While soccer star Hope Solo was stumbling through her tango on "Dancing With the Stars" Monday night, another famous female athlete was gliding to victory in her own ballroom of sorts.
Tessa Bonhomme, an Ohio State graduate and member of Canada's 2010 Olympic champion women's hockey team, skated past her all-male competition to win Canada's on-ice version of DWTS, "Battle of the Blades." The show pairs hockey players with professional figure skaters, and requires them to perform figure skating programs in front of a live audience.
Bonhomme and partner David Pelletier, who won a 2002 Olympic gold medal in pairs skating, won the fan vote to capture the crown in the show's season three finale Monday night. Bonhomme was the first female hockey player to appear on the show, and she was a fan favorite from the outset.
With friends, family and teammates tuning in each week, Bonhomme fearlessly tackled the lifts, jumps and throws that are part of pairs skating. Her bravery is commendable considering that some contestants have suffered serious injuries in the past. Just last season, retired Montreal Canadien Georges Laraque needed 12 stitches above his eye when he was cut by his partner's skate during rehearsals.
"[Figure skating] is kind of addictive," admitted Bonhomme, whose day job as a defenseman requires a whole different skill set. "I always want to try to do something a little more difficult."
For those of us who remember the 1990s cult classic "The Cutting Edge" (which I've seen at least 50 times), the idea of a hockey player pairing up with a figure skater is just movie magic. But Bonhomme said the film is more fact than fiction.
She complained about the toe pick -- the jagged teeth on the front of figure skate blades. "It's always getting in the way!"
And just like Olympic hockey player-turned-figure skater Doug Dorsey did in the movie, Bonhomme suffered her share of toe pick-related falls.
"The fact that they had him walking around with ice bags everywhere," she said. "That's not an over-exaggeration. That is very realistic!"
Bonhomme said that she struggled at first to look soft and graceful while performing extremely difficult moves, but despite being used to what she called "brute force on ice," she says she wasn't criticized for a lack of femininity, an issue that has plagued Solo on DWTS. But, much like Solo, she has had to learn to "let go" during performances.
"I'm used to dictating what's going on the ice," she said. "Instead I have a partner who is leading me. And I'm used to having my gear on. I'm not used to skating around in basically a bathing suit."
Although the skating and the costumes took some getting used to, it is clear Bonhomme enjoyed her stint as a figure skating star. As she basked in the glow of victory Monday night, she gushed about what she called the ride of her life.
"It was exhilarating to face such an unknown challenge, and to be pushed so far outside of my comfort zone," she said. "Knowing that I was skating for two incredible causes gave me the drive to continue pushing our programs to the next level."
The victory earned $50,000 each for Bonhomme's charity, The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, and Pelletier's charity, Ronald McDonald House.
Bonhomme hopes female hockey players will continue to compete on the show so young girls in Canada will be exposed to a new set of heroines.
"I think this show is great for publicizing our sport in general," said the 26-year-old. "When I was younger I wish I had a woman hockey player to look up to. It wasn't until I was 12 or 13 that I did. I think if every kid could have that growing up and not only have the Wayne Gretzkys or the Sidney Crosbys or the Alexander Ovechkins to look up to, that'd be great."
With her stint on the show over, Bonhomme is back in hockey skates. She is currently training with the Toronto Fury, a club team for American and Canadian Olympic hopefuls who aren't playing with a college team.
She said she will miss her partner David and the thrill of performing a new trick, but she won't miss that darn toe pick.