Kailani Craine is part of a new wave of young skating talent emerging from Australia. Coming from a nation known globally for its love of competitive sport, it is not surprising that the 16-year-old, who hails from Newcastle, has unlimited personal ambitions.
“When I go to competitions abroad, I see all these great skaters that are doing really big things, so I have to be able to do that too,” Craine explained. “That’s the way I look at it. It’s not about what is happening in Australia, but all over the world. The skating population in Australia is definitely not as large as it is internationally, but we still have great skaters in our country. Our quality of skating has been improving throughout the years.”
In much the same way that the domestic rivalry in ladies figure skating in Japan and more recently in Russia has served to boost the standing of those countries on a global scale, so too has Craine’s fledgling rivalry with fellow Australian Brooklee Han driven the standard of skating in Australia higher.
Craine firmly believes that having another skater at a similar level can only be a positive thing. “It’s a friendly rivalry and there’s nothing mean about it,” she said. “It’s really good because we push ourselves to try and be better than one another. She is a great person to be around and I enjoy traveling with her to competitions. “I think many Australian skaters want to get to international events and to get there we all have to be better. We don’t want to just go overseas for the sake of it. We all want to do well and to improve and that’s what I think we’ve been doing the past couple of years.”
Craine began skating at a local rink in her hometown at age 8. Four years later, it was clear that she had a prodigious talent for the sport. A family vacation in the U.S. was the catalyst that took her skating to the next level. “At first, it was just a holiday. I was skating at that time and we just decided to visit a lot of different rinks in the Los Angeles area,” she recalled. “The Toyota Sports Center was a really good facility, so I just decided to stick with it.”
Located in El Segundo, Calif., the center has three ice pads and is the training base of renowned coach Frank Carroll and his group of elite skaters. It was here that Craine first encountered her current coach Tiffany Chin, the 1981 World junior champion and a two-time World bronze medalist. Craine said they had a rapport from the start. “I went to Toyota Center in 2010 to train with Tiffany and I’ve been with her ever since. The most important lesson I have learned from her is to keep calm and focus on myself. Not just in competition, but in training also,” Craine said.
And the experience of training in an environment with some of the best skaters in the world has clearly motivated the teenager to up her game. “I train with Denis Ten and Evan Lysacek and it’s a really good atmosphere to be around since those people really push you to work harder,” Craine explained. “Technically, I think I have definitely gotten a lot better since coming to Los Angeles, but it’s the atmosphere that drives me. I’m seeing all these massive quad jumps and I want to do that. I guess being close to it is what makes me want to strive to get those more difficult jumps.”
It has been a busy season for the teenager who has been skating at both junior and senior competitions and traveling greater distances to events than her fellow European or North American skaters. Coping with the different time zones and jet lag are something she takes in her stride. “This season I’ve visited Italy, Poland, Korea and Estonia twice. I’ve also trained in the U.S. so there has been a lot of traveling for me,” she said. “If you arrive at a place early you have to try to keep awake until a reasonable time at night. I try not to miss out on a lot of sleep and go to bed when it’s night in whatever time zone I’m in. I loved Korea. It was really fun,” Craine responded when asked what her favorite place is.
“If I had to choose another country I’d like to skate in? Maybe an ice rink in a tropical country like Tahiti or somewhere like that would be nice. It doesn’t matter where the competition is though. I’m happy to go anywhere. I’m starting to make friends all around the world since I travel so much. When I’m at competitions, I see people who walk past and I’m like, ‘Oh, hello!’ It’s really cool.”
It has been a very productive year for Craine who won gold in the junior ladies event at Lombardia Trophy, claimed both the junior and senior titles at Australian nationals and took her first senior international medal (silver) at the Mentor Nestle Toruń Cup in Poland in January.
She made her Championship debut at Four Continents in February, but representing her country on such a big stage did not faze her at all. “I definitely don’t feel pressure,” Craine said. “Four Continents was my first competition where there was a big crowd and all the Koreans that attended were so nice. They cheered for me and I really didn’t get nervous at all. It drove me to skate better.”
She placed 12th in Seoul, set new personal best scores in all segments of the championships and was the top Australian in the ladies field. Her final competition of the season was World Juniors in Tallinn, Estonia. Her initial goal was to qualify for the free skate, something she did not achieve the previous year. She received a score of 47.76 for her short and made the cut with room to spare. “I really enjoy skating this flamenco short program and it’s a really fun program to compete with,” Craine told IFS backstage. “I took each element at a time and I was overall really happy with my performance.
“The score was around the same that I got at Four Continents as I skated the same way, so I wasn’t disappointed. With Four Continents being a senior competition, it was really interesting to see all the skaters there and how much they were a step above. I think it was really good for me to experience that and it put me in a better position for this competition.”
Craine stood 18th heading into the free skate. Performing to “Primavera” by Ludovico Einaudi, she appeared to put down a solid program that included five triples. However, the technical panel dinged every one of the jumps with either an under-rotation or downgrade call. She scored a muted 78.18 for her efforts. “Even if I’m not 100 percent happy with score, I was still happy with my skate regardless of the marks that came up. I’m not going to be disappointed because of that,” said Craine who landed in 16th place overall. It was a far cry from her 35th place finish just one year earlier.
“She’s been on quite a run for a while so we are going to go back and straighten out some things,” Chin added. “I’m really proud of the fact that she came here and had two clean skates. It’s tough, but I thought she did a good job and fought for everything.”
With her season at an end, Craine is looking forward to next season and ultimately fulfilling her greatest ambition in 2018. “Going to the Olympics would be my dream and that’s my long-term goal. But, I don’t just want to attend the Olympics — I want to do well there.”
Who are Kailani Craine’s skating idols? “For men, it’s Evan Lysacek because he’s not just a great skater, but the nicest person you could meet. He makes sure he remembers the competitions you are going to and asks you about them when you see him the next time. Not only on the ice, but he also acts like a great skater off the ice too. I’ve always loved Mao Asada. I love all the programs that she does and her dresses. I love the way she skates so she would be my favorite lady.”