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Surgical gamble pays off for Langlois, Hay

Canadian pair hopes to reap dividends from gallons of proverbial lemonade

Anabelle Langlois (pictured with Cody Hay) has decided to step away from competitive figure skating.
Anabelle Langlois (pictured with Cody Hay) has decided to step away from competitive figure skating. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(07/28/2009) - Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay personify an old adage: "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."

In the wake of a series of frustrating setbacks that kept them out of competition all of last season, the 2008 Canadian pairs champions have probably made enough proverbial lemonade to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool. Now, they are hoping to reap big dividends from their lemonade-making approach to last season's misfortunes.

When Langlois suffered a spiral fracture to her lower right fibula last July, doctors hoped it would heal and the team would be ready to compete at Skate Canada at the end of October. That didn't happen, nor did the team's trip to Japan for the its second Grand Prix assignment. As the months went by, the duo's hopes would climb as Langlois inched towards full recovery only to be dashed when perplexing pain in her ankle would unexpectedly return, setting her back to square one.

As opportunities to compete at the 2009 Canadians, Four Continents and Worlds came and went, what was to be Langlois and Hay's fourth season together evaporated.

It was in February that Langlois and Hay decided they had to take a big gamble. The plate and five pins that had been inserted to help Langlois' bones heal more quickly had to come out if they were ever going to make it back into contention for the Olympic season.

"We had to go for it," coach Lee Barkell said. "Things might not have changed or, maybe, it was the answer. But -- touch wood -- so far, so good. After the surgery, we had to wait for the holes to fill in before she starting pounding [on jump and throw landings], but the biggest thing was the improvement in mobility.

"That was hindering her all last year, what she was complaining about, and for landing jumps and throws, obviously, that's an issue," Barkell added, noting the pair is back to a full training schedule both on- and off-ice.

Langlois, who returned to the ice at the end of March, has been able to do throw triple jumps and solo triple jumps since mid-June. Knowing that landing the throw would be the true test of her recovery, Langlois was "jumping for joy" after her first successful landing, which brought tears to the couple's eyes.

"We knew we were OK, which was huge," she said. "It was a huge relief to know we did make the right decision. We trusted our gut, and it worked out."

During their "extremely frustrating" year, Hay said they tried to get as much done as they could on components other than jumps and throws and focused on heightening their fitness levels with off-ice training.

"We revamped our style. We didn't want people to say, 'Oh, yeah, they're back to where they were,'" Hay said. "We wanted them to see us and take a step back and really see what we've been working on. The biggest thing is our overall skating. We never stroked the same, and we got to spend a lot of time [on that]. That improved a lot, along with our speed, which we were criticized for before, and we put a lot of emphasis on that this past year."

Hay noted that he also focused on bringing the artistic aspect of his performance up to match his partner's abilities in that area.

Langlois, 28, said Hay has made remarkable improvement in his skills and maturity, having developed a decidedly Russian look to his skating.

"Now, he looks the part," she said of Hay, 26, who was still in the junior ranks when Langlois, a veteran of senior competition, picked him to be her new partner.

Next week, Langlois and Hay will perform in the Mariposa Club's annual ice show fundraiser and then get set for their first competition in 17 months -- the summer event in Thornhill, a suburb of Toronto, in mid-August. In early September, they will perform again at Skate Canada's preseason camp in the Olympic venue in Vancouver before heading to Germany for the Nebelhorn Trophy.

Although they finished eighth in the world in 2008, Langlois and Hay did not have enough ISU points to be given Grand Prix assignments, so Skate Canada used its prerogative as host to invite them to HomeSense Skate Canada International in November. The duo hopes to pick up a second assignment if a spot opens up at another Grand Prix.

The couple will use last season's programs that they never debuted -- "Fascination" for the short and "Sunrise from Grand Canyon Suite" for the long. Both were choreographed by David Wilson. Veteran choreographer Sandra Bezic and 1984 world pairs champion Barbara Underhill have also helped Langlois and Hay refine their style, elements and performance.

With 2002 Olympic champions Jamie Salé and David Pelletier also acting as advisers, the two have seized every opportunity to learn from the biggest names in Canadian pairs skating.

"Because we don't see them all the time, it gets you a little bit nervous because you want to perform well for them," said Hay, explaining how those sessions compensate somewhat for having been out of the competitive arena for more than a year. "We just try to change up our [training] routine that way to get to feel that [uncomfortability] that you feel at competition."

"Amazing" is how Langlois describes the one-week training stints in Edmonton with Salé and Pelletier.

"Jamie helped me get back to doing throws. David worked on our programs and lifts and made up some of the elements for our short program. They've always been great friends and incredible mentors to us, so it was really nice to be able to work with them a couple of times [since March]," said Langlois, noting Pelletier will come to their training site in Barrie, Ontario, this week to work with them again.

Previously, Langlois and Hay have tended to show dramatic or flashy programs, but this season's offerings have a much softer feel.

"Both programs are very classy, very soft lines. As [Bezic] put it, she wants us to show the joy of skating in every element. She wants people to feel how it feels to do a death spiral, how amazing it feels in a lift. That's a different style for people to see," Langlois said.

From his perspective, Barkell said Langlois and Hay are in "a really good mindset. They're really, really focused on the goals and their daily goals. They're training really well, and I'm very pleased where they are at for this time of year. In the Olympic year, it's all about building, building, building and doing it when it counts."

Canada has just two berths for pairs for its home games in 2010. As many as five couples will battle it out for the coveted Olympic assignments.

"I think it's a great thing for Canada. When you don't have as many spots, people have to fight harder and prepare better, and may the best team win," Langlois said.