Tag Archive for: Alexandra Paul

Meet the Senior Ice Dancers

KAITLYN WEAVER / ANDREW POJE

Kaitlyn and Andrew were riding a perfect season last year before settling for bronze at the ISU World Championships. The two-time world medallists and defending Canadian champions have been members of the national team for a decade. In fact, Halifax holds a special place in the hearts – they made their debut in Canada at the 2007 Canadian championships in the Maritime city, finishing third behind Marie-France Dubreuil / Patrice Lauzon (gold) and Tessa Virtue / Scott Moir (silver).

DID YOU KNOW: Kaitlyn and Andrew are both taking classes at the University of Waterloo – Kaitlyn is studying public relations and media, and Poje is focused on biomedical science.

PIPER GILLES / PAUL POIRIER

Since teaming together in 2011, Gilles and Poirier have established themselves as one of Canada’s top ice dance tandems. The three-time Canadian medallists display a high level of artistry in their programs and despite facing injury issues in recent seasons, remain energetic crowd pleasers thanks to their creative lifts and extraordinary performance ability. Away from the rink, Piper is immersed in the fashion world, and does much of the outfit design for their programs. One day, she hopes to launch her own line of sports clothing.

FUN FACT: Piper was an extra in a Simple Plan music video; Paul, meanwhile, admits he is “really bad” at parking cars.

ALEXANDRA PAUL / MITCH ISLAM

The three-time Canadian bronze medallists have new coaches, who just happen to be their skating idols: Olympians and two-time world silver medallists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. Earlier this year, Paul and Islam, who represented Canada at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic games, placed second at the Nebelhorn Trophy and will be looking for their fourth podium finish since 2011 at the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

FUN FACT: Alexandra is a big fan of the show Gilmore Girls, and figure she has watched the entire series at least five times; if Mitch is watching TV, he is usually tuned in to Mad Men.

ÉLISABETH PARADIS / FRANÇOIS-XAVIER OUELLETTE

Teaming up in 2010, this personable tandem are making their way up the Canadian ice dance ranks, highlighted by a bronze-medal finish at 2015 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. And they are likely only to get better as they continue to train under former Olympians and two-time ice dance world silver medallists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.

FUN FACT: Elisabeth plays the tenor saxophone in her spare time while François likes to do some heavy lifting by renovating houses.

Returning home, Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam to debut new programs in Barrie

Finally. No pressure. No injuries. Clear road ahead.

Canadian bronze medalists Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam see their world opening up this season, having finally snared two Grand Prix events after their efforts at the world championships last March in Japan.

It’s hard to believe, but that world championship in Japan was only their first. They had shown such promise after they had been paired up back in 2009. Within less than a year, they had won the Canadian junior title and earned a silver medal at the world junior championships. Their rise seemed meteoric.

Their debut at the senior level – at a Skate Canada International – gave people goosebumps. Then, while they had other plans, life happened.  Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. They suffered crazy injuries that scuttled their Grand Prix assignments over the next two seasons. Third at their first crack at the senior national level in 2011, they sunk to fifth the next year and then to fourth after a fall in the free dance. Last year, they upped their game, finished third again at nationals and earned their way to the Olympics. Sochi was an experience they will never forget. As many did, they photographed themselves standing within the giant Olympic rings at the venue.

The big triumph this season already is that they have earned two Grand Prix assignments. During the 2012-13 season, they got no Grand Prix at all, and last season, they got only the home Grand Prix, Skate Canada International. It’s been a long struggle uphill for a team that had so much early promise.

Their career has been stop and start. They were on a high to finish third at the Canadian championships, but their 18th place finish in Sochi wasn’t all they had hoped for. Later, Islam said they were distracted by all things Olympic – and they skated with too much caution. In the next few weeks, they redoubled their efforts to finish 10th at the world championships in Japan.

