Newnham aims to shake off 2023 with 'happy' days at figure skating nationals

Albertan eyes bounce-back from injury in Calgary-hosted event

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Matthew Newnham is part of an Alberta contingent that figures on leaving its mark on the 2024 Skate Canada Canadian National Skating Championships this week at WinSport.

Leaving here “happy” is the Edmontonian’s goal, in particular.

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Especially after a challenging 2023 that saw the 20-year-old senior men’s competitor fight through injury.

“I just I want to be happy with how I skate,” said Newnham, of nationals, which continue Friday at the WinSport Event Centre (10:40 a.m.). “Just after like the rough year I had, I want to feel satisfied with how this event goes.

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“I mean … winning is always in the back of my mind,” continued the Ice Palace Figure Skating Club star. “That’s always the goal. It depends on how I skate and how everybody else skates. But this year, I think it’s more about getting back to how I was last year and not like pushing myself too far like I did in the summer.”

That was when he tore the psoas muscle in his right hip.

Ouch.

The injury sidelined him for a few months, potentially setting him back from the success he enjoyed in the first half of the year, when he finished sixth at last year’s nationals and third at the ISU’s Coupe du Printemps event in Luxembourg.

“I didn’t get back until like end of September,” Newnham said. “So it’s been up and down. But overall, things have started to get back to normal — and I’m ready to compete now.”

After bouncing back for bronze at last month’s Skate Canada Challenge in Winnipeg, it’s now on for medal-threat Newnham at nationals, as the country’s elite — some 300 strong in both the junior and senior levels — are here from across Canada to compete for national glory in the men’s, women’s, pairs’, ice dance and synchronized skating disciplines.

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“Yeah … I was really pleased with how Skate Canada Challenge went,” said Newnham, who won gold at the same event one year earlier. “I was not that prepared, but I kept cool and was able to do two good performances.

“There are some national team members here that weren’t at Skate Canada Challenge who have beaten me in the past, but we will see how it goes this weekend.”

Calgary’s Kayla Ruiter is in the mix for medals among senior women, while Claresholm’s Ethan Scott joins Newnham in the senior men’s class and Calgarians Jacob Portz and Alyssa Robertson compete in senior dance, as does Calgary-born Paul Ayer — now training in Quebec — with partner Alicia Fabbri.

Also in action from Alberta is Calgary’s junior synchronized skating team, Solstice, which wrapped up its participation with the event’s free skate Thursday night at nationals.

Newnham himself participates in the senior men’s short program Friday evening (7:05 p.m.) and in the senior men’s free program Saturday night (6:40 p.m.), hoping to follow in the strides of the skater he most respects, three-time Canadian winner and 2018 world champ Kaetlyn Osmond.

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“When I was younger, I skated with Kaetlyn, and she was someone to look up to,” said Newnham, who is coached by Ravi Walia. “Just seeing how Kaetlyn worked and how she trained every day just made me respect her even more, I would say.”

The national title is up for grabs for men, after reigning two-time champ Keegan Messing retired from the sport last May at the age of 31.

So Newnham chases that coveted top step on the podium by performing to the “fun” French piece, ‘Aline’, by Jarvis Cocker in his short program and to the slower contemporary number, ‘In This Shirt’, by The Irrepressibles.

And his family is down from Edmonton to help make him feel happy.

“Yeah … definitely,” added Newnham. “I’ve skated at COP before, so it feels familiar. And I think that will help me this weekend. I really liked it.

“There’s still things I need to fine tune, but we’re nearly there. I just added more difficulty to my programs from the last competition, so I want to see how that works and translates into this competition. I just want to go out there have fun and do the best that I can.”

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