Mexican figure skating team getting helping hand from Elvis Stojko
Elvis Stojko and his wife Gladys Orozco-Stojko with the Mexican synchronized skating on April 3 in Richmond Hill. (Veronica Henri, Toronto Sun)
Did you hear the one about the Mexican figure skaters?
Actually, it’s no joke. One of the teams competing at next weekend’s ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships in Hamilton is from Mexico. And while they aren’t expected to medal against the traditional skating powers, Team Mexico does have some high-power backing heading into the competition.
The 17-member Mexican team — called Merging Edge Synchro — arrived in Toronto earlier this week and given that they weren’t able to secure quality ice time in Mexico, reached out for some help to prepare for the worlds. Merging Edge’s home rink in Monterrey has been closed for maintenance since December and they’ve been forced to train in sub-par, undersized rinks, sometimes half the size of a regulation rink. When you’re doing programs involving 16 skaters at a time on the ice, in unison, that can be pretty difficult.
So, former national Mexican women’s singles champion Ana Cecilia Cantu Felix — the coach, team leader and one of the skaters on Merging Edge Synchro — reached out to a former rival, Gladys Orozco, for some help. Cantu won the women’s singles title in Mexico four times, Orozco won the title twice, and Ana’s sister Michele won it three times — all between 2001 and 2009. Needless to say, the competition between the three was intense. But now they’re cooperating to prepare Team Mexico as best they can for the synchronized world championships.
“It’s nice because we’re not competing against each other. We’re trying to put a team together,” said Orozco. “So the energy’s cool.”
The reason Ana Cantu reached out to Orozco is because her former rival now lives in the Toronto area, and is married to three-time world men’s singles champion Elvis Stojko. With Stojko’s connections in Richmond Hill (he has a rink named after him in his hometown), he and Orozco were able to get Team Mexico some quality ice time at Tom Graham Arena to prepare properly for the worlds.
“Since December we have not been able to do a whole run-through of any of the programs,” said Cantu. “And that’s what we’ve been doing here (this week). Every day we have done at least four to five since we’ve got here. And it’s starting to look like we’ve been training on a big ice surface. We have achieved a little more speed than we started on Wednesday with.”
Stojko and Orozco, who now goes by the name of Gladys Orozco-Stojko, understand how difficult it can be to be a Mexican figure skater — Orozco-Stojko from first-hand experience and Stojko from his time living in Ajijic, a picturesque town just outside of Guadalajara. While living in Ajijic, the couple spent a quite a bit of time at the one major ice rink in Guadalajara helping out the local skaters, often under extreme conditions — bad ice, broken equipment, lack of skate sharpeners. Stojko, in fact, bought his own sharpener so he could tend to the skaters.
“In Mexico, there are very few arenas that are decent, and most of those are in Mexico City,” he said. “I remember at the rink in Guadalajara, I bought my own stud gun and studded the tires on their Zamboni because nobody knew had to do it.”
Orozco-Stojko, who along with the Cantu sisters hails from Monterrey, remembers that she had to train on a very small section of the ice while the rest of the ice was taken up by skaters of all other sizes and skill levels, unlike in Canada where the very best skaters usually get ice to themselves, or at least a large patch of the ice. But with the big rinks in Mexico City a 12-hour drive away, they had to make the best of it. Orozco-Stojko remembers how intimidated she was during a training session the first time she travelled to a Junior Grand Prix event outside of Mexico at age 12.
“I was glued to the boards just looking at everybody flying on the ice and I remember my coach telling me, ‘Close your mouth and go skate,’” she said. “I was like ‘Whoa, I can’t do this. The ice is big and they’re too fast. How are they not killing each other?’”
Ana Cantu asked Orozco-Stojko to talk to Team Mexico this week.
“Just do a little speech to pump them up because there are kids on the team who have never been to an international competition, and their first competition ends up being the worlds,” said Orozco-Stojko. “It’s so much for them. They’ve never competed outside the country and all of a sudden they’re in the worlds.
“But I can understand the pressure going on ... first time outside of Mexico competing, in a world championships, representing your own country and not being trained the way you wanted to be trained,” she added. “It’s stressful for them but they made it here and they’re going to do it.”
With a little help from their friends.
“It’s been amazing and people here have been so friendly and helpful and have tried to assist us. It just feels comfortable,” said Cantu. “We feel we can work on our programs and not stress about anything else.”