Saturday, June 21, 2008

This pair is poetry in motion on ice

Canada's Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison have awed all with their chemistry and presence

The camel spin, evolved from arabesque in ballet, is a rotation on the spot, one leg extended at a right angle parallel to the ice.

It's a pretty move, particularly when performed in unison by pairs.

With Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison, though, it's their signature element, if for hideous reasons.

Audiences wait for it, breath held, and applaud its unremarkable execution.

"The funny thing is, we do it very well,'' says Davison. "When it's on with each other, it gives us even more energy to keep going. When we do it in a competition or a show, the audience – if they know our sport a little bit – give us even bigger applause for a side-by-side spin which normally isn't seen as a WOW move.''

Last February, at Four Continents, the camel a deux almost killed Dube.

In one of the most horrific figure skating mishaps in memory, the skaters came too close, Davison drifting towards Dube. On the third rotation, his blade caught Dube flush in the face, cutting a looping gash from just beneath the left eye and across the nose, where cartilage meets bone.

Not quite realizing what had happened to her, Dube dropped face-first onto the ice, blood spurting and pooling.

"I started crying because I saw all this blood. I didn't really feel the pain, not until later when I was in the ambulance and they were putting pressure to make the bleeding stop and I couldn't breathe. But it was the blood that scared me.''

Davison knelt over his partner, aghast and terrified. "She looked straight up at me. I remember thinking, `Thank God, she can see me.' There was this large wound and the skin was hanging off. But she could see me. And I knew it would be all right because I hadn't hit her in the eye or the throat or the temple. I could tell by the way she was reacting that it would be okay.''

He says that now, from the comfortable distance of a career resumed – stunningly, after only 11 days off the ice – and with Dube's beautiful young face turned toward him, the scar only faintly visible. But Davison admits it took some time, and therapeutic counselling with a sports psychologist, for him to get past the trauma of that night in Colorado Springs.

"I had feelings of guilt because, yes it was an accident, but I was the male, the protector, and I had injured her, actually cut the female.''

No apology was ever required. From her hospital bed that night, after undergoing emergency surgery, Dube made it clear what happened had been an awful accident, that she still trusted the partner who had, until only shortly beforehand, been her boyfriend as well.

Both have watched, repeatedly, videotape of the incident, part of the mentally healing process for desensitizing themselves to the memory. It was the first element they practised upon returning to their training regimen. Even now, they continue to view it on YouTube.

"Believe me, what I saw in real life was a hundred times worse than what you can see from all the camera angles,'' says Davison.

The trials and tribulations of this young team – he's 21, she's 20, and they've been together for five years – have constantly derailed their progress. Dube missed the start of the past two seasons after undergoing surgery on one knee, then the other.

Yet they've persevered, placing seventh at the worlds earlier this year – only six weeks removed from their accident – and just last weekend copped an impressive gold at Skate America, beating the '06 world champion Chinese by a healthy margin. They're gunning for a repeat podium appearance here tomorrow.

Those who know the sport are awed by their chemistry and stage presence, the power of their lifts, the smooth side-by-side jumps and the polished spins. They fit together from the start, when first paired by coaches, and despite the fact they're not a typical pairs duo. She's not a munchkin; he's not a behemoth.

"I'm not the largest pair man and Jess is not the smallest pair girl,'' observes Davison, "which makes our skating beautiful but also makes other things difficult. Our lifting, the way we carry the flow through the lifts and Jess's position on top of the lifts, is rather high quality for people who are closer in size. And our throws – Jess is like a cat, she can land just about anything.''

By anything, he means the quadruple throws they hope will be part of the package come the Vancouver Olympics.

Davison repeated the other night what he's said of Canadian athletes in the past – they've got to be more assertive, more aggressive, more cutthroat in their ambitions.

"As Canadians, we're seen as nice people. When you look at the Chinese and the Americans, they go to win competitions. I'm not saying we need to be mean to the other competitors. But we need to go to win. One of the only sports where we do that is hockey.''

Dube concurs, and points to a telling detail – how other teams invaded their space in the warm-up at Skate America. "Everyone was (claiming) their spot and we were, like, not doing the same thing. We're always nice and they know it, so they take advantage of it.''

They may both vow to be more in-your-face in the future, with rivals, but this is a couple of characteristic serenity and centred calm, especially in the midst of chaos. Perhaps that can be attributed in part to an unspoken and beneath-the-skin communication each to each. It was always there, this recognition of what the other is feeling.That first year together, they ran the table as juniors. They gradually become romantically involved, then un-involved. That shows maturity beyond their years.

They're also shaping up as one of Canada's best medal bets for gold in Vancouver, perchance gold, no alarming competition on the horizon, nobody they feel they can't beat or haven't already beaten.

Says Davison: "Everyone has their strengths and their weaknesses. The team that has the strongest weak point is going to win in the end.''

Special Thanks to The Toronto Star

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