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Sawyer looks to make splash on ice, on canvas

Canada's bronze medalist to replace Buttle at Skate Canada

Shawn Sawyer was thrilled to perform in the entire tour of <i>Stars on Ice</i> Canada.
Shawn Sawyer was thrilled to perform in the entire tour of Stars on Ice Canada. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(09/22/2008) - The 2010 Olympics have always been Shawn Sawyer's ultimate competition goal. Getting the chance to compete at the 2006 Games in Turin was a bonus, says Canada's three-time bronze medalist, not to mention a valuable experience he can call upon if he can earn a ticket to his home-country Games in Vancouver one season from now.

In the meantime, Sawyer intends to make a splash this season, capitalizing on the opportunity world champion Jeffrey Buttle's retirement presents for other Canadian men to step up and be noticed.

"I was not expecting it at all. I was pretty shocked actually," Sawyer, 23, said of Buttle's recent announcement. "I didn't know what to think of it. I thought of a lot of negative and positive points, but my main concern was that he was happy with that decision. He's a very intelligent guy, and I'm sure he was ready to move on, and he was wise about it."

Already, the unexpected departure has opened the door for Sawyer, who was assigned by Skate Canada (the organization) to replace Buttle at Skate Canada International at the end of October. Previously, based on his ISU points total, Sawyer's only Grand Prix assignment had been Skate America, held a week earlier in Everett, Wash. Sawyer appeared to be in a bit of a slump last season, posting seventh- and ninth-place finishes in his Grand Prix assignments and ranking ninth at Four Continents.

"I'm very happy to be able to do Skate Canada in Ottawa, because I lived there for a couple of years before, and it's so close to Montreal where I train now. Also Cynthia Phaneuf, Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison, who I train with every day, are going to be there. It will be a great opportunity to perform in that family environment," said Sawyer, sounding upbeat and confident in an interview with icenetwork.com.

Sawyer reports that Buttle's retirement announcement -- which came just as the rest of the national team was arriving in Vancouver for their training camp -- had an immediate impact on how he and Canadian champ Patrick Chan, Vaughn Chipeur, Christopher Mabee and Kevin Reynolds approached their performances there. (Mabee and Reynolds are also assigned to Skate America, while Chan is Canada's headliner at Skate Canada.)

"We could tell that a big door was open, and everyone wanted to walk in it. Everyone performed really well at the camp, and that doesn't usually happen cause it's early in the season. Everybody wanted to show they want to take that new spot.

"We felt a little more tension because we wanted to prove right away at the beginning of the season that we want to take that spot. We all decided, 'I'm going to show them what I can do, and I'm the guy for them.'"

His primary goal this season, Sawyer said, is to qualify for Canada's 2009 world team and perform well at the pre-Olympics championship in Los Angeles.

Last week at his Montreal-area training site, Sawyer spent the day working with his long-time choreographer David Wilson to tweak the footwork and steps in his programs.

"We got all that settled down. He was really happy with my performances at the [national team] camp, but he wanted to rework a couple little spots," said Sawyer, who is renowned for his Gumby-like flexibility that he showcases in spins and spiral movements in his routines.

His short program is set to an ultra-classical version of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall," performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. For the long program, he chose music from the motion picture soundtrack Amadeus, a film about the life of Mozart.

In recent seasons, Sawyer's results have been hampered to some extent by his problematic two-footing and sometimes under-rotating of the triple Axel. It has been a frustrating situation for Sawyer, who reports the flawed jumps rarely happen during practice.

"It's getting better, I hope, because I'm working on it a lot," said Sawyer, one of the few nationally-ranked skaters ever to come out of the small Atlantic province of New Brunswick.

Thanks to Buttle and Chan's results (first and ninth) at the 2008 World Championships, Canada earned three men's berths for the 2009 worlds. Whichever Canadian men are named to the team for Los Angeles will be under pressure to rank high enough to hang on to three spots for the 2010 Olympic team.

"I think we can do it because Patrick is an exceptional, world-class athlete. Myself, I was 12th at the Olympics in 2006, so who knows? Next time I'm on the world scene, I could do better than that," Sawyer said.

In the little free time that he has, Sawyer paints acrylic abstracts. Coincidentally, his free-spirited, somewhat avant-garde on-ice style has been compared to former Canadian champion Toller Cranston, who launched a successful career as an artist when he retired.

"I do love Toller Cranston's color palette," offers Sawyer, who reports he has sold a few of his own works and is currently trying to get a collection together for a big show sometime in the future.

Sawyer prefers working on bigger canvases, and he doesn't use brushes. "I just throw the paint right onto the canvas or use my fingers and really get down and dirty with it, so it's better when it's big. I get less paint on the floor," he chuckled.

Sawyer studied art in high school and would like to pursue formal art studies after penning the final chapter of his figure skating career.