Just when you thought pair skating (alas, everywhere) was down at the heels, tattered and torn and riddled with defections, along has come a little herd of intrepid risk-takers.
Like Natasha Purich and Drew Wolfe.
They – and other new and relatively new faces – are going to make the pair event at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships a fiery contest, come January in Kingston, Ont.
The Purich and Wolfe partnership just seems right. They are buddies from Alberta, (she from Edmonton, he from Calgary), now both training in Montreal. (As luck would have it, they both were in French immersion schools.) They met each other skating sectionals in Alberta, from about the age of 10 or 11.
They have come at pair skating from oddly different directions: Wolfe has been a singles skater and for the last four or five years, an ice dancer. In Wolfe’s hand, Purich glows. At their first event, the Skate Canada Autumn Classic Intern ational, they finished third in the short program with a throw triple Lutz, a combo spin that earned a level four and an excellent death spiral, too.
That Wolfe can do a death spiral is an event in itself. Before he hitched up with Purich six months ago, he had never skated pairs. “When I was younger, I thought there’s not a chance that I’m going to put this girl over my head,” he said. “That just seems way too dangerous. “ Coach Richard Gauthier says he’s never seen a pair skater learn such skills so quickly. He shocked all of them, with what he could do in the first three days.
Okay, so what was hardest for both? Purich wants to say the twist. After all, the male not only has to throw the partner, but catch her as well. However, Wolfe says it’s that deadly death spiral. “It was a weird feeling to get used to the force that another skater would pull on you that much on an edge,” he said. The first one he did went okay. He figures that was beginner’s luck. The second one, not so much. That has changed since, however. They got a level four on their forward inside death spiral in the short program at the Autumn Classic.
As for Purich, who skated last year with former world bronze medalist Mervyn Tran (now off to skate for his third country), she has had to up her game with skating skills and edges to match the ice-dancing crafts of Wolfe.
Seemingly improving by leaps and bounds, they will further show off their wares at Cup of China, their only Grand Prix event.
Wolfe had been skating singles at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club in Toronto with Ghislain Briand – and soaking up the influences of skating in the same rink as Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez – when he thought he might like try pairs. “I’m a big tall guy,” he said. Briand and Gauthier are friends. The next thing Wolfe knew, he was in a tryout with Purich, doing some stroking and elements.
“Of course this was all new to me,” he said. Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte were welcoming and supportive.
“It seemed like they had some faith in me,” he said. ”It’s kind of unexpected, but it seems like the right fit. We both came from different sides of the sport.” And, he said, it’s been very motivating to skate in the same rink as two-time world bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.
“Honestly, he’s just a natural,” Purich said of her new partner. “It’s kind of weird. I think we were doing double twists in two days.”
Because of his dance background, Wolfe said he knew how to place a partner in the right spot. Not everything went smoothly. They had their peaks and valleys. Working also with Syvie Fullum, Julie Marcotte and Cynthia Lemaire, nothing is left untouched in the school, Wolfe said. The learning environment is very positive. All of the teams push each other.
Goals for a new team? Their focus had been just to get to nationals and develop a solid base together. They hadn’t expected even the Autumn Classic. It was a big deal. Style will come with time. They want to be unique.
And it helps that Wolfe loves music. “I adore it,” he said. “Music is my favourite.” He likes to perform, to entertain. Three or four years ago, he skated to Santana and Colin James because his Alberta coach thought it would be a good fit for his style. Wolfe has always had the final say in his music choices. This time, he left it to Julie Marcotte, and made himself trust her. He planned to keep an open mind.
When Marcotte gave them a blues for their short program – “Three Hours Past Midnight” by Colin James – Wolfe just started to chuckle. “I guess I had no reason to worry,” he said. “It was pretty hilarious.” They skate the free to “The Artist” – and that’s a perfect routine for Purich. The programs are very different.
“It’s big and it’s broad and it’s also subtle,” Wolfe said of “The Artist” soundtrack. “There is a lot of variety and you can play with it and you can be powerful with it. And it’s really what Natasha does.”
So no, pair skating in Canada does not look so desolate as it did six months ago. “It makes it fun for us and the good thing is, it gets people interested,” Wolfe said. “New faces bring interest.”