The Gold, the Silver, and the Wildcard – It Makes a Great Movie, But Not Real Life

On a clear day in Arborg, Manitoba, I’d have my pick of CBC, CTV, CKND (Global), and MTN. However, most days, it was CBC programming, which explains my love for Degrassi Junior High.

CBC showed memorable movies back then, such as Love and Hate – The Story of Colin and Joanne Thatcher and Loyalties. And for the majority of Arborg area skaters – one of the best figure late-1980s skating movies – Skate!Internationally, the movie was known as Blades of Courage. It stared Christianna Hirt as Lori Laroche, a young talented – and undisciplined – figure skater who won the bronze medal at her first Canadian championships. In a controversial move, the Canadian Figure Skating Association (CFSA) – now the Skate Canada – sent Laroche to the Worlds rather than the silver medallist and female antagonist, Tara Lynn.

After a 10th place finish at the Worlds, the CFSA enlists high-ranking coach Bruce Gainor, portrayed by Colm Feore, to train Laroche with devastating results. At first, it seems promising as Laroche leave her small town and heads to Toronto, Ontario. However, Laroche’s “arrogant, lazy, head strong” personality clashes with Gainor’s tough style. His goal is for Laroche to land a triple Salchow. Meanwhile, Laroche is adapting to a gruelling skating schedule and pressure. After a meltdown at sectionals, Laroche returns home and falls into a depression.

Of course, the movie wouldn’t have a teenage skater cult following without a happy ending. Laroche returns to the ice the following season, and she qualifies for the Canadians. I won’t ruin the rest.

When this movie was released, I didn’t realize a similar incident occurred on Canadian soil.

At the 1980 Canadians in Kitchener, Ontario, spunky 12-year-old Tracey Wainman flew through her long program at lightning speed, leaving an impression on the skating community and the CFSA. She captured the bronze medal with a four-minute program that included a triple Salchow.

It was an Olympic year, and the CFSA made an eyebrow raising decision. They sent the 1980 Canadian champion Heather Kemkaran to the Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, and Wainman to the 1980 World Figure Skating Championships in Dortmund, Germany – formerly West Germany. 

After the long program at Worlds, Wainman jumped in the standings from 20th to 14th place overall. David Dore, the former head of the CFSA touted her as the future. Kemkaran placed 15th in Lake Placid and turned professional. Wainman would the 1981, however, she struggled to live up to the expectations placed on her tiny shoulders. After a hiatus, Wainman returned and won the 1986 Canadian championships, placing 9th – and she retired the following season. Another example of slashed dreams, enter a young Emanuel Sandhu who nabbed the silver medal at the 1998 Canadian championships – during an Olympic year – in Hamilton, Ontario. However, the Canadian Olympic Committee refused to send him to Nagano, Japan. While Sandhu met the requirements of the CFSA, he didn’t compete in Grand Prix events that season due to injury. Jeffrey Langdon, the bronze medallist would go in his place. Langdon finished 12th.

At the 2001 Canadian championships, Nicole Watt gave a spitfire performance to snag the silver medal. However Watt, who suffers from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, was short on international experience. Watt’s hope to skate at the World Championships on home soil in Vancouver, British Columbia vanished. Bronze-medallist Annie Bellemare slid into her place on the world team.

It’s baffling when figure skaters have to wait and see whether they’ve made the world team based on Grand Prix and international results. If a skater wins the gold or silver medal in their country, and it came be a hard climb back. 

In the Blades of Courage, of course, Laroche was the protagonist and the silver-medallist was the antagonist. Few want an antagonist to succeed.

However, figure skating isn’t the movie of the week. These are real people with feelings. When their podium spot dictates a world and/or team placing, they should be on that team. 

Because what hurts the most, it someone not believing in you. 

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