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Representing Another Country

Why do we often see figure skaters representing another country?  

Because figure skating world is all about flags of convenience... 

Article by Steve Buffery from Toronto Sun

First posted: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 06:12 PM EDT | Updated: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 06:17 PM EDT

LONDON, ONT. - My colleague Ryan (Smiley) Pyette wrote a piece this week about how former Canadian skating great Brian Orser coaches the two men most likely to challenge Canada’s Patrick Chan for the gold medal at this week’s world figure skating championships.

Orser, the skating director at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, coaches both Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, who was third at last year’s worlds, and Spain’s Javier Fernandez, the European champion.

The two skaters are from opposite ends of the globe, but train in Toronto under Orser, who also coached Korean sensation Yuna Kim to the 2010 Olympic gold medal in women’s singles. 

There’s a reasonable chance that either Hanyu or Fernandez could knock Chan off the gold-medal podium here at London’s Budweiser Gardens thanks to the adept coaching of Chan’s countryman, Orser.

But before you start barbecuing Orser a la Russell Martin, chill. If you think there’s something unpatriotic about Orser coaching foreign skaters to the detriment of a Canadian competitor, then brother, you don’t know skating.

Figure skating at the highest level is not just about flowers and furs and blubbering in the kiss and cry area. It’s also about flags of convenience. Probably more than any other sport, figure skating is a sport of mercenaries.

Take the Reed siblings, Cathy, Chris and Allison. Born in Kalamazoo, Mich., to an American father and Japanese mother, Cathy and Chris compete in ice dance for Japan, while Allison competes in the same event for Israel, along with her partner Vasili Rogov, who was born in Minsk, Belarus.

Somehow, before being matched up with Rogov, Allison competed for the country of Georgia. Allison and Vasili are coached by an Israeli, a Russian and a Scot, while Cathy and Chris by an Israeli and Russian. They all train in Hackensack, NJ. figure skaters representing another country 

If you ask the Reeds privately what they are, they’d probably say American. But that’s how it goes in this expensive sport. The highest calibre skaters will scout the world looking for the best coaches, choreographers, and in some cases, partners, and are often willing to move training locales and switch citizenships in order to make their skating dreams become a reality.

A lot of skaters from traditional skating nations such as Canada, the U.S. and Russia will switch allegiances if they can’t crack their own senior teams. Ottawa’s Paul Bonifacio Parkinson competes for Italy. Parkinson finished second at the 2009 Canadian junior championships, but now trains in the U.S. and Germany where he’s coached by an American. His choreographer is Jeffrey Buttle, the former world singles champion from Canada.

There’s also men’s singles skater Christopher Caluza, who was born in the U.S. and competes for that figure skating hotbed, the Philippines.

The same for Ronald Lam, a good Coquitlam, B.C. boy, who will be competing here for Hong Kong. And then there’s Florent Amodio, who was born in Brazil, trains in the U.S. and Russia and competes for France. figure skaters representing another country 

One of my favourite skaters at this year’s worlds is Peter Gerber, who competes in the ice dance for Poland with partner Justyna Plutowska. Gerber is actually a good Toronto boy.

The only other Polish dude I know from Etobicoke is my buddy Ed Zawadzki, and I haven’t seen big Ed swirling around the ice in figure skates recently. I’ve seen him break a block of ice over a guy’s head, but not, you know, the figure skating thing.

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Even the Canadian team at this year’s worlds has a foreign flavour. In the ice dance competition, two teams from the Great White North feature women born in the U.S. – Piper Gilles, who skates with Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont. and Kaitlyn Weaver, who teamed with Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., to finish fourth at the 2012 worlds.

So if you find yourself cheering against Hanyu and Fernandez this week because of their affiliation with Orser, remember this: Chan’s coach Kathy Johnson is American, as was his former coach Christy Krall.

He also trains in the States.  

How do figure skaters representing another country feel about their choices?  They are just fine with it... That’s figure skating.


By Steve Buffery ,Toronto Sun

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