Field of Play: 'The Battle' is back | Figure Skating | CBC Sports

Figure SkatingField of Play: 'The Battle' is back

Posted: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 | 10:22 PM

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Former Olympic champion David Pelletier, front, and hockey player Tessa Bonhomme, back, won Season 3’s Battle of the Blades in 2011. (Canadian Press)
Former Olympic champion David Pelletier, front, and hockey player Tessa Bonhomme, back, won Season 3’s Battle of the Blades in 2011. (Canadian Press)

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On a day when most of the news made by the national obsession was underwhelming at best, there was some light at the end of the tunnel for those who have affection for ice sport in this country.
On a day when most of the news made by the national obsession was underwhelming at best, there was some light at the end of the tunnel for those who have affection for ice sport in this country.

Hockey's trade deadline day has come and gone and once again the deals done have failed to reverberate throughout the land. But with a fanfare it has been announced that Battle of the Blades is back on ice.

It's not really sport, say the critics, just a reality show involving figure skaters and hockey players who have seen better days. At first glance that might be true enough, but it is an immensely popular TV show nonetheless. And to my way of thinking it says something about how we Canadians relate to sport and competition in general.

It speaks to how large groups among us are fascinated by certain things.

"Canadians have a long standing love affair with figure skating," says Battle of the Blades co-creator and choreographer Sandra Bezic. "Ice sports are in our DNA. Battle of the Blades celebrates our two premier ice sports and makes each accessible to the other's fan base."

If hockey is the national obsession then surely figure skating is one of the national passions.  We swoon, we marvel at, we adore and we expect so much of our figure skaters.

How better to understand that London, a medium size city in southwestern Ontario, could host one of the most memorable and successful world figure skating championships in recent memory.  We're not talking about Moscow or Tokyo here, but London, Ont.

London a fitting host

The building was full for every session and over the course of four days of action nearly 70,000 of the faithful made the pilgrimage to the Budweiser Gardens, which is more appropriately named for the swashbuckling London Knights of the OHL. On some nights the average TV audience exceeded a million.

There were standing ovations and enough OOOHHHS and AAAHHHS to last a lifetime. It was electric to be there and even on the afternoon of the Exhibition Gala when there was no competition at all, the fans were enraptured by the young skaters who could apparently do no wrong.

Olympic gold medalists and ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, as well as three-time world champion Patrick Chan, are nothing short of national icons. It was quickly pointed out by all assembled that Yu Na Kim of South Korea, who spectacularly returned after a two-year absence to reclaim her title, was, in truth, nurtured as a skater in the great white north.

The feeling you got from being rink side in London was that many Canadians actually love figure skating with all their hearts.

"Because it authentically combines sport, art, entertainment and drama, figure skating can reach audiences on so many levels," says Bezic. "Along with being physical, it can be emotionally revealing, sensual, raw and often unforgiving."

This is why the return of Battle of Blades is significant. While it is not, in the purest sense, sport, it is very much about sport.

Ordinary people attempt extraordinary things

Like the best of reality TV, Battle of the Blades involves ordinary people attempting to do extraordinary things. The twist is that at one time each of the stars of Battle of the Blades was very accomplished in his or her own right. It's just that they're learning to appreciate something which is completely foreign to the way they once played the game.

And most importantly they're risking failure in order to prevail over their rivals.

"When you combine such elite athletic personalities you will always find a curiosity and respect for the other's sport and accomplishments," stresses Bezic.

And this is why hockey players hate falling in figure skating just as much as surrendering a goal against.

The bottom line is that reality TV counts on the bedrock of sport. It is about the struggle against an opponent, as well as winning and losing.

Although figure skating and hockey are somehow from the same family they are worlds apart in their execution and delivery. Still, they are equally as riveting, athletically challenging, and in many respects reliant on teamwork.

The good news is that figure skaters are coming to appreciate hockey players and vice versa.

Even better, the fans of both sports are arriving at the conclusion that we're all cut from the same cloth in this country.

We have an affinity for what happens on any frozen field of play. That's why the return of Battle of the Blades is a good thing.

For many of us it feels like going home.

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