Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An unlikely Olympic dream

Everything about figure skating and Mexico is improbable enough to be the stuff of the Latin American literary genre of magic realism.

There's this skating rink in Guadalajara where the ice heaves in the centre. The aged Zamboni has been fixed so many times with jury-rigged bits that it's scarcely a Zamboni at all.

Two, maybe three times a day, the Zamboni limps out and floods the pitted and pocked ice that's used mainly for public skating, but also for lessons.

It is the home rink of 25-year-old Humberto Contreras. He took up skating in Mexico City when he was 12 after watching the 1994 Winter Olympics on television. This is his rink. He coaches here and in his spare time nurtures his own Olympic dream.

He was, after all, the first Mexican to land a triple Salchow-triple loop combination in a competition. Three times, Contreras has been Mexico's men's figure skating champion before being upset by Luis Hernandez, who was born in Guadalajara but trains in San Diego.

This wonky Guadalajara arena only recently became the home rink of Elvis Stojko, Olympic silver medallist in 1994 and 1988, three-time world champion and seven-time Canadian men's champion. Three years before Contreras discovered figure skating, Stojko was the first skater to land a quadruple toe, double toe loop jump in competition.

After a lifetime on ice, Stojko quit skating entirely in August 2006. He spent most of the next two years working his land outside Guadalajara, dirt-biking, hiking and, well, living.

But one morning last year after 12 hours of dirt-biking across dried lakebeds in the Pacific Mexican state, Stojko woke up and felt a pull to the rink. After skating on that wretched ice, Stojko volunteered to help fix it, starting with the Zamboni. The conditioner had to be repaired and the blades sharpened. Stojko studded the tires himself.

Full article.

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