Keelee Gingrich and Davin Portz claim novice pair title under guidance of Olympian coaches

OTTAWA: It seemed like a great idea for Olympic competitors Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay to start up a pair skating school in Calgary where they live. After all, only seven pairs contested the senior championships last week. In fact, pair skating around the world is a little thin on depth.

It has been anything but easy. At the moment, after two years of coaxing and talking, Langlois and Hay train only two pairs. And on Tuesday, one of them, the charismatic Keelee Gingrich, 15, and Davin Portz, 17, a native of Yellowknife, became novice pair champions at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

Portz was their first target. “He was a good, strong steady skater,” Langlois said. “He had that personality. And he was interested.”

Then they needed to find a partner for him. Gingrich was not a strong singles skater, but she had lots of moxie for a small girl. She’d grab Portz’s hand and even lead him. Shy, she is not.

Gingrich and Portz competed to “The Skaters’ Waltz” a charming routine choreographed by Langlois and Hay. Langlois says she does not like doing choreography and she doesn’t consider herself a choreographer – more like a story teller. But whatever they did, it worked. They made some mistakes, but they skated without hesitation.

The first year they were together, Langlois handed them a daunting list of elements they had to learn. They thought it impossible. They learned. This past season, she handed them another even more formidable list. They have mastered it, too. Neither had skated pairs before.

“It was interesting,” Gingrich said. Their improvement from last year to this has been “huge,” Portz said. They’ve taken their bumps and lumps and moved forward, ever pressing on. They will go to juniors next year, and Langlois will give them another crazy list. For now, Portz is ready to get his reward: a beavertail on the Rideau Canal.

The pair had some anxious moments last night on a practice when they were trying triple twists. Gingrich ended up with a case of whiplash. Treatment followed and their twist in the free skate wasn’t at all smooth – she appeared to land on Portz’s neck – but onwards they went, skating with confidence. “We knew it was close, and we knew we were in the medal race,” Portz said.

Langlois and Hay still hope that the numbers in their club will increase. They dream of teaching five pairs. However, they’ve run into a block: coaches don’t want to release their singles skaters to pairs, Langlois said.

They feel that if they start to skate pairs, they will have to drop singles skating, Langlois said. But she added, some of the country’s top pairs have done both on a national level. Sometimes, Langlois said, skaters or coaches will promise to turn to pairs when they are finished with their singles career. But by that time,they will be out of the junior ranks and it will be too late.

Langlois laments that she started pair skating too late. She started as a senior skater, and then suffered a head injury during a fall. Better to learn the skills sooner, she said.

She sees lots of potential for pair skating across the country – there are strong singles skaters in both men and women and it might be advisable to give some of them more options – such as pair skating – where they could climb the ladder further. Dylan Moscovitch was a good singles skater. But he’s a world-class pair skater.

The future of pairs is this, Langlois says: Canada is strong at the top. “Canada needs to scout for pairs skaters,” she said. “It’s never been done in this country. And not all top skaters will have the right pair partner right away. Not everybody can be Tessa and Scott. Not a lot of people find their one right away.” But it’s important to get into the discipline and start developing skills. It could happen.

Allison Eby and Brett Varley of the Western Ontario Section finished 2.06 points behind Gingrich and Portz, earning the silver medal, followed by Naomie Boudreau and Cedric Savard, representing the Quebec Section.

Beverley Smith

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