Kaetlyn Osmond: A rare champion bids farewell
'It’s been a hard year emotionally,' says 2018 world figure skating champion
On the misty banks of the Vantaa River in Helsinki on an early April day in 2017, Kaetlyn Osmond considered the nearly interrupted journey which led her to a world championship silver medal in faraway Finland.
She gazed momentarily at a lone swan which dodged drifting chunks of ice on the newly liberated waterway. Osmond recalled the agony of a badly broken lower leg in late 2014, which had all but destroyed the previous two seasons of skating.
"When I was lying in the hospital bed I said right there that I was never going to step on the ice again," she admitted to me at the time. "I was done with the injuries. I was done with fighting. I thought my career was over."
Now with her life of high stakes, international figure skating finished and her retirement announced, Osmond sounded relieved as she rode the bus with the "Stars on Ice" tour from Ottawa to Montreal.
"It's been a hard year emotionally," she said over the phone while riding on the bus. "I feel the time is right to leave my competitive career on a high note. I've done a lot and I feel as if I'm ready to leave the stress of competition behind me."
Indeed, at the tender age of 23, she has accomplished more than the vast majority of figure skaters in Canadian history.
Osmond won three Olympic medals including individual bronze at the Pyeongchang Games of 2018, and also contributed to the Canadian gold-medal victory in the team event.
Then, almost immediately after the Olympics, she went on to improve on that silver medal finish in Helsinki to become the world champion in Milan, Italy.
By performing nearly flawlessly to a Russian themed "Black Swan" free skating program choreographed by former world champion and fellow Canadian Jeffrey Buttle, Osmond claimed a title which has been won by a select few women from this country.
WATCH | Osmond skates to gold at 2018 world championships:
Barbara Ann Scott in 1947 and 1948, Petra Burka in 1965, and Karen Magnussen in 1973 are Osmond's predecessors. All of them have ascended to reverential status in the annals of Canadian figure skating.
Such is the special nature of their achievement.
"Kaetlyn's win has given every little girl a glimpse of the possibilities," Burka enthused.
"She is the example of triumph over adversity. Having struggled with injury and overcoming doubt, Kaetlyn showed the world she is a tough competitor as well as a lovely, all around skater. She demonstrated this to perfection at exactly the right moment."
Osmond emerged from an unlikely place to become a champion figure skater.
Born in tiny Marystown, Newfoundland she took to the rink at the age of three but was soon forced to travel regularly to Montreal to find ice-time in the summer. By the age of 10 she was living full-time in Edmonton and training with the coach she had for the rest of her career, former national junior champion Ravi Walia.
"I wouldn't have been able to do anything that I've done without him," Osmond estimated.
"He knew how to keep me calm and controlled when I faced competition. When I was injured he knew what I needed to find a love of skating again. I thought about leaving it all when I was 18 but my fear of disappointing Ravi outweighed my fear of getting back on the ice. I just couldn't face the thought of letting him down."
For his part, Walia soon became aware that in Osmond. He was connected to a dedicated athlete whose talent and grit would ultimately allow her to prevail.
"The best part is that she's done it all with such an incredible amount of class," Walia said via email from Europe.
"She's been a breath of fresh air…strong, determined, charismatic and humble. Kaetlyn is a fierce competitor and has fought hard to overcome any obstacle in her way. It hasn't been easy but it's been worth it."
With Osmond's retirement an era which could arguably be referred to as the "Golden Age" of Canadian skating has passed.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, along with Patrick Chan and pairs competitors, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have all, like Osmond, been world champions and Olympic medallists.
This has never occurred in all four of the figure skating disciplines in one generation of Canadian athletes.
"It was a remarkable time and Kaetlyn was the last piece of the puzzle," said Skate Canada's high performance director and long-time team leader Michael Slipchuk.
"She was resilient and had a strong will to succeed. She beat the best. Her world title earned her respect and revealed what she was capable of. It sealed her reputation as one of the best female skaters we've ever had in this country."
To be included in the same conversation as the other accomplished skaters has caused Osmond no end of amazement.
"It wasn't until I won the world championship that I realized I was part of that very exclusive group," she recalled.
"When I made the Olympic team in 2014, I was shocked beyond belief. I never thought the Olympics were a thing let alone being there. I can't tell you how inspirational it was for me to share the ice with those world champions. They are amongst the best ever. In 2018 it was incredible to stand there on top of the podium with those fantastic skaters."
WATCH | Osmond captures Olympic bronze:
Humility and honesty
Humility is an easy fit for Osmond and she comes by it honestly.
In spite of all she's been able to contribute to the restoration of women's, singles, skating in Canada, she's often managed it while flying under the radar.
"I was, at times, overlooked when I was younger," she reckoned.
"Part of it was because I came from Newfoundland. I was always seen as the newcomer or the underdog. Even when I won the world championship very few people told me they saw it coming. Most people including the press referred to me as the unexpected world champion. I never felt that was the case, but it's something that I've dealt with every step of the way."
WATCH | Osmond plans to 'give back' in retirement:
Buttle won a men's world title in 2008 and he conceived of the Tchaikovsky inspired choreography of "Black Swan," which Osmond skated so brilliantly to at the 2018 Olympics and world championships in Italy.
Not once did he doubt her ability to rise to the occasion on the world's greatest stage.
"She has never been, nor tried to be, the baby ballerina that is so often depicted in ladies skating these days and in the past," Buttle explained.
"What she has to offer skating, in such an exciting way, is her dedication to performance with power and drama. The music of Tchaikovsky is robust and requires the zeal and attack that few but Kaetlyn can encompass. She delivered like I knew that she could and I was so proud to watch her meet her incredible potential."
Figure skating can not only be physically but also emotionally punishing. Even for the best of competitors, very public failure is normal to grapple with. When alone on the ice, no mistake goes unnoticed and there is nowhere to hide.
That reality was not lost on Osmond.
"Following my injury, I had a fear that I was never going to be good enough again," she reflected.
"It was a constant battle for me not to let that fear take over my skating. It got to the point where I had to fake confidence. I had to struggle constantly to feel like I belonged with the best in the world. In the end it worked because I succeeded."
A precious handful of Canadians have reached the pinnacle of women's international skating and Osmond is completely aware of that. She never met her forerunner, the legendary Barbara Ann Scott, but nonetheless has been influenced by her immensely.
'Most incredible thought'
Following her first international victory in Germany in 2012 Osmond was given a copy of LIFE magazine from 1952 which depicted Scott's portrait on the front cover.
She framed it and hung it on her bedroom wall.
"It was the most incredible thought that some people in skating actually compared me to Barbara Ann Scott," she marveled. "I was so honoured to come to that understanding. That picture is the first thing I see every morning when I get up to begin my day."
As the bus rolled on and the conversation ranged from what she'd miss about competing to her desire to ignite a passion for skating in more young Newfoundlanders, Osmond spoke of what her legacy might be.
"I hope that people will look at what I've done and understand that I didn't have an easy career," she concluded.
"Nothing was taken for granted. I loved to perform but beyond that I was willing to fight to be a better skater. It wasn't just about winning. It was important to get stronger and be better. I fought for every single thing I won."
And now having left the rigour of competition in her wake, one of Canada's rare, world figure skating champions, vowed to continue the struggle and rekindle the passion for the sport she has always loved so much."