Sandhu a tough act to follow

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- Anyone who has followed his often mercurial figure skating career can tell you this much about Emanuel Sandhu.

There is good Emaneul. There is bad Emanuel. And you never quite know which one you're going to get.

In the 4 1/2 minutes it took him to lay down the best men's qualifying skate at the Canadian figure skating championships, Sandhu gave the John Labatt Centre audience a little bit of both yesterday.

There you had it, in capsule form. A snapshot of the enigma who's redefined the term 'maddeningly inconsistent.' Nobody questions that he's the most talented guy here. But always, some will wonder whether he'll get the job done.

Even Sandhu had a strange moment of doubt after a planned quadruple toe-triple toe combo became double-single. And he followed that up by singling a triple Axel.

"It made me laugh," said Sandhu, 24, of Richmond Hill. "I was like, this is so silly, why am I questioning my ability right now? I'm ready for this competition. I know what I can do, and then it sort of clicked into place that this isn't that hard."

More like a flicked a switch, you might say. What flowed after the rough start was sheer brilliance. Eight clean triples in all, with some pretty dazzling stuff in between.

Sandhu admitted he went from feeling "freaked out" to being "pissed off with myself and angry."

"I was thinking 'what am I doing?' " said Sandhu. "Then it became 'wouldn't it be funny, wouldn't everybody have a field day if I didn't qualify? It's actually literally what went through my mind. I'm like I've gotta turn these jumps or I'm screwed ... with this new (scoring) system, you have to do it."

ROLLERCOASTER RIDE

Imagine being a fan watching that Jekyll and Hyde show. Then again, imagine being Joanne McLeod, the woman who has spent years nurturing Sandhu's immense talent. And has ridden the rollercoaster along with him.

If anyone understands Sandhu's act, it's McLeod.

"It's not so much about consistency. It's who he is. Travel with him for a week and you'll find out," she said with a knowing smile.

McLeod is also smart enough to know how the game is played here. Even at a few notches below his best, Sandhu is still much, much better than most in the men's field.

"He did everything but the quads," she said. "At a (Canadian) championship, how many guys are going to do everything but a quad? Probably three."

Jeffrey Buttle wasn't among them yesterday. The only skater considered to be in Sandhu's class did a reverse Emanuel yesterday -- strong start, not-so-good finish.

Buttle opened with a triple flip-triple toe combo, but put down only three other clean triples the rest of the way.

"I just wasn't comfortable with the ice," said Buttle, 22, of Smooth Rock Falls. "It's not something I was happy with."

IN THE HUNT

The good new is, he's still within hailing distance of Sandhu, who scored 143.17 points yesterday. Buttle's total was 137.39, but only 25% of it goes forward. Meaning Sandhu's real edge is 35.79-34.35 -- less than two points.

And Buttle, who came here brimming with confidence after a silver-medal performance at the Grand Prix final last month in Beijing (Sandhu placed fourth), is hardly going to let yesterday's effort upset the apple cart for him.

That's a quality he might have learned in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., where Buttle now spends half his training time working alongside five-time world champion Michelle Kwan.

"The mystery was taken away about why she's a world champion. She is continually training on the ice," said Buttle, whose main base is Barrie's Mariposa School of Skating.

Then again, perhaps Buttle simply knows what he's up against.

"I'm not that far behind," he said when asked if he watched Sandhu skate. "Maybe it wasn't his best night either."

If only he knew.


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