HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Katherine Medland-Spence has a unique perspective on competitive figure skating.
As an elite athlete, she is less than a day away from entering her first Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, which will be played out in front of more than 9,000 empty seats at the TD Place Arena beginning Friday.
As a coach, the Nepean Skating Club’s women’s senior singles skater is a part-time teacher in a pair of Skate Canada grassroots opportunities – CanSkate, which is a learn-to-skate program, and STARSkate, a program to introduce the fundamentals of figure skating to skaters who have an eye to become competitive athletes.
“I love the sport,” said Medland-Spence, who also is a part-time, second-year biochemistry student at Carleton University. “Coaching is another way to show my love of skating. Working with young skaters is so much fun. It’s great to be a part of their dream.”
When Medland-Spence, 21, isn’t practising and polishing her own skills in pursuit of realistic goals, she spends four hours a week with her CanSkate students at the Nepean Skating Club and another four hours a week with her STARSkate athletes at the March Kanata Skating Club.
But this week, Medland-Spence is focused on final preparations for her national championship debut. It has been a long time coming for her as she slowly, but surely reached her first Canadians, although it doesn’t look the same as years gone by.
Skate Canada announced last week there will be no spectators in the TD Place Arena, the competition-ending gala has been cancelled and only essential workers will be allowed on site.
Skaters will only be allowed to have one coach by their side instead of the traditional two or more, masks must be worn inside the arena, physical distancing is required, and media interviews will be conducted through a virtual mixed zone.
“It’s a little disappointing,” said Medland-Spence, who will get to sleep in her Ottawa home during the competition rather than a hotel but won’t be able to have any family members or friends watch her skate live in the arena.
The women’s senior singles short program will open the national championships Friday at noon and Medland-Spence will skate in the second of three groups. On Saturday, she will compete in the free-skate final, which begins at 10:30 a.m. CBC will live stream the senior and junior singles, pairs and ice dance events on CBC.ca or CBC Gem.
“I will try to experience everything and take it all in,” she added. “With no family (attending), it’s not a full experience, but it’s still the nationals. My goal is to improve and to progress. That’s what I’m working on.”
For the past four years (2019-21, as a senior and 2018, as a junior), she has tried to qualify for the national championships at the Skate Canada Challenge, but her results, ranging between 20th and 29th, left her short of the mark.
But the 2021-22 season has been unprecedented for Medland-Spence. At Skate Canada Challenge, the qualifying competition for nationals, she placed an eye-opening sixth with three personal-best scores in Regina.
Despite a 12th-place result in the short program with 48.13 points, she charged to fifth in the free-skate final at 103.26 points for an overall point total of 151.39.
Medland-Spence called her short program “decent,” and her free skate went “quite well and the points reflected that.”
“I was quite happy to perform in that pressure. It was the second time (during the pandemic) skating in front of a live judging panel. It was nice to get back into that and compete again,” said Medland-Spence, who had occasionally skated in hub, virtual competitions during the pandemic.
“At Skate Canada Challenge, I was definitely nervous because it was the qualifier for nationals. But I went out, executed and did what I do at practice.”
Medland-Spence has all the technical tools to make an even bigger impression on the judges and challenge for a medal. In her short program, she has a triple toe loop-triple toe loop jump combination, a triple loop jump and a double Axel. Her free-skate program is loaded with six triple jumps.
“I’ve had the technical content in the past few years, but I haven’t landed them cleanly. It has taken a couple of years to build it up,” Medland-Spence said, adding she also has been adding to her support team.
When Jill Leonard retired in April as her Nepean base coach after nine years, Medland-Spence welcomed back Dan Gordon as her base coach. He also coached her four years ago. She also has reached out to Julie Brault for choreography and Jodie Bierko, who are experienced coaches at the Gloucester Skating Club.
“It was tough to see (Leonard) retire. We knew she was retiring at some point. It was hard to get over it. It was a little kick in the butt,” she explained.
“I’ve really worked hard this year … and worked on my performance side to enhance my qualities. I’ve continued to build all season … and build on that confidence. More balanced performances have helped my confidence.”
Former Prescott Figure Skating Club athlete Matthew Markell is the only other Eastern Ontario skater at the senior-junior nationals, competing in men’s senior singles. Markell, who won the 2018 national junior title and was the 2016 Canadian novice silver medallist, trains at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.