Retirement

After the 1986 Worlds, Wainman performed on a cross-country exhibition tour. One fan saw her perform several times and said she was landing double axels and triple salchows in her exhibitions and having a great time.

The fans were looking forward to seeing more of the new and improved Tracey Wainman. She had indicated to Brian Orser, in 1984, that she longed to compete at the 1988 Olympics.

But it was not to be. The first ominous sign for Wainman fans was an article that appeared in The Globe and Mail in the spring of 1986. The headline read: “Nowhere to go for Wainman.” It was a strange article full of CFSA doublespeak. They said they had decided not to send Wainman to a fall international competition. Instead, she was being sent to America over the summer to train and work on her triples with Don Laws, the coach of Scott Hamilton. The CFSA technical director Barbara Graham started talking about Wainman’s weight in a way that was completely insensitive and inappropriate — it would never happen today. She remarked that Wainman needed to get to her competitive weight earlier in the season and that that would make her triples more consistent. She said they were trying to give Tracey “guidelines”. How about just sending her to a competition?

It seemed like another case of CFSA bungling, micromanaging and politics; it was a truly hamfisted handling of an athlete. Here was a skater who was Canadian champion and had just given the CFSA a top 10 finish at Worlds, and completed a remarkable comeback against the odds. And yet they weren’t going to reward her and send her to a fall international. They wanted her to effectively try out for competitions at the end of the summer, to prove to them she could land more triples. This was the same mistaken approach they had used in the fall of 1982, when they withdrew her from the Ennia Challenge Cup and told her to work on her triples, then subsequently promoted other skaters who didn’t have any triples. It backfired then — she lost motivation and confidence — and it backfired again. By all accounts, she trained with Don Laws in the summer of 1986, but as she later said in an interview, “not a lot of skating got done”. She also said she lacked the desire to spend hours training triples by that point. I read or heard somewhere that she did perform for officials at the end of the summer, but I guess neither side was happy, because she retired in August, and joined Holiday on Ice. What they should have done, to encourage her, was to say: we’re sending you to Skate Canada and NHK Trophy, just to fire her up and encourage to train. After all, the skater who ended up replacing Wainman at the 1988 Olympics was Charlene Wong, who didn’t have any consistent triple jumps, and the skater who replaced her at the 1987 World Championships was Patricia Schmidt, again, who only had one triple, the toe loop — why was Wainman penalised for only having a salchow, yet Schmidt was given competitions? When you feel the CFSA is not supporting you, it must have been difficult to go on. Incidentally, Wainman never criticised the CFSA for the way they handled her career; she said “she takes full responsibility” for what happened to her.

I don’t blame Wainman for retiring. She had been through a roller-coaster of a career and ended on a high note, with great performances that people will remember — joyful moments, rather than sad ones. Perhaps she didn’t want to go through the trauma of having to be scrutinised all over again, and to try to defend her title against the jumping machine that was Elizabeth Manley. Perhaps she didn’t want to go through the heartache of potentially losing her title again and dealing with all that pressure. Learning triples is a painful business and perhaps her body had been through enough. Wainman later said she tried two triple flips and two triple lutzes in her life, and never again. Ellen Burka later said in an interview regarding Wainman’s decision to retire that “the writing was on the wall”, that the sport was changing, that skating was also very expensive in those days because the athletes didn’t get paid, and of course “there was the boy”, a reference to Josef Sabovcik, Wainman’s boyfriend at the time, who lived in Czechoslovakia and whom she would be able to see while skating with Holiday on Ice in Europe.

So she retired. Sad for the fans, but good for her, and her legacy endures. When you despair of the IJS system, and all the flailing and tortured footwork and robotic, formulaic programs, look at Wainman’s 1986 programs to see the perfect blend of athletics and artistry, to see effortless transitions, great edges and true composition and style. She’s now coaching at the YRSA in Richmond Hill, with partner Gregorz Filipowski, the Polish skater who also made his debut as a young’un at the Dortmund Worlds in 1980. Wainman’s pupils include Alexandra Najarro, an elegant senior ladies’ skater who twice finished 4th at the Nationals, and shares a couple of Wainman’s characteristics: the tipped-forward entry on the triple salchow (her best jump) and double axel, and the gorgeous flying camel. Her other promising student is Roman Sadovsky, who recently finished 13th at the World Junior Championships and has some of the fine, graceful skating qualities of his teacher.

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