SAINT JOHN, N.B. — Some of Canada's top figure skaters were stranded in New Brunswick by weather this week, scrambling to find a way home and suffering some less-than-graceful routines on the ice- and rain-covered streets of Saint John.
"It was like a luge run at the Olympics," said 72-year-old Debbi Wilkes, the 1964 Olympic silver medallist in pairs.
The city was blasted Sunday by a major winter storm that left streets and sidewalks slick with ice, and many roads flooded. Many flights were cancelled, and skating stars and officials packed hotel bars and restaurants to commiserate.
Wilkes was with former singles skater Ted Barton when they left Harbour Station, the arena that hosted the national skating championships, on Sunday night.
Both work for Skate Canada and were heading back to their hotel but had to abandon their vehicle at a gas station when conditions became too difficult.
Wilkes said they asked a young couple in a pick-up truck for a ride, but that only got them partway as police had blocked the road because of flooding.
That's when they made the ill-fated decision to try to walk the rest of the way, quickly finding themselves unable to stay upright.
"Ted was on knees and hands, and then I did a triple Axel, and he's hanging onto me, and the water was all around, like we were in the middle of Niagara Falls. It was ridiculous," Wilkes said.
"I had on my fake fur coat and it was like a sponge, and it took me all day to dry it out today. Ted said he'd never seen me do the backstroke before," she said, laughing.
Barton said they were a real sight.
"She's laying in the water, I'm holding her with my left hand and I'm holding her purse with my right hand as she slides down the driveway. It was made for television, I can tell you that," he joked.
The pair were able hail a passing Jeep and got back to their hotel.
Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada's high performance director, said he had a treacherous walk back to his hotel after dinner with about a dozen coaches and Skate Canada staff, because the pedway system had been closed, and the wait for a cab was more than two hours.
"It was just so slippery because it was impossible to even find traction on the side of the road, it was just a sheet of ice, and it was all downhill which didn't really help matters. It was more laughs than anything, but I can't imagine being on the road driving at that time," he said.
For others, the big issue has been rescheduling flights home that were cancelled by the storm.
Kirsten Moore-Towers — who won gold in pairs with Michael Marinaro — was originally due to fly out of Saint John Monday morning, but the flight was cancelled.
"Air Canada told me the only option we had was to wait until Wednesday because there had been so many cancellations. We did not want to wait until Wednesday," she said.
Instead, they opted for an 11 a.m. flight out of Moncton and found someone to drive them and another pair team to that airport, 90 minutes away, once the highway reopened.
"He picked us up at 7 a.m. to drive us here, and about halfway through the drive we got a notification our flight was cancelled again," she said.
They managed to get booked on another flight at 7 p.m. Monday, and spent the day at the Moncton airport.
"Luckily we found some friends here. Andrew Poje was here. Kaetlyn Osmond was here. Keegan Messing was here. So we've had quite the day here, playing cards," she said Monday.
At least the storm hit after the championships, Moore-Towers said.
"We're not sure what would have happened if nobody could get in to do the competition. So, I suppose it is the better of the two options," she said.
— By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton and Lori Ewing in Saint John.
The Canadian Press