A change of perspective to a more competitive focus is seeing results for Prince George figure skaters.
The Spruce City Skating Club can boast a successful start to their winter season, with skaters who are racking up the medals in major competitions.
In addition with learn-to-skate and enrichment programs for hockey and ringette players, Spruce City is rebuilding its way to dominance in the figure skating field.
Most recently, pre-juvenile skater Justin Hampole placed second at his first-ever CompetitiveSkate provincial competition, making him the only skater who trains in northern B.C. to win a medal.
"Justin has made major strides this year," said Rory Allen, Spruce City's director of skating and head coach. In less than a year, the 10 year old has more than doubled his scores and moved up three levels. "When I first started with him, he had a cheated [under rotated] single axle and now we've got the double sow, double toe, double loop and he's landind the double lutz - just under rotated - and he's actually started the double axle. In less than a year, we've made major progress.
Typically, a skater might move up one level per year or every other year, but Allen said Hampole has progressed so quickly, he didn't want to hold him back.
"My focus and direction as a coach and director of skating for the club is moving the club forward in the way I was trained," said Allen, who joined Spruce City in the spring. Allen is a former junior national team member and international competitor.
He said creating a competitive training centre locally takes a shift in attitude. "It's not just that we're a smaller community, it's more the energy you put in and where you put your focus."
That focus has brought coach Bruno Delmaestro - who trains skaters in Vancouver for international competitions - to Prince George to lead a seminar. The club is also venturing out to some of the higher-level events which area skaters haven't historically competed in.
"Getting them to have that sort of exposure, getting the club name out there, getting the Prince George name out there is kind of one of my big focuses," Allen said.
Along with Hampole, Spruce City sent Shaelynne Macaulay, Danielle Sidsworth and Chelsea Raful to the provincial competition. Earlier in the season Macaulay brought home a second-place finish in a regional match.
This built on the success of the summer season, where a group of skaters including Hampole, Sidsworth, Emma Bajestani, and Olivia Wankling made further strides at a provincial competition in Kamloops.
"We're starting to go farther and farther to compete with the top skaters in B.C., if not western Canada," Allen said. "And the field is super thick. Skating is super popular in Canada."
That popularity is where the club is hoping to make inroads on growing the base of competitive figure skating in a region where it's largely recreational.
Allen said the club is on the right track by having a team of coaches who specialize in different areas to enrich the skaters' development, but their work is still in its infancy.
"We have huge strides to make in terms of membership, acquisition and retention. We have to keep our focus on grassroots development and getting more and more of Prince George kids involved in skating," Allen said. "That's definitely a huge area of focus for us and that's our future."
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Chelsea Raful's blades are sharp and she's hoping to make the cut.
The 13-year-old from Prince George is in Kelowna for 2011 BMO B.C./Yukon section figure skating championships where she's entered in the pre-novice women's competition.
Raful, a member of the Spruce City Skating Club, began Thursday with the short program and will be back on the ice today for the free skate. Thursday's results were not available.
Last year in Richmond as a first-year pre-novice, Raful placed 47th. In 2008, her first year in the competitive stream, she placed seventh in the pre-juvenile class at the section meet in Nanaimo.
A top placing this weekend will guarantee Raful a spot in the BMO Skate Canada Eastern/Western Challenge set for Mississauga, Ont., Dec. 1-5.
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