November 2002

U of T student skating's next star From The Varsity ( U of T School Paper)

By Yasmin Siddiqui

Over the years, Canada has produced more men's figure skating stars than any other country in the world. As each champion drifts off to the professional ranks, there's always someone lurking in the shadows, ready to salchow into the spotlight. With Elvis Stojko's retirement after the Olympics last February, Canada's brightest hope may well be a 20-year-old man who already has a top 10 finish at the World Championships and the 2002 Four Continents Championship to his name. Even more remarkable, he's also a chemical engineering student at U of T, juggling international competition and triple axels with midterms and textbooks.

Welcome Canada's newest skating star, Jeffrey Buttle.

"I really think that each year, it's a starting-over sort of thing," Buttle said, musing on the new skating season before taking the ice as a cast member of the Sk8 With Elvis tour at the Air Canada Centre on November 11. "You still have to get used to it. You can't simply improve upon or get comfortable with the feeling you had the year before…The more I can get in front of an audience, the more comfortable I can feel."

After exploding onto the world scene last season with medals at two international competitions (a bronze at the Canadian Championships, and an eighth-place finish in his debut appearance at the World Championships) the start of the new competitive year has not gone quite so smoothly for the kid many skating insiders are dubbing The Next One. At Skate Canada, his first major competition of the season, Buttle struggled with his jumps and finished seventh in a weak field. Buttle grins self-deprecatingly when reminded of his poor result. "The circumstances leading up to Skate Canada weren't ideal. I had a sprained ankle, but I was training as best I could… I guess the only thing to take from that that's really positive is the fact that through discomfort, I was able to put the quad in both programs, and I think to take that experience to the next competition is definitely a positive thing."

"The quad" Buttle so casually refers to is the quadruple toe loop, the jump that has become a benchmark in men's figure skating. It is also a skill that Buttle has yet to land in competition, and he is willing to sacrifice early-season results to gain consistency with the jump in front of the judges.

"The quad is absolutely necessary to be in the top five in the world," he said. "I'm putting a definite amount of pressure on myself to get the quad in the program at competitions… Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward."

Speaking of the judges, what about the corruption that has been swirling around the sport since the Salé-Pelletier scandal at the Salt Lake City Olympics? Buttle has nothing but praise for a new cumulative marking system being tested to replace the age-old system, which seems to have run amok.

"I think in the end it will be an ideal system, because it's taking away a lot of the subjectivity," he said. "Not all of it completely-I think that a certain amount of subjectivity is important, just like it is in many sports-but it's basically taking out the possibility of manipulation."

Buttle's articulate answers are rare in figure skating, where interviews are often peppered with coached stock answers about doing one's best and loving what one does. This skater does love the sport-"I'm not going to quit skating until I don't enjoy it anymore" is his credo-but he also has a life away from the rink. Much of it takes place right here at U of T.

"It is very hectic, but I feel that it sort of keeps me grounded," he said when asked about balancing school and skating. "I think that the fact that I'm sticking with school is going to help me in the end."

So why did he choose U of T?

"Actually, they were very accommodating in terms of being a part-time student, very supportive of skating, and always very accepting about missing class and whatnot." For a second, the skater seems out of answers, and then flashes the grin that's made skating fans across the country fall in love with him. "And because it's very well-known!"

Perhaps soon, the nation will be saying the same about him.

Yasmin has been kind enough to allow the rest of the Questions and Answers from this interview above to be on this web site...Thank you Yasmin....

November 11, 2002 Air Canada Centre

Interviewed by Yasmin Siddiqui

Q: You just finished competing at Skate Canada. It was a rough competition for you - what do you take from an experience like that?

A: Well, basically, the circumstances leading up to Skate Canada weren't ideal. I had a sprained ankle, but before I was training as best I could, and I actually felt really comfortable out there. So I guess the only thing to take from that that's really positive is the fact that I, you know, through discomfort I was able to put in the quad in both programs, and I think to take that experience to the next competition is definitely a positive thing.

Q: There was a lot of talk that your troubles at SC stemmed from the fact that you were trying to incorporate the quad into your programs for the first time. Do you agree with that assessment?

A: To a certain extent, of course. A lot of attention went to it, but at the same time it really shouldn't be affecting the jumps that I do on a regular basis. I think really the major thing was the fact that it was a new program, and it takes some time to get used to that, but other than that I think it was just one of those days. You know, the body just wasn't responding. So to a certain effect the quad did affect it, but not completely.

Q: Do you think there's too much emphasis on the quad in men's skating today?

A: There is, and there should be, I think. I think it's important that the sport both artistically and technically progresses. It gets really boring, you know, when you're watching the same thing over and over throughout the years… just like all sports are always developing. It's a fight for the fittest, basically.

