Interview With Christopher Mabee
If you love watching men's figure skating and live in Canada, you most definitely know the name Christopher Mabee. A medallist on the Novice, Junior and Senior levels at the Canadian National Championships, Christopher has represented Canada on both the Junior and Senior Grand Prix with great success and competed at the World Junior Championships, the Four Continents Championships (where he won the silver in 2006) and the World Championships in 2007. I was in the rink when he skated to a silver medal at the 2007 Canadian Nationals here in Halifax and can attest to the fact of him not only having a wonderful performance but competing in a very deep field. Jeffrey Buttle won that year, but in finishing second Mabee outskated Emanuel Sandhu, Shawn Sawyer, Patrick Chan, Joey Russell, Vaughn Chipeur, Kevin Reynolds, Bryce Davison and a who's who of great Canadian skaters. Now skating on the high seas as a professional skater with Willy Bietak Productions, Christopher took the time to reflect on his competitive career, talk about skating professionally, homophobia in figure skating, men's skating in Canada and much more:
Q: During your skating career, you were a Novice, Junior and Senior medallist at the Canadian National Championships and competed at the World Junior Championships, Four Continents Championships, World Championships and on both the Junior and Senior Grand Prix, winning the silver medal at the 2006 Four Continents Championships ahead of well known skaters like Matthew Savoie and Michael Weiss. What are your proudest and most special memories from your eligible skating career?
A: Well, after you put it all out there I guess I would have to say I am proud of all the accomplishments I achieved over my competitive career! A couple of my proudest moments probably come from the National Championships in Canada. I feel like I always had my best skates in front of a Canadian audience. 2005 was a year of changes. I made a coaching change during the off season and then returned back to Lee Barkell and Doug Leigh because it wasn't working out. Then I was injured before the Junior Grand Prix final. Going to Nationals and performing probably one of my most emotional performances and in my hometown was such a great moment. The only other one would have to be after the 2006 long program where I really thought I had skated well enough to make the Olympic team. To recover after falling from 3rd to 8th after the short program and then to come back with a solid free skate really showed me what I was made of.
Q: Looking back, would you change about your skating career if you had to do it all again?
A: I am not sure what I would change. Honestly, I wish I would have loved the gym more and didn't make it seem like such a chore. I wish I knew then what I know now. I find I am a much more consistent performer now being older, but that's about it.
Q: You competed under both the 6.0 and IJS system. How hard was adjusting to a new way of skating and a new way of being judged? Which system do you think was/is the fairest to skaters and audiences?
A: Adjusting to the new system was interesting to say the least. I had a hard time understanding the importance of the small points adding up and I don't even think I full got it even when I removed myself from competitive skating. The new system changed skating. I find the new system has made skating seem busy. Choreographers like David Wilson, Lori Nichol and Jeffrey Buttle have been great at finding the balance of pleasing the judges and not making their skaters look chaotic or frantic. I like how everything has value, but I feel like with all the strategy it is making it hard for the audience to connect with skaters on emotional level. I feel like we are getting closer to what it was like before the system change but it will need more time. I think the 6.0 system was easier for the audience to understand and to relate to. As for what is fair, we are speaking about a judged sport. I would like to see some judges called out for stupidly high numbers when the other judges go low. Same with the calling of the events. Last year at the Grand Prix Final, I saw some stuff where I had no idea what the panel saw. For me it was just weird. In general, I don't care what the numbers are. I just want to watch good skating and see that being rewarded and I think/hope the audience would want the same thing.
Q: You worked with some of the best coaches and choreographers in the skating world during your career - David Wilson, Lori Nichol, Doug Leigh, Lee Barkell, Paul Wirtz... What did you take from working with each of these people that really helped you develop as a better skater?
A: Well, each person I have worked with has been so different and I have definitely learned something from everyone. With Paul Wirtz, I never went to a competition unprepared. He always had me trained and ready to go. Doug Leigh and Lee Barkell taught me proper technique on my jumps. With David Wilson, he showed me another side of skating that I didn't know was there and really pushed me to try something new. Lori Nichol showed me the importance of connecting with the choreographer and showed me that you can have fun and get stuff done too. I can always remember having a great time with Lori anytime we got together. In this new aspect of my career, I have had the opportunity to work with Sarah Kawahara who taught me a lot about playing a character and telling a story. Christopher Nolan gave me a new appreciation for the simple things in skating like a pointed toe, clean lines, and simple skating. I have been really lucky to have worked with such talented people.
Q: In 2006, you finished 4th at the Canadian Championships, missing a trip to the Winter Olympics by one spot. I can't even imagine. How did you get over that and how can skaters perservere when the going gets tough?
