Their résumé suggests an ice dance team with an abundance of experience, but Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam have only just begun.
Both skaters were in the market for a partner when David Islam arranged a tryout for his son and Paul in January 2009. They knew almost immediately the match was right.
“We tried it out, skating with each other for a few days before we decided to team up,” Paul recalled.
The reigning World Junior ice dance silver medalists are indeed every bit the “new team” they describe themselves as, given that they have been together for less than two years.
But it has been a very productive partnership, to be sure, with a Canadian junior title and a World junior medal attained in rapid fashion last season.
“Sometimes we forget that we still are a new team,” said Islam, 20, whose father, David, heads up the couple’s coaching team at the Mariposa School of Skating in Barrie, Ont. “We improve every day, and we work really hard together. The short amount of time we’ve been together has not held us back.”
After placing fourth and fifth at two Junior Grand Prix events last year, Paul and Islam rocketed to the top of the podium at the 2010 Canadian junior championships, and followed that up with a silver at junior Worlds.
“We trained extremely hard and pushed ourselves for nationals and even harder for Worlds,” said Paul, 19. “We really improved our speed and our connection.”
The duo recorded personal-best scores at that event in the Netherlands, rallying from a fifth-place standing after the compulsories to land on the second step of the podium.
“We believed in ourselves and we knew we could do it, but I don’t think anyone else did,” Islam admitted. “Sometimes the skating world doesn’t work the way you want it to, but going to junior Worlds and skating our best, getting the marks we felt we deserved and the placement we think we deserved, was certainly overwhelming at the time … I think our realistic goal was a top-five finish, so the silver medal was pretty exciting for us.”
The duo made their senior Grand Prix debut at 2010 Skate Canada, where they placed second in the free dance and fourth overall, less than one point shy of the podium. A rib injury suffered by Paul forced them to withdraw after the short dance from their second assignment in Moscow.
“We wanted to make a splash on the senior scene, and I believe we did that at our first Grand Prix event,” Islam said.
Now they are looking to make some noise at the Canadian Championships in January.
“As for nationals … the senior event in Canada is fairly established at this point, but we want to go in and maybe turn some heads, mix things up and surprise some people at the top of the senior ranks,” Paul said.
“It’s probably going to take awhile because we are a new team, and there are amazing dancers in Canada and in other countries. We’ve really got to establish ourselves. It’s better now than it used to be because the younger generation can really prove themselves with this judging system. It’s easier to really shine, but it will take time. We have to work our way up there.”
Originally published in February 2011