Everything is new, at least for Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, pairs skaters who describe themselves as “definitely mom and dad now.”
“We’re old for sure,” said Moore-Towers, who like her partner is 27. “We enjoy our leadership role.”
Now Canada’s top pair team, they are surrounded by newness. And it’s working for them.
Over the summer, they were forced to make a tough decision, to choose between their beloved coach Richard Gauthier who toils in Montreal and their other beloved coach Bruno Marcotte, who moved from Gauthier’s school to establish teaching duties at the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex in Oakville, a spanking new complex with four ice pads, one of them Olympic size.
It’s definitely new and shiny as a freshly spit-out pearl. Opened in 2010, it’s the first quad ice pad complex to earn the LEEDS gold designation. In other words, LEEDS, (environmental leadership in energy and environmental design) is so thoughtfully created, it can serve as a cooling centre for extreme-heat days, and a warming centre for extreme-cold days.
And that 1,500-seat Olympic pad is a perfect spot to play host to the Autumn Classic International, just large enough for fans from around the world to catch first sight of athletes unleashing their new programs.
Moore-Towers and Marinaro wrinkled their brows for a long time over this conundrum before they opted for the Ontario site. “It was a big decision for us,” Moore-Towers said. “And it was a decision that was largely out of our control in the beginning….We loved both our coaches. We were happy with them both. And we felt like everyone on that team in Montreal played a big role.”
“Everybody complimented each other,” Marinaro said. “It wasn’t a decision we were looking to make, initially.”
They didn’t take the decision lightly. They spent most of their off season trying to figure out the pros and cons, gauging where they might be happiest, where they could thrive.
Although it was difficult to leave Montreal, one of the advantages of leaving was because they would both be back in Ontario, where they are from. Moore-Towers’s hometown of St. Catharines, Ont., is just down the Queen Elizabeth Way a short jaunt from Oakville. And Marinaro is from Sarnia, although he spent his pair career in nearby Brantford, training with Alison Purkiss, a coach he really didn’t want to leave when he hooked up with Moore-Towers in 2014.
“We did love Quebec, the four years that we were there,” Moore-Towers said. “But it’s nice to be close to family, especially on those harder days. Being able to go home is a huge help to us. Things kind of came full circle that way.”
Marinaro admitted they were nervous about the move at first. “We weren’t sure how it was going to turn out, good or bad,” he said. “It was brand new. But we’re definitely very happy with how it turned out. And it’s even better than we expected it. And we’re loving it.”
Moore-Towers said there have been a few welcome surprises. One of the luxuries of moving to a new place, especially as a veteran, experienced team, is that they were able to pick their own new team. “Sometimes, it’s the teams that are younger and hungry that will work really hard for you,” she said.
One of them is Brian Shales, a former novice and junior pair champion in Canada with Michelle Cronin, who finished seventh at the world junior pair championships in 2005. They trained at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club with the Wirtzes.
Moore-Towers said they didn’t expect Shales to play a major role in their career, but he’s been a daily constant for them and accompanied them to the national training camp in Mississauga.
“After two weeks, we knew we wanted him to play a pretty big role on our team,” Marinaro said. “He was kind of just sitting on the sidelines at first, but very quickly, we asked him to play a big role, because we felt very comfortable with him and felt he brought a lot to the table.”
“There’s a newness and freshness to him that we really enjoy,” Moore-Towers said. “But his energy for us is so great. And it really compliments Bruno’s. They are similar in that they are both calm and easy-going, but they can both pull the trigger really easily, if you need to get in line. [We haven’t seen it yet.]”
Shales has brought the Canadian champs some interesting exercises for jumps. And he brings a new perspective they haven’t seen. “It takes nothing at all from Montreal,” Moore-Towers said. “We didn’t leave because we were unhappy. We didn’t leave because we didn’t feel we could be successful there. And we do miss them. We are super happy every time we see Ritchie and members of our team there. But that being said, we are very happy with our decision.”
