The Gold, the Silver, and the Wildcard

On a clear day in Arborg, Manitoba, I’d have my pick of CBC, CTV or CKND (Global), and MTN. However, most days, it was CBC programming, which explains my love for Degrassi Junior High.

CBC showed memorable movies back then, such as Love and Hate – The Story of Colin and Joanne Thatcher, and Loyalties. And – for most skaters in the Arborg area including me – one of the best figure late-1980s skating movies: Skate!The movie was known internationally as Blades of Courage, and it starred Christianne Hirt as Lori LaRoche. LaRoche was a talented, but undisciplined figure skater who won the bronze medal at her first Canadians. In a controversial move, the CFSA, known as Skate Canada now, decided to send LaRoche to the Worlds rather than the silver-medallist.

After a 10th place finish at the Worlds, high-ranking coach Bruce Gainer, played by Colm Feore, is enlisted by the CFSA to train LaRoche – with devastating results. LaRoche is forced to leave her small town coach and move to Toronto. LaRoche’s lax learning curve clashes with Gainer’s tough style. After a meltdown at sectionals, LaRoche moves home and falls into a depression.

Of course, there’s a happy ending. LaRoche returns to the ice the following season, and she qualifies for the Canadians. I won’t ruin the rest.

When this movie was released, I didn’t realize a similar incident occurred on Canadian soil.

At the 1980 Canadians in Kitchener, Ontario, spunky 12-year-old Tracey Wainman flew through her long program at lightning speed, leaving an impression on the skating community and the CFSA. She captured the bronze medal with four-minute program that included a triple Salchow.

It was an Olympic year, and the CFSA made an eyebrow raising decision. They sent the 1980 Canadian Champion Heather Kemkaran to the Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, and Wainman to the 1980 Figure Skating World Championships in Dortmund, Germany.

After the long program at Worlds, Wainman jumped in the standings from 20th to 14th place overall. David Dore, the former head of the CFSA touted her as the future. Kemkaran placed 15th in Lake Placid and turned professional thereafter, while Wainman would win the 1981 and 1986 Canadian championships.Another example of the CFSA slashing someone’s dreams was in 1998. A young talented Emanuel Sandhu placed second in 1998 at the Canadians, qualifying him for the Olympics in Nagano, Japan. However, the Canadian Olympic Committee refused to send him. Sandhu meet the requirements of the CFSA, however, he did not compete in any Grand Prix events during the 1997/1998 competitive year due to injury. Jeffrey Langdon, the bronze medallist from Smith Falls, Ontario, would go in his place finished 12th.

At the 2001 Canadians, Nicole Watt gave a spitfire performance to snag the silver medal. Watt, who suffers from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, was short on international experience. Watt did not have the chance to skate in front of her home country the Worlds in Vancouver. Bronze-medallist Annie Bellemare slid into her place instead.

It’s baffling when skating organizations make figure skaters wait to hear if they have made the World Team based on Grand Prix and international results. If a skater wins the gold or silver medal in their country, and they are bumped it can be a hard climb back.

In the Blades of Courage, of course, LaRoche was the protagonist and the silver-medallist was the antagonist. Few want an antagonist to succeed.

However, in reality – what hurts the most is being so close.

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