McDermott looks a jump ahead

Mike Rowbottom reports from the National Ice Skating Championships at Basingstoke
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The best of Britain's junior women skaters took to the ice here yesterday as the National Championships got underway. Some were as young as 14. Or, if you are talking in world terms, as old.

"In England, we tend to think our skaters are young at 13 or 14," Sally Stapleford, president of the National Ice Skating Association, said. "But in other countries skaters of that age are already establishing themselves internationally. Unless our skaters are landing the occasional triples at junior level it is going to be very hard for them to do well."

The majority of jumps tried during yesterday's short programme were single or double axels, but the leader going into today's concluding long programme, Kelly McDermott, appears to fulfil Stapleford's criteria. Despite a relatively late start in the sport at the age of 10, McDermott is one of the few British juniors to be knocking out triple toes and triple loops on a regular basis and at the age of 14 - relatively speaking - she still has time on her side.

McDermott, who also competes in the senior events starting tomorrow, learned her skating at a rink 10 minutes walk from her home in East Kilbride. The ice is set in the middle of a shopping precinct. "I'm used to people watching me all the time," she said. "Sometimes they shout at you when you fall over," she added with an elfin grin. At other times, they applaud.

And the end result, noticeable here, was that East Kilbride's skaters project to the audience. Good practice - even if the audience yesterday numbered less than 100.

Although the sport is still looking for the funding to create a national centre, Stapleford does not believe, however, in placing too much emphasis on facilities. She points to the recent achievements of Russian and Ukrainian skaters, who have won Olympic titles despite economic crises. "They have coped with tremendous hardships," she said. "Boots falling apart. Bad eyes. Yet they produce the results. You won't get anywhere unless the ruthlessness and determination is there."

A message in the programme from Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean underlines Stapleford's point: "We remember all too clearly the early morning training sessions in cold and damp surroundings and the times you lie in bed and think 'Do I really want to skate today?' "

Such thoughts, it must be admitted, have occasionally troubled Roselle Soussana, a 17-year-old from Lightwater for whom training sessions at the Oxford rink where her coach resides have meant 4am wake-up times.

Her sporting life was much easier in Canada, where she skated from the age of six before emigrating two years ago. "In Canada, training on the ice is an every day thing," she said.