by Matteo Morelli | Photos by Melanie Heaney & Robin Ritoss
In their fifth year skating together, Lithuania’s Allison Reed & Saulius Ambrulevičius are keen to continue to grow and show what they are capable of. We met with them at the World Championships in Montpellier to talk about their careers and their recent change of training location to the Ice Academy of Montreal.
Allison and Saulius, you have been going through a very interesting journey as skaters. Let’s begin from the very early days: when did you start to fall in love with figure skating?
SA: I was six years old when I started to fall in love with it. I wanted to start earlier but I was constantly sick, so only when I was six I could step on the ice. The falling in love though was more when I was around 14-15 years old, when I started to tell myself that I liked this sport. I liked the way it made me feel and the possibilities coming with it. Until then, it was just fun.
AR: My mum put skates on me when I was one! I started skating when I was three. My love with figure skating was more because of the love of doing something with my family: with my two older siblings, we all started skating together at the same time. I was always at the rink because of them and it just became something that we did as a family and that I came to love. It was something that made me feel included, that all of us shared. My love for it was from a very young age and stayed with me for many years.
You both had different partnerships before starting to skate together. How did your “match making” happen?
AR: I quit skating for a few years prior to teaming up with Saulius. When I decided I wanted to come back and try again, I asked Marina Zoueva if I could join her school to get back on my feet after not skating for two years. She really helped me out with that. Saulius was training there with his previous partner, and we were training mates for half a year or so while he was still competing. Later, he broke up with his partner, and the rest is history!
Did you have good feelings about each other from the start?
SA: Personally for me, in the process of teaming up I was looking for someone that I could fit with physically, but also that I could rely on as a friend and that our characters would match. Allison and I actually had that. I had a lot of catching up to do: ice dance was still fairly new for me. When we met up I was only doing it for three years. It was a big learning curve, but we had a lot of people around that helped us. Maria Zoueva’s school really helped us to improve significantly as individuals, and we then started to grow together as a team.
AR: He is a very fast learner, it did not take long!
You recently changed schools, going to the Ice Academy of Montreal. What led you to take this decision?
AR: Many factors, but we were always striving to find people that would bring us to the next level, to the next milestone in our career. After some discussions, we realized that the Ice Academy of Montreal would be the right place for us to continue improving, to continue climbing to the next goal. They have really come through for us.
Can you already see a difference in your skating since you joined them?
AR: For sure! It is gradual and slow, some days you don’t even feel it, and then you finish a competition you watch your skate and realize that you see a difference. Sometimes you don’t really understand it or notice it during the training, because it is hard and exhausting, but when you see the final result you realize all the hard work that you, your coaches and that your team mates have put in. It is very rewarding.
SA: When you start training you have to learn how to skate and the technique, but that is only one layer of it. When you want to go up to the top, it becomes more a combination of everything. Those tiny details are actually the hardest thing. It made a difference to find people that are very focussed towards that, as well as to work to make us not only technicians but also dancers that portray things that make people connect with. We are very fortunate to be part of the Ice Academy of Montreal and to learn all this. As Allison said, sometimes you struggle to see all this in your daily routine, and then you easily miss those little improvements you do and to then realize at a competition that something was pretty good and you didn’t expect that.
The Ice Academy of Montreal has a lot of teams training with them. Can you feel the influence from the teams there?
AR: It is definitely motivating and always uplifting. Everyone is just having such a good time! To be on a warm up group (at the world championships) with all the teams that we train with at home makes the environment more fun.
SA: The older you get, the smarter you get! We all deal with our own demons and outside pressures, but we are all on the same boat, and when you understand that you relax and learn how to enjoy it.
What lessons have you taken away with you from your previous experiences?
AR: We both worked individually and together with so many different coaches. This was really beneficial for us, we have experienced different types of schools and ways of coaching. As an athlete, it is your job to take in, understand and use the things that work for you and push away those that don’t. Over time you understand what really works. For me personally, working with Marina Zoueva’s school at that time was a totally different environment as a dancer: I have never really experienced that kind of inclusivity, staff and team effort going into competitions and training in general. It really helped me preparing for the kind of environment I am in now, a window into a different kind of training.
SA: I was a single skater all my life, so my first partnership was a big learning curve to understand that you are not alone, you have to be responsible for the other person, take care of each other. I learned to have patience and respect. Every day you work on that because you are not on this alone. If you are having a bad day, it doesn’t mean that you have to give a bad day to the other person too. Those kind of things are very self-educational and contribute to your self-improvement. Before joining Marina Zoueva’s school I saw a lot of different schools: Russians, German, eastern European, French. Then I got into that ice dance school that was very well established, with a big team working behind the main coach, and I could see how it all worked as a whole machine. I immediately started to thrive. When that school dissolved, we started to look for something else. It was very helpful that I teamed up with Allison, we are both like-minded and we knew what we wanted. In Europe we had to travel a lot to get the help we were looking for.
AR: The move to the Ice Academy of Montreal it really helped us. There are so many different outlets of information, we have our way of learning from each individual coach, and they have such a huge team, there is so much input. It is really great.
SA: The hardest thing for us is to let go. Before we had to really take care of ourselves, we took so much in our own hands. We had coaches but we had to do a lot of managing that as athletes sometimes you have no choice and have to do, but with the Ice Academy of Montreal we had to understand that we had to let go, push some responsibilities away. We have people that care for us more, and help us to grow.
During the 2021/2022 season you competed in two Grand Prix events and at the European Championships, however the Olympic Games didn’t go as planned for you.
AR: We were happy that we got the two Grand Prixs in. With Covid, the fact that both events happened was great. It was a rough road to get ready. We couldn’t get to Canada until September, so it was a struggle to prepare for the season. At the European Championships, we really pulled our stuff together. We were super motivated and really ready to compete and were happy with our performances there.
SA: The Olympics was obviously a big let-down because of not going, it was disappointing. People in our team were sending messages from there saying that we should have been there with them. It is not only about going to a place and doing something, but also about what you leave and how you affect people, whether they are other athletes or spectators. We started to look at the good side: when you leave a mark like that, there is more for you to cherish.
How did you feel coming into the world championships?
AR: We had a lot of ups and downs in the past two months after the Europeans, but we knew we had this big competition to finish the season and we decided to collect ourselves, make some goals and really try to push towards them. We arrived as prepared as we possibly could be and just wanted to put down two good performances.
What are your plans after the end of the season?
AR: A little break, finally a little vacation!
SA: Deal with some injuries and minor things to heal up, and take a little deserved break and rest. After that, we start to prepare for the next season and build it up from there.