Ice Network

Daleman finds renewed focus, passion in Toronto

Canadian teen takes skating to next level under tutelage of Orser & Co.
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Gabrielle Daleman credits her coaching team in Toronto with helping her rediscover her confidence while on the ice. -Getty Images

A little over a year ago, 18-year-old Canadian skater Gabrielle Daleman made the life-changing decision to move to a place that can rightfully be called the "Pax Nord Americana" in the world of singles skating.

Indeed, the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club boasts a constellation of skating stars such as 2014 Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and two-time world champion Javier Fernández, as well as many others who train under the guidance of the energetic Brian Orser and his colleagues, Tracy Wilson and Lee Barkell.

Since moving to Toronto, Daleman has grown to become a more complete skater, adding a new dimension to her performances. Her improvement was most visible at the 2016 World Championships in Boston, where she finished a career-best ninth and set new personal bests in both phases of the competition.

Icenetwork talked with Daleman about moving to Toronto, her recent successes, her technical and artistic improvements, psychological tips and her plans for next season.

Icenetwork: About a year ago, you moved to Toronto to work with its famous coaching staff. Tell us about this experience and how it's influenced your career and life.

Daleman: It has been a great experience for me. I felt last season that I needed a coaching change, as I was not able to mentally and emotionally perform well at international competitions. Lee, Brian and Tracy are great; they keep me focused, and I am really back to loving my sport. Every day I come in and I'm greeted with smiles, and there is such positive energy at the Cricket. 

Brian, Lee and Tracy, and all the other coaches at the club work together with such passion, joy and energy that it just puts you in a great mindset to work hard. Even days where I might be having a rough day on the ice, they somehow pick me up and make me feel good about the session and myself. That is another important influence they have had on me: making me feel good about myself. 

Before coming to them, I was starting to get frustrated with myself; I wasn't happy with my skating and I was feeling down a lot. I have learned that training well means listening to my body and coaches, not training through injury and getting rest when I need it. I want to have a long career in this sport, so I need to take care of my body.

Icenetwork: Your technique has improved dramatically since you switched coaches. Do you think that your decision to move to Toronto has totally paid off?

Daleman: Yes, it has totally paid off. I feel so much more confident and relaxed on the ice again. I am skating for the joy and passion I had as a young child. My coaches have a good plan, in that we practice and try new jumps, combinations and entries in June and July. Then we keep what we like for the rest of the season.

I also practice my jumps with the same entry and exit as they are in my programs. If something is not working on a particular day, we try and fine-tune the problem, where before, the whole entry or jump would change and then I would not get that desired consistency. Lee also brings in tech specialists regularly to make sure that I have all my levels on my spins and footwork. Then he makes sure that I complete each element the exact same way each time in order to get the levels in competition.

Icenetwork: Your component marks have improved as well. Tell us about the artistic side of skating and what it means to you.

Daleman: I worked a lot on my components this past year with Lori Nichol, Lee and Tracy, and continue to do so. We would spend hours on the ice going through the little nuances of my programs: the edge glide of a certain move, the leg and arm extension, the facial expression -- everything to help bring the audience into my performance and enjoy it with me. You can often see one of them, 10 feet behind, following me as I do a run-through making sure that my movements are precise and to the music, and that even if the jumps aren't there, I don't give up on the choreography. It's important to keep the integrity and the story of the program. We also work on all my other skating skills every day to keep improving, as there is no such thing as perfection.

Icenetwork: Your performances at worlds landed you in the top 10. Did you expect such a result?

Daleman: I had been skating well at my competitions leading up to worlds. At the Skate Canada Challenge, I scored 193, and at nationals I achieved 197 (points), so I knew if I could repeat those performances, I would be able to score well. My main focus, though, was not placement but to go out and perform two clean programs and then let the scores follow.

I stayed away from the media and thinking about placement, as I wanted to ensure that those things didn't take away from my focus and goals. When I heard the short program score, I wasn't just happy but relieved that I finally performed the program internationally, the way I knew I could. Then I got to see the marks that followed. I then had to collect myself for the free skate, as I knew that if I skated it the way I did at nationals, I could place well. But, again, I couldn't focus on the marks but rather each element in my program.

Icenetwork: The Toronto Star newspaper pointed out that skating two strong programs was a big relief for you because you were very stressed during the competition. Was this just a case of the typical nerves of competition or did you feel a kind of additional pressure?

Daleman: I wasn't stressed going into the short, as I had lots of my family and friends there. The Boston crowd was so amazingly supportive, not only during the competition but during practice ice as well. It felt very much like a home crowd for me. So going into the short program, I just wanted to go out, have fun and show the world what this Canadian girl could do. I had so much fun in the short that I still feel a rush of energy when I think back on it.

A lot of people wanted to talk to me between the short and the free skate, but I just stayed with my game plan that Lee and Brian laid out for me. I tried to stay away from distractions by spending time with my family, playing card games and relaxing. It's important to stay in a routine that you feel comfortable with, in and out of competitions.

When it came time for the free skate, I was a little nervous because I wanted to ensure that we kept two spots next year at worlds. Just before I went out on the ice, I had a numbing feeling in my legs, but Lee just said, "Breathe. Take it one element at a time. You have worked hard for this. Trust your training." Then I took the ice and once the music started, everything was fine.

Icenetwork: After the free skate in Boston, you said, "As soon as I heard the first beat of my music, no one was there. There was just me on the ice doing what I love." Psychologists call it "being completely in the now." Does this "now" state come naturally or is it something you have to work to reach? 

Daleman: It's something that takes time, commitment and hard work. I have been working more consistently this past year with Judy Goss, a mental performance consultant who works for the CSIO (Canadian Sport Institute Ontario) in Toronto. She helps me prepare myself mentally for competitions so that I can get into that "now" state. Lee and I look at what went well at the last competition and what we need to do for the next. 

Icenetwork: Do you think the expectations on you are higher now?

Daleman: Yes, I think I have set a new standard for myself, and I'm happy about it. There is still a lot to be done, and I am working hard with my team to further develop myself and improve the areas where I need to. Lori and I developed new choreography that will challenge me and deliver what I hope my current and new fans expect of me and will really appreciate. It's not easy, but I love the challenge.

Icenetwork: Tell us about your offseason preparation and what improvements you are working on.

Daleman: My offseason preparation is going fabulous. I did some shows in May and then took a week off but remained actively fit. Then it was time for new choreography with Lori Nichol. This was really fun for me, as I am getting older and more involved in the process of selecting music and providing input into the choreography.

Fitness-wise, I feel great. I have been doing general conditioning with the focus on my aerobic endurance, so I can make it through all the new intricate choreography that Lori has designed into my new programs. 

Icenetwork: Tell us about your new programs.

Daleman: I am showing my programs in August at the Thornhill summer competition in Ontario. Until then, I'd like to keep my music and program themes under wraps. All I can say is that Lori can be quoted as saying, "The music fits Gabby's energy and highlights her outgoing personality."

Icenetwork: What are your immediate goals?

Daleman: My next big goal is to deliver two clean programs in one competition, with performances that will make fans proud of me as a world-class figure skater. That would mean a lot to me: to know that I make my fans proud of me as a world-class skater.