By: Beverley Smith
Liam Firus knew it was going to be a dogfight, the showdown for the men’s Olympic spot at the national championships. “But that’s when I skate my best,” says the 21-year-old from North Vancouver.
The young man with the quiet grace has had a shorter season than most as he recovered from a groin injury that had bothered him the previous season. For weeks, he suffered painful injections, did physiotherapy, and centred his life around rehabilitation. He didn’t start jumping again until July. He didn’t start introducing triples back into his training until the middle of August, and it wasn’t until the beginning of September that he started doing full programs. He had only five months to go to the Olympic Games.
He was taken aback when he finished second in the short program at the national championships – ahead of Kevin Reynolds – even though he fell on a triple Axel. Firus held his hands on his head in anguish when he left the ice.
Could he possibly see himself winning the bronze medal when he started his difficult season? Well, yes, Firus said. “I thought, ‘You know what? You’re going to be on the Olympic team,’” Firus said not so long ago. “It’s going to be tough. Nothing is going to be easy. This is my goal. I told myself I was going to be here. And I was.”
He’s not the type to be boastful. He’s mannered, quietly confident, respectful, shows up to train every day. He started out as a hockey-player-turned skater, learning the ropes from Lorna Bauer in Vancouver. And last summer, to position himself for that Olympic spot, Firus left to train with Christy Krall in Colorado Springs.
“There are no hard feelings,” he said. “She [Lorna] is still part of my team. But Christy runs things now. If I ever need advice, I go to Lorna. But I am now officially at Colorado Springs.”
“It’s a change,” he added. “I miss my old life, my social life. I don’t really have a social life any more, although one of my best friends in Colorado is Max Aaron. We are good buds.”
Alas, Aaron didn’t make the U.S. Olympic team, as Firus triumphed in Canada. The vibes were working, just not quite enough. Just before the long program, Firus called Aaron, who was in Boston at the U.S. championships. “He told me to go out there and be amazing,” Firus said. “He’s a jumper. He knows how to be amazing to the crowd. He’s fun to watch. He’s what people want to see. He brings excitement to the sport.”
Firus is grateful to have an array of top skaters to train with: Jason Brown, Joshua Farris, Agnes Zawadski, Brandon Mroz. “It’s nice to see that when you have an off day, everyone else has them too. Even the best ones,” Firus said.
But he hasn’t forgotten home. He was born and raised in Vancouver. He’s been happy to live there. “I have the best friends there, and I truly feel that they’ve kept me grounded,” Firus said. “They’ve given me support. In high school, being a male figure skater, it isn’t the easiest thing, but they were unbelievable.”
One of Firus’ best friends, Luke, was also a track competitor in elementary school. They’d run neck in neck in 100, 400, 800 metre events. “We had a rivalry, but we were best friends,” Firus said. “He made me the competitor that I am. I owe that to him.”
“It was the hardest thing to leave home, because they made me who I am,” Firus said. “But now I’m so focused on skating.”
His father, Trevor, is an accountant. His mother, Lois Sullivan, is a real estate agent. Firus’s grandfather was the figure skating fan. “My family supports me so much,” Firus said. “Mom has really made this possible for me. I owe it all to my mom.”
When it came time to make a decision to leave Vancouver, Firus’s mother let him leave to see what he could be. “She just said: ‘You’ve got to get there. Just do it. You have all our support.’” Firus said. Coach Lorna – who he regards as a second mother – told him “You do what you need to do to get to the Olympics.”
“And that’s exactly what I did,” Firus said. “It’s been an awesome year.”
Not surprisingly, Firus lists as two of his idols the consummate artistic skater, Stephane Lambiel – and his younger brother, Shane Firus. “I’m not joking,” Firus said. Shane was the bronze medalist in junior dance last season, but is currently looking for a new partner.
“I think Shane is absolutely amazing,” Firus said. “I was on the ice with him when I went back to Vancouver after Skate Canada Challenge and he was doing just simple stroking. He’s been off the ice for a while, but he was there…and I was in awe. He’s absolutely amazing.”
“I look up to him. It’s his edges, his presence, even off the ice. Shane really makes me grounded. He makes me laugh. On the way to the long program [in Ottawa], he picked me up and he drove here. We are very close. He’s one of my best friends. He’s truly amazing on and off the ice.”
Another Firus? He’ll bear watching. Never underestimate them.
Want to read more about the figure skaters who will compete at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi? Pick up Beverley Smith’s new book SKATING TO SOCHI! The book profiles the top 40 athletes/teams with full-colour photos! Order online: Amazon.com, Lulu.com (ebook) or iTunes (ebook).