Manley returns to her roots

SHANE ROSS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

OTTAWA -- Liz Manley has done another 360, but not the kind that made her a famous figure skater.

Twenty years after winning the silver medal at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, Manley, 43, has returned home to coach at the Gloucester Skating Club, where she first learned to skate as a child.

"They say your life goes 360, so here I am right back where it all started," said Manley, who will serve as athlete ambassador at this weekend's Skate Canada International at Scotiabank Place.

She spent the past seven years coaching in Philadelphia and touring with figure skating shows. But in May, 2007, Manley got news that her mother, Joan, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, so she moved back to Ottawa with he husband and two poodles.

Her mother died of the disease last July at the age of 73.

"It has been a rough year," Manley said yesterday. "My mom and I were attached at the hip and were very close. I spent most of the year in the hospital with her. She was getting her treatments done in Kingston so I was commuting back and forth. One day she went in for an appointment, they were going to put her on a new trial drug, a new chemo, but she never came out. It was pretty sudden and pretty devastating to my family."

Now Manley has focused her attention to helping her father, who has Alzheimers.

"He's not doing well, either, so we're having a tough go in the Manley family right now, but it's nice to be home where I've got a lot of support.

"I've got a lot of friends here -- one of my brothers still lives here -- and I'm back coaching at Gloucester with everybody I grew up with."

Has it really been 20 years since Manley, with her short, blond hair and 100-watt smile, stood on that Olympic podium, silver medal around her neck, red rose and Canadian flag cradled in her arm?

Perhaps it doesn't seem that long because no Canadian woman has won an Olympic figure skating medal since.

"I definitely have fond memories, especially with Vancouver coming up," said Manley, who did a recent audition with CTV and hopes to work with them at the 2010 Olympics.

"You work so many years and you work so hard and you just never know if it's going to happen. I think it was just that ultimate moment, for any athlete, for that night to happen. Just the memory of standing there and realizing all the years paid off for that one moment. It's every athlete's dream and I lived it. It's just a great feeling."

It wasn't supposed to happen. Katarina Witt of Germany and Debi Thomas of the U.S. were the heavy favourites, and few people thought Manley had any chance at a medal. But with her parents in the stands, Manley performed the skate of her life and nearly snatched the gold from Witt.

"I work a lot with kids and I hope I can be an inspiration for them, because I was an underdog, I wasn't expected to do what I did," she said. "I hope that my experience can give hope to other kids who never know if they're going to make it or not."


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