Tiffany Zahorski and Jonathan Guerreiro are one of the many international ice dance teams currently competing on the global circuit. Born in Great Britain, Zahorski represented France before moving to Russia in 2014. Guerreiro was born and raised in Sydney, Australia until the age of 14, when he and his family moved to Russia, his mother’s homeland.
Though the duo teamed up in 2014, they were unable to compete internationally for 15 months while Zahorski waited for France to release her. That process was completed in October 2015 and six months later she was granted Russian citizenship.
Zahorski and Guerreiro mined gold at Santa Claus Cup, the first and only international event they contested that year.
While their first full season on the international circuit (2016-2017) was a successful one overall, it had its share of ups and downs. Zahorski and Guerreiro claimed medals at the three Challenger Series events they contested and ranked fifth at Rostelecom Cup, their first Grand Prix. A fifth-place finish at Russian nationals guaranteed them a spot on the national team for the upcoming season.
But behind the scenes, Zahorski and Guerreiro struggled with injuries and illness and a training environment that was no longer working for them.
Acting on the feedback they received at the Russian test skates in September 2016, they opted to revert back to the free dance from the previous season — a decision that did not sit well with their coaching team, led by Alexander Zhulin. “Two weeks before our first Challenger event in Bratislava, we went back to our old free dance because we felt the new program we had didn’t do us justice,” Zahorski explained.
A week later, they danced into third at Finlandia Trophy, capturing a second Challenger Series medal, despite the fact that two days before the event Guerreiro was sidelined by food poisoning and unable to train.
At Warsaw Cup, their final Challenger event, Zahorski and Guerreiro claimed silver with season high scores in both the short and free dance.
In May 2017, the Moscow-based team announced they had made a coaching change and had begun working with Svetlana Alexeeva and Elena Kustarova. “It was something that we had been thinking about for awhile,” Guerreiro said. “We are grateful for what our former coaches gave us over the two years we worked with them. We tried to make it work, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen.”
Zahorski agreed, adding that though the change was sudden, it was not unexpected. “We had a few different points of view with our coaches and felt the environment was no longer beneficial to our skating. I was excited and motivated to try something new.”
Guerreiro had previously worked with the new coaching team, but was forced to leave when he and a former partner, Ekaterina Riazanova, split in 2009. “I had no choice but to go to another group where there was a girl for me to compete with. But I always maintained a good relationship with Svetlana and Elena, so there were never any hard feelings. Once we made the decision, they where thrilled. They kept saying ‘finally, Jon is back home.’
“It’s a good environment and everybody has the same goal. So far everything is moving smoothly, and with a bit of luck we will be able to show ourselves in a new light this year.”
Former U.S. ice dance champion Peter Tchernyshev choreographed a new free dance set to a medley of tunes by the English rock band Muse. “This is the first time we have had a choreographer and we hope that it will bring us that extra little something to make our program magical,” Zahorski said. “We fell in love with the music the moment we heard it. After having had the same free dance for the past two years we were more than ready for a new one.”
Both said they were “over the moon” to have received two Grand Prix assignments — Cup of China and Skate America — “especially getting to go to competitions overseas. We weren’t expecting, but we were hoping to get two because of our results last season,” Zahorski said. “We were in the mix, but that doesn’t 100 percent guarantee a spot. Let’s hope we can bring the fire and improve on our fifth place result from last year.”
Guerreiro said he is excited to finally have the opportunity to go up against two strong fields. “We have never really had the chance to show who we are on the ice with the right programs, preparation, stamina and motivation. We are working to improve on what we have and learn new things in the new environment we are in.
“The level in ice dance is so high right now, so our goal is to not only skate strong and place well, but to make sure we are remembered. We love skating and performing and we really want to finally show that and make this season special.”
In the three years they have been a team, Zahorski, 23, and Guerreiro, 26, have formed a strong bond. Guerreiro said that going through the ordeal of the release and citizenship with his partner forged a solid friendship. “We really had to be there for each other to comfort one another. It was very tough, but it made us stronger together. I think we really understand each other and have a great bond on and off the ice. We understand each other sometimes without talking.”
Zahorski agreed. “Our connection is one of our best qualities. It’s only been three years, but it feels like a lifetime. This enables us to have a fabulous working environment.”
In September they presented their new programs at the annual Russian test skates in Sochi. Zahorski said that while it was stressful preparing for the first presentation of new programs and worrying about whether they will be liked and skated well, “it’s also stimulating because it marks the beginning of the new season and all the new excitement to come.
“Our performances were not the best last season, but they were consistent — mainly because of my nerves not getting the best of me. It had been a long time since I had competed at high-level international competitions and the adrenaline combined with wanting to perform my best made for a rather disastrous cocktail of nerves. Even so, we learned a lot of important lessons, most importantly how to handle ourselves under pressure. We definitely grew closer as a team.
“We plan to be a new upgraded version of ourselves with new coaches, new programs and a slightly new style this season. Last season was a bit of a whirlwind for us, but we managed to be successful and I would say we were satisfied.
“I believe the main thing we have to do to improve our placement is to work hard and believe in ourselves.”
(Originally published in the IFS October 2017 issue)