This week: Newsmakers

The Pope’s surprise move, Russia’s Mata Hari makes her prime-time debut, and the queen of all TV revels

Ed Stelmach

Rick Macwilliam/Edmonton Journal

The greatest skate
To say Patrick Chan blew away the competition as he skated to his fourth straight national men’s title is a gross understatement. It was, according to the Vancouver Sun, “inarguably the greatest skate ever by a Canadian.” Chan didn’t so much as wobble as he laid out two back-to-back quads—the calling card of the sport’s greats—and went on to shatter the world record score for a male skater. “Brian Orser? Kurt Browning? Elvis Stojko? All great on any number of days,” wrote Cam Cole. “None as great as Chan was, on this one.” The spellbound crowd in Victoria brought down the house as Chan, finally, slowed to a stop. “That was the reaction I wanted at the Olympics,” said the Toronto native. “That’s what I dreamed about every night when I went to bed. And I finally got it.”

Attack of the former presidents
The dust has barely settled after former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier’s arrival in Haiti, and another name from the country’s past is attempting a return to the homeland. Former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who’s been living in exile in South Africa since being forced from office in a 2004 coup, is eager to return, he said this week, to serve his “Haitian sisters and brothers as a simple citizen in the field of education.” “Baby Doc” Duvalier, meanwhile, whose lavish life in exile in France was abruptly halted by a pricey divorce, says he’s returned “to help”—not, as is widely suspected, to lay claim to a frozen Swiss bank account. Now that he’s there, investigators are building a fresh case against him over the alleged theft of $120 million—what they describe as a “gigantic fraud . . . from one of the poorest populations on Earth.”

Alas, poor Andy
British PM David Cameron’s embattled communications chief Andy Coulson stepped down on Friday amid continued questions about his possible involvement in the illegal hacking of celebrity voice messages when he was editor of the News of the World—making him, as Britain’s Independent cheekily reported, “the first person in history to resign twice for something of which he knew nothing.” In lesser political disgraces, a British MP was interrupted mid-speech by his own musical tie, whose tinny tune was picked up by his mike. Baffled MPs hunted for the source, until Tory backbencher Nad­him Zahawi realized who was to blame. “I apologize,” he said. “It is my tie to support the campaign against bowel cancer.” “Perhaps next time the honourable gentleman will be more selective in the ties he wears in the chamber,” said deputy speaker Dawn Primarolo.

Opera and Patricia (Courtesy of CTV)

A sister act to beat all sister acts
After a cliffhanger tease, Oprah fans were treated on Monday to the queen of all TV reveals: they met the long-lost half-sister of Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey’s mom, Vernita Lee, had put Patricia up for adoption shortly after her birth without ever telling Oprah, then nine. Patricia has known about her famous sibling since 2007. Yet, said Oprah, she “never once thought to go to the press.” The “miracle of miracles” surfaced, yes, almost miraculously, as some critics have noted, just as Oprah launches OWN, her new TV network.

Kin Clijsters
Kin Clijsters (George Burns/AP)

Now that’s a return
Even if she doesn’t win the Australian Open, Kim Clijsters won’t soon be forgotten by tennis fans Down Under. Last week, in a delicious moment of live TV, Clijsters called out ex-Aussie pro Todd Woodbridge. “So you thought I was pregnant,” said the 28-year-old champ, making Woodbridge, now a colour commentator, go beet red. Twisting the knife a little deeper, she quoted from a text he’d sent doubles champ Rennae Stubbs: “she looks really grumpy and her boobs are bigger!” “I saw him walk out there,” Clijsters later said, “and I thought, ‘okay, I’m going to get him back now.’ ”

Ed Stelmach
Ed Stelmach (Rick Macwilliam/Edmonton Journal)

And he’s out
Premier Ed Stelmach shocked Albertans by announcing he will not run in the province’s next general election. Stelmach, 59, will govern until he formally resigns as Progressive Conservative leader at “a further date.” Stelmach was elliptical about his reasons for quitting, but admitted he is unlikely to run a surplus in the 2012 budget, as he intended. His common touch saw him win 72 of Alberta’s 83 seats in 2008’s election, but controversies over oil royalties and health care centralization were followed by the rise in polls of a right-wing schismatic party, the Wildrose Alliance, led by Danielle Smith. Stelmach may be buying time for a successor; he noted at his press conference the next election legally need not happen before March 2013.

