Power, protocols and privilege

VANCOUVER Kevin Reynolds, whom Yukoners know from his appearance at a skating show in Whitehorse a couple of years back, demonstrated enormous…

VANCOUVER

Kevin Reynolds, whom Yukoners know from his appearance at a skating show in Whitehorse a couple of years back, demonstrated enormous physical power on Saturday.

He landed the first quad-triple-triple jump combination in Canadian figure skating history.

His feat marks only the second such accomplishment in the world.

When I caught up with the Coquitlam skater shouldering his skating bag and a bundle of stuffed toys thrown on the ice following his historic performance, he looked relieved.

Though he received credit for landing a second quad in his long program, he wasn’t able to crack the top five.

At 17, though, he has time to develop the artistry to accompany the power and technique.

He was not discouraged.

Christopher Mabee, a personable, small-town Ontario young man, managed to make the top five.

He was sitting in the third spot after the short program when I talked to him last Friday.

His skate had been excellent, but that wasn’t the question that I had in mind for him.

I asked about the importance of Tillsonburg, Ontario, in his figure skating career.

How does a small-town kid from a modest working-class family — his father worked at a car plant and his mother is a housewife — make it to the top ranks of Canadian figure skating?

It seems the odds would be stacked against him.

Tillsonburg was “huge,” the 22-year-old Mabee says of the role the town had in his skating career.

Fourteen years after leaving his hometown, smack in the middle of the southwestern Ontario tobacco belt, to pursue his skating dream, he still insists he be announced as representing Tillsonburg.

He may train at the Mariposa School of Skating in Barrie, Ontario, but his heart remains in his hometown.

The community’s financial support has been key.

It wasn’t always there, though.

His family initially had to struggle to keep him on the ice.

Their recognition of his talent and determination kept them going, despite the sacrifices.

Eventually, Mabee said, Tillsonburg stepped up and provided critical aid.

“Over time my results helped educate my community about the sport and their support came.”

His advice to rural or small-town kids across Canada with big dreams — keep at it.

If you are in it for the long haul, talent plus determination will undoubtedly rally people and communities to your cause.

The collective power of community can help make our children’s dreams a reality.

Protocols

Competitors came to the 2008 BMO Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Vancouver with a lot of baggage.

I am not talking about the skates, which incidentally the Quebec team shipped together; either all the skates would arrive or none.

They arrived.

Neither am I talking about the mountains of garment bags and luggage that poured off the buses with them.

I am talking about the skaters’ histories.

A seasoned hand at these competitions told me that prior to the outset of this national competition, previous performances this year would shape the expectations judges have of a given skater or couple.

These ordering protocols play a critical role in the initial determinations made about a skater’s abilities.

Does an official’s idea about how a competition will go tip the balance when determining a subjective element in scoring?

“There is still enough mystery in the scoring system, still enough room to play with the artistic add-ons,” wrote Cam Cole in a Vancouver Sun article on Saturday, “to make Friday a head-scratcher for those who found themselves down the list.”

Why do falls for some skaters seem not to count when measuring them against equivalent error-free programs of others?

“How, exactly, the judges differentiated,” Cole continued, “… is no doubt explainable, but arcane.”

With still other program point-enhancement possibilities, I learned of such things as “point pumping,” which is designed to artificially enhance the status of a skater internationally, or “promotion”, which targets particular skaters for advancement and awards points accordingly.

A shadow still hangs over the judging for some commentators and spectators alike, even if competitors and coaches reluctantly accept this as just the reality of their sport.

In the snack corner of the media room, I had a conversation with a fellow who administers the mandatory drug test to the gold medalist and one other randomly determined competitor in each discipline.

He couldn’t recall any drug violation at a figure skating event.

At least in that area, among the skaters themselves, there is no suspicion or doubt that the ice surface is level.

Privilege

The shuttle bus drivers that ran the route between the Pacific National Exhibition grounds where the Skate Canada event was held and the Sheraton Wall Centre, which housed most provincial teams on Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver, were told to avoid driving through the heart of Downtown’s east side along Hastings Street.

I guess the organizers did not want to expose the sensitive young skaters to the gritty reality of the poverty and homelessness there.

From the home of friends in Kerrisdale, where my wife Eva and I stayed, we took the No. 16 Arbutus bus straight through the area.

It might have been worthwhile for the skaters and coaches to drop into a place like the Carnegie Centre, a landmark on East Hastings for social justice activists.

With always a crowd of no less than 30 or 40 people in front of it day or night, it might serve to shine a light, however briefly, on the plight of some of the least fortunate in society.

Sometimes the harshness of big-city life will find you whether you try to ignore it or not.

On Saturday evening, we went out to celebrate our son Liam and his partner Mylène Girard’s fifth-place finish in Senior Ice Dance along with their coaches Julie Marcotte and Daniel Belec and Mylène’s parents.

A local directed us to the Gotham, a steakhouse on Seymour and Dunsmuir.

We quickly understood we were in a much pricier establishment than we normally would patronize, when we saw Keanu Reeves at the next table.

Apparently, this high-ceilinged, art-nouveau restaurant, with plenty of discreet booths, attracted gang high rollers as well.

About 20 minutes after we settled into our meal with celebratory toasts, a police presence became obvious with the staccato multi-coloured flashing through street-side windows. Soon afterwards, police took up positions inside the restaurant. We later learned that two men, getting out of a Land Rover a few meters from the front door, had been gunned down.

It was clearly a “hit.”

Unknown to us, a man with a gun had been seen entering the restaurant immediately afterwards.

No one was found.

A couple of hours later, we finally left the restaurant after identity checks and a thorough pat down.

The shroud-covered bodies still lay where they had fallen.

Needless to say, the maitre d’ had escorted Reeves and his party out a back entrance without having to wait in line to go through police procedures.

Turning a blind eye to the problems of the world around us shields no one from its harsh reality.

Our elite athletes have a privileged position.

Their hard-won celebrity status, built on dedication, determination and just plain hard work, could be used for more than endorsements.

Maybe they can, by taking the time to understand and not avoid troubling concerns of urban Canadian society, offer some real hope and a sense of possibility.

Michael Dougherty writes the Just Society column.