Road To The Olympic Games

Canada's next figure skating star weighs 88 pounds

The future of Canadian figure skating weighs 88 pounds, but can already reel off a laundry list of quadruple jumps unlike any Canadian skater before him. And Stephen Gogolev is just getting started.

13-year-old Stephen Gogolev packs big jumps in a small frame

Stephen Gogolev could be the future of Canadian figure skating at just 13 years old. (@skatecanada/Twitter)

The future of Canadian figure skating weighs 88 pounds, but can already reel off a laundry list of quadruple jumps unlike any Canadian skater before him.

And Stephen Gogolev is just getting started.

The 13-year-old from Toronto won his junior ISU Grand Prix debut last week in Bratislava, Slovakia, landing three different quads in his free program. He became the first Canadian and youngest skater ever to land a quad Lutz in competition. He's the first Canadian to land three different quads.

He's probably smashed other age-related world records along the way, says his coach Brian Orser. But that's not the point.

"Probably some of the quads he's been the youngest ever," Orser said. "It's nice to have little parts of history, I guess, but it's not our goal, to be the youngest person to do them. It just happens to be that it is. The goal is to win something or to land a particular jump, but it's not before a certain deadline that we have."

Speeding along

Gogolev's remarkable progression has made it tough to be patient. He landed his first triple Axel — a jump that dogged three-time world champion Patrick Chan through his illustrious career — when he was 10. He landed his first quad at 11.

He's been good enough to climb junior Grand Prix podiums for the past two seasons. But he wasn't yet old enough to compete at them.

"Now he's on the circuit, finally," Orser said. "The past couple of years, he's had some of his pals going off to Junior Grand Prixs and getting their [Canadian team] jackets, and he's sitting at home, and it was frustrating I'm sure for him, and it was frustrating for us too. Because we knew what he was capable of, but rules are rules.

"And sometimes it's meant to be, to wait until you're primed."

Gogolev can't compete on the senior Grand Prix circuit for another two years, and won't be eligible to skate at the world senior championships until 2021 — a year before the Beijing Olympics.

"Yes, we've done the math," laughed Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada's high performance director.

Practising with the best

Tuesday at the Toronto Cricket and Skating Club, Orser and Tracy Wilson ran about a dozen or so skaters through a session of edge work. They followed Orser and Wilson back and forth across the rink countless times, gliding and turning in graceful unison. "The Blower's Daughter" played on the arena's stereo system.

The group included some of the sport's biggest stars — Japan's reigning two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, Russia's double world gold medallist Evgenia Medvedeva, and Canada's world bronze medallist Gabrielle Daleman were among them. If Gogolev stood out, it was only because of his size. The willowy Hanyu looked like an oak tree beside the slender, blond, five-foot teen.

A growth spurt is in Gogolev's future, and Orser knows how added size can throw off a skater's carefully calibrated jumps and spins as they become accustomed to an altered centre of gravity.

"It's a fact of life, and you just have to keep doing exercises like [the edge work session] we're doing now, and listen to your body," said Orser, a world and Olympic silver medallist. "He's been really good about that, he doesn't pound and pound and pound too much. If he starts to get any pain, it's just automatic that we back off. I don't push anything through that, because I know as an athlete myself."

Future growth a plus

On the plus size, with growth will come greater strength in his skating. And the artistic side of the sport usually comes with maturity. Sitting in his Cricket Club office, Orser demonstrated how he "hardly skated with his hands above his waist" at 13. Seated across the desk, the shy Gogolev laughed.

"It's nice that there's a place for him to go," Orser said on the room for improvement. "I'm not pushing it, you can't get there too early, you can't force that kind of stuff, it just has to happen, and it will. It happens with maturity and as you experience more things in your life."

Gogolev was born in Toronto to Russian parents Irina and Igor. He started skating at six, and for a while he travelled to Russia to train. He has Canadian and Russian passports, and could have chosen to skate for Russia. His 17-year-old brother Peter is a competitive kayaker. It's not uncommon for the Gogolevs to head out on 12-kilometre family runs on Sundays.

The young skater's emergence comes at a time Canadian skating has lost some of its biggest stars. Chan has retired. While they haven't made an official announcement, ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are expected to follow suit.

He's also armed himself well in an event where quad jumps have become a staple. Chan was among the first skaters to include two quads in a program, but when his young rivals upped the ante, Chan was left behind. Canadian Kevin Reynolds has landed four in a program. American Nathan Chen became the first skater in history to land six in a program last season.

Gogolev can land all five quads — flip, loop, toe loop, Lutz, and Salchow. And the big jumps are just part of the full package.

"The thing with Stephen is he's a very well-rounded skater, he's not just a jumper," Slipchuk said. "He can spin, his skating skills are strong, his base is very strong, and I think that's the key thing is he has a lot of areas that will help him continue to grow that mark. If you're just a jumper, you can only score so much."

Gogolev's next Junior Grand Prix is Sept. 12-15 in Richmond, B.C. A solid result will clinch him a spot in the Grand Prix Final, Dec. 6-9 in Vancouver.

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