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Local Figure Skaters Punch Ticket to Grand Prix Final in Italy

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INCREDULOUS. That’s one way to describe how pairs figure skaters Ava Kemp and Yohnatan (Yoni) Elizarov of Winnipeg felt Friday as their second Grand Prix competition wrapped up in Poland.

With their fifth-place result in Gdansk combined with the silver medal they won in Latvia last month, Kemp, 14, and Elizarov, 18, punched their ticket to the prestigious ISU Junior Grand Prix Final in Italy in December.

The international competition rookies tallied 20 points to rank fifth among 20 couples competing on the global circuit and secure one of only six berths available for the final.

It was an impressive, if unforeseen, accomplishment for the 2022 Canadian novice-pair champions, made all the more remarkable considering both have been dealing with injuries.

“The whole experience has been unexpected and this is even more unexpected,” coach Kevin Dawe said by phone from Gdansk.

An hour after their event, Elizarov had not quite grasped the magnitude of their achievement.

“I’m not super excited right now. Maybe it just hasn’t hit me yet,” said the former singles competitor who had contemplated quitting the sport before deciding to try pair skating last year.

“Going into it we were struggling with injuries and we already had our (qualifying) scores for Junior Worlds, so we were coming here with less stress and weren’t really going for the final. We just wanted to skate our best, and I guess doing that got us to the final,” added the Vincent Massey grad, explaining he has an abdominal injury while Kemp has right ankle injuries.

Their stellar showing surprised a lot of people — including folks at Skate Canada — given they launched their partnership only 15 months ago.

Kemp and Elizarov earned personal best scores for their performances in Gdansk, but were well short of podium range given the formidable field. Pairs from Australia, Ukraine and the U.S. claimed the gold, silver and bronze medals, respectively, while another Canadian pair from Ontario held fourth place.

Those five couples, plus a second American duo, will face off again at the final in Turin.

While Kemp and Elizarov increased the difficulty level of their lifts in recent weeks, the pain in Kemp’s landing foot thwarted their plan to add a throw triple jump to their repertoire.

Still, they earned bonus points for quality on eight of the 10 elements in their free program fittingly set to Never Enough from The Greatest Showman.

They surpassed their previous best total score from Latvia by almost five points.

Elizarov said competing on Olympic- size ice was a challenging adjustment to make given they train on smaller, hockey-size sheets at home.

“I think we could have skated a little faster, a little nicer and cleaned up our elements but, overall, I’m just happy with our performance,” he said.

From Dawe’s perspective, his athletes delivered “an incredible performance, one of the best they’ve done in competition.”

“I could just feel all the emotion they were going through. They kept building with each element. As a coach, you couldn’t be happier watching two individuals come together to put out a performance like that. All their hard work and dedication and ups and downs they’ve had come together in this great moment.

“I’m just ecstatic for them,” added the coach who works as a physician’s assistant by day.

Kemp and Elizarov return to Winnipeg Sunday and will take about a week off the ice to let injuries heal.

In late October, the pair will train in Mississauga, Ont., for a week with pairs specialist Andrew Evans and veteran Russian coach Dmitri Savin as they ramp up their training toward the competition in Italy, beginning Dec. 8.

Ava Kemp and Yohnatan Elizarov will be in Italy in December to compete in the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final.


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