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Documentary follows ice dreamers, ice drama

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Next week, the attention of figure skating fans everywhere will be focused on London, Ont., as that city hosts the ISU World Figure Skating Championships -- the first time the event has taken place on Canadian soil (well, ice, actually) since 2006.

No doubt, this global skating summit will be filled with drama and beauty and athleticism and personal-story plotlines that range from inspiring to heart-wrenching. But there's another set of stories -- the one that focuses on what it takes for a skater with a dream to become a world-class competitor and someday compete at the worlds -- that's also begging to be told.

CBC's Doc Zone gives it a try this week with Ice, Sweat and Tears (Thursday at 9 p.m. on CBC), a new documentary that offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the grinding effort that must be endured before the effortlessly artful programs can be executed on the ice.

Written and directed by Michael McNamara (Fanboy Confessional, The F-Word: Who Wants To Be a Feminist?), the film follows several of Canada's top figure skaters -- including two-time world champion Patrick Chan, Olympic gold-medal ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and rising-star pairs competitors Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers -- as they prepare for the 2011-12 season.

Ice, Sweat and Tears also draws upon the experienced perspectives of former world champs Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko, who speak frankly about the joys and perils of the sport they love.

Much of the film is devoted to watching the skaters' preparation for the competitive skating season. Of particular interest is the contrast between the training regime of Virtue and Moir and the schedule employed by Lawrence and Swiegers.

Virtue and Moir are of the view that if you want to be the best, you need to be around the best. They train in Canton, Mich., under the watchful eye of Russian-born coach Marina Zueva, who also works with several other tandems, including the Canadians' greatest rivals, U.S. skaters Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Lawrence and Swiegers, on the other hand, choose to train in the relative isolation of Virden under the tutelage of coaches Patricia Hole and Lyndon Johnston.

It's clear, however, that the coaches won't allow the young skaters to use remote geography as a crutch or excuse.

"We believe they can be a world team," says Johnston. "It's just (a matter of) convincing the skaters themselves that they can be a world team. They're not small-town. They can be small-town kids in a big world."

All that's required is for Lawrence and Swiegers to finish first or second at nationals in order to win a spot in the world-championship field -- a feat that is made more difficult when Lawrence suffers a concussion in a training-skate fall less than a month before the big meet.

The injury creates a decidedly different kind of drama than skating fans are accustomed to seeing when they tune in to championship events.

In addition to the competition-overview aspect, Ice, Sweat and Tears also takes close-up looks at some of figure skating's unique elements, from a scientific breakdown of the difficult quad (four rotations in the air) jump and the physical dangers skaters face every day to the delicate psychology of the "kiss and cry" area.

It's fascinating stuff, and it goes a long way toward explaining how much hard work is involved in making a skating program look easy.

"We make it look easy," says Stojko, "because that's our job."


-- -- --


Homeland lands a new home: It's one of the most buzz-worthy dramas of the past two TV seasons, but most folks on the still-snowbound side of the Canada-U.S. border have never seen it because it airs on a premium pay-TV channel (Super Channel).

That changes this week, however, when Homeland has its regular cable premiere tonight at 9 on Bravo. For the uninitiated, here's a shorthand version of the storyline: CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), who suffers from mental-stress ailments that have caused some of her superiors to doubt her judgment, is convinced that a recently rescued U.S. soldier (Damian Lewis) who had been held captive in Iraq for eight years is not the hero everyone believes, but has in fact been turned and is an al-Qaida agent with a deadly agenda.

Calling anything the best show on TV is strictly a matter of opinion, but consider this: at last fall's Emmy Awards, Homeland took home the trophies for best drama, best actress (Danes) and best actor (Lewis), as well as best writing and best directing.

Worth a look, perhaps? Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2013 D3

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