This week was due to see the start of the 2020/2021 ISU (International Skating Union) Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating, but the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic has put paid to these competitions being held this season. Three Irish national team members selected to represent Ireland in the series are among the hundreds of figure skaters from all over the world affected by the cancellation.
Originally inaugurated in 1997, Ireland made its series debut in 2008 when Clara Peters competed at the Czech Skate Junior Grand Prix in Ostrava, Czech Republic. In fact, this marked the first appearance of an Irish ice skater at any international competition. Since then, Irish skaters who have participated at Junior Grand Prix events have gone on to compete at Junior World, European and World Figure Skating Championships.
This season three skaters – Elizabeth Golding, Dillon Judge and Sophia Tkacheva – had been chosen by the Ice Skating Association of Ireland board of directors to take part in the series.
Judge and Tkacheva would have been making their Junior Grand Prix debut and both skaters were looking forward to flying the flag for Ireland at their respective events.
“When I got the email informing me that I was selected to represent Ireland at a Junior Grand Prix I was really excited,” Judge said. “I knew my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in Dublin would know and they would be expecting me to do the best for Ireland. I now had to ensure that the training I was doing resulted in the best performance.”
“I was delighted and honoured to be chosen to represent Ireland at such a big international event,” Tkacheva said.
On the other hand, this was the third season in which Golding was assigned a Junior Grand Prix event and she was looking forward to demonstrating her growth as a skater.
“It was a great privilege to be selected once again to represent Ireland on the Junior Grand Prix series, as I was excited to show all the new elements and new programs I have worked on in Russia over the past few months,” Golding said.
However, on 20 July the ISU announced that, due to COVID-19, this year’s series would be cancelled. After scrambling to arrange ice time because of the restrictions on the opening of training facilities and travel to various jurisdictions, the news came as somewhat of a let down following the excitement of being selected.
“I was disappointed, of course,” Tkacheva said. “We put so much effort in arranging my skating practice this summer. My mum was constantly in contact with embassies and figure skating camp organisers as things were not clear and we were not sure if we could make it.”
“Due to Covid-19 I travelled to Flims, Switzerland to train as the rinks in the U.K. were shut and, although we had a date for them re-opening, it was too close to the first Junior Grand Prix taking place for me to get enough training,” Judge said. “I was in Switzerland when I found out the Junior Grand Prix had been cancelled. I was absolutely gutted and very disappointed.”
“I felt disappointed, but I didn’t allow it to get to me as I know I have many new competitions ahead of me in the upcoming season where I will have a chance to perform and make Ireland proud,” Golding said putting a positive spin on things. “On the other hand, I felt a bit relieved. I was worried that I wouldn’t perform to my best ability due to the coronavirus situation as I only started training again on the ice in June.”
Over the summer months, all of the skaters have been toiling away on and off the ice despite the uncertainties they have faced.
“I was lucky to attend two figure skating camps in the Czech republic in July, where I had worked on my skating skills, jumps and spins,” Tkacheva said. “There were classic choreography and gymnastics classes. In addition, I spent two weeks in Minsk, Belarus in the Olympic figure skating school where I focused more on my programmes.”
“Whilst in Switzerland, I attended a training camp where I worked on skating skills and jumps,” Judge said. “I also used the patch ice as much as possible to hone my routines and practice. In the months prior to travelling to Switzerland with the rinks closed, I carried a lot training by myself and participated in a number of online classes including those put on by the ISU. I also had lessons with my coach online twice a week.”
“I have been working hard on my triple jumps, particularly triple flip and Lutz, as these are my favourites as well as the highest scoring jumps,” Golding said. “I am especially proud that I am able to practice all my triple jumps to my full potential as I have been working with a sports psychologist who has helped me get over my fear of doing certain jumps. Off the ice I have been working on my power and rotation position in my jumps, as well as training my endurance and stamina through circuit training, plyometric training and jogging every evening.”
With the Junior Grand Prix off the table for this season this least, all three skaters are looking ahead with other goals in mind.
“I want to work more on my triple jumps now, to improve my technique, and spend more time on stretching as this is the key for nice spins,” Tkacheva said. “I hope COVID restrictions will be eased soon, and I will be able to train as usual, and hopefully travel to Slovakia for intense practice in October.”
“My parents and I are also monitoring the COVID-19 situation to see if there are any competitions in safe countries going to take place,” Judge said. “I am also looking for other opportunities to attend training camps. Apart from that my coach and I will carry on with our normal training schedule.”
“My plans for the rest of the season are simple- train hard every day to finally get my triple jumps, and practice my new free programme and my old short programme, which now contains a triple lutz in it,” Golding said.