GANGNEUNG, South Korea – There’s a validation in delivering on practice and potential during the four minutes when the lights are brightest that is intoxicating, and it’s why Kaetlyn Osmond wished her free program at the Olympics simply wouldn’t end. She hit her closing pose and then sat on the ice knowing she’d finally performed to Black Swan the way she wanted to, positioning herself for a medal with two clean skates, conquering that troublesome triple loop along the way.
So the native of Marystown, N.L., radiated the joy of an athlete finding that long sought peak and attaining that hard-earned reward, in this case a bronze in women’s figure skating that was Canada’s record 27th Winter Games medal. In September 2014, when she broke her right leg in two places in a training crash, Osmond thought she might never skate again. Instead she fought back to earn a podium she never believed possible.
“The whole ending of my program,” said Osmond, “I was just loving every single minute of it.”
As well she should, because the other end of spectrum is so heart-wrenching.
Teammate Gabrielle Daleman, the Canadian champion, couldn’t leave the Gangneung Ice Arena fast enough after three falls in a stunningly trying free skate. The 20-year-old from Newmarket, Ont., was hit by nerves and nausea about two minutes before she took the ice, never felt like herself once she got on it and couldn’t recover after botching her triple toe loop-triple-toe loop combo.
Admirably, she powered through the rest of her program without downgrading any elements, sobbed once she was finished, and then spent 20 minutes crying afterwards. The performance was so painful, Joannie Rochette, the 2010 bronze medallist in Vancouver who befriended Daleman, texted and then phoned her afterwards to offer support, reminding her that regardless of what happened, she’s coming home an Olympic champion having helped Canada to a gold in the team event.
“She just said we all have bad days at office, we don’t know why it happens, we don’t know how it happens, it’s just sport and she just said she’s sending all her love. I’m going to see her before worlds, so she said can’t wait to see you,” Daleman said. “She’s the reason I got into skating, so to hear that from her meant a lot.”
That inspiration was spawned by Rochette’s fifth-place finish at the 2006 Turin Olympics, before her captivating performance in Vancouver, when she courageously skated her short just two days after her mother Therese died suddenly, then followed up with a brilliant free program to claim bronze.
Osmond watched the 2010 performance and remembers thinking, “that was incredible, it’s something I’m never going to be able to do.” But four years later, she finished 13th at the Sochi Games and after recovering from the broken leg, she arrived in Pyeongchang as the defending silver medallist at the world championships, determined to move up in the standings.
Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s high performance director, said the team felt she was good enough to end up on the Olympic podium if she skated to her ability and when she did, Osmond “reminded myself that that’s something I thought that I would never be able to do. So it was really exciting.”
But it was the performance, as much as the result, that “really means the world” to her, especially because she’d worked so hard on becoming stronger mentally to get through the routines cleanly, to have sound thought processes through her programs and to get her body ready for competition.
Ravi Walia, her coach, figured she was going to have a strong day once she was through her triple loop, given that she’d have little trouble landing the jump in practice but had a tough time with it during her programs. It was a jump she picked up once back from her broken leg and even Osmond conceded that she did a “little mental leap,” once she got it down before reeling herself back in.
“A lot of the mental focus I’ve been working on is on being able to stay in the moment and that’s what I’ve been doing in practice,” Osmond explained. “I did let myself enjoy the loop a little bit, and when I was going around the loop into my flip I just thought, ‘OK, stay focused and do this. But you can, you’re doing your job, I’ve done this a million times in practice.’
“So I was really excited, but I was managing to stay in the zone. Knowing me an Axel mistake at the end would have been a thing so I had to remind myself to stay on my feet.”
No such mistakes this time, her free score of 152.15 giving her a total of 231.02, positioning her second with only Evgenia Medvedeva, who broke her right foot in the fall, still to skate. The two-time defending world champion performed a nearly flawless program to earn 156.65, the same score as fellow Russian Alina Zagitova, who was 1.31 points better in the short program.
That handed gold to the 15-year-old, leaving Medvedeva crying into her hand at finished second to her younger training partner.
Daleman, the defending worlds bronze medallist, shared a similar type of hurt, even if it came from a different place.
Coach Lee Barkell praised her competitiveness and toughness but said he’d never seen anything like her performance Friday before. His best guess was that she might have been chasing the result and lost focus after the initial error, saying “her face changed, (she) got cautious and slow and overthinking too much instead of putting it into auto-pilot, which is uncharacteristic for her.”
The three falls left her 15th out of 24th skaters after she sat seventh following the short.
“There’s nothing really I felt good about,” Daleman said afterwards, a tear streaming down her cheek. “And it’s kind of hard dragging my dad and my brother all the way from Canada to see this when it’s not me. And I feel bad for all these people that I didn’t skate properly for them, and the same with Canada. I do feel bad and like I disappointed everyone, but at the end of the day there’s nothing I can do.”
Those four minutes under the lights can bring agony or they can bring ecstasy, and sometimes it’s fair and sometimes it’s not. For Canada, they triggered both on a day the figure skating team collected its fourth medal at the Pyeongchang Games, making this its most successful Olympics.