That 10th place finish at the world championships gave them a high-enough placing internationally that they earned two Grand Prix this season: Cup of China and Trophée Eric Bompard in Bordeaux, France.

They had lost confidence for a time. Now they have it. “Last season was so long,” Paul said. “It was good to have downtime after worlds.” They took time off in April and May, skipped summer competitions, spent time with their families and are returning refreshed.

“We’re in a different spot now,” Islam said. “We feel good now. It’s been nice. We enjoyed the summer. How we are training with confidence. If you are confident, you carry it into your training. Every day we prove to ourselves that we belong on top. “Attitude is everything.

Sure, they had a tough couple of years, he said, but they are “a lot more settled,” Islam said. “The confidence is way higher.”

With that in mind, Paul says they would like to win medals at both of their Grand Prix events. “It will be tough,” she said. “But it’s tough at all Grand Prix.”

How tough? At Cup of China, they are in against world champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy, the new team of Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin of Russia (She was fourth with her previous partner and he was seventh with his previous partner at worlds last year); and Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani (sixth last year).

In France, Paul and Islam will take on Cappellini and Lanotte again, Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia (world bronze medalists a couple of years ago) and countrymen Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, eighth at worlds.

“We don’t see ourselves being out of place with bronze at both events,” Islam said.

They come equipped with two great programs. Their coaches Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova did the choreography for their short dance in June: it’s a Paso flamenco, and the music – “Nocturno” by Luciani and “Farruca y Rhumba” by Pepe Romero is exactly what they used when they won the silver medal at the world junior championships in 2009-2010. “Now we’re in a different part of our career and we are different skaters,” Islam said. They had found the music on iTunes.

Then they headed off to Montreal later that month to have Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon create their free dance, using a Frank Sinatra-Gloria Estefan duet. It was a heady experience: Paul and Islam say Dubreuil and Lauzon are their idols – and they had gone to them once before, with great results. Dubreuil and Lauzon designed their free dance that created such a furore at their senior international debut at Skate Canada International in Kingston, Ontario in 2011.

They had skated to lyrical music, “As Time Goes By,” which allowed them to show off their ease of movement, and effortless freedom. They earned a standing ovation for it, and actually finished second, (fourth overall) ahead of Sinead and John Kerr, who had been ranked fifth in the world at the time. It was only Paul and Islam’s second season together.

Now they have gone back to the same well, and they will skate to something new: “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “The Way You Look Tonight.”

“We knew what we wanted to do,” Paul said. “We wanted something romantic. We wanted to add another layer and the jazzy blues is a difference in style for us.”

It took them four days to choreograph it. “We had so much fun,” Islam said.

They’ve also been stepping up their lifts. They worked with an acrobat in Montreal.

They’re proud of themselves for the big jump they made in the standings between Olympics and worlds, when they were able to turn things around. They also would like to be within the top eight at worlds in Shanghai this year. They will take that first step by returning home to their former training ground in Barrie, Ontario to compete at the Skate Canada Autumn Classic International this week.

Olympian Profile: Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam

Finally, their time has come.

Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam first twizzled their way into the Canadian consciousness when they showed up at the 2010 Skate Canada International Grand Prix event in Kingston, Ont., as first year seniors – and in only their second season together.

They entranced the crowd with their lyrical routine to “As Time Goes By,” earned their first standing ovation and placed second in the free dance ahead of seasoned British skaters Sinead Kerr, 31, and brother John, 30, ranked fifth in the world. At the time, Paul was 19, Islam, 20.

Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier had won the event, but Islam and Paul won the technical mark in that free dance, ahead of an athletic Canadian team always known for difficult technique. Even then, Paul and Islam skated with an ease of movement, with effortless freedom and close-together positions.

At the time, Paul and Islam evoked memories of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who missed that Skate Canada international because Virtue had undergone surgery on her legs. “We love Tessa and Scott,” Islam had said. “We’ve both looked up to them a lot as young athletes, but we definitely want to distinguish ourselves as a new team in Canada in senior.”

