Current Canadian men’s champion Emanuel Sandhu, a Toronto native who lives in Vancouver, will be looking for his fourth finish at the top of the podium when he competes at the 2005 BMO Canadian Championships in London, Ontario in January. Sandhu already has seven consecutive top two finishes at Canadians, winning four silvers in addition to three golds since coming up from juniors, where he won the men’s title in 1997.
Sandhu has thrice finished in the top ten at the World Championships, including eighth the last two years. He also won the 2003-04 ISU Grand Prix Final after qualifying at the last minute when Brian Joubert withdrew. He went on to finish second at the Four Continents Championships in 2004, his fourth top ten finish there. But he has not yet skated in the Olympics, withdrawing due to a knee injury in 2002.
The talented 24-year-old began the 2004-05 ISU competitive season by winning his first Grand Prix event at Skate Canada, then took the bronze medal at Trophee Eric Bompard Cachemire in Paris, qualifying for the ISU Grand Prix Final, where he finished fourth.
Sandhu began skating when he was eight. His mother thought it would be good for him to take part in a pastime that most Canadians liked. When he liked doing spins and mimicking other figure skaters, his mother started him in figures skating lessons. But he began ballet lessons when he was three and entered the National Ballet School at seven. He studied there for ten years, earning his high school diploma from the school.
“From grade four, ballet was my school,” he recalled. “I had a lot of good roles there. I was the lead dancer in the Nutcracker for several years and we did a tour of Japan for three weeks when I was 11. I also did a national tour to promote the school and did a lot of solos. But I wasn’t skating that often and I liked skating more, so I decided to concentrate on the skating.”
Joanne McLeod has always been Sandhu’s coach. He trains five days a week in Burnaby, British Columbia at the BC Centre for Excellence for about three to four hours a day on ice and about an hour and a half of off ice work. That includes ballet and dance classes, conditioning and Pilates.
Sandhu credits McLeod with much of his success. “I’ve been with Joanne for 16 years now,” he said. “I’m very proud of that fact. It’s a very rare thing. I think only Brian Boitano stayed that long with his coach. We have a very special relationship that goes beyond that of coach and student. I’ll have that for the rest of my life and I’m really lucky that way.”
McLeod and Sandhu work together on the choreography of his programs. “When we decide on the music, she explains her reasons for liking it,” he said. “Because of my ballet training, I’m versatile enough to skate to almost any kind of music, as long as it’s something tasteful. Joanne has a degree in dance and we have very similar thinking. Joanne and I meld our brains together on ice for the choreography. We invent and improve the moves together. Last summer was hard because Joanne was in a cast all summer and couldn’t skate, but she could give me her ideas and vice versa.”
“I never use a mirror when I’m practicing moves,” he continued. “When I’m skating, I can’t see what I’m doing anyway. In ballet, we never faced the mirror. We had to feel our internal muscles. You had to learn how to align yourself properly without a mirror. That’s why mirrors are kind of distracting for me for training.”
Both of Sandhu’s competitive programs are new for this season. For the short, he is skating to “Rise” by Safri Duo and “Xotica” by Rene Dupere, music found by McLeod. For the long program, Sandhu has returned to his classical roots, using “Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor” by Emil Von Sauer. The selection was suggested by Maryjane and Louis Stong. “I haven’t done classical in a few years,” Sandhu explained. “People have been craving a classical program from me. As for the short, I thought it was cool music for a contrast. It’s completely different from the long.” For an exhibition program, Sandhu has been using Justin Timberlake’s “Like I Love You”. “I just wanted to do something different and showcase my talent,” he stated. “I’m planning a new gala program, but I needed to focus on getting the other two new programs ready for competition.”
“I haven’t done two new programs in a couple of years,” Sandhu continued, “but it was a smart decision to do so this year with the new judging system. For the short program, we were mainly interested in increasing the difficulty of all the elements. But for the long, there’s a bit more time and that allows the choreography to be a bit more intricate and interesting. I can do more step sequences into jump entrances, enter spins backwards, do twizzles and then pop a triple, shift edges, lots of things. Our philosophy is to push our own boundaries with the new system in mind, not change based on what other skaters have done.”
The new system allowed Sandhu to come back from seventh in the short program to win Skate Canada. “I knew there was an outside chance to win if I put down my stuff,” Sandhu said, “but my main goal was to skate a clean program. That was actually the first time I had skated the new short in competition. I had done the long program at Campbell’s.”
He doesn’t expect to make any changes to the programs as the season progresses. “It’s chock full of things now,” he explained. “I could maybe add a quad salchow or another quad toe, but you have to be careful not to have too many jumps. Right now, I just have the quad toe/triple toe and triple axel/triple toe combinations planned.” Sandhu’s short program includes a quadruple toe loop/triple toe loop combination as well as a triple lutz and triple axel.
In the future, Sandhu said, “I want to turn my sights towards music. That’s my passion. I’d like to be a singer and dancer to popular music. My musical tastes run the gamut from rap to pop to acoustics. I really like music by people who can write their own songs because I haven’t done that. I know the notes, I can read sheet music, and I play a little guitar that I learned in high school. But it’s unfathomable to me to be able to write your own music. I haven’t performed in any clubs yet but I’ve done some karaoke with friends. That’s good practice. In fact, I already have some groupie fans. One of my best is ‘Purple Rain’ by Prince.”
“I think I’d be good at anything in the performing arts and show business,” he continued. “I’ve been approached by many agencies to do modeling but I’ve put that on the back burner,” Sandhu said, “because I’m focused on skating now. It’s hard to do different things during the week. I’m too tired when I get home. But if I meet my goal and win the World Championships and the Olympics, I may quit then. I’d love to win in Calgary in 2006. That would be a great opportunity and a fun way for me to go out.”
“I’m not sure if I’ll remain involved in skating after that,” he admitted. “It would be a shame to let go of all I learned in skating, but it may be hard to incorporate it into my life. I offer advice and tips to some of the other skaters when I can, but I don’t think I’d make a good coach.”
To relax, Sandhu said, “I like to be in nature. I love the ocean. I like to go to the beach in Oregon where you can just see toned down views out to the horizon. Vancouver is great because it’s a big city but you can go to the mountains or walk in Stanley Park. I like to go walking and people watching. I also like big cities like New York and Paris. That’s a cool big metropolitan city.” Sandhu, who is half Italian and half East Indian by heritage, speaks French and Italian as well as English. As his other hobby, he likes to read. “I read science fiction and mysteries and horror books,” he said. “My tastes are all over the place.”
Always stylish, Sandhu collects watches. “That’s the only accessory that you can always wear – a nice solid, classic timepiece,” he explained. “When I was in novice and juniors, I used to collect all my pins and keep them on my jacket, but not any more. I donate all the gifts to hospitals and charity auctions and anyone else who needs them, but I keep all the notes in my memory box. It’s nice to go back and read them. Maybe I’ll need them for a book.”