Swimming with the Sharks
UBC Thunderbirds goalie Jordan White got an emergency NHL call on Thursday, after the visiting San Jose Sharks’ backup netminder Antero Niittymaki injured his groin at a morning skate. When the Sharks realized they couldn’t get their third stringer to Vancouver in time for their game against the Canucks, they signed the T-Birds star to a one-day amateur tryout. Just before the puck drop, superstar Joe Thornton asked “the kid” if he had anything to say to the Sharks. The 22-year-old leapt from his stall and said: “Make sure you clear the shooting lanes for [Antti] Niemi, block a lot of shots and play hard!” After the Sharks knocked off the Canucks 2-1, winger Devin Setoguchi passed around a hat, collecting a few hundred bucks for the engineering student, who couldn’t be paid, according to NHL rules. White also got to keep his No. 35 game-worn jersey and the official score sheet. “Fantastic,” said the Surrey, B.C., native, when asked to sum up his experience.

Anna Chapman
Jens Kalaene/DPA/Keystone Press Agency

Yes, we heard you’re good at that
Russian ex-spy Anna Chapman premiered her new TV show, Secrets of the World, this week. The flame-haired 28-year-old has become a national icon in her homeland; since being deported from the U.S., she’s posed in black lace lingerie for Maxim Russia, waved off cosmonauts at a space launch, become the celebrity face of a Moscow bank, and assumed a high-profile role with the Young Guard, the pro-Kremlin youth party. On the show, she will attempt to solve unexplained phenomena, like a baby with skin marks said to resemble Quranic verses. “I’m Anna Chapman,” she begins, pouting into the camera, “and I’ll reveal all the secrets.”

The crooked blue line
B.C.’s RCMP has withstood a series of black eyes in recent years: the in-custody death of 22-year-old Ian Bush, who was shot in the back of the head, the death of tasered Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski and, most recently, the vicious kick to 51-year-old Buddy Tavares’s face by a Kelowna RCMP officer, caught on film, which has fuelled an anti-police backlash. What the embattled force didn’t need then was news, last week, that Burnaby Mountie Derrick Holdenried had been charged with theft for allegedly stealing money from a community policing office.

Fantasy fulfilled
Football’s best comeback this season doesn’t belong to Michael Vick, but an unemployed homeless man who beat three million players to claim ESPN’s fantasy football championship. After an accident left him unable to work and a rat infestation drove him and his family into a motel, Nathan Harrington of Salem, Mass., poured all of his energy into his team. The 33-year-old relied on computers at the library, even at his dad’s nursing home. “My fantasy football was the one thing that kind of seemed to be going right,” he told the Salem News. “So I thought I might as well stick with it. Thank God I did.” He won a $3,500 gift certificate to Best Buy, which he sold to his mom for $2,500 so he can move his family into a new apartment.

Music so bad it scares off wolves
Thirteen-year-old Walter Eikrem was walking home from his bus stop in rural Norway, listening to music, when he came upon a pack of wolves. His love of the band Creed may, it seems, have saved his life. Eikrem ripped the headphones out of his MP3 player and cranked up the volume on its speakers, shouting and flailing his arms. “The worst thing you can do is run away,” he told Norway’s TV2. “But I was so afraid that I couldn’t even run away if I’d wanted to.”

Pope Benedict
Pope Benedict XVI

No more going medieval
Pope Benedict XVI has named the new head of the Vatican’s scientific advisory body, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and it’s a bit of a surprise. Werner Arber is a Swiss microbiologist, which would make him a perfectly reasonable candidate. But he is also a Protestant—the first non-Catholic to head the body, which was designed to keep the Church abreast of the latest scientific findings, and to help it avoid past mistakes such as, well, the condemnation of Galileo. Arber notes the Church no longer adheres to a literal interpretation of the creation story, but the academy, he admits, avoids certain “taboo” subjects like abortion and contraception.