What we've been waiting for all week long

Morris Dalla Costa, Free Press sports columnist

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

On a night when everyone was wondering whether there were any Canadian men skaters who would respond as champions, the answer came back a resounding Mabee. The men's final last night turned into something that had been missing so far this week -- a competition that skaters were prepared to win rather than watch someone else lose.

It was a week of mediocrity for the men. But after the first gate, one got the feeling that would change.

Tillsonburg's Chris Mabee skated first in the final group of six and left the sold-out crowd at the John Labatt Centre on its feet.

"It's was the performance of a lifetime, for sure," Mabee said after finishing with a final score of 206.85. It allowed him to finish fifth and earn a spot on the national skating team.

After landing the last triple of his night, a triple salchow, he clapped his hands, yelled in sheer joy and broke into a huge grin.

"It's my worse jump and my legs at that time weren't the best," he said. "This was a lot of fun. From the moment I stepped on the ice, I was in a zone. I didn't exactly what I wanted to do."

He was followed immediately by Jeffrey Buttle, who led the competition going into the free skate. The question asked all week was who would respond to the pressure. Buttle did, with a memorial performance landing eight triple jumps and making only one error. It earned yet another standing ovation.

His total score of 262.23 left defending champion Emanual Sandhu, who was already trailing, with no wiggle room.

Which Sandhu would show up? The man capable of being a champion or the one who would fall flat on his butt. It turned out to be the Sandhu who doesn't leave much of an impression.

Sandhu wasn't aware of Buttle's score but it didn't matter. The on-again, off-again Sandhu passed on a his planned quadruple and didn't skate well enough to earn another championship.

With the strong performance of New Brunswick's Shawn Sawyer, Sandhu was fortunate to finish second and earn a trip to the world championships.

In the end, Buttle's performance was worthy of a championship. Until last night, the men's competition was but a shadow of what it once was. The legacy of Brian Orser, Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko was proving hard to fill.

And there's Buttle, a 22-year-old without a quadruple jump in his arsenal. But Sandhu proved that having a quadruple and not having the ability or the strength to land it is like not having a quadruple at all.

He has repeatedly faced questions about his competitiveness and mental toughness.

The enigma that is Sandhu showed itself even within his program. He twice popped a quadruple turning one into a single and another into a double. Yet moments later he landed a perfect triple-triple-double.

His response to not winning the Canadian championship may be a testament to why the next-great may always be just that, the next great. "(Not winning the championship) is not that big of a deal," he said. "I've won it three times already."

But true champions don't settle for second best . . . ever, especially when their title is on the line.

Those who do are forever doomed to the title next-great in waiting.


Photos