Even champs lose focus now and then

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:15 AM ET

The complex man whose quest for the perfect skating routine continues to present a tortured odyssey is at least one step toward solving it.

Emanuel Sandhu acknowledged it and yesterday -- after springboarding from a lurching start to the leading senior men's qualifying performance at the Canadian figure skating championships -- he even got a chuckle.

The three-time Canadian champ slicked back his hair with both hands, rubbed them together with the anticipation of a home-run hitter and charged onto the John Labatt Centre ice to the applause of about 1,500 matinee skating fans.

Oops. Glitch and double-glitch before ripping the figure skating equivalent of a line drive to get on base and drive in a run.

"It made me laugh," he said after the wobbly opening. "I actually thought, 'Wouldn't everybody have a field day if I didn't qualify?' It went through my mind that I've got to turn these jumps or I'm screwed under the new system."

Sandhu has been characterized as one of those athletes whose dazzling ability blows the doors off right up to the door that has world championship written on it.

Then self-doubt intrudes. He says so himself.

"I was freaked out," he said after amassing 143.7 points once he got his fluid jumps lubricated. "I lost focus, and I have to get down and figure out why. Losing focus usually is what it boils down to with me."

How does one lose focus this far into a rather distinguished young career? If he or coach Joanne McLeod knew the answer, of course, the problem would evaporate.

"Maybe I've been a bit too hard on myself. Maybe I'm trying to make everything perfect," he mused. "I realize it's not good for my frame of mind to be a perfectionist."

Somewhere in the latest 4 1/2 -minute instalment of the Emanuel mystery, he reached into some area of his persona and retrieved whatever it is that restores his mental equilibrium. Or as he put it, got him back on his horse.

"Why was I questioning my ability? I know what I have to do and I know what I can do. And it sort of clicked and I went back to my old mode of thinking, which is not making a mountain for myself."

There is no problem with the physical machinery. The lean and muscular skater oozes talent recognizable to those who don't know a Salchow from an Axel. You get the sense that if he ever threw all caution to the wind, he'd come up with a skate for the ages. Instead, his quad-less performance didn't smooth out until he'd got past bailing out of a few triples to pull it all together and finish well.

"I'm glad it's behind me," he said after nosing out key competitor Jeffrey Buttle for the lead. "What I'm looking forward to now is showing everyone what I've been working on. I really do think I can do the perfect skate.

"What I have to do is take one thing at a time, one element at a time, just as a sports psychologist will tell you."

His coach looked on with relief. "I'm just glad it's over with," she said. "As a coach, you know everyone's watching and when he doesn't skate people give you that look."

With that, Sandhu was off to get his nose back into a book.

"I'm reading Harry Potter (and the) Goblet of Fire. I'm totally engrossed in it."

In a way, Sandhu is writing his own book. He wouldn't mind a title -- something like Sandhu Can Do.


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