Ottawa-born figure skater Paul Parkinson makes Olympic debut for Italy
Paul Bonifacio Parkinson of Italy competes in the men's team short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP / Vadim Ghirda)
Published Thursday, February 6, 2014 1:33PM EST
SOCHI, Russia -- The first Canadian to compete Thursday in the Olympic team figure skating event at the Iceberg Skating Palace wore Armani and a big smile.
Ottawa-born Paul Bonifacio Parkinson, representing Italy, had an up-and-down skate but was still beaming after making his Olympic debut.
"It was so surreal out there," he said. "Especially sharing the warmup group with (Russian star Evgeni Plushenko). I could really feel that energy in the building. I mean I'm adding this to my experience list. Just being out there with an Olympic champion ... It's an experience I know I'll never forget."
Parkinson, who turns 23 on Feb. 16, divides his training between Colorado Springs, Colo., and Barrie, Ont., where he works with famed coach Doug Leigh. He qualifies to compete for Italy because his mother was born there and he holds dual citizenship.
Wearing dark pants with gold brocade and a green shirt, Parkinson had a rough time in the warmup with several tumbles during jumps.
But he took to the ice bravely, with a facial expression that seemed to channel British singer Robbie Williams.
"I started the program and I thought I'm going to have fun out here. This is an experience to remember. And I looked right into the TV camera and I was just as intense as I could be," he said with a laugh.
But there were falls on a scheduled quadruple Salchow-triple toe loop combination and his triple Axel when the program started for real to the strains of 'Wolfgang's 5th Symphony" by Wolfgang Gartner.
Parkinson's joy at becoming an Olympian was slightly tempered by the mistakes. He was last in the 10-man field with 53.94 points.
Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu led the men's short program, followed by Plushenko and Canada's Patrick Chan.
The three-day team event features a male, female, pairs and ice dance couple from each country.
"I am a little disappointed by the performance today," Parkinson said. "But I can't be too upset with myself because I fought throughout that program. I was off the hip on the Lutz (his last jump) and I said 'I need to get a combo in, I need to get a combo in."
"I pushed the spin levels up. Regardless of the errors on the quad and the Axel, I said 'Finish the program. Every point counts."'
He finished on a high note, hitting a triple Lutz-double toe loop.
"When I took off, I said 'I'm not letting this one go' and I fought for it."
Parkinson started skating at the age of 10 with the Nepean Figure Skating Club and moved to Colorado at 16 to train. He won a silver medal at the 2009 Canadian junior championships before electing to represent Italy.
Having made the switch, he gradually rose up the Italian senior ladder, finishing fourth in 2010 and '11, third in 2012 and first in 2013.
Parkinson, who speaks some Italian but is not yet fluent, placed 23rd in the 2014 European championship and was 33rd at the 2013 world championship.
With his parents in the stands, Parkinson had at least two countries cheering for him. More if you count the supportive messages from French, British and other skaters he has got to know.
He still has the men's individual competition ahead of him at Sochi. "This (team competition) moment I can use as I continue to build."
In the spring, he usually visits Ottawa and Italy where he and Tom Zakrajsek, another of his coaches, look to help the Italian skating scene.
"It's been really beneficial," he said of competing for Italy. "I've gotten lots of opportunities to compete internationally."
Away from the ice, he has savoured the Olympic experience here.
"It's more than I ever imagined it to be ... Just being surrounded by all these great athletes, it's so inspiring."
And thanks to the Italian sense of style, he looks good doing it.
"Armani did our team gear. I got a lot of great clothing."