Ice Network

Iliushechkina, Moscovitch in it for the long haul

Former Russian world junior champion finds new life with Canadian partner
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Emboldened by the trials they've already faced in their brief time together, Canadian pair Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch are confident they can overcome whatever obstacles they encounter on the ice. -Skate Canada/Stephan Potopnyk

Dylan Moscovitch has achieved a lot in his skating career. Last season was especially successful for the Canadian, who won a silver medal in the Olympic team event with former partner Kirsten-Moore Towers. But Moscovitch hasn't made his last statement on the ice.

After the end of his partnership with Moore-Towers, Moscovitch got into his car, drove the 200-or-so miles from Waterloo, Ontario, to Detroit and met his new partner, 23-year-old Russian Lubov Iliushechkina.

In every sense, the route Iliushechkina took to arrive at this new partnership was longer than Moscovitch's. Iliushechkina previously competed with Nodari Maisuradze, with whom she won the 2009 world junior title, but her career had been in limbo for the past two years. After she and Maisuradze broke up in March 2012, she had hoped to skate for France with Yannick Kocon, but that pairing fell through.

In May of this year, Moscovitch contacted Iliushechkina, and they decided to have a tryout in Detroit, as Iliushechkina had an open American visa. She planned to spend just one week there, but when she landed a throw triple loop in the first few days, they both decided to cancel her flights home. A new team formed, but they still needed to overcome a number of obstacles.

This past weekend, the team won the Warsaw Cup, their first international event. Their performances included some mistakes, but they showed a good understanding of each other as well as a high technical level. They also got the minimum ISU scores needed to compete at the Four Continents and world championships this season.

Icenetwork talked with Iliushechkina and Moscovitch about the circuitous route they took to find each other, the progress they've made and their future expectations.

Icenetwork: Dylan, how does it feel for an Olympic team event silver medalist to begin a new journey, practically from scratch?

Moscovitch: I have to admit: At the beginning, it was a little daunting. Starting over at this stage in my career was not a small decision. That being said, my partnership with Luba has been very fulfilling, and having a new team of coaches and trainers in a fresh environment has breathed new life into my skating. I am learning new things and improving the quality of everything I do.  

Icenetwork: One could say that it's too risky a "venture." It's also not a cheap one.

Moscovitch: This venture has been a gamble from the beginning. We had no guarantee that the Russian skating federation would release Luba. We still don't have a "for sure" guarantee that she will get her citizenship in time for the 2018 Olympics. And funding has been a very difficult issue for us. But we knew this when we started. I see a great deal of potential in Luba, and in us as a team. I still love skating and feel like I have more to give to the sport. I know that an athlete's lifespan in a sport is short and the rest of life will happen whether we like it or not. It's a risk I see worth taking.

Icenetwork: In May, you went to the United States for a tryout with her and then spent more than a month there while she waited to be issued a Canadian visa. What makes Luba such an attractive partner to you?

Moscovitch: Luba is incredibly driven and dedicated. She loves skating, and she loves doing things right. When she came to try out with me, she hadn't been training consistently for over a year, but I could still see her love for the sport and her hunger for success. She is immensely talented and innovative. I have learned so much from her -- from her Russian training to her creative approach to everything we do. But above all, we respect each other and are very much on the same page when it comes to our skating, which makes the process very enjoyable.

Icenetwork: I've heard you were in shock when the Russian skating federation released her. Why?

Moscovitch: Luba had been hoping to be released for a long time, and when we began to apply for the release, we realized it would most likely not be easy. With so many unknowns from the start of our partnership, it was extremely uplifting to know that one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle had been resolved. 

Iliushechkina: The process before the final decision had been made took a while. At times, we got frustrated with waiting. Lots of steps had been taken care of by different people. The decision could have come at any time. We thought we would get the release, but we didn't expect that it would take that long. Meanwhile, some unforeseen problems arose, which we also had to go through. Every morning started with the question: "Any news?" We were emotionally exhausted. And when, finally, there was an article in the news, we felt so relieved. 

Icenetwork: Before Russia released Luba, you'd been training together for five months. What can you tell us about that period?

Iliushechkina: We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. We were experiencing all the usual things a new pair team goes through: getting used to each other, matching our elements, preparing for the season, making new programs and getting back to the regular skating process. 

Waiting felt endless and agonizing. And for me, it had started much earlier than when we teamed together. 

Moscovitch: We tried to divert our attention away from it and focus on our training so that, should the release come, we would be ready. It was very difficult at times throughout that phase of our partnership, but it helped us grow as a team and learn how to read each other, communicate and trust each other. 

Iliushechkina: We also were busy with stuff off the ice, with documents and all the other formalities. 

When I got sad, Dylan talked to me, gave some advice, cleared up all the "fog" from my mind or just listened, and everything became easier. He has a fantastic ability to turn all troubles into a joke and to find something good in each difficulty. That's why I created some nicknames for him, like "joker" or "positive maker."

