Two Cultures Merge To Propel Powerhouse Pair
September 5, 2017
Article from www.owia.org.au. Reported by Belinda Noonan.
One year ago, a young Aboriginal man and even younger Russian-born girl set out for their first Junior Grand Prix pairs event in what became a remarkable march toward their victory as Australia’s first figure skating Junior World Champions in a sport previously reserved for nations such as Russia, Canada, China and USA.
As unlikely and unpredictable as Katia Alexandrovskaya and Harley Windsor’s world title seemed in March this year, of even more significance is the continual melding of cultures and values these young athletes are bringing to their sport, lives and partnership.
On the eve of their season international debut this week at a Junior Grand Prix in Riga, Latvia, they articulated their impending move from Junior to Senior ranks, what that means and how their partnership has matured and progressed.
The increasing understanding of each other’s personality has led to conversations that are now peppered with “we” and “us” plus an unswerving, shared goal. To become the best.Alexandrovskaya’s increasing confidence in English is providing an opportunity for local skaters to discover more than seeing by example. Her serious determination to be the best comes from a sporting cultural background that expects success and knows how to achieve it.
Basking in past results holds no water.
“Last season was last season and that’s already gone. We were World Junior Champions but that’s already last year. We need to qualify and get to Olympics and final,” she said at Canterbury Ice Rink in Sydney.
“Communication last year was with hands. (It’s) much better here now. I can talk to people. He’s not angry. He’s quiet. I’m much louder. Yes, it’s much better. I know him.”
Harley’s passion to achieve, ability to step up when it counts and learning how to think like a champion has been a revelation and likely to have a lasting impact at home.
“Last year every competition was a new experience. I learned how to mentally prepare myself for competitions,” Windsor said.
“This year I don’t want to come second. I kinda like the taste of gold.”
“Right now, we are probably at our physically strongest so far. Stronger than at Junior and Senior Worlds in March. Both of us are much more ready for the beginning of the season than we were last year.”
When a pair skater girl is repeatedly thrown in excess of ten metres across the ice, the boy is asked to lift multiple times, both land complex jumps and then required to bring emotional power to 4.30minutes of a free program to performance excellence, it takes a special combination of talent and personality to succeed.
Soon to turn 21 and 18 respectively, Windsor and Alexandrovskaya can be normal teenagers and do have their occasional spats and then get on then get on with what they want to achieve.
Preparation for this season has included a rigorous training camp in Italy with the best Russian and other national teams, the New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) gym and two new programs that are a world away from last season.
Skating to the Rolling Stone’s ‘Paint It, Black’, Alexandrovskaya explains the new short program as “dark and hard music, very strong”.
“It’s more difficult mentally. More transitions, more emotions because we think not just about elements but also choreography because we are going to senior level. We need to qualify on the senior level… not junior.”
The emotional repertoire required is a challenge they are both willing to step up for.
“Last season the programs were very basic with a focus on us getting to the elements,” Harley said.
“You can’t do that at seniors. Our music choices need a lot more emotion. If you want to be a really good senior pair you can’t pick just anything (to skate to). You have to pick something that suits both of us.”
“I like that we can show how we can step up and have variety,” he said.
“We think that if you want to be recognised you need to show that you don’t just stick to the same style.”
“As we skate more together and mature, we will show stronger emotions and connections. That’s important to us.”
Katia, who was interviewed separately to Harley, holds the same view.
“Last program was just for the elements. Of course, we need the transitions and emotions now,” she said. “When I start this music, I start to feel it.”
“For the free program it’s different music, different style (to the short) from the film Mask. First part is jazz and again jazz in the early second part. Third part is rock and roll. I like more the jazz part, but I love all music.”
During their month at Canterbury Ice Rink, the pair worked with Royal Academy of Dance teacher Vanessa Price to better understand their music and the importance of performance.
“Of course, this was nice. Vanessa is good. I like to work with her and it was a big help,” Katia said.
Training at NSWIS in Sydney’s Olympic Park under a program devised by OWIA’s John Marsden and Zsolt Zsombor from NSWIS has been integral in the lead up to the Olympic Qualification Competition in Germany at the end of this month.
“Our training ethic is a lot different now and we know what to expect from everything so I think us developing more into a senior pair has changed our attitude towards training,” Windsor explained.
“NSWIS has been huge. Especially the altitude training. If we didn’t do NSWIS we wouldn’t be as fit or strong. Week by week we would increase. The weight went up and a little more reps plus the altitude got harder and harder.”
“It was smart what Zsolt did - planning it all out and increasing slowly and surely. It’s made us smarter in the way we train and how we prepare.”
In Russia, elite athletes have much provided to them, which is earned by making the national team. Lower down the ranks, the athletes pay.
In Australia, the engine room for elite sporting results is forged initially through the efforts of volunteer mums, dads and officials.
The ongoing support by Russia’s leading pairs coach Nina Mozer and also Andrei Hekalo continues to be critical and whilst Windsor is not a fan of living in Moscow he credits the Russian training camps with his and Katia’s success and particularly his Australian/Russian coaches who he has been with since he was nine-years-of-age.
“A lot of people don’t understand the step up between junior and senior. Russia has given me that understanding. Training with the best in the world really helps,” Windsor said.
Husband and wife coaching duo Andrei and Galina Pachin are unwittingly proving to be strong role models for their team in life as well as figure skating.
Softly spoken Galina considers herself as Australian/Russian and takes control of the organisational details, crossing i’s and dotting t’s in between coaching duties.
In stark contrast, the boisterous and excitable Andrei admits he is Russian/Australian. His keen sense of humour comes to fore more readily than his wife’s, interspersed with the relentless pursuit of the excellence they are collectively seeking.
Where Andrei is dogmatic and relentless, Galina is critical of the finer points. Andrei has a global view, Galina looks after detail. The same could be said respectively for Katia and Harley.
It’s not uncommon for Andrei and Katia to have short, sharp explosions whereas Galina and Harley would be in quiet discussion to resolve a training issue.
“Andrei is good for Katia. I’m good for Harley,” Galina says.
It’s that simple.
The approach to competitions this season will be just as simple.
“The same as last year,” says Katia.
The only difference is they know what to expect.
“Last year they didn’t know what was going to happen and now they do,” Galina Pachin said. “I can’t wait until the competition starts.”
Will nerves play a part with Olympic qualification on the line?
“I don’t do nervous before competitions. Senior is of course mentally harder,” Katia said with a shrug. “It’s not just to qualify. I want clean programs and wait for the result. We need just to skate.”
Galina indicates toward Harley and says, “He is nervous the week before but he is controlling himself better this year. More confidence.”
For his part, Windsor believes there has been a big shift.
“There’s a massive difference in maturity from last year to now. Obviously we are wanting to skate two clean programs.
I’m really confident in the short and the free I’m pretty confident with too. We are both good competitors and we are both good at turning it up a notch when it matters.”
“I’m sure there are far, far better skaters than us but not everyone can compete. But the ones who can turn it on and perform when it counts are the ones who are there at the end.”