Ice dancers impress at Grand Prix

Taking their ice dance on the road presented different challenges for a pair of Burnaby-based duos at last week’s International Skating Union (ISU) Junior Grand Prix in Minsk.
Skaters Ashlynne Stairs and Lee Royer and Nina Mizuki and Veniamins Volskis entered the competition from opposite vantage points but exited having achieved some important goals, coach Megan Wing said.
Stairs and Royer, seasoned veterans with four previous chances to represent Canada, posted the fourth-best mark at the Belarus-hosted competition and came within 16 points of the bronze with their best showing yet.
For Mizuki and Volskis, the end game was to gain valuable experience in their debut with the Canadian team, and they did that by placing 12th overall.
“(Stairs and Royer) were aiming top-five and potentially (medals), but we knew it would be a bit of a stretch,” remarked Wing, with elite competitors Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko of the U.S. leading a strong field. “They skated well in both portions (short and free dances) of the event. It was quite a strong competition, and I was quite pleased with their performance in both and I think they skated better than the previous event.”
In both, Stairs and Royer finished fourth. Placing ahead of them for silver and bronze were Russian ice dancing teams Anastasia Skoptcova/Kirill Aleshin and Arina Ushakova/Maxim Nekrasov.
Stairs, a Grade 12 student at Burnaby Central, and Royer improved on last month’s showing at the ISU Junior Grand Prix Cup in Austria, where they placed fifth. A year ago they finished seventh and fifth, respectively, at Grand Prix assignments in France and Slovenia.
As Canadian junior silver medallists, the Alberta natives continue to show progression, which has coaches Wing and partner Aaron Lowe very pleased.
“I think without us saying anything, every year they want to do better and do better. You made the junior world team last year and you want to do it again,” said Wing. “I think they also put expectations on themselves. We want to make sure they stay realistic, but they are not ones we have to push to work hard. They are pretty good hard workers.”
The duo have skated together for nearly four years with Burnaby-based Champs International Skating Centre of B.C.
The newer team of Mizuki and Volskis, meanwhile, faced an understandable bout of nerves before their first international audience. They stood ninth after the short dance, and placed 12th overall after the free dance.
“They didn’t skate their best; they were pretty nervous, shaky and excited, but that’s kind of to be expected,” said Wing. “It was an eye opener for them to see, ‘Oh that’s what they’ve been asking us to do.’ It’s always different when you’re at an international event – the standard you are looking for.”
Both 16 years old and classmates at Burnaby Central, the pair gained valuable experience skating for Canada. Mizuki, originally from Japan, and Latvian-born Volskis continue to develop on-ice chemistry and build on last year’s fifth-place
result in the novice category of the Canadian Tire national championships.
Prior to turning to ice dancing, Volskis placed fifth as a pre-novice at the 2013 Skate Canada Challenge.
“They struggled their first year, just with language and being young and not really knowing how to work with somebody else. Now they get along great and I hear they sit side-by-side in math class together, so there is obviously a friendship, a camaraderie, which makes travelling to compete so much easier.
“They have a lot of talent, a lot of potential. We’ll see if they can reach that.”
Going forward, the goal is to build on what each team has achieved. Up next for both is the Autumn Leaves skate in Chilliwack and the provincials in November. Other international assignments are up in the air.
Wing said the past week – and this week for senior dancers Haley Sales and Nik Wamsteeker, who compete in Germany with Lowe in attendance – is great exposure and another layer of competition. But it’s always neat to see a new team tackle that first foreign competition, as well as all the experiences that come with representing Canada.
“It’s very exciting for them. They get Team Canada jackets when they make the team and to see the pride – it comes in the mail – so Nina and Veniamins got them this year, they were wearing them every day and you see that excitement. It was pretty awesome,” added Wing.


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A strong showing at the 2017 ISU Autumn Classic International meet in Montreal put Burnaby's Sarah Tamura in 11th place last week.

The 16-year-old student of Champs International Skating Centre of B.C. and coach Joanne McLeod posted the 11th-best mark in the free skate, and 12th in the short program. Canadian 2017 world silver medallist Kaetlyn Osmond finished first.

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