Chasing gold in Vancouver 'wasnt in my heart'
TORONTO - At a time when many Canadian athletes are finding motivation in the allure of competing at the Vancouver Olympics, Jeffrey Buttle found his desire to skate for gold on home turf just wasn't there.
Already on top of the world after capturing the men's title at the world championships in March, an impressive progression from his bronze at the 2006 Olympics, the 26-year-old from Smooth Rock Falls, Ont., was becoming one of the country's most prominent names for the 2010 Winter Games.
But a renewed sense of purpose spurred along by his world title never took hold, with Buttle instead discovering a sense of contentment with all he had already achieved. He decided to keep training through the summer, even developing two new programs, to ensure what he was feeling wasn't simply a temporary malaise.
It wasn't, and that led to his surprise retirement from competitive figure skating Wednesday, a mere 17 months before the Vancouver Olympics begin.
"That was definitely the battle that was going on in my mind," Buttle said after a news conference. "I had to decide was that something that I really wanted. After the world championships, I was so happy with winning that I had to reflect on how important that was to me, and having the Olympics here in Vancouver is important to me, but winning them wasn't.
"I don't know, it just wasn't in my heart."
Buttle didn't make the decision alone.
He sought advice from Canadian greats like Kurt Browning and Brian Orser, among others, even as he continued work on a quad jump, the one element missing from his repertoire.
At times the inner turmoil about his future would hit him like a tumble to the ice. Then it would be business as usual.
Ultimately it became apparent to him that his thoughts of retirement, which began soon after the world championship win, weren't going to fade.
His next competition would have been November's Skate Canada in Ottawa.
"I basically spent a normal summer of training and nothing was any different than it had been in past years," Buttle said of his workouts. "At the end of the summer I just wasn't feeling it."
What he is feeling is a desire to skate professionally in performance shows, and complete his chemical engineering degree at the University of Toronto.
Beyond that he's not sure what's in store for him, although he plans to remain involved with Skate Canada at some level.
His departure from the scene leaves Patrick Chan, who took the national crown away from Buttle in January, as one of the country's top hopes for men's figure skating in 2010.
Skate Canada CEO William Thompson said other skaters must now fill, "Jeff's rather large skates."
"I know they can do it and they will rise to this challenge," he continued. "But each day is going to be a turning point for all of their training as well."
Buttle leaves them lots to aspire to.
The main knock on him has been his lack of a quad - an element that's becoming a staple among the elite men in figure skating. It's a charge that caused both Thompson and Lee Barkell, Buttle's coach of 18 years, to bristle.
"Technical advancement is not simply about jumps," said Thompson. "I think what he brought to the sport was unique and beautiful and artistic and athletic. And I will miss that."
Buttle's footwork and spins often left competitors in the dust and Barkell believes that isn't recognized often enough.
"A lot of people don't know how hard he had to work to become that all-around good skater," he said. "That's something everyone needs to appreciate."