When Kaetlyn Osmond broke her leg in practice four years ago, she posted a picture of the x-ray on social media showing a painful fracture that took surgery, and seven screws drilled into the bone, in order to mend.
“I think I got a little bit of hardware in my leg,” Osmond joked at the time. It was all she could do in that moment – immobilized, deflated, and thinking privately to herself that her dream of standing on an Olympic podium might be over.
She contemplated quitting figure skating, and she was still only a teenager.
But on Friday, the 22-year-old from Marystown, Nfld., having battled back from that leg injury and adding a new jump to her arsenal since then, finally got the hardware she wanted, winning the bronze medal in Pyeongchang.
In the most pressure-packed four minutes of her life, Osmond skated a near-perfect long program, something she had struggled all season to do, and claimed Canada’s first medal in women’s figure skating since Joannie Rochette won bronze in Vancouver eight years ago.
It is only the sixth time a Canadian woman has ascended the podium at the Olympics, adding Osmond’s name to a roster of greats that also includes Barbara Ann Scott, Petra Burka, Karen Magnussen, Elizabeth Manley and Rochette.
And on the day that Canada achieved its best medal count ever at the Winter Olympics, it was Osmond – with the 27th medal – who put her country over the top.
Skating to the music from Swan Lake, Osmond took the bronze with a score of 152.15 in the free skate, for a combined mark of 231.02 from the short and long programs.
Russia’s Alina Zagitova won gold, with a combined score of 239.57 points, while her teammate Evgenia Medvedeva claimed the silver with 238.26 points.
The morning leading up to the skate was unusual Osmond said. Normally chatty and carefree, she was uncharacteristically quiet as the nerves set in. It was her second Olympics, but in Sochi – where she placed 13th – Osmond was never expected to contend. Here, a spot on the podium was hers for the taking, even with the powerhouse Russians waging a battle with each other through a pair of aggressive jump-laden routines.
“Today I was absolutely terrified all day. I was nervous,” Osmond said. “Usually I talk a lot, I didn’t talk very much today.”
She thought back to the broken leg, but not about how it had held her back for close to two years. Instead, she thought about everything the injury had done for her: it made her more focused, more determined, and the training she did to rehabilitate the leg had only made her a stronger skater on the ice.
She also managed to add a new jump to her repertoire since the injury, the triple toeloop, which made her skating better, and brought lift to her scores when she could execute it cleanly.
“I don’t think I would have been able to perform the way I did today without that injury, Osmond said. “I regrouped and almost became a new person afterwards. I had to mature, I had to refocus on how to stay on the ice and feel strong. And I don’t think I would have been able to perform this choreography as good as I could without that experience.”
Early in her performance, Ravi Walia, who has coached her since age 10, had a good feeling. When she landed her first two triple toeloops, he could see the skater was undaunted, and not intimidated by the moment.
“Once she did that I knew it was going to be good,” Walia said. “It’s so exciting that she skated her best at the Olympic Games. She really planned to peak here – and when it actually happened it’s so exciting.”
When Rochette won the bronze medal in Vancouver, Osmond watched the performance from her bedroom, underneath the covers. She was 14 at the time, and it was past her bedtime. After performing under figure skating’s brightest lights on Friday, she recalled Rochette’s skate, and how it seemed like an impossible goal.
“When she made the podium, I said ‘That was incredible. That is something I’m never going to be able to do,'” Osmond said. “So it amazed me four years later when I was at the Olympics itself and I came 13th. And my goal here was to just improve on that 13th place finish.”
Those last Olympics are a blur, Osmond says. But in Pyeongchang she came in less wide-eyed and more driven, helping Canada win a gold medal in the team figure skating event at the start of the Games, then retreated to Seoul to train in private to get ready for her individual event.
Though she struggled at times in her long program this season, Osmond said she could tell during the performance it was going well, which only made her want to skate on, even when the music stopped.
“When I hit my ending position I didn’t want it to end,” she said.
When she stood on the podium, Osmond searched for her parents in the crowd. When she finally spotted her mom, Jackie, Osmond noticed she was sobbing. Mission accomplished, she thought.
“That’s often my goal at competitions – to see how to make my mom cry,” she said. “It’s not that hard.”
While Osmond’s skate could barely have gone better, it was a tough day for Toronto’s Gabrielle Daleman. After placing seventh in the short program, Daleman struggled through a series of stumbles in her free skate, leaving her in 15th with a combined score of 172.46. After her performance, the 20-year-old Daleman wept, disappointed with her mistakes.
Osmond’s bronze is Canada’s fourth figure skating medal in Pyeongchang, in addition to the gold in team figure skating, a gold in ice dance from Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and a bronze from pairs skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. It is the most figure skating medals the Canadian squad has won at a single Olympics, eclipsing the three it returned home with after Sochi.
“To get four, this is amazing,” Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s high-performance director, said. “We knew there was an outside shot, and it was possible, but to actually have it come to fruition is just a testament to our skaters and our coaches.”
But with the expected retirement of Virtue and Moir, Duhamel and Radford, and Sochi silver-medalist Patrick Chan, Canada’s figure skating program now heads into a rebuild of sorts, with Osmond expected to lead them into the future.
“This was a unique group that we had,” Slipchuk said. “The rebuild is starting already.”
The Globe and Mail, February 23, 2018