Emanuel going for the gold

By Magdalena Osborne
Photos ┬ę EMJO, Joy, Mireille, Lisa Prenty, Titia Tolsma

Canada's Emanuel Sandhu is without a doubt one of the most colorful people in skating. He's been at it for years and his talent is never questioned. His holding together at competitions is. On a good day he can beat Plushenko but on a bad day the jumps are gone. So far he's had a busy season. He competed in the Campbell's classic and then went on to win both Skate Canada and Cup of China. Unfortunately the Grand prix final didn't work out quite as well and he had to settle for 5th place. He was second after Jeff Buttle in the Canadian Nationals in January.

But besides competing he's also performed in some shows and last fall he was asked to skate in the Stars on Ice shows in Antwerp, an invitation he happily accepted.
“I had never skated in Belgium before so it was something new and interesting. I skated two show programs. The first one was an improvisation I call “A study in skating”. It's basic skating, there are no jumps in it. The second program was choreographed by Jocelyn Peden who dances with Janet Jackson. She did my other hip hop program (Justin Timberlake) together with my coach Joanne McLeod.”

"A study in skating"

"Gopher/Let's Go"

You've been with Joanne for a long time.
“Ever since I stared skating, we've gone through a lot together. I know some skaters change coaches a lot but I don't agree with that, it wouldn't work for me. Sticking together is not always easy either, but it's the best for me and I think she is the best technical coach as well as choreographer and mentor.”
Why is that?
“We both have dance background so we work really well together, also on the choreography. But this year we brought in another choreographer too, Mark Pillay, cause we wanted something different. He's studied dance and he was also a skater so all of us have dance background.”

Meeting with Emanuel was a real adventure. At competitions he's flamboyant and showy and there are endless discussions on message boards about his unusual and outrageous costumes. He's been called a diva but also a charmer and I wondered if he knew what people were saying about him.

I carefully brought it up not knowing how he'd react, but after only a second I realized he's very aware. Not much gets passed him and he loves the attention. His whole face glowed when talking about it and he was all smiles.
“I have my own style! My costumes are designed by my coach; she's designed every single one since I started skating. Sometimes I suggest things, but I basically let her handle it because I know she always comes up with amazing concepts. The skating, the music and the costume, it's all a concept and that's how we start.”

And every year it as exciting to see what costumes you'll come up with!
“Yeah, I know! This season I brought back an older short program from a couple of seasons ago, the tango, but the costume for the free program is new and I'm really happy with it. It has good colors for TV, ha ha!
Name someone who has influenced your skating!
“You know, I always have trouble answering this because I can't pick just one. But Midori Ito. I know she was more of a technician than an artist, but I always admired her. She was a great, powerful jumper, and as a kid that's all I saw. And she was the first woman with a triple Axel, so it was like wow! Then of course there are people like Brian Orser, Kurt Browning, Toller Cranston and John Curry. And even Michelle Kwan who's still competing, I admire her drive. I look at these people and the qualities it takes to become a real champion.”

Canadian Nationals 2006

Although he's been skating for 18 years, the Torino Olympics will be his first. Circumstances didn't allow him to compete in Nagano. He did go to Salt Lake City but got injured on the day of the men's short program and had to leave to have surgery. But he won't miss Torino and since he's half Italian it'll be extra exciting to go to Italy, and he does well with the language.
How do you think you'll do in the competition?
“I'm definitely going for a medal, the gold of course!”
If you stay on your feet and land your jumps you probably will…
“Yeah, yeah, I know… as long as I'm prepared and feel ready in my training, that's what it comes down to.”
And you have a mental coach now?
“Yes, it's someone I worked with in the past and whom I brought back. It's an important year so I'll do everything I can to make sure I've covered all my bases.”
The Olympics is serious stuff, not like doing shows where you can relax.
“I'm a true born performer and that's what most people see. Whether it's a show or a competition, every performer goes out there feeling something.”
How do you feel when you're out there competing or performing and people are cheering and waving banners?“I saw a lot of banners at Cup of China and it's nice to see things like that! I have a message to my fans: I love you guys! You're great and I really, really appreciate you! I want to thank you for all the support you've given me and I hope I make you happy when I skate! My official site www.EmanuelSandhu.com is almost ready to launch! It's absolutely unbelievably fabulous! I'm very proud of it and of course it shall evolve over time like myself!”

Training and with fans, in Antwerp

Will you stay eligible after the Olympics?
“A lot of people ask me that, but I don't know. I guess I have to cross that bridge when I get there. But I am planning on going to Worlds. It's in Calgary so I don't think I have much choice, ha ha. People would never forgive me if I don't go.”

Like most other skaters Emanuel has opinions about the Code of Points. Being such an artistic skater with wonderful spins he's experienced some of the advantages of high component scores, as well as the high points paid for landing difficult jumps like a quad. But missing elements in the short program can be devastating.
“The Code of Points works in terms of… if I skunk the short program I can come back in the long and that's great, it's a good change! But the system is in its infancy and there are some details that need to be worked out, like I don't think the quads are worth enough points and should be given more credit. But overall I like the way things are going.”
Did the latest level changes have much influence on your programs?
“Yes, we changed my spins so they're all level 4 now, that's the credit I'm getting for them so it's good. I've come up with a few new spins as well. There was the Sandhu one before, everybody knows what that is."
The butt spin…
“No, no, it can't be called a butt spin anymore, it's the Sandhu spin! You wouldn't call the Biellmann spin a back spin, right? Anyway, there's that one and a couple of others, they are called "the pretzel" and "the dead man". And some amazing field moves in the long program. This year it's all about innovation and artistry which I've always been known for.”

This is one of the moves he talks about: "The Frog"

It's easy to talk to Emanuel. He answers everything and doesn't mind sharing things that are a bit more personal, like his off ice interests.
“I like to read; I love Harry Potter and have read all the books. I read a lot of fiction, my favourite author is Vancouver-based Douglas Coupland who is an internationally exhibited artist. I also take voice lessons. I'm going to become a singer after this, or that's my plan. And I dance a lot. Last summer I did a musical theatre work shop, it was something new. I keep myself quite busy and of course I like to hang out with my friend as well, and do things to improve my life. I have my hand in a lot of pots right now, but the main one is the skating pot.”

Do you enjoy traveling?
“Yes! I like to see new places, but the competitions are usually pretty much in the same areas, but I do like to travel and I look forward to it.”
Which place is your favorite?
“I really love Italy. I was there in August training with the Skate Canada team. My mom is from Rome and we used to go there every summer for two months. It's been a while since I've been there, so it was very nice to go back, it was just like in my childhood. I speak English, French and Italian.”

What kind of music do you like?
“I love pop, classical, jazz, R&B and hip hop and some rap. As long as it sounds good to me!”
Do you play any instruments?
“I used to take piano and guitar lessons, but not anymore. Maybe I'll go back to it some day, but right now I really don't have the time.”

Choose one:
Cat or dog (I can't choose, both!)
Pink or purple (Man, this is harder than the questions! I'll have to go with both again!)
Opera and ballet (Ballet, cause that's what I studied. But I saw Cecilia Bartoli when she came to Vancouver and she was amazing, absolutely brilliant.)
Tango or hip hop (Both again. I find enjoyment in both, I mean my short program is a tango but I have a hip hop show program. This is too hard…)
Party or sleep (Hm, sleep. Maybe in days past it would have been party, but usually I'd rather sleep. After the Olympics it'll be party, but now I have to be disciplined so it's sleep.)

Who will win in Torino?
“I don't want to say, just wish everybody the best.”

We wish you the best, Emanuel! The skating world is a whole lot more interesting because of you!

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