Q: There was a new scoring system being tested at SC - what do you think of the cumulative system that was being tested, and also, what are your thoughts on the interim "secret computer" system that's being used in the meantime?

A: I didn't know what the results were for that, with the trial of the new system. I think in the end it will be an ideal system, basically because it's taking away a lot of the subjective ness. Not all of it completely - I think that a certain amount of subjectivity is important, just like it is in many sports - but it's basically taking out the possibility of manipulation. The judges with the old system were able to manipulate their marks, but with the new system that will be in effect in two years, they can't do that. As for the system that was in effect, there's a certain amount of ambiguity with the judges. In effect, I think it's nice, bringing the attention back to the skaters as opposed to the judges… you know, cases where it's not so much important how we skated that specific day… so I think that's very interesting. I would say the down side being of course that we don't know… we don't really know who placed us where, we don't know what our ordinals are… but just the fact that we can't go up to a judge after a competition and ask what they thought we should improve on, I suppose that would be a negative side.

Q: The new systems basically came into place in response to a lot of controversy swirling around the sport over the last year or so… With so much corruption being exposed in the sport, what keeps you going personally?

A: Well, basically with the same reason I started competing in the first place… I went into skating because I enjoyed it. I'm not going to quit skating until I don't enjoy it anymore. So basically, as long as I'm enjoying the sport itself, then there should be no reason why the attention should be anywhere else but that.

Q: Last year was a breakthrough season for you. Do you feel that there's more pressure on you - from Skate Canada, from yourself, etc. - because of your results last year?

A: I think every year, every skater puts a certain amount of pressure on themselves. It's difficult, but it's necessary that you sort of separate yourself from the pressure you're getting from outside sources - from the federation, the fans, and whatnot. I think there is a certain amount of pressure I'm putting on myself, that to complete the quad is absolutely necessary to be in the top five in the world. So yes, I'm putting a definite amount of pressure on myself to get that quad in the program and at competitions, and I think that's necessary. For me, if there wasn't a certain amount of pressure, there would be a slow progress curve instead of improving at a nice speed.

Q: With Elvis retired, Canadian skating seems to be searching for a Next One. You train at Mariposa, which has been home of many of the country's great skating champions. How has this affected you?

A: That's nothing but positive, really. I know that I have an advantage; I have some of the most talented coaches with the best technical advice and help. I have the ability to skate with World champions, Olympic medallists, and whatnot. So I think that's definitely an advantage. It pushes me, because I can watch them and learn from their mistakes, from their victories. So really I think I'm at an advantage, skating at Mariposa.

Q: A tour in the middle of the Grand Prix season is a bit of an oddity. What do you think you can gain from an experience like this that you couldn't get staying at home training?

A: Well, last year, actually, before the Grand Prix season even started, I had two international competitions that were developmental, really, moreso preparation for the Grand Prix. This year I didn't have any competitions to that effect, so more than anything the tour has been excellent for going out there and skating in front of an audience. I really think that each year, it's a starting over sort of thing. You still have to get used to it. You can't simply improve upon or get comfortable with the feeling you had the year before. So basically this is just the more I can get in front of an audience, the more comfortable I can feel.

Q: Tell me about the programs you'll be skating in the show tonight.

A: The first number I'm doing is Angels by Robbie Williams. It's a slow one. I actually made that one up on my own. I did it for the Mariposa Gala in the summer. The second number is Seven Days by Craig David, and David Wilson, who does my competitive programs, helped me out with that one.

Q: What are your goals for the season?

A: Basically, to make sure I'm progressing with the quad in competition. I feel that by the end of the season it will be in the program… landing in the program. I think that's very important, because next year, I'll have the experience of having it in the program and then when I go to a competition, it'll just be like a regular jump.

Q: So you think that some early-season setbacks will be worth it in the end to have the experience with the quad in competition?

A: Exactly. Sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward.

Q: You're one of the few elite skaters that's also a university student. How do you balance school and skating?

A: It is very hectic, but I feel that it sort of keeps me grounded, knowing that, yes, I can put school off, but I know that in time, it's going to be really hard to just jump back into class. You forget a lot! So, I think that the fact that I'm sticking with school is going to help me in the end. At the same time, it keeps my mind occupied from skating… especially if I've had a bad day or something, that's all I'm going to be thinking about if I don't have school or classes, so I think that's really important.

Q: Was it important for you to go to university with peers your own age instead of putting it off until you were older?

A: It would be very obscure to be going to a university starting from scratch, not knowing anyone. I feel it's really important when I get together with my friends from high school that we're able to talk about how school is going and whatnot.