When Roman Sadovsky heads to Ottawa for the 2022 Canadian Championships next week, he knows that winning a second national crown will not guarantee him a spot on the Olympic team, but a strong performance there will make a big statement in his favor to earn one of the two Olympic berths up for grabs.
Sadovsky needs little time to recall the moment when Olympic dreams first began forming in his head and his heart. The 22-year-old’s memory quickly flashes back to 2006 and the Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy, when he witnessed a fellow Canadian figure skater land on the podium. Sadovsky was only 6 years old at the time, just beginning to find his way in the sport, but that Olympic moment provided him with plenty of inspiration. “They were the first Olympics I remember. That’s when Jeff (Buttle) was third. That stood out to me the most because he was Canadian. I also remember Evgeni Plushenko winning that year,” said Sadovsky.
“I was just getting into skating back then, and it was a big boost to me to want to continue skating. When I was 5, I just wanted to play hockey, to be honest. But watching those Olympic Games … that was a real emotional boost for my skating.”
Fast forward, more than 15 years later to a rink in Oberstdorf, Germany, where Sadovsky himself was in the global spotlight for the first time in his career. As the man designated by Skate Canada to qualify a second spot at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, China, he was under intense scrutiny.
Pressure? Without a doubt. And though it was a responsibility he willingly embraced, Sadovsky began to feel it as the first notes of his short program music (“Breathe For Me,” by Unsecret, featuring Lonas) began to play. “It was definitely different than a typical competition, especially a typical Challenger Series event,” said Sadovsky. “Usually, it is just a competition to get ready for the Grand Prix Series, but I was forced to be in tip top shape for this one because I wanted to get that second spot for Canada.
“Back in March, we knew someone would have to go to Nebelhorn to get that spot. I wanted to be the one to go, and my coaches and I were definitely pushing my training … we were taking steps in the direction of being ready in the summer to do this competition. When I ended up being selected, overall I felt really excited. I felt very prepared physically. I did not feel the pressure until the music started for my short program, to be honest. But once the music started, it kind of kicked in that ‘OK, I’ve got to do my stuff.’ The thing that surprised me the most was my own internal feelings. It was definitely different skating for a spot than skating for myself.”
Sadovsky needed to finish top seven of the qualifiers to land that second Olympic berth for Canada. He found himself sitting in eighth after the short program but as one of the skaters ahead of him in the standings (Italy’s Gabriele Frangipani) was not competing for an Olympic spot, Sadovsky was in a position to fulfill his objective.
Though his long program performance to “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol was not at the level he had hoped to deliver, it proved to be just enough. He retained his eighth-place position, opening the door for Canada to send two men to Beijing. A few days after accomplishing his mission, Sadovsky admitted it was a closer call than he had wanted.
“I didn’t think it would be nearly as hard as it was. My initial feeling was relief because I did not skate exactly the way I wanted to. It was not a terrible performance by any means, but I was making mistakes that were uncharacteristic for me. Like missing quad Salchows … I don’t think I missed a quad Sal all week except in the program,” he explained.
“It is especially difficult when you miss the first jump because then the whole program becomes way more of a mental game. It was those kind of moments that made me feel disappointed in myself overall — there were mistakes I did not feel were necessary — not that any mistakes are necessary. It was just really out of character for me.
“Once I was in the kiss and cry, I kind of felt like it would be enough. I was not satisfied with myself, but I was hugely relieved to get that second spot. I knew if I didn’t, the way I would be beating myself up right now would be intense. I am so happy I am not doing that.”
Sadovsky’s result was greeted by waves of congratulatory messages on social media and from skaters and fans back in his homeland — support he felt extremely grateful to receive after enduring the stress of that competition. “It is fantastic just to know that there is a team behind me and a support group back home. Even if I didn’t get the spot, I think I would have got the same reaction and support behind me,” he said. “I knew going into the event, I had a lot of people rooting for me and that was definitely a big help.”
That spot could be his for the taking, depending on how the 2022 Canadian Championships plays out. His result at Nebelhorn Trophy could go a long way toward determining how difficult that path toward turning a lifelong dream into reality might be.
“The biggest lesson is that I can really trust myself more. For example, in the long program, although I didn’t get full credit, I was able to execute the second quad Salchow without that much effort. If I was able to do a quad Sal of that quality that late in a program, I should be able to do that at the beginning of a long program or, even better, at the beginning of a short,” he explained.
“The biggest takeaway for me from Nebelhorn is that I need to trust my training more because I was ready. After finishing the event, I felt a little silly making those mistakes. It was one of those regretful things. If I can really focus on trusting what I do at home, I should not have any problems.”
