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Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond gets her chance as centre of attention

Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada competes in the women's team free skate figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, in Sochi, Russia.

Ivan Sekretarev/AP

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It doesn't matter if it's the Olympics or at home: Kaetlyn Osmond loves to be the centre of attention.

When she's not competing, the Canadian champion figure skater trains at a rink inside the mammoth West Edmonton Mall in Alberta. Most skaters wouldn't relish working out in such a fishbowl every day, with shoppers shuffling past and occasionally stopping to inspect what's going on at ice level. Not her.

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"I actually really like skating there. I love the shoppers walking around. I guess that's why I'm in skating, because we literally are the centre of attention," Osmond said.

And if the shoppers don't stop, Osmond doesn't like it very much. Every time she sees someone walk by, "If they're not even looking or slowing down, I'm like, 'Oh no you don't,' and I'll go whip off something nice. And I'm like, 'Yeah, you stay.' They sometimes do, and then I feel really happy. I'm like, 'Cool, they like what I do.'"

Osmond will now get her chance to perform on the world's biggest figure-skating stage. The skater from Marystown, Nfld., has been on a meteoric rise over the past few years, from promising junior skater to Canada's best female talent.

Competing at her first Olympics, 18-year-old Osmond is part of the youth movement taking place in the women's ranks in Canada. She and 16-year-old Gabrielle Daleman from Toronto are Olympic rookies, but they bring poise and jumping ability beyond their years. Joannie Rochette, the bronze-medal winner in Vancouver, marvels at the complex jumps Osmond and Daleman have been executing at such young ages. They will skate their short programs Wednesday and their free skates on Thursday.

Born in Newfoundland, Osmond moved to Montreal at age nine, when she began to get serious about figure skating and ice time was hard to come by at home. In Montreal, she trained with her sister, Natasha, also a figure skater. But when Osmond's parents struggled to find work, the family uprooted again and moved to Alberta. Her father now works in the oil patch in Fort McMurray, and the family has settled in Sherwood Park, just east of Edmonton.

Osmond says she never considered the Olympics a possibility until she made the jump to senior skating and suddenly started winning events. Last year, she won the national championship at age 17, leapfrogging several skaters who were older, more experienced and seemingly primed for an Olympic bid. At that point, Skate Canada officials began talking to her seriously about Sochi.

"At nationals, they were just like, well, now that you're national champion, I guess [the] Olympics next year are more of a reality," Osmond said. "And I'm like, well I guess they are, aren't they."

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Then, last spring, she surprised everybody again with an eighth-place finish at the World Championships in London, Ont. And at the nationals in Ottawa last month, Osmond recorded one of the highest scores ever by a Canadian in the women's short program: Her 70.3 was second only to the 71.36 Rochette was awarded in 2010 for her bronze-winning short program at the Vancouver Olympics.

What Osmond brings to Sochi is a precocious unflappability that is rare among young skaters. When she steps on the ice, she seems oblivious to the pressure. "I feel like Kaetlyn really enjoys herself on the ice," says Rochette, who is in Sochi as a television commentator. "She steps on the ice and is happy to be there and is not seeming to be too nervous about it. It's good seeing that."

The reality, however, is that Osmond's torrid development has put her ahead of schedule. Based on age and experience, she's probably more in line to contend at the 2018 Olympics rather than here in Sochi.

After suffering hamstring and ankle injuries this fall, Osmond and her coach, Ravi Walia, come into these Games with a goal of matching or beating the eighth-place finish at last year's worlds. The experience gained here will be a springboard for the future.

After helping Canada to silver in the team figure skating competition last week, Osmond already has her first career medal in the bag. Soon after the team event, Osmond and Daleman left Sochi to train in Germany, to get away from the Olympic beehive of activity.

"It's a good way to go and train and run programs more than once a day and actually feel ready," Osmond said before she left. "When I come back, it will feel fresh again."

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It's probably the one time in her life that Osmond has ducked the spotlight. But if she skates a good short program tomorrow, she'll be the centre of attention once again.

Otherwise, she loves the attention being heaped on her as a figure skater on the rise – even at the mall in Edmonton where she can no longer train in obscurity.

"I'll be standing beside the boards talking to my coach, or waiting to do something, and someone will look over and say, 'Hey you're Kaetlyn!" she says. "And I'm like, 'Yeah. I am!'"

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