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Coaches see champion qualities in Lu and Mitrofanov BY KAMA STIGALL

Te combination of a positive attitude and tenacity goes a long way — just ask Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov. At the 2017 U.S. Midwestern Sectional Championships, the team suffered a major set- back when Mitrofanov dislocated his shoulder. “We had to restart from scratch,” Mitro-

fanov said. “I had shoulder surgery and took six months off as a result. I had no shoulder strength.”

Teir journey to the 2018 U.S. Champi-

onships in San Jose in January also turned out to have many unexpected — and unwelcome — twists and turns. “It was very hard those days,” Lu, 15, said.

“While praying for Misha’s speedy recovery, I kept practicing and skating on my own every day. My coach Mr. Aleksey (Letov) sometimes did throws with me. When Misha was back on ice, we started picking up our pairs elements little by little.” Tey persevered, and advanced to the 2018

U.S. Midwestern Sectional Championships in Bloomington, Minnesota. Unfortunately, the pair had yet another obstacle to overcome. “We both got sick and Misha had a fever,”

she said. “We were so afraid we might have to lose the opportunity to go to nationals again.” Lu and Mitrofanov dug deep, relying on their training. Tey finished first, punching their ticket to the U.S. Championships. San Jose proved to be golden for the couple, as they didn’t just win the competi- tion — they set a new record, too. Skating to selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lu and Mitrofanov opened with a fine triple twist and executed a side-by-side triple Salchow combina- tion and triple toes. Tey finished with a U.S. Championships junior pairs record overall score of 173.31. “When I heard the score, I couldn’t help opening my mouth so wide and tried to digest for a while,” Lu said. “It felt so good to know all our hard work has paid off even with a record-setting score.”

A couple of months later, they shone brightly again at the World Junior Champion- ships, placing fifth with 160.09 points. Tey performed three side-by-side triple jumps in their free skate. Teir score was the highest internationally of any U.S. junior team since 2011.

Te speed with which Lu and Mitrofanov

progressed along the path to claiming the U.S. title is even more impressive because Lu is fairly new to pairs skating. When they decided to


team up in May 2016, Mitrofanov was already a seasoned pairs skater. He was able to draw upon his experience to help his partner get up to speed. “Before we started skating together, Alek-

sey and I sat down with Audrey and her mom,” Mitrofanov, 21, said. “Te first thing we told them was that we would never do anything un- safe and that I would keep her safe. Her safety was my No. 1 priority.” Te transition from singles to pairs is not easy for most skaters, and Lu was no exception. “It was hard to leave singles and start a

new adventure,” she said. “But with everyone’s help and support, I made the big decision. At the beginning, every day was a challenge. “I had to overcome a lot of fears and learn so many pairs elements in a short period of time. I passed four pairs tests (juvenile through junior) in one day.” Te future seems to be limitless for Lu and

Mitrofanov. Olga Ganicheva, who coaches the team alongside her husband Letov, compared them to perhaps the most legendary pairs skaters of all time: two-time Olympic champions Ekat- erina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. Te team’s balletic style coupled with consistency and the quality of their technical elements are what Gan- icheva would like to see her students emulate. “Gordeeva and Grinkov — that’s our idol,”

Ganicheva said. “Audrey and Misha have the same classical style. Tey have the same body lines as Gordeeva and Grinkov. I want their skating to be light, clean and emotional — that same simple and stylish quality that Gordeeva and Grinkov had.” Technically, the team is working on upping

the ante. “For example, I would love to be able to

represent Team USA and show that we can do strong technical elements, like solid side-by-side jumps,” Mitrofanov said. At the Dallas Figure Skating Club, Letov

and Ganicheva have built a program that is modeled on the Soviet school of figure skating. “We are trying to build the same system

here,” Ganicheva explained. “First, you have to be an all-around athlete, and then a skater. For Audrey and Misha, we want to develop every element and each element to be extremely high quality.”

As they move up to the senior ranks for the 2018–19 season, the pair will continue to refine all aspects of their skating. And if the team’s work ethic and optimistic outlook are any indication, Lu and Mitrofanov are primed for success.


Audrey Lu volunteers at Hope Supply Company, which collects goods to help homeless and at-risk


LU SHARES WORDS OF WISDOM: Dream big. Never give up. Whatever you do, do it with all your heart. Be grateful, give back and make a difference for the community.


Misha Mitrofanov spends time with his girlfriend, Karis.

MITROFANOV SHARES WORDS OF WISDOM: My senior year quote, which is: “Respect is not given — it’s earned.” I live by that.

Lu and Mitrofanov display the unique anime pillows that Lu’s church made for them.

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