Stephen Gogolev looks like somebody’s lost little brother who wandered up on the medal podium for junior men, slipping out unnoticed from the cheap seats, looking for ice cream.
But no. The 12-year-old with the shy glance won the darned thing. He could have taken his opponents out by the knees, because he stood so close to that part of their anatomies. But no, he became the Canadian junior men’s champion with stealth and talent, two triple Axels and a quad Salchow attempt and a jump series he never should have landed but did.
On the night in question (Wednesday), Gogolev set out to do an ambitious triple flip – loop – triple Salchow thing, but when he landed the triple flip, he appeared in big trouble. It just didn’t come down well. But he didn’t stop. He did it, somehow. And up in the stands, watching incredulously were multiple world champion Kurt Browning, his old friend Mike Slipchuck, now the high-performance director for Skate Canada (and winner of the men’s senior title 25 years ago) and the ever-cheerful songbird Scott Rachuk, a man with his eyes on talent for Skate Ontario.
All three almost fell out of their seats at the utter audacity of tiny Gogolev. “God!” they all voiced.
Had they just witnessed him pulling it off? It seemed unbelievable. ‘He had no earthly right to try that last triple,” said Browning, still reeling from the display. “And he still did it. He didn’t give up. It’s not like you need this, you don’t need this. Maybe he thinks he did.”
Gogolev, second after the short program, won the long program with 142.88 points, almost five points ahead of the spectacular 16-year-old Conrad Orzel. Overall, Gogolev won the gold medal with 210.06 points over Orzel with 206.06. It was a most entertaining contest.
Browning extended his hand to Gogolev off the ice. Gogolev’s eyes lit up at the sight of him. They know each other. Browning first saw Gogolev at a summer camp when he was about eight years old. They spent 20 minutes together. Gogolev scarcely seemed to know what to think: Browning was loud and unpredictable and lively. Gogolev is a person of another ilk.
“He’s got a very kind heart,” Browning said of the youngster. “He’s a good boy. He donates triple Axels to charity.”
And although he did not land the quad Salchow in his free – he landed his first one in a qualifying event leading to Canadians last month – coach Brian Orser said it wasn’t far off.
“It looks like everything is where it should be,” said Browning, the first man to land a quad almost 28 years ago. “He’s like a well-organized kitchen. You don’t have to look for that paring knife. It’s always where it is.
“It’s just very under control. With him, you can sit back and relax and watch him skate and you know it’s going to be 95 per cent of what the potential is.”
Browning told Gogolev what he thought of him: “”You’re not big on the ice,” he said. “But you share. You don’t keep it to yourself. You’re very humble but you share. And it’s not gregarious and it’s not outgoing but it’s real. It is really nice to watch.”
Gogolev unleashed two triple Axels and they are as textbook a jump as one will see – and he’s coached by a guy – Brian Orser – who broke ground as one of the first to do a jump that some find more difficult than a quad.
As for that magical triple flip – loop – triple Salchow, Slipchuk said that Gogolev has a keen sense of rotation and knows instinctively where he is in the air. “That’s something you either have or you don’t,” Slipchuk said. “He obviously has that quick twitch. It’s fun to watch him.”
Gogolev is currently training a quad Lutz and a quad toe as well as the quad Salchow. So is his new nemesis, Orzel, who defeated him in the short program and finished with the silver medal. Gogolev is too young to even go out on the junior circuit, but Orzel would like a spot at the world junior championships in Taipei City. It’s crowded at the top, though, with a couple of guys of junior age, who currently compete nationally at the senior level (last year’s world silver medalist Nicholas Nadeau, and Roman Sadovsky, now a clubmate.)
Orzel has been an explosive new addition to the ranks pushing up against the big senior boys. He’s extremely talented and showed grit in his long-program effort.
He didn’t go into it with all of his limbs intact.
“I had a tough time in the practice,” he admitted. He did something to his knee, perhaps on a quad toe attempt, because the knee hurt most when he tried that jump again. He was in such pain, he could barely do a triple Axel. “Thanks to adrenalin and the whole crowd and the energy, I just really focused on my training and not on the pain,” he said. “And that’s why I was able to pull it off.”
Orzel landed that magical quad in the long program (even though he hadn’t been able to do a quad toe in practice), and a couple of triple Axels too, one in combination with a triple toe loop. He sailed along at the top of his game and only in the closing moments did he fall on a triple loop.
He landed his first quad toe at a Junior Grand Prix in Dresden, Germany, but found that his nerves kicked in for the first couple of times he tried it in competition. Now, it almost seems old hat.
Next year, he’d like to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final, but sometime in the summer, he may start working on his other quads. He says his quad Salchow, quad loop and quad Lutz are all there. He’s landed each one at least once. His main focus will be a quad Lutz.
All this despite the fact that he has grown about nine inches over the past two years. He’s a different person from the boy who skated to tumbleweeds a few years ago.
They are the future, these two. For now, they looked so very fascinating, Gogolev as Little Lord Fauntleroy, creamy jabot and all; Orzel blazing onto the stage in the brightest of bright emerald greens. That’s just the way they are. Certainly not two peas in a pod.