What a difference five years makes.
The first time Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro competed at Skate Canada International in Kelowna, B.C., it was their first Grand Prix event together, they had just formed a partnership and they had no idea just how difficult that would be.
It was a rough start for the pair. They’d rather not remember. In fact, Marinario said about a week ago, he remembers nothing at all of his first jaunt with Moore-Towers in Kelowna. “I think we were both naïve as to how difficult our transition into partners would be,” Moore-Towers said. “We were just a bit behind. We’re looking forward to making new memories.”
And they can. They will have a chance next week at Skate Canada International in Kelowna, going in as gold medalists from the Nebelhorn Trophy in Obertsdorf, Germany. So much slicker, faster, and riveting are they than a time when they still had to reach for each’s other’s hands five years ago.
They’ve done some heroics since that first inauspicious visit to Kelowna, most remarkably their sixth-place finish at the 2018 world championships in Milan, Italy, as the only Canadian team to make the cut for the free. See my story on Moore-Towers and Marinaro here.
Their 204.33 score at that Milan world championship was a milestone for them, first time they had broken 200. They have so far to go. World champions Wenjing Sui and Han Cong, the loveliest of the lovely, scored 235.47 points at the 2018 Olympics – and didn’t win. Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany won an emotional gold medal, just .34 points ahead of the Chinese.
Moore-Towers and Marinaro were 11th at that event. They keep chugging.
They reached more milestones a few weeks ago in Obertsdorf, their first event of the season, which they won convincingly. Their score of 210.35 helped them win by 7.94 points over U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim. At Skate Canada, Marinaro said they would be happy with a final score of 215.
“There are some things we can grab a couple more points on,” he said. “And we’re going to need every one of those points if we want to be competitive with the very best in the world this year.”
At Skate Canada, they will be up against Russians Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, a top quality team (top score 228.47) who have won everything but the big events, having taken the silver medal twice at world championships and the bronze once. They were fourth at the past Olympics.
In fact, Tarasova and Morozov were even defeated at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in mid-September by Americans Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc after a rash of mistakes.
There is also a fast-rising, promising young Russian team Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitri Kozlovski, fourth at Skate Canada and sixth at their first world championship last year, with a top score of 210.30. The Knierims are in the Skate Canada lineup, too.
The Knierims are best known for their wild, high-flying, death-defying triple twist (they have done quad twists). At Obertsdorf, officials awarded them a level three of difficulty but an entire row of +5 bonus points for this move in the free, enough to swell their mark for this element to 8.55 points from a base of 5.70.
As for Moore-Towers and Marinaro, they had reason to celebrate their hard-fought triple twist, which has long been an Achilles heel for them. They managed to get their first level four (the highest) level of difficulty for it, at least in the short program. (They got a level three in the long.)
And for this move, they got 6.98 points in the short program, the difference between them and the Knierims being that the Canadians didn’t get as many bonus points for it.
“We know it’s not where we want it to be yet,” Moore-Towers said. “But we see daily and weekly improvements on it. We’re hoping to keep raising the points that we achieve.”
During the summer, they pulled all the stops to improve the twist. “It was a long and very difficult process,” Moore-Towers said. “It was tough to change technique that we had done the same for 10 years for me and more than 10 years for Mike. It was very frustrating. [Coach Bruno Marcotte] was very patient. Our whole coaching team was very patient with us. I think they knew they couldn’t be harder on us than we are ourselves.
“I almost gave that triple twist my career.”
The more features the twist has, the higher the level of difficulty. Moore-Towers and Marinaro do everything that can pull the level higher: footwork into it, a split position in the air, Mike’s arms dropping while she is in the air, and a perfect catch. The only thing they do not do is to have Moore-Towers raise an arm in the air.
The goal this year is to overcome what sometimes plagued them last year: inconsistency.
“This year our biggest goal is consistency in competitions,” Marinaro said. “Last year, we had it in practice, but it didn’t quite translate onto the ice [in competition], so this time, we are trying to be very consistent at all the events. We are trying to better the score each time.”
They draw hope from the example of French team Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres who for years were a middle of the pack, lower-top 10 team until they moved to Florida to work with former US pair champ John Zimmerman and Jeremy Barrett. Their skating skills improved, they developed an excitement in their skating and eventually won the European championship title and a bronze medal at the world championships.
“They didn’t start their career with huge numbers,” Moore-Tower said. “But their consistency and improvements on skating quality really got them some big numbers, even when they took out the quad [throw]. We’re hoping to follow in their footsteps a little bit and become Canada’s most reliable team. And improve our skating skills each time out. And we hope that also with getting our level fours and not leaving any points on the table, that we will start to get some higher and higher points and try to be competitive with the best teams in the world.”
They know there are also more Canadian teams scuttling up behind them – they will have to face new team Lubov Ilyushechkina and Charlie Bilodeau at Skate Canada, too – and they will have to fight to retain their Canadian title in January.
“We know we have some great youngsters coming up and the Canadian team is really fun right now with a lot of potential,” Moore-Towers said. “We’re hoping to be leaders on the team.”