Ekaterina “Katya” Alexandrovskaya and Harley Windsor came together from opposite ends of the world to form Australia’s history-making pairs figure skating team.
Windsor, born in Sydney in 1996, will be Australia’s first Winter Olympian with indigenous heritage. His mother, Josie, is from the Weilwyn and Gamilaraay people and his father, Peter, is from the Gamilaraay and Ngarrable people. Windsor took indigenous dance classes when he was younger, and he attributes his musicality on ice to those early classes. He is often asked why he is so pale, but he ignores those questions.
“You don’t have to be dark-skinned to inherit that culture,” he said. “It’s had its ups and downs but I’m definitely supported and it’s worked out for the better. Everyone accepts me now for who I am and my skin color. It’s all about embracing that culture rather than actually looking the part.”
There has never been a Winter Olympian with indigenous heritage from Australia before, but there are 51 indigenous Summer Olympians who have combined for 12 medals.
He began skating at age 9 by accident. His mother made a wrong turn into a skating rink one Saturday and he convinced her to let him lace up for a public session. The youngest of seven siblings – who were all horseback riders, among other outdoorsy activities – took to the ice right away. He said he especially loved the cold breeze in his face. He started in group lessons, adding more classes per week and eventually began private lessons. He bought his own pair of skates with pocket money, and that’s when his mother said she knew he was serious about the sport.
Both his parents are short, he said, and he expected to be smaller. Once Windsor literally outgrew singles skating, his Russian-émigré coaches Andrei and Galina Pachin tried to find him a partner within Australia. When that failed (no girls in Australia “were either small enough or brave enough” said Windsor), Andrei called pairs coaching legend Nina Mozer in Moscow, asking if Mozer had any available pairs girls to match with Windsor.
On the other side of the world, in 2000, Alexandrovskaya was born an only child in Moscow. Her mother, a former fencer, had a dream that Katya could be a skater soon after a rink opened near her house. She began when she was about 4, and remembered taking second in her first-ever competition. She made the move to pairs skating when she was 11. She had a partner in Moscow at first, but it didn’t work out. Alexandrovskaya’s mother didn’t want to give up, so they continued their search for a partner in Ukraine. That didn’t work either, and Alexandrovskaya moved back to Moscow, this time, choosing to work with Mozer. Alexandrovskaya didn’t know if Mozer said the man in her upcoming tryout was from Austria or Australia, but she was eager to give it a chance either way.
Windsor stayed in his coach’s mother’s apartment in Moscow during his tryout in late 2015. He was set to skate with a handful of Mozer’s girls, but Alexandrovskaya was his first tryout that day. Despite Windsor’s lack of any real pairs skating experience, it was a good match, everyone decided.
They split training time in Moscow and Sydney, and Alexandrovskaya and Windsor get to trade off feeling homesick. Adjusting to skating in Australia was difficult for Alexandrovskaya, who was more familiar with figure skating as a more developed sport in Russia.
“The whole training process is much better in Moscow than in Australia, because the ice and the conditions are not the same,” she said. “It is a hot country and they don’t have so much training time. We have to go out on to the ice at 8 in the morning and on Saturday at 6:30 in the morning and it is always very crowded. They have only three or four ice rinks in Sydney.”
At first, Alexandrovskaya didn’t speak much English and Windsor couldn’t speak any Russian. Most of their communication was done through their coaches. Now, each can more or less get by.
“At other times I think the language barrier actually helps us a little bit,” Windsor said. “When we do get angry at each other on the ice it stops us from being too verbal.”
They debuted as junior skaters in the fall of 2016, where they finished sixth in a Challenger Series event. On the Junior Grand Prix circuit that fall, they finished eighth then first, becoming the first Australian team ever to win a Junior Grand Prix event. They were the first Australian team to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final, where they placed fifth.
In late 2016, they won their first national title. Continuing in their debut season, they competed at the 2017 Four Continents Championships. It was their first time competing as seniors, and the event was even more significant because it was held in PyeongChang, South Korea, in the same venue that hosts 2018 Olympic figure skating. They finished 11th.
A month later, they competed at the world junior championships in Taipei City, Taipei. They became the world junior champions, which was the first time ever that an Australian team won an International Skating Union title. To close the season, they competed at the 2017 World Championships, this time at the senior level. They placed 16th.
Despite their success, there was still a lingering question about their Olympic eligibility. Alexandrovskaya still had not received Australian citizenship; without it, she could not go to the Olympics, and Windsor would also be excluded.
For the Olympic season, the pair chose a cover of “Paint it Black” for their short program and the soundtrack from “The Mask” for their free skate. Alexandrovskaya was officially granted Australian citizenship in the fall, and they kicked off their season with two assignments on the Challenger Series, where they placed third and first. Then, the team went on to compete on the Junior Grand Prix circuit once again. The pair finished fourth and first at their two assignments. They won the Junior Grand Prix Final in December.
As they already had been named to Australia’s Olympic team in November, so they skipped the 2017 nationals.
The last great Australian pairs team, siblings Danielle and Stephen Carr, spent 19 years as reigning national champions. The Carrs competed at the 1992, 1994, and 1998 Olympics. Alexandrovskaya and Windsor will be the first Australian pairs team at the Olympics since 1998.
Australia doesn’t own any Olympic figure skating medals, nor did they earn a single gold at the Sochi Olympics. But that’s not discouraging to Alexandrovskaya or Windsor, who are making history all their own in PyeongChang.