What are the odds of a young man from Rooty Hill with Aboriginal heritage becoming a world-class Pairs figure skater, and doing so with a 16-year-old from Moscow?
Over the past two days in the Czech Republic at the Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating, Harley Windsor and Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya skated for Australia, putting their more experienced competitors on notice with a 6th place in the short program and 8th overall in their international competitive debut.
High-level, high speed and to the casual onlooker – scary elements, were delivered by Australia’s newest pair skaters who, against all the odds, have achieved quality technical prowess in less than eight months training at whatever time they could in either Sydney or Moscow.
The unlikely pairing of Harley Windsor – could he have a better name – and Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya was a brainwave by Harley’s Sydney coaches Galina and Andrei Pachin late last year in a desperate bid to keep their talented young student in the sport he loves.
It is entirely possible in the not-too-distant future that Harley will have quite a story of his own to tell.
The real beginnings are in the Dreamtime and could culminate in the fulfilment of his personal dream to not just represent Australia at the Winter Olympics but to be good. Very, very good.
“I don’t want to just go the Olympics. I know I can be good at this and do really well,” Harley said in March this year.
19-year-old Harley’s heritage spans across NSW. His mother Josie is from the Weilwyn and Gamilaraay people, whilst father Peter is from Moree of the Gamilaraay and Ngarrable people. His great grandparents were both full blood Aboriginal people, neither of whom ever spoke English. The history and the stories goes back and back and back.
It was a wrong turn forcing Josie to drive into a Macca’s at Blacktown over ten years ago, that starts Harley’s story.
“We had breakfast and Harley played for a while. On our way out he noticed the ice rink at Blacktown. So, in we went. Harley put on the plastic blue boots and I grabbed another coffee, worrying why no one has come out to tell me that he’s has fallen over and broken something.”
“I walked in and called him to the barrier because he was zipping back and forwards. He wanted to come back and join skate school.”
With coaches Galina and Andrei Pachin, Harley made it through the singles divisions with reasonable success but his heart and natural build made pairs the real target. Australia has not fielded a successful pairs team since three-time Olympians brother and sister team Stephen Carr and Danielle McGrath in the 1990s.
Finding a partner with skill, guts, commitment and determination in equal measure is not the easiest of tasks, notwithstanding the normal difficulties faced by all teenagers in the process of growing and maturing.
“I was lucky to have a few partners from NSW and also Queensland where we learned the basics and passed all the qualifying tests. Unfortunately none of the partnerships really worked out,” Harley said. “I thought that was going to be it. All done and not be able to do what I love in the sport.”
His Australian coaches took a broader view and looked to Russia to find Harley a partner.
The odds of finding a suitable partner was low, the odds of that girl wanting to skate for Australia was lower still. Could it work? Would it work? Critically, how could such a partnership work for two young people from such a differing cultural heritage? Then throw in language for good measure.
Andrei Pachin took his student to Moscow in the hope of finding a partner. It was a desperate move by motivated coaches at their own expense to keep this young man in the sport.
Enter Ekaterina (Katia) Alexandrovskaya. A 16-year-old only child, whose father sadly passed away last year.
Katia, as she is known, was part of the Moscow-based Pairs training school but there was no available partner. Her legendary Olympic gold medal winning coach Nina Mozer saw the possibilities and liked what she saw in Harley. They were a match made in heaven for any coach. Mozer was instrumental in securing a release for Katia from the Russian Federation after Australia’s formal request.
It was a generous gesture by a respected coach who cares about the sport and her students.
To make it this far has been a logistical achievement between which visas allow the couple into either Australia or Russia and when.
This morning, Harley and Katia have made their mark on the world figure skating scene at their first attempt. There were no glaring errors, falls or major mishaps. This unlikely pair is suddenly on the radar for their power and technical strength. Now it’s a matter of experience and performance.
What were the odds of that outcome seven months ago?
Harley and Katia are partly satisfied.
“We are happy with the free program,” Harley said from the Czech Republic this morning. “There wasn’t much between us and 4th place – so not bad. Would have been close to 3rd if I had done better in the short. Katia was annoyed about the short too.”
“Hopefully we will get better components as the season goes on.”
These guys have big expectations.
This story has many twists and turns to offer up. It hasn’t been easy so far. There’s probably more difficulties to come, so – watch this space.
By Belinda Noonan