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Canada's Lillehammer Olympic team looks golden

Source: Vancouver Sun
Date: January 17, 1994
Author: Lyndon Little

EDMONTON - Canada's chances of breaking its Olympic gold medal figure skating drought have never looked better.

Despite successes at the world level over the past few decades, Canadian figure skaters have rarely won it all on Olympic ice. You have to go all the way back to 1960 at Squaw Valley, Calif., and the pairs team of Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul, before you find the last Canadian entry to strike Olympic gold.

But following the conclusion of the 1994 Canadian championships Sunday at the Northlands Coliseum, hopes for breaking the jinx at the upcoming Winter Games in Lillehammer have never been higher.

"This is one of Canada's strongest figure skating teams ever," said David Dore, director general of the Canadian Figure Skating Association. "We're very strong in all disciplines."

The final two berths on the Lillehammer team were filled Sunday when Josee Chouinard of Laval, Que., became the first to win back-to-back Canadian women's titles since Elizabeth Manley in 1988. And she did it in grand style, winning both the short program Saturday and the free skate Sunday. Her Saturday performance was a particular masterpiece, earning a perfect 6.0 from one judge for artistic merit.

Former North Shore Winter Club skater Susan Humphreys, who now lives and trains in Edmonton, rebounded from a fourth-place finish in the short to pass both Richmond's Tanya Bingert and Karen Preston to grab the second Olympic women's berth.

For Bingert the frustration continues. The 1988 Canadian junior champion again came close but couldn't quite catch a spot on either a world or Olympic team. She skated strongly in the short program - ranking No. 2 to Chouinard. But in the free skate Sunday the over-all technical difficulty of her program didn't compare to Chouinard, Preston and Humphreys and she slipped to fourth.

Bingert, who earned a standing ovation Saturday, had trouble with her triple filp in her warmup and chose to downgarde it to a double. She also dropped her triple loop to a double.

"I'm waiting for somebody to wake me up and tell me it's real," grinned the 18-year-old Humphreys, who moved with her family to Edmonton three years ago.

"At the end I couldn't believe it. I said, 'My God, they're giving me a standing ovation.'"

The men have three Lillehammer berths and they went to Elvis Stojko, Kurt Browning and Sebastien Britten. Stojko, who had been Canadian runnerup four straight years, ended Browning's domination Saturday when he won the free skate to go with the short he cliamed Friday. Browning, who came perilously close to missing the Olympic squad, bounced back from Friday's disastrous fourth-place finish to nearly beat Stojko in the free (it was a 5-4 split by the judges) to finish second overall.

"Going to Lillehammer as the Canadian No. 1 is important," said Stojko, who in his long program went for the four-revolution quad toe loop and missed it.

Saturday's Browning/Stojko battle had a sold-out Northlands crowd of approximately 17,500 on its feet. Browning, competing in his hometown for the first time in years, was nearly flawless with a further refinement of the Return to Casablanca routine he introduced last year (he plays the part of Humphrey Bogart).

He received two standing ovations - one before he skated and one at the program's conclusion.

Browning, who will skate professionally next season, said as much as he appreciated the pre-routine ovation, he found it unsettling.

"I was trying to get them (the crowd) to settle down and they got me even more pumped up," he said. "I used the slow part of my free skate to calm myself down."

Stojko was particularly pleased with his high artistic marks, long considered his lone weakness. He earned marks ranging from 5.7 to 5.9 for his long program.

"I kind of see it as finally being accepted artistically," he said. "Uschi (his choreographer Uschi Keszler) helped me find what I want to be on the ice.

"Overall my (long) program wasn't perfect, but it leaves some room to improve on it for Lillehammer."

"Having to go up on the podium (here) as No. 2 isn't that great," admitted Browning, a four-time world champ. "But after finishing fourth in the short I had to refocus on making the Olympic team. I'm glad I didn't let one stupid doble Axel (the jump h missed Friday) spoil my last Canadians."

Chouinard credited her decision to leave her home in Quebec and relocate in Toronto with new coach Louis Stong for much of her success. Stong also coaches Preston, which many people felt made for an awkward situation.

"It hasn't been an easy year for me," said Chouinard. "But the fact I moved helped me focus more on my skating. It proved I was very determined and I made a new friend in Karen."

Preston, the 1989 and '92 champion, was in tears.

"My best today wasn't good enough to go to the Olympics," se said. "I don't know if I'll retire. I feel okay physically but skating takes such an emotional toll on you."

The remainder of the Olympic team is composed of three pairs- defending world champions Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler; Kris Wirtz and Kristy Sargeant and Jamie Sale and Jason Turner - plus the dance team of Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz.

Kraatz is a former Hollyburn Country Club skater who now represents Quebec.

The Canadian team heading for Albertville two years ago also left with high expectations, but could only manage a single bronze.

Then, however, Browning was nursing a bad back. He's 100 percent this time and Stojko has improved tremendously. However, the reinstatement of several pro skaters will make the job tougher.

"What I like is the depth of our team this time," said Dore. "I was very impressed with the calibre of the skating here; one of the best performance at a Canadians in years. I attribute that to the fact the skaters knew exactly where they stood. At one time we used to do a lot of fixing around with the world and Olympic teams (naming some skaters regardless of their finish).

"But they all knew this time it would all depend on what they did here and it showed."

Olympic Team Men:

  • Elvis Stojko
  • Kurt Browning
  • Sebastien Britten
Women:
  • Josee Chouinard
  • Susan Humphreys
Pairs
  • Brasseur/Eisler
  • Wirtz/Sargeant
  • Sale/Turner
Dance
  • Bourne/Kraatz