Big in Japan
World Champion figure skater Kaetlyn Osmond still leads a rather anonymous existence in Edmonton, despite her massive athletic achievements.
November 30, 2018
Photography Curtis Comeau
Hair and makeup Amber Prepchuk
There are a dozen figure skaters on the ice. Some spin, some leap, some twirl. Adele’s theme song from the James Bond film, Skyfall, fills the rink at the Terwillegar Recreation Centre. In the third hour of her daily workout, one skater simply does lap after lap. Her pace is steady. The black “Canada” wordmark on her grey athletic top is the only sign that this skater is not like the others. That she’s an Olympic medalist. That she’s a World Champion.
After she’s done on the ice, Kaetlyn Osmond sits next to me on a bench just outside of the rink. We’re in a hallway of a public rec centre, but no one stops to say hello. No one comes by to ask for a selfie. Compare that to how Osmond is treated when she goes abroad. After winning the 2018 World Championship in Milan, she travelled to Japan and South Korea to perform in Stars on Ice. There were more than a few selfie sticks and autograph requests. She was a superstar.
“In Japan, I’m more recognized, definitely,” she says. “Japan is so exciting. Korea as well — it was the first time I did a show in Korea. Everyone there is a superfan of figure skating, and they will recognize you anywhere and they have no shame in showing it. They get so excited, and it is super-cute and I love it. They get really excited and they can get all jittery and sometimes you can get stuck in pictures. But, unless you’re in the hotel, where it’s sometimes tough to get to your elevator, they’re usually really generous. And I did a Japanese game show this year, that was a lot of fun.”
Game show? What? With the help of a translator, Osmond and some other skaters from the Stars on Ice tour were put in front of the camera. If you’ve seen Japanese game shows, you know that the participants are often put through bizarre physical tasks that are meant to entertain and embarrass. Maybe you’re asked to jump through a wall of Jell-O. Maybe you’re asked to zipline across a mudfield. Don’t fall!
Osmond was asked to take part in something called “human curling” and was asked to speed skate against the hosts.
“I had no idea what was going on,” she says. “I had a couple of Japanese skaters behind me, and they were laughing. And, so, every time they laughed, I just laughed, too — hoping that I was laughing at something good.” Now compare that to when she talks about Edmonton, a place where she’s lived since she was 10 years old. After winning team gold and individual bronze at the Pyeongchang Olympics, then skating to a World Championship in Milan, she came home and, well…
“In my opinion, ever since I’ve won, not much has changed. Every now and then, someone will come up to me and say I did really well at the Olympics this year. But even that’s rare. I usually don’t look like I do when I’m on the ice. Maybe if I dressed up like I was little bit weird when I go out on the street, I might be recognized a bit more.” She also hasn’t picked up any new sponsors since the win. She has
Cassels Brock, the legal firm which has backed her for more than a decade, and Nulo Pet Food, which she booked before she went to Olympics.
East vs. West
Compare her Edmonton anonymity to what Marystown, Nfld. has done. Marystown is the place where she spent the first decade of her life, before moving to Montreal with her family and, eventually, to Edmonton. Earlier this year, Marystown renamed the local arena after Osmond.
So, when it comes to the place she calls home, is it Edmonton or Marystown?
“I don’t think Edmonton is naming something for me,” she laughs. “I definitely find Edmonton and Newfoundland both to be my home. Newfoundland has always been super supportive and the fact they’ve renamed things after me is so super-exciting. They name everything after any athlete who’s ever come out of Newfoundland, so there’s quite a few highways named after people. But, here in Edmonton, it feels good because this is where I’ve lived for the past 12 years. I’ve lived longer in Edmonton than I’ve lived in any other place. I live here and I train here.”
It was in Edmonton where she began working with coach Ravi Walia, a former men’s singles skater who won bronze at the 1995 edition of Skate Canada. Her parents, Jackie and Jeff, came west because of work in the oil industry. Her father had also worked in the Middle East before coming to Alberta. Without the move, would she have met Walia? Would she have been put on the path to Olympic stardom and a World Championship?
