GOTEBORG, Sweden -- Finally he's no longer The Boy Toy. At last he's dumped the descriptions of being The Mistake, The Experiment or The Gamble From Grande Prairie.
Cody Hay has heard them all. And he goes on the ice tonight for the first time knowing he doesn't have to hear them ever again.
When Hay takes Anabelle Langlois's hand and skates to the middle of the ice to await the start of their music for the pairs short program as the World Figure Skating Championships begin here tonight, for the first time he'll do so as her equal.
She's his pairs partner but for the first time, tonight, they'll be out there as equal partners.
For three years he'd heard all the putdowns of the pairing Olympic gold medal winner David Pelletier put together when Langlois lost her previous partner due to his inability to continue skating with her with his heart aching as a result of unrequited love.
But when Hay holds Langlois's hand as they're introduced to the world as new Canadian champions for the first time, the 24-year-old will finally be the man - her man.
"This is a huge moment for us," he said.
"When she took me on as her partner I was fifth in junior. She was fifth in the world. She'd already been in the Olympics."
But there was one thing she hadn't been.
"She'd never been Canadian champion," said Hay. "Now she's Canadian champion. This sets us apart from who she was before she started skating with me. Now we've done something together she was never able to do with a previous partner."
Tonight Annabelle Langlois and Cody Hay will go forward to be the best they can be together, to be better than Langlois and Patrice Archetto had been before when they finished seventh and fifth at Worlds and 12th at the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Games skating out of the late great Edmonton Royal Glenora figure skating factory.
"She had to wait for me to get where I had to be," said Hay. "She had to stay stagnant to wait for me to get from being a fifth placed junior skater into someone who could reach higher than that at Worlds."
Hay, 24, says the best part is knowing she can finally be proud of her partner and now proceed as a normal pair.
If they can take this to a world and Olympic podium now, oh the story they're going to be.
While Grand Mere, Quebec, native Langlois is only two years older than Hay, the norm in the sport is for the man to be significantly older than the little lady he's pitching all over the place. And pairs partners aren't usually found in rodeo county in Alberta's Peace River area from where Don and Denny Hay, no relation, became saddle bronc legends.
Hay's story coming out of Dawson Creek, B.C., and then Grande Prairie began much like Kurt Browning's coming out of the foothills of the Canadian Rockies in Caroline, a young hockey player his mother convinced to take up figure skating to make him a better skater for hockey. Cody's mom Cecilia was a figure skating coach in Dawson Creek and urged him to sign up to improve his hockey skating.
"It wasn't long after he took it up that he told me 'Mom, I think I'm born to be on the ice,' " she said.
"I was 11 when I started in Dawson Creek. I didn't know anything about figure skating. I wasn't inspired to take up figure skating by Kurt Browning or anything like that. I hate to admit this but I didn't even know who he was. It wasn't until my first figure skating coach, Marilyn Kreuzinger, took a vanload of us from Dawson Creek to Edmonton that I saw his banners and everything there in the Royal Glenora and even met him that I was definitely inspired," said Hay.
Cody Hay didn't look like either a hockey player or a figure skater as a kid.
"He was very small," said his mom. "One of the girls at the club, the daughter of his first coach, said 'He's the only person I know who can make Spandex sag.' "
Now he's 5'11" and 170 pounds and hoists his partner over his head and holds her up there with one hand.
He may not have looked like he was a hockey player or a figure skater but he was both, often on the same day.
"I remember one day I drove him an hour and a half from Dawson Creek to Grande Prairie to play a hockey game in a tournament and then another hour away to Valleyview to compete in figure skating and then back to Grande Prairie for another hockey game that night," she remembers. "He did both for two years."
Kurt Browning may have had his challenges being the son of a mountain guide and outfitter being a fancy skater, as it tends to be called in cowboy country. But nothing like this son of a trucker.
"His older brother's friends were almost a little vigilante squad," remembers his mom.
"The hardest times came when he was in school. When he was in Dawson Creek he was given such a rough time, including from a couple of teachers. It was a very bad time. He was told by one teacher that he was a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. He had to be moved from a Grade eight class over to the high school where they had a teacher-supervised computer program. We'd just moved to Grande Prairie and he stayed to finish the figure skating season. When they took him in at the high school, it made it a wonderful time for him."
Hay hasn't had the warm fuzzies about the town where he was born, but he adored his first coach and this year, when he returns from Worlds, will be going back to do an ice show in Dawson Creek for her.
"Even when he went to Grande Prairie, it was hard," said Cecilia. "There was a falling-apart with the coach. Let's call it that. Cody didn't know if he wanted to skate anymore. Or the way he put it to me, 'I want to skate but I lost the joy of skating.' "
Cody Hay graduated from high school in Grande Prairie, then immediately headed for Edmonton and the Royal Glenora Club where a French Canadian skater by the name of David Pelletier, who had moved there to skate with Jamie Sale, became his friend.
