By Darren Lum
From disappointment to surprise a former Red Hawks figure skater achieved end-of-season success as a Gryphon at the OUA (Ontario University Athletics) Figure Skating Championships held at the Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto.
River Christiano of Haliburton and her skating partner Colleen Black of Aylmer won a provincial silver medal in the Star 10 Similar Dance category representing the University of Guelph at the provincial championship held from Feb. 10 to 11.
Christiano was excited about the podium finish to cap off her rookie season.
“You know being rookies and having it being our first OUAs and it wasn’t really something we were totally expecting because our results at the other competitions were kind of varied … but we were definitely really satisfied and it was what we were aiming for” she said.
Two weeks before this championship Christiano and Black experienced disappointment when they finished in fifth place after completing the compulsory dance the Blues at the OUA Winter Invitational in Aylmer.
Rather than go home and sulk Christiano listened to the advice of their coach and approached the judge at the invitational to learn why they received the lower-than-expected scores.
The pair she said were confident going into the invitational and believed they skated well until the scores were revealed.
Making the correct adjustments after hearing the constructive feedback proved important.
“It motivated us to work harder” she said.
The pair practised for the next two weeks and worked on their pace to their dance and the precision of their steps. Christiano said the main focus going into the OUA championship where they performed two compulsory dances was on speed and precision.
She remembers the pair missed winning the gold medal by two points which likely stemming from a “timing mistake.”
Similar dance is an event that has all competitors complete a compulsory dance so all the teams perform the same choreographed dance accompanied by the same music.
“It’s like a set pattern of steps and everyone does it the same” she said.
Conventionally the pairs are performed by men and women but in the OUA competition two women compete together. Christiano was led by Black who had to adjust from the traditional female position and assume the conventional male role in pairs.
Christiano hopes to return to the University of Guelph next year and aspires to continue her partnership with Black and improve in the hope to winning gold. She also wants to not only compete in pairs dance and (group) synchronization where she finished fourth at the OUA championship but also compete in solo dance and rhythm.
Christiano and Black were paired by the coaching staff.
The partnership really worked out she said.
“We definitely think alike when it comes to skating and we kind of developed a relationship where were close enough to kind of predict what the other person was going to do on the ice and you know really just be aware of where the other person is and how they skate and that is something that is really important in ice dance” she said.
Haliburton’s Christiano is a first-year student at Guelph and is studying psychology.
She’s skated since she was about seven years old in Montreal and then would later join the Minden Skating Club led by coach Jane Symons after moving to Haliburton County which was where she had the bulk of her training for several years until she left to live and train with the Mariposa Skating School for a season skating competitively for year before taking a year off.
Just before the year in Barrie while representing the Minden Skating Club she won gold with ice dance partner Morgan Raffo of Lindsay for pairs dance at the All-Ontario Championships in 2015. She counts this OUA silver as a high mark in her skating history.
The OUA silver medal is a satisfying reward in her return from her skating hiatus.
“I would say for me this is more of an accomplishment just because it’s like a higher level of dance I was competing at this competition and even though we didn’t come in first it was a big accomplishment and it was our best score we had throughout the whole season” she said.
For Christiano the skating experience with the Gryphons was all new because of the team aspect.
“All my other skating experiences have been either me individually or me with a partner so definitely doing syncro and just competing as a whole new team was a whole new experience and a whole new way of skating for me that really stood out as a positive experience” she said.
Christiano and Black’s silver helped Guelph finish fourth overall behind McMaster’s 50 points which was within a few points of a podium finish with 47.
“We’re all disappointed that we didn’t come in third. We’re all depending on our synchro program to put us in third place. We were kind of head to head with McMaster the whole competition and then there were a couple of minor setbacks in a synchro program that put us in third place but overall I think everyone was satisfied with how it turned out. It was definitely better than past year for sure. It was a big accomplishment for the team” she said.