By Lachlan Ross
May 14, 2014, Victoria (ISN) – Usually the Save-on-Foods Memorial Arena sees sweaty pads, pucks, big hits, and fights, but last night the glass was taken down and more elegant skates were laced on. Still swooning in Sochi glory, Olympics fans from Victoria had the opportunity to watch Canada’s elite figure skaters carve across the ice.
Sochi silver and Vancouver Olympics gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in the opening song of Stars On Ice. (Photo: Jonathon Howe / One Lion Photography)
Coming from a Victoria-sized city in Australia with just one ice rink, the thought of pursuing skating as a kid would have been like basing a pro surfer in Winnipeg. I had only ever seen these athletes on limited Winter Olympics coverage at home and on TV during the Vancouver and Sochi games since moving to Canada.
The bulk of my figure skating knowledge came from watching Disney On Ice as a kid and overhearing conversations or news clips on Patrick Chan since living in British Columbia.
But Stars On Ice was spectacular.
The stadium was filled close to its 7,400-person capacity with an audience of mostly seniors, but sprinkled with young families and kids. Shawn Sawyer wowed the crowd with his upbeat routines including cartwheels, back flips, and the worm, which brought a whole new flair to the figure skating I hadn’t seen before.
For followers of traditional ice dancing, 2014 World Championships silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, along with Sochi silver and Vancouver gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir graced the ice with flawless synchronization. Then perhaps the most popular show of the evening came from 47-year-old Kurt Browning, whose comical act involved jumping up on a small staircase, tap dancing on the ice, and flipping his straw hat up from the floor with the heel of his skate to catch and wear it again. To a crowd that grew up with Browning’s four World Championship gold medals and three Olympic appearances in the late 80’s and 90’s it was clear he hadn’t been replaced by the stars of today.
Crowd-pleaser Shawn Sawyer leans back as he zips by front row spectators. (Photo: Jonathon Howe / One Lion Photography)
This elite level of entertainment continued throughout the evening, highlighted by a single row of seats placed around the rink in front of the hockey boards. For those willing to spend the extra bucks to get right on the ice, the performers ensured they got involved. To close act one, the male skaters performed a colourful boy-band-like routine that got the crowd involved in more than just a visual display. On a final skate down to the end line, all five skaters stopped to spray ice at the front row, sending a laugh through the stadium.
The on-ice lighting patterns varied from soft mauve and turquoise for three-time and reigning World Champion Patrick Chan’s Michael Bublé routine, to fierce tiger stripes for Shawn Sawyer’s upbeat African drum heavy solo. But it was Vancouver bronze medalist, Joannie Rochette’s second song that impressed me most.
Selecting an electronic remake of Cher’s 1966 hit “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” showed me that figure skating – a sport I had always associated with classical or operatic music – was taking risks to grow and relate to a new generation. What really astounded me was that the seniors loved it too. Seeing Victoria’s seniors enjoy electronic dance music and hearing them talk about “selfies” – after act one finished with the five skaters ripping out a cell phone for a quick snap – I realized the gap between students and retirees has been shrunk by the Internet.
While researching Patrick Chan prior to the show, I had subconsciously connected his abilities to a Canadian Winter Olympic version of Ian Thorpe or Michael Phelps – my expectations were high. Seeing sport live always brings new sensations and a level of respect whichever event you are watching and last night was no different.
This time it was the strength of these skaters, their poise, the risk of injury on almost every jump and contortion they perform. And seeing Patrick Chan skate, it was like his blades didn’t even mark the ice. He glided with such a degree of smoothness then launched into twists that rivaled Tornado Alley. Chan performs these routines countless times in front of larger crowds, yet it seemed the entire audience believed the final line of his Michael Bublé recording:
“I might have saved the best, the very best of me, for you.”
Three-time and reigning World Champion Patrick Chan soars beside legendary four-time World Champion Kurt Browning. (Photo: Jonathon Howe / One Lion Photography)