LONDON, Ont. -- A funny thing happened on the way to our field day.
For a moment there, Emanuel Sandhu was the same gutless wonder we'd last witnessed making a mess of another moment by pulling the parachute at Worlds last year in Dortmund, Germany.
"I was freaked out. I said 'What am I doing?' I thought, 'Wouldn't it funny - wouldn't everybody have a field day - if I didn't qualify?' "
The three-time Canadian champion, not qualifying to get through to Friday for the short program ...
WE'D HAVE A FIELD DAY
Oh, yes. We'd have a field day.
"Literally, that's what went through my mind," said the quite contrary fancy skater (as opposed to figure skater) who traditionally treats fans to some sensational stuff to win Canadians before he takes the trip overseas and lets them down with a complete collapse at Worlds.
Sandhu was supposed to open with a quad-triple combination. He pulled the plug on it and turned it into a double-single. Mickey Mouse gives you more than that in Disney On Ice.
His next jump was supposed to be a Triple Axel. He downgraded it to a double.
He looked like the same no-try guy we watched in Dortmund. Historically, when Sandhu starts like that, he gives you four more minutes of the same sort of stuff. And, of course, the media has a field day with this guy who likes to wear fancy costumes and skate around the ice to music and do the jumps when it looks good but almost always fails to compete.
But, whoa! What was this?
Although most of us have long since learned to never, never, never, ever, ever, ever refer to him as possibly the "new" Sandhu no matter what we think we may have watched, he gave us something new to chew.
After his no-show git-go, Sandhu slapped himself around and produced eight triples, was forgiven for his initial transgressions by the new judging system, and ended up finishing first in the qualifying competition.
That's significantly different than the three-time Canadian champion missing the cut of 24 skaters who go on to the part of the event when the TV cameras are on.
Fail to qualify?
"I was really pissed off and angry. Then that thought just made me laugh. I told myself 'Why question my abilities now?' "
When Sandhu blurted out the "Wouldn't everybody have a field day if I didn't qualify?" quote, the media in the mixed zone scrum laughed at the line.
But not coach Joanne McLeod. She didn't crack a smile. She looked, one media member suggested, shell-shocked.
"To stand here and have an athlete answer questions gives you an in-depth perception of how that athlete is thinking.
"Emanuel is trying to become a better human being," she said. "There are areas he doesn't quite know about himself."
When we last left Joanne McLeod in Dortmund last year, there was the thought that it would be over, that Sandhu's embarrassing skate was the final straw, that she couldn't put herself through much more to get through to the Torino Olympics and Calgary Worlds with this guy.
But, despite another disaster at the Grand Prix Final this year, McLeod and Sandhu arrived here for another go yesterday.
"Really, I want the best for him," she said of the 23-year-old with the troubled family background who she virtually adopted when he waited for a ride outside a rink which was never going to come.
"You keep going to the Stanley Cup final and not winning ... it's taxing all the time. I have other athletes who are good. But he's a kid who has had so many complications in his life. It was a case of saying 'Something has to change here.' "
PSYCHOLOGISTS DON'T WORK
Sports psychologists don't work with Emanuel, she says.
"He needs assistance in psychology not in sports but as a person. It's admitting and being willing. He's been in denial in certain areas. I've given up a lot in my life for this sport. I've decided to pull back from him a little bit and let him deal with it."
But she's still there for him, still coaching him, still trying to find a way to get him to that Stanley Cup final and that glorious day.
Meanwhile, we watch and wait for another field day.