Oh the novice men’s event. Irresistible. It’s all about the beginning of hope growing in and for the little guys (and not-so-little guys), as they skate in a big, big rink, somewhat empty perhaps, but full of life all the same.
Little guys with spidery legs. Hair slicked back, dressed to the nines. “May All Your Wishes Come true…May you build a ladder to the sky,” went the music for one plucky 13-year-old (who ended up 17th.) There was a little corner where four people sat with the flag of New Brunswick across their laps (probably keeping them warm, somewhat, in a cold arena). Peter Gunn flew across the ice. One of these youngsters, bless his heart, attempted a triple Axel in the free program, but underrotated it. That would be Aissa Bouraraguia, a 16-year-old from Montreal, who ended sixth. He skated to a song about dreams – that life killed. Surely, his are just starting.
The youngest member of the crew was Wesley Chiu from Vancouver, very tiny at age 12, with lots of moxie. He’s seventh.
Then there was tiny Alec Guinzbourg who skated very big in the big rink. And won the thing, taking the short program by four points and the long by 10, finishing with 150.73 points. That put him safely ahead of Aleksa Rakic, 13, with 136.76 and Brian Chiem, 15, with 128.78.
There are seniors who would pine for Guinzbourg’s matter-of-fact consistency, seniors who would dream of his outright confidence.
Guinzbourg probably hasn’t hit five feet in height, yet. But he picked his own free skate music, Amarcord: “Italian,” he said. His mother, a piano teacher, put it all together. He’d heard it on the radio. He probably wasn’t listening to a hard rock station.
Guinzbourg wasn’t surprised that, without a shadow of a doubt, he landed a triple Lutz, and a couple of triple flips. That’s because he spent the past month doing four run-throughs each of his short and long programs daily.
Andrei Berezintsev, who has been coaching the young lad for four or five years, said: “He was exactly ready for what he had done tonight.”
“I think in his mind there was no question or doubts. Just go for it. For him, it was just another short, another free, like he did every day, four times per day. That was the deal. You want to win? You have to do that.”
All this, despite the fact that Guinzbourg was only ninth at the novice championship last year and had a slow start this season. Guinzbourg himself admits: “It was just the first time [as a novice skater] and I felt really nervous.
“But this year, I kind of aware of everything. Not so nervous.”
Berezintsev himself says Guinzbourg just wasn’t mentally ready for that level of competition last year. Still, it was a good experience, scraping the curbs with his doubts.
And early this season, he couldn’t work toward it, because he broke his left (landing) leg, while picking in for a jump. He was out two months.
The coach cobbled together a scaled-down program to get through sectionals and then Guinzbourg found confidence in finishing second at divisionals. “Now everything is back,” the Russian-born coach said. “Lutz, flip.”
They will start working on a triple Axel now and it’s on to junior level next year.
Berezintsev first laid eyes on Guinzbourg when he was about eight or nine years old. And he knew he was looking at a special kid. (He’s the former coach of Gabby Daleman and also worked with Brian Joubert in France for a time.)
“We saw right away something interesting,” Berezintsev said. “Something different. “
Even thought the kid jumped the opposite way to most. He’s a leftie. Berezintsev wasn’t worried about that. He’s handled lots of lefties in his day.
“Okay, we have to do something with this boy,” he said. “Because he has the potential. He has already something we can develop for skating. I’m very proud of him.”
He’s only 13 and for two years, he’s being doing triples. As a pre-novice, he was doing triple Salchow and triple toe loops.
“Once I got one, it kind of started to click,” Guinzbourg said. So once I got my double Axel, I started to get my Salchow. Then a year later, I got my loop, flip and Lutz.”
So here, it all starts. And he’s just turned 13. And what a picture, piano keys across his ribs on his costume. He’ll outgrow it, we’re sure, in years to come.