By ECHO ROSS
Yukon figure skaters have the talent, they just need the same opportunities as the young athletes who live in larger cities, according to national coach Karen Magnussen.
And Magnussen should know. She’s only a former world champion ladies figure skater – the last one from Canada in fact – as well as an Olympic silver medalist (Canada’s only medalist in Munich in 1972).
She’s also been working with several athletes from the territory since the late 1990’s, when she was first approached by Aidan Sanderson.
Sanderson of course went on to become one of the most successful skaters from the territory, winning a medal at Canada Games and skating in the national championships before he was forced to quit competitive skating after an accident.
Now Magnussen, who resides in Vancouver, is trying to push Yukon’s Kevin Caron, who will compete at the junior nationals next month, to the next level. She also works with Kevin’s sister, Teneil, as well as Millie and Maya Austin, and Markie-May Baillie.
While she’s been working with those skaters for a while now, last week was the first trip Magnussen made to the North, thanks to generous donations from Pelly Construction and E Caron Diamond Drilling, for air fare and ice time.
Normally, the athletes travel to Vancouver to train with Magnusson at the North Shore Winter Club.
With Kevin set to attend junior nationals, and the other skaters preparing for the B.C. regional championships later this month, now seemed like the perfect time for Magnussen to get her feet wet in the Yukon.
“It’s nice that she gets to see where we skate,” said Teneil, following one of a few on-ice sessions with Magnussen Friday afternoon. “She thinks we’re pretty lucky here, because we have Olympic ice to skate on. Most people never get to skate on Olympic ice – maybe once or twice in their lifetime.”
Magnussen said she “couldn’t believe it” when she first saw the Canada Games Centre, pointing out the larger ice is great for stamina.
“Then, no matter what ice you go on, you can cover the whole ice,” she explained. “It’s a real opportunity. The hard thing, though, can be making your program smaller once you’re not on Olympic ice.”
Magnussen said over the past couple of years, she’s realized there’s certainly enough talent within the Arctic Edge Skating Club, but they need more competition and more exposure. She realizes the costs involved in travelling to Vancouver on a regular basis, and believes athletes who live in outlying places should be subsidized, in order to get more training.
“The hardest part is for these parents to get these kids down to Vancouver,” she acknowledged.
But, if the skaters put in enough hard work and take advantage of the opportunities they do have available, there’s no reason they can’t make a real run for it at the national level, she said.
“I was always told I wasn’t going to make it and I was able to prove them wrong. I was the last ladies champion from Canada (1973) and I was an Olympic medalist in 1972. That was a tough competition. It was the last event of the Olympics, so I was getting a lot of pressure from the public and media.
“Everyday in training, it was like, ‘So, Canada hasn’t won a medal yet.’ That was probably the most pressure I’ve ever felt.”
Junior nationals is far from the Olympics, but Kevin will most likely be feeling some pressure in New Brunswick next month, though the local skater almost always seems as cool as a cucumber.
Magnussen said as long as Kevin is training properly heading into the competition, pressure shouldn’t be a problem.
“If you’re lacking in anything, that’s when the pressure gets to you,” she said. “I think he’s got as much of a chance as anyone. It just depends on what you’re going to do on that day. It’s going to be a learning experience, that’s what we want him to take from this. If anything happens beyond that, it would be amazing for him.
“The experience of nationals can not compare to anything else. He’ll be able to come back and share that with all the other kids here.”
One of the most important things Magnussen tries to teach her students is that off-ice training – working on core-strength and stamina – is just as important as on-ice exercises.
These days in sports, there is as much training going on in the gym as anywhere else, she said. Especially in figure skating, it’s not just cardiovascular training that’s important, but flexibility as well.
When she runs her clinics, or when athletes come to train with her in Vancouver, she tries to think beyond that visit. What’s invaluable, she said, is giving them things they can take home with them to work on.
One of the other things they address when training Outside is the constant rule changes in figure skating. It can be difficult to make sure the skaters are meeting the latest requirements when she’s not seeing them on a local basis, she pointed out.
“I think that’s one of the things I can help bring to them. If you go down to a competition and you don’t have some of the right requirements, or your music isn’t right, you’re basically out of luck.
“The rules change all the time. And it’s not that people here don’t understand it, it’s that they aren’t always informed of the new rules right away.”
While local coaches Harold Sher and Trish Pettitt do a great job, Teneil said it’s great to have Magnussen’s imput on a regular basis, whether it’s from Vancouver or on her recent trip to Whitehorse.
“I think she’s really good,” said Teneil. “She knows how you feel and what to do, because she’s been there before and she’s done it.”
Teneil and Kevin’s parents, Konn and Maureen, believe the coaching change this year has perhaps played the largest role in their son’s sudden success, going from one coach to a team system.
Both Magnussen and Sher have done wonders for Kevin’s confidence, they said.
Kevin, who finished fifth overall at the western Canadian championships last month and became the first skater from the Yukon to qualify for the junior nationals since the late 1990’s, will travel to Moncton, N.B., at the end of January – just in time for his 15th birthday. Competition runs Feb. 1-4.
While the double axel was his weapon at Westerns, he’s hoping to have a triple jump under his belt in time for nationals. He’s landed the triple loop a couple of times in practice, but has yet to try it in a competition.
Meanwhile, Liam Dougherty, a former member of the Whitehorse Skating Club who now trains in ice dance under coach Julie Marcotte, in Ste. Julie, Quebec, will skate at the senior national championships in Ottawa at the end of this month.
Dougherty and new partner Terra Findlay finished first at the Quebec championships in November, their first competition together and Findlay’s first ever competition as an ice dancer.