a frozen lake, marks held up, while the skater falls through the ice.  The drawing is dedicated to Barbara and signed by the artist, Toller Cranston.

I am sure there are many tales to tell about Barbara Graham from those of us in the skating community.  She was such an icon, a major player in the sport.

From success in the education field to the sports world, Barbara could list many fine accomplishments.  She was the CFSA’s first Technical Director, created the National Coaching Program and represented Canada at international and Olympic events.  In 1992, she received the Commemorative Medal for the 125th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada and was inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame in 2003.

In spite of her extensive circle of friends, Barbara remained her own person.  Her life was skating; skating was her life.  The Dragon Lady was really a pussy cat underneath, forever true to herself, calling it exactly as it was, always for the benefit of the skaters and Canadian figure skating.

Skate Canada Hall of Fame – Barbara Graham


Barbara GrahamAs technical director of the Canadian Figure Skating Association from 1972 to 1991, Barbara’s influence was felt throughout the skating community. A former National Junior Pair Champion and international judge, her great love and passion for figure skating was supplemented by her outstanding technical knowledge and ability to envision, develop and establish programming to support the progression of the sport.

Taking the lead in skater development and training courses, including the development of NCCP technical development courses for coaches, she organized and conducted national training seminars for singles, dance and pairs, and oversaw judges and coaches clinics and workshops.

She standardized the training of judges and laid the foundation to the best judges training system in the world.

In 1992, Barbara received the Canada 125 Commemorative Medal for her outstanding contributions. Upon her retirement from the CFSA she travelled to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa as a sport consultant. She finally settled in Alberta where she continues to contribute her knowledge and expertise to the skating community.

The achievements of Canadian figure skaters during Barbara’s 30-year involvement in the sport are testaments to the hard work and dedication of this outstanding builder.

What an Experience!

by Debbie MacMurdo, Skate Canada Honorary Member

Debbie MacMurdo – Photo credit The Journal Pioneer

As Skate Canada prepares for Worlds 2020, I think back to the 2013 Worlds held in London, Ontario, the last time Canada played host to this major sporting event.

The first thing that comes to mind is that the event does not happen by itself.  Many meetings, site visits, negotiations with the ISU, venues, logo creations, programming, etc. must be developed long before the first skater steps on the ice. It takes several years of planning with many check lists to cross off so that nothing falls through the cracks.

Strong leadership was critical back in London. We had not only great Skate Canada staff producing the event but also an event chair Bill Boland who, being from London, knew who to involve in the event from the municipal and local club perspective.

The next factor for success was the recruitment of volunteers and London certainly lived up to its world-class reputation as a terrific event city with volunteers who were knowledgeable, experienced and committed. In fact, to execute an event of this nature and size, there were dedicated volunteers from across Canada, literally from coast to coast to coast. We call them Skate Canada’s “Super Volunteers”!

The number one thing in hosting a skating event is creating an environment for success whether for competitor, official, team leader, media, VIP or fan. Many hours went into the planning to ensure this happened including wide-scale promotion of the event and ticket sales to guarantee the athletes had a crowd cheering them on, a well-appointed venue and quality ice, to name a few of the most important factors.

There were many highlights to Worlds 2013.

Everyone was taken into consideration when determining what activities would be associated with the event. There were outdoor light shows, an international fan zone, skating activities on an outdoor ice pad, in venue entertainment, concourse shopping and marketplace, art shows and of course, Artist-in-Residence Toller Cranston. We were also privileged to host many dignitaries at the event including the Governor General of the day, the Right Honorable David Johnston and Mrs. Johnston who was an avid skating fan. I’ll confess we broke protocol and let her in backstage to the Kiss n’ Cry area during the Ladies event.

But let’s not forget the outstanding performances from 2013. Those that come to mind: Kaetlyn Osmond’s short program where she placed 4th, Denis Ten’s free program where he was first and had an overall 2nd place finish. Of course, we had #3 & #4 placings in Pairs with Meagan Duhamel  & Eric Radford and Kirsten & Dylan Moscovitch and how can we forget the performances of our 2 dance teams, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir and Kaitlyn Wever & Andrew Poje finishing 2nd and 5th respectively.

Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (left), along with coach Richard Gauthier, react as the marks are posted for the pairs short program at the World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ont., on Wednesday, March 13, 2013. PAUL CHIASSON / CANADIAN PRESS

From my personal perspective, it was a great honor to be the Technical Liaison for the event. The opportunity to meet athletes, officials, team leaders and fans from all over the world, and to work with television crews and volunteers who were passionate about our sport will always be my highlights.

The best part of London Worlds? The life-long friends I made.

This coming March in Montreal when the ISU World Figure Skating Championships return to Canada, I encourage everyone to take advantage of this rare and thrilling opportunity not only to see the world’s best on the ice, but also to experience the event and the wonderful fans the sport attracts.

Hope to see you there!

