It’s a rare opportunity to see world-calibre skaters compete right here in Lethbridge. In fact, it’s only the second time it’s happened in 25 years.
It’s Skate Canada, an international skating competition being held at the Enmax Centre Friday, Oct. 30 to Sunday, Nov. 1.
Combining athleticism and artistry makes figure skating a unique sport, appealing to both sports lovers and artistic types, says Bobbi-Jo Martin, chair of the local organizing committee for Skate Canada.
Martin, an avid skating fan for 40 years, says “it’s one thing to watch figure skating competitions on TV but to be able to see it live is … like an adrenaline rush … the feeling in the stands — you can’t describe it — it’s so overwhelming … it’s an amazing experience.” She adds it motivates local skaters and “makes them realize what they can possibly strive for.”
She says what makes figure skating unique as a sport is that “it is a sport yet an art … if you like watching sports or you like ballet and art — both are covered.”
When she attended the World Skating Championships in the 1980s, she sat next to a “big, gruff farmer” who had never attended a skating event before. He was only there because his wife made him come. He was complaining about being there. “He watched the dance finals … it was Torvill and Dean doing the Bolero. When they were done, he was crying. He looked at his wife and said, ‘I get it.’ He finally understood why she wanted him to come. He had never enjoyed the sport before but the sense (of wonder) … the awe … the feeling you get when you watch … you just get brought in.”
It’s the athleticism and beauty of the sport that attracts people to attend.
Martin, who went to Skate Canada in Kelowna last year and has been to Canadians as well as Worlds, says it’s a rare opportunity for local residents to see some of the top skaters in the world performing in Lethbridge including Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, 2015 world pairs champions; Canadian ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, two-time world medalists; Canadian Patrick Chan, three-time world men’s champion; Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, 2014 Olympic men’s singles champion; Javier Fernandez of Spain, 2015 world men’s champion; Carolina Kostner of Italy, 2014 Olympic women’s bronze medalist and Yulia Lipnitskaya of Russia, 2014 world women’s silver medalist. Other top-notch Canadian skaters performing are Kaetlyn Osmond, two-time Canadian women’s national champion, and Nam Nguyen, 2015 Canadian men’s national champion.
This skating event, showcasing some of the best of the best in the world, is one of six competitions organized by the International Skating Union (ISU) in which skaters compete for points, depending on their placements, toward the coveted spots in the Grand Prix Final to be held in Barcelona, Spain this season. The other skating competitions leading up to the Grand Prix Final are taking place in China, France, Russia, Japan and the United States.
Hosting Skate Canada also gives members of the local skating club exciting opportunities to participate through volunteer positions.
Alexis DeMaere, a local skater selected to be a flower retriever, and Kelsey Whipple, Kaelyn Hancock and Chloe Wagenaar, selected to assist with the opening and medal ceremonies, feel “it’s pretty cool” to be involved in Skate Canada. They say it ranks as one of the most memorable highlights in their skating careers. The skaters agree it’s a special opportunity because it’s Skate Canada and because they get to be on the same ice as the international-calibre figure skaters they look up to.
When they first started skating at a young age, their dream was to be a contestant in Skate Canada but, as they got older and realized this dream was unlikely, they embraced the joy of using their skating talents to assist in the smooth operation of the events on ice at Skate Canada.
To obtain their roles with Skate Canada, the skaters auditioned by skating to music while judges watched — “it was a lot of fun,” they agreed. Skaters came from as far away as British Columbia to try out for these coveted volunteer jobs. For the flower retrieval role, only 12 of the 45 applicants were selected. The chosen skaters are excited to be selected. Just getting Skate Canada to Lethbridge is big enough, they agree, but then getting to be a part of it is “icing on the cake.”
The skaters are looking forward to seeing some of their favourite skaters on ice such as Patrick Chan, Kaetlyn Osmond, Weaver and Poje, and Duhamel and Bradford.
The idea to put in a bid to host Skate Canada this year came from Jaci Zalesak, the Lethbridge Skating Club’s volunteer co-ordinator, says Martin. “She brought the idea to our club, we put a committee together and it just steamrolled from there.”
Martin says the committee was surprised but delighted to win the bid. She says there’s two main reasons for winning the bid: the quality of the facility and the people on the bidding committee. The Enmax is a great facility,” she notes. When the Skate Canada representatives toured Lethbridge as a possible hosting site, “The way everyone on the committee represented the city was awesome. Everyone stepped up.”
In addition, the committee received a great deal of support from the City of Lethbridge (a $250,000 grant), the Lethbridge Sport Council, Chinook Country Tourism, MLAs and others.
Besides being a fantastic experience for the viewing audience and volunteers, the event is also beneficial for the economy of Lethbridge and for creating greater awareness of the city of Lethbridge worldwide. Martin says economically, there is “a benefit of over $5 million to the region” from hosting Skate Canada.
With modern technology, people all around the world become more aware of businesses in Lethbridge through Skate Canada. When Jeremy Ten, the 2015 Canadian men’s silver medalist, was in Lethbridge in April for the Skate Canada kickoff, says Martin, he tweeted positively about Two Guys and a Pizza. Then “some of his followers from Asia said they wanted to try it when they come to Lethbridge for the show.”
Two million Canadians watch Skate Canada on television and 20 million people around the world see it or read about it through television, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and print media, says Martin.
Martin says that hosting an event like Skate Canada also “helps to get more kids on the ice — hockey, speed skating, ringette, figure skating — this is better for everyone. At the skating club, the skaters learn the fundamentals and who knows where they will go from there.”
Martin has found her job as chair of the organizing committee to be very educational. “I’m very proud of the local organizing committee,” she says. “They’ve all stepped up and done their part. They’ve all put in a lot of time and effort to make this happen.”
Although quite a few tickets have been sold, Martin says they are hoping for more sales. “Lethbridge is known to step up at the last minute.” However, she says, the sooner tickets are purchased, the more selection is available in terms of seating. Tickets are available online at http://www.enmaxcentre.ca, by phone at 403-329-7328 or in person at the Enmax Centre box office.
All the volunteer positions have been filled but the committee is still in need of sponsorship in the form of cash or value in-kind donations, says Martin. Interested contributors are invited to contact Martin at email@example.com.