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OTTAWA — Nam Nguyen said the challenge of trying to make the Beijing Olympic team this year felt like "walking up Mount Everest."
Nguyen and his Canadian figure skating teammates had been hit harder than most countries by COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions and they'd gone months without competitions.
Nguyen didn't qualify for Beijing, after contracting COVID-19 days before the Olympic trials.
The 24-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., considered sticking it out another season, but as the past few weeks wore on, he realized his heart was no longer fully in it. He announced his retirement on Friday.
"After nationals, I was very, very determined to do another season, and we were already in the kind of like planning mode," he said in a phone interview Friday. "And then give or take a few weeks, maybe a couple of months, my feeling shifted a lot, (to) this huge burnout feeling."
Nguyen took a break from skating, and didn't watch much of the Beijing Olympics nor the world championships.
"That's kind of when my body was first registering retirement, and I kind of meandered through the whole period until I think last week was when I officially called it, for retirement."
Nguyen captured gold at the 2014 world junior championships and went on to claim silver at Skate Canada International in 2019 and bronze at Skate America in 2015.
The world championships in Montreal in March of 2020 were one of the first international sporting events to be erased by the pandemic, and competitions were scarce for the Canadians until the Olympic trials. For most of the Canadian team, the Olympics were their first international event since the start of the pandemic.
Nguyen contracted COVID-19 just days before the Olympic trials in January. He finished sixth.
Figure skating can be gruelling even on good days, Nguyen said.
"It is ridiculous. As much as I love this sport, there's some aspects about it that are pretty transparent in how brutal it can be," Nguyen said. "Especially with COVID, and the pandemic and the way it affected Canadian skating, and the lack of events, it was tough for us to keep the momentum up to stay on par with the rest of the field internationally."
While there were more opportunities to compete this past season, he said, "I wasn't really up for it anymore, as much as I usually am. So, yeah, figure skating is tough in that department. When you're not feeling up for it, it can tumble down on you pretty quick."
Nguyen has been a staple on the Canadian skating scene since he performed as a youngster in the figure skating gala at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He was memorable for his big round Steve Urkel glasses and suspenders.
He won national titles at every age group: juvenile (2007) pre-novice (2008), novice (2009), junior (2011) and senior (2015, '19).
In 2011, when he was just 12, Nguyen defeated skaters seven years his senior to become the youngest person to win the Canadian junior title. The silver and bronze medallists towered over him on the medal podium.
"Nam is a prime example of skating development in Canada finding success at every level of skating. We are very proud of Nam and his journey, and we wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavours," said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada's high performance director.
Despite the past couple of frustrating seasons, Nguyen said he leaves with few regrets.
"I'll always identify myself as a Canadian figure skater. That's not something that I will regret leaving," he said. "It's the actual processes that I've gone through with the people around me and the adventures that kind of have shaped my career and who I am, that's what I'll miss the most."
He plans to take a break from skating and put some distance between himself and the sport. He said it's unlikely he'll lace on figure skates for at least a few months. Instead, he's coaching power skating to hockey players, and hopes he's also imparting some of what it takes to be an elite athlete on the young players.
"Who knows, maybe further down the line, I'll rediscover my joy for figure skating, and probably do something in that world," he said.
He also plans to return to York University in the fall and finish his health science degree.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press