Julie Marcotte choreographed their programs before they left Montreal. And they continue to work with her. “She’s become invaluable to our team,” Moore-Towers said. “And we’ve learned pretty quickly that she and Aly work really well together.
“We don’t see Julie as often as we used to, of course. We’ve decided it’s going to be a monthly thing, to go back to Montreal and see our trainer and our therapist and Julie, of course.
Sometimes, however, some things to be fixed in the choreography between visits, and Purkiss, a talented choreographer herself, has stepped up to help. “And their vision for us is very similar, which always helps,” Moore-Towers said.
Marcotte’s vision for Moore-Towers and Marinaro was to pull out “Love On the Brain” by Cold War Kids, an American Indie band, for their short program. It picks up on the strength of their short program from last year, but it’s slower, albeit more sultry. “And a little bit less loving,” Moore-Towers said. “It’s more raw. It’s challenging but it’s been fun to play a role that’s a little bit different for us.”
Although they knew right away they wanted to skate to the music Marcotte found for the long program, they had to ponder this Cold War Kids number for a bit. “We listened to it for a little while, and played it for Kaitlyn Weaver at World Team Trophy,” Moore-Towers said. “She loved it as well, so we sat on it for a little while. And then decided that it was the right choice for us.”
And therein lies another new member of their team. Marinaro said they spent about a week and a half working with Weaver “and that was a pretty amazing experience,” he said. “She brought a lot to the table. And we hope that she’ll come back in the future.”
“I think everybody loved her,” said Moore-Towers of the ice dancer who is currently leading the standings at the pro show Battle of the Blades with her hockey partner Sheldon Kennedy.
“If this is on social media [it is], Kaitlyn, we want you back please!” Marinaro said.
The magic of Weaver is no secret. But Weaver brought something new to these pair skaters. She educated them on different stroking patterns that pair skaters don’t often do, things that she and Andrew Poje would do.
“She did a couple of off-ice lift classes to all our teams and it was a new feel for us because it wasn’t like our pair lifts,” Moore-Towers said. “She taught us transitions into things that would be our pair lifts. She showed us cool exercises where the boy kind of just hangs out while the girl swings around him making shapes and positions. And we learned what their process was like. I think it will definitely change and affect how our process works.
They have also been working with former ice dancer Mitch Islam once a week. “We’ve been begging him since we started to come more than once a week,” Moore-Towers said. “He’s been so so fantastic.”
And thus they have built a team of support that they genuinely love seeing every day. “It’s really all you can ask for,” Moore-Towers said.
Their long program is one that sniffs of wistful wine-soaked corks, of loss and deep emotion, of hope, too. It’s called “Carry You” by Ruelle, whose real name is Maggie Eckford, an American pop singer/songwriter who has wandered from Indie pop to electronic music with a sense of darkness and mystery.
Julie Marcotte heard the music after her father died earlier this year. It’s slow but uplifting at the same time. “It’s lovely,” Moore-Towers said. “I think it made her so emotional and she played it for us after worlds. And worlds wasn’t great for us.” (They finished seventh overall., although they had won the Four Continents silver medal, only .06 points behind world champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, and 5.63 points ahead of another Chinese team Cheng Peng and Yang Jin.)
While they listened to this Ruelle music, they all became emotional. “I was crying and Julie was crying,” Moore-Towers said. “Not even just skating. Just listening to the music. It really touched us, both, for whatever reason. I think we knew right away.”
The lyrics are compelling:
“I know it hurts
It’s hard to breathe sometimes
These nights are long.
You’ve lost the will to fight.
Is anybody out there?
Can you lead me to the light?
Is anybody out there?
Tell me I’ll be alright.
You are not alone.
I’ve been here the whole time, singing you a song
I will carry you. I will carry you.
I know you can’t remember how to shine
Your heart’s a bird without the wings to fly.”