Paul and Islam had a year left of junior eligibility, but wanted to forge ahead to senior. Everything seemed “surreal” at this event. They finished fourth overall, after being sixth in the short dance, but they had created a buzz.

But their road to the Sochi Olympics since then has been anything but smooth. Paul pulled muscles in her ribs in training before their next event, Cup of Russia. They couldn’t train leading into the event. They had a fall in the short dance, and then realizing that she could not do the lifts in the free, because of the injury, they withdrew. “It felt like the wind was knocked out of me every time,” she said. But they did mount a comeback to finish third at their first senior nationals.

The next season, everything went awry. “As soon as I got better, something else would happen,” Paul said. They finished only eighth at Skate America, and then when they got to the NHK Trophy, Paul was cut at the back of her thigh in a practice collision with an Italian team and they had to withdraw from the free dance. They got no Grand Prix assignments during the 2012 season and dropped to fourth at nationals.

Their biggest heartbreak came at the 2013 Canadian championships, when they had gathered their forces, moved their training site to Detroit to snap out of their dry spell, and finished in third place after the short dance. A berth for the world championships in London was on the line. But Islam slipped in the free dance, and the dream was gone in an instant. They finished fourth. Only three could go. “It was a wakeup call for us,” Islam said.

“It’s one of those things that feels like rock bottom,” Islam said. It had all been too much: two years of hardship, and then this. For two weeks, their chins were at their boots. “But it’s how you handle things that happen to you like that,” Islam said later. “We had a lot of support from people that gave us confidence, something that we definitely needed after something like that happened.”

They decided they needed to change the way they trained, if they were going to make it to Sochi. “You have to train every day like you mean it,” Paul explained. “You have to go through things, no matter what. You have to recover from mistakes faster. It’s just a no-excuse attitude.”

It wasn’t easy, Islam said. They had to focus on their goals every day, every minute. But it made training a lot easier, he said, because they could take the confidence of being ready, mentally and physically, to competition. “The dividends are quite nice,” Islam said.

Both dancers have histories that suggest success. Islam has skating in his blood. His father, David, was a former ice dancer, now director of ice dancing at the Mariposa School of Skating in Barrie, Ont. His mother, Debbie Islam, was a former national medalist and Olympic judge, who worked the men’s event at the Vancouver Olympics. Shortly after Islam was born, his father carried him onto the ice in his arms. By the time he was two, Islam had skates on his feet.

Paul began skating at age five, but already has a long history of ballet training, quite evident in her beautiful posture and back, and body movement. She and two other sisters enrolled in CanSkate in Barrie, but Alex was the only one who persevered.

She had skated singles up to the novice level, but started dancing with Jason Cheperdak when she was 16, because she was not a fan of attempting triple jumps. Meanwhile, at the same arena, Islam was already making a name for himself with Joanna Lenko, who eventually had to retire because of heart issues.

Both Paul and Islam, of course, had learned the same stroking style from the head coach, who matched them together. “It felt so easy,” she said. Their career took off like a rocket. They outfinished the previous year’s junior champions at a summer competition, got a Junior Grand Prix assignment, and missed a bronze medal by only a point. When they won the Canadian junior championships, Paul thought: “It hit me this could be real.” She had been nervous; she didn’t want to let down Islam, who was a more experienced skater.

They continued on to finish second at the world junior championships. They were so new, they hadn’t established themselves on the junior circuit. And they had been together only five months.

Skate Canada International in Kingston was their “coming out party,” Islam said. It left stars in their eyes. But they have grown in many ways since. And now finally, the Olympics.

Want to read more about the figure skaters who will compete at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi? Pick up Beverley Smith’s new book SKATING TO SOCHI! The book profiles the top 40 athletes/teams with full-colour photos! Order online: Amazon.com, Lulu.com (ebook) or iTunes (ebook).

Beverley Smith