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New passion of Newmarket-born Olympian Elvis Stojko is car racing

Over 20 years after he retired from competitive figure skating, Elvis Stojko remains one of Canada’s most successful male figure skaters
Elvis Stojko practises his routine a few hours before the PABSC 50th anniversary ice show at the Bruce II Sports Centre on Sunday, April 2, 2023.

Over 20 years after he retired from competitive figure skating, Elvis Stojko remains one of Canada’s most successful male figure skaters.

Born in Newmarket in 1972, Stojko started his journey to the top tier of the sport at the tender age of four.

“My parents both loved skating and it was something that they finally took me to when I was about four. We lived in a little town called Queensville and there’s no arenas there, so we had to go to the closest one and that was in Newmarket,” said Stojko. “My Mom didn’t know where to go and the neighbour across the street helped take my Mom and I to the rink.”

The path to gold wasn’t easy. It required daily effort and sacrifice.

“My Mom used to take me to the rink in Newmarket but the big one was when I was started training in Toronto. We didn’t have the highway that is there now, so we had to go on all the side roads to get there, it was about 45 minutes to an hour. Nowadays it isn’t that long, but I had to be on the ice at 5:30 in the morning, so I was up at 3:30 every morning. I would be on the ice at 5:30, my training would go until 9, then I had school after. I would come back after school, all my eating, changing and homework was done in the car,” said Stojko.

“When I was training with Doug Leigh in Barrie, that’s the snow belt, and there were days there were full-on snowstorms and we were like, ‘We can’t take the day off’. Most skills at that level, they’re perishable skills. If you compare it to violinists, if they take one day off, they notice it. If they take two days off, their coach notices it, three days off everyone else notices it, so it’s something you can’t sacrifice. For me, I didn’t compare myself to what was in Canada. I compared myself to what was in the world, the best at my age. That’s how I had to see it, and to take a day off was not in the cards.”

Stojko was a three-time World Champion, two-time Olympic silver medallist, and seven-time Canadian champion, and each competition had its own unique energy and feel.

“The Canadians was a way for me to prepare for the Olympics or the Worlds. The national championships are usually in January for us, and then Olympics would be February and worlds would be in March. I would use it as a stepping stone to go to the Olympics, and of course I would want to peak at the Olympics and worlds,” said Stojko.

“It felt like the Canadians had a sort of home feel no matter where it was, and it always felt like an amazing send-off, but I had to stay zoned in. It was interesting because I had to be good enough to win, but I didn’t want to over-peak, so I had to be in this kind of balance point.”

The worlds were an entirely different level of competition.

“The World Championships felt like a big international. For example, I would do the Grand Prix Circuit in the fall, go to Japan, China, or Germany. All the different countries would have their own invitational, and you would have all your big competitors. You’d meet them somewhere along the line, but at Worlds you would see them all in one shot,” said Stojko.

The Olympics were pretty much just as they appeared to be on television.

“When you went to Olympics, it felt like the Olympics. Everywhere you would turn, the Olympic rings were there. You show up at the airport, the rings were there. You show up at the village, the rings are there. You show up at the arena, the rings are there. On the ice, the rings were on the ice. You are reminded of it and everywhere you go, you are a small fish in a large pond because there are so many different athletes,” said Stojko.

“When you see skaters, we are not that big. Maybe a couple of the pairs guys are bigger, but then you get to the Olympics and you’ve got bobsledders that are 250 plus. They’re just massive. One year we were waiting to go in for opening ceremonies, and all the bobsled guys were like, ‘Let’s do a picture,’ and they lifted me up, so I was on their shoulders. That’s like the long trackers, too. They’ve got legs for days. Legs that are like double my legs, but the camaraderie and the feel is just this big, amazing competition.”

Aside from the medals he won during his career, Stojko achieved another significant milestone. In 1991, he became the first person to successfully land a quadruple-double jump combination. 

“The year before I was able to land my first triple axel, it was a jump I worked on. Then I got a quad double-jump. It was a great season in 1990, but ‘91 my body changed. I gained weight. I got taller. My body got stronger, and my timing was off for a little bit. I was on and off throughout the year with the quad. I was doing it in practice once in a while, and then we get to Worlds and it just happens to be on during the week,” said Stojko.

