By John Browne
Joey Russell came very close to giving up figure skating. And that’s a shocking revelation when you consider the 22-year-old Labrador City native won the bronze medal at the 2011 BMO Canadian figure skating championships in Victoria, B.C., over the weekend.
“This year could have been my last,” he told The Telegram in a telephone interview from Barrie, Ont., where he lives and trains.
“If I had another disappointing skate, it wouldn’t have been good for my confidence, and I might have wanted to move on.”
The “disappointing skate” to which he referred was his long program at the 2010 national championships, where he finished fifth after having been in third place entering the final skate. The result knocked him out of a shot at a Vancouver Olympic berth.
However, he ultimately set aside his frustrations and resolved to stick around this year.
It’s a decision that has paid big dividends.
“My confidence just built and built, so it just goes to show, you never really know what’s going to happen. You never know what you are capable of.
“But,” he added, “I will be taking it one year at a time.”
Still, Russell conceded, he hopes to build on the bronze medal and said if everything keeps working out, he isn’t ruling out trying to compete for a spot at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“I just want to keep myself healthy and keep the hunger for the sport.”
That hunger was satisfied, at least temporarily, in Victoria.
“It does seem like a long time coming,” said Russell, “because when I first moved into the senior competition, the transition from junior wasn’t as smooth or easy for me as it has been for some.
“I felt I was capable of doing some of the jumps and programs, but just the belief in yourself that you deserve to be on the podium took some time to acquire that sort of confidence.”
After his 2010 disappointment, Russell said he sort of took a different approach to skating, “in that I just did it to enjoy it, knowing that I was lucky to be able to do it.”
There were setbacks, nevertheless. He sprained his ankle just before qualifying for the nationals, which seeded him lower for program placement in Victoria..
“So then it became a mental game going into the nationals and I decided on the plane heading to (British Columbia) that if I wanted it to be my week, I’d have to put every negative thought behind me,” said Russell.
“And as soon as I stepped on the ice in Victoria … from the first moment, it was a sort of like an upward climb for the week.”
Russell, was sitting in third place after the short program in Victoria, the same position he was in at last year’s nationals.
He had jittery moments in last year’s final freeskate — including missing an easy combination he knew he should have nailed — and it cost him a shot at one of the top two spots which would have sent him to the Olympics.
This time, while he was just as nervous, he knew, after viewing the video of last year’s long program, that he had to be more aggressive.
“I sort of backed off … trying to be a bit cautious last year,” he said.
“I’ve been sixth twice and fifth once and I didn’t want to be in that zone where you’re not a contender.”
That experience, he added, made him more determined.
“My coaches told me to go for everything, to push through the program.”
This time, a more confident, mentally tough Russell was willing to lay it all on the line.
“I can’t believe I’m going to the worlds. I’m going to be floating on air in Japan. I want to skate really well, but I want to enjoy it because you never know when you’ll be back.” - Joey Russell
“As soon as I took my starting pose for the long program, those words went through my head: ‘Be aggressive … fight for every landing.’ I didn’t pop open on any jumps. My speed was up to normal. That was probably biggest step for me, just to look like I was attacking everything. And it just gets easier when that’s the case,” Russell discovered to his delight.
“I made a couple of small mistakes, but at the end of the program I felt I’d given it everything. I was very pleased with that and when I heard the score and saw the placement, it was a big surprise and a big bonus for me.”
The other bonuses for Russell are trips to the world championships and Four Continents event.
The ISU Four Continents championship is set for Taipei, Taiwan Feb. 15-20, while the world championship goes March 21-27 in Tokyo.
“It’s crazy,’ said an obviously delighted Russell.
“I can’t believe I’m going to the worlds. I’m going to be floating on air in Japan. I want to skate really well, but I want to enjoy it because you never know when you’ll be back.”
That doesn’t mean it’s going to be a holiday for the Labradorian.
“I know what I have to work on and I know what I have to build on for the upcoming tournaments,” he said.
“This year, there were three spots for the world championships, so it all just all came together in a great way and it makes me feel like I have unfinished business out there.”
By finishing third at the senior nationals, Russell became the first figure skater from this province to win a medal at the senior level of the sport, something that also means a lot to him.
Although he left the province five years ago to train at the Mariposa Skating School in Barrie, Russell remains proud of his roots.
As polite and unassuming as he is talented, the articulate Russell made sure he thanked his “home club,” the Polaris Figure Skating Club in Labrador City.
“I really appreciate all the support from this province and from Skate Canada Newfoundland and Labrador. My home club has been sending me e-mails all the way. I’ve been getting such a great response on Facebook.
“It really connects me with where I’m from and makes me very proud to wear the medal for everybody back home.”
The Russell File
Date of Birth: June 24, 1988
Birthplace: Labrador City, NL
Residence: Barrie, Ont.
Club: Mariposa School of Skating
Coaches: Lee Barkell/Paige Aistrop
Choreographer: David Wilson
2011 (3rd, senior men)
2010 (5th, senior men)
2009 (6th, senior men)
2008 (9th, senior men)
2007 (6th, senior men)
2006 (1st, junior men)
2005 (4th, junior men)
2010 Nebelhorn Trophy (6th, senior men)
2010 Four Continents (11th, senior men)
2009 Skate Canada Int’l (10th, senior men)
2009 Nebelhorn Trophy (9th, senior men)
2009 Nebelhorn Trophy (15th, senior men)
2009 Nebelhorn Trophy (11th, senior men)
2007 Junior Worlds (11th, senior men)