"Cody could speak French and David had someone to talk to. Cody became a best friend to him," said Cecilia, who along with husband Calvin and the rest of the family, Travis, 26, Carson, 20, Kayle, 19, Molli, 5, and Hanna, 2, would all eventually move to Edmonton as well.
Cody doesn't talk about what he went through growing up as a figure skater in the Peace Country other than to say: "It wasn't easy, that's for sure, especially in those years in Dawson Creek. Grande Prairie was more accepting. In Grande Prairie the kids were not all playing hockey. Some were into volleyball and some other sports.
"But Edmonton was great. There were a lot more guys skating in Edmonton."
For six weeks every summer and during the Christmas holidays, Hay had been coming to Edmonton, which is kind of the way it works now that he and Langlois skate out of the Mariposa Club in Barrie, Ont. The two spend the summers in Edmonton working with Sale and Pelletier, and Cody comes back to spend Christmas with the family.
As a singles skater Hay first went to nationals as a novice and finished sixth.
When he came to Edmonton and signed on with Cynthia and Jan Ullmark, who coached Sale and Pelletier to both world championship and Olympic gold medals, they convinced him to try pairs.
"I didn't want to do it," he said.
"They convinced me to try it out with Daylan Hoffman as my partner. Together they finished sixth in juniors and even got a trip to Sofia, Bulgaria, for a Junior Grand Prix event."
The two decided they weren't going anywhere together and Hay split with her about the same time Archetto was telling Langlois he couldn't go on with his hurting heart.
That's when Cody's mom came back into the picture followed by Pelletier and made the match which will take to the ice here tonight as Canadian champions hoping to manufacture a medal in Vancouver 2010.
"I had shows scheduled for Banff and Sexsmith and I had no partner. Mom went up to Annabelle and asked her to fill in," said Hay.
"Cody didn't want to ask her. He said 'I'm not very good and she's Anabelle Langlois.' So I said, 'Okay, then, I'll ask her.' I went to Annabelle and asked if she had any plans and she said no. I explained the situation and she said 'Sure.' They both went to David to put a program together for the shows and the rest is history," she said.
"David helped us a little bit. When we came back, he talked to Annabelle first and then he came and talked to me. He told us he thought we should get together and give it a shot," said Cody.
"I was terrified!
"I kept thinking if I'm skating with her it's the real deal. She's been to the Olympics. I've been to junior nationals.
"And looking at such a huge, huge learning curve in an abbreviated time frame was intimidating, too."
Pelletier convinced Langlois that he saw something special in this kid from Grande Prairie and if she took a chance he could pay off big time as a partner down the road.
Langlois took the chance.
"Her biggest fear was that she was going to have to be the one coaching me. That's why we moved to be with Lee Barkell in Barrie.
"She wanted a coach to take control of the whole situation, a coach that neither of us had past experience with during any point of our skating careers. That really worked."
Hay looks back now and can't believe how far he's come.
"There was so much criticism about my inexperience and so many people saying we wouldn't be able to do it. But I've come so far these last three years. I've come huge leaps.
"I look at the video tapes from three years ago and I'm not the same skater. And as a pair, we've come quite a way too," he said of the two who qualified for worlds and finished 10th together last year.
"Now that I've caught up with Anabelle we can learn things together now. We're still improving. I can still see a lot of room to improve. I'm happy with where we're at and where we could be," he says.
Hay said the best part of it all was the two weeks between when they became Canadian champions together and when she passed a kidney stone.
"After we won the Canadian championship she was on cloud nine. The kidney stone brought her down pretty good," said Hay.
"It was really, really painful," said Langlois.
"There was not much I could do about it. I ended up in the hospital three days before we were supposed to leave for Korea to go to Four Continents.
"I thought it was a rib injury. I thought I had refractured my rib. After Skate Canada I bashed my rib against Cody's shoulder in training. It kind of still sticks out of my body. Maybe I'll have it re-broken to heal better. Anyway, I felt the kidney stone moving. And there's nothing you can do about it until they pass."
There's an expression a great many Olympic athletes use after their careers are over and they can look back at what happened to them: It's about the journey. For Langlois it's been a journey like few experience in any sport.
She remembers back when the Canadian Figure Skating Association tried to talk her out of hooking up with Hay and how Pelletier fought with the high performance people in the sport to give the unlikly pair a chance to get to this day.
"It feels so long ago now. We're such a different team now. I don't know how you can compare it," she said of where she's at with Cody going into this event compared to the last time she competed at Worlds with Archetto.
"We've really jelled. Everything is easier. We have so much awareness of each other and so much room to still improve. And the podium is not way, way out of reach anymore.
"We're at a really good place night now."