Home Figure Skating News Canadian junior champs Kemp and Elizarov ‘dig in’

Canadian junior champs Kemp and Elizarov ‘dig in’

A summer of hard work

by Anna Kellar
Hella Höppner

Ava Kemp and Yohnatan Elizarov Ava Kemp and Yohnatan Elizarov

After a challenging 2023-24 season, Canadian junior champions Ava Kemp and Yohnaton Elizarov are excited for a productive and hopefully, injury-free summer. They already have two new programs and are working on a range of new elements before the start of their third Junior international season.

Overcoming physical and mental challenges

Although Kemp and Elizarov had competitive successes this past season, it was still a challenging year with injuries and relocating their training base.

In March 2023, Elizarov suffered a sudden collapse of his lung and had to have surgery in April 2023.

“I wasn’t even sure if we were gonna skate [this season],” said Elizarov. “It was really hard and a lung [surgery] is pretty serious. We weren’t sure what was going to happen after I started training again, so we were also taking precautions. Throughout the summer, I was having really bad chest pain. I went to the hospital a couple of times, just to make sure my lung was still good, and had a bunch of x-rays done. So summer was really hard! Then Ava had injuries during that summer, like her back was hurt. We’re all fine now, but at that time, it was just so much stuff happening and really, really hectic.”

“Ava and I only really got training in June,” he added. “And by June, you should already have programs made and start running through them. But we didn’t have programs made, we didn’t have any elements ready. And so, we were just doing everything all at once, which was very, very stressful.”

In the fall, the season got off to a surprisingly strong start. Kemp and Elizarov placed fourth in the Junior Grand Prix (JGP) in Budapest and won the JGP in Gdańsk. That was enough to secure them a spot in the JGP Final, where they earned silver.

Kemp shared that skating in the Final was the highlight of her season. Especially since the team had to withdraw from the 2022-23 JGP Final the year before.

“We qualified, but we couldn’t go to the Final because of injury,” she said. “And then after Budapest (this year), we weren’t sure of the Final—it was kind of like a question mark. So first qualifying for it, we were happy with! Then honestly, the silver medal was just an extra bonus. But I think overall, it was a really good experience for us.”

It was also a great opportunity to observe the senior teams at the Final.

“I really liked Nikita [Volodin] and Minerva [Hase],” said Elizarov of the German team. “We used to work with Dima [Savin] who coaches that team, and I really like watching their programs.”

Kemp added that Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps are also role models for her.

“It’s really cool being on the Canadian team with them, traveling with them, and seeing how they do practices and stuff,” she said.

Elizarov is proud of the hurdles he and Kemp overcame this season.

“I think [JGP] Poland was really, really good because we kind of threw everything down on the table,” he recalled. “We had to skate very, very well in order to qualify for the Final, so that was really good. And I would say nationals was a pretty big moment for us just because after the Final, as soon as we landed the next morning, I got bronchitis.”

“I was off for like a week and a half, and between the Final and Canadian Nationals,” he continued. “There’s five weeks, four weeks of training, so we started at zero again. My first week back, we were already running full programs. They were just a disaster because I was just not in the right headspace. So those three weeks of training to nationals were extremely hard for us. We actually almost withdrew just because it was just a mess leading up to it. But we managed to get the title which I’m really happy about!”

Training heading into Junior Worlds was much better, but the competition did not go to plan. With three falls in the free skate, Kemp and Elizarov finished sixth. It was the same placement they had reached at Junior Worlds the previous season, but this year, their expectations were much higher.

“Yeah, I still go back and live it and kind of wonder what happened a little,” said Kemp. “I think it was just all year leading up to it, I had loads and loads of pressure that I was putting on myself and overthinking.”

“If you think about it, in Poland we skated perfectly,” noted Elizarov. “Finals, we skated perfectly. Nationals, Ava skated perfectly. I messed up my jump. Going for perfect in stressful competitions is difficult. There was lots of pressure on us. Last year [at Junior Worlds] in Calgary, there was no pressure to medal. We were just there to do our best and have fun out there. This year, we knew we had a chance to medal, so that was added pressure on us. I think we can learn from that and see what we could do with it this year.”

With those lessons in mind, they are being proactive about the mental preparation.

“We work with mental performance coaches,” said Kemp. “I had a debrief with mine after Worlds and we were just trying to figure out what happened and what headspace I was in, so I can learn from that.”

A fresh start for 2024-25

Kemp and Elizarov are excited to have two new programs to show this coming season. The short program is to the music from the television show Succession, and the free skate is “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen.

“It’s very different for us,” said Elizarov. “Our long program last year [to “Skyfall” and “The Writing’s on the Wall”] was powerful and we’re kind of transitioning that [energy] to the short. So, the short program is going to be more slow and powerful, whereas the long program is going to be a little more fun.”