Sadovsky, who trains at the York Region Skating Academy under the guidance of long-time coaches Tracey Wainman and Grzegorz Filipowski, had reason to believe in his material heading into Nebelhorn, having received “quite amazing feedback” on his programs from the judges who were on hand at Skate Canada’s high-performance camp in late August.
“Honestly, I performed them about 10 times better at high-performance camp, so I guess that was part of it,” Sadovsky recalled with a laugh. “High-performance camp was about three or four weeks before Nebelhorn, and I felt stronger afterward … the feedback at the camp just built a lot of confidence in my performances because the judges there really liked the programs, the spins and the steps. I was able to get some key notes there and we were able to put it together even better than before.”
This year marked the first in which Sadovsky turned to Canadian choreographer Mark Pillay to craft both his programs. Another Canadian, David Wilson, had done his short programs in four of the previous five.
The long program is actually a holdover from last season but, as Sadovsky pointed out, it was only used once in live competition at the World Team Trophy in Japan last April. Given the work he and Pillay put into it, Sadovsky said “I wanted to have a little bit more run with it. I just felt like that program had so much more to offer … I decided that with another year, it’s still going to be a good vehicle for me.
“Mark is very good with my skating style, and he is very good with my jump pattern. It is actually quite methodical about where the jumps go and how the music can be used to accentuate them,” Sadovsky explained. “At the end of the day, it is about making me feel the most comfortable. That was the goal this year — just to get as comfortable as possible so I don’t have to think as much when I am performing.”
To understand where Sadovsky is at now, it is necessary to go back to the 2019 Canadian Championships in Saint John, New Brunswick. He arrived at that event feeling like he was ready to make a big move up the standings. Instead, he placed seventh, a repeat of his finish at nationals a year earlier in Vancouver. That led to a reckoning of sorts between Sadovsky and his coaching team, with the lessons learned there being a springboard for the breakthrough Canadian title that would come his way a year later in Mississauga, Ontario.
“I was kind of going for it the year before, but things did not line up for me in those performances and that is where we stepped back and asked ourselves ‘what do we do? How do we get there?’ And that is where the focus on consistency started, from that year on,” he explained.
“So we took the building blocks that we had from the season before and just built on top of them. I am sure that is also why the season with the bronze medal at (2019) NHK was much better. And then going into nationals, everything was finally lined up. Training, mentally … everything was on the right track.”
His success at the event in Japan further reinforced the belief that the plan he and his coaches had devised was working. Looking back now, Sadovsky admits landing on the podium in Japan “was almost a 50 per cent contribution to winning nationals. It really just showed what my training can actually help me do.”
“It was kind of that moment of where all the hard work finally paid off and I was able to carry that momentum into nationals. I have to say it was really different going into nationals skating well as opposed to going into nationals not skating well.”
Sadovsky still marvels at what happened on that magical night in Mississauga 23 months earlier, when his “Schindler’s List” long program stood up as the winner against the challenges from fellow Canadians Nam Nguyen and Keegan Messing. “Honestly, it was life changing,” he said, reflecting on that victory. “It is definitely a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. It is probably hands down my favorite skating moment for me personally — maybe even forever.”
He would have entered the 2020-2021 season with a Canadian title to defend but, as with much of the skating world, those plans were shelved due to the pandemic. While Sadovsky continued training, he kept running into brick walls when it came to competitions. As event after event was canceled, he found his motivation being tested. “The biggest challenge in those 18 months was training for nothing. It became pretty annoying — it’s difficult to make a yearly plan or a monthly plan of training blocks when you actually don’t know what your destination points are going to end up being,” he said.
“Our training block went up and down, and we were trying to peak at the right moments. But there was no actual peak because the competitions never happened. It started with Skate Canada, and then it moved on to the Grand Prix, and then nationals, the same thing. So that was the frustrating part last year. “We just tried our best to continue the same way while keeping in mind that there will be an event. If we stayed stagnant the whole year, that would have been an issue for me. I would not have been able to rev up mentally for a competition.
“For me, I just had to tell myself to figure out what I want and know what I want … when I figured that out, I had a purpose to be at the rink every day.”
Skate Canada issued an Olympic qualification protocol to its athletes stating the criteria that will be taken into account when selecting its team for Beijing. “It kind of looks like (Skate Canada) is going to look at the whole season. Nationals is definitely not the be all and end all, and I think I am OK with that personally,” he said.
“We have been building on consistency and if I can have a strong season and if I can carry that season into nationals — and if I win nationals, I think we are sailing. I will just take that moment in Ottawa as another good moment in my career … whether it feels like high pressure or low pressure, whatever it is, it will just be a moment to enjoy. I will try to skate the best that I can and if I can get one of those Olympic spots, it will be good.”