The wizard of Os is forever young

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

The gentleman shuffled from the opposite side of the hallway, using a cane to help himself move about.

As Osborne Colson approaches his 90th birthday, he scoffs at the age difference between he and 15-year-old figure skating protege Patrick Chan.

To him, it's not a big deal.

If there's any place where an 89-year-old figure skating coach can feel at home guiding the career of a teenager striving for something larger in his sport, it's got to be the Civic Centre.

After all, Brian Kilrea became the most successful coach in junior hockey history in this building, and at age 71 continues to lead his group of mostly teenaged Ottawa 67's.

'YOUTH KEEPS YOU YOUNGER'

Colson quickly pointed out another news item from the sports world that caught his attention: the hiring this week of 80-year-old Marv Levy as general manager of the NFL's Buffalo Bills.

"I believe that youth keeps you younger, and that I'm much younger at heart than my years," Colson said yesterday after watching Chan prepare for the Canadian championships at the Civic Centre.

A back-to-back Canadian men's champion in the mid-1930s, Colson is well known in figure skating circles for a quick wit and his deep devotion to the sport.

He has guided and helped such stars as Ottawa's own Barbara Ann Scott, Don Laws and, more recently, Karen Preston.

More often than not, people who passed him in a hallway yesterday would stop to say hello and try to get a bit of that humour.

His friends call him Ossie, or Os.

He never particularly enjoyed his given name, especially when attending grade school all those years ago.

"Osborne kind of made me feel like Little Lord Fauntleroy," he said.

To Chan, he's Mr. Colson.

"People might call him Ossie," the skater said, "but that would be just too uncomfortable for me because I was so young when I met him."

The two tried to figure out yesterday how many years have passed since Chan's parents approached the coach about taking their son's performances to the next dimension. Chan believes he was eight, perhaps nine.

The partnership has worked out well.

For three successive years under Colson's watch, Chan, who was born in Ottawa but moved to Toronto as a toddler, has captured national titles in three different age categories.

In 2003, he won the national pre-novice championship.

Two years ago, he was on top of the podium again in novice at the junior nationals.

Last year, the string of titles continued with his first-place finish in junior men's.

And now that Chan has moved up to senior men's ...

Oh, to dream.

"I'd like to make it into the top five here, even make the national team," Chan said. "Maybe even land a triple Axel in my program, if I do it."

HALL OF FAME MEMBER

Colson, a member of the Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Fame, quickly noted Chan's streak of national titles will come to an end this week.

"This is the only one we're not going to win," the coach said as Chan stood by, listening. "We don't expect to win because we know we're the youngest, and we know that Patrick just turned 15."

They'll practise some patience, with the target being the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

"I think with his talent," Colson said, "Patrick could do it."

The coach hopes to be there, too, when he would be 94.


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