Sideline stint lights Olympic flame in Saanich skating duo

Leonardo and Pilar Maekawa are carving up the rink at an early morning practice at Pearkes arena. Leonardo circles the ice to pick up speed, attempting to land a triple toe jump.

The 17-year-old full-time skater stumbles, dragging a single knee on the ice instead.

“He usually lands that one,” his mother, Conchita says as she watches closely from the bleachers with a fleece blanket tightly wrapped around her shoulders.

Leonardo’s sister and dance partner, 15-year-old Pilar, glides across the ice with one leg extended behind her and arms open to the side. The two weave in and out of the elementary-school aged children who are learning to skate in time with the music.

Leonardo comes back around the boards, leaping into another jump. He lands this time, but the recovery is shaky.

The 17-year-old picks up speed to try the jump one more time. He springs up, landing flawlessly. The recovery is beautiful, moving him seamlessly across the ice.

The brother-sister duo rank third in their age group in Canada, and everything about them was made for the Olympics.

They have been skating with their idol, and former Olympic athlete, Victor Kraatz for four years.

“Good skaters correct their mistakes right away,” Kraatz has told Leonardo. The young athlete heeds the advice.

Before she started skating at six, Pilar would always tell her mom, “I want to skate like Victor. I want to skate like that.”

Leonardo would watch Pilar’s lessons from the sidelines. Inspired by his younger sister, Leonardo strapped on a pair of skates, and joined her.

During February’s Games, the two hope to catch the Olympic spirit. The 2014 Olympic hopefuls have front-row seats in the arena, volunteering as ice-patchers between sets.

They will glue their eyes on their figure skating idols, watching their every stride, every lift, every spectacular leap.

“We’ll actually get to skate on the Olympic ice,” Leonardo says, brimming with enthusiasm.

“And (we’ll get to) feel the skaters’ vibrations,” Pilar adds.

Leonardo says he’s looking forward to learning what it feels like to skate in such a large arena. Conchita knows it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get a taste of both the literal and metaphotical Olympic arena.

“I think this is a seminar for them,” she says. “I think they will learn how to behave at the Olympics and if they’re dream is to be athletes at the Olympics, they will have an advantage because they will already know what it’s like to be there.”

Matt Willis, their coach for the last three years, says their dream could come true by the time the next Winter Games come around.

“They’re hard-working. Very disciplined,” he said. “Their bodies are able to be Olympic bodies. They’re not too tall. They’re athletic. They’re muscular but not too muscular. They’re good looking … and they’re talented.”

Willis says he hopes the pair will be more inspired to skate like Olympic athletes after their volunteer stint.

The siblings say they’re excited to soak up the Olympic energy, absorbing professional dance techniques by watching from the sidelines. They’ll picture themselves in the skates of Canadian duo Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

“I think lately we’ve had a big drive in wanting to become better skaters and I think this Olympics event is just going to fuel the fire even more,” Leonardo said.

lweighton@vicnews.com

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