Aussie Skating Stars

For the third consecutive year the O’Brien Group Arena in Melbourne, Victoria, played host to the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia’s (OWI) “Figure Skating Gala.” The event featured local up- and coming skaters, Victoria Alcantara and Juan Camilo Yusti, Australian junior men’s and ladies champions — James Min and Holly Harris; Australian senior ladies champion, Kailani Craine, 2017 World Junior champions Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya and Harley Windsor, and 2014 Winter Olympians Brendan Kerry and myself, Brooklee Han.

Team Eclipse, a Melbourne-based synchronized skating team and the Melbourne Stars, a theatre on ice team that was led by their coach and three-time Winter Olympian, Cameron Medhurst, also performed in the gala. Other Winter Olympians, included aerial skiers David Morris and Danielle Scott, snowboard cross racer, Alex “Chumpy” Pullin and mogul skier Britteny Cox.

The goal of the annual gala is to help raise awareness of winter sports and winter athletes in Australia. The nation’s winter sports program enjoyed a successful 2016-2017 season: ski and snowboard athletes collected a record number of World Cup and World Championship medals, and short track skaters recorded many top 10 World Cup placements and two top-12 World Championship finishes.

Australian Figure skating hit an historical height with the World junior victory of Alexandrovskaya and Windsor last March. Two weeks later at the World Championships Kerry qualified Australia for a berth in the men’s event at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

Alexandrovskaya and Windsor, performed for a home crowd for the first time since winning the World Junior title, wowing the capacity crowd with their throws, spins and lifts. “Winning Junior Worlds this season was really exciting for us,” Windsor said. “Leading up to the event we were training really well and thought that we had a chance of medaling. Our main focus going into senior Worlds was to just make top-16 and qualify to skate the free program. We were really happy to achieve that goal.”

During the off-season the team hopes to improve their speed and presentation. Qualifying for one of the remaining four Olympic spots that will be up for grabs at the 2017 Nebelhorn Trophy is definitely weighing on their minds. Their main goal next season is to earn a berth at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Craine, performing in the gala for the third year, is another athlete with her sights set on PyeongChang. She skated two entertaining numbers, one set to the soundtrack of “La La Land” and the other to “Cake By the Ocean,” which was performed by a live band.

While the 2016-2017 season saw her bring home two international medals and several personal best scores, it ended on a bittersweet note. “I was really happy with my short program at Worlds, but I just made a couple of mistakes in the long program that cost me a lot of points and unfortunately I dropped from 19th to 24th overall, which lost an Olympic quota spot for Australia,” Craine said in reflection. “I obviously did better than I did at the 2016 World Championships and one of my main goals was to qualify for the free program, so I was happy with that.”

Craine is planning on keeping her short program, set to “Dream a Little Dream” by Ella Fitzgerald, and hopes to increase the difficulty of her technical elements during the off-season.

Unlike other athletes that performed in the gala, reigning national junior champions Harris and Min do not have their sights set on the 2018 Olympic Games, but instead hope to represent Australia in 2022.

Both finished their seasons at the 2017 World Junior Championships.

In her debut at the event, Harris successfully qualified for the free skate, placing 24th overall. “My first Junior Worlds was a really cool experience. It was kind of nerve wracking because it was a really big event, but I still really enjoyed it,” Harris said. “Overall, I feel like this season was my best so far. I achieved a lot of my goals and had quite a few really good events. Obviously my last two competitions — nationals and Junior Worlds — were not my best, but I learned a lot from them.” 

After claiming her first national junior title in early December, Harris left Damon Allen and Christy Krall to train with Tom Zakrajsek. All three coaches work at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs. “I think that it was a really good move. Tom’s team is really organized and they know exactly what needs to be done. All the different aspects of my skating are covered and I really like it,” Harris explained.

In addition to making a coaching change Harris has also grown several centimeters in the past few months. In her gala performances she showed off some of her newly acquired height, engaging the audience with her elegant lines and soaring split jumps.

Min entertained the crowd with the final performance of his fast-paced “Jumpin’ Jack” short program, but showed off a more mature side to his skating with his emotional number to a One Republic cover of “What a Wonderful World.”

A World junior veteran, Min made his third trip to the Championships this season. Though he fell short of his top-24 goal he is looking at it as a learning curve. “Through my experience at Junior Worlds I learned that I need to improve my skating skills and my spins,” he said. “The lack of attention to detail with those specific elements and my components are what let me down from achieving my goals. My goals for the new season are to complete the triple Axel in every competition and to make it consistent in competition.

“And, of course, next time I really would like to qualify for the free skate at Junior Worlds,” Min added with a laugh. 

Closing out his best season ever by qualifying an Olympic spot for Australia, Kerry delighted the crowd with a program set to “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice, which featured his signature backflip. “Justin Dillon, who I used to work with for choreography, had always said that it would be a really fun and interesting program for me to do at a show,” Kerry said.

“I was kind of shy and said that I absolutely would never do it, but this year I spoke with the guy who has been doing my show programs and we decided to give it a go.”

Though he recorded three new personal bests at the 2017 World Championships, Kerry was not completely satisfied with his performances. “I was a bit disappointed because I felt as if I had too much focus on solidifying a quota spot for the Olympics and held back a bit in my performances — just doing safe skates. I felt like I really could have done more,” Kerry explained.

“Worlds this year, keeping in mind that an Olympic quota spot was on the line, was a lot more nerve wracking than not only any other World Championships I have competed at, but a lot scarier than competing at Nebelhorn in 2013 — just because I feel that being an Olympian and having done decently well at the past few World Championships there was an expectation that I should be able to hold my own in that field.” 

Kerry’s main goals for the Olympic season are to increase the technical difficulty of his programs by adding a second quad to his short program, including at least three quads in his free skate and to improve his overall consistency.

After its third successful annual gala — an event that is quickly becoming a highlight on the Australian figure skating calendar — the OWI is already planning the next.

“It may not be Holiday on Ice, but it certainly was a great show and a lot of fun,” said OWI chairman Geoffrey Henke.