They worked with Jeff Buttle for the short program, and with Carol Lane and Juris Razgulajevs for the free skate. This is their second year working with Lane and Razgulajevs, who also did the free skate last year. They appreciate the extra attention to skating skills that comes from working with ice dancers.

“It’s very humbling,” said Elizarov. “We work with Juris for skating skills, and he gives us exercises to do that his teams do in Scarborough. They’re very difficult, and eventually we get them, but it’s definitely a lot harder than it looks!”

With a full off season to prepare this year, they are also working on new elements. This includes new lifts as they plan to compete as seniors domestically and juniors internationally.

“Seniors has different rules for lifts,” Elizarov pointed out. “So, we’re really working hard on lifts, we’re doing a lot of reps on them, and so far, it’s good, but it’s definitely not a smooth process. We’re working on throw Lutz. That’s been going very well. Back inside death spiral also has gone very well. I believe we did it a year ago, two years ago. And then we’re working on our side-by-side jumps as usual.”

They haven’t yet started to work on the new choreographic lift and choreographic spin that have been proposed by the ISU technical committee.

“We have so much to work on right now,” noted Elizarov. “Especially with lifts. I think we’re waiting for the official rule change, and then we’ll start playing around with it, which might be a little too late. But we’ve got to learn, and we’ve got throws to get consistent, we got programs to run.”

From Winnipeg to Toronto

Kemp and Elizarov both come from Winnipeg, Manitoba, a part of Canada not known for producing pair skaters or national champions. But with the support of their long-time coach Kevin Dawe, and assistance from the Canadian federation, they progressed quickly from novice champions to the junior international stage.

The team came together in 2021.

“I wanted to quit skating, actually,” said Elizarov of that time, “because during COVID I got injured, and then I just wasn’t finding any success in singles, and I wasn’t skating a lot. So, I thought, I’m gonna move on with my life and go to university or something. But my mom, she’s like, ‘No, don’t quit, try pairs. There’ll be a good experience. Just give it a try.’

Elizarov then had a few “good talks” with his coach at that time, Kevin as well as David Schultz, who is in Regina.

“He kind of taught us the beginning of pairs,” he said of Schultz. “We were there for the summer when we first started pairs. They said to keep skating. ‘You’ll regret it if you don’t, trust me, keep doing it.’ So, I said ‘okay.’ And my mom told me there was a little girl that wanted to try pairs and we kind of connected from there.”

“I’ve always been interested in pairs,” said Kemp, “but obviously it’s gonna be tough when there’s not really a lot of male skaters. So, I just did singles all throughout my whole career. When the opportunity came up, I was really excited because it was something new. It’s so different from singles. There are so many different elements and a really big variety, so that’s really fun to train.”

“There’s just something about triple throws that is really satisfying,” added Kemp. “It’s nothing like triple jumps. You land and you’re feeling like you’re landing on the cloud. It feels so nice. And lifts feel really rewarding. Also, just having another person out there with you is calming. It’s nice to have another person compete with you and also know that they work just as hard as you for what you guys want.”

Although Elizarov, at 20, is four and a half years older than Kemp, it’s clear the two have a strong relationship and respect for each other.

“I would say it’s our humor,” shared Elizarov. “I think we are really serious when it comes to training, but we also know how to flip the switch and have fun with it. If you see us practicing, we’re laughing, but then as soon as we scale to do an element, we’re focused, we’re dialed in. So, I think that’s a really strong aspect in our partnership.”

Last summer Kemp and Elizarov moved their training base from Winnipeg to Toronto.

“Toronto is huge compared to Winnipeg, and I’m living by myself,” said Elizarov. “So that was quite a big transition for me, learning how to cook and take care of myself without relying on anybody. Now I’m pretty good, but the first couple of months were definitely hard.”

Kemp’s mother and sister moved to Toronto with her, and her father splits his time between Toronto and Winnipeg. She goes to high school online, while Elizarov coaches.

Coach Dawe also moved to Toronto recently, and they were able to continue working with him, alongside Lee Barkell. While Kemp and Elizarov are the only pair team at their rink, they train alongside many high-level singles skaters.

With work, school and training, there’s not much time for other activities, though Kemp is excited to get her driver’s license in June.

“I want to give her some driving lessons,” added Elizarov. “I consider myself a very good driver. So, I like to give tips and tricks on how to be more efficient, let’s just say.”

Kemp has a week of vacation planned in Florida, and Elizarov will use that time to rest as well. However, they are most excited about having a productive summer of healthy, uninterrupted training.

They plan to attend a few domestic competitions over the summer to warm up before their third season on the junior Grand Prix begins.

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