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Olympic skater in Richmond Hill

Brand new life. Czech Republic figure skater Tomas Verner has been training and living in Richmond Hill. Last year, the H1N1 virus caused him to have a poor showing at the Winter Olympics and meant he had to miss the World Championships. STAFF PHOTO/STEVE SOMERVILLE
By Adam Mc Lean

December 3, 2010

For former men’s European figure skating champion Tomas Verner, his comeback trail to the top of the skating mountain starts in Richmond Hill.
The six-time Czech national champion and 2008 Euro champ has called Richmond Hill home since September and has committed himself to skate for the next 10 months under the eye of coach Bob Emerson and the Richmond Training Centre.
The commitment has paid off as Verner captured the Cup of Russia title two weeks ago, finishing ahead of Canadian Patrick Chan.
This result, combined with a third-place finish at the Cup of China last month, won the 24-year-old an invite to this season’s Grand Prix final in Beijing next weekend.
Soaring around the surface of Tom Graham Arena and joking with his new friends, Verner credits Richmond Hill for his rejuvenation.
“I like how much practice time I can get and the people here have been very welcoming to me. I love it here, the only downside is it takes forever to get places,” said the lanky skater, sitting in the arena’s lobby following Tuesday afternoon practice.
Though he is once again getting places on the world skating map, for most of the last season Verner’s progress was detoured by health issues.
Last year, while at a tournament in the United States, Verner became ill with the H1N1 virus.
Physically sapped, but wanting to prove himself on the world stage, Verner’s skating suffered.
He finished second at the Czech nationals, 10th at the Euro championships and 19th at the Olympics, before withdrawing from the world championships in March.
“Last year, I brought H1N1 back from the U.S. as a souvenir. It was really bad,” said Verner looking down at the lobby table.
“As an athlete, you want to compete, but I was skating when I shouldn’t have been, I was just too sick. I should have been held back by my coaches at the time. They should have stepped in and stopped me.”
Verner admits such hesitancy won’t be an issue with Emerson.
“Bob said if I’m not ready, physically or mentally, he wont put me out there,” Verner said.
Verner has been out there — on the ice that is — but between practices and competitions, the top skater is still discovering what his new surroundings have to offer.
“I haven’t jumped into a kind of social life here yet because I’ve been so busy with skating. I’m not going out and partying just yet,” said Verner with a laugh.
“But, I do like to go to the movies every two weeks or so and sit with a big thing of popcorn, watch the huge screen with people from RTC. I’m very thankful for them.”
And he admits, despite his ups and downs, he is thankful for the life that competitive skating has brought him.
“Many reporters ask about if I am sad because of sacrifices I have to make, but I get to experience so many things that many never will. This is what I enjoy doing. The thought of living each day pissed-off not doing what I like is a complete waste of time,” he said.
Emerson said it is Verner’s spirit that is one of the skater’s best qualities.
“His dedication and determination is tough to rival and that has really helped through his re-building process. He’s as focused and together as they come at that age,” . Emerson said.
Recovering from his illness earlier this year, Verner completed a Bachelor of Arts in physical education and said he would like to continue his studies in Toronto.
Looking ahead to the grand prix final next week, Verner is excited at the opportunity to once again compete in the select group of the world’s best male figure skaters.
Being one of only six men invited to the prestigious competition, he admits winning would be a bonus.
“To win would be great, but my goal is to give another consistent result and get my name back into the world spotlight. A strong skate here will give me some momentum,” said Verner.
“Most important, I’m smiling all the time.”

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