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Jul 1, 2015

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day!

For those of the non-Canadian persuasion, Canada Day is the day when Canadians ride their pet polar bear and/or moose to the local curling rink, where they gather together to eat poutine and drink from bags of milk. On this auspicious holiday, Canadians are often found garbing themselves in maple leaves (in contrast to their usual flannel lumberjack attire) and being proud of the fact that they are not American. If you find yourself talking to a Canadian today, you can endear yourself to them forever by congratulating them for having a universal healthcare system or gun control. Alternatively, you can delight a Canadian by merely acknowledging the simple fact that Canada exists, and that you are aware of a national holiday at the beginning of July that is not on the 4th of July.

Though ice hockey holds the lion's share of the collective Canadian consciousness with regards to athletic endeavors, Canadians nonetheless have had an illustrious record of success in the sport of figure skating. In lieu of eating poutine and garbing yourself in maple leaf paraphernalia, you may thus celebrate Canada Day in the comfort of your own home by watching the following assortment of memorable programs by Canadian skaters:

Toller Cranston, Graduation Ball
Toller Cranston was a GOD on ice, and a truly revolutionary figure in the sport. In the spirit of Canada Day, is now the appropriate time to confess that I prefer Mr. Cranston's skating to John Curry's? John Curry was of course exquisite and 100% deserved to win his titles, and I admire both skaters greatly--but if it comes down to choosing between the two, I do prefer Mr. Cranston. I find that Mr. Curry's competitive (though not professional) skating can look dated by today's standards, while Mr. Cranston's skating in programs such as Graduation Ball seem fresh as paint to my contemporary eyes despite the fact that such performances took place many, many years before I was even born. And that, my friends, is a sign of Mr. Cranston's influence on the sport and his greatness.

Gary Beacom, I'm Your Man
Another idiosyncratic Canadian who marched to the beat of his own drum, Gary Beacom could convey more style and musicality with a flick of his hand than some skaters could with their entire bodies. Because of the fact that Mr. Beacom coached himself for a significant span of his competitive career, Mr. Beacom did basically whatever he wanted on the ice, to the point that he seemed to be skating entirely on another plane of existence when compared to his competitors. Not surprisingly, Mr. Beacom found much more success as a pro than in the competitive ranks. A prime example of Mr. Beacom's prodigious talent is on full display in his I'm Your Man program, which eschews any attempts at conventional jumps and spins but nonetheless displays mind-blowing blade control and skating skills throughout, as well as an ability to sustain a very specific mood throughout an entire performance. You have to watch it to believe it--please click on the link above, as embedding is disabled on that video.

Jeffrey Buttle, Samson and Delilah
To borrow the esteemed words of literary icon V.C. Andrews, the above video shows Mr. Buttle's First and Best Samson and Delilah. The transitions/moves in the field in Mr. Buttle's First and Best Samson and Delilah leave Dick Button salivating in the commentary booth, and your own salivary glands should follow suit upon a viewing of the performance as well.

Shawn Sawyer, Alice in Wonderland
Shawn Sawyer's Alice in Wonderland program is an excellent example of fun, creative choreography that transcends the oft-stifling requirements imposed by the IJS. Love the badass 3Lo out of nowhere (that is also landed right on beat), and the even more badass cantilever that goes straight into a camel spin. And I haven't even mentioned the step sequences and spiral yet . . .

Tracey Wainman
Despite possessing prodigious talent, Tracey Wainman suffered from the overbearing hand of the Canadian Figure Skating Association (i.e. Skate Canada before the name change) and the accompanying miasma of media hype. Imagine being twelve years old and being crowned as the next Olympic champion, with no less than David Dore fanning the cloud of hype by personally arranging a media scrum of West German paparazzi on your behalf at the airport when flying into your first World Championships at the same age (seriously, this apparently did happen). Throw in a notorious "skating mother" into the mix and the stage was set for Ms. Wainman's quick demise as a child star who was unable to live up to the heavy burden of astronomical expectations. Anyway, Ms. Wainman may have lacked polish in certain aspects of her skating given her youth, but what was undeniable was her impressive speed on the ice and the infectious joy with which she skated. Apparently Ms. Wainman was also a dab hand at figures as well, but footage of her figures prowess have not survived. The potential was there, but alas, the curse of being a Canadian ladies skater prevailed in the end.

Joannie Rochette, La Cumparsita
A performance as beautiful as it is extraordinary.

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, Great Gig in the Sky/Money
Gabriella Papadakis has stated that she was obsessed with this FD during the 2008-2009 season, and so was I at the time. It was refreshing for Virtue/Moir to pull off a more abstract, non-romantic free dance after a couple seasons of dewy-eyed romance, but unfortunately, Ms. Virtue's injuries during the 2008-2009 season meant that this Pink Floyd FD was never skated up to its full potential. Choreographically, it's a more intricate FD than Valse Triste and Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and given that Mr. Moir has admitted that they were forced to remove/tweak some of the choreography to compensate for Ms. Virtue's injuries and the subsequent diminished training time, I can't help but wonder what the original choreography must have looked like. All things considered, however, Virtue/Moir's performance of this FD at 2009 Worlds was great given the circumstances, and the style is a path I wish Virtue/Moir had trodden on more instead of all that passion/romance stuff.

Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje, Maria des Buenos Aires
A riveting tango by a couple often accused of lacking in chemistry on ice, and one of the best programs of the 2013-2014 season.

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