Obstacles, there have been many. Successes? More each day.
Russian-born Lubov Ilyushechkina and her Canadian pair partner, Dylan Moscovitch have come a long way from the time last spring when they matched forces, first without a coach, and perhaps with little hope that Russia would release their 2009 world junior pair champion.
But now they are going to their first world championship together, with a Canadian silver medal in their back pockets. Moscovitch has had plenty of experience at world championships with a previous partner, but not Ilyushechkina. Moscovitch has been to Shanghai twice before for Cups of China. Ilyushechkina, never.
They’ve overcome every obstacle (or at least as much as they can in a short period) and best of all, they’ve won hearts along the way. Nobody can resist their story: underdogs with too much against them, finding their second chances – and doing it all with faces that shine.
Ilyushechkina, with her remarkably good English, drops little gems like this when she speaks: “At nationals, I was at the same rink that I compete at Skate Canada [in 2010, when she declared she was in love with the place] so I had good memories,” she said earlier this week. “”I came back and I had a feeling like I came to heaven.”
Moscovitch, now 30 years old, has undergone overwhelming change as well. “I switched clubs,” he said. “I switched coaches. Lubov was brought up in the Russian system with a different style and mentality of training and technique. For me, it was definitely an adjustment, and an eye opener into a different way of doing things.”
They started only with the goal of improving every day. “We didn’t really know much beyond that,” Moscovitch said. They knew they could get to Canadian nationals, but without Russia’s release, they wouldn’t see international competition. The release came last June. And when they were able to get a world minimum score at the Warsaw Cup, they immediately set a new goal of making the world team. They did.
They have no illusions of winning medals at the world championships this time. At the Four Continents, they finished sixth, almost 47 points behind Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, the team that Moscovitch and his previous partner, Kirsten Moore-Towers, used to push within an inch of their lives. But this year is only a start.
“We are very proud we’ve come so far in such a short amount of time, with so many obstacles and racing uphill,” Moscovitch said. “We’re training very well and we feel great going into worlds and we just want to go there and enjoy every moment of it and do two clean skates. We are very capable of doing two clean skates.”
And of course, Ilyusechkina drops more pearls. “We don’t worry about placement because it distracts the mind,” she said. “We just need to go and enjoy, no matter where. Just go and do our job.”
The difficulties for Ilyushechkina? Apart from leaving her homeland, the skater, now 23, had spent 1 ½ years not skating at all in Russia, while teaching youngsters how to do crossovers and such like. She did no elements. She was a coach, near the boards, not skating out, not feeling the breeze in her hair, not flying above somebody’s head. She did try to stay in shape, with one dream in mind. “I didn’t want to finish,” she said. “I wanted to show everything what I could do in figure skating and open my potential.”
With Moscovitch, everything was new. Ilyushechkina tackled it all with delight, as if she’d been let loose from a cage. “I’m starting a new way,” she said. “I’m trying to take all the information and work in this country with this kind of figure skating and this kind of training. I’m trying to be a sponge and follow all advices.”
When she moved to Canada, she felt a lot of joy. It shows in her face every day. She hadn’t said everything she wanted to in figure skating. Following her dream “means a lot to me,” she said.
At her first Canadian championship, she felt welcomed with open arms. “All people very supportive,” she said. “I didn’t feel any pressure. It felt like an exhibition for people. I really enjoy being in Canada.”
The other issue was money. Moscovitch was no longer on a national team. His new partner had no access at all to funds. Moscovitch had begun to pay for everything out of his own pocket, until an adult skater at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club asked if they needed some help to find support. “Obviously, we said: ‘Yes’” Moscovitch said. “It was very much a necessity.
“The amount of people who have stepped up to help us financially this season is incredible,” he said. “We are very, very, very appreciative . We probably wouldn’t have been able to do this season without it.”
Their fund-raising campaign exists on social media. Moscovitch said many other athletes – always in need of financing – are starting to raise money this way to pay for their training.
They are still a work in progress and still moulding together their different techniques and different timings and setups for elements. Their most difficult element is, without question, the twist. At Four Continents, they earned level fours for every element but their triple twist, awarded a level one. And in the free skate, their twist let them down.
Moscovitch said the twist is an ongoing process because they’ve had to break old habits and try to find a way to meet in the middle. That hasn’t been easy. “The twist is very technical,” he said. “There are a lot of things going on with two different people at the same time. So if you’re not in synch and you’re not working together, you’re working against each other, which makes it a challenging element. We’ve been trying to make it cohesive and technically sound, so it’s less of a physical-work element and more of a technically efficient element.”
For now, they’ve had to put something together just enough to get the twist done, but at the same time, try not to sacrifice too much of the technique they are trying to build. “Every time we get a break in between competitions, we take some time to work on the technique and break it down a bit,” Moscovitch said. “And when we have a short amount of time, we piece it back together to the point that it’s good enough to compete with.”
They’ve made their most significant improvements between Four Continents and worlds in Shanghai.
Leading this fascinating melange of two completely different skaters into an impressive whole is coach Lee Barkell, now installed at the Cricket Club, and assisted by one of Moscovitch’s best friends and former competitors, Bryce Davison.
Ilyushechkina enjoys working with Barkell. “Lee doesn’t say a lot of things, “she said. “But he’s very stable and consistent. He knows the way we have to work and step by step, slowly and gradually he will bring us to the goal we want to reach.”
Barkell was a former international competitor with Melanie Gaylor, but is best known for the string of champions he has coached: Jeff Buttle, Duhamel, Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay, Nobunari Oda, and others. Moscovitch says Barkell has “an incredible sense of calm and patience. And he’s very good at seeing the big picture and working gradually towards it. He’s got a lot of knowledge and experience.
“We definitely feel we’re in good hands when we work with him.”
Their music choices reflect their life situations. They skate their short program to the upbeat Michael Buble song “Feeling Good.” And their free is “From Russia with Love.” Lubov means “love” in Russian. Perfect.
“I’m excited to perform one more time and to perform and enjoy,” Ilyushechkina said.
“We’ve got a second chance at our career,” Moscovitch said. “I think our biggest goal is to show everyone how much work we’ve put in with the short time we’ve been skating together and how happy we are that we ended up on the world team and that we are both together.”
Their journey is riveting, every step.