Buttle beats Sandhu for men's title

RYAN PYETTE, Free Press Sports Reporter

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

The foundation for building Jeffrey Buttle into a champion figure skater began nearly two decades ago in London. If you don't believe in symmetry or a natural order in sport, then you couldn't have been at a sold-out John Labatt Centre last night as the wiry 22-year-old Buttle jumped and spun his way to his first national senior men's title at the Canadian figure skating championships in -- where else? -- downtown London.

Buttle, who claims Smooth Rock Falls as home but who first learned to skate at the local Forest City Skating Club while his father worked for Ontario Hydro, knocked off two-time defending champion Emanuel Sandhu.

The three-time champ failed to lock down two quads in his long program and ended up in second spot.

"It's fitting my first national title came in London," Buttle said with a wide grin. "I took private lessons with Carol Robinson and this is where I first learned to skate and love figure skating."

Buttle got his competitive start here and last night celebrated his greatest moment on domestic ice.

It capped a journey that took him from London to Timmins and Smooth Rock Falls to training at the Mariposa school in Barrie and last year to California.

Even without a quad jump in his long program, he had a personal-best free skate that included seven triple jumps and earned a stunning 156.95 points for an overall total of 262.23.

The 24-year-old Sandhu, who skated last in the final group, received 143.34 points for his long program and finished nearly 20 points back in the final total (242.66).

It was the first time the three-time champ and five-time runner-up lost at senior nationals to someone other than Elvis Stojko.

Tillsonburg native Christopher Mabee, who skated right before Buttle to lead off the final group, finished fifth and made the senior national team.

Shawn Sawyer of Edmundston, N.B., edged Edmonton's Ben Ferreira for third and a spot on the Four Continents squad.

At the end of his stirring performance, Buttle clapped his hands, raised his right fist in triumph and grabbed his head in pure joy. He said he was inspired by new women's champion, Joannie Rochette's performance Friday night.

"I felt so relaxed. It felt so easy. I could feel it in my knees going into my first jump that it was going to be good," he said.

"I talked to Joannie and she told me it was the same way for her. I was so excited. I forgot the end of my program, so I had to improvise."

Sandhu took solace in the fact that he'll join Buttle as the Canadian senior men's reps at worlds in Moscow in March.

"It's not really a big deal. I've won this three times before," Sandhu said. "It just wasn't my best skate. I don't know what happened on the quad.

"I was talking to (his coach Joanne McLeod) and she was saying I always go into worlds as the defending Canadian champion (and then finish off the podium). Maybe this time I'll go in (and win a medal).

"It's a joke we have."

Sandhu had to skate both the long and short programs as the last competitor in the final flight, always a mental battle because of the wait time.

"Skating in the last position isn't usually my favourite thing," he said.

Sandhu didn't know how Buttle performed or what his point total was because he was in isolation before his turn to skate. To drown out the crowd noise, McLeod was turning on sinks and flushing toilets so he couldn't hear what was happening at ice level.

"Some skaters skate better when they don't know what everyone else is doing, and Emanuel is like that," McLeod said.

Buttle, meanwhile, watched the rest of the competitors and had a big smile on his face when Sandhu's marks were announced.

The big boys finally came to skate last night and Buttle ended up as top dog.

"It's a way better feeling being in first now than it was last night (after Friday's short program)," he said. "It just felt right."

Buttle figures he is capable of a top-six finish in Moscow but he knows in the long term that he needs the quad jump or he'll never get on the world podium.

"It's a priority once I get back training," he said. "Either that or skate better than I did here."

He laughed at the thought.

There's not much chance he could skate better than he did here in London, where it all began.


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