“I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” she says. “It sometimes takes me a while to actually figure out that reason. But, definitely, I’ve been training with Ravi for the last 12 years. My original coach, Jessica [Gosse], she coaches here now and she taught me when I was two years old. There’s a reason I’ve moved, there’s a reason my parents worked away from home and brought my aunt to live with my sister and I so we both could skate. There’s a reason I enjoy being on the ice more than most things. There’s a reason I am less klutzy on the ice than I am off the ice.”
Klutz? Really, the woman who was so graceful and precise in performing her “Black Swan” long program is a klutz when the skates are off? “I am a major klutz. I can’t walk straight. And if there’s anything on the floor, I will find a way to trip over it.”
The Waiting is the Hardest Part
She certainly wasn’t klutzy at the 2018 World Championships. Coming off Olympic gold in the team event, and then bronze in women’s singles, Osmond came into the long program at World Championships in Milan positioned in fourth. She knew that she needed to put together a great skate just to get onto the podium. Winning the gold was surely a bridge too far.
Osmond brought out the “Black Swan” routine that she also skated in Pyeongchang. She was dressed in black, her eyeshadow on thick like she was either about to go out for Halloween or head to a Siouxsie and the Banshees show. She had wanted to skate to Tchaikovsky’s famous piece for years, but it took her a while to convince her team that, yes, this was indeed a winning marriage of sport and art.
“The artistic side comes with what I feel I can risk, when it comes to things that I don’t know, things that I’m willing to try and I’m excited to try,” says Osmond. “And it’s a group decision between myself, my coach and my choreographer and ultimately how it looks on the ice… When I get to the ice and they call my name I have a moment where I think, ‘wow, it’s cool that there are so many people here.’ But then my music starts and it all vanishes. I am now doing my thing.” She didn’t fall. She nailed her jumps. She leapt higher than the other skaters.
On Eurosport, the broadcast crew had this to say about Osmond: “She is a glorious sight to watch on the ice when she is in full flow. She has great speed, precision but also this lovely softness.” The CBC crew was far more reserved; they warned that there were still five skaters left. But Russian Maria Sotskova (eighth), Canadian Gabrielle Daleman Can (seventh), Japan’s Satoko Miyahara (third), Russian Alina Zagitova (fifth) and Italian Carolina Kostner (fourth) couldn’t match Osmond.
“I feel like what the Canadian broadcasters were saying, that there are five more skaters, is exactly what was going through my own head,” recalls Osmond. “It was the first time I’ve had to wait it out in a really long time. The last couple of competitions I had been at, there’s usually only one skater after me or I am the last skater. So, I usually know how I’m going to place when I am finished my program. At the same time I was thinking, ‘there are still five more skaters, how am I going to place?’”
Did she nervously watch the remaining five skaters? Um, no. “Before I skate, I never watch anyone. I cannot do it. But, after I skated, I had to go into our media zone, which took away, like, two skaters. So I missed the next two after me. Then I saw a TV where I could watch the third-last skater and I caught, like, half her program but I had no idea what she’d done up to that point. So then I found out I was on the podium. So then I sat down and watched the girl that I was actually expecting to win [Zagitova]. I was talking to my coach and, the next thing I know, I see her fall a couple of times. And I’m thinking, ‘what just happened?’”
Then, she was interrupted again. Because the organizers knew Osmond was going to be on the podium, she was told that she had to track down her skates, which she had taken off. She had to be ready to skate out one more time to get her medal. By the time Osmond retrieved them, Kostner was already well into her program.
“And then, when I got back, I thought the skater who was on was skating a pretty good program. So I was like, ‘cool, she’s an Italian skater who’s going to win at the Italian Worlds, that’s amazing.’ But my coach neglected to tell me that she had missed her first element, and then I
saw her miss two more. And things started clicking in my brain, like ‘oh my God.’”
In November, she skated with the Thank You Canada tour, along with Patrick Chan and ice dancing legends Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue. She isn’t going to do the Grand Prix season. She isn’t sure if she’ll defend her title at the Worlds. What’s next for Osmond?
Maybe there’s another game of human curling in her future.
This article appears in the December 2018 issue of Avenue Edmonton. Subscribe here.