It seems hard to believe but in 2018, Lia Pereira finished 16th at the Canadian novice singles championships.
Now 19, she has the world by its bootstraps as an international pair partner with 27-year-old veteran Trennt Michaud. Together only since last year, Pereira and Michaud won a silver medal at Skate America – their first Grand Prix medal – this past weekend.
They did not do Grand Prix events last season as they scrambled to form a partnership in this risky discipline.
Michaud found himself without a pair partner when Evelyn Walsh, with whom he had gone to three world championships, three Four Continents championships, and a host of Grand Prix events (but no Olympics) from the time that Pereira was skating at the novice singles level. Alison Purkiss, who had coached Michaud – and also Pereira when she spent one year as a novice level pair skater with James Robert-Morgan – thought it made sense to hook up the two. And so it happened.
The new team splits its time 50-50 between Pereira’s coaches (Nancy Lemaire and Derek Schmidt) in Milton, Ont., and Michaud’s coach, (Purkiss) in Brantford, Ont. It’s been a huge collaboration and it has worked.
Pereira and Robart-Morgan had finished 9th at novice Canadian championships during the 2018-19 season. That one year of pair experience was not at all a loss. In fact, it was a bonus for Pereira in the new partnership.
The Pereira-Michaud partnership could have gone in any direction, but they were similar in all the right ways. “It happened so fast,” Pereria said. “We did click right away. We have similar positive personalities.”
In fact, around the rink, Pereira-Michaud are known as “The Golden Retrievers.” This golden-haired Scottish breed is known for its intelligent, friendly, kind, reliable, trustworthy, confident, and gentle nature. It’s darned near impossible to dislike a Golden Retriever.
“It works in our favour,” Pereira said. “I think it helped us a lot last season, just being able to share our feelings.”
Michaud said a new partnership has a multitude of things to work on and it doesn’t always work like magic. “For the most part, a lot of it did,” he said. “There was an instant connection, which was good, just understanding, which was huge. That makes it easier.”
Last season, just bumping together for the first time and learning about each other, they were getting level fours of difficulty in some elements. At the national championships last season, Pereira and Michaud finished fourth in the short program, but earned level fours for a triple twist (exceedingly hard to do), level four on footwork (also, very hard to get) and a level four on a flying change combination spin.
And remember, Pereira was also competing in senior women’s singles at this event. Her schedule was harrowing. Pereira had two short programs and two free skates on consecutive days. On the first day, she finished second in women’s singles to her training mate Madeline Schizas.
She dropped to fifth the next day in the womens’ event, but in pairs, Pereira and Michaud muscled their way into third place and a bronze medal. There were mistakes in the pair free program, but Pereira/Michaud again got another level four on the triple twist, on a forward inside death spiral, and Axel lasso lift, and a pair combo spin.
They earned their way to the Four Continents Championships for the first time, and finished fourth in the short program with a clean skate. And they were fourth in the free, too.
They amazed everybody at the world championships in Saitama, Japan in March by finishing fourth in the free skate, and sixth overall. The rookies had come to town. This was Pereira’s first visit to Japan and only their fourth competition of the season.
Pereira said they simply followed a plan their coaches had set out for them. They set out a path of where they wanted to be by sectionals, nationals and worlds. They started off with only throw doubles in the first had of the season, “just to build our confidence for other elements,” Pereira said. “Once they were ready, we put them in the program, and this allowed us to feel more confident and more prepared, and also more excited every time we went out to compete.”
They were basically competing a different program with progressively more difficult elements every time they skated last season.
Their most difficult thing? Michaud doesn’t lose any time saying that it’s matching a side-by-side spin.
Pereira wouldn’t point to a single element but “we’re always working on skating better together, with connection on the ice, with our power and speed and performance,” she said. “I would say the more difficult elements, is just to match and take the time to skate together.”
At Skate America, it was very clear: they constantly looked at each other as they skated, something that world champions Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini always did to perfection.
Pereira said she won’t be skating singles this season. That idea went out the window with their successes in pairs last season. “We have big goals together, so I wanted to put my 100 per cent into all of that,” she said.
Their ultimate goal is the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan, Italy. They also want to win medals at most of their events along the way. (Their next Grand Prix is in Angers, France Nov. 3 to 5.)
“Right from the get-go, I knew we had the chance to be very good,” Michaud said.
This season, they started off their journey in the short program to music from Bishop Briggs, the stage name of British-American singer Sarah Grace McLaughlin, known for her heart-pounding anthems of dark pop. She soul-stomps her way through their song choice of “River,” with searing vocals like:
“How do you fall in love?
Harder than a bullet could hit you
How do we fall apart?
Faster than a hairpin trigger.”
“It’s not a usual figure skating program,” Pereira said. “But we wanted to take on a challenge. We wanted to take on something that was a little different but still in our wheelhouse, and what we are able to do. We’re really excited about it.”
Purkiss and former ice dancer Asher Hill choreographed it together.
They skate to “Gladiator” for the free skate. “There are so many different pieces from “Gladiator” that you can use,” Michard said. “I really love the selection that we have.” They choreographed it with other ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Adrian Diaz in London, Ont. – and Scott Moir has worked on it too.
“That’s been fun,” Michaud said. “We’ve been training with them every few weeks.”
He said he loved last year’s “Pirate of the Caribbean, but he loves this one more.
Pereria and Michaud went up against German pair skaters Annika Hocke and Robert Kunkel, who had already competed three times this sesason, winning two bronze and a silver, internationally. At Nebelhorn Trophy, Pereira and Michaud finished fourth to the Germans’ third, separated by only .07 points.
At Skate America, Hocke and Kunkel won again by only 1.64 points.
In France, Pereria and Michaud will compete against Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii, European champions and world bronze medalists whose best total score is 208.08. The Canadians? 193.00, taken at the world championships last year. But that was then.