Ice Network

Osmond vows to stay in the moment this season

21-year-old Canadian focused on achieving excellence, not perfection
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No longer fixated on constantly achieving perfection, Kaetlyn Osmond will try to replicate the success she enjoyed during the 2016-17 season. -Getty Images

EDMONTON -- Kaetlyn Osmond isn't perfect. And, according to the skater, that's her biggest weapon.

In reflecting on a season that surprised many inside the figure skating world, including herself, the 21-year-old Canadian and 2017 world silver medalist pointed to a moment at the Four Continents Championships in February that allowed her to be the best she could be. Which, again, isn't perfect.

It was when she fell three (three!) times in her Four Continents free skate.

"After nationals, I really wanted to skate the perfect program, (but) it made competing a lot more stressful," she told icenetwork in an exclusive interview last week. "It was probably one of the best things I could have done going into worlds, having that skate. I knew I didn't have to have a perfect skate to be happy with the way I did, I just had to skate the way that I could be proud of."

The realization came at the perfect time for Osmond, who was having a career season behind two Grand Prix silver medals, a debut appearance at the Grand Prix Final, and a third Canadian national title -- her first since she suffered a horrific leg break in September of 2014.

She was back and better than ever. But, she also wasn't perfect, and when she barely hung on to a triple toe at the end of a combination early in her program at the world championships, she kept going. Osmond nailed the next three minutes and only fell to the ice in exultation at the end. She had achieved just what she wanted.

"Whenever you're thinking about perfection, the minute you miss something, you know that you didn't do it and that it's over," she explained. "So, not aiming for perfection allows for that mistake. That's what I did at worlds in my long program, and I was obviously very excited when I finished."

I met Osmond and her longtime coach, former Canadian bronze medalist Ravi Walia, in downtown Edmonton on a sunny morning ahead of the Autumn Classic this coming weekend in Montréal, where she'll kick off her Olympic season and try to replicate the success she had in 2016-17. The café we pick is bustling with a farmers' market humming outside, but no one bothers one of the best figure skaters in the world as she reflects on what truly was a meteoric season for her and what she hopes lies ahead over the next five months.

Was she surprised at what she accomplished last season? She responds instantly.

"Yeah," she said, giggling to herself. "It shocked me that I could go to competitions and feel like I could skate those programs the way I did. I didn't have the over-excitement that I did when I was younger but I also didn't have the nerves, either. I felt happy to be skating like that."

The happiness is key. Osmond's injury in September of 2014 came at a time when she was gaining steam in the sport, already a two-time national champion and looking to build off of her Sochi Olympic experience over the next quad. But her year away meant that she had developed nerves she hadn't felt before, and suddenly, upon her return for the 2015-16 season, she was terrified of competing.

Fear rang through her body and her hands got cold before her name was called. She'd miss going to worlds that year with a third-place finish at nationals and was outside of the top 5 at both Grand Prix assignments.

"I would get nervous and shake with excitement almost. I didn't know what was happening," she recalled.

That's when coach Walia stepped in and suggested a sports psychologist.

"After she came back from her injury, she returned to full strength and was training really well but struggled at competitions. It was surprising," Walia said. "We didn't expect it. You don't know what is going to happen when you're gone for a year and a half. It was a learning experience for us. That's when we initiated the conversation of a sports psychologist so that she could get back that confidence to compete well."

They found Susan Cockle, a registered psychologist, in the summer of 2016. Osmond says her work -- which still continues today -- is the difference-maker for her approach to the sport, including the realization that perfect is more of an anchor than a kite.

"In the last year I think that's what I've needed the most of," she said. "I've had my jumps since I was 16 and I've always loved doing challenging programs, but I had to work on my mental focus. It served me really well. It was such a freak accident when I hurt my leg that it made me often question my safety on the ice.

"Being in front of an audience and judges started to scare me," she added. "It shocked me. I went from one extreme to the next and we were trying to find that happy medium of how to be excited but calm about being there."

