Olympic dream within reach

Robin
Robin Short
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Buttle's retirement opens up a berth in Vancouver for a skater like Joey Russell

Labrador City figure skater Joey Russell has his sights set on the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, a target that just got a little bigger with the sudden retirement of reigning world champion Jeffrey Buttle last month.

"Every year you go into the season thinking it's going to be your best and you want to train your hardest so that you can rise above whoever is in your field," Russell said. "It's sad to see Jeff leave because he is a training mate. It's sad, but at the same time it's great for people like me who are so close to being in the top three.

Joey Russell of Labrador City, NL skates during a practice session at the Canadian figure skating championships in Vancouver, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008. Photo by The Canadian Press

Labrador City figure skater Joey Russell has his sights set on the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, a target that just got a little bigger with the sudden retirement of reigning world champion Jeffrey Buttle last month.

"Every year you go into the season thinking it's going to be your best and you want to train your hardest so that you can rise above whoever is in your field," Russell said. "It's sad to see Jeff leave because he is a training mate. It's sad, but at the same time it's great for people like me who are so close to being in the top three.

"I would really like to seize this opportunity."

Russell was recently in St. John's to perform in a Mile One Centre skating show, which featured Buttle, Kurt Browning Jamie Sale and David Pelletier and Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison.

That was before he headed to Germany for the Nebelhorn Trophy competition where he placed a disappointing 15th.

Jeremy Ten of Vancouver, who like Russell is a former Canadian junior champ, placed sixth in Germany, likely opening up the third spot to go to the Skate Canada Grand Prix the end of the month in Ottawa.

Canada may send three men to this year's world championship in Los Angeles. With Buttle, the only lock on the team, now out of the picture, those spots are up for grabs. Defending Canadian champ Patrick Chan, who finished ninth at worlds, figures to make the squad. After that, the roster could be made up of Chris Mabee, Shawn Sawyer, Vaughn Chipeur, Ten or Russell.

"I worked very hard last spring and throughout the summer," said the 20-year-old Russell. "It just seemed like everything's fallen into place and hopefully if I can keep it up for nationals, I'll be in the top three."

This year's Canadian championship runs Jan. 14-18 in Saskatoon from which the Canadian team for the worlds will be selected.

"Even the top four or five on the national team," Russell said, "making my way so that I'll be there for 2010."

Russell, a 2003 Canada Winter Games bronze medallist, won silver and gold medals at the 2004 and 2006 junior nationals.

At his first Canadian senior championship in 2007, Russell placed sixth, though he slipped to ninth last year.

While he's been making slow and steady progress, Russell admits he may have to speed it up a bit, what with the next Winter Olympics right around the corner.

"I'm aware of that and I'm trying to think of that every day," he said. "It's all for 2010 right now."

Russell has been training in Barrie, Ont. for the past number of years under Doug Leigh, Elvis Stojko's former coach, and Lee Barkell, who had been coaching Buttle.

A busy daily schedule leaves him little time for much else but figure skating. He's on the ice three hours a day, working on spins and footwork, his programs and jumps. Another two hours are spent in the gym with a personal trainer.

"It's a full-time job," he said. "You really have to keep your mind on it all the time, not get off track even a little bit because that can definitely affect you."

The taxing training leaves little or no time for work and because Russell is not a Sport Canada carded athlete, money's tight.

While he picks up some funds through grants and stipends from Canadian figure skating, much of his money comes from his parents, John and Judy, who are sacrificing to give their son a crack at the Olympics.

The two are both teaching in Nunavut.

"They like living up there, but I think they do it so they can have the money to support their family and for that I'm really grateful," he said. "I just try to make certain the money I get from them and the (figure skating) federation is well-spent.

"It's all towards training. And I hope it pays off some day."

rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Skate Canada Grand Prix

Geographic location: Vancouver, Germany, Labrador Canada St. John's Ottawa Los Angeles Saskatoon Barrie Nunavut

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