Whistler synchro teams medal in debut 

Whistler Skating Club enjoying banner year, but worried about ice time

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - CRYSTaL CLEAR The Whistler Crystallites at the West Coast Challenge Synchronized Skating Competition in Delta earlier this month.
  • Photo submitted
  • CRYSTaL CLEAR The Whistler Crystallites at the West Coast Challenge Synchronized Skating Competition in Delta earlier this month.

The Whistler Skating Club is emphasizing the true meaning of team with its recent program additions.

The club attended its first synchronized skating competition, the West Coast Challenge Synchronized Skating Competition in Delta, with both of its entries medalling in the Feb. 15 event. The pre-juvenile team, the Whistler Crystallites, earned a silver medal while the adult squad, the Whistler Mountain Edges, came away with bronze.

Club skating director Dianne Diamond explained that the sport requires all members to be in sync, from their heads and hands to their hips and legs.

"It's a very different way of skating. There are different elements that are required. They might not be the jumps and spins, but when you get to the really senior level, the dance level in synchro, the spins and the jumps are built in to the expectations of the program," she said. "At our level, synchro skating is a team [sport]. You have to have beautiful edges, beautiful turns, really technically solid skating skills.

"It really builds on that and the emphasis on that."

Edges team member Shelagh Thiessen was proud of the team's result. Thiessen grew up figure skating, joined the club as a coach with the Learn to Skate program, and jumped at the chance to join the synchro team when it was founded in September 2018. With her junior club in eastern B.C., Thiessen grew up taking part in "precision" skating, a similar idea to synchro, though it featured club members ranging from eight to 18 years old.

The experience is different as an adult, Thiessen said, though the feeling of camaraderie and working toward a common goal still remains.

"It's a little different getting back to it as an adult. Your skills are still there but they're not as refined as when you skate all the time," she said. "There's that change, and a little bit of how your body moves changes as you get older."

In that first year, the group—which fluctuated between seven and 10 members—focused on putting together a performance for the club's winter show in advance of Christmas, but this year, eyed taking on a competition for the first time.

After the first winter show, interest picked up and members started recruiting, then held an open house in September.

At that point, the skaters divided into two groups—the Edges and adult skating skills section, with eight on the team and between eight and 10 in the skills group.

"After our winter show in December, we checked with our group of skaters on the team to see if anybody felt that they would want to do a competition so the nerves weren't too bad," Thiessen said. "We figured we'd try it because we really didn't have anything to lose. It was more [about] personal development."

There was one problem, however, as a competitive team requires that teams have between eight and 16 skaters, but the Whistler group had just six. The squad was allowed to skate as a demonstration for feedback, but would have gotten one performance instead of the two allowed in competition. In late January, however, two Squamish athletes put their names forward.

"Three weeks before the competition, we were busy teaching our new teammates and trying to get things ready for competition," Thiessen said.

As for the youth team, co-captain Nana Matsunaga was proud of how the Crystallites performed en route to silver in its debut.

Serving in the captain's role with Daniela Legate, Matsunaga acknowledged that it was difficult but fun to take on the added responsibilities.

"As captain, we have to call out numbers and we have to make sure everyone's doing the right steps and they're on the right timing," she said. "It was a good experience.

"I enjoyed it a lot. I was telling everyone we could do it, synchronized together, and they would listen."

Diamond was enthused to see how well the two groups fared.

"They performed beautifully, both teams," she said. "It was a good start."

Diamond said the synchro clubs are part of a larger Skate Canada initiative to expand adult skating opportunities nationwide, with the chance for even beginner skaters to prove their mettle on the national and international levels.

The major roadblock, especially here in Whistler, is how the adult athletes would make the needed progress with just one hour of ice time per week.

With the junior skaters staying in the sport longer and reaching new heights, there's demand for ice time there, while, of course, hockey lays claim to a significant share of available access as well.

"[Competing at higher levels is] in discussion; it's just that we need a second ice pad," she said. "We're missing so many opportunities by not having a second pad.

"It's holding us back from really developing that program. Our young skaters are just excelling and our club is growing from CanSkate all the way up to our senior competitive skaters."

Thiessen said the club's first competition opened members' eyes to available opportunities and gave them a sense of where the team might get to one day.

"We're excited after that day, watching all the levels of other teams compete," she said. "I think I can speak for the rest of the team that we're keen to go back.

"I think doing some more competitions would be fantastic."

The Edges, who train from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. on Thursdays, still have room for eight more members, and anyone interested should reach out to info@whistlerskating.ca.

"Now's the perfect time because we are starting to think about next year's program and preparing it for the competitions next year," Diamond said. "You don't have to be a phenomenal previous champion. You just have to be someone who loves to skate and wants to be involved on the synchro team."

Earlier in the month, the club experienced plenty of individual successes as a dozen members competed at WinterSkate in Delta from Feb. 1 to 3.

Legate led the way with a first-place finish in the under-13 Star 4 girls' group while Teia Povoden took third in the same category. As well, Ethan Adanac won his first gold in Star 3 boys and he's now looking to advance to Star 4.

By season's end, Diamond expects there to be four or five Whistler members on the provincial development team, joining Matsunaga.

"The kids are on fire in terms of passion. They're so inspired and it's great," she said. "There's buckets of talent."

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