Ah the Canadian ladies skaters, such a prestigious bunch. Back when Barbara Ann Scott became Olympic Champion, little did she know that she would be the one and only Canadian lady to achieve such status for more than 62 years. Given all of the countless countries in the world who participate in figure skating, it generally shouldn't be that surprising that many will never develop an Olympic Champion. Yet, the same cannot be said for Canada.
(Go to 2:30 for maximum merriment.)
The Great White North is the champion of all things ice. It is generally assumed that all Canadians have superior edges and skating skills given that all children are forced to figure skate to and from school due to the Siberian weather. This is what gives girls like Karen Preston, Liz Manley and Joannie Rochette their signature muscular thighs.
While Canada has found success in the men's, pairs and dance disciplines, they continue to flounder spectacularly in the ladies division each and every year. Their ladies are typically such fantastic head cases that each one has become a legend in her own right. Liz Manley. Charlene Wong. Karen Preston. Josee Chouinard. Jennifer Robinson. Mira Leung. Cynthia Phaneuf. And yes, even Joannie Rochette.
The saying goes that 'iron sharpens iron.' Jill Trenary got her shit together once Kristi Yamaguchi was hot on her ass. Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski were both better skates as a result of their rivalry. Yet, the mediocre Canadian ladies just never seem to be able to smash the 5th-8th in the world glass ceiling (and that is admittedly aided by per-country rules.) Their annual national championships are not as contested as their southern neighbors. In all likelihood, the impact of the level of competition among the ladies field is more akin to what would happen if someone sharpened a butter knife with an old rusty nail.
This is not to say that Canadian ladies never manage to pull off decent performances. It is generally accepted among skating fans that Canadian ladies can and will only perform well on home ice. Year after year, at least one lady will muster four or five triples at Skate Canada or Canadian Nationals and lift the hopes of a frigid nation. It is generally accepted that if one of their ladies ever pulls off a medal or even wins an event, that their press will magnify the event to such an extent that you will never stop hearing about it. Like the GOP, Skate Canada is able to get their media on board and coordinate talking points. Beverly Smith, Steve Milton, Debbi Wilkes, Tracy Wilson, Sandra Bezic, Kurt Browning and everyone else involved with the federation will echo the same praises again and again in order to build buzz for a major event. How many years were we told that Joannie Rochette was looking amazing and consistently landing triple-triple combinations during her short program run-throughs? Those hopes were only dashed year-after-year when the Canadian National Champion would pop a lutz or double-double the all-important jump combo.
Given the continental closeness, Americans are subjected to the Canadian media more than most. While the nations are supposedly allies and we certainly bring stardom to all of their comedians, there is also a nascent rivalry and cultural difference among the nations. Canadians WANT to win. They LONG to win. Yet Americans have a maniacal NEED to win. Americans require one thing in life: an American Ice Queen. Hell, an American Skating Mother would call Shane Stant to bash her daughter's own knee for fame and fortune if she knew she could figure out how to get away with it.
For fifty years, the American lady reigned as the HBIC and even when she lost, she wound up on the podium. It became such an obsession and after-thought, that the American skating establishment was dumbfounded when they were left with virtually no senior prospects after Cohen and Kwan retired after dominating the field for the better part of a decade.
The last four years are generally seen as an awful nightmare among the American skating establishment that our neighbors to the north enjoy more than free coffee day at Starbucks. It should be seen as an inconvenient blip, but that does not mean that anyone is taking it lightly. Alissa Czisny and Rachael Flatt should never skate anywhere in public that doesn't have at least four metal detectors because both would be tarred, feathered or drowned if the country had its way. While it is generally accepted that neither are remotely made of any sort of 'win,' it does not excuse any mental ineptitude or overwhelming blahness. While those two should always be looking over their shoulder, Caroline Zhang is unable to go to the bathroom without her older-MIT graduate sister at her side. Caroline committed the cardinal sin of showing potential and failing to realize it. One doesn't invent a kickass spin, show interesting moments of diva, win a World Junior title and then fail to improve childish technique.
Americans have never been so interested in Junior Worlds or Novice Ladies Nationals as they are now. We are constantly on the lookout for the next replacement, in order to ensure that the horror of Rachael Flatt being crowned National Champion never repeats itself. The Junior Grand Prix and Junior Worlds provide Americans with reasons not to slit their wrists, yet the Canadians like to point out that none of the recent junior world champions from the states have gone on to win a World or Olympic medal. As if the Bush presidency wasn't depressing enough for the yanks, Canada actually managed to put someone on the World and Olympic podium during the US' darkest days. And don't think they'll ever let us forget it. Mirai Nagasu has generally been seen as the next great hope for several years, but if Frank Carroll can't manage a World Medal out of her in 2011, we will gladly make her Liz Manley's next meal.
And who is to blame for Mirai's wonky technique anyway? Even though Mirai had countless coaches over the years (and at any given time), it is known that Charlene Wong is the one responsible from keeping her from being competitive with Mao and Yu-Na in 2010. Watching Charlene place a tiara atop the head of Amber Corwin year-after-year told us all we needed to know about the coaching ability of a Canadian lady. That isn't even taking Josee Chouinard's coaching of Yoshie Onda into question, which is simply too cruel and embarrassing to even go into.
No matter who comes along, the Canadian ladies remain the shame of their country. In many ways, they are their nation's own version of British Teeth.
There are certain roles and jobs that simply aren't meant to be. One wouldn't anoint a Canadian Lady as Ice Queen, the same way they wouldn't put a mouse in charge of the cheese, hire Josee Chouinard to be a sports psychologist, put Jennifer Robinson in a speed skating relay or ask Liz Manley for relationship advice.
