Alexe Gilles carries on family tradition

JGP Final ladies bronze medalist talks family ties, skating

Alexe Gilles speaks at a press conference at the Junior Grand Prix Final in South Korea.
Alexe Gilles speaks at a press conference at the Junior Grand Prix Final in South Korea. (Scottie Bibb)


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By J. Barry Mittan, special to
(12/17/2008) - Alexe Gilles, the 2008 U.S. junior ladies champion, is one of three members of her family to compete internationally for the United States in figure skating.

First to compete was her brother, Todd, who finished eighth at the 2005 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in ice dancing with Trina Pratt.

Alexe was the second of the siblings to reach the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final, placing sixth last year. Todd finished eighth in 2005 with Pratt.

Her twin sister, Piper, who now dances with Zach Donohue, actually competed internationally, with a past partner, before Alexe but first qualified for the JGP Final in 2008. She and Donohue were the fifth-ranked dance team but had to withdraw due to an injury.

Alexe was disappointed that her sister could not compete, as they would have made history as the first twins to compete at the same JGP Final in different categories. Alexe still made the most of her time in Korea, winning the bronze medal in junior ladies.

"I had never been to Asia before, but once I got my legs back under me, everything came back," she said. "I get a little more used to the jet lag each time."

"Third is not bad, and I can keep improving on that," she said. "I think I could have skated better. My goal was to get a Junior Grand Prix medal. Now, I want to be in the top four in seniors at nationals and medal at junior worlds."

"I learned from not going to junior worlds last year," she added. "It made me train more. I wanted to do my triple-triple at the Final, but the first one was a bit wonky. I was doing it in practice so I hope it will be better for nationals."

"I moved up to seniors after I won juniors last year," she noted. "What's the point of staying when I could get an extra year in seniors and move up in the world rankings? I hope to keep getting better in the Grand Prix and make the worlds and then the Olympics in 2010 and 2014."

The 16-year-old started skating when she was about two-and-a-half, after she and Piper went to her brother's birthday party at the ice rink. "We went on the ice then and loved it and just stuck with it and kept improving," she said.

"It's a thrill being out there," she continued. "Not many people can do it, balancing on an eighth of an inch blade. I can be graceful and powerful at the same time. That's the fun part."

Unlike her siblings, Gilles did not go into dance. "I tried dance and had a partner for two months, but it wasn't good," she said. "I like jumping more."

Gilles landed a double Axel at 11, a triple Salchow at 13, and is now working on a triple Axel.

"It's not too bad," she said. "It's a little scary, but I work on it in the offseason on the pole harness. I'm also working on the triple flip-triple toe and triple Lutz-triple toe in harness in the summer."

Gilles placed fifth in junior ladies at the 2007 U.S. Nationals before winning in 2008. She was sixth in novice ladies in 2006 and also reached the national level in intermediates in 2005. This season, she will compete in seniors at U.S. Nationals.

Gilles has trained with Tom Zakrajsek and Becky Calvin in Colorado Springs since 2000, working about 3-4 hours a day on ice and one to two hours off ice five days a week.

She also started working with Jill Trenary three times a week two years ago. "Jill is really positive and helps me get through the hard times," Gilles said. "She motivates me and tells me to have fun."

Her short program elements include a triple toe-triple toe combination, triple Lutz and double Axel.

For her long program, Gilles adds a triple Lutz-double toe loop and triple Salchow-double toe-double loop combinations. She also does a triple Lutz, triple loop and triple flip.

For seniors, I'll just add a 30 second spiral sequence and change the jump order," she said.

Both of Gilles' competitive programs were new for this season. David Wilson choreographed her short program to "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair," appropriate for the tall, blond Gilles.

"David had some ideas, and when I listened to it on YouTube, it just popped out to me," she said. "I thought it was elegant and beautiful."

Catarina Lindgren choreographed her free skate. The program includes "Selvatico Album Bongo Madness" by Buddy Collette, "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" by Henderson and Vallee, and "Ti Mon Bo" and "Mambo Beat lo Mejor de lo Mejo" by Tito Puente.

"We had multiple ideas, but we wanted something completely different from the short," Gilles said. "We started with the middle section. That's my favorite. I really like it."

Trenary choreographed Gilles' exhibition program to Leona Lewis' "A Moment Like This."

"I like a big variety of music," Gilles noted, "not just fast or slow. I've done everything from bongo to jazz to Dr. Zhivago. I like all of it."

Among her off-ice interests are swimming, water and snow skiing, and bowling. "I'm not the best at it, but it's fun," she said. "I also watch a lot of movies." She also has five toy poodles and two cockatiels as pets.

Gilles is a junior at Cheyenne Mountain High School. She plans to go to college but is undecided on a future career.

"I like my ceramics class, and I like to make jewelry," she said. "Maybe I'll do something creative, like an art major. Right now I'm staying in the present, taking it one day at a time."

"I hope some day I'm good enough to do shows," she added. "I'd like to have a life around skating, coaching and helping other skaters."