Vancouver’s Tanika Gibbons was a late starter in figure skating, not taking to the ice until she was nine. “I was in gymnastics for five years before that,” she said, “starting when I was four. I especially liked the bars. One day I went to the rink and decided to try skating, and then I did the CanSkate program and decided to stay in skating. Gymnastics helped me with my flexibility for sure and gave me a bit of a start on the jumps.” By the age of 12, she had landed her first triple salchow. “I’m using triple toe/double toe in the long and I’ve landed triple toe/triple toe,” she said. “But the salchow and the loop are my favorites. My flip and lutz are inconsistent.”
Gibbons has trained for the last five years with Tina Leininger, who also does her choreography. For the 2003-04 season, Gibbons used One O’clock Jump for her short program and The Thief of Baghdad for the long. “I like fun music that gets me going,” Gibbons said. “High energy, fun programs. Tina found the music for the short program last year and we kept it because it was an outstanding program.”
Leininger added, “We kept the short program for one more season because I felt it still had some room to grow. The long was a bit of a stretch for Tanika. It is still in development and we will keep it for another season. There are so many levels to the music and we have yet to explore and develop all of them. I actually found the music for someone else but I thought it would be right for Tanika. It’s very poetic and a true reflection of her personality. It’s not a piece you’ll hear anywhere else.”
Normally, the 15-year-old trains for two hours a day, five days a week and does about an hour a day three days a week off ice, including ballet. But last season, she suffered a tissue injury in her foot because of a boot problem. “Her training was very irregular,” Leininger stated. “Often, we had to do the entire session off ice instead of skating. We changed boots four days before Czech Skate and she could only skate 15 minutes a day in the Czech Republic. After we returned, she was off for a full four weeks, came back for three days and had to take another two weeks off. She came back about three days before the Sectional championships, where she placed fourth in the short. She came back to win the long with a gutsy performance and ended up second overall. It showed that she has the heart of a true competitor.” “Now I know I can do it if I have to,” Gibbons added.
Off ice, Gibbons likes to do crafts, shop, and read. “I read a lot of things,” she said, “everything from Harry Potter to non-fiction. But I have to be able to get into it within the first few chapters or I don’t finish. My aunt’s a very crafty person so I do a lot of things like mosaics and stained glass. I knitted my coach a scarf for Christmas.” Sometimes her father takes her to the driving range to hit golf balls, but otherwise she doesn’t play other sports. She collects key chains, pens and keys from hotels where she’s stayed. “I want to collect enough to make a dress,” she stated.
Gibbons has about two years left in high school, doing correspondence courses via the Internet. “It’s the only way to go with all the training, travel and studying,” Gibbons said. “My favorite subjects are math and French. One of my goals was to be able to speak French at Canadians. I’m pretty good at school. Most of my grades are 93 to 98 percent. I plan to go to university, probably in physical therapy. Sometimes, I’ve thought about coaching but my coach advises me to get my education so I’ll have more opportunities.”
She plans to compete at least until 2010. “I really wanted to be top five and get that team jacket,” said Gibbons, who finished sixth in junior ladies in 2004. “But to do a clean program is really important as well.” Gibbons has progressed rapidly since 2001, moving up a level each year. When she competed in Juvenile in 2001, she didn’t make it out of the region, but the next year, she was fifth at Junior Nationals in Pre-Novice. In 2002, she competed in Novice and placed fourth, before making the move to juniors last season. Gibbons finished sixth in junior ladies at the North American Challenge Skate in San Jose, Calif. this week and will be headed toBudapest in September to compete in the Junior Grand Prix event.
Leininger added, “She’s an incredibly dedicated girl. I never have to tell her that she’s not doing her job. She always comes out and wants to win. That makes my job as a coach easy. She’s done all I’ve asked her to do and it really paid off. We just have to improve on her presentation and speed because she has excellent jumps and spins. But you have to have the confidence to go out and do it. We were fortunate for the Junior Grand Prix. It was a huge experience for her. She couldn’t have come to Canadians without it. Now she knows that she can fight through anything and you can’t count her out.”