Normally a program takes about a week to choreograph. This one took about three weeks. “It was hard,” Moore-Towers said. “Because we were loving it and we were enjoying ourselves so much. And it was the last few weeks before we were leaving for Oakville and we just had such a great time creating it together.”
They had “a million” versions of every section “which is probably why it took so long,” Moore-Towers said. “But it’s special for us and we’re excited to skate it. We feel more connected to it already than we felt toward Pink Lloyd at the end of last season.”
Pink Floyd proved a challenge to them all year. Asked if they think they had mastered it by year’s end, Moore-Towers quickly says: “NO!”
“Unfortunately not,” Marinaro said.
“I wish I could tell you yes,” she said. “I tried my hardest. I gave it everything we had. We gave it everything. It wasn’t for us. It’s great music, but we just couldn’t master it.
“It wasn’t the end of the world,” she said. “I think it was important for us at the start of the quadrennial to try something new so that maybe it worked. Maybe it was something we found that we were good at, and that was our strength. That was not the case, but I think it was a risk we needed to take. And we’re happy that we did.”
Their summer hasn’t been all about creating, though. Over the off-season, Moore-Towers and Marinaro have been blessed with good health, Moore-Towers having put behind her issues with concussion and a setback with an ankle. They had an up-and-down season last year, and they had trained well, and were ready to “skate lights out” at the world championships. But they didn’t. “It just wasn’t the way the cookie crumbled,” Moore-Towers said. “It happens to everybody. We’re no strangers to it in this sport. But we’re hoping to build on our consistency and reliability for Canada. We want to establish ourselves as No. 1, absolutely.”
And to do that, they’ve worked all summer to eliminate their weaknesses. One of them has been no secret: their twist. They got the job done all last season, but not to the world standard. After World Team Trophy, they did nothing but ups and single twists for months.
“I think it wasn’t even until June that we turned a double,” she said. “So it was a couple of months of just doing singles and lots of ice work.”
And they did their off-ice work with new teams in Oakville. It was as if they really started from scratch over the summer. “We tried to do things completely different,” she said. “We tried things for a few weeks. If they didn’t work, then something different for a few more weeks. So it ended up that we were trying to get it to a point where it was uncomfortable, so much so that we could just make these corrections.”
For 10 years, Moore-Towers has done the twist the same way, similar to the way Marinaro does it. And it’s hard to break the habit. “We really broke it down as much as we could and started from scratch,” Moore-Towers said. “We’re starting to see some results. We had a competition [in mid August],” The program itself was not something we were capable of, but the twist, we were really happy with. So we had some positives to take away.”
They are not adding new elements yet, but they’ve been working on many things: doing a triple Salchow-double toe loop – double toe loop jump combination instead of a double Axel, half loop – triple Salchow. Shales helps them with this by giving them new challenges every day, rather than just working on the jumps they do every day. Now as a 27-year-old skater, Moore-Towers said she’s finally learning what she is capable of doing – things she has not tried.
“It’s brought a new element of excitement,” she said. “I think if we keep training them every day, hopefully one day soon, we’ll be able to incorporate some of these more difficult jumps,” she said. They would like to do a throw Lutz or flip, too. But they spent so much time on their twist during the off-season, it’s too overwhelming to load up the to-do list with so many different things. But with the twist on the upswing, they may turn their attention to those throws.
And they revel in the fact that they can just train, something they could not do for two of the past three summers. “It’s fun to just train, to know you are capable,” Moore-Towers said. “And just work. We enjoy training, which makes us a little bit unique because not everybody likes the grind. But we do. We enjoy the challenge each day. It’s not monotonous. We skate at different times every day. Brian has a different plan for us every day, so it’s made our lives interesting and challenging and exciting, all in one.”
Moore-Towers and Marinaro competed only the short program, which they won at the North York Summer Skate (70.34 points) in mid-August. Although Autumn Classic was at their home rink, they sat out the event, which this year had no pairs event. Next up for the Canadian pair champions ? The Nebelhorn Trophy in Obertsdorf, Germany this coming week.