by Anne Calder | Photos by Daphne Backman

Katarina Wolfkostin & Howard Zhao are the 2018 U.S. novice ice dance champions.  They recently shared some of their skating memories with ice-dance.com.

The youngsters were five years-old when they each laced up a pair of skates for the first time.

“It was a hot summer, and we visited the ice rink a lot,” Wolfkostin said.

“I remember I skated at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City and was hugging the boards,” Zhao added.

The duo began their careers differently. Wolfkostin skated freestyle before she met her first partner, John Carlson, and trained in Canton, Michigan. Zhao, originally from Long Island, New York, competed on the juvenile and intermediate levels with his sister, Sarah.

Zhao’s coach, David Owen put the new team together after the 2016 season.

“Katarina and I already knew each other from Nationals the year before,” Zhao said.

“We had a tryout, and then stayed in Florida to work with David,” Wolfkostin said.

They won the 2017 intermediate dance competition at their first U.S. Nationals together.

Afterwards, the duo moved to the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, to work with Anjelika Krylova and Pasquale Camerlengo. Wolfkostin was born in nearby Ann Arbor.

The following January, they won the Novice title at the U.S. Nationals in San Jose, CA. The team was assigned to their first international competition – the Mentor Torun Cup in Poland – where they placed fourth of 18 teams in the advanced novice division.

The spring of 2018 brought changes and new challenges to the couple.

One of their coaches, Anjelika Krylova returned to Russia to work. When Pasquale Camerlengo then moved to Novi to team with Igor Shpilband, Wolfkostin & Zhao opted to relocate with him.

“Everything is good so far”, Zhao said. “I’m learning different things from everybody. 

“We loved training at Detroit, but it’s been really great to stay with Pasquale and start working with Igor,” Wolfkostin added. “We are learning so much.”

The team also transitioned up to the junior level, which brought other major adjustments.

Technically, they had to learn a Rhythm Dance (formerly Short Dance), which included elements (step sequence, lift, twizzles) that were not required as part of the novice pattern dances.  

Also, their new programs, choreographed by Krylova and Camerlengo before they all left Detroit, demanded a new and more mature attitude.

“The free dance is more dramatic than last year’s program (La La Land), so we have to think how we skate differently,” Zhao explained.

“It’s a love story from Dr. Zhivago,” Wolfkostin added. “The short dance is the Argentine tango. It’s kind of sly and sassy.”

Zhao outlined their daily routine.

“We go to the rink in the morning, warm up, and skate for three or four hours, then we have off-ice training with a variety of people like dance instructors and a personal trainer. Then we go home.”

The team keeps a very tight training schedule, but also takes time for some fun stuff.

Howard is 15 and home schooled with an interest in science. He likes fishing and camping and has a pet axolotls (Mexican salamander). He puts ketchup on everything. His choice for a private lesson from a famous ice dance team would be World Champions, Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron. His parents were born in China.

Katarina is 13 and does online schooling. She loves to create things like sculptures, masks, costumes, and drawings. She used to play soccer and likes tennis, swimming, and ping-pong. She owns a snake, two birds, and three cats. Olympic Champions and fellow Michigan Wolverines, Meryl Davis & Charlie White are her choice for a private lesson from a famous ice dance team.

Wolfkostin & Zhao want to continue to grow as a team with better skills, performances, and more international competitions. They are hoping for a Junior Grand Prix assignment.  The team is also excited that the 2019 US Nationals will be held in Detroit and would love to perform before a hometown audience.

They recently made their junior debut at the Chesapeake Open in Laurel, MD, where they finished sixth in the short dance and eighth in the free dance.