Elladj Balde taking a bow

At first glance, you notice Elladj Balde’s great sense of style and as a person who needs ‘Garanimal’ tags to put my clothing together, my admiration for him might have stopped there. Fortunately, I have already gotten to know Elladj so I know there is lots more to him than meets the eye.

On the skating side, Elladj is healthy. The fact that he has persevered through some devastating injuries is testament to his dedication. A couple of years back, in a fluke, his right blade got tangled up in the boards resulting in a knee injury so severe that he required surgery. The re-build of his knee meant using one of the three tendons behind his knee which means occasional stiffness in the hamstring. Elladj says a quick massage provides relief.

His short program this year is the same brilliant Flamenco-inspired program from last year. He never got the chance to put it out there the way he would have liked. Mind you – I am not sure that anyone could have with the herniated disc that plagued Elladj last season.

Once again, the fact that he has pushed through where lesser men would have thrown in the towel is impressive. The truth is he is strong enough that Skate Canada felt confident in recently naming him to the Skate Canada International men’s team.

His optimism is infectious and he talks about helping Alissa Csizny as she finds her feet again after surgery. They are part of the same group of elite skaters being trained by Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen in Detroit.

“I know what it’s like to come back from injury. I took a picture of Alissa’s foot stepping on the ice for the first time. Although our surgeries weren’t the same I feel good that I can help her by sharing my experience.”

Skaters helping each other is part of what makes the sport so special. It is also what Elladj is really enjoying about his training routine in Detroit.  “It works for me because it (Detroit) offered everything I needed as a skater to reach my goals.”

I learned a new term today: dubstep – the style of music for Elladj’s free program.  Dubstep (/?d?bst?p/) is a genre of electronic dance music that originated in South LondonEngland. The music website Allmusic has described its overall sound as “tightly coiled productions with overwhelming bass lines and reverberant drum patterns, clipped samples, and occasional vocals” (Wikipedia) This isn’t just a new genre of music, it has inspired a new style of dance.

Michael Seibert was at Elladj’s rink for choreography for Adam Rippon. Playing over the loudspeaker was Dubstep music. Michael noticed the way Elladj was moving and suggested he use it to skate to. It wasn’t easy to do and Elladj turned to Hugo Chouinard for help in cutting the music. The challenge was using Dubstep for a full  4:40 would have been too much of a good thing. The solution was to take a classical version of Moonlight Sonata and lay it on top. Cool.

“Nothing has ever been done in figure skating like this before. I always want to try for new and different things.” Elladj goes on to say “I am a performer and I want to be able to entertain and bring the audience into my skating.”

He isn’t just an entertainer – Elladj is a thoughtful type. “I am a deep thinker. I recently read a book called The Alchemist. That’s what i think about my life. What I believe is what I can create for myself.”

His short-term goals are to make it on to the podium at Nationals and to go to Worlds. The Sochi 2014 Olympics are just 17 months away and are what he has his heart set on: “I breathe, I train everything I do is for Sochi. I have never worked so hard. This is what I want and is the only thing I am doing in my life right now.”

“During the season, I skate, eat, sleep, skate. I love doing it. Some people might see it as boring but it’s what I want to do. People always talk about the sacrifices. I don’t see this as sacrifices for what I want.”

I can only imagine what competing at the Olympics in Russia would mean to Elladj. His Russian mother and West African father met there. Elladj was born there. It would be pretty powerful.

I get the feeling that family means a lot to him. As an aside, I asked Elladj about a silver dogtag necklace that he was wearing. He said it was for his sister Djulde who died of leukemia when she was 7.  At the time, Elladj was 10 months old and they were in Germany. On her tombstone are the words : “An angel is always watching over you.”

He is designing a tattoo he is planning for one shoulder to honour his sister’s memory. He is planning on an image of Djulde with angel’s wings holding an infant Elladj. He also is going to incorporate elements to represent his two younger sisters Djoulia 19 and Catherine 17.

Maybe it is Elladj who is equally an angel?

If you want to connect with Elladj, here are the ways:

Visit his business web page at:  www.elladj.balde.myvi.net or his skating page: www.elladjbalde.ca or on Twitter @elladjbalde.