Finalists say its been a long haul as Battle of the Blades finale looms

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - CBC-TV's "Battle of the Blades" concludes Sunday and Monday, and the coaches and finalists say it's been a long, draining experience with no shortage of ups, downs and surprises.
What sounded like a joke of an idea at first - take eight retired hockey players and see how they do in figure skates - bloomed into a ratings hit. Tickets to the live performances at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens became a hot commodity.
Now, after six weeks of competition, Claude Lemieux, Stephane Richer and Craig Simpson are the last men standing - along with their partners Shae-Lynn Bourne, Marie-France Dubreuil and Jamie Sale - and make no mistake, they all really want to win.
"They all have the competitive fire, you noticed it the first day we arrived here," said coach David Pelletier, who won Olympic pairs gold with Sale, now his wife.
"The first time when all the guys stepped on the ice you could see a few of them were in to win it - and some of them were in to have fun with it - but nobody wanted to go out first. They all wanted to make it through a couple of weeks, and that fire has been burning even harder and bigger as the weeks went by."
Mentor and series co-host Kurt Browning, a four-time world champion, said the men have come a long way since first donning figure skates.
It takes more than just athletic ability to excel at pairs figure skating and the men had to learn how to develop a level of intimacy with their partners, and adopt new personas as skating entertainers, he said.
"I certainly wasn't expecting them to start emoting in their programs but I think the girls have pulled it out of them," Browning said, and recalled how difficult it was for some of the men, including Lemieux, to build up their comfort level with their partners.
"(Bourne) came over and gave him a big hug and started holding his hand ... and he was frozen with fear. He just couldn't believe this girl came over and held his hand, so now he's gone from not even realizing that she was going to do that, to really gelling as a team."
Performance-wise, the men have far exceeded what was expected of them, said another coach, Paul Martini, a former world champion who will perform on the series finale with his old pairs partner Barb Underhill.
"I would never have guessed back in September when we started that we'd be doing full overheard lifts, it just wasn't something that I thought was going to happen," he said.
But as far as they've come, there's one thing viewers probably shouldn't expect to see in the finale: the men won't be pulling off any double Axels.
"We had a couple guys try one revolution jumps - not quite," Browning said with a laugh, and guessed the men would probably need another year of training to pull off a single Axel.
The remaining three pairs will skate twice on Sunday's show. A winner will be announced Monday.
"We're nervous for them ... we'll see if they have a good skate, I really hope they do, they deserve it, they've come through a lot," he said.
"They're tired and hurt, they're not used to picking up 110 pounds and flipping it around."
Bourne said the skaters are feeling emotional heading into the finale, given how hard they've worked for weeks together.
"It's sad knowing it's coming to an end and it'll be over," she said.
"But we're excited about this last routine, we're still working on it now, we just have one week to prepare."
Bourne added she's really proud of Lemieux for deciding to sing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" for their routine.
"Putting yourself out there artistically to go all the way just shows his commitment to this show and giving his everything to it," she said.
Lemieux said the song is one of his daughter's favourites and his wife convinced him to sing it himself.
"We thought about doing it live but that idea didn't last too long," he said.
"It'd really be beyond difficult with the wireless mikes and the things that could go wrong in a live show.
"So we killed that idea and talked about recording it and it's worked out great, it was a great idea."
Simpson said he's pumped about his finale performance and how much his skills have developed, despite a few bad falls early on.
"I think I've come a long way," he said.
"It's been a great journey, from being really uncomfortable the first few weeks, to starting to get a little more comfortable on my figure skates by about the fourth, fifth week, to now trying something new every day."

Organizations: CBC

Geographic location: TORONTO, Maple Leaf Gardens

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