Ossie Colson still has healthy zest for life

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

Osborne Colson can kick his leg as high as Mikhail Baryshnikov on a good day. Ossie, as he is called by his friends, can also do the splits like Anne Pavlova did on her best day.

That, in itself, wouldn't be unique. Except for the fact that Ossie can perform these acrobatics on skates, which is pretty amazing for an 89-year-old skating coach.

Indeed, Osborne Colson, the figure skating coach at Toronto's Granite Club, celebrated his 89th birthday this week and is headed into his 90th with whim, vigor and humour.

The other day I had an opportunity to chat with the respected tutor of fancy skating and ask him about the secret of his longevity on blades.

Known for his humour, Ossie replied:

"It's partly due to my father's genes, but also because I've spent so much time on the ice. You know when you want to preserve meat, you put it in the fridge."

Colson does spend up to 11 hours a day on the ice, although he admits he sneaks away for an hour or two. Nonetheless, he usually is on the ice around 7 a.m. and his day seldom ends before 8 p.m.

In the intervening time he works his butt off with young skaters, most of whom would like to enjoy the best of two worlds -- have fun with friends and still become a champion skater.

One of the exceptions is 14-year-old Patrick Chan, who won this year's Canadian junior men's free skating title.

When asked what it was like to deal with a youngster 75 years his junior, Ossie replied: "It's easy, because I never grew up."

He used a similar wisecrack when I asked him what it was like to do the splits on the ice at his age.

Flashing that impish smile, Ossie replied:

"Making the splits is not that difficult but, after all these years, it's much harder to straighten up."

Young Patrick is not the only champion who succeeded thanks to Colson's tutelage. His most successful skater was Barbara Ann Scott, Canada's first Olympic gold-medal winning figure skater, who captured the prestigious honour at the 1948 Olympics in Switzerland. She was presented with a car by the grateful citizens of Oshawa, but had to return it in order to preserve her amateur status.

During his lengthy coaching career, the former triple Canadian men's singles champion was also helping Don Jackson, who eventually won the world championship in 1962 in Prague uder the guidance of Shesldon Galbraith.

Ossie also coached Canadian champion Don Tobin and US champion Donald Laws, as well as Canada's Karen Preston.

Closer to home, he coached Andra Kelly, the wife of former Maple Leafs superstar Red Kelly. Andra became North American champion and a star of the professional show Ice Follies. Ossie chuckled when he talked about Andra a woman who was "in a class by herself."

I think Colson could teach at a university. Not only skating, but also about life itself. He lectured his proteges about their role in life.

"I have the largest famiy in the world," Colson said. "The problem is they are not my own. Figure skating is an art sport and coaching the skaters runs in cycles. You bring along a youngster, who reaches a goal then retires, or starts coaching and you start working with the next generation.

"I'm not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but you have to teach the kids what life is all about besides skating."

Besides working wth skaters all his life, Colson also touched the movie business.

The legenday Joan Crawford was to star in a skating film, so they hired Colson to choreograpph her.

"She was a beautiful lady, but she couldn't skate," Ossie said.

"So we pushed her onto the ice where she struck a pose, the cameras recorded it and she looked in the film like a skating beauty."

So as cold rooms continue to preserve Crawford's film, so the "fridge" that is Ossie's rink continues to preserve him and make him look and act decades younger.

His dream is to see the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, hoping that he'd be able to watch one of his pupils represent Canada in the Games on home ice.


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