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Sandhu joyfully returns to competitive skating

Three-time Canadian champion says he enjoys freedom IJS affords

Emanuel Sandhu was received warmly by the fans at the 2013 Canadian Championships in Mississauga, Ontario.
Emanuel Sandhu was received warmly by the fans at the 2013 Canadian Championships in Mississauga, Ontario. (Skate Canada/Stephan Potopnyk)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(02/07/2013) - Emanuel Sandhu, a three-time Canadian champion, and a world and Olympic competitor, is honest in saying many of his fellow senior men's competitors at the 2013 Canadian Figure Skating Championships were unfamiliar faces. It had been six years since Sandhu, 32, last competed, and those weren't the happiest of times.

His return was propelled by his desire to recapture an early love of the sport.

"I wanted to feel I was really enjoying what I was doing," said Sandhu, who finished 11th in Mississauga. "I felt the last time I competed, I wasn't exactly enjoying my skating at all. I didn't want to look back and see that as the last thing I did. I just really wanted to go out there and prove to myself that you can compete and you can have fun."

Sandhu chose to tackle this return to competition without a coach or choreographer -- he wanted to prove he could stand on his own two feet. He revived old programs from his repertoire, but he did consult a technical specialist to make sure the programs complied with international judging system (IJS) rules. He even wore old costumes, saying that everything still fits perfectly.

It was changes to the IJS, allowing for a bit more leeway in content, that prompted Sandhu to contemplate his return. One of the reasons he had chosen figure skating over dance years ago was that he felt skating offered more freedom.

"IJS is too cluttered sometimes when I'm looking at the programs, and I don't think it needs to be," he explained. "Those magic moments are created by space a lot of the time.

"Going from the old system into the new system, I felt like a chicken with my head cut off trying to put all this in. It was frenetic, and I was kind of miserable doing it.

"Now there is a little bit more room to play," he added. "I thought now I can have a little bit more fun with it."

He'd initially started on the road to his return for the 2012 Canadian Championships but broke a bone in his left foot prior to the qualifying competition. He's healthy this season, although one of his knees -- both of which he's had surgery on -- did get a little "grouchy" when he intensified his training.

"I approached the whole thing pretty humbly," Sandhu said. "For me, it wasn't about anything but sticking to my values and my principles, coming back and doing things on my own terms. Those terms were to enjoy what I was doing and go after it no matter what and work hard for it.

"A lot of this has to do with reconnecting with skating, sort of reconnecting with my youth in a way, because that's when I had a lot of fun with my skating," he continued. "There was a period of time where I misplaced that. I didn't think that was fair to my skating."

Over the last six years, Sandhu has done some show skating. In 2009, he returned to his first love, dance, when he competed on So You Think You Can Dance Canada. Since doing that TV show, he's kept a fairly low profile, with only occasional ice show appearances.

The warmth he felt from the audiences at the 2013 Canadian Championships deeply touched Sandhu.

"They embraced my return and my performances," he said. "I think they were reacting to my genuine enjoyment and love for the sport."

Now, Sandhu said he's considering a number of options: continuing to compete, pursuing show skating full out or becoming a coach and choreographer.

Whatever he chooses, he will pursue it with a sense of purpose, knowing that he can set a goal and follow through. He also proved to himself that he could compete under the IJS and still be himself.

"There's nothing worse than having an idea and having the regret of not following through with it," Sandhu said. "Whether I continue into the season next year or not, it will still hold me in good stead because I followed through with it."