We'd been skating in Detroit for six weeks on our own, waiting for my Canadian visa. I had a U.S. visa opened, and we needed to do the tryout right away because time was limited. So we met in Detroit in the middle of May. I planned to spend one week there, but after three days of skating, we decided to start our partnership, and I canceled my flight back home. In the U.S., we applied for my Canadian visa. As soon as I got it, we drove to Toronto and started to train properly. 

Icenetwork: Luba, moving to a new country is always a challenge. How was it in your case?

Iliushechkina: I moved to the country of my dreams. I never get tired of people asking me this question because I have wished to live there since I first visited [the U.S.] Canada met me with lots of hugs (smiles).

Here I feel comfortable, open, smiling, happy. ... I feel this is my place. 

Of course, I had to get used to different details in my life, in my routine, in my mentality...but I was ready. The most difficult thing for me was to learn how to trust people. I had some bad experiences before and preferred to stay closed. Here, I have a lot of people around me who I can talk with and who look after me. We have wonderful coaches: Lee Barkell, Tracy Wilson and Bryce Davison. With them, I've discovered a different view on figure skating. I came from a good Russian school, which is more classical, and now I'm in a Canadian one, which allows me to open my personality more and to bring it into my skating. 

Icenetwork: What can you say about the training atmosphere in Toronto?

Iliushechkina: We have a warm and friendly group at the Cricket Club. The skaters, parents, coaches and employees are like one big family. When I got the release, they presented me with a cake with the words "Welcome to Canada, Luba!" and decorated it with little Canadian and Olympic flags. Those were indescribable emotions! I almost cried.

Here, I live with a family -- the Heeneys. They're fantastic people with big, warm hearts. Shuna Heeney is an adult skater at the Cricket Club. She rents me a room. I am endlessly grateful to her! 

Also, Dylan's family has become my second family. Dylan, his mother, Linda, and his father, Jerry, take care of me. They do everything to make me feel free and welcome. Whatever I need, I can always ask [for] and get help [with]. And his siblings, Natasha, Mischa and Kyra, are very supportive. Huge thanks to them!

Icenetwork: Are there difficulties related to the break you took in skating competitively?

Iliushechkina: I took a break in my skating, but I wasn't off the ice completely. I worked as a coach. I had my group of skaters for a full season. Of course, there's a big difference between being an athlete and being a coach. Coaching is much more a job for the mind than the body. 

Every day I had my skates on, and I tried to do all the exercises with my pupils, on and off the ice. On Saturdays, I would give seven lessons in a row! On Sundays, I took a break from coaching and went to the gym. I did all the exercises I could to keep myself in shape.

I was extremely tired, but I knew if I allowed myself to skip a workout, I'd regret it a lot. I asked myself: "What shall I do if I get a proposal for a tryout tomorrow and I'm not prepared? Do I give up? No! Never!"

I'm happy that my efforts were not in vain. I landed our first triple throw on the second or third day we skated together, and in two months I'd gotten got back all the elements I had before. 

Icenetwork: How is your progress going in general?

Iliushechkina: We work a lot, and we're improving. We have a good relationship and mutual understanding, which helps a lot on the ice. We feel each other, match easily and really enjoy our skating. 

I can't see us every day and I cannot judge. I'm very self critical and if I watch the video, I always find details to work on. Nothing is ever ideal. But we've gotten a lot of positive opinions from different people. That means we're making progress. 

Moscovitch: I feel that we have come together as a team very quickly. We work very well together and have found a cohesiveness that usually takes more time than we have had. I am excited for what we are capable of because, as a team, we have everything that we need to succeed.

Icenetwork: Dylan, in past seasons your main rivals on the national stage were Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. Now there is another new team of Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro. How do you see the competitive rivalry between you and your former partner?

Moscovitch: The rivalry (between he and Kirsten, and Meagan and Eric) was always there for everyone to see, and I could always feel it, but I always do my best to focus on my job. All I can do is prepare to be my very best and then perform at the highest level I am capable of. The same goes for my competitors. The judges make the final decision in the end. I am definitely aware that there will be people wanting to see a rivalry, but I am going to do my best to keep my energy and focus on my skating, and on my partnership with Luba.

Icenetwork: What are the main things you would like to achieve in this first year of your partnership?

Iliushechkina: I don't want to predict anything or offer a challenge. We just want to focus on skating. The first year is for getting people to know us, showing our skills and making the audience take pleasure from watching us. Our focus is on staying connected, maintaining our chemistry and staying in our programs from the beginning to the end. 

Moskovitch: I agree with Luba. Most of our goals are focused on us and how we skate. Telling a story, creating a feeling for the judges and the audience -- those are the most important things for us. We are training very well, and have a lot of confidence in our skating and our elements. If we do our job, we should have a good chance of competing at Four Continents and worlds, but that isn't for us to decide.