Ice Network

Moore-Towers, Marinaro get on track in year two

Veteran Canadian pairs skaters hitting their stride after rough first season
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To give themselves the best chance to succeed over the long term, Canada's Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro overhauled their coaching team and their skating technique. -Getty Images

On the road to the Rostelcom Cup this week in Moscow, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro have taken the path less traveled. And it's been a bumpy ride.

Three weeks ago at Skate Canada in Lethbridge, Alberta, the second-year team broke through, earning a bronze medal -- and their first standing ovation to boot.

That result was a clear indication that the risk she took following the Olympic season was finally starting to pay off.

After fourth-place finishes at two world championships with Dylan Moscovitch, Moore-Towers made a bold decision: She left her partner of five years in April 2014 to find another that might lead her through two more quadrennials. She had two tryouts, one with Mervin Tran and another with Marinaro, with whom she had been friends for 10 years. She chose Marinaro, a world junior silver medalist with Margaret Purdy.

The twosome rushed to get themselves ready the season, but there just wasn't enough time. They fell one spot short of making the world team, finishing fourth at the 2015 Canadian Championships. That earned them a trip to the Four Continents Championships, where they came in ninth with 160.70 points. (By comparison, Moore-Towers earned a personal-best score of 208.45 with Moscovitch.)

The comparisons between Moore-Towers' old and new partnerships followed the team around all season. At the Canadian championships, they shared every practice with Moscovitch and his new partner, Lubov Iliushechkina, who finished ahead of them.

"When we made this decision, there was a lot of talk and a lot of skeptical people, but I haven't regretted it once," Moore-Towers said steadfastly. "I haven't doubted it once. You can say what you want about the marks we are getting now in comparison to what I was getting previously…but it doesn't matter. That's what people aren't getting. We are happy. We are always making gains."

After Four Continents last season, she and Marinaro knew they had to make another bold move: to leave coaches Kristy and Kris Wirtz and move elsewhere.

"All through our season, I felt that we had hit a dead end a little bit," Moore-Towers said. "And if we do what we've always done, we were going to get what we've always had, which at that point was just not good enough."

In March, they relocated to Montreal to train at the powerful pairs school overseen by Richard Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte. They admitted they didn't know much about the coaches, but Moore-Towers' parents had spoken to them at competitions in the past. And the pair was certain it wanted to remain in Canada.

"We are proud Canadians," Moore-Towers said.

Marcotte said that when the new team joined the club, his goal was to refine them, to help them take their place as a unique team. Gauthier's job, however, was to completely change their technique for everything they did.

For Moore-Towers and Marinaro, the positive atmosphere in the rink was the best change of all.

"It was something severely lacking in Waterloo (where they trained with the Wirtzes)," Moore-Towers said.

For one thing, the Montreal club featured world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.

"To train with the world champions every day and not learn something would be so silly," Moore-Towers said. "We try to soak up as much as we can from them."

Even though Moore-Towers was once a rival of the world champions, Duhamel and Radford often helped them if they saw they were having difficulties with an element. Duhamel, in fact, went out of her way to show kindness to her, Moore-Towers said.

"It makes the days better," she said. "Even the bad days are OK, because of the atmosphere."

At first, Moore-Towers thought it seemed too good to be true.

"Everybody seemed so happy and supportive of each other that I thought, 'Surely this can't be real,'" she said. "But it turns out that's the way it really is. Everybody has a bad day once in a while, but the bad days are not escalated into something so big that it affects everybody else on the ice."

"Everybody was telling us how amazing and positive the atmosphere there was, and so we kind of figured about 50 percent of that was true," Marinaro said. "But it was exactly what we were told."

Moore-Towers and Marinaro quickly fit in.

"They have unbelievable training habits," Marcotte said. "They are so great to work with. They are like sponge. They want to learn. That's all they want to do."

Their strength, he said, is their attitude.

"There is no stopping them," Marcotte said. "They will do everything and more that you ask them to do. You know there is no cutting corners with them."

And because they are good friends, they don't waste time with personal battles.

"They have immense respect for each other," Marcotte said. "And they are unbelievable teammates with the other teams. They bring such a good energy into the school."

They faced a very hard task, however, when the coaches directed them to change their technique.

"When we got there, they pretty much ripped everything we knew how to do apart," Moore-Towers said. "It was a very challenging couple of months because things that I thought I knew how to do were all of a sudden completely different and not so easy for me anymore."

There was a method behind this madness. Moore-Towers and Marinaro know that to compete at the top, they will eventually need a throw quad. And if they wanted a reliable throw quad salchow, for example, they needed to change their technique for their throw triple. Gauthier had them change their entrance into the throw triple salchow; now, Marinaro tosses from the forearm rather than from the hip.

The lifts and twists got a renovation, too.

"We were doing double throws and double twists for over 12 weeks -- no triples," Marinaro said. "Just completely 100 percent new technique learning."

This year, they are also doing a jump combination for the first time: a triple toe loop-double toe loop-double toe loop. They have four new lifts, and for the first time, they are doing a highly difficult Group 5 reverse lasso lift.

"I've been doing reverse stars for six years, so this is a new experience for me," Moore-Towers said.

But they know it's also not just about the elements. The team is also working on skating skills between elements, as well as an overall look that they can claim as their own. For that, they are relying on Julie Marcotte, the choreographer-sister of Bruno.

Their new choreographer has found vehicles for them that they believe will take them where they want to go. Julie chose "If I Can't Have You" by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua for their short program. The team liked the idea because there are vocals with both male and female singers.

"We can really use that to play off of each other," Moore-Towers said.

For their free skate, Marcotte presented them with Romeo and Juliet. Moore-Towers had skated to music from the classic love tale before, with her first partner, but the piece Marcotte chose was different: It was from the soundtrack of the 1996 movie version.

"When Julie played it, I didn't even know it was Romeo and Juliet because I hadn't seen the movie," Moore-Towers said. "We were not expecting to like it as much as we do."

The team's goals this year are to make the world team -- and to look different.

"We said this last year that we didn't want to look like Dylan and Kirsten or Mike and Margaret, and quite evidently, we failed," Moore-Towers said.

Now, they seem well on their way. They sparkled at Skate Canada and inched their score up to 174.85 (with a missed lift).

Their coach knows they have high ambitions.

Bruno Marcotte said, "I think they have the goods to get there."