Ice Network

Tobias, Tkachenko have plenty reason to celebrate

Israeli ice dance team excited to celebrate holidays with new traditions
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Isabella Tobias and Ilia Tkachenko stand atop the podium after winning the 2015 Tallinn Trophy. -courtesy of Isabella Tobias

There is a lot to celebrate this holiday season for ice dancers Isabella Tobias and Ilia Tkachenko. The duo, who teamed up in 2014 but sat out last season due because of International Skating Union's rules, have quickly glided into the competitive groove: They won the Lake Placid Ice Dance International, finished second at both the Finlandia Trophy and Mordovian Ornament, won gold at the Tallinn Trophy and claimed their first Israeli dance title.

Tobias and Tkachenko are performing in Shall We Dance on Ice in Bloomington, Illinois, this Saturday. As a result, Tobias, 24, won't make it home for Hanukkah, but she looks forward to enjoying some of her mother's exceptional latkes (potato pancakes) when she visits family in New York City the following week.

"My mom, in my opinion, makes the best potato latkes in the world," Tobias said "I know it's traditional to eat them with apple sauce, but I picked up a habit from my mother. She puts brown sugar on hers. That's how I eat my latkes, and I encourage people to try it because it's really delicious."

Tobias, who has lived in Michigan for several years since she began training with coach Igor Shpilband, keeps Hanukkah tradition alive. While she hasn't yet learned how to make latkes, she lights her menorah. As both her parents are Jewish, last year she got to experience Christmas full out at the home of then boyfriend (and now fiancé) Samuel Lites.

"Last year, I finally celebrated my first Christmas," Tobias said. "We stayed over Christmas Eve at his mother's house. I was so excited. I got special pajamas. I got a plate to put the cookies on for Santa. I was pumped. I went full 5-year-old with it.

"It was every bit as good as I ever thought it would be," she added. "I love that we get to celebrate everything."

This will be the first Christmas in the U.S. for Tkachenko, 28, and his wife, Kseniia. While he's looking forward to experiencing some American holiday traditions -- spending Christmas Eve with Tobias and the Lites -- he expects he'll continue to have New Year's as his major holiday.

"The biggest holiday in Russia is New Year's. Christmas is a small family holiday," Tkachenko said. "My birthday is Dec. 26. Last year, I went to Russia for my birthday, but this year I'm staying here, so we'll have the full Christmas experience."

This holiday season is special for Tobias, as Lites proposed when they were in Israel for the Israeli championships. She, her mother and Lites' mother will go wedding gown shopping in New York later this month. They tentatively anticipate a summer 2017 wedding. Should she and Tkachenko qualify for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, they may just be the first couple to have both partners married to other people.

"I did not know the proposal was coming," Tobias said. "Sam, my fiancé, [his mother and his sister] came to Israel saying they were only there to watch me compete at nationals. My mother, my father, my grandmother, my brother, his wife and their baby were there. Sam's mother asked me to meet her for a glass of wine at the roof of our hotel in Tel Aviv. I went up there with Sam, and his mother was not there. He took me outside, with the view of Tel Aviv in the background, and got down on one knee and proposed."

Tobias and Tkachenko agree that winning their first Israeli title was additional inspiration in a season that already was going well. They'll next compete at the European championships.

"We're at ease with each other, and we're confident in our ability and what we do as a team," Tobias said. "We're enjoying it."

"I'm looking forward to seeing how the big competitions are going to go," Tkachenko said. "I'm happy with the results and I want to see more."