Pair skating champions find synchronicity on ice

By Don Fennell

Published 4:37 PST, Fri March 5, 2021

Last Updated: 2:13 PDT, Wed May 12, 2021

There may be a noticeable difference in age and height between Jessie Sun and Victor Lum, but there’s no questioning their symmetry on the ice.

Having quickly established themselves as a force to reckon with, winning the BC/Yukon sections Novice pair skating title last December in Burnaby, the young Richmond athletes now have their sights are now set on a top-five placing at the national level.

“Hard work and great communication,” says Keegan Murphy, director of skating at Richmond’s Connaught club, when asked what makes a great pairs team. “And trust and innovation.”

At the age of 18 and over six feet tall, Lum brings strength and stability to the partnership, explains their coach Jacob Cryderman. “He is able to lift and throw Jessie easily, which is a key aspect to pair skating. And Jessie, 12, on her own is a strong singles skater who brings a strong technical ability that can match her partner’s. She also brings flexibility and grace.”

“Even though it’s a bit scary, I enjoy being lifted and thrown by Victor the most. The feeling of floating in the air for me is amazing,” Sun says. “I also really like skating together as a team. It makes me feel so powerful together as one.”

The Sun and Lum partnership is the result of a determined effort by Murphy and the Connaught team to provide a wide range of skating opportunities. Over the past two years they’ve been busy sowing the seeds for a competitive pairs program in Richmond.

“Only a handful of skating clubs in Canada have the ice time, facilities and coaching expertise to support such a refined area of our sport,” explains Murphy. “This is an (especially) rare discipline in British Columbia and we are very proud of the teams we have developed so far.”

Since the summer of 2019, soon after Sun and Lum were invited to give pairs skating a whirl,  Connaught has been working closely with the Skate Canada’s national office and the BC/Yukon section office to access the resources needed to kick off a pairs skating program.

“Skate Canada has been wonderful in bringing us various mentorship opportunities,” says Murphy. “Our main pair coaches (Cryderman and Eileen Murphy) have been incredible in learning the newest training methods and element requirements. And we have great opportunities to access the experiences of Canadian Olympians such as Meagan Duhamel, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch.” 

All parties need to be open and honest with the many factors that go into monthly training needs/seasonal goals, adds Keegan Murphy.

“What’s different (about pair versus singles skating) is you actually have to work as a team with another person, and you have to communicate to each other unlike singles where you just communicate with yourself,” explains Sun. “In pairs you also have a lot of different elements like lifts, twists, death spirals, throws and pair spins. If we’re struggling, we always have to tell each other so we can figure out what’s wrong.”

Eager to try new things, Sun embraced the opportunity to try pair skating in the spring of 2019. At first, she explains, she just wanted to have some fun.

“But after trying it with Victor, I started really enjoying it. After a month or so, the coaches and us focused a lot on it, and we started doing competitions after only three months of training.”

From his perspective, Victor, who began skating at the relatively advanced age of nine (his parents were anxious for him to take skating lessons), says skating as a pair requires much more teamwork in every element. And a willingness to communicate.

“I was reluctant to transition from single skating to pair skating at first, but I got used to it with more practice,” he says, adding he welcomes the chance to learn new elements and skating skills.

But there is also the added challenge of training his muscles off the ice so that he can be confident he can carry on pair-specific elements like lifts and twists.

Both skaters are determined in the short term to learn and master new elements, with Sun adding she’s anxious once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted to “show off some of those elements we’ve been training for.”

And long-term maybe even testing their mettle internationally.

Pairs skaters tend to also be very strong single skaters, notes Murphy. To become a strong single skater, that process starts in CanSkate and then Junior Academy. Both Lum, who is able to draw on the mental experience of having competed at Skate Canada Challenge championships in 2018 and 2019 in Pre-Novice and Novice, are products of just that.

Sun was a precocious four-year-old when she first stepped on the ice, and has been figure skating since she was seven. Her talent allowing her to also compete as a singles skater, she says she enjoys learning new jumps like triple and working hard to land them cleanly.

“I also just got a new program and I really like the music. Overall, I pretty much love everything about skating.”

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