Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mr. Linney's Opus

After 56 years in coaching, not even colon cancer keeps the 83-year-old figure skating legend from his work

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LONDON, Ont. -- There's a warmth and gentleness about Gordon Linney that's magnetizing and makes one lean in to hear his soft-spoken words, for he's something of a treasure.

With his endearing qualities and wisdom, it's not surprising the Winnipeg figure skating coach has lasted 56 years in a sport where athletes switch coaches as fast as Patrick Chan rotates a sit spin.

The 83-year-old is a remarkable specimen of a coach.

He's still on the ice seven days a week and is a noted technician, always looking for an edge, literally, to give his skaters.

That's why he's in London this week for the World Figure Skating Championships, which wrap up today.

He's inspecting the latest training methods, trends in choreography, even the attitudes of the globe's premier skaters as they practise and perform. There's always something more he can learn, believes Linney, who got his start in the sport when he happened upon an outdoor training session on his way to Sunday school as a boy.

"It's a life-long passion," he says, while watching the men's field at one of the practices.

What makes Linney's story even more striking is the fact he continues to work and travel while he's being treated for cancer. He's only missed one day of coaching because of it.

"I'm actually on chemo right now," Linney says, and will be indefinitely. He analytically describes his colon cancer that has spread to the omentum, a fat organ connected to the stomach.

There's no hint of emotion from him, just acceptance.

But others who know Linney are emotional.

"I don't know what I'd do without him," coaching partner Dana McKee says.

"It amazes me what he can go through and still show up at the rink every day. He loves skating that much."

Linney is handling the chemotherapy well and says he'll likely die of old age rather than the cancer.

He's been undergoing chemotherapy since June and he gets a new dose every two weeks.

For two days each time, he has to wear a portable bottle with his concoction.

The bottle doesn't slow him down, in fact, he sees the humour in carrying it.

"He put a big sticker on it that said rye," McKee says. "Every so often he'd flash it open at me to give me a laugh."

McKee's in London participating in Skate Canada's apprenticeship program, which provides coaches an opportunity to observe world level athletes and their coaching team in competition.

She first met Linney when she enrolled in his summer school -- now in its 41st year -- as a teenager.

McKee holds him in such high regard she still respectfully calls him Mr. Linney, even after working as a coach herself for 17 years, including at his summer program.

"I have a hard time calling him Gordon," she says.

They teach together at the Stony Mountain club, where McKee is head coach. Linney, who competed in singles, pairs and ice dance and won a Western Canada junior singles title and a senior ice dance bronze, also works with Skate Winnipeg.

"He's an excellent technician, he knows everything there is to know about jumps," McKee says.

His appetite for learning hasn't dwindled with age. Every new clinic that's offered and each opportunity to listen to coaches from outside the province, he takes in, she says.

With the worlds -- he's been to 13 of them -- so close, he knew he had to be here, although he feels guilty that he's missing an important test day for his skaters.

"The other coaches encouraged me to do it because of the point I am at in my life and the opportunity to see the world championships in Canada," he says. "They promised to cover my students for me."

When he coaches, he looks at the potential in each pupil, and focuses on that.

"I try to teach everyone as though they were going to become a great skater, no matter what their ability or age or outlook is at the moment," he says.

He's been at the practice facility and the main venue, Budweiser Gardens, all day and till the last skater leaves the ice at night.

Watching world title contender Daisuke Takahashi practise his free skate, Linney remarks on the Japanese athlete's soulful interpretation of the opera music, I Pagliacci.

"The passion he puts into it is fantastic," he says.

And this for an early morning skate through.

Linney, who lives in a high rise in Osborne Village, also knows a thing or two about opera and classical music. He's a season subscriber to the Manitoba Opera and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

He plans to maintain his busy schedule and says he doesn't want to just sit around "playing cards."

"The sport keeps you going," he says. "I'm happy to be able to hang in there."

When asked if he has any plans of retiring, he simply says, "I just don't have enough sense to stop."

A friend of the environment, too

ON a nice day, you might see longtime Winnipeg figure-skating coach Gordon Linney on his scooter or bicycle.

On a snowy day, you'd catch the 83-year-old in his Smart car.

"It's really good in snow," he says of his 2004 model, which was the first year they were available in Canada.

"People who don't have one think they would be not even usable in the winter. They ask you all kinds of strange questions, like...does it blow off the road?"

Linney, who says he hasn't formally joined the environmentalist ranks, considers himself an ecology advocate.

"I just think it's an obvious thing that we all have to do for the future."

He's now hoping to get a Smart electric car ,but there aren't any in Manitoba at present. He has talked to a Winnipeg dealership about the possibility of having one shipped in from another province.

Linney mostly makes his views known through letters to the editor, and one of his favourite topics is rapid transit.

"They've been working on the idea for 40 years. They're not quick to take up on new ideas," he says, and laughs.

When the Free Press held a contest about ways to improve the city a couple of years ago, Linney's transit ideas won him the booty, which included a briefcase and a gift card to a chain restaurant.

"They were quite nice."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 17, 2013 ??65535

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