by Melanie Hoyt / Photos by Robin Ritoss and Liz Chastney

hurtado-diaz1When the International Skating Union announced new minimum technical scores for this season’s ISU Championships, many of the small federations were left wondering if they would be able to send a team to the 2013 World Championships. Spain is one of those countries, and their only senior dance team, Sara Hurtado & Adriá Díaz, hopes that their off-season improvements will propel them to the world level again.

In January of this year, Hurtado & Díaz made a big change, moving to Montréal, Que., to train with two-time world silver medalists (and relatively new coaches) Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon. The Spanish champions were heading into their second European and World Championships but were seeking new motivation and an invigorating training environment.

“We were used to being very few on the ice,” Hurtado explained. “In Spain, there were only two couples. We were the only ones with the big competitions and the pressure and everything. In Montréal, everybody is working hard. The juniors are trying to get Grand Prix [assignments], the seniors are trying for competitions. We have that motivation as a group.”

“You see all of them working hard on the ice, doing two run-throughs, because in Canada, the level is so high,” Díaz said. “It’s good for us.”

The most difficult adjustment was probably the climate change, moving from a Mediterranean climate to one known for its winter blizzards.

“We moved in January,” Hurtado said, “so you can imagine, coming from Spain to -25 degrees! Taking the bus, my eyes were crying. And everybody said, ‘Oh, but it’s been a really nice winter.’ Everybody should go to Spain in winter and you will know what is a nice winter!”

Frigid temperatures aside, the duo really enjoys their new home, praising Montréal for its excitement and diversity, and speaking highly of their new training environment.

“All the teams, we are like a small family,” Hurtado said.

“They opened the doors for us to come in,” Díaz added.

“We have all the experience of Marie and Patrice,” Hurtado said. “It has been a really good change for us, not just for our skating, but for our whole way of training.”

In their fifth season together, Spain’s first ice dance team is adapting to a more North American style of training. They finished their programs earlier in the season than usual and began competing at the end of July. They brought their free dance to the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships, where they had a rough outing with several falls.

“The program is new,” Hurtado said in Lake Placid. “We cannot be 100% now. If we are ready now [in July], something is wrong.”

Although they would have liked to have skated a cleaner performance, they realized that the goal of the summer competitions is mainly to collect feedback so that they can tweak their programs before the bigger events.

“Even if the feedback is bad, it’s OK,” Hurtado said. “It’s the right time to have bad feedback, not at the end of the season.”

The free dance, a sultry blues to music by Stevie Ray Vaughan, is a fresh look for this team. With a more mature style, they are hoping to highlight the changes that they have made to their skating in the past nine months.

“It is a completely different style,” Díaz said. “We like it a lot.”

“At first, we felt like, ‘Are we really going to be able to do this?’ But then with the choreography and everything, it came so natural,” Hurtado said. “We really like this program.”

The duo likes what they have done with their short dance this year, too, although the Yankee Polka steps have been a headache for them.

“The Polka is driving us crazy,” Hurtado said. “We always had trouble with compulsories, and the Polka is so hard. We can do the steps, just walk the steps, it’s fine. But with the edges, eek!”

So to balance the difficulty of the pattern, they were sure to create a program that they wouldn’t mind practicing over and over. Attempting to recreate an old movie, they plan to use Chaplin characters to tell a story.

“It’s a nice waltz, and then the second part is ‘Modern Times’ from Chaplin,” Díaz said. “I like the music we are skating to. It’s going to be a good mix.”

“We feel good in that music because Adri is really funny,” Hurtado said. “He’s really good at it [the character].”

The Spaniards will have a little bit of extra pressure in the short dance, because that is where they still need to earn the minimum technical score required for the World Championships. They have earned the minimum scores for the European Championships, and they barely slipped past the World Championships minimum for the free dance at last year’s World Championships in the Preliminary Round. The 29-point mark in the short dance, though, is one that they will really have to push themselves to reach.

“It puts a little bit more pressure on your international competitions,” Hurtado said. “Maybe normally you would take it a little easier than Europeans or Worlds, but now you know that you need to be at your best.”

“I don’t feel anything yet, because we haven’t done the program yet,” Díaz said. “I want to see how much the judges and technical panel will give us for a score. And then after the competition, I’ll see if we can make it or not.”

Along with putting in hard work on the compulsories, Hurtado & Díaz have also gone back to the basics this year, allowing coaches Dubreuil & Lauzon to rebuild their technique from the ground up.

“We are a really young team,” Hurtado explained. “We compete with all these couples whose base of skating is way bigger and better than ours, so we were always playing catch-up. We would put a lot of work on the programs, but since we moved with Marie and Patch, they completely undid all of our skating and started with zero. We want to get that base better and stronger.”

hurtado-diaz2“Basically all the components are what we were working on: transitions, skating skills, and expression,” Díaz said. “I think we found good music that we really feel on the ice.”

Some things have remained the same, though. Hurtado & Díaz still have a genuine, likable quality, and they still feature their popular gender-bender lift (pictured, left), although this time it has a new variation. They have turned it into a stationary rotational lift at the beginning of their free dance, adding a new level of impressiveness.

The lift, which has become their trademark, came into their repertoire by accident.

“We were just playing around on the ice,” Díaz said. “I’m like that on those days when you don’t feel like working like usual. You are bored on the ice and you try new things.”

“It’s one of those things that is hard to explain,” Hurtado said. “We were just playing. Suddenly I grab his legs, he goes, ‘Sara, catch me!’ I catch him and he goes, ‘Wow, we could do that as a lift! What if you let go of your hands and we go in a straight line?’ Our coach looked at it and said it would work. It took some time for Adri to get in the right place on my knees. He was scared to let himself go.”

“It is very different to be lifted,” Díaz said. “Now I understand her…just a little bit.”

Hurtado & Díaz begin their international season this week at Nebelhorn Trophy.