Cockle has employed breathing exercises and a method of staying focused but distracted prior to events. The weekend before I interviewed Osmond in Edmonton she had been in Calgary with Cockle, meeting with specialist Penny Werthner, who was putting her through stress tests via stimulation.

Osmond was learning how to control her senses and breathing, much like she'll have to do on the biggest stages this season, including the Autumn Classic International, as well as Skate Canada, Internationaux de France and the Canadian Figure Skating Championships.

Oh, and the Olympics. Those are happening this season as well.

"For me, the Olympics is just another competition," Osmond said bluntly near the beginning of our 40-minute chat. She seemed convinced at what she was saying and then began discussing wanting to improve after each competition, much like her Four Continents-to-worlds epiphany a year ago.

She's bringing back her Édith Piaf short program from a year ago, which worked wonders for her, and spent much of the summer with Jeffrey Buttle (at times in Toronto) on her new free skate, set to "Black Swan."

"I love that program; it's such a strong character," she said, her eyes lighting up. "Hopefully that will finally bring a really consistent long program. (Jeff) brings out a different style of skating in me. He's pushed me how to be graceful on the ice and other little things that I was never really the best at when I was little. He's tried to bring out more of a maturity in me."

Walia -- who has been working with Osmond since she was 10 years old -- has done that, too. They've developed a skater-coach relationship that both of them seem vastly comfortable with as well as challenged by, while Osmond has a cadre of experts helping her bring her best to the ice, including the psychologist Cockle, a physio, a personal trainer and a personal ballet trainer, the latter whom she sees twice a week.

"I know what she needs and how to build that into a successful program," said Walia. "I'm always searching for how to help make her better. I'm looking for what is working and what I can fix in every detail. I've been doing that since she was 10 years old. She's more mature and knows what she needs. There's a formula that that allows us to follow a basic plan. There is an extreme amount of work away from the rink for me, but it's a team that's all in place."

I don't ask Osmond or Walia about Olympic expectations because I know that I'll get a form answer, but it's apparent that now the hope -- the expectation -- is that she can emulate what she did a year ago. Their training schedule and approach has been much the same for this season as it was for 2016-17, and when I ask if much has changed since winning a world medal -- alongside Gabby Daleman's bronze, the first for a Canadian woman since Joannie Rochette in 2009 -- they both shrug.

"Not really," Osmond mused. "I guess it is still weird for me to say that I'm a world silver medalist. But that's about it."

The success that compatriot Daleman has had serves as a driving force for Osmond, however, and Kaetlyn isn't afraid of admitting that.

"She definitely has kept me on my toes," she said. "We've always been pushing each other."

When Osmond was sidelined with an injury, it was Daleman who stepped up, winning nationals in 2015 and then placing ninth at worlds the following year. Canada has become a force to be reckoned with on the international stage for the women, something that wasn't true five years ago after Rochette hung up her skates and Osmond was looking to make a breakthrough.

"It's great that Kaetlyn can look in her own country and have competition that pushes her forward," Walia said. "It shouldn't be easy (domestically) and I think it's really good. Now if you win nationals here it means that you're competing with the best in the world."

With the experience and knowhow of last season now in her back pocket, Osmond is trying to skate with that extra handful of confidence while continuing to push herself for excellence, not perfection.

Again, Osmond just wants to skate her best, and if that happens to produce perfection, well, then she'll take it in stride just like she has with everything else.

For Osmond, just competing is the reward.

"The idea of winning and losing is not what I like to focus on. It's always going to suck if you lose!" she said with a chuckle. "But I like the idea of performing and showing people that I put a lot of work into what I'm doing. Going to competitions is the reward for all the work that I've done. I can skate my best if I don't focus on what the competition is and just try to keep my focus on what I'm doing for right now."

And for right now, she's one of the best skaters in the world.