“I had a place for it set in the program, but it wasn’t a plan. I thought, if it feels good I’ll try it. So I did the first jump in the program. Then I missed the second jump. I popped the axel, which meant I didn’t do a triple and I had to do a single, and I’m like, ‘all right,’ so I did a spin, and as I’m setting up after the spin, the next jump would be the quad. So I’m skating and I’m like, ‘I feel really good. I’m skating really good, I think I’m gonna,’ and I nailed it. I land it, but you’re so in the zone that you forget where you are. You’re just doing it. It’s like an out-of-body experience and then the program just went from there. It was a surreal moment. It’s like it was happening though me. When I watch it now, I still remember it, the feeling of it. I knew 100 per cent I was going to do it. I could just feel it. Everything was lining up. There was no way I could miss it. I was just in the zone. It just happened. It was such a cool sensation.”

Stojko also received the Lionel Conacher Award in 1994 as Canada’s top male athlete.

“It is pretty exciting, being recognized for an athlete. It’s an award not in skating. It’s an award in all sports, which was pretty cool. Every one of those has such an amazing feel. It’s hard to explain, getting recognized for all your sacrifice and work. Yeah, you can go and win events and make a mark for yourself, but outside skating, saying, ‘Hey, we want to recognize you,’ it’s pretty cool. Being in the Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Fame, Sports Hall of Fame, Olympic Hall of Fame, it’s just, wow. It’s pretty cool and it’s a pretty amazing place to be and I’m honoured to be a part of it because there are so many amazing athletes in there.”

Stojko has three moments that stand out as pinnacles of his career. The first is back in 1990.

“It was my first national championships as a senior competitor. I had been a junior champion in Canada. The next year in ‘89 I didn’t make it to Nationals. I was really pissed, so I trained my butt off. I swore I would make Canadians, but not only did I make Canadians, I out-skated Kurt (Browning) and made the world team and was second in Canada,” recalled Stojko.

“I had a triple axel, I was doing quads, and I skated clean at Canadians, clean at Worlds and made top 10 in the world the year before I even made it to Nationals. So within a year I was ranked top 10 in the world. That was a huge stepping stone.”

The second significant moment that stands out happened only two years later.

“The next one was 1992. I went to the Olympics and was the only skater that skated clean in both programs, and I actually dropped a place. There was big controversy and Don Cherry had a big thing on it on TV, and people got to know me on another level. I placed seventh. Politically I should’ve made the podium, third or fourth. Then a month later I go to the World Championships and all eyes are on me. Judges are kind of pissed, ISU (International Skating Union) is a little bit pissed off because there’s this controversy, so now they’re like, ‘Well, let’s see what he can do,’ so I had to skate well and I placed third.”

Lastly, in 1994, everything finally fell into place.

“I won Nationals, second at Olympics. I won Worlds. In one year it all came together and I thought, ‘I’m really here now,’ then it just grew from there.”

This year, to mark its 50th anniversary, the Port aux Basques Skating Club reached out to Stojko and asked if he would perform at their ice show, the first one they’ve been able to hold since the global pandemic first began.

“It was late in the season. It was in December, and I’m usually six months to a year out for people to get a hold of me to prep for the next season because my schedule gets booked up really quickly,” said Stojko. 

Luckily for the Port aux Basques Skating Club, the date of the ice show happened to coincide with a cancellation in Stojko’s schedule, and after some talking back and forth, he arrived in Port aux Basques on Friday, March 31 and performed at the Ice Show on April 2.

Stojko was by all accounts a hit, and made the 50th anniversary ice skatetacular one for the history books. He still has plenty of other engagements coming up in the near future.

“Coming up I’ve got Stars on Ice. We start in Halifax and it’s going to be Kurt’s last year, so we’ve got that at the end of April. We start it and it goes across the Canada. Then I’m getting busy to race cars this season again. We built two cars last year. I raced a grass-roots endurance series with a buddy of mine, a great mechanic and great fabricator. He’s brilliant. And a team out of Ottawa invited me to come race with them,” said Stojko.

Even though figure skating has given him unbelievable success, it’s not his only passion.

“I worked hard and had ability, but with motor sports I always had a keen sense of feel and I picked it up really fast,” said Stojko. “If I would’ve had more of a choice and been exposed to it at a younger age, I probably would’ve been doing motor sports rather than skating.”

Jaymie White is a federally funded Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Wreckhouse Weekly News