By Keith Lacey
When Elvis leaves the building, Sudbury's Jeffrey Buttle hopes to become the next king of Canadian figure skating.
As a matter of fact if the rumours are true and Canada's reigning king of men's figure skating, Elvis Stojko, retires from amateur skating following the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, Buttle will be off to his first world championships, set for March in Nagano, Japan.
Buttle earned that right by placing a strong third at the recent Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Hamilton, which he followed up with a first-place finish at the Four Continents championship in Korea a couple of weeks ago.
At the prestigious NHK championships in Japan late last year, Buttle showed the world he was ready for big things by placing second against a top field, including many of the world's top 10 skaters.
Buttle's ascension to number 14 in the world has surprised many, but he showed several years ago he had plenty of talent by finishing second in the Canadian junior championships at age 15.
It takes years of dedication and hard work to become a world-class skater. Buttle is thrilled the hard work he's put in the past few years is starting to pay off in a big way.
"I felt this year would be a big year for me, but to be honest things have turned out better than I could ever have imagined," said Buttle, in a phone interview from his Barrie home.
"The biggest thing this year has been consistency...I used to have one strong program and follow that up with a terrible program. This year I've turned in several strong performances at some major competitions and my confidence is really high now."
Buttle, who just turned 19 in September, played hockey as a young boy, but switched to figure skating at age seven in Kapuskasing.
His father Peter, an electrical engineer, often switched jobs and cities. Jeffrey skated for several different clubs around northeastern Ontario.
At age 14, his family moved to Sudbury and he joined the Sudbury Skating Club under head coach Wendy Philion. Buttle still considers her one of his mentors.
Even though Buttle trains at the prestigious national training facility Mariposa School of Skating in Barrie, he regularly returns to Sudbury to visit friends and skate under Philion's watchful eye.
In Barrie, he's coached by two of Canada's top coaches, Lee Barkell and Doug Leigh, who happens to be Stojko's coach and coach to several of the country's top skaters.
Despite living in so many cities, Buttle considers Sudbury home because he really enjoyed living here and "this is where I really learned to skate."
Buttle is currently enrolled at the University of Toronto in chemical engineering.
At the 2002 nationals, Buttle wowed a capacity crowd at Copps Coliseum landing six triples in his long program, which placed him behind only Stojko and moved him from fifth after the short program to third behind Emanuel Sandhu and Stojko.
With Sandhu suffering an injury that might prevent him from competing in Salt Lake City, there was speculation Buttle could be his replacement.
However, Buttle has not reached the Canadian Olympic Association (COA) standard of finishing in the top six in two sanctioned Grand Prix events and will not be going to the upcoming Olympics under any circumstances contrary to the rumours.
While he won't be at this year's Olympics, Buttle leaves no doubt his biggest goal is to represent Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.
"Certainly the Olympics four years from now is my biggest goal," he said.
"I also think I have a chance to become a national champion maybe as soon as next year and competing in the world championships as soon as I can is another goal."
In order to reach those goals, Buttle, like all other top competitors, must be able to land the infamous "quad" or quadruple jump in competition.
He's been working on landing a quad all year and believes heÂ?s very close and will be able to do it early next season.
Without the support of his father and mother, Lesley, Buttle said he'd never have been able to join skating's elite.
"They're not only my No. 1 supporters financially, but my biggest fans," he said.
"My parents have never been ones to push me in this sport. They've always said as long as I'm having fun, they'll be there with the financial and emotional support."
Dad Peter couldn't be prouder of Jeffrey's tremendous performance.
"He's certainly had a tremendous year," he said. "It just seems like everything has come together at once."
Reaching his goals of competing in the 2006 Olympics and world championships are now legitimate and attainable goals, Peter said.
"If he stays focused and gives 100 per cent on and off the ice, and injuries don't become a serious problem, there's no reason heÂ?s not going to get a lot better," he said. "His goals are definitely within reach."
His coach thinks the sky is the limit for Buttle because he works so hard and is a natural athlete with tremendous ability.
"He's made a statement he's ready to compete with the best there is and that says a lot when you're only 19," said Leigh.
While he's joined the upper echelon of skaters, Leigh admits Buttle will have to add a quad jump to his arsenal and make his already difficult program more polished to rise further next season.
Without a doubt, Buttle will challenge Sandhu to become national champion in 2003, and this will earn him an automatic spot at 2003 worlds, said Leigh.
His long-term goals to be an Olympian and maybe world champion aren't unreasonable considering his age, talent and work ethic, said Leigh.
Canadian figure skating fans are sure to join him on that journey.