Crashed & Burned
By BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun
LONDON, Ont. -- The sweethearts of Canadian figure skating flitted across the ice as they have so many times before. Shae-Lynn Bourne sent a spray of ice chips into the air, twisted and reached for the hand of Victor Kraatz, the man who has been her partner for a dozen winters now. So smooth. So perfect. And suddenly, so joyless.
There is trouble in paradise. If we were talking marriage instead of skating partners, Victor would be sleeping on the couch tonight.
The tour that opened Friday night in London is officially called A Homecoming Celebration. But in Bourne's case it seems more like A Homewrecking. This, really, is a Goodbye Tour and Thursday as she sits contemplating the end of a partnership that has endured more controversy than most marriages, her anguish is palatable. The atmosphere is frosty. Divorce can do that.
"This is so much different than I expected. It would've been nice if it was The Last Skate and both of us were ready for it. It would've been nice if both of us wanted the same thing."
For a lifetime they yearned and fought for that same goal. The quest for an Olympic medal or a world championship kept them in each others arms.
"We beat the Russians! We changed the face of figure skating," Bourne says, still with a hint of incredulity. "You just don't win and then quit. You go on tour and do shows, travel have fun and cash in and make some money."
And last March after winning the world title it seemed that's precisely what would happen: Kraatz and Bourne skipping hand in hand down a gilded pathway of frolic and profit. The fairy-tale ending -- pro sports style.
But Kraatz has always been slightly enigmatic. After all, who ever heard of a jock who could speak four languages -- none of which include profane. The couple's former agent, Ed Futerman, describes Kraatz as "an extremely intelligent guy ... he wasn't an oddball. He's mainstream Canadian." He's also the guy who spent three days last June sleeping on a bench in Paddington Station when his baggage got caught in a wildcat strike at Heathrow Airport in London.
It's not every day you find a world champion sleeping under newspapers.
There are the stories of how his mother, Dagmar, is descended from European nobility and how she came to Canada and remarried a rather well off older gentleman named Frederick Von Eugen.
While Shae-Lynn is emotional, Victor is cool and pragmatic. "Everything I've done in skating I've loved doing," Kraatz says. "I loved the travel. I learned a lot about myself."
But he says he stayed in figure skating to win. When they finally did, he had an epiphany.
"There isn't a sad feeling at all," he says of the final tour. "It's a progression in life. Things change or you get stale. There's a brain that I want to use. I'm not just athletic. I'm competitive by nature and this show stuff wasn't sitting well with me. You can't win -- you're not fighting to beat that other guy."
The joy of skating was gone. "It's something Shae and I differ on," he says, with maybe a hint of sadness.
Kraatz isn't sure where he wants to go; he just knows a show tour isn't it. "I have lots of interests -- maybe public relations, maybe coaching, maybe something in which I can use my knowledge of languages."
He understands people might be upset. But also, he believes, he must follow his heart this time instead of following Shae-Lynn.
"I thought it was to discuss which ice show we'd join," Bourne says of that day more than a month ago, now, when Kraatz told her it was all over. "I was shocked. Stunned. We had a mutual agreement; nothing on paper but I thought we had an understanding,"
Not that she hadn't thought of quitting herself. That came after the Olympics when the judges fitted them up for a fourth-place finish.
But "Victor said 'I really want to go one more year.' If we won, I thought the deal was that he'd stay three years (on the show circuit)."
Perhaps after all these years their age differences have caught up with them. She's 26 and says, "I'm not ready to hang up my skates." She'll look for another partner and maybe even take another crack at the Olympics.
He's 32 and if he's not having an early mid-life crisis, he is soul searching. He's getting married in June and he knows he no longer wants to make the physical sacrifices it takes to skate well, even if it is just for a tour. It's all a little confusing.
Figure skating no longer has anything that can hold him.
"I want to finish on top," Kraatz says. "I'd rather go out on a high than have people say they were good but why are they still here."
And, Bourne and Kraatz were good. Their Riverdance routine is ranked by some skating aficionados right behind Torvill and Dean's Bolero and the Duchesnays' Missing.
"What set them apart," noted choreographer Sandra Besic says, "is their athleticism and their edge quality. I've found that ice dancers can go the prissy route. They aren't. I like that.
"They had more of a sport attitude than a dancerly one ... they complement each other."
Well, they used to. The shows, with stops in Newmarket, Peterborough and Owen Sound, as well as a Toronto date on Wednesday as part of the Holiday Festival on Ice, will go on filled with smiles, flowers, cuddly bears and all the frilly trappings of the sport.
But, it won't be the same because the sparkle is gone.
"I don't know them personally," Besic says, "but all partnerships are difficult to sustain; to always be linked with someone else is difficult. That can be especially true when you're married ... and everything you do in life is connected to this other person."
So, ironically, the partnership that was born and fostered through controversy now ends in it as well.
In 1993, after winning the Canadian title, the other top dance team of Petr and Janoschak suggested the judging was biased in favour of Kraatz and Bourne. "There's always been controversy in ice dance," Bourne says.
But the irony is not lost on her, considering their biggest imprint on the sport came when they challenged the system and helped change the way the sport is judged.
It may have cost them medals at Nagano and Salt Lake City but Bourne hopes that other skaters will benefit from the new rules.
"They had to do something because finally people spoke out. It has given hope to North American ice dancers," Bourne says. "Looking back there are so many things and times to be happy about."
Right now her relationship with Kraatz just doesn't happen to be one of those times.
"It's civil, everything is fine," she says. "Our whole career has been one with peaks and valleys and every time something bad has happened I've learned and grown from it. This will be my biggest growth. I'll deal with it."
As they say in show biz, they're troopers. But as a celebration goes this one is filled with too much sadness and regret. It was not supposed to end this way.