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Buttle decides to go out on his own terms

"It just wasn't in my heart," says reigning world champion; return is possible

Jeffrey Buttle is staying actively engaged with the Canadian national team.
Jeffrey Buttle is staying actively engaged with the Canadian national team. (Melanie Hoyt)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(09/10/2008) - At age 26, with the 2008 world title and 2006 Olympic bronze medal in his trophy case, three-time Canadian champion Jeffrey Buttle said he has taken his final competitive bow.

An athlete retiring while still in peak form is rare. What makes Buttle's decision especially surprising is that the 2010 Vancouver Olympics are just 18 months away.

"That was definitely the battle that was going on in my mind," Buttle told reporters convened at a Toronto hotel Wednesday.

"I had to decide, was that something that I really wanted? After the world championship, I was so happy with winning that I had to reflect on how important that was to me. Having the Olympics here in Vancouver is important to me but winning them wasn't. It just wasn't in my heart."

Following his press conference, Buttle boarded a plane for Vancouver to join the Canadian national team at Skate Canada's High Performance Camp.

"Jeff is going out with the rest of our team to train," Skate Canada CEO William Thompson said. "He is a leader on our team in addition to being a high-level skater. He spends a lot of time with his teammates; he was a huge help to Patrick Chan at the past world championships, and he is long-time friends with Joannie Rochette and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. He can lend assistance to the team and help keep it going in the right direction."

The news that Buttle still intended to participate at the camp -- held at the Pacific Coliseum, site of the 2010 Olympic figure skating events -- prompted thoughts that he might have a change of heart down the road.

"It's not difficult to maintain eligibility under the current International Skating Union (ISU) and Skate Canada rules, so there is no reason he could not return," Thompson said. "However, my sense is that he has thought pretty long and hard about his decision, so I don't think that is his current intention."

Today's announcement leaves the 17-year-old Chan, who defeated Buttle to win the title at the 2008 Canadian championships and went on to place ninth at the 2008 World Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, as Skate Canada's top male hope for an Olympic medal in 2010.

"Any time you have a reigning world champion with a good shot at a medal, you're not thrilled about losing him," Thompson said. "But if Jeff is not motivated to compete, you have to respect that decision. We are deep in terms of up-and-coming skaters who are fairly young and it's time for them to step it up and show they belong in the upper level of world skating."

Buttle, who has studied chemical engineering at the University of Toronto, said that he plans to continue his studies at some point. He is also booked to participate in several made-for-TV skating events and club shows this fall.

"Obviously, this is catching everyone off-guard, but it's something he has been thinking about," the skater's agent, David Baden of International Management Group (IMG), said. "He is very content with what he has accomplished in his eligible career. He is world champion and Olympic medalist and he is very respectful of that.

"At this stage, he is retired; he is taking a break. Skate Canada is aware that all of the events he does will require a sanction. It's possible he will return; athletes come out of retirement all the time -- look at Lance Armstrong and Martina Hingis. It's always smart to keep your options open. This is how he feels now."

Baden added that neither professional skating opportunities nor injuries influenced his client's decision.

"This news opens a few more performing doors, and, of course, I will be seeking opportunities for him," he said. "But this had nothing to do with any guaranteed shows or tours coming up and nothing to do with an injury. Jeff has been extremely fit and training all summer."

Throughout his career, Buttle was known more for superb artistry, musical interpretation and all-round skating prowess than for big jumping tricks. Unlike 2006 Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko or 2007 world champion Brian Joubert, he could not count on a quadruple jump in competition.

Buttle won gold earlier this year at the world championships in Gothenburg. In the process, he defeated Joubert by nearly 14 points and became the first Canadian to win the men's world title since Elvis Stojko did so in 1997.

"I've worked hard on everything that is involved in figure skating, not just jumps," he said at that time. "We work whole sessions on spins and stroking and all the in-betweens ... everything that goes into those four-and-a-half minutes. I definitely feel I've earned the title."

The gold was Buttle's second world medal, he also took home silver in 2005. In addition to his world and Olympic achievements, he won the ISU Four Continents Championships in 2002 and 2004 and earned silver medals at the ISU Grand Prix Finals in 2004 and 2005.

"Representing Canada around the world has been an honor, and I'm very proud of my achievements as a competitive figure skater," Buttle said Wednesday morning. "I've had so much support throughout my career. I'll be forever grateful to my fans, coaches and, of course, my family."