Tag Archives: Tracey Wainman

Tracey Wainman was the undisputed star of the 1980 Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Kitchener, Ontario. At the age of 12, she won a bronze medal at her first senior nationals, and her long program earned her a standing ovation. The CTV commentator Debbi Wilkes recalls how “grown men cried in the stands” watching her, and her co-host Johnny Esaw said: “the crowd is buzzing and buzzing and buzzing. Remember the name, remember the face, you’re going to see it one day on a World Championship Trophy.” Esaw clearly fell in love with her: back in the days before VCRs, CTV broadcast Wainman’s long program several times that week — a couple of times on the weekend and then later again during the week. I remember my whole family crowded around the TV in excitement; my sister and I were both low-level skaters at the Cricket Club, so to see one of our own make it big was a thrill.

Wainman placed 3rd in the figures, 7th in the short program, and 2nd in the long program, earning marks as high as 5.6. In the short program, she failed to complete the combination, turning a planned double axel-double loop into a single axel, but she landed a beautiful solo double axel at the end. In the long program, she landed one triple salchow and three double axels, electing not to attempt a triple toe loop and second triple salchow. She skated to a selection of music including excerpts from Khatchaturian’s Gayaneh Ballet, ending in the ultimate 1970s skating music, the Sabre Dance.

In a Weekend magazine article printed after the competition, the journalist wrote that Wainman had already mastered the triple salchow and triple toe loop and was training a triple loop, but had not yet landed one cleanly.

Such was the excitement following her long program that the CFSA elected to send Wainman, rather than the champion, Heather Kemkaren, to the 1980 World Championships in Dortmund, West Germany. The decision caused controversy, and fuelled a lot of resentment towards Wainman among other skaters who thought she was being given special treatment and was a flash-in-the-pan who should wait her turn. The CFSA saw Wainman as the future, and said “she will leave the judges talking”. They also wanted to ensure she competed before the ISU brought in a minimum age rule for the World Championships, which they were contemplating doing in 1981. Kemkaren saw the writing on the wall and decided to retire.

Here’s her LP:


At the age of 13, Tracey Wainman became the youngest ever Canadian champion when she won the senior title at the 1981 nationals in Halifax, a record that still stands. It was an early-career peak, and her most impressive competition: she won the figures, short and free, with near flawless skates. In the short program, to Kalinka, her double axels and combination were perfect, and in the long program, she pulled off two perfect triple salchows — the first time she had landed them in competition that season, and the first time she had done two triples in one program. She landed two huge double axels, but popped another — perhaps the first indication of trouble to come with that jump — and omitted a fourth at the end, after a freak fall leading up to it while she was simply stroking. She said afterwards she was overexcited, and the program certainly had sparkle, as well as her trademark speed, sense of command, and a growing maturity and sophistication: as Debbi Wilkes said, “She was an old soul”, but in a 13-year-old body.

In the interview afterwards, Debbi Wilkes commented that Wainman had been missing the triple salchows in practice and warmup, and you could sense Wainman’s uneasiness. She explained that she had been suffering from a cold. When Wilkes asked her about how her triple toe loops were progressing, Wainman said she was landing them “off and on”, and that the triple loop was coming, but that it was just “bad timing” and “the wrong time”. Looking back, you could sense how much pressure she was under to get those jumps and the frustration and anxiety she must have felt when the eyes of the skating world were scrutinising her every move.

After the Canadians, Wainman appeared in a documentary news program, W5. The footage shows her landing three double axels in a row, and a triple salchow-double loop combination. But in a newspaper article from the period you could sense trouble looming and tension in the air. The reporter visited the Cricket Club to watch her practise and remarked that Wainman was having trouble with a jump in her preparation for the 1981 Worlds, and was stopping her program and starting again. He noted that she fell on a triple salchow, and Burka told her to slow down the entrance. In the article, he also described how Burka blew up at another reporter. Burka complained that Wainman hadn’t managed to fit in one decent day of training after the nationals, and that her body couldn’t cope with the pressure and attention. Wainman herself admits she felt self-conscious when reporters were around because if she fell, it looked bad.

Here are her short and long programs from 1981 Canadians, and a CTV documentary, and a link to an article from the Montreal Gazette,3121404

Tracey Wainman completed one of the most remarkable comebacks in Canadian figure skating history when she captured the national title in North Bay in February 1986. At the age of 18, she recaptured the title she had won in 1981 at the age of 13, when she became the youngest champion in history, a record that still stands. The victory also set a record for the longest gap between titles, five years. And she upset Elizabeth Manley, then ranked 9th in the World, and about to make a name for herself as one of the world’s best free skaters. What is more, her performances were flawless and emotional.

She won the figures, and then skated a clean short program to Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Wainman looked relaxed indeed — you could tell she loved skating to rebellious (for skating), edgy music. Her double axel-double loop was effortless, and the jazz hands were fabulous, as was the funky-chicken dance on the tips of her toes. It was so satisfying to see Wainman mature into a brilliant artist but also a powerful athlete — the trademark speed was still enthralling audiences, who lapped up this program. She finished 2nd in the short to Manley, who landed a triple salchow-double loop combination, but was still in 2nd place overall.

In the long program, Manley skated well but had flaws in all three of her triples: lutz, toe and salchow. She put her hand down or stepped out of all of them. The door was open for Wainman, but nobody in her entourage told her. She later said they stayed silent — a wise move. Wainman’s long program was one of the great performances of Canadian ladies skating. I don’t mean jump-wise, I mean performance-wise. It just sang. The flow, the steps, the interpretation, the hand movements, the footwork, the charisma, the comedy, the sadness. It brought everyone in the building into the performance, as Brian Pockar remarked. The choreographer David Wilson later said “she gave herself to the audience”, and she really did: this was Judy Garland on skates.

