Time runs out on Ben

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

Enter Ben Ferreira. The momentous occasion was at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships the last time they were held in Edmonton, back in 1994.

"Most people may not remember me from that,'' Ferreira said yesterday. "I was a novice then.

"We had to get up to practise at 6 a.m. We competed at 8 a.m. But it was in the Coliseum. That was a big deal to all of us. There were about 12 people in the building to watch us at that time. We didn't care. We were in the big arena skating on the same ice as all the stars.''

No. Most of you probably missed that one.

"But you may remember that Elvis Stojko won the gold medal that year,'' Ferreira said, hopefully.

"I was the little guy who won the draw to hang the gold medal around Elvis's neck.

"I had the lucky number drawn to present Elvis his first Canadian gold medal. That was kind of cool.''

Elvis, we remember. The kid hanging the medal around his neck ... it's a little fuzzy.

But then there were the 1996 World Figure Skating Championships here.

We all remember that.

The plan was for Kurt Browning to skate while Michael Burgess sang O Canada in the opening ceremonies. But Ottavio Cinquanta, the head-in-the-sand boss of figure skating when it comes to judge scandals, said ''no way'' to the unfathomable crime of allowing a four-time world champion skater from here who had just turned pro to contaminate the ice surface on which his shamatuer skaters would compete.

Browning and Burgess sung a duet

Browning and Burgess were thus inspired to shove it up Cinquanta's puckered posterior by singing a duet. But they needed a skater to be Kurt Browning on the ice.

Enter Ben Ferreira.

"Kurt was just at the club the other day,'' said Ferreira. "I told him, 'I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for you.' I told him what I'd never told him before, that I was inspired by watching him at the '91 Worlds.'

"He laughed and said, 'I hope you're happy what you chose.'

"We talked about him picking me to replace him on the ice in the opening ceremonies and for a TV special as a really young guy to skate with him before that. It's a wonderful memory. We talked about it all a bit.''

It's eight years later.

That's where he came in. This is where he goes out.

At least, that was the plan. The fact that Canadians, which begin Monday, were here this year, inspired the 24-year-old skater to stay with it.

The thing about figure skating is that you hardly ever get a home game.

He's not going to hang a medal around Stojko's neck. And he's not going to skate in a ceremonies as a stand-in for Browning.

Ben Ferreira waited a long time for this. He's going to step on the ice in Edmonton to be Ben Ferreira.

"If Canadians hadn't been in Edmonton this year, I probably would have packed it in. Absolutely. Not too many skaters get to skate in front of a hometown crowd. I really wanted to stick around for it.

"I'm looking forward to a great week. This will be my 11th Canadians. For me to skate in front of my hometown kept me going. This experience is what kept me going. I'm an Edmontonian. I represent the Royal Glenora Club, even though I trained in Barrie the last two seasons. I'm back in Edmonton to be a hometown guy. The thing is you don't want to stay in the sport for two years so you could skate at home and then not skate well.''

Funny what's happened, he says.

"I've never skated this well in my life.

"It's the best I've ever skated by far. Maybe age brings perspective. It has experience wrapped up in it. All I can tell you is that I'm very centred and very in touch with who I am. It takes a while to get to that point and I think I'm there right now.''

Coach Leigh confirms all of the above.

"You will be very surprised to see what he's doing,'' said Leigh, the man who coached Stojko and Brian Orser to world titles. "He's on his game. He's going to look better than he's ever looked before. I think he got to the point where he really looked inside himself. The guy has certainly been working hard.''

BELIEVED TO BE THE NEXT ONE

Ferreira was once believed to be the next one after Orser, Browning and Stojko.

"It's a great moment for him,'' said Browning the day Ferreira took the job as his stand-in at the '96 Worlds. "He's going to be a champion some way.''

Ferreira teased us. He made it to a couple World Figure Skating Championships.

But he never put it together. Emanuel Sandhu and Jeffrey Buttle are now applying for the position that had been predicted and projected to be his.

Which begs the question Browning himself asked when they talked a couple weeks ago: "I hope you're happy what you chose?''

Ferrera said Browning said it as a joke and he laughed at the line.

But in all seriousness ...

"I'm so happy I found figure skating. To go out there and test my courage, to test my will, to test who I am as an individual. I've really enjoyed this journey.

"Whatever I do after this, I know I'll be taking it with me. This is where I faced my emotions head-on and went out there, no matter what happened, and fought for it. Anything I do in my life, I'll use what I've learned in this sport. I know he was joking but I wish I'd told Kurt. I've enjoyed the journey very much.''

Exit Ben Ferreira.


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