He took up the sport after watching a reality TV show as a fresh-faced 11-year-old. Now Scottish figure skater Lewis Gibson is on the path to international ice dancing success after being selected to skate for Great Britain in two prestigious Grand Prix competitions.
Prestwick-born Gibson, with partner Lilah Fear, is to compete in Skate America next weekend, followed by the Japanese NHK Trophy in November.
“I first began skating after watching the TV show, Dancing on Ice, and I decided that I wanted to try it out,” he told Scotland on Sunday.
“Starting at age 11, I immediately knew that this was something that I wanted to pursue.”
This year’s Grand Prix – a series of six senior international figure skating competitions organised by the International Skating Union – are the first for the duo who regard them as a significant step on their road to Winter Olympic hopes in Beijing in 2022.
Now 24, Gibson, who began skating in 2006, trained on Ayrshire’s various curling-size rinks, which also allowed access to ice skaters. Starting as a free skater – where the focus is on technical elements of jumps and spins rather than the more artistic discipline of ice dancing – he later moved into pairs skating and was ultimately approached by the national sporting body, the National Ice Skating Association (NISA), to try ice dancing.
Although ice dance heroes Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean smashed TV viewing records for their Bolero free skate at the Sarajevo Olympic Games in 1984 with 24 million Brits tuning in, the sport disappeared from the headlines soon afterwards. It enjoyed a small resurgence in Scotland with the international success of Livingston siblings John and Sinead Kerr in the mid-2000s. Yet it was only the launch of reality show Dancing on Ice in 2006, in which Torvill and Dean coached beginner celebrities to perform the sport, which brought it back into the mainstream.
“Having tried all three possible disciplines, I can look back and say that I definitely found the discipline that suits me best as a skater,” said Gibson, who partnered with Fear in November 2015. “I was lucky to get to train alongside Sinead and John Kerr a few times when they were back home in Edinburgh from their USA training base. This was my first exposure to the elite ice dance level at which I one day dreamed of competing. I can remember the speed and power that they carried across the ice and they always had the most creative programmes.”
He added: “Ice dance isn’t the biggest discipline in Scotland, so I hope to honour the Scottish legacy that the Kerrs created, and maybe Lilah and I will inspire more young skaters to give it a shot.”
Gibson and 19-year-old Fear, who train in Montreal under renowned French coach Romain Haguenauer and also have a base in London, are also tipped to be British champions when they compete for the national title at the end of November.
They were last year drafted in as reserve for Great Britain at the World Figure Skating Championships after Penny Coombes and Nicholas Buckland, who have held the British title for five of the past seven years, withdrew from the competition due to injury after taking part in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
It looks likely that Coombes and Buckland will not defend their title at the British Championships this year, although they have not formally announced their retirement.
If Gibson and Fear win the British title, they will compete for Great Britain in the European Ice Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus, in January and the World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan, early next year. The pair last year placed 24th at the World Championships, but have high hopes to progress up the world ranking over the next four years to peak at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“Our main goal is to continue to improve and to increase our world ranking and results up until the 2022 Beijing Olympics,” said Gibson.
“We have four seasons to achieve this goal and we believe that, at the rate at which we are progressing and with enough hard work, we will have the opportunity to be successful at the Games.”
Gibson and Fear will compete in Japan – which has a strong figure skating following – against French Olympic silver medalists Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. At Skate America, which starts on Friday in Everett, Washington, they will compete against eight couples including World Championship silver medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.
“With the opportunity to compete on the Grand Prix circuit this year, we feel like we have made a strong step forward,” said Gibson. “It feels like a way to begin establishing our name on the highest level of the competitive figure skating circuit.”