Sports

BACK IN THE BUILDING

Elvis (Stojko, that is) returns to the spotlight as a formidable kung fu fighter

JOHN INTINI August 1 2005
Sports

BACK IN THE BUILDING

Elvis (Stojko, that is) returns to the spotlight as a formidable kung fu fighter

JOHN INTINI August 1 2005

BACK IN THE BUILDING

Sports

Elvis (Stojko, that is) returns to the spotlight as a formidable kung fu fighter

JOHN INTINI

A BEEFY 190-LB. GOON, wearing a goalie mask and wielding a wooden club, moves in to dismantle Elvis Stojko. Flashbacks of the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal of ’94 spring to mind. But there’s a big difference. This figure skater can fight. Stojko deftly sidesteps an attempted strike, clips his attacker’s weapon with his own and slips in behind him, giving himself a clear shot at the back of his would-be assailant’s head. Then, right before exacting his revenge, he retracts—offering a wink, and an aside, to an

onlooker. “He’s lucky, we’re only training.”

That’s right, folks—Elvis is back in the building. It just happens that this time it’s the Céad Bua Fighting Arts Centre in Milton, Ont., where, instead of a figure-skating costume, Stojko is wearing a black muscle shirt and a pair of warmup pants. Here, under the tutelage of Glen Doyle, his sifri (teacher, in Cantonese) since 1989, Stojko is preparing for November’s world karate championships in Niagara, Falls, Ont. In May, he qualified at the nationals for two events—hand forms (the slashing palm) and weapons forms (double daggers). By doing so, the 33-year-old figure skating ninja instantly became one of Canada’s great twosport athletes.

Stojko left the amateur skating world behind in 2002 and, though he tries to get on the ice every day to keep fit, spends most of the year living out of a suitcase. He travels widely, appearing in shows and teaching both skating and kung fu around the world. He spends time with his long-time girlfriend, Jessica (he won’t reveal her surname) who is studying business in the U.S. But Stojko seems most at home in Doyle’s gym— where framed photos of him and other national team members hang on the wall like family portraits—even if he doesn’t always love the music selection. Tonight, Dropkick Murphys’ celtic punk pounds from a small stereo. Stojko prefers ’80s hair bands. “Sometimes Glen lets me crank the Scorpions,” he laughs, proving that you can never take the mullet out of the man.

Stranger still is his dream of being a rock star. “I have a demo disc of some covers

I’ve done—Creed, White Snake and White Lion,” says Stojko, who played a role in the stage production of Grease, starring Frankie Avalon, last year. “I’m planning to break in with a pop-rock album but then get into more adult contemporary stuff. You know, like Josh Groban.” It’s hard not to laugh, but considering his track record, it seems silly to argue. Who knows—maybe we’ll all be downloading his rock anthems from the Internet some day soon.

THREE years after leaving the world of skating, he’s competing in two events at the world karate championships

But first things first.

Stojko has never been secretive about his passion for the martial arts. He started taking karate lessons when he was 10 (he’s been skating since he was 4) and earned his black belt at 16. “My dad put me in karate because I was getting picked on a lot at school,” says Stojko, who stands five-footseven and weighs in at 170 lb. (about 10 lb. over his skating weight). “I only had to use it once. It was in Grade 9 and I’d had enough of this one guy so I grabbed him and threw him up against a locker with a hip throw and put my arm up against his throat. I was very shy, so people took notice. I didn’t have any problems after that.”

In 1994, he combined his sports passions when, with the help of Doyle, he built an

on-ice routine around the action in The Bruce Lee Story, which earned him his first world title, as well as a silver medal in Lillehammer, Norway. “I received a lot of faxes and letters from martial artists saying that they really appreciated what I’d done for the sport because I was authentic,” says Stojko, who plans to become asifu later this year. “I wasn’t a skater trying to apply martial arts. That would have been hokey. They could tell that I was a martial artist first.” But who knew he’d take his kung fu fighting this far? Well, Stojko certainly did. So did Doyle. “On the ice he was always confident, but when he started mastering the martial arts he became fearless. Nobody matched his focus,” says Doyle, who was recently selected as one of the national team coaches. “He’s bored when he’s not competing. That’s just his way. It’s what keeps him sharp.” Stojko credits much of his success to not ever getting completely wrapped up with one sport. In fact, next year, he’s thinking about getting more involved in motocross— a sport he’s loved since childhood. “I have a KTM-400 dirt bike and a BMW F 650 GS for off-roading,” he says. “I’ve been into bikes since I was 7 and into motor rebuilds and all that performance stuff since I was 12. Next year, I might jump into a couple of 10to 25-km races. The off-roading is tough. It’s all about river crosses and getting through tight trees and over rocks.”

But the consummate competitor admits that his “addiction to performance” has proven to be a challenge in the past. “As a teenager, I was so competitive that I had to stop trying to do everything,” he says. “I’d snap playing video games or lose it if I was beat at air hockey. I realized that if I didn’t watch it, I was going to have a heart attack before I was 20.” He chose to focus on two sports, but he has never managed to slow down. When he’s travelling, his unquenchable desire to be the best gets him out of

bed at 2 a.m. to run through his forms without distraction in the hotel parking lot.

Back in class, fellow national team member Rich de Borja (the guy who was in the hockey mask earlier) lets out a primal scream that reverberates off the gym’s concrete walls. Sweat pools around the athletes’ feet.

Outside, the humidity makes it feel like it’s 42°C. But that’s cool, compared to the blistering heat trapped inside the gym (Doyle doesn’t believe in ceiling fans, never

mind air conditioning). And yet, Stojko, eyes glazed over, is comfortably in his zone.

It’s this unwavering focus that turned the vertically challenged kid into a three-time world skating champion and two-time Olympic silver medallist. During the hourlong training session, Team Canada’s Mike Morris suffers a muscle cramp in his right leg and needs a quick breather, and at one point, de Borja hurries to the washroom, worried he might throw up. Meanwhile, Stojko is silent and nearly motionless, except to perform the required movements being barked out by Doyle. “Rich and I get in a mode where we want to rip something apart,” says Morris. “Elvis is much more stoic, controlled and relaxed.”

But like his teammates—who are considerably larger than he is—Stojko rarely flinches when Doyle kicks him in the back of his legs—a strength test repeated continuously during class. The Energizer Bunny on blades, who triple-lutzed his way into figureskating history, is now channelling everything inside. Even his breathing is perfectly measured. “Control your breathing and you control every part of your body,” he explains later. “That’s what the really good long distance runners do. I only focus on breathing. If not, the pain is going to get to you no matter what type of shape you’re in.”

When the workout ends, club members cool down by pouring water on each others’ heads. Some find a piece of wall to hold them up. Another collapses onto the rubber mat. Stojko, meanwhile, jumps up and down, shaking sweat from his hair. It seems like he’s just getting started.

“You alright, E-man?” Doyle asks.

“No problems,” says Stojko, cracking a smile. Then, without warning, he turns his game face back on, walks to one of the exits, and buries 20 explosive kicks with his sizenine sneakers into the building’s brick exterior. How can the wall stand a chance?