New friends win gold, bronze

Yes, yes, Canada Winter Games medals are awesome, but once Justin Hampole and Stephen Gogolev were done on the ice, the young figure skaters were giddy about the nerf-gun war on their agenda later in the day at the Prince George Public Library.

That's how it is when you're tweens and at the top of the men's pre-novice figure skating world (Gogolev took gold, Hampole took bronze at Lakewood Dental Arena on Wednesday). They (along with silver medalist Samuel Turcotte, who was unavailable following the event) hold the nation's figure skating future on their young blades. They leaped and soared like super heroes on the ice, Gogolev was even costumed as Luke Sywalker as he performed to a classical music mashup called Cello Wars, but once they were done their youth shone through. Prince George's Hampole is 13; Gogolev is a new Canadian born in Russia but not yet 11 years old.

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"I went to see a sports psychologist who said having nerves before you perform is good, it means you care. So I guess I cared a lot," said Hampole.

Gogolev was more nervous with the interview process after the event than the on-ice performance. He could hardly form a full sentence for the gathered reporters, which only made the public fall in love with him all the more.

His biggest reaction came to the idea, since he portrayed Luke Skywalker, that maybe his head coach Brian Orser should go by the name Yoda from now on. "Nooooooooo," he said with a delighted grin, picturing the superstar coach with green skin and pointy ears.

Orser couldn't attend the Games in Prince George (he has several other coaching clients, including the most recent Canadian gold medalist, most recent European gold medalist and most recent Olympic gold medalist in different disciplines of the sport - now a CWG champ is on the list) but he did give Gogolev some parting advice the young padawan took to heart.

"He told me to not obsess with any jumps, any elements, just go for it," he said.

Gogolev added that, since he was the last skater and had resulting pressure of knowing a medal was within his grasp, he was nervous.

"I just wanted to skate a clean program," he said.

Hampole agreed that he had initial hopes of winning a medal but as the Games got closer he modified those to just get himself into the top five or six. If he scored higher than his personal best of 82.54 he would consider that a bonus. He got a whopping 91.88.

"I think what helped was not having expectations about placements, just keep my focus on my routine," he said. "The cheering was so loud - that really fuelled my performance."

Hampole was not staying at home, during the Games. He was at the Athletes' Village hotel like all his teammates. He admitted he was up until midnight the night before the free skate program, and nearly missed the morning bus to the rink, but once he was in his familiar environment at Lakewood Dental Arena he was all business.

Gogolev went to bed early and kept a lot to himself prior to the competition, but he was enjoying the other skaters his age, especially his pal Hampole whom he first met at the Skate Canada Challenge in Quebec a couple of months ago (Gogolev took gold and Hampole 15th at that event).

"We've gotten to know each other more at this competition," said Hampole.

"Usually, a competition is over quickly," Gogolev said.

"But here, it's longer, and you get to see people at the hotel and around the Athletes' Village," Hampole added.

The way the two boys performed in Prince George, and some of their other friends too, this same group of skaters could be hanging out under the Olympic flag sometime in the near future.

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