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"Mad Hatter" makes wise decision

Sawyer kicks off Canada's Stars on Ice tour on April 21

Shawn Sawyer has decided to forgo competing at worlds in favor of <i>Stars on Ice</i>.
Shawn Sawyer has decided to forgo competing at worlds in favor of Stars on Ice. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(04/08/2011) - Shawn Sawyer had two goals this season: earn a spot on Canada's world team and perform on Canada's Stars on Ice tour.

The 26-year-old, who trains in Quebec, was successful on both counts, but tragedy intervened when eastern Japan was hit with an earthquake on April 11. Eventually, the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships were moved from Tokyo to Moscow. The new dates coincided with the SOI tour, which runs through May 13.

Sawyer stuck with SOI, and Kevin Reynolds, 20, will join Canadian champion Patrick Chan and bronze medalist Joey Russell in Moscow.

"It was awkward," Sawyer said. "I had to choose to compete at worlds, or start my pro career with Stars on Ice. [He has performed with SOI twice before.] I felt the window of opportunity for my future was open and I had to move in the pro direction. I feel privileged to be part of SOI, but also sad to miss out on worlds.

"It was one of the hardest decisions I have made in the past five years. It's just an exceptional privilege to perform with the tour, and of course, it's good for my pro career."

The Canadian silver medalist calls 2010/2011 his best season ever. He brought down the house at the 2011 Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Victoria with a whimsical and fun turn to Danny Elfman's Alice in Wonderland soundtrack that also featured solid triple jumps.

Sitting in the kiss-and-cry with coaches Annie Barabe and Yvan Desjardin, he even donned a Mad Hatter hat.

The career-capping moment almost didn't happen. Sawyer considered retiring after placing fourth in Canada in 2010 and missing the chance to compete at the Vancouver Olympics. (He placed 12th at the 2006 Olympics in Turin).

"In my head, I was already done last year; I was ready to go pro, to not compete any more," he said. "Then I started having doubts and decided to come back, have fun and showcase my uniqueness as a skater. I did it for myself, for the joy of skating, and I'm proud of it."

Sawyer's signature moves -- spirals, spins and a deep cantilever -- show off the Gumby-like flexibility that serves him well in shows. He also has a back flip.

"[The performance in] Victoria, hopefully, opened some doors, " he said.

Many fans think it did: Sawyer's performance helped inspire a "Draft Shawn Sawyer for SOI" Facebook page. On March 10, Sawyer's agent, David Baden of IMG, tweeted fans that Sawyer had been added to the tour.

While the New Brunswick native won Canada's novice and junior titles early in his career, he had up-and-down results as a senior, winning bronze three times but placing off the national podium in 2007, 2009 and 2010.

"I don't think the pressure was off this year, it's just how I dealt with it that was better," he said. "I was able to put the best I had out there. Hopefully I showed my favorite aspect of the sport, which is giving back and having fun, involving the audience. If you're able to do that, you're a much better skater.

"That's what Kurt Browning has done so well; he's such a big inspiration to me."

Sawyer feels his decision could be a long-term positive for Canadian skating.

"This gives a younger skater an opportunity, so in a way it's a win-win situation," he said. "I have a lot of respect for Kevin Reynolds, especially his technical ability; it's incredible what he can do. Hopefully, he will really state his case in Moscow."

At 2010 Skate Canada, Reynolds became the first man to ever perform two quadruple jumps -- a Salchow and toe -- in the short program.

Jumps are no longer Sawyer's biggest concern; entertaining the crowd is, and he's worked up a show number set to Loverboy's "Working for the Weekend."

"I love, love the music of the '80s," he said. "I'll be out there on the ice, in formal attire, before the music starts, acting out the part of a person working in the office. Then, I'll go crazy."

Sawyer's friends Jeff Buttle, and Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, helped him create the program, and he hopes doing choreography for others is also on his agenda.

"I'm falling in love with that job," he said. "I'm starting out with the kids at the rink. Of course, you can't just start out with world champions right away; look at David Wilson, he started choreographing for pre-juvenile and novice competitors, and now he's the foremost choreographer in the world. There's a lot I could learn from him."

Sawyer hopes to one day do an exhibition version of his Alice in Wonderland free skate. "A big part of me is the Mad Hatter," he said. "People are going to remember it, going to talk about it for a long time, and if they don't, I will."