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Sale and Fleury enjoying the process

Onto week three of "Battle of the Blades"

By concentrating on skating skills Jamie Salé and Theo Fleury are becoming more and more like a pairs team each week.
By concentrating on skating skills Jamie Salé and Theo Fleury are becoming more and more like a pairs team each week. (Insight Productions/CBC)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(10/14/2010) - When Jamie Salé was growing up in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, she avidly followed the Calgary Flames and cheered for one of the NHL's most unlikely players and fiercest competitors, 5'6 Theo Fleury. For season two of Battle of the Blades, the two Albertans form a pair perhaps short on height but huge on personality.

"We've come at this very open-minded and I think we're having the most fun and enjoying ourselves the most because we're out there with this reckless abandon," says Fleury, who proudly wore mascara and black nail polish on week one when the theme was rock and roll.

"I've gone through a process in my life where I feel comfortable in my own skin," he adds. "I know exactly who I am. I don't really give two hoots what people think about me. This is a show. This is entertainment. Whatever it takes to get votes and entertain people, I'm willing to do it."

Salé, 33, is not only among the figure skaters returning from season one, she is the defending champion. Just like the professional dancers on Dancing with the Stars, she knows it's a new year and cannot compare Fleury, 42, to last year's partner, Craig Simpson.

"I knew from the beginning I had a completely different partner," Salé says. "Last year, I had a 6-foot-2 sort of model type looking guy that was almost graceful and liked to do more of the Sinatra-style dancy type stuff. Now I've got this fiery, feisty character....He's Theo and he's great at what he does."

One thing that Salé is doing the same is working with her partner on the fundamentals of figure skating. During preparation for week three, which is dance week, Salé and Fleury worked with choreographer Lori Nichol, who noted how much like a figure skater Fleury is starting to look.

"I want to feel good and be clean," says Salé. "Then every week we're going to step it up. Last week we put a platter lift in. We did more steps. He did more skating skills in the program. Now that we're through that week, this week we've choreographed another challenging program.

"Every week it's about building, not just showing more lifts. It's about showing better skating because this is a figure skating competition." She says this week they taught Fleury a rocker into a mohawk. He also landed an axel on one foot. "It wasn't pretty, but he did it," she says.

It is a figure skating competition that the eight hockey players taking part in appear to be taking very seriously. They all watched last year's shows and they signed on knowing a lot was expected of them.

"Because the bar was set high right away and because we're so competitive, we have to improve in order to stay on the show," Fleury says. "Growing and getting to know a whole bunch of different sides that I never knew that I had has been really cool." Over the course of his 14-year professional hockey career, Fleury played more than 1,000 games -- winning a Stanley Cup in 1989. Just like Salé, he won Olympic gold with team Canada at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. He has also been public about an intense struggle he had with alcohol and substance abuse.

Each Battle of the Blades competitor receives money to give to charity, and Salé and Fleury have both chosen The Men's Project, an organization founded to address gaps in community-based counseling resources for men. Founded in 1997, TMP now is one of Canada's leading counseling and educational agencies for men and their families, particularly male survivors of abuse.

"September 18, 2005 was the day I took my last drink and had my last drug," says Fleury. "That was the day I surrendered and realized there's always been a plan for my life. I'm not going to get in the way anymore. I'm just going to go with it and enjoy myself. I believe Jamie and I were supposed to meet and share this experience together.

"When this competition goes further along and the pressure gets higher, we both know what that feels like. We've trained our entire lives to be in as many of those situations as we possibly can. I look forward to the competition going forward and continuing to improve."

Salé is especially pleased to see that the sense of flow in figure skating is coming more naturally to Fleury as the weeks go by. She says he has "dancer knees," meaning he's good at bending and getting into the ice.

"I feel like we're a pair," says Salé. "When we do crosscuts, he has really nice fluidity in his stroking. He's not thinking as much. We're just sort of doing it."