Sitting in plastic arena seats shortly before their 17-year-old daughter blew away the competition and electrified the crowd, Jeff and Jackie Osmond seem genuinely surprised to be here.
Raising a champion figure skater has never been their goal, the Newfoundlanders say. Not during all those six-hour round trips to St. John’s for practices. Not when Jeff, an offshore oil worker, moved with his wife and three kids to Montreal and later to Sherwood Park, Alta., where their two daughters found better coaches, and both parents commuted to jobs in Fort McMurray’s oil patch to pay the astronomical skating bills.
Kaetlyn Osmond, their youngest, was the “tagalong” – a show-off with “Bambi legs” who liked skating but usually finished middle of the pack as a junior while her older sister, Natasha, excelled.
Yet, after her performance at the Canadian figure skating championships Friday, some insiders are pinning their hopes on Kaetlyn to drag Canada out of a lull in women’s figure skating and fill a void left by Olympic bronze medalist Joannie Rochette.
A confident Osmond skated a sizzling short program, nailing a triple-triple combination, earning the afternoon’s only standing ovation and a score of 70.04, the highest short-program score awarded domestically to a female singles skater, although scores at nationals can often be inflated. (Any score over 65 is considered “phenomenal” by international standards.)
Her closest competitor going into Saturday’s free program is the reigning Canadian champion, Montreal’s Amèlie Lacoste, who scored 57.86. Julianne Seguin of Montreal was in third with 53.93.
“I know they’re pushing behind me,” a visibly deflated Lacoste said. Seguin called Osmond her role model.
Meanwhile, two-time world champion Patrick Chan leads the men’s competition after the short program with a score of 94.63. Kevin Reynolds sits in second place (85.32) and Liam Firus (75.33) is third.
The ice dancers open competition Saturday.
Reigning Canadian pairs champions Meagan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford of Red Lake, Ont., were in first place after the short program with 69.08 points, edging out Kirsten Moore-Towers of St. Catharines, Ont., and Dylan Moscovitch of Toronto, who had 68.23. Paige Lawrence of Kennedy, Sask., and Rudi Swiegers of Kipling, Sask., were third with 54.42.
This has been a breakout season for Osmond, a rookie on the Grand Prix circuit. Friday’s performance at nationals follows up two surprise wins last fall – the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany and Skate Canada International in Windsor, Ont.
“She just blew the socks off people,” Elizabeth Manley, who won a figure-skating silver medal at the Calgary Olympics in 1988, said of Osmond’s earlier performances.
It’s an impressive debut considering a year ago, before qualifying at last year’s nationals, Osmond had never landed a triple-triple combination. Just two years ago, Osmond wrote her long-term goal in her journal: to make top five in senior women’s. The Olympics never entered her mind.
“It’s definitely gone further than that,” she said.
Her coach, Ravi Walia, said the strategy this season was to give a more mature look and feel to her programs, which will include Saturday’s free program, inspired by the French opera Carmen, a dramatic contrast to her fun and flirty short program.
The idea is to “package her so that [judges] wouldn’t see her as a 16-year-old. They would see her as a contender.”
She’s upping the ante with difficulty, too. The triple-triple Osmond did Friday was her easiest one, she said. She has others, and plans to unleash them in her programs next season.
Even her parents are daring to wonder if the Sochi Olympics in 2014 may be in reach.
“It’s in the back of our heads, of course,” Jackie Osmond said.
“It’s in the back of Kaetlyn’s head, too,” added her sister, Natasha, 20, who retired from skating two years ago and now works as a surveyor in Fort McMurray, like her father.