Watching Emanuel Sandhu take to the ice in international competitions has long been like passing a car accident.
You want to look but are often disturbed by what you see.
After a disastrous qualification skate Monday that featured most of the carnage generally expected from the 25-year-old, the unpredictable Sandhu finally heeded the advice of coach Joanne McLeod and managed to steer himself back into contention for a world title.
"I said, 'You've got a beautiful car out there and you're expecting the serviceman to drive it,' " said McLeod of the pep talk following a disastrous 15th-place qualification skate she called embarrassing. "I told him, 'You're riding in the backseat. You need to drive your own car.' "
Last night, he made like Dale Earnhardt Jr.
With a crowd of 6,700 at the 'Dome waiting for another Sandhu car wreck, the Richmond Hill, Ont., native manoeuvred himself back into contention, going from 15th to fifth heading into tomorrow's free skate.
Drawing a roar of approval when he opened with a quad toe-triple toe combination, he proceeded to nail a triple Axel that has long been his downfall.
"I definitely felt more in control, like I was driving my own destiny," said the Richmond Hill, Ont., native who frustrated a nation when he finished 11th in Turin. "Destiny is not something I feel like I can change, per se. A road heading in a certain direction to a certain place -- that's destiny. But I'm the car, I'm the driver, I have steering. I want to control where I'm going. That doesn't mean trying to manipulate outcomes, just take control of what I can."
That he did. Aside from a slip on a triple Lutz that still garnered him points under the new scoring system, his was a powerful routine that brought a skeptical crowd to its feet.
Suddenly, he's in line not only to improve on his career-best seventh-place finish a year ago but he has a shot at the podium.
"I think I'm certainly capable of it," said the three-time national champ who has battled confidence issues his whole career.
"It's been a long time since I've felt this empowered by the way I've been skating. It's not something that's new to me but it's trying to come back and I'm trying to use it to my advantage. All I need to do right now is rely on my preparation and confidence, don't let the fears crawl in and don't let that perfectionism and that outcome try to take over and crawl into my headspace."
Grabbing a medal won't be easy as Sandhu (107.36 points) will have to leapfrog crowd favourite and Olympic bronze medallist Jeffrey Buttle (107.78), of Smooth Rock Falls, Ont.
The two Canadians sit a sizable seven points behind third-place Frenchmen Brian Joubert (114.36), who was the only one to outscore Sandhu on the night. Olympic silver medallist Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland leads the pack with 117.64 points, followed closely by Japan's Nobunari Oda at 114.48.
"Never, never underestimate Emanuel Sandhu, of course -- it's good to see he was focused tonight," said Buttle, the two-time defending Canadian champ who remained in fourth after falling on his triple Lutz. "I took the Lutz for granted and I wasn't focusing. I think I'm really good at channeling my anger when I have a bad skate, I want to redeem myself."
It was Sandhu who redeemed himself last night. Then again, he knows better than anyone it's how you cross the finish line that counts.
- - -
WHERE THEY STAND
After MEN's short program
1. Stephane Lambiel, Switzerland (117.64)
2. Nobunari Oda, Japan (114.48)
3. Brian Joubert, France (114.36)
4. Jeff Buttle, Canada (107.78)
5. Emanuel Sandhu, Canada (107.36)
6. Johnny Weir, U.S. (106.91)
7. Evan Lysacek, U.S. (105.25)
8. Chengjiang Li, China (104.82)
9. Ilia Klimkin, Russia (101.37)
10. Matthew Savoie, U.S. (99.33)