Sandhu challenged by rivalry

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 6:56 AM ET

One of the more intriguing plot lines in next week's Canadian figure skating championships at the John Labatt Centre will be the battle between upstart Jeffrey Buttle and reigning men's champ Emanuel Sandhu.

Some say the blooming rivalry has the potential heat of the Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko jump-and-spin shows that gave Canadian men's figure skating a solid heyday in the early 1990s.

The budding interest is entirely Sandhu's fault, of course.

London should be a reaffirmation of the status quo in men's skating rather than a coronation of a new king.

But there's no guarantee -- the magic in the feet always starts in the head and that's forever been the rub for the 24-year-old Vancouver resident. He is not focused on the rivalry or how the pressure of it affects his approach.

"If I focus on one specific skater, that's when I drive myself crazy," he said yesterday from his West Coast home.

Sandhu should have the advantage -- he likes to bust out several quad jumps during competitions while 21-year-old Buttle normally is content spitting out triples.

Sandhu, who has National School of Ballet training, is also one of the more artistically interesting skaters to pivot on a toe pick.

On creating programs, he said, "I could be sitting at a Starbucks and hear really any piece of music and I think about how to use it in skating or dancing."

He owns three Canadian senior men's titles, including the last two, and has finished at least second in seven straight nationals.

The four times since 1998 that Sandhu was runner-up, Elvis was in the building. The past three national championships, the promising Buttle has finished in Sandhu's rear-view mirror.

"I feel like a veteran," Sandhu said. "I look and see I've racked up all these medals (and) have been on the national team since '98 -- I've accomplished so much in terms of volume, which is really nice.

"(Nationals) are like a road map to my life. Each of those years, I can look back and remember what phase I was at."

The world stage hasn't been so memorable for Sandhu. He has worn the labels of "erratic" and "inconsistent" and has never won a medal at the world championships, although he says these days he can envision it.

"It's closer to being a reality now," he said. "It's definitely something I know I can do. My job is to connect the dots."

Heading into London, there's a bad taste in his mouth -- he finished fourth while Buttle was second at the recent Grand Prix final in Beijing, China.

Though he likes the new judging system, Sandhu couldn't comprehend that order of finish and suggested there might be some needed tweaks, including more value for quad jumps.

"I was shocked after the short program," Sandhu said. "When somebody does a quad-triple, how could they be behind someone who does a combination that is not even something a novice skater would do? I'm concerned about that."

Sandhu has shown he has the ability to overcome adversity -- he soared to gold after a seventh-place finish in the short program at the recent Skate Canada International in Halifax. He has worked hard at conquering the mental aspect of competition.

"I think I've gotten better, before maybe there was a moodiness and I had to work at emotional consistency," he said. "I had to learn to stay calm and not get worked up or too high, to understand where I needed to be as a person."

Though the final word on Sandhu's season will be written during worlds at Moscow in March, London presents a formidable challenge.

IF YOU GO

Canadian figure skating championships

When: Jan. 17-23 at the John Labatt Centre

Tickets: Call 519-488-1012, visit any Ticketmaster location or online at www.ticketmaster.ca or at the John Labatt Centre box office.


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