A: Well, it wasn't easy. The hardest part was training for the Four Continents Championships which were only a few weeks later. I have a great support system and they really helped me through that time. During the Olympics I enjoyed a drink or two while watching it. I spoke a lot with my sports psychologist, and she really helped me get through the emotional trauma that happened with being so close to making it to Olympics. It wasn't until the end of the Grand Prix events where I finally feel like I got over it and could focus on what I needed to do. I think the best thing you can do in moments like that is really communicate with your support team (family, coaches, close friends). Don't hold it in, just be honest with yourself and about how you feel.
Q: You turned professional in 2008 and have done some touring, both with Disney On Ice and Royal Caribbean. Where are you currently performing and is professional skating what you thought it would be? What do you love the most about it?
A: As of right now, I am in between contracts. I am currently working for Willy Bietak Productions on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Professional skating is more than what I thought it would be. When I came into professional skating I was in a time in my life were I was broke and needed money. I had no idea when I started that it would reignite my love and passion for the sport. I love being able to skate without the pressure. I obviously still have a lot of expectations for myself but being able to perform in front of an audience without pressure is such a freeing feeling.
Q: Is skating professionally something you see yourself doing long term?
A: I didn't expect to be skating this long. I have been working for Willy Bietak Productions for nearly 5 years now and it has been great. I am treated really well and have no intentions of completely stopping in the near future, but we will see how my body holds up in the upcoming years.
Q: If you hadn't been a figure skater, what other talent do you think you would have pursued this far in your life?
A: I am not sure if I would have been involved with sports but if I was it probably would have been diving or gymnastics but that would mean I would need to love the gym... so maybe not!
Q: What's one thing most people don't know about you?
A: Something that most people don't know about me... My life is pretty much an open book. When I retired from competitive skating I was severely in debt. I was over $30,000 in debt and worked really hard and saved my money I was making to get out of it. As for random things people wouldn't know, I am a horrible tourist. I might go see what's important but I really just like finding interesting restaurants and having a good meal with great wine. That is what travel has become for me.
Q: Who are three figure skaters or teams (past or present) you could sit and watch perform all day?
A: John Curry! I am currently obsessed with a pro performance or exhibition he did where he skated to "Carmen". I just think it is a brilliant piece of choreography. Michelle Kwan, which doesn't need an explanation. I can't think of another person but I YouTube constantly looking for inspiration. I love when I can get goosebumps from watching a performance and that makes me want to skate.
Q: In response to Skate Canada's 2009 campaign to make figure skating more "masculine", Elvis Stojko told the Toronto Sun "if you're very lyrical and you're really feminine and soft, well, that's not men's skating. That is not men's skating, ok? Men's skating is power, strength, masculinity, focus, clarity of movement, interpretation of music." At the time, Skate Canada director Barb MacDonald was in charge of communications for One Way Ministries, an evangelical group that promotes "a cure for homosexuality". What are your thoughts on this and do you think homophobia within the sport is still an issue?
A: Well, first off everyone has their opinion on what men's skating should be. I feel like Skate Canada was maybe trying to promote skating as more than spandex and sparkles and let the people who are maybe a little close minded towards having their sons join skating know that it is more than just going out and looking pretty. It takes hard work to get to where you want to be. Regarding what Elvis said (and no offence to him or what he said but) to me Elvis was always just an athlete and not an artist. Men's skating needs a mix of both. I think it is important to respect each individual skater and what they bring to skating. There is no need to define what men's skating should be. It is what it is and we should be so happy to have such a variety of skaters. About Barb MacDonald, I have worked closely with Barb and never had any issues. She always treated me and other gay skaters with respect. Barb is one member of a team of people who push these new messages of what canadian skating should be promoting so I wouldn't think about what she is involved with in her personal life too much with the issue with Skate Canada. Homophobia is and will continue to be an issue. As long as everyone continues to stand up for what is right (gay or straight) then it will get better. We have to support the people who are not getting support they need.
Q: What are your thoughts on the current state of men's skating in Canada and worldwide?
A: Having the opportunity to watch Nationals last year I would say men's skating is looking really good. We have some great up and comers, and our current top guys are so strong. Mike Slipchuk (the Skate Canada High Performance Director) has such a strong development program and having such a talented group of guys coming, I am looking forward to watching them develop and be successful. I just hope they can survive the growth spurts and be the next big thing in men;s skating. From what I saw last year... loads of potential!
Q: Who do you think are the skaters to watch going into the 2014 Olympics in Sochi?
A: Denis Ten, Evgeni Plushenko (if he can make it to olympics), Gracie Gold, Kaetlyn Osmond... All Canadian pairs teams... they are all looking so good! Scott and Tessa... I am really interested to see what they are going to come out with this year. I loved "Carmen" and loved watching the piece evolve last season.
Q: What do you love most about being on the ice?
A: The sound of a perfect landing.
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