Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” played over the P.A. system as Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond stepped onto the ice for what would be a memorable world championship debut.
She calmly stroked in a wide circle before taking her starting pose as Keys sang “Looks like a girl, but she’s a flame. So bright, she can burn your eyes.”
The 17-year-old from Marystown, N.L., who has people in the sport raving about her rare ability to thoroughly dazzle a crowd, did just that Thursday. She finished fourth in the short program with her sassy mambo program — just a year after she was 10th at the world junior championships.
“She loves the spotlight, she loves to compete, she’s always been like that,” said Ravi Walia, Osmond’s coach since she was 10.
Now she heads into Saturday’s free skate within striking distance of a medal behind Olympic champion Kim Yu-Na of South Korea, who scored 69.97 points to win the short program in her first major international appearance in two years. Defending world champion Carolina Kostner of Italy was second with 66.86, while Japan’s Kanako Murakami was third with 66.64.
Osmond, in black sequined dress, her black hair pulled into a tight ponytail, scored 64.73, opening with a big triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, then charging straight into a triple flip, and then a double Axel. In between she shimmied her shoulders, swivelled her hips and played to the audience, her huge smile barely leaving her face.
“She’s like an artist, she’s very special,” Walia said. “But then at the same time she’s technically very strong.”
There wasn’t a hint of nerves, thanks partly to Walia’s pre-skate speech.
“Before I skated, we came up with a little joke — the less I think the better it is,” Osmond said, clutching a huge Minnie Mouse doll, a gift from a fan. “And then going into my program, every time I went into a jump, I was thinking ‘No brain, no brain.’ And it worked.”
Osmond began skating in Marystown, which boasts about 5,500 people, a shipyard and a fish plant. The town recently erected a “Welcome to Marystown: Home of Kaetlyn Osmond” sign.
“My sister called me and said she’d just passed my sign and got so excited,” said Osmond, whose sister Natasha, a former skater, still lives there.
At the age of 10, she moved to Edmonton where she trained at the West Edmonton Mall in virtual anonymity until she won Skate Canada International this past fall in her Grand Prix debut, then followed it up with a victory at the Canadian championships.
Now shoppers will stop and watch. Some cheer. A couple of weeks ago a boys chamber choir from Newfoundland stopped by to serenade Osmond with ‘50s pop song “A Teenager in Love.”
Osmond more than held her own against the world’s best with her dazzling performance Thursday, making it easy to forget she’s only 17.
Walia said he’s careful to keep her skating fun.
“I want her to be the top and I’m thinking that way, but for her to skate her best, its not necessarily what she has to think about, she has to enjoy herself,” the coach said. “That’s what got her to this point in the first place.”
The 39-year-old coach, a former Canadian bronze medallist, said Osmond is an easy skater to coach simply because of her love of performing.
“Other skaters you could see before the events would get a little nervous. She would come to the rink saying, ‘Only 13 more days to the competition,“’ Walia said. “She would mark off the days on the calendar. Every one else is getting stressed out at the rink and she’s excited. That’s just her personality.
“And it hasn’t changed, as the events continued to get bigger it’s stayed.”
The Grade 12 student — she attends school in the mornings and trains in the afternoons — said she was buoyed by the strong performances of her Canadian teammates so far in London, skating on the heels of Patrick Chan’s world-record skate in the short program a night earlier.
“It gave me more confidence realizing how well they did, and I thought I want to part of this, I want to do as well as they did,” she said. “It definitely helped with my confidence today.”
Walia brought the young skater to the rink on Wednesday so she could get a feel for the boisterous Canadian crowd. He instructed her to take her time before she struck her opening pose, giving the crowd a chance to calm down before she started.
“The crowd was unbelievable, they’re so into everything and they were cheering so loudly that it. . . reminded me to enjoy the experience,” she said. “Even if there was part of my program that I couldn’t actually hear because of the crowd, at least I know my program well enough to know that I was on time.”