Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond living in, loving figure skating worlds spotlight
National champion just 17, faces pressure for a top-10 finish at home that would guarantee two spots at Sochi Olympics
LONDON, Ont. — The shoppers who have strolled past the ice rink in West Edmonton Mall while Kaetlyn Osmond was training, perhaps glancing for a second, maybe not even breaking stride, must number in the millions.
Three times a week for seven years, she has hidden in plain sight as coach Ravi Walia has put the now 17-year-old through her training sessions in near anonymity, always hoping — as all figure skating coaches surely must — that this time, this one would be special.
And darned if she isn’t.
Tuesday at Budweiser Gardens, where the ISU world championships begin Wednesday with the pairs and men’s short programs, the precocious, promising Canadian women’s champion arrived for a series of interviews after her first practice, wide-eyed and excited, hoping not to be blown away by the scope of her first worlds.
At least, that’s what she said.
Walia thinks otherwise.
“I think (sudden fame) is something she’s going to have to learn to cope with, but I think she’ll do well with that,” said the former Canadian junior men’s champion and senior bronze medallist, now an ISU technical specialist.
“She loves performing — from the time I first met her, she’s always risen to the occasion, always. Different skater (in competition).
“But it’s a different mentality from competing when nobody knew who she was. I mean, she always loved to show off out there, but there was no expectation. Now everyone has seen what she can do, so if she doesn’t do it, people are disappointed.
“But she’ll learn. She’s young.”
Osmond, originally from Marystown, Nfld. (pop. 5,500), says nothing much has changed in Edmonton since she won the Canadian title in January, but Walia has noticed.
“She’s skated there seven years, and I have other skaters and it’s always been the same reaction: people might stop for a minute and watch, but that’s it,” he said. “This last year, I’ve noticed when she finishes her program, people clap. And now it’s a lot of clapping. They know who she is.”
It’s more than a little applause, though. Back on The Rock, her hometown has put up a Welcome to Marystown sign, with her picture and “Home of Kaetlyn Osmond” on it.
“My sister called me yesterday and said she’d just passed my sign and got so excited,” said Osmond, whose sister Natasha made it to the national junior level, and paved her way into skating.
A couple of weeks ago, a boys choir from Newfoundland tracked her down after considerable effort and appeared at the mall just before she was to go on the ice. They sat her down on a chair, and with a video camera rolling, serenaded her with a lovestruck, doo-wop rendition of “Why Can’t I Be A Teenager in Love?”
The pictures tell the story. Osmond loved it.
Her major international trial since the Canadian championships was a disappointment — a seventh-place finish in the Four Continents championship last month in Osaka — but she was taking treatment for a sprained ankle during the competition, and thinks she’ll be much better prepared this week.
“That was something that was so completely different. There was a million more fans than I would ever think of, and they were cheering for everyone. And the atmosphere there was so different,” she said.
“I know now that I can deal with it, and I won’t get too shocked by it. Now that I’m here, it just seems that I’m getting all the energy already.”
A top 10 finish here would qualify two Canadian women for the Sochi Olympics, which seems like a ton of pressure on the lone entry, especially a 17-year-old, but that’s been the stated goal all season.
“I think she has the potential to be at the top of the world,” Walia said, when pressed on Osmond’s maximum upside. “Because I think she has lot of the ingredients. She’s strong in all the areas. She has a great package, and she’s very level headed.
“I’ve kind of always planned and strategized, and she’s just done what she’s supposed to do. And she kind of knows why we’re doing it, but she doesn’t see that far into the future. Now, I think it’s all obvious to her, what’s happening.
So now, I ask her: what do you want for this next year, for the year after?
“I think that has to come from her, and I hope she will be aiming for the top the next couple of years. Last year in February, right after junior worlds, I mentioned to her that her goal for this year should be top 10 at worlds this year, so we’ve always had that mind.
“You could tell she was excited to hear that. And she has risen to the occasion each day.”
“It does add a little bit of pressure,” Osmond said, “but all I can do is go out and do what I can do, and if it means I get a top 10 finish, it does. And if not ....”
Time to think about that later.
“I’m happy that her first worlds is in an event that is this strong. It’s the worlds, she should really have to fight to be in the mix,” Walia said.
The fact that it’s at home in Canada adds yet another element to it, not necessarily positive.
“She likes the attention,” said the coach. “But I talked to her this morning, and said I know that will help her, but I also want to make sure she’s focusing and not being distracted out there. She’ll learn, though, and this will be a good experience to understand what the Olympics are all about.”
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