Sheffield was host to one of the qualifying competitions for British Nationals last week, (August 24th-27th). Skaters got to debut their programs and for many, it was also their first competition since the end of 2019.
Ice rinks were one of the sporting venues hit hardest by lockdown closures back in 2020. Despite being an Olympic sport, rinks were classified in the ‘leisure’ category by the government after the first lockdown, and then got changed to ‘entertainment’ after the second – both essentially meaning that they couldn’t open and that many athletes couldn’t train. In November 2020, the governing bodies were still fighting with the government to allow all rinks to open. Other sports were able to resume training by late 2020.
The British National Championships, due to be held in December 2020, were cancelled in July and skaters went the 2020-21 season without any competitions being held domestically.
Winning by a 5 point lead was Kristen Spours.
She skated a clean short program to ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Yo Soy Maria’ but unfortunately had a slightly messier outing with her free program, set to ‘The Show Must Go On’ and ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’ from Moulin Rouge, including a popped double axel and a fall on her triple flip.
Reflecting back on the competition, Spours said, “Both programs were personal bests for me, so obviously that was a big win. The short program felt really strong, I think I put out a solid performance. The free program was not quite as strong but it’s very early in the season to be running free programs so I was happy with where I was, versus where we’d be planning to be in the season.”
Both programs are repeated from last season and were created in France with former coach Florent Amodio. “The short program was actually created 2 years ago, and then it never really got shown and I just clicked with it. It’s a really strong program so that’s why I kept it. The free program we created during COVID, and then I left France and it’s kinda been redesigned a lot.”
Amodio chose the short program music whilst Spours chose the free music adding, “I wanted to do Moulin Rouge and we actually created a whole different program to other pieces of music from Moulin Rouge then I decided I didn’t like it so we scrapped it and started all over again. Because the most important thing to me was to do Moulin Rouge but not do the cliche parts of it, I wanted to do something different that people don’t normally do.”
Last season, the former British junior national champion made the decision to leave Amodio after Nebelhorn Trophy in September.
She was unable to return to the UK because of COVID restrictions and went to Italy to stay with friends where Ondrej Hotarek began coaching her.
Eventually returning to the UK for Christmas, Spours then started working with Phil Harris in Nottingham and the new coaching team formed.
It hasn’t been an easy few years for Spours either. In the summer of 2019, she suffered an almost career ending injury.
“I ended up slipping three discs in my back, so I actually ended up permanently losing feeling in my left foot, which obviously— it was pretty touch and go if I would ever get back and compete again.
“When I first stepped back on the ice, it wasn’t like I got injured and then came back fit, I came back without feeling in my left foot. My back is still in the same situation, I’ve just learned how to manage it. So when I first got back on the ice I honestly didn’t think I’d ever make it back. I remember the first time getting on the ice, I just sat and cried and said I was done ‘cause I came back and literally couldn’t do a single axel, it was awful and it took me a year to get back to doing triples. I think most people thought that I was done. There were very few that kind of thought there was hope in it.
“So for me it’s a weird one because coming back to competition, I felt like I came back for these Qualifiers like a completely different athlete. You know, before it was very— I was very driven by medals and obviously I’m still driven by that, but it was a different approach because I just felt happy to be back out there and more grateful. I think you just start to view the sport in a completely different way after having it taken away.”
This week Kristen heads to Italy for Lombardia Trophy, where she’ll stay after to train for a month before returning to the UK to train.
Scottish figure skater Karly Robertson placed 2nd with a total of 153.48 and rounding out the podium was Sheffield based Nina Povey with a total of 149.85. Povey will also be competing at Lombardia Trophy this week.
Graham Newberry won the event with a score of 194.03 and Elliott Thompson finished second with 145.71.
Newberry had an almost clean short program, except for a turnout landing on his triple lutz. In his free, he unfortunately fell twice and didn’t land his triple flip cleanly. His next competition will also be at Lombardia Trophy.
Thompson, who recently made the move to train in Dundee, skated a clean short program to ‘Sign of the Times.’ Sadly, he didn’t have a clean free program either with three out of seven jumping passes marked with negative GOE.
Reigning British national champion PJ Hallam withdrew from the competition but was hanging around at the event and will be going to compete at Nebelhorn Trophy later this month, to try and qualify a berth for the Olympics.
Following a ‘skate off’ type competition in July to determine who would be going to Nebelhorn, Hallam revealed that he had COVID. “There’s been 4 weeks since that competition and 3 of them I’ve not trained. I’ve done obviously off ice work but I’ve not been allowed to actually train [on ice]. I don’t want to be focusing on this, it’s not important, it’s next month that’s important.
