Introducting Emma Brien and Stuart Beckingham
Stephen Carr, aussieSKATES magazine
March, 2006

There’s something special about pairs figure skating: its’ symmetry, grace; speed, athleticism and sheer “wow” factor. Not only does each skater need to be a strong figure skater in their own right; but they also need to master technically distinct, and difficult, pairs elements; such as lifts, death spirals, twists and throw jumps. And all this whilst skating together in perfect unison?

This is the challenge Sydney skaters Emma Brien and Stuart Beckingham have taken upon themselves and are achieving with flair and a good dose of humour. Emma and Stuart have gone from strength to strength since first becoming a pair in March of this year. After passing their novice, junior and senior pair tests, they went on to claim the Macquarie Club and NSW State Senior Pair Titles. Currently Australia’s Senior Pairs Champions, Emma and Stuart have taken everything they’ve learned from their respective singles careers; worked incredibly hard and embraced the world of “pairs” with increasingly positive results
Theirs has been a massive learning curve; and their achievements reflect their talent and dedication. Their hard work, under the direction of coach Stephen Carr, three time Winter Olympian and 19 times National Champion in pairs figure skating, with his sister, Danielle McGrath, has seen Emma and Stuart improve meteorically during 2005; culminating in winning the Senior Pairs event at the 2005 Australian National Figure Skating Championships, held in August in Perth Western Australia.

Greