On glory's slippery edge
Fresh off a big win at the Four Continents meet in Japan, Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam serves notice he's capable of beating our country's elite
Kevin Reynolds, seen as a 10-year-old juvenile champion, is 'capable of outsmarting his coach,' says Joanne McLeod of the B.C. Centre of Excellence.
Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG Files, Vancouver Sun
The nearly unbroken, quarter-century line of succession of Canadian and world men's skating champions that began with Brian Orser and lives on through Patrick Chan has thrown its share of shadows.
The Orser-to-Kurt Browning passing of the torch was effortless, because Browning was just about to blossom when Orser turned pro after the 1988 worlds. But Elvis Stojko struggled for years to shake off the aura of Browning, who had charm and panache t o b u r n w h i l e Stojko had technical brilliance and heart, but had to work for everything else.
Jeffrey Buttle was deep in the shade until Elvis retired and the judging/ scoring system changed, and then suddenly he wasn't. He did what Stojko's heir apparent, Emanuel Sandhu, had never been able to do: won Olympic bronze in 2006 and the world title two years later.
But timing is everything.
Kevin Reynolds just happened to come along at the same time as Patrick Chan and, as Stojko was to Browning, is virtually a contemporary who has pulled himself upward, inch by inch, while the other has taken off like a rocket ship.
The difference is, everyone saw Stojko coming, and knew it was but a matter of time before he won it all.
Reynolds? His top-end potential has never been certain. It still isn't, not while Chan, now a two-time world champion, heading into a home-country worlds next month in London, Ont., is still in high gear.
But Reynolds, the 22-year-old redhead from Coquitlam, opened a lot of eyes last weekend when he won the Four Continents title in Osaka, Japan, where he was the first man ever to land five quadruple jumps in his two programs, and beat - among others - reigning world silver and bronze medallists (and hometown favourites) Daisuke Takahashi and Yuzuru Hanyu for the first major international victory of his senior career.
It's been a long time coming. Reynolds has been on the media's radar screen since he was five. He's trained at Burnaby's B.C. Centre of Excellence under Joanne McLeod - who also coached Sandhu and 2006 Olympic teamer Mira Leung - since age nine.
He has nibbled at the fringes of domestic stardom, but didn't qualify for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic team, and his first two appearances at world championships only happened because the second Canadian entry, behind Chan - Vaughn Chipeur in 2010, Shawn Sawyer in 2011 - withdrew.
So the breakthrough in Osaka was not the work of an overnight sensation.
It was ... "A shock, really," Reynolds said this week. "I'm incredibly happy about it.
"There was a little bit of luck that came into play, of course, because some of the top skaters didn't have their best performances, but I was able to seize the moment there. I was able to skate my best, and it really couldn't have happened at a much better time, to be able to back up my performances at nationals with two more this past week.
"Not only does it help other people's perception, mainly it helps my confidence going to world championships here in Canada knowing I've done not two clean programs but four good performances within a matter of two or three weeks."
The Japanese fans could scarcely have been happier if one of their own had won. Reynolds, with his mop of red-blond hair that has taken various unruly forms over the years, has a huge and vocal fan base in Japan - "I think it's because he looks like one of their characters from a really popular video game, Chrono Trigger," said McLeod. "It's really cute at the airport where there's all these screaming girls."
He even spoke some Japanese in his post-victory interview in Osaka, and has a Japanese choreographer, Kenji Miyamoto - part of a team that has included input from 2003 world ice dancing champion Shae-Lynn Bourne, Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova and Goh Ballet's Ken Guan - so the connection to his fans there is real.
"Kevin is exceptional for taking the good in what someone says, thinking about it and not bouncing around like a pinball," McLeod says of Reynolds' ability to process and select from all that input.
"I think Kevin and I have made a good team. He is very scholastic, just a very intelligent fellow and you always have to be on your A-game with him because he's capable of outsmarting the coach, and I love that about him. Whereas I bring a wealth of technical knowledge - I'd be a good person to go to Vegas with, calculate the odds.
"I feel old and wise."
It might be the years with the flamboyant, erratic Sandhu that account for the "old" feeling, but McLeod has only good things to say about both Sandhu and Leung.
With Reynolds, though, she has witnessed a deliberate, consistent worker who has always known his strengths, and has stuck with them, even when the fashion was less about jumps and more about skating in the early days of the new scoring system.
That persistence has brought him to a point where he thinks a top-six finish is realistic for this season and for the Sochi Olympics a year from now, although he's not counting those chickens yet, after losing out on the chance to compete in his hometown Winter Games in 2010.
"That was probably the low point, being left off the Olympic team, but at the same time it kind of fuelled my fire to perform better," he said.
"I'm slowly but surely getting there. It's been a very long process. When I entered seniors, I had the jumps but really I didn't have much else. So it's been a process to get the skating skills and the performance up to where it is today, but I still need quite a bit of improvement - especially competing against Patrick, who is probably the best skater in the world right now in terms of skating quality, it's kind of hard to match that.
"So my goal is to be close enough to him where I can be competitive with the advantage I have technically, and this year I've been able to show that I'm closer than ever now."
Trying to be in Chan's league is not a bad way to climb the ladder. But McLeod isn't sure it's the best way.
"Aiming at one individual is not a good thing," she said. "A lot of people like Patrick. A lot like Daisuke, a lot like Yuzuru ... people talk about Javier (Fernandez of Spain) and his quads - they're all good, and they're all in that Rat Pack of excellence. And Kevin's capable of competing with that Rat Pack."
Can he ever beat Chan? It depends. Even the best still need to deliver on the day.
"I don't narrow it down in the moment, because I think it goes against you," McLeod said. "I think if you're on the podium at worlds, it's expected of you to say that you want to be world champion or Olympic champion. But until you get there, I think those goals need to be kept within your heart and your intelligence, because once you spill it out, there's that expectation ball bouncing in front of you.
"But I've always, right from juvenile, felt Kevin could be what he is right now, and more."
What he is right now is an amazingly consistent performer of quads - the Salchow and toe loop, alone and in combinations - and now that they're worth more points via the ongoing evolution of the scoring system, that edge is accentuated.
Jump-wise, he's miles above the rung Elvis was standing on when he won his three world titles. There's more to it, alas.
The hard part has always been to strike a balance between keeping the quads solid - the legacy of Browning and Stojko - and the time he needs to devote to skating skills, spins and performance.
How close is he? We'll find out. "I think what happened with Kevin at Four Continents is, suddenly people are saying, 'Holy (crap), this guy is capable of taking it all,' " McLeod said. "So at worlds, it's whoever puts down two great programs. You can't screw one up and still win.
"So buy your ticket. It's going to be interesting."
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