Kurt ending to news of Buttle-Sandhu rivalry

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

They almost go out of their way, it seems, to acknowledge it simply doesn't exist. And heaven knows we've asked.

Rivalry? Just try to get Jeffrey Buttle or Emanuel Sandhu to admit one exists between the two of them, despite their status as the reigning giants of Canadian men's skating.

They qualified 1-2 for the Grand Prix final in December (Buttle finished second, Sandhu fifth). Buttle won the Canadian title last year. Sandhu was tops the previous two years.

They'll go at it one more time at the Civic Centre this week, with men's qualifying starting this afternoon.

Sound like the seeds for the next great skate rivalry? Not so fast, says one of the main players in perhaps the best tete-a-tete Canadian skating has ever seen.

"It hasn't been much of a rivalry," said Kurt Browning, who had some memorable duels with Elvis Stojko in the early 1990s. "It hasn't been like Elvis and Kurt, or Brian (Orser) and Brian (Boitano), where you each had your best and you were trying to beat each other. It's not like they've ever been in a knock down, drag out duel to beat the other.

"I agree it hasn't become much of a rivalry, just because of the way each one of them wins. One takes a turn handing it to the other one ... it's just two great Canadian skaters that take turns (winning)."

Browning thinks back to the classic battle he and Stojko had at the 1993 Canadians in Hamilton. It was figure skating at its zenith, with Browning's masterful Casablanca program carrying the night.

"I had one fall and I beat him," he said. "We punched and parried more than Jeff and Emanuel have."

Browning is in St. Louis this week for the U.S. nationals, where he's working with ABC. He's part of a revamped commentator team (with Terry Gannon and Dick Button) that will also work the world championships in Calgary.

"ABC just wanted a new dynamic," he said. "I've signed a two-year contract with them and hopefully it lasts for a lot longer."

CLOSE CALL: Quebec's Jessica Dube skated yesterday with a splint protecting a sprained right hand. At least she was able to compete. The 18-year-old was involved in a scary car accident in Drummondville in early December -- one her pairs partner, Bryce Davison, said could have been a lot worse. "She T-boned another car," he said. "She was lucky. If she had been in a smaller car, there would have been a lot of damage (Dube was driving a Jeep)." Dube, who wasn't at fault in the accident, was in a cast for a week. She and Davison couldn't practise certain lifts until a few days after Christmas. "We're doing everything we can now," said Davison. The former Canadian junior champs are one of the top contenders to land one of the two available pairs berths for the Turin Olympics.

LOVABLE LESLEY: Every sport needs a live wire like Barrie's Lesley Hawker. The 24-year-old charmed reporters with a few gems after her qualifying skate yesterday. On why she listens to country music to relax before competitions: "Two years ago, I went to Calgary (for a national team camp) and I fell in love with country music and cowboys." On how she convinced staff at Jack Astors in Barrie, where she used to work part-time, to show figure skating on Friday nights during big competitions like this one: "They've learned the girls wear short skirts when they skate." On the size of her family (she's the oldest of 10 children): "Same mom, same dad, no twins." Seven of her siblings are coming here this week, along with parents James and Linda. "Some of my brothers and sisters have never seen me skate live," she said.

ICE CHIPS: TSN and CTV announced all live coverage of this week's nationals will be broadcast in high-definition format, a first for a Canadian figure skating event ... Only two senior medal winners remain from 1999, the last year the Canadian championships were held in Ottawa -- Sandhu (men's silver) and ice dancers Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe (bronze) ...Hands up, anyone, if you can read the results on the video board at the Civic Centre. It's like a trip to the eye doctor. And you know how much fun that is ...1948 Olympic and world champion Barbara Ann Scott of Ottawa is honourary chair for this event.

AT A GLANCE

- What: Canadian figure skating championships.

- Where: Civic Centre.

- Today's events: 9 a.m. -- Junior men's short program; Noon -- Junior dance compulsories; 2:30 p.m. -- Senior men's qualifying.

- Tickets: Ticketmaster, 755-1111, or www.ticketmaster.ca.


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