Tomas Verner placed third in China while wearing a shirt belonging to Canadian ice dancer Paul Poirier. (Gou Yige/AFP/Getty Images)
Recently at a Toronto-area rink, a breathless Tomas Verner ran in with New York costume designer Jamie Scott in tow.
Scott, one of the best in his field, routinely designs costumes for theatre and opera groups around the U.S., including on Broadway.
Verner, also one of the finest at what he does, won two medals in men's competition during the Grand Prix of Figure Skating series this year, including a gold in Russia. The Czech skater is in the midst of last-minute preparations for his departure for the Grand Prix Final
in Beijing this week.
"I never expected to make it to the Grand Prix Final. I am very excited," Verner said. "Things went really well [at the Grand Prix events] in China and then in Russia."
Verner is characteristically generous when he talks about his team, namely the choreography supplied by Pasquale Camerlengo and the ongoing training help he receives from Lori Nichol in addition to his coaching.
"Lori is one part of my secret weapon this season," he said. "I have the best team around me ever."Help from 'mom'
Since moving to the Toronto area in September to work with coach Bob Emerson at the Richmond Training Centre, Verner's skating has flourished. But his costume for his Michael Jackson-inspired free program has been a bit more problematic - hence the in-person meeting with Scott, who was hand-delivering the final version for his client.
The first version of the costume wasn't comfortable (except for the single glove), so Verner initially turned to his Canadian "mom," Carmen James, who found the solution by consulting the mothers of ice dancers Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier.
Around midnight on the Monday prior to his departure for the Cup of China, Tomas and Carmen made their way to Crone's home, where her mom handed them an electric blue shirt belonging to Poirier.
Verner skated his way to a bronze in China
, then returned the shirt upon his arrival back in Canada on the following Monday night so it could go to the dry cleaner's on Tuesday and head for Portland and the Skate America event with Paul on Wednesday.
Fast forward to the Grand Prix in Russia, and Verner's costume was still not ready. Coach Emerson wondered about the blue shirt, which by now had left the country for greener pastures in the U.K. as part of what I can only believe is some sort of shirt identity protection scheme.
What to do? Once again, Carmen came through, this time by asking retired Canadian junior ice dance silver medallist Alvin Chau to open his closet.
In another late-night visit to a skating household prior to competition, Verner selected a black shirt from Alvin's skating wardrobe, then went on to win the gold in Moscow.Worth the wait
Verner is now headed to China for the Grand Prix Final - time with his own shirt. One of the reasons he brought the designer Scott to the rink was for Verner to try on the costume and do a few jumps and spins to make sure it fit, all the while weaving in and out of the "learn to skate" children on the ice for their regular session.
"It all feels great," Verner said.
The costume was clearly worth the wait. You can't underestimate the power of a well-fitting and comfortable costume for a skater. Anything else can be a huge distraction when skaters already have enough to think about in competition.
Verner is feeling optimistic about his chances this weekend in Beijing.
"I don't want to change anything. I don't want to be that day-and-night skater that Kurt Browning talks about, where the short [program] is good and the long is not or the other way around. I want to be the guy who performs two solid performances in the same event.
"I am feeling strong. I got a 214 [score] in China and 230 in Russia, and I want to continue to build."
Adapting to life in Canada has been easy, Verner said, and he's even found a favourite Toronto culinary delicacy.
"Street meat," Verner said with a chuckle before leaving the rink the same way he came in - running.
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