Figure skating falls into the category of Olympic sports that we Canadians are passionate about. We have a proud history of sending quality athletes to the Games, especially on the men’s side. It has been a tortured existence in recent memory: as long as I have been old enough to follow Olympic figure skating, Canada has failed to win a Gold Medal in the men and women’s events. This is despite sending three men to the Olympics over the past 20 years with a combined 8 World Championships among them.
Canada ranks third all time with 20 medals at the Olympics and seventh in Gold medals with 3. Brian Orser started the Canada charge by winning silver in 1984 at Sarajevo. He came to Calgary in 1988 as our flag bearer and defending World Champion. It was Gold or bust for our Brian. He gave a valiant fight in the Battle of the Brians, but the American, Brian Boitano, came away victorious.
The 1988 Games brought with them the surprise sweetheart, Elizabeth Manley, who won silver while almost besting Katarina Witt. To my knowledge Manley never rated high in the world rankings, with Calgary being her one great moment to shine.
Orser gave way to Canada’s all time greatest figure skater, Kurt Browning, was finished 8th at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. Full of style and equipped with the sports only quad jump, Browning won three consecutive World Championships on his way to the 1992 Games in Albertville. Sadly it was one mistake after another as Kurt finished a disappointing 6th.
Browning quickly regained his composure, winning the 1993 World Championships before leading Canada into Lillehammer in 1994 as our flag bearer. Alas it was not to be as Browning again struggled out of the gate before finishing a disappointing 5th. Kurt then faded off into the professional circuit where he still skates today.
During the second half of Browning’s reign, Elvis Stojko took over the spotlight. Stojko was a trained martial artist that brought sheer technical excellence and power to the sport. He was the first to land a quad combo and helped elevate the sport during his time on the scene. Elvis really burst on the scene at the 1994 Games, winning a surprise silver medal to subdue some of our disappointment over Browning’s performance. Stojko went on to win three World Championships and a second silver medal in Nagano in 1998.
Canada has also enjoyed a lot of success in the pairs event, culminating with Jamie Sale and David Pelletier’s controversial gold in 2002. Those were the games where the French judge got caught trying to force the gold into Russia’s hands in exchange for some Russian help in one of the other events. Lloyd Eisler and Isabelle Brasseur pioneered the pairs charge with bronze medals in 1992 and 1994.
I will wrap up with the brother/ sister combination that really stood out as my most lasting memory of Olympic figure skating. Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay were a Quebec ice dancing pair that turned the ice dance on its head. They brought to the sport a totally new sense of musicality and style that took years to gain acceptance. Early in their career, the Canadian Federation of Figure Skating harshly criticized their style which led the pair to start skating for France. In 1992 they were absolutely robbed of gold and settled for silver. Which not technically a medal for Canada, I include them in my list of Canada’s all time greats. Thanks to the magic of Youtube, you can watch a good example of their unique skating here.
This post is not the last you will read about Olympic figure skating. The Sports Juicette has graciously offered to do a post or two covering the Vancouver competition. Until then…