British ice dancer Lewis Gibson has just gained the perfect insight into what to expect from an Olympic Games as he bids to qualify for Beijing 2022 with skating partner Lilah Fear. The duo were selected by the British Olympic Association (BOA) to travel to PyeongChang as part of its Ambition Programme. The trip allowed them to experience the Games from the inside as they watched action across a number of sports while also seeing the environment within the Olympic Village.
Lewis, who has been supported by SportsAid Scotland for the last seven years, was crowned senior British champion with Lilah, 18, in 2016 having only formed a partnership 12 months beforehand. They have competed at the European Figure Skating Championships and the World Figure Skating Championships and their visit to PyeongChang has left them even hungrier to reach the Olympics.
Here, Lewis reflects on PyeongChang and his learnings from the Ambition Programme, reveals the impact of the support he receives from his family and friends, and looks ahead to the future as he talks about his and Lilah’s ice dancing ambitions as they push for the Olympics....
You’ve just returned from PyeongChang where you were part of the BOA’s Ambition Programme. How did you find the experience?
“I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience! We were able to spectate the figure skating short programs and ice dance, as well as the ski jumping, slopestyle skiing, curling and skeleton events. It was amazing cheering on Team GB as well as learning about the sports and experiencing the different atmospheres each one brought. Every athlete was passionate about their event, however there was also a great sense of appreciation for the moment and the chance to be at the Olympics. Outside of spectating, we also had the chance to tour the Olympic Village and view the women’s skeleton medal ceremony. The ceremony was especially exciting, as there were two British athletes on the podium. I felt a great sense of national pride hearing the anthem and watching the Union Jack being raised in the spotlights of the medal plaza.”
How do you feel the Ambition Programme has benefitted you?
“I believe the Ambition Programme has given us great insight and a good idea of what to expect at the Games in 2022. Inside the rink, we felt the same atmosphere as those we had experienced at the European and World Championships last year. Outside the competition is where we really noticed the differences from regular events. We concluded that the routines of preparation require much more focus and mental strength at the Olympics, because the athletes are in the spotlight from the moment they first walk into the Village, until the time the event finishes. This means we will have to be “switched on” for a much longer period than we would normally be accustomed to. Due to the large number of different events, all the athletes have to focus and peak at different times. Because of this, in the Village the atmosphere is filled with much more tension, but also much more team spirit than what we are used to. The whole environment is much more emotionally charged, and now that we know this we can appropriately prepare ourselves for Beijing 2022.”
You and Lilah were crowned national champions in 2016. How big a moment was that for you both?
“Winning our first national championships after skating together for only a year was an amazing achievement for us. It was definitely a very important moment, as it was very motivational to see what we could achieve in such a short period of time. I believe it really revealed to both of us the potential we have to succeed in the future. Our other major achievements so far have been skating well in big moments like the European and World Championships. In doing so, we proved to ourselves that we have the ability to perform well under pressure, something that is integral to the sport of Ice Dance.”
How long have you and Lilah been skating together? How did you end up as a partnership?
“Lilah and I began skating together in November 2015, and have now been competing for two seasons. Before teaming up, we both spent time in the summers skating at the TCSCC in Toronto, Canada. I was a freeskater at the time, and Lilah skated at the junior dance level with her former partner Jacob Payne. In the summer of 2015, the British federation suggested I try the ice dance discipline, and it worked out that Lilah was searching for a new partner at the same time. We decided to try out, were very pleased with how it went, and made the decision to skate together. We split our training time between coaches Karen Quinn and Alan Abretti at Alexandra Palace in North London, and Romain Haguenauer and his team at the Montreal International Skating School, in Canada. We generally spend the summer months in Montreal and the fall and winter in London, as we have many competitions throughout Europe during this time.”
How did you originally get into ice dancing?
“The reason I first began skating was that I had seen the TV show “Dancing on Ice” and decided I wanted to try it out. As a free skater, I always found myself drawn towards the creative side of the sport, which happens to be what ice dancing focuses on. The National Ice Skating Association (NISA) - the British Federation - noticed this in my skating, and suggested that I give dancing a go. I always had admired Canadian legends Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and loved how their skating was centred around their performance. After things went well with Lilah, we eventually wound up in Montreal, on the same ice as them which was absolutely amazing for us. We find it very inspiring skating with them and seeing how they train every day.”
What other hobbies do you have outside of ice dancing?
“My main passion outside of ice dancing is visual art. While I was training free skate in Scotland, I attended an art college. I love all aspects of it, whether it’s something unexpected I come across in daily life, or a new artist with innovating and distinctive work. I am currently working on the illustrations for a children’s novel. I am also very passionate about spinning, I love the combination of physical fitness and musicality, there’s no greater feeling than having an enthusiastic instructor with great music choices and charisma, who gets the whole class motivated and on the same foot. I don’t have the time to travel home too often, but when I do I find myself returning to the local rinks I used to train at. I do some coaching of younger skaters there when I have time, and I love seeing how they have improved each time I come home.”
How big a support are your family and friends?
“My family has played a major role in my career since day one. Whether it was waking up early to drive me to the rink, or supporting me no matter how I skated, they have always been there for me. Many family members come to watch me compete when they can - it is amazing performing knowing I have so many caring and passionate spectators behind me, no matter how it goes. When we compete further abroad, the family gets together to watch the live stream back home, which is great because I get their opinions and feedback no matter where in the world we are. My extended family are getting more into the sport, the more competitions they watch, which is exciting to me.”
You’ve received help from SportsAid Scotland for several years – how much of a difference has that support made?
“The support I have received from SportsAid Scotland has been amazing and I believe that it has played a crucial role in my development as a skater. It has helped me with the cost of training in Canada during the summer, as well as giving me the opportunity to compete and gain valuable experience at a larger number of international competitions. I hope that skaters who find themselves in a similar position to where I started from, will be inspired by my experiences and can enjoy the benefits of SportsAid the way I have.”
Finally, what are your ultimate ambitions in the sport?
“Our main goal is to continue improving and increasing our world ranking and results through to Beijing 2022. We have four seasons to achieve this, and we believe at the rate we are progressing, we can develop enough to be successful at those Games.”
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