The thrilling finale at the World Synchronized Skating Championships in Stockholm last Saturday not only brought home medals for Finland, Sweden and Russia, but also realized the dreams of ice skaters from France, Japan and Great Britain who skate for Sweden’s Team Surprise.
ISU rules allow up to four non-nationals to skate for a team, and Team Surprise’s complement includes French skaters Sarah Oulahna* and Mäeliss de Mendez, Chisako Kiuchi from Japan and the Isle of Wight’s own Gemma Marsh. Many teams include non-nationals: Swiss skaters competed for Nexxice of Canada and Zoulous of France at the event (source: Jura Synchro). Other Brits abroad this year include Dumfries’ Molly Coxon in Nexxice juniors, and the Isle of Wight’s Beth Howarth in Australia’s Team Nova.
For former Wight Jewel Gemma, silver in Stockholm is the reward for four years of hard work at Team Surprise. The 24-year-old from Freshwater trained for most of her skating life at Ryde Arena, now sadly closed, and switched to synchronized skating in 2004 when Isle of Wight coach Terri Smith set up the Wight Diamonds to compete in the UK’s National Team Challenge (for a bit of history, see https://iowskaters.com/2013/03/25/a-history-of-wight-synchro-ntc-2004/). The Diamonds later turned into Wight Jewels, who went on to become four-times British junior champions and represent Great Britain at the junior world championships, then called the Junior World Challenge Cup. In the course of their career the Jewels trained with Team Surprise’s coach Andrea Dohany in Landvetter, near Gothenburg, providing the contact that ultimately led to Gemma leaving for Sweden after she finished at junior level. With training conducted exclusively in Swedish, Gemma had to learn a new language as well as new skating skills to make the team.
Gemma skated in both the short programme to ABBA’s The Winner Takes It All (viewable at https://youtu.be/6jb8B_ti4_4), and to the incredibly beautiful Mother Nature themed free programme (viewable at: https://youtu.be/SCmA-V5bccg). The team scored 72.83 in the short and 135.16 in the free for a total of 207.99 and second place overall (http://www.isuresults.com/results/season1718/wcsys2018/).
Winners Marigold Ice Unity of Finland came from third in the short (72.61) to first in the free (136.41) with a programme entitled Splash! that sparkled with humour, giving them 209.02 overall. Russia’s Team Paradise, last year’s champions, were first in the short (76.05) but fourth in the free (124.92) after a group lift collapsed, giving them third place overall (200.97). Finland’s Team Unique took third place in the free, earning them a free programme bronze small medal (all top three teams receive small medals for the short and free programmes).
For Gemma, the experience has been incredible. She said: “The last week has been the most intense, special and magical of my life and has been shared with the most amazing teammates I could wish for, as well as so many loved ones who came to support us. I am bursting with pride at what we have achieved as a team and of the journey we have made together.
“The memories made last week are ones I will treasure close to my heart forever. It all still feels like the most surreal dream right now but I have three very beautiful silver medals to keep reminding myself that we really did it! Hard work really does pay off.”
Isle of Wight coach Terri Smith said: “So proud of this one – a beautiful person inside and out. I couldn’t be more proud to have taught you and started your synchro journey with you on the Isle of Wight.”
Skating with Team Surprise has earned Gemma a string of international medals at ISU events this season: bronze at the Shanghai Trophy, silver at the Leon Lurje Trophy in Gothenburg, gold at the Spring Cup in Milan, and silver at the Budapest Cup.
*Sarah is also now a Swedish national.