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  • Thursday, March 4, 1999

    Young skater has performed with veterans

    By MICHELLE MACAFEE -- Canadian Press
     CORNER BROOK, Nfld. -- When Toller Cranston paid a visit to Shawn Sawyer's figure skating camp in 1997, the boy didn't know who the former Olympian was.
     So Sawyer was a little skeptical when Cranston asked him to skate a few numbers in a television special that was to pay tribute to him.
     "I didn't believe him and my Mom didn't even believe him," said Sawyer, of Edmunston, N.B.
     But a few months later -- after a quick lesson in figure skating history -- the up-and-coming skater shared the spotlight with the flamboyant veteran in front of thousands of fans at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens.
     At the Canada Winter Games on Thursday, the 14-year-old skater earned a bronze medal in the novice men's event in front of a few hundred spectators.
     Sawyer had been in second place after the short program, but fell on a triple loop in the long program and touched his hand down on a double axel. He completed three other triple jumps, including a difficult triple toe, double toe, double loop combination.
     Matt MacMurdo, of Nepean, Ont., won the gold medal, while 13-year-old Keegan Murphy, of Squamish, B.C., moved from fourth place to earn silver.
     Sawyer credits his encounter with Cranston with helping him keep a firm grip on his concentration and nerves during high-pressure competitions such as the Games.
     "I have a lot more confidence now," said Sawyer.
     But he sheepishly admits the greater thrill was meeting two of his skating idols, Kurt Browning and American Scott Hamilton, who also participated in the show.
     "I was looking more at Kurt...I didn't really like all of Toller's artistic moves."
     It was Sawyer's own artistic maturity, however, that first caught Cranston's attention when he dropped in on the skating camp in Moncton, N.B., on a whim while visiting a friend in the area.
     As other skaters left the ice when Toller started skating, Sawyer joined him. While demonstrating his flexibility in various spins and spiral sequences, he realized some artistic elements of his programs matched Cranston's.
     Coach Yves Bastarache says Sawyer's style reflects both Cranston's flair for the dramatic and Hamilton's sense of humour on the ice.
     "Shawn really likes a show," said Bastarache. "He thrives on it now, the big crowd and lots of noise."
     Sawyer's progress is especially remarkable since he has only been skating for five years, said Bastarache.
     At just four feet, 11 inches, Sawyer decided it was more practical to switch to figure skating from hockey.
     Bastarache said he made the right choice.
     "You don't see talent like his every day. He has a lot of potential."
     He insists Sawyer's few minutes of fame haven't changed him.
     "He's still just a very down-to-earth boy who likes to play and hang out with his friends."
     Sawyer says he doesn't expect to work with Cranston again anytime soon.
     But he hopes to be influenced by his success in other ways.
     Cranston was on the podium at the first Canada Winter Games in 1967 before going on to win a world bronze medal in 1974, an Olympic bronze medal in 1976 and six Canadian men's titles.
     Other skaters whose accomplishments include Canada Games medals include Olympic silver medallist Brian Orser, former national team member Michael Slipchuk, and current amateurs Jeff Langdon and Emanuel Sandhu.
     Did his role models pass along any wise tips for reaching similar goals during their skate together?
     Remembered Sawyer with a smile: "Kurt told me if I ever have the chance to eat with a judge, I should take it."

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