Buttle saluted by Stojko

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

They once shared the same training ice, the much-decorated world champion and the aspiring young wannabe.

Different goals, vastly different places in their careers.

But Elvis Stojko, the king of figure skating at the time, admits now he didn't always see Jeffrey Buttle as a possible successor to his throne.

"When Jeff was younger, he was a totally different skater than he is now," Stojko said yesterday. "He was one of those skaters who was slowly, gradually moving up the ladder."

Their paths to the top are strikingly similar. Neither earned a medal at the novice national level. Stojko won the Canadian junior men's crown in 1988; Buttle was a silver medalist 10 years later. Both finally hit the big time as seniors.

"Some of these kids really show up in pre-novice, novice and junior, they're like these wonder kids," said Stojko, while relaxing in the southern U.S. on a break from tour skating. "And they get to senior and just can't handle it. For some reason, they go nowhere.

"There's other skaters, they do pretty good, you don't hear about them too much and then all of a sudden when they hit senior, they just explode. Jeff is one of those skaters ... he's really taken off, and it's great to see."

Stojko saw one clear hint of Buttle's future promise when they both trained at the Mariposa School of Skating in Barrie.

"He always had musicality, he always had music in him," said Stojko. "I remember that was something that kind of connected.

"When he was about 17 or 18, I noticed a huge difference in him. He was kind of this shy kid on the ice, then all of a sudden the next year he was in your face artistically ... he just came out of his shell."

Buttle's also fed off Stojko's tireless training regimen, and saw first hand what it took to win at the highest level.

"The biggest thing was seeing him do the run-throughs, the consistency," said Lee Barkell, Buttle's coach. "Jeff's work ethic was always there ... when he was out on the junior circuit, he learned how to compete."

Indeed he has. Buttle is on a 13-event medal streak, including a silver at last year's world championships in Moscow.

In some eyes, it's happened rather suddenly. There's a lesson in there, Stojko said.

"That's why you never say 'he'll never do it' or 'he'll never make it.' You never know when that button is going to be pushed on inside of them," he said about judging a skater too soon.

THE BIG SHOW: The fast track seemed a little too swift for Ottawa-born Patrick Chan yesterday. Seconds before making his debut skate in the senior event, Chan looked his coach in the eyes and asked, "Am I ready for this?" His mentor, the ageless Osborne Colson, offered a reassuring response: "Definitely. You've worked hard for this." By the end of his qualifying skate, Chan finally felt like belonged. "I've never been so nervous in my life," Chan, 15, the youngest entrant in the field, said after finishing fourth in his qualifying group, easily advancing to Friday's short program. "I think you'll see a different performance when he does the long again (on Saturday)," said Colson. "He'll be himself."

LAST DANCE? Whispers around the rink suggest this might not be the Canadian championships swan song for three-time senior ice dance champs Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. She's 31, he's 30, and they've repeatedly said a medal at the Turin Olympics is their ultimate goal. But the Montrealers also haven't revealed any specific plans beyond the world championships in Calgary. Worth noting: Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz stayed eligible for one more year beyond the 2002 Olympics, and won their only world title in 2003 in Washington. Don't rule out Dubreuil and Lauzon -- who are very much on the rise on the world scene -- considering the same strategy.

ONE STEP CLOSER: Allie Hann-McCurdy of the Gloucester Skating Club and Delhi's Michael Coreno got off on the right foot in the junior dance event, winning yesterday's compulsories. Last year's silver medalists in this event hold a 1.96-point lead over Quebec's Mylene Lamoureux and Michael Mee. The original dance is today at noon.


Videos

Photos