CBC Sports

Believing in figure skating

Posted: Monday, March 30, 2009 | 10:33 AM

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Not long ago, in small CBC radio studio in Saskatoon, Kurt Browning and I talked about figure skating over the airwaves for the better part of an hour. We took calls from listeners and discussed the growing pains the sport is experiencing in these troubled times.

Browning, you must know, is an expert. More than that, he’s a legend, a Canadian icon, a four-time world champion and the man who made “The Quad” a universally understood idea.

Still, as we braved the whipping wind and made our way back to the hotel to retrieve the car and drive to the arena to broadcast the Canadian championships, it was he who had a question for me.

“So you’re pretty much behind our sport,” he said out of the blue. “How come?”

Finding clarity

At the time, I mumbled something about the fascinating spins and jumps and maybe even the colourful nature of the skating spectacle. Browning just nodded his head and we continued to trudge along.

Even then my thoughts were unclear regarding figure skating. I hadn’t quite formulated my connection to it or why exactly I seemed to enjoy it so much. I’ve never been a figure skater. Nor had I - prior to becoming involved with the broadcast of the sport - attended a major figure skating event.

But having just returned from the world championships in Los Angeles, I feel a bit of clarity coming on. The reason I’m really behind figure skating is that I believe it is a good and honourable thing.

I sense this partly because of an awareness of the kind of athletes that are involved and what makes them special. For instance, Patrick Chan, the newly-crowned world silver medallist revealed the relationship he has with his father, Lewis.

“He’s the only sports psychologist I need,” Chan said in a characteristically honest moment. “When I have a problem, he always has the solution. We go for walks and it makes me feel better.”

Strength of character

Beyond this, I have gained an understanding of the powerful connection that exists between the athlete and the figure skating coach. It’s the kind of thing that becomes apparent when you hear the reverence the new world champion Yu-Na Kim of South Korea demonstrates toward her mentor, Canadian Brian Orser. Kim talks about more than his Olympic medals and the world championship he won in 1987. She points to the strength of character Orser possesses – something she desires for herself.

“He skated under such pressure at the 1988 Calgary Olympics,” she noted. “I need to learn how to do that.”

As Joannie Rochette ended a 21-year medal drought for Canadian women at the world championships, she hastened to publicly thank her coach Manon Perron. “She has always believed in me,” the 23-year-old silver medallist noted. “Manon has never doubted my abilities.”

It is simple, but powerful stuff.

So why am I behind figure skating?

Because by chance I looked over at Kurt Browning as he watched the performance of a Turkish girl whose routines he had choreographed and I was struck by what I saw. He moved with her throughout as if holding her in his arms like a dance partner. Then as she finished and accepted the applause of the largest crowd she had ever skated in front of, Kurt clapped his hands and waved to her so she could see him in the multitudes.

She waved back and I noticed there were tears in his eyes – the evidence that his faith in her had been rewarded.

Belief.

That’s why I’m behind figure skating. It’s because this is a sport about young people who believe in themselves. It’s also about trusting your instincts. It seems only natural, as a spectator, to be enchanted by a magical performance while simultaneously finding yourself in awe of a powerful, athletic act.

The truth is, I believe wholeheartedly in figure skating and feel fortunate to work for the CBC. As a national broadcaster we understand that our figure skating stars have always been dear to us as Canadians. They have a value beyond their potential to generate advertising revenue. That’s why we strive to tell their stories the best way we can.

Their exploits are a significant part of our nation’s folklore … something we can all believe in for a very long time to come.

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