Spectacular rise of teenage figure skaters – Winnipeg Free Press

Not in their wildest dreams, Winnipeg teenagers Ava Kemp and Yohnatan (Yoni) Elizarov imagined they would step onto the podium at their first international competition in Latvia earlier this month – just 14 months after trying pair figure skating for the first time.

In two weeks, the rookies will have the chance to do it again in Poland.

“They had a lot of nerves before and during the warm-up (for the short program), but when the music started they settled in pretty well,” said their trainer Kevin Dawe, reflecting on the duo’s Grand Prix debut. Junior ISU in Riga.

Ava Kemp and Yohnatan Elizarov work on their routine at the Dakota Community Center. (Mike Deal/Winnipeg Free Press)

“They were much calmer for their long program. They just had to finish that first outing and be done with it.

With just one major error in two performances, 14-year-old Kemp and 18-year-old Elizarov scored 124.73 for the silver medal.

“We weren’t expecting much from our first international competition. We didn’t really know what to expect, but after (we placed second) on the court, we felt pretty confident,” said Kemp, who enjoys high lifts and the power she feels when throwing. landing throw jumps with the help of a partner.

Fellow Canadians Ashlyn Schmitz and Tristan Taylor, coached by former Winnipegger and senior men’s competitor David Schultz in Regina, won bronze (113.40), while an American couple took gold (137.23) in the second of four sculls events in the Grand Prix series.

“It’s very hard to believe. I think we had about 15 points in total on our personal best. It was a big, big competition,” said Elizarov, a junior-level singles competitor who actually considered quitting the sport last year as pandemic restrictions eased.

Ultimately, he was persuaded to try pair skating.

“We have worked hard. We have worked very hard, especially this summer. It was the hardest we’ve ever worked in skating,” said Israeli-born Elizarov, whose mother figure skated as a child in her native Russia.

The hard work will continue as they prepare for their second Grand Prix assignment. They plan to increase the technical difficulty by upgrading their double throw salchow to a triple and increasing the difficulty level of their lifts and death spirals. Refining the performance side of the scoring equation is also on their to-do list for Poland.

Dawe notes that they will face a formidable field in Gdansk with four experienced pairs from Europe, Australia and the United States considered favorites for the podium.

Given that three of these teams placed in the top 10 at the world junior championships last season, the coach and the skaters recognize that it will be difficult for them to win a second medal and qualify for the prestigious final. of the Grand Prix in Italy in December.

Still, Kemp and Elizarov intend to push their limits in Poland, knowing that they have already achieved the minimum technical marks required to compete in the 2023 World Junior Championships thanks to their quality performances in Riga. (A top-three spot at the Canadian Championships in early January would likely seal the deal for their spot on the World Team.)

If the final in Italy is not scheduled, the duo will instead face off in their own backyard at Seven Oaks Arena where the Skate Canada Challenge, the qualifying event for the Canadian championships, takes place.

Ava Kemp and Yohnatan Elizarov work on their routine at the Dakota Community Center. (Mike Deal/Winnipeg Free Press)

Kemp and Elizarov have each shown promise on the national stage as singles competitors, which has given them a solid foundation for their adventure as a couple. The game clicked during a two-month trial last year in Regina where they learned the basics under Schultz’s tutelage.

Within months, they won both the 2022 Skate Canada Challenge and the title of Canadian Novice Champion. This summer, they were named to the Skate Canada National Junior Team.

To accommodate the demanding competitions and travel schedule this season, which will see both partners continue to compete in singles and pairs, Kemp transitioned to home schooling after completing his 8th year at Beliveau College. Elizarov, a Vincent Massey graduate, has postponed his studies in computer science at the University of Manitoba until the winter semester.

The two train 25 hours a week, splitting their on-ice sessions between the Jonathan Toews Sportsplex and the Winnipeg Winter Club. Daily strength and conditioning workouts as well as dance and acting classes are also on the schedule.

Since initiating their partnership, Kemp and Elizarov have traveled to Mississauga, Ontario every few months to work with experienced couples coach Andrew Evans. They also skated there last summer and connect regularly with Evans via Zoom to tweak elements of the pairing while training in Winnipeg.

Dawe, who works full-time as a physician assistant at CancerCare Manitoba, hasn’t been shy about enlisting the expertise of other coaches and technical specialists as he and his longtime students venture into uncharted waters. for them.

As a youth, Dawe trained as a singles skater in Barrie, Ontario with Doug Leigh, the legendary coach who guided Brian Orser and Elvis Stojko to the top of the sport.

Now Dawe is dedicated to helping Kemp and Elizarov reach for the stars.

The pairs event in Poland on October 6-7 will be streamed live on the International Skating Union (ISU) YouTube channel youtube.com/user/ISUJGP2011. Videos are also archived for on-demand viewing.

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