Chipeur soars on jaw-dropping Axel

Davis' popping game improves the Canadian's consistency

Vaughn Chipeur will sit out worlds with a torn ligament.
Vaughn Chipeur will sit out worlds with a torn ligament. (Getty Images)


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By Laurie Nealin, special to
(01/29/2009) - There are triple Axels, and then there is Vaughn Chipeur's triple Axel.

When the Albertan unleashes that jump in competition, the audience gasps, momentarily in awe of the gravity-defying distance between skater and ice.

Next week at the ISU Four Continents Championships, the new Canadian silver medalist wants to make his impossibly big Axel even bigger. His intent is to give the judging panel no choice but to award +3s across the board for the execution of his signature jump.

"Everyone says 'You have the best triple Axel.' So, OK, I want the best marks for it," Chipeur said in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, at the 2009 Canadian Championships, where he convinced six of eight judges to give him the maximum grade.

Chipeur, 24, is not one of Canada's most well-known skaters, but he has been around for a while. He competed on the Junior Grand Prix circuit in 2002 and 2003 and twice finished third as a junior at the Canadian championships. He ranked 11th and then 16th in his first two national appearances as a senior competitor.

After those lackluster results, he decided to get a lot more serious about his training. He even recognized the need to nurture his late-blooming inner artiste.

Chipeur skated to a respectable fifth-place finish at Skate Canada in November 2007 but fell to 11th at the NHK Trophy later that month. He was buoyed by a fourth-place result at the 2008 Canadians, although he placed just seventh in the long, and then finished a commendable seventh at Four Continents.

This season, Chipeur wowed the judges at the Cup of China to rank second in the short program, but he again fell back to seventh in the long and, ultimately, finished off the podium in fifth place.

Inconsistency on the jumps has been the culprit behind his mixed results. When his performances went completely off the rails at the Cup of Russia this past fall, resulting in a last place showing, coach Scott Davis decided to crack the whip.

Davis, the 1993 and '94 U.S. men's champion, introduced what he calls the "Popping Game" into Chipeur's training regimen. As Davis had hoped, his student really disliked the game designed to ensure he stops turning planned triple jumps into singles.

"If he pops a jump in the program, we rewind the tape and start over until he does [a clean run-through]," explained Davis, who has been based in Calgary for several years.

Chipeur, a coach to beginning skaters in his off-hours, chimed in, "I don't like doing that, so I made darn sure [the game] was over with pretty quickly."

However, Chipeur and Davis did recall one particularly bad day when the skater had to restart his long program many times before he got through without popping a jump. It took 90 minutes.

"I worked my butt off for the last six weeks. It's been tough, but it's been worth it," said Chipeur, who hails from Edmonton, Alberta's capital city. "The fact that I know that the hard work is done makes me feel a little more solid. I feel much more prepared than normal. Normally I am ready, but there's something there that's not ready. Now, there's no doubt about it."

New to Chipeur's coaching mix in Calgary is Jeff Langdon, who twice stood on the Canadian championships podium in the late 1990s. Langdon's role is to polish Chipeur's rough edges, such as his body line and stretch.

"It's great to bounce ideas off each other," Davis said, referring to Langdon. "We've had the experience being on the world and Olympic stage, and it's good to share the experiences and figure out ways to make Vaughn the best he can be -- bring him out of himself a little bit better. Having that other set of eyes and the quality [coaching] time he needs, has been great."

Kurt Browning, a fellow Albertan, created the short program step sequence for Chipeur. The athlete relishes being able to perform the choreography created by the footwork master. Chipeur even went back to long program choreographer Tom Dickson afterwards to enhance the steps in that routine to put them on par with Browning's handiwork.

Although Chipeur excited the Saskatchewan fans with his high-flying triple Axels and held on for the silver medal at Canadians, he still popped a triple flip in the short and an Axel and toe-loop in the long. His final score of 206.30 reflected those mistakes.

Davis suggested there would be more "Popping Games" to play before Four Continents, with two clean programs being the goal for that Olympic test event in Vancouver. Chipeur believes that is entirely doable.

"What I have been doing the last six weeks is working," Chipeur said. "I feel better about my skating and my ability to compete. I feel better than I ever have. It's maintaining that and taking it even further before [Four Continents]."

Asked about getting a second opportunity to compete in the 2010 Olympic venue where the 2008 Canadians were held, Chipeur said, "I like that building. There's great vibes there, good energy, and I think it will be very exciting."

Chipeur will make his first world championship appearance this March in Los Angeles.

"This is big," he said, smiling at the thought.

Davis advised that he and Langdon will spend time making sure Chipeur knows what to expect at worlds. "Your first -- it's nerve-wracking, so we'll share our experiences to help him through that," he said.