The season-ending breakthrough performance by St. Albert figure skater Matthew Newnham was good as gold at the Canada Winter Games.
The novice men’s bronze medallist at the nationals shrugged off a fourth-place showing in the short program by crushing the long free skate program to finish on top of the medal podium in the U17 division at the Games in Red Deer.
“I was very happy and very proud because I hadn’t done that well at nationals and I wanted to redeem myself from what happened at nationals,” Newnham said of the last event before the next competitive cycle in his sport begins.
“I feel like I struggled through the season but I came out victorious I would say,” Newnham added. “I’m happy it’s over, but now I have to get back into the groove of things and keep on improving.”
As for what clicked in the Feb. 28 long program, “Mostly everything” said Newnham, including acing the challenging triple Lutz.
“I hadn’t landed it in competition before. I’ve been falling but this was the first time I landed it,” Newnham said. “I was euphoric. I was like, ‘Oh my God! This happened.
“I still had to get back into the program though and get myself ready for the next stuff.”
After completing the 3:30-minute free skate to the music of Fred Astaire, “I knew I did well but I didn’t know if I was going to win because there were still other skaters after me skating,” said the Ice Palace Figure Skating Club member.
Newnham’s score of 91.54 easily outdistanced the second-place result of 75.12 by Wesley Chiu of Richmond, B.C.
Overall, out of nine skaters at the Games, Newnham finished with 130.23 points, while Chiu, the silver medallist, recorded 123.05 and Rio Morita of Vaughan, Ont., was the bronze medallist, with 109.78.
Chiu is also the national novice men’s champion with first-place scores of 52.73 in the short and 94.10 in the long, compared to Newnham’s 47.22 for second in the short and 69.27 in the long for fifth out of 18 competitors at the January championships in Saint John, N.B.
In the Feb. 26 short program at the Games, Newnham’s 38.69 score ranked below the 47.93 by Chiu, 40.55 by Maksim Chelmaev of Que., and Morita’s 38.93.
“It wasn’t my best. I was trying some new jumps and it didn’t go as I planned,” Newnham said of the 2:30-minute Mister Cellophane musical routine from the film Chicago.
“I was working on a triple triple but in the program I messed it up,” said the five-foot-eight skater of pulling off two jumps of three rotations apiece in combination together. “I was disappointed at first but I was like I’ll take what I can get and move on.”
That meant the pressure was on to pull off the triple Lutz in the long program.
"I felt like after the short I have to nail it if I want to do well,” said the Grade 10 Bellerose Composite High School student.
The gold medal ranks among the best of the best for the 2018 recipient of the Alberta/NorthwestTerritories/Nunavut Competitive Skater of the Year Award.
“It’s one of the major highlights of my career because of the experience of going there and with all the other sports and all the other provinces and meeting new people and seeing what it’s actually like to go to a Games.”
Newnham, 16, was also the novice men’s bronze medallist at the North American (Canada versus the United States) series this season.
“I was going up against some of the best North American skaters and I came third. I was very shocked and I felt maybe I can do something,” said the U16 pre-novice national champion in 2018.
At the Skate Canada Challenge, Nov. 28 to Dec. 2 in Edmonton, Newnham (45.18 for second in short and 85.26 for second in long for 130.44 points) was the runner-up to Chiu (47.68 for first in short and 86.75 in long for first overall at 134 points).
Newnham will now work on a new short program based on the One Day More song from the musical Les Miserables while still keeping the same long program for the upcoming season.
Both programs for the Games were developed from scratch in January 2018.
“I do both of the programs every day for the whole year,” Newnham said. “It’s hard to keep going like that for the whole year. It’s a very demanding sport.”
Newnham trains Monday to Friday three to four hours per day on and off the ice and is coached by Ravi Walia, who also instructs Olympic medallist and world champion Kaitlyn Osmond.
Newnham, a former St. Albert Skating Centre member who joined the Ice Palace four years ago, takes time off for two weeks in May, a week at the end of August and few days at Christmas.
“There are many days when it’s like what’s the point in this, why do I still keep going, but you know you’ve got to put in the hours and you’ve got to do everything to be the best so you can’t slack off,” said the 2018 winner of the Pat Fischer Award of $500 presented annually to the highest-placing pre-novice male at Skate Canada Challenge.
Newnham started performing for the judges nine years ago and hasn’t looked back.
“It brings me joy and I love skating,” said Newnham, who described his strength as a skater as “I’m very artistic in a way.”
The next phase in Newnham’s career is making the quantum leap into the U19 junior ranks.
“It’s a big jump because in junior you can compete internationally,” said the top novice men’s provincial skater in a field of three. “I would want to come at least top 10 (at nationals) in junior.”
Newnham is ready to embrace the challenge.
“I feel like I do have more confidence now and I can do more than I expected I could before.”
The ultimate goal for Newnham, “Is to go as far as I can without sacrificing my education.”