by Anne Calder | Photos by Robin Ritoss
In 2013, two skaters pondered ending their careers. One lived in the USA and the other in Lithuania – oceans and landmasses apart.
Taylor Tran had been training with her previous partner, Sam Kaplun, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After the 2013 U.S. Championships, the team split.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I headed back home to Seattle to think about my future skating plans,” Tran said.
After a summer of thought and deliberation, she opted to move back to Michigan to work with Marina Zoueva in Canton. Throughout the season, Tran tried out with several potential partners.
Meanwhile in Lithuania, singles skater Saulius (Saul) Ambrulevicius was also doing some soul searching about his future.
“After the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy and Warsaw Cup, I thought I would give up skating – at least take a break for the season and see how it goes,” Ambrulevicius said. “I was really more and more thinking of quitting.”
Then, opportunity knocked on his door. He was invited to participate in the 2014 Lithuanian version of “Dancing on Ice,” where he had a lot of fun teaming up with a celebrity. After the show, a judge suggested that he try ice dance. The life-long freestyle skater gave it some thought.
“I had no more to offer,” he said. “I did as much as I could in Lithuania. I would have to go skate in other countries, and that would be financially a lot.”
In addition, the previous senior Lithuanian dance team, Isabella Tobias & Deividas Stagniunas, had split after the 2014 Olympic Games, so there was an opening on the national team.
“I thought, ‘Why not give it a try,’” Ambrulevicius said with a smile. “I just needed a partner.”
The Lithuanian Federation contacted Marina Zoueva, who had coached Tobias & Stagniunas from 2010-2012. Zoueva invited him to try out with Tran.
Everything then moved at record speed. Ambrulevicius took his final university exams at home and received his Bachelor’s degree.
Tran and Ambrulevicius had introduced themselves on Facebook, but their first actual meeting was in the Detroit International Airport. The next day, they hit the ice for a successful try-out.
After training together for only four months and lacking complete confidence with the elements, the new team traveled to Estonia and competed at Tallinn Trophy in December 2014. It was Tran’s first international event. The duo earned the minimum Technical Element Scores to compete at the 2015 European Championships the following month. At their first Europeans, they were 24th in the short dance.
The learning curve at the beginning of the switch to ice dance was unexpected. Ambrulevicius found it difficult to learn not only all of the rules, but also all of the ice dance techniques.
“The first couple of weeks my head was exploding…not only the body working differently, but the whole understanding of the figure skating and all the steps,” he said.
Since adapting to the new regime, both skaters love training at the Arctic Figure Skating Club in Canton.
“The facility has everything you need right there—the gym is upstairs, the ice time is unlimited,” Tran explained. “We have access to everything. Marina, with all her wisdom, provides all the resources and tools that we need.”
“Coming to Michigan was a dream come true,” Ambrulevicius added. “You can’t compare it with what we have in Lithuania. It is another world.”
The coaching staff, in addition to Zoueva, includes Massimo Scali, Johnny Johns, and lots of other personnel, including a ballet instructor.
“It is a real good team, and we like working with them all, but the main coach is Marina Zoueva,” Ambrulevicius said. “She is the boss!”
The team is fully aware of its challenges. Ambrulevicius is in his first full year of ice dance after skating freestyle all his life. Each came to the partnership with good skating skills, but they still need to adjust to skating together. Both athletes agree it will take time and a lot of work.
The team recently competed at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City, where their free dance and total score was a personal best.
Their next competition is the Skate Canada Autumn Classic in Barrie, Ontario, followed by the Warsaw Cup in November. After the holidays, they will train for the European Championships.