Roman Sadovsky had big, big plans for the 2023-24 season, half-way to the Milan Olympics.
But talk about the blues. If he’d been playing a skiffle, he would have been mashing his knuckles against a washboard. His waters have been muddied, his songs in an unusual key.
When he takes to the ice for the National Skating Championships in Calgary next week, he will be contesting his tenth senior Canadian championships. (eleven if you count the COVID-cancelled year, when he won the short and free programs at a Challenge event, defeating Nam Nguyen by 5.55 points, in a way making him the Canadian champion). However, at this Calgary event, always so important to a Canadian skater’s psyche, Sadovsky will be unveiling his programs for the first time this season.
That’s because the (actual) 2020 Canadian champion lost the entire first-half of his season to injury, missing boots, epic snow storms and union demands. All events were out of his control and sadly record-breaking in their own way. Skate Canada high performance director Michael Slipchuk said he’d never seen an international season like Sadovsky’s. It was a first for him.
This season, Sadovsky has been trying new jump layouts. The idea was to go in a different direction with programs and training approach and even the order in which he did jumps. He wanted to add a quadruple toe loop that he hadn’t done in years to the quad Salchows he had been doing. At season’s end, he wanted to sneak in a second triple Axel into his freeskate. He spent the early spring in Japan, skating with Takeshi Honda, who had trained in Canada during his career on his way to winning two world bronze medals. Honda had finished fourth at the 2002 Olympics. Sadovsky went to new choreographers for his short program to “ Unconscious” (by Charlie Winston): Marie-France Dubreuil and Sam Chouinard. His free program was new, too: “Nureyev.”
We’ve never seen his “Nureyev.”
Sadovsky wanted to do as many competitions as possible this season to try all of these things out, and get them all humming for the competitions that mattered.
However, Sadovsky injured an ankle just a week or two before his first competition of the season, the Cranberry Cup at Norwood, Mass August 9 to 13. He had injured the ankle in practice while trying a triple Axel. It was a freak accident, and it took three months “before it felt like a normal ankle,” Sadovsky said. That accident alone derailed his plans for the season. Was that single obstacle not enough for an enterprising 24-year-old? Apparently not.
Even harder was catching back up with the training he had been doing before the injury. He had to withdraw from his only Grand Prix event, Skate Canada International in Vancouver because of the ankle. “It wasn’t yet 100 per cent there,” he said. His biggest limitation wasn’t doing a triple Axel – the jump on which he had injured himself – or the quad Salchow. It was doing triple flips and triple Lutzes.
“And if I don’t have enough content, I cannot fill the program up,” he said. Trying those two jumps would have risked the recovery of his ankle, and he could not rush those jumps to get them ready for that event.
A week after that, Sadovsky competed for the only time all season at the Skate Ontario sectionals, doing only the short program, not the long, with all the content needed. He finished the short far out in the lead with 82.62 points after doing a triple Lutz-double toe loop, a quad Salchow and a planned double Axel.
He did it because he just wanted to get a short program done under any kind of competition pressure. “I was surprised,” he said. “Even though it was a local competition and held in my home rink, I still felt those competition feelings, so I was glad I could compete a short.”
To help him on his way, Slipchuk got Sadovsky two senior B Challenge competitions; the Warsaw Cup in Poland Nov. 15 to 19 and the final one of the season, the Golden Spin of Zagreb Dec. 6 to 9. But the voodoo dolls weren’t finished with Sadovsky yet.
Sadovsky arrived in Warsaw, Poland with no skates. The flight folks could not find them in time. Fortunately, Sadovsky knew where they were. He had an Apple tag attached to the bag with his skates, and he could see they were still in Munich, where Sadovsky had changed flights. Sadovsky flew back to Munich to find them: he didn’t want to break in new skates for Zagreb, only two weeks away.
When he arrived in Munich, he discovered that the bag’s identification tags had ripped off. Because of that “they could not for the life of them find the bag,” he said. “I really wanted to get those skates back and my belongings in general.”
Coach Tracy Wainman, who had flown to Poland with him, had two missing bags as well. These bags had not left Toronto when the pair got to Poland. When they finally got one of them back, itS identification tag had been ripped off as well. To top it off, the check-in agents had mixed up their tags. That made them more difficult to find. (Sadovsky has an entire recent Youtube video explaining how to prevent problems travelling with skates.)
Back to Toronto they went, without any sort of competition experience. Sadovsky said they did a reset for the next competition. Their travel itinerary took them through Munich again and then they were supposed to head to Zagreb.
That never happened.
While the rest of the northern hemisphere was enjoying record-breaking warm temperatures, Europe was plunged into a deep freeze, accompanied by record snowfalls and cancellations up the wazoo, Sadovsky’s plane tried to land in Munich, but it was at the centre of the sturm and drang, with a record 17 inches of the fluffy white stuff, and more on the way.
The plane was in European air space, but it could not land in Munich. Many flights had been cancelled there. Sadovsky’s plane tried to land elsewhere: Milan, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt. “We tried everywhere,” Sadovsky said. “Everybody just said: ‘Nope.’”
So Sadovsky’s plane turned around and flew back to Canada, without ever having landed in Europe.
Other issues cropped up. They didn’t have enough fuel to get all the way back to Toronto, and unions being what they are, the crew members had reached the end of their shifts. They landed in St. John’s, Nfld.
Home and away, sort of.
They had to de-plane there. They had no crew to get them back to Toronto. “It was a nightmare,” Sadovsky said.
Frantically, Sadovsky and friends were in a flurry, trying to set up another flight out of Toronto to get to Zagreb. It was desperation. If everything had worked out optimally, Sadovsky would arrive back in Zagreb an hour before he was to compete. They tried. Nobody tried harder.
And then it began to snow in St. John’s.
It began to feel like they were in a movie, perhaps like “Trains, Planes and Automobiles.”
Sadovsky and his troupe eventually left St. John’s, after having spent 14 hours there. In most cases, that would be cause for celebration, but not when you are trying to get to Europe and compete in your only event of the year. Too much time had passed, and it was too late to attempt to get to Zagreb. Sadovsky went home. At least he had his skates.
Mentally, Sadovsky has come to terms with the fall of 2023. He may have felt like he was gargling with molasses, but he has decided to feel: “It is what it is.
“I’ve been in the sport long enough to know there are all kinds of obstacles here and there,” he said. “The only thing is that nationals will be the first competition of the year. It’s a new perspective for me but I’m really trying to keep it really separate, that the first half of the season is one half, and now we’re going into the second half of the season. It’s just that I’m going in without a first half. And that’s okay.”
In Calgary, he will do a short program that a little more ambitious than Skate Ontario sectionals: a triple Lutz – triple toe loop, a quad Salchow, a triple Axel.
He will keep the triple Axel out of the long program. “We’re going to focus on getting a strong performance my first time out,” he said. He plans on two quad Salchows and really clean triples the rest of the way. “We can build on that,” he said.
He is excited about skating in the arena, which is Olympic-sized, perfect for his long, floaty strides. He dislikes skating in NHL-sized rinks, so common in Canada. That is a definite plus for him. “This will be a very pleasant change of pace,” he said.
He will skate the men’s short program on Friday, Jan. 12. (Thankfully, not a Friday the 13th). The men’s free skate is the final event of the championships, on Saturday night, Jan. 13.
Sadovsky will leave on Wednesday for Calgary. Other skaters want to know. He’s had skaters come up to him and ask him which flight he’s on. They say they don’t want to be on that flight.
“Whatever happens, we’re not travelling with you,” they say.
“You can’t make this stuff up,” Sadovsky said.