Nexxice soars to world bronze

RYAN PYETTE, FREE PRESS SPORTS REPORTER

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

At times this year, Sheri Moir's ankle was so swollen, she couldn't cram her skate onto her foot.

Like most of her teammates, Londoner and first-year York University student Allison Proudfoot made the committed commute to Burlington and Waterloo every day for skating practice.

But obstacles such as injuries and distance don't deny desire or destiny -- a lesson the Canadian champion Nexxice synchronized skating team proved with a stunning bronze-medal performance at the world synchronized skating championships before 6,530 wild fans at the John Labatt Centre last night.

"We weren't thinking of placement -- we just wanted to skate the best we could, we did that and a lot fell into place for us," 25-year-old Nexxice captain and University of Guelph student Jennifer Beauchamp said.

"To win a medal at worlds and to skate in front of this supportive home crowd, it's a dream come true. Nothing can top this."

Nexxice, which finished fifth in the short program on Friday night, leaped ahead of the upstart Russians and Finland 2 (Team Unique) in last night's free skate to claim Canada's first medal at the worlds since a bronze in 2003 at the Ottawa Civic Centre. Finland and Sweden had dominated the world event the last three years, but the Finns left London without a medal this time.

Powerhouse Sweden 1 (Team Surprise) reclaimed its gold perch atop the podium after a disappointing silver medal last year thanks to a dominating 222.24 points, nearly 25 ahead of runner-up USA 2 (the Miami of Ohio University senior varsity team's 198.71 points). Consistent Canada 1 finished with 194.08 points -- less than one ahead of fourth place USA 1 (the Haydenettes).

"There's a lot of very talented teams here and to be considered one of the best in the world is a remarkable achievement," Proud-foot said. "Winning nationals (in Quebec) was almost a letdown because my family and friends weren't there . . . To do this here in front of everyone was so rewarding, something I'll never forget."

Nexxice, who is coached by Burlington native Shelley Barnett, felt her program took a major step this year by enlisting Freelton's world-renowned edges coach Anne Schelter. The figure skating guru has worked with former Canadian men's singles star Brian Orser and many of the world's top ice dance and pairs teams before embracing the synchronized side of the sport.

"She brought an artistic side to me I never knew I had," Beau-champ said. "She's demanding but she knows her stuff and she taught us so much. We kind of knew after (a fifth-place finish at) the French Cup this year that we had a chance to do well but we had to work hard. It paid off."

Letting it all hang loose in a din not heard at the JLC since the Knights' 2005 Memorial Cup hockey final, the partisan crowd of 12,992 at the two-day event sparked Nexxice and Canada 2 (sixth-place Les Supremes) to standout performances.

Barnett had her team get used to the noise by skating out early to wave to the crowd. That ear-ringing introduction actually served to drown out potential disaster when Nexxice's music started too early. The skaters recovered to put together their most technically sound program --a personal best 64.85 points.

"I don't think they even heard the music start," Barnett said. "It was a good skate."

Seconds after their routine, Moir, the former junior world ice dance competitor, was already out of her skates and limping around trying to escape the pain.

"It's a combination of old injuries that have just added up," the Ilderton native said. "It swelled up on me. It was tough . . . For something like this, you just suck it up and skate. You're in front of your hometown and it doesn't get any better."

The girls of Nexxice skated to music from Edward Scissorhands, the movie figure who was a social outcast because he couldn't do a lot of normal things with his unique digits. With former Nexxice skater Cathie Dyke in the crowd dressing the part of the character, the team proved Canada is no longer an outcast on the global synchro stage. "He (Scissorhands) can grip a bronze medal," Beauchamp said with a laugh.


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