Worlds Rewind: Halifax 1990

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 6 of the ten-part series reflects on the 1990 edition of the event in Halifax.

It was an unprecedented era for men’s figure skating in Canada.

As the ISU World Figure Skating Championships came to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1990 – six years after Canada last hosted the ’84 edition in Ottawa –  most skating fans could not have foreseen just how special that era would be.

But more on that later.

The Halifax Metro Centre hosted the world from March 5-11, 1990, the sixth time the world championships were contested on Canadian soil.

In the highly anticipated men’s showdown, defending world champion Kurt Browning of Caroline, Alberta had not only a raucous hometown crowd, but an entire country, on the ice with him as he chased a second straight world title.

Heading into the long program, a young Russian sensation, 20-year-old Viktor Petrenko, seemed to be the only thing standing between Browning and a return trip to the top of the men’s podium.

“I am destined to be happy at the end of this week,” Browning told reporters before the long program.

He was right.

Bolstered by a program that featured seven triples, Browning’s performance blew the roof off the Metro Centre as the Canadian made it back-to-back world titles. A 17-year-old by the name of Elvis Stojko thrilled the Halifax crowd with a high-energy long program to finish in ninth spot.

Like Browning, it wouldn’t be long before the world would know Stojko’s name.

Browning would also win two of the next three world championships to make it four in a five-year stretch. Stojko would take the torch from his compatriot and go on to win three world crowns of his own between 1994 and 1997, completing an historic run of six world gold medals in seven years, and seven over a nine-year stretch, for the Canadian tandem.

In the ladies’ competition, the stage seemed set for a second straight world title for Midori Ito, but American Jill Trenary won the school figures while Ito struggled to a tenth place showing. It bounced back with strong performances in the original and long programs, but it wasn’t enough to keep Trenary for the top top stop of the podium, forcing Ito to settle for silver.

Željka Čižmešija performed the final school figures at the world championships, and as the Yugoslavian finished, the crowd littered the ice with flowers, marking the end of an era for the sport.

Soviet pair legends Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov won their fourth world title in five years, cementing their legacy as one of the greatest pair teams ever. Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, the 1989 Canadian champions, won the silver medal with a near-flawless long program that brought down the house. Natalia Mishkutenok and Artur Dmitriev of the Soviet Union won bronze.

Soviet skaters also took two of three podium positions in ice dance, with Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko winning gold and Maya Usova and  Alexander Zhulin earning bronze. But it was the riveting “Missing” free dance of France’s Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay, who won the silver medal in Halifax, that many still talk about to this day.

The ISU World Figure Skating Championships would return to Canada six years later, when Edmonton hosted skating’s marquee event in 1996.


Gold Silver Bronze
Men Kurt Browning Viktor Petrenko Christopher Bowman
Ladies Jill Trenary Midori Ito Holly Cook
Pair skating Ekaterina Gordeeva / Sergei Grinkov Isabelle Brasseur / Lloyd Eisler Natalia Mishkutenok / Artur Dmitriev
Ice dancing Marina Klimova / Sergei Ponomarenko Isabelle Duchesnay / Paul Duchesnay Maya Usova / Alexander Zhulin

Jessica Dubé Honored by the Village of Saint-Cyrille

Jessica Dubé and partner Bryce Davison are World medalists, three-time Canadian Champions and two-time Olympians.  In a Social Media post, Jessica described the honor in her own words:

“A few weeks ago, I had the honor of being chosen by my village in the Sports Category of the Tribute to the Builders category of festivities to mark its 150th anniversary. Words cannot convey the pride I felt when accepting this medal. At times, I forget to look back at where my skating career has taken me, as life does change so quickly and has us move on to other things, but receiving recognition for the course I have chosen and for my accomplishments along the way in the form of a marvellous tribute and a great video and especially being accompanied by the best family one could ask for at my side, the event was absolutely magical. I wish to express my thanks to the Village of Saint-Cyrille for this honour”

Congratulations Jessica on this wonderful recognition!

Wedding Bells for Leif Gislason!

On December 16, 2019, Leif Gislason tied the knot with his best friend and U.S skater, Kelsey Parker!

Leif Gislason was an ice dancer who skated with Lauren Senft from 2002 to 2007.   They were the 2004 Canadian junior national silver medalists.  Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Leif currently lives in the USA where he works as a as a coach.

Best wishes on this wonderful journey, as you build your new lives together!

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One thought on “Holiday Message | Synchro’s Olympic Dream | The Dragon Lady | Worlds at Home | and More…”

  1. This is a great article. It brought back many memories of when I judged precision skating , as it was called in the 90’s. Judging those wonderful teams was a dream come true. The competition between the teams was very keen, and I can still see those fabulous teams skating their hearts out to be at the top of the podium . I also miss my fellow judges , as we were a “close knit group” as we honed our judging skills in the relatively new discipline.
    What wonderful memories !………..

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