“[Now] I’m doing really well actually. My fitness levels haven’t really been affected. I just wanted to, pull myself away from this competition that’s on at the moment just so I can mentally prepare myself for what’s to come.”
Unfortunately both senior pairs that were due to compete withdrew from the event. Anastasia Vaipan-Law / Luke Digby announced their withdrawal due to Vaipan-Law testing positive for COVID. Lydia Smart / Harry Mattick didn’t list a reason for withdrawing but were at the Team GB development camp held earlier this week.
Junior Ice Dance
Junior ice dance was a very exciting event because four out of the five scheduled teams were making their debut.
Sophia Bushell / Alex Lapsky won the event with a total of 110.89. They had two fun music choices, their rhythm dance a swing/blues number to Grease and their free a Queen medley. The new team finished first after the rhythm dance, leading by only a 2 point gap and had a much better outing in the free dance with almost a 16 point gap on technical elements alone.
Finishing in second, and the currently the longest partnership in junior ice dance, was Vasilisa Ahramenka / Alessio Surenkov-Gultchev with a total of 86.56.
Fresh from their Junior Grand Prix debut, they were the only team to execute two out of eight keypoints in the rhythm dance but unfortunately in the free, received a few base levels and a deduction for an extended lift.
In a close third and fourth place were new teams Lily Matthias / Theodore Alexander and Emily Lucine Phillips / Luke Andrew Anderson with their total scores being just 0.33 apart.
Matthias / Alexander finished fourth after the rhythm dance but managed to climb up to third with their Great Gatsby free dance, which included an unlucky fall early on for Matthias.
Post skate she talked about wanting their free dance to show the more mature side to them. “Obviously the rhythm dance is more fun and that can maybe be perceived as younger. We’re sorta swaying away from the theme and having a slightly different storyline but, we really like the poetry in the middle, it really helps us connect the music.”
Alexander added, “It’s a nice contrast. We’ve got like disco for one of them, a really upbeat style.” Their rhythm dance is a “70’s disco theme” to Fantasy by Earth Wind & Fire and Le Freak by Chic.
Phillips / Anderson, who had only been skating together for 6 weeks, placed third after the rhythm dance. Unfortunately in the free, they also received base levels on some elements.
Natalia Pallu-Neves / Jayin Panesar withdrew due to the event clashing with their Junior Grand Prix assignment.
Senior Ice Dance
Lilah Fear / Lewis Gibson ran away with the gold, with a total of 199.74. They debuted both their ‘Kiss’ rhythm dance and ‘Lion King’ free dance which only was their second competition in the past 18 months.
After the event Fear said, “[It was] really great to finally get to show them to more than just our coaches in Montreal and training mates and to have so many friendly faces in the audience and to have two solid skates, we were just really proud and excited.”
“It was also nice to have people in the audience and to feel that energy again was exciting for us,” Gibson added.
Disco is one of the ‘rhythms’ allowed for the rhythm dance but the duo – who are commonly known as the Disco Brits from their 2018-19 breakout free dance, chose to do something different.
“We were successful with [disco] before, but we wanted to just push forward and just try something out that’s different and a little bit out of the box.” Gibson said with Fear adding, “And funnily enough, the first song ‘I Was Made for Lovin You’, was actually titled disco, within that genre. So there’s that hint and kind of ode to that in some way.”
On the creation of their free dance Fear said they feel the choice of music is a bit of a risk, and different to what they’ve done before, but ultimately are glad they took the risk.
“We definitely had the anticipation of wanting to do something different, and knowing that people would be expecting something really exciting because we had such great reactions to our programs in the past. So we wanted to make sure that we really connected to our strengths of entertainment and fun and getting people up on their feet, but doing something that’s slightly different and maybe unexpected.
“I think we were really searching for something that would have a really strong message behind it. So we loved the theme of universal love, empowerment, finding your inner strength and kind of sharing that with the world and I think anyone can relate to that. And we both really loved the movie growing up, and thought that in an Olympic season that’s something that we can harness in terms of a really strong storyline and something that’s well known and also just so much fun to skate to and then we added the remix for a little bit of a twist and a fresh [spin].”
Debuting domestically as a senior team were Sasha Fear / George Waddell who finished second with 171.01 points. They achieved three out of four keypoints in the rhythm dance, the most of any of the five teams. In their Nutcracker free dance, they earned high GOEs on almost all elements with the highest earning coming from their choreographic elements.
Finishing third was Sheffield-based team Eleanor Hirst / Anthony Currie with a total score of 122.21. They had a slightly rougher rhythm dance with their step sequence being given a base level but earned a level 4 on their curve lift. They performed their free dance to Queen, opening with a choreographic slide and an energetic choreographic step in the middle of the program. Unfortunately they received a -1 deduction for an extended lift.