Kristen Loritz puts in a lot of miles every week, commuting between home, school at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus, and skating practice at the Burlington Skating Club, home of NEXXICE, her synchronized skating team.
But the team, performing as Team Canada with Loritz as co-captain, didn’t have to travel far on April 11 to win a second world championship (their first was in 2009, the first for a Canadian team. It was followed by silver finishes in 2012, 2013 and 2014).
In front of thousands of fans and a sea of Canadian flags in Hamilton, the nine-time national champions held on to an incredibly slim lead to edge out rivals from second-place Finland, last year’s champions, and third-place Russia, relatively new to the sport.
So how does a 22 year-old university student from the Beach prepare for the pressure of winning the highest honour in her sport in front of the biggest crowds ever gathered for a synchro event on this continent?
Simple – take inspiration from sitcoms and rehearse with a recorded crowd.
“We anticipated the applause and practiced with simulated cheering the week before,” said Loritz a few days after the big win.
The team manager raised and lowered the cheering volume at spots where they expected the crowd would react.
“Impressively, it was pretty accurate. I think most of us had a good sense, somewhat, of what to expect – but nothing to compare to 7,600 in the audience at First Ontario Centre.”
Being able to perform at the peak of their abilities in front of an avid hometown crowd and win the world title is something that’s hard to put into words, but Loritz described the feeling she and her 19 teammates got from the crowd as more than just simple cheering.
“For most of us we’d say it’s simply electric. It’s something you can actually feel while you skate. It’s not like a surface-level noise, but more like a current running through you. It definitely takes a lot of mental preparation to skate under that kind of pressure and control your adrenalin,” she said.
That preparation includes not only mental training, but physical as well. NEXXICE practices almost year-round, with only a few weeks off after the world championship. Four days a week the team rehearses, with 10 to 15 hours of ice time. Then there’s choreography work, modern dance, and plenty of fitness training.
Several times a year the team will hold a ‘camp’ where skaters stay in a hotel and concentrate solely on skating, spending four to six hours a day on the ice.
“To have everyone together really helps to keep the consistency of the training, but of course that’s not available all year round because of other commitments like school and work,” said Loritz.
She credits coaches in her younger years for pushing her toward synchronized skating, a move that’s obviously paid off.
Michelle Frost at East York Skating Club encouraged her to try the discipline, and Meredith Gilbert Tutching at Leaside Skating Club suggested skating at a more competitive level. Loritz was 11 years old at the time, “and it just kind of took off and became more competitive for me, and I thought it was something I could go far with.”
Synchronized skating appealed to her in part because of the team aspect, but also because single figure skaters often have to deal with aggressive pressure from parents and coaches to perform up to a nearly impossible standard.
“We don’t necessarily do the jumps, so if that’s an inhibiting factor for some skaters who know they’ll never be able to do that quad or triple axel, then synchro is a fantastic alternative and for many a first choice, because it allows you to be part of a group. When you’re a single skater it can be very lonely,” said Loritz.
“I’d say synchro is more humble.”
The coaches at NEXXICE are also a big part of the team’s success, said Loritz, who is more than happy to share credit for that success.
Shelley Barnett is known for her technical expertise, and Anne Schelter, both head coach and choreographer, is world-renowned for her contributions to the synchro world.
“We’re very lucky to have her in our own backyard in Burlington,” said Loritz.
Focus on technique is yet another aspect contributing to the NEXXICE win.
“It’s really an art form to understand how the blade works on the ice, and that’s something that Anne is an expert at teaching,” Loritz said. “It’s … the quietness of the blade on the ice that marks an excellent skater.”
Loritz now has to decide whether she will continue skating with NEXXICE. There’s no age limit on the team – “As long as you’re fit and in shape and you can do all the physical elements that are required of you” – but she’s had other opportunities related to her training at U of T.
Contrasting those opportunities is the possibility of synchronized skating being added to the Olympics, a decision that should be announced in June.
Regardless, the discipline and focus on detail in her skating should serve her well when she puts her writing and communications coursework to the test as an intern for the Canadian Olympic Committee during this summer’s Pan Am Games, providing coverage of the games for the COC’s website.
“The opportunity just to work with them and participate in the Pan Am Games behind the scenes is more than I could ask for,” said Loritz.
“I’m used to being busy and to having hectic deadlines with skating so it’s nothing new for me … knock on wood.”