Yukon native, dance figure skater, and Concordia student, Liam Dougherty and his partner, 15-year-old Terra Findlay, are hoping to be Olympians in four years.
“We are hoping to qualify for the 2010 Olympics. We don’t know if we will be competing for top five, or for podium, or just participating. Who knows? But the goal is to make it,” Dougherty said.
Canada is hosting the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Dougherty said that having the chance to participate in such an important event in his home country motivates him. The support an athlete receives from the audience can have an important impact on his performance. Although Dougherty said he knows of some Canadians who are disappointed that the athletes will not have the chance to discover some exotic country through the Olympics, he would be proud to walk in the opening ceremonies in his own country.
“When you are in Canada, automatically you have that energy from the crowd. So if you are at the Olympics in your own country, I can’t imagine what that would be like,” said Dougherty.
Dougherty first started skating in Whitehorse when he was five years old. His mother enrolled him in skating courses so he could learn the sport. Dougherty doesn’t think he would have continued skating if it had not been for the motivation of an older friend who was a more advanced skater.
When Dougherty was 12 years old, he came to Montreal for a summer to practice his skating. At the time, he was practicing single skating, but was approached by a Montreal coach who suggested he start to dance skate. He then moved to Montreal full time to continue training.
Dougherty competed at an international level with his ex-partner Melissa Piperno up until two years ago. Dougherty ended their partnership because he felt he could no longer progress as long as they skated together.
The three disciplines of skating are: singles, pairs and dance. Singles skating requires the solo athlete to do jumps and spins. Pair skating is the same as singles, but done in twos. The male skater will also lift the female skater above his head in acrobatic lifts. Dance skating is also a couple’s sport. It does not involve jumps or over-the-head lifts; it concentrates on the more subtle aspects of the sport, such as footwork.
Dougherty practices five hours per day, five days per week, 48 weeks per year, with his partner and coach, Julie Marcotte.
“Rain or shine, no matter how you are feeling, you’ve got to work with that person. It’s very stressful.and it’s not just five hours where you are in the same house together, where you are wandering around and you might bump into each other, but you can go to your room if you want. It’s five hours face to face,” said Dougherty.
His biggest challenge when he skates is having confidence in himself and his skating abilities. If he doesn’t feel he is performing 100 per cent perfectly on one aspect in his routine, it shows through on the ice.
“I don’t trust myself, I don’t trust my blades. If I relax into my skating, I’m great. But when I get to the competition, there is something that prevents me from totally believing I can do it,” he said.
Although Dougherty said he has gained some confidence over the years, he is constantly working at trying to conquer his fears on the ice. He plans on seeing a sports psychologist to try to overcome this challenge.
Dougherty said his partnership is now facing what he thinks their biggest challenge will be: learning to work together. The six year age difference between the two skaters is a big hurdle. Findlay is also just starting to skate dance, where as Dougherty has practiced this type of figure skating for quite a few years. Dougherty said he has to remind himself that Findlay does not have the same level of maturity.
The connection between the two skaters on the ice is incredibly important for their performance. Dougherty knows that building that connection at the beginning of a relationship is crucial for their career.
The aspiring Olympians came in eighth at the Canadian Nationals in early January of this year. Dougherty and Findlay have only been skating together since August 2005. This was their first big competition together. Dougherty and his ex-partner, Melissa Piperno, made it on to the Junior National Team after coming in fifth at the Canadian Nationals after the 2001-2002 season.
Until 2010 Dougherty and Findlay will work together on their skills and their connection with one another. They hope to make it to the ultimate competition, and the ultimate test of their combined strength on the ice.