Year after year, Canadian ladies manage to achieve new levels of corny and lame. If you want to amuse any non-Canadian skating folk, merely mention the words 'Jennifer Robinson,' 'wedding dress,' 'Salt Lake City,' 'Lori Nichol,' and/or 'Liebestraum.' If you really want them gasping for breath, try 'Mira Leung.' Just don't bring up 'Sarah Hughes,' 'Sasha Cohen's long program,' or 'Michelle Kwan's triple flip,' and it'll be a pleasant evening. In fact, Americans have long attributed Sarah Hughes' jumps and awkwardness to her father's side of the family.
In general, a Canadian ladies skater must be from Quebec in order to have any hope of being likable. It is likely due to our love for accents and the whole 'being seen but not heard.' Josee Chouinard was too charming to be ignored and we were even willing to give one another an elbow nudge and blame her Lillehammer long program on Tonya Harding. Years later, Yuka Sato would tell me in an interview that Josee had been freaking out in the locker room after the warm up and the Tonya delay wound up giving her way more time to prepare than she would have had otherwise. Surely, Tonya Harding's skate lace can't be blamed for all of her other long programs (or losing to Jennifer Robinson at '96 Nationals.)
Vitriol for Tonya Harding was so strong that Josee was even afforded a pro career on CBS. She even managed to make it to the World Pros skating to oldies tunes and 'the sweater.' We even believed Scott Hamilton when he made it sound that she was constantly landing triple axels. Every jump she ever did was overrated with her left hip turned sideways, so it could be possible...(and Yamaguchi is going to land a quad salchow...)
Josee was well-liked by audiences for personality reasons and we've even forgiven her for once beating several superior ice queens while skating a program that involved falling on a lutz and dressing up as a sad clown.
Joannie Rochette has even managed a degree of popularity over the years. She actually managed an entire consistent season in 2008-2009, though her World Silver Medal was earned with her objectively weakest skate. JoRo was back to form for the fall of '09, but we can all admit that she provided us will feelings of hope and inspiration for a good two weeks. We always like a good Lifetime movie and for a moment, we even considered making her our new Ekaterina Gordeeva. "Tell us Katia, how perfect WAS your fairy tale life until your husband just dropped dead?! Tell us again. Write another book so we can find beauty in your sadness...or just lend your name to a perfume.' Sadly, Joannie never did manage to cement herself in American culture. Oprah never did yell "JOOOOAANNNNNNNNNNNIIIIIEEEEEEROOOOOOCHETTTTEEEEEE" and she was all but forgotten by the ESPY Awards.
It is generally acknowledged that Canadian home ice is blessed by all sorts of miracles. Although the world would like to forget it, Liz Manley won the long program in Calgary and even beat Debi Thomas...twice. Though we relegated her to Disney and the Ice Capades for six years, even she was able to cash in on the 'ol skating boom. Just when we'd forgotten about that nightmare...
See, despite the fact that almost every good choreographer is Canadian, their ladies just lack a certain intangible zeal, a gusto. Never, would a Canadian lady have the most brilliant spiral done on a flat edge. They just wouldn't know how to perform a 'dance of the seven veils', roll their crystal ball or remove their robe and stand naked as a woman before the world. One of their choreographers could create it, but it would have to be given to someone else.
How are the Canadian ladies able to achieve such success in pairs and dance?
Canada has a storied history of men's World Champions. While none of these men will ever become Olympic Champion, they do influence their female counterparts and achieve success in tandem. While Canadian pairs and dance teams do go on to World and Olympic medals (and even titles), it is noticeable that the lady tends to be the weaker of the two in almost every duo.
The Canadian lady is rarely the Kyoko Ina of the pair. Jenni Meno is never left waiting for Todd Sand to land that damn triple toe. See, Canadian pairs skaters are known for their ladies' utter inability to land side-by-side jumps. While they manage throws and lifts just fine, one always finds themselves white-knuckling it when it is time for Isabelle or Jamie to do a double axel or triple toe. (Or in Underhill and Martini's case, a sit spin.)
While the Canadian lady in pairs and dance tends to be an attractive specimen, she can often be found breaking up marriages, having affairs, having a diva bitch attitude or being accused of being a whore (whether or not there is any factual basis.)
There are times that the world is swept up with Canadian duos. Americans got behind Sale and Pelletier during Skategate, but it is now generally believed that that was a result of all female network skating commentators being Canadian and due to our desire to stick it to the Russian judge for forcing Slutskaya on us over the years. Now if you ask an American about Skategate, they'll be quick to say "Oh, Elena and Anton were so much better. That program was corny and recycled." Whereas in '02, Sale and Pelletier's long program moved them to tears and moments of sheer glee, non-Canadians will now tell you that Love Story was ALL about the pit stains.
Americans were initially quite appreciate of Canadian-born Tanith Belbin bringing us back to the ice dance rostrum. The girl who made American Dance palatable (and Ben Agosto 'cool')is now remembered for her unfailing ability to run into walls, trip on Golden Waltzes and eff up twizzles when gold was there for the stealing during World and Olympic competition.
Even when a Canadian lady manages to be success as a member of a duo, there is always someone else to credit. It took Bourne and Kraatz forty five years to win Worlds, but that would've never happened without doing to horizontal mambo with Morozov.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir may be World and Olympic Champion, but they also live in Michigan and train with Russian coaches.
When order is restored over the next few years and some frigid American's mug is plastered on soup cans and happy meals, realize that this is how God intended it. Sandra and Tracy will go back to making excuses for the Cynthia Phaneufs of the world, but you'll know it just is how it is.
And if it's not, put up that wall in Arizona, because room needs to be made for the billions of Asian girls we're going to import. I sure hope that their mom and grandma know how to cook, because we don't need to go to MIT to know this equation:
Power Asian Wonder Child + Good Luck Necklace + Family Restaurant + Frank Carroll = Gold