She landed two big double axels, and one triple salchow. Towards the end, anxious to skate a clean program, she changed a third planned double axel into a double flip. Wainman later said that Ellen Burka had put about six double axels into her practice routine to get her over the psychological block about the jump (she also sent her to a self-hypnotist). The audience reaction was ecstatic, and the commentators were all choked up too. But the marks for technical merit were in the 5.4-5.5 range. The artistic marks, however, were in the 5.8s and 5.9s, and Wainman won the long and the title, in a 5-4 split.

Afterwards, Elizabeth Manley’s people were less than gracious, saying they thought she should have won, and sniping that Wainman’s “one triple salchow won’t go very far at the Worlds”. But this victory was fair. Wainman’s technical marks were lower than Manley’s, even though Manley didn’t land any clean triples. Where Wainman won was on the artistic portion, and that was correct. True, Manley went on to become a legend, with her 1988 Olympic silver, and while she was a wonderful, complete skater — possibly Canada’s best ever woman free skater, with the whole package — Wainman was stronger artistically. In a way, Wainman’s victory here did Manley a favour — it prompted her to work even harder, and Manley skated one of the great long programs in figure skating history at the 1986 Worlds in Geneva the following month.

Here are her SP and LP

Tracey Wainman finished 10th at the 1981 World Figure Skating Championships in Hartford, Connecticut, the first time a Canadian woman had placed in the top 10 since Lynn Nightingale in 1977. Tenth place was the goal she had set with her coach, Ellen Burka. It was also the goal of the Canadian Figure Skating Association, because they wanted to be able to send two women to the 1982 World Championships. Wainman has said that she felt pressure to finish in the top 10. So the competition was a triumph, and an improvement on her 14th place the previous year. But it was a nail-biter of a competition for her, and the first sign of trouble in her glowing career.

The trouble came in the form of the double axel. Until then, it had been her go-to jump: in the absence of multiple triples, she beefed up her technical content by including four double axels in her long program, and it was a beauty — and consistent. But sometime between the 1981 Canadians and the 1981 Worlds, in the space of six weeks or so, the jump seemed to desert her. In an interview she said that even before the 1981 Canadians, she was popping her double axel. In a high-pressure situation like the 1981 Worlds, the jump went AWOL.

She got off to a brilliant start by placing sixth in the compulsory figures, which was an unheard-of improvement — she had been 21st a year earlier at the previous Worlds in Dortmund. With her high placing in figures, officials hinted to the Globe and Mail that they hoped she might even finish in the top five. Skating in the final flight in the short program, among bigwigs like Swiss superstar Denise Biellman, and with all of Canada’s hopes on her shoulders, Wainman crumbled under the pressure, and fell on the double axel portion of her combination. She eked out her second double axel. She finished 15th in the short, and fell to 8th overall. Her long program, in which she placed 10th, was a great improvement. Her mother said that her warmup was terrible, and the whole arena was silent, they were so nervous for her. But she skated with fire, pulling off two beautiful triple salchows. Her double axel continued to trouble her, but she landed one at the beginning of her program, omitting the second and crashing spectacularly on the third, in a spill that made the whole arena gasp. It looked like she was trying to land the jump on the beat of the music; Debbi Wilkes said she rushed the takeoff; it was clear she was horribly outside the circle. Her fourth double axel attempt was aborted in mid-air and she did a two-foot single. But the program was strong, fast and exciting, with possibly one of the best laybacks of the 1980s, a gorgeous flying camel and that Wainman sense of urgency, attack and sparkle.

Wainman’s problems with the double axel were due to a growth spurt, Ellen Burka told the Toronto Star. She said Wainman had grown several inches in a year, and though it hadn’t affected the rotation of her jumps, it affected the timing of the takeoff on the double axel. Certainly at the Worlds you noticed she had changed her takeoff. Instead of skating at full speed and attacking it, she almost stopped before takeoff, a sign of hesitation.

There were certainly great expectations placed on her shoulders at this time. In the week before Worlds, she was deemed a future world and Olympic champion in a Toronto Star article by the respected journalist Jim Proudfoot, who predicted Wainman would be neck and neck with Elaine Zayak by the time of the 1984 Olympic Games in Sarajevo; for now, he wrote, she would try three or four triples in her long program, compared to Zayak’s seven. In the article, Burka cautioned against unrealistic expectations, saying 10th place was their goal, and she wanted to gently apply the brakes to her career before everyone got too carried away. She could perhaps sense trouble ahead. In another article in the Globe and Mail, it was revealed that Wainman’s boots had given out before Worlds, and they had to be repaired at the last minute. There was tension in the air.

The Globe article noted that Wainman had started landing triple loops in practice in the month before Worlds. Full disclosure here, I was taking skating lessons at the Cricket Club at the time, and I remember arriving one afternoon as the senior skaters were coming off their session to hear Ellen Burka excitedly telling Tracey’s mother, Gaye, that Tracey had landed three triple loops in practice. I also remember seeing Wainman attempting a triple toe loop in practice before Worlds, and landing on two feet.

After Worlds, I saw Wainman perform at the ISU World Tour stop at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. She tried a triple salchow and fell to one knee, and sort of hopped around on her double axel. At another exhibition, the Vicki Show, that spring, Wainman skated to Ben by Michael Jackson and squeaked out a scary-looking double axel. You could really sense the doubt in her confidence at that time. Wainman’s mother said that she heard someone at the Cricket Club say that Tracey was “finished without her double axel”. No pressure then.

Here are her 1981 Worlds SP and two versions of her LP, one without commentary and one from CTV.