Elite Amateur Sport Skating

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Katherine Medland Spence makes bold statement in Canadian figure skating championship debut

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By Martin Cleary

Katherine Medland Spence returns to her part-time bio-chemistry studies at Carleton University on Monday, having learned a valuable lesson during her Christmas holiday break.

This knowledge didn’t come from a textbook, a project or a professor’s lecture, but rather from her hard work, persistence and motivation that has seen her emerge this weekend as a top national-level figure skater.

Competing in her first-ever Canadian Figure Skating Championships, at the age of 21, in the highly scrutinized senior women’s singles division and in her hometown, despite no fans in the TD Place Arena because of the pandemic, Medland Spence showed technical toughness, grace and consistency to boldly step forward as a skater who may find a berth on a Canadian international team in the future.

Madeline Schizas of Oakville, ON., was the class of the senior women’s division, winning the short and free-skate programs with an unmatched 198.24 points. But Medland Spence was a featured skater in the pursuing group of seven, executing two eye-catching programs with an effortless style and crisp, clean jumps.

Schizas is co-coached by former Gloucester Skating Club athlete and Ottawa coach Derek Schmidt.

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Katherine Medland Spence. Photo: Danielle Earl

After placing a short-changed seventh in Friday’s short program, Medland Spence repeated that position again in Saturday’s free-skate final. But her respective short program and free-skate program marks of 55.74 points and 102.65 points promoted her to sixth-place overall with 158.39 points. Her short-program and overall scores were personal-best point achievements.

That left the Nepean Skating Club athlete and grassroots-program coach less than one point out of fifth place and only 2.51 points out of fourth. Medland Spence set the stage for her first Canadian Tire National Skating Championships appearance when she placed sixth at last month’s Skate Canada Challenge, which was the qualifying event for this week’s competition.

At Skate Canada Challenge, she also placed sixth overall, but registered three personal-best scores and was fifth in the free-skate final.

“I had a couple of mistakes, but I’m still quite happy how I was able to deal with the whole experience,” said Medland Spence about her nationals’ free-skate final, where she landed five textbook triples, but fell in the second part of her double Axel-triple toe loop combination and also had some minor footwork and spin issues. “I’m happy how I’ve improved and how my programs have progressed.”

Medland Spence’s national championship debut showed two glaring points — one positive and one negative. She is one of the top technical skaters in the country, when it comes to landing jumps, executing spins and performing footwork. But she needs to continue to develop the artistic performance side of her two competitive skates.

If you look at the skaters’ Total Elements scores for their jumps, spins, footwork, etc., Medland Spence ranked second in both the short program, 31.04 points, and free-skate final, 55.04 points, while Schizas was untouched at a respective 39.22 and 61.18.

But when it came to the Program Component scores, which the judges determine from the skaters’ skills, transitions, performance, composition and interpretation of the music, Medland Spence was in the middle of the pack. She ranked ninth in the short program at 24.70 points and 10th in the free-skate at 48.61 points, while Schizas ranked first at 32.83 and 65.01 respectively.

“I know that I have the (technical) stuff and that I have done it multiple times,” Medland Spence said. “Now, I have to work on my performance and do it in competition.”

During a COVID-19 pandemic lockdown in early 2021, Medland Spence was able to continue training as a high-performance athlete and used that time to improve the performance side of her skating.

Medland Spence has trusted her training this season and her performances have been impressive and consistent. After a solid and clean short program at nationals, she said that effort was “definitely a confidence booster” for the free-skate. That was evident Saturday as she landed five of her six triple jumps and had a confident flow in her overall execution.

“I stayed grounded through the whole competition,” Medland Spence added. “I wasn’t overwhelmed. My training had gone well. I felt confident going out on the ice. I was ready to show how I had been practising.”

Meanwhile, Matthew Markell, the only other Eastern Ontario skater in the senior and junior national championships this week in Ottawa, finished 12th overall in the senior men’s singles. After placing ninth in the short program Friday with 68.31 points, the former Prescott Figure Skating Club athlete who now trains at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, was 12th in the free-skate final with 119.43 points. He finished with 187.74 points.

Markell was the 2018 Canadian men’s junior singles champion, after earning the national novice silver medal in 2016.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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 martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

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