By Hiro Yoshida
The union of Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch in 2014 as a team put together two skaters who each brought their own distinct style of pairs skating to the table. As they head into their final Canadian championships this weekend, they reflect over the past four seasons and look forward to life beyond skating.
Born in Russia, Ilyushechkina competed on behalf of her homeland internationally between 2008 and 2011. She had won the Junior World title in 2009 with her former partner Nodari Maisuradze. After that partnership dissolved, she had tried and failed to get a release from the Russian skating federation to skate for France with Yannick Kocon.
Moscovitch represented Canada, first with his sister Kyra and then from 2009 with Kirsten Moore-Towers with whom he won silver in the team event at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. They split up after the 2014 World Championships in Saitama, Japan.
With both skaters now partnerless, Moscovitch reached out to Ilyushechkina to suggest a try-out. The pair had known each other for several years.
“We met twice at Skate Canada 2010 in Kingston and at the Grand Prix Final in Beijing,” Moscovitch recalled. “2011 Worlds were in Moscow and I was there competing, and she was watching so we saw each other there too.”
With nothing to lose, they met in Detroit, Michigan in May 2014 to see how good a fit they were together. It did not take them long to decide on their future as a team.
“When we started, I had no idea what to expect,” Moscovitch said. “I didn’t know if I would still skate. Once we started skating, I could see that we had potential, and this was a possibility for sure.”
“When we teamed up together the only thing that I knew is that I wanted to keep skating and I felt comfortable with Dylan,” Ilyushechkina said. “I liked how we started moving and then I started looking further and seeing more.”
There was an anxious wait for the pair until October 2014 to see if the Russian skating federation would release Ilyushechkina skate for Canada. It was good news. The next step was for Ilyushechkina to start the lengthy process of becoming naturalised. She finally received her Canadian citizenship in September 2017.
“As soon as we decided we will go for our partnership and skate together, we started looking in that direction,” Ilyushechkina said.
“It was something we had to keep working on and wait for,” Moscovitch said. “Lots of paperwork, lots of get it done and wait and wait. We had no feedback for a while, so it was stressful. We’re very happy it went through and it gives us the opportunity to potentially go to the Olympics. Luba really likes Canada so it’s for her too as a person outside of skating.”
“I feel welcomed,” Iliushechkina said. “I feel very relaxed and happy in the country and around people.”
For both, there was an initial period of adaptation given that they came from completely different philosophies and styles of pairs skating.
“It was my first time having a partnership with someone not from Canada,” Moscovitch said. “It was interesting at first. Different mentalities, a different method of raising a skater. We came at certain things the same, at certain things completely different. It took patience. It took communication and understanding the growth curve of how we would eventually make the two one.”
“For me, the Canadian approach was new,” Ilyushechkina said. “It was a little lighter on the skating and more about joy. The style of the programmes is very different. I had to think more outside of my box.”
“Even the way that we would learn and the way that we would develop new things,” Moscovitch continued. “It took Luba a little bit of time before she would feel comfortable talking, giving input. It’s just a different philosophy and I take the approach that skating is our career and it’s our job. The coaches are there to help us. It’s a team effort.”
Since they became on-ice partners, they have trained at the renowned Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club under the tutelage of Lee Barkell and Bryce Davison. They share the ice with high calibre skaters like Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez.
“It’s a big skating family, a big skating community,” Ilyushechkina said. “There’s a very warm atmosphere and everyone is supportive. We have very many high-level skaters and I really like the healthy level of competition.”
“The coaches all work together very well,” Moscovitch added. “It’s a very collaborative team mentality.”
The current Olympic cycle has seen a dramatic increase in the number of teams incorporating harder elements into their routines. It’s something the Canadians welcome, even if they have struggled in keeping up with the new technical demands.
“The difficulty is increasing and it’s good for the sport,” Moscovitch said. “It’s always nice to see that it’s going in another direction. Our strengths lie elsewhere so we try put more emphasis on different parts.”
“Our goals are always the same. We want to improve on last time. We want to keep improving as a team and we want to show quality skating, quality elements and give people an emotional experience, a moment where they feel part of our skate.”
The Canadians have taken a contemporary road for their programmes this Olympic season. Their short programme is to “In The Air Tonight” by Phil Collins with the free skating to “At This Moment performed by Billy Vera & The Beaters.
They began their season in October at Finlandia Trophy in Espoo, Finland where they finished fourth. They followed this with a disappointing sixth place at Skate Canada in Regina, Saskatchewan and were fourth again at the Internationaux de France in Grenoble, France in November. They are hoping to have ironed out the kinks in their programmes for Canadians this weekend.
“The Grand Prix season is very quick, one to the next, so you really only have time to recover, train a little bit and get ready,” Moscovitch said. “We’re going to use the time to really prepare properly.”
Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch are hoping to secure one of the three berths available on the Canadian team for PyeongChang Olympics next month. While Moscovitch became an Olympian in 2014, Ilyushechkina narrowly missed out in 2010.
“I was aiming for it and I missed it at nationals,” Ilyushechkina said. “I came fourth by a little bit. I was very frustrated.”
Moscovitch thoroughly enjoyed competing in Sochi and is relishing the prospect of being at the Olympics for a second time.
“I think the most important thing I learned at the Olympics was to soak it up, to make sure that when you’re there to really enjoy the moment and not get too stuck in putting pressure. It’s the Olympics and the thing is not to try to make it more special a moment than it needs to be. It’s just skating. It’s everything else that I find that is special. Getting to be at an event with so many other athletes from different sports and different countries. They train differently, and they eat differently. Their lives are different, but we’re all there together. I think to me the most important thing I learned is to take advantage of that and to recognise how special it is.”
Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch have confirmed that no matter how the second half of their season goes that this will be it for them. Both have no plans set in stone for what they will do after they retire.
“For life after skating, I am going to take some time to figure that out without putting too much pressure on myself,” Moscovitch said. “I’m going to try lots of different things. For my first year, I am going to travel and just enjoy life and try and figure out who Dylan is without skating. Thirty years of skating is a long time. I still coach a bit on and off. I do motivational speaking, so I’ll do more of that. I’m interested in acting so I’ll start doing some acting. Business school maybe, entrepreneurship. Just try and see what feels the most natural for me and then go from there.”
“I have some ideas, but nothing really planned,” Ilyushechkina said.
“We hope to do some more shows,” Moscovitch added. “We enjoyed doing Stars On Ice this past year. It was so much fun and such a wonderful experience. Hopefully we get asked to do it again. Maybe we’ll get to do some shows in Europe.”
While they had some struggles to overcome, there is no doubt in their minds about whether they made the right decision to team up.
“That was my dilemma,” Moscovitch said. “At 29, do I keep going? Is it worth continuing? It would have to be with a good partner with a lot of potential. It was Luba or done.
“She gave me another career so I’m very thankful that I had the opportunity to skate another Olympic cycle. We’ve done some good things together and hopefully do some more good things together.”