When Lloyd Eisler began coaching at the West Kingston Skating Club a couple of years ago, figure skaters in the program believed they were being given a chance to be coached by one of the greats in the history of the sport. Eisler won a world pairs championship in 1993, collected two Olympic bronze medals and added five national titles during his career.
In his first year as a coach, Eisler bought meals for his students and took them on trips to the United States to skate with his former pairs partner. But some of those students saw a different side the next year, when Eisler, in the words of one student's mother, would "curse a blue streak" at his young athletes.
This week, Skate Canada suspended Eisler from coaching for one year. Published reports say that Skate Canada, through its "harassment committee," barred Eisler because of sexually suggestive e-mail messages he sent to a 15-year-old female student he had been coaching in Kingston.
A source confirmed the reason for the suspension, telling The Globe and Mail that Eisler had sent a series of e-mail messages to the teenager during the spring and summer of 2005, while his wife, Marcia O'Brien, was pregnant with their second child. Skate Canada has not given its reasons for the suspension.
Many people in the Canadian skating community have declined to speak about the suspension. But two parents say they severed ties between their children and Eisler almost a year ago because they didn't agree with his coaching methods.
"In our opinion, he definitely shouldn't coach," said Holly Haggerty, whose son, Grant, studied under Eisler until they fired him last November.
Her son had studied with Eisler - and lived with him - since the previous February.
"Lloyd shattered a whole lot of skaters' ideas of how an Olympic medalist should behave," said Haggerty, of Winnipeg. "And this man is definitely not a role model that we would choose in any shape or form for our son. I truly can say I regret any involvement our family has ever had with him."
She said her son was not involved in the reasons for Eisler's suspension, but added that the coach's behaviour was "very serious in our eyes."
Penny McKinnon of Brandon said the first year that her son, Jarret, studied with Eisler was all right. But the second year "was hell." She, too, released Eisler as coach last December, frustrated with the episode that landed him in hot water with Skate Canada, with the lack of information on the issue related to the 15-year-old girl and with his temperament.
"The first year was absolutely wonderful," McKinnon said. "He was so good to the kids. . . . He took them out for lunches. He took them out for dinner. He took them to New Jersey to skate with [Olympic partner Isabelle Brasseur] He even bought the kids all a pair of running shoes. He really was a good guy."
She said she still thinks that Eisler is a good guy, but wonders whether missing the spotlight has affected his behaviour. He and Brasseur ended their professional career a couple of years ago.
McKinnon said Eisler had difficulties imparting his ideas to his students. "He just figured the kids would know," she said. He "curses a blue streak" on the ice when students don't understand his instructions. "He'd fly off the handle and get really mad," she said.
At a certain point, everything began falling apart, McKinnon said, referring to the e-mail messages. "We heard rumours of different things that had been happening and we tried to find out what was going on."
They got nowhere. "We'd just had enough," she said. "Nobody had let us in on exactly what was going on. . . . We don't know for a fact that anything did go on. We were left in the dark. And our kid was 2,700 kilometres away. . . . It was very disconcerting, frustrating."
Others say they had no problem with Eisler as a coach.
Eisler leaped back into the spotlight last fall when he taped the television show Skating with Celebrities and was paired with actor Kristy Swanson, with whom he became romantically involved. Eisler and Swanson are expecting a child in February.
Former world champion Paul Martini, who calls himself a "professional acquaintance" of Eisler, said he was "disappointed, sort of shocked, stunned and surprised at what he [Eisler]is leaving in his wake."
"He's moving from one bad scenario to the next," said Martini, the 1984 world pairs champion.
In a prepared statement Thursday, Eisler said he was not appealing Skate Canada's ruling, but objects to the length of the suspension and would like it shortened.
Skate Canada confirmed yesterday that it received Eisler's submission before the Wednesday night appeal deadline, but is confused whether it is actually an appeal. It is seeking clarification from him.
In his statement, Eisler also said that the situation with Skate Canada is one he regrets "enormously" and takes seriously.
"It is, however, a private issue and as far as I am concerned, the matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of all affected parties," he said. "I believe that I have taken responsibility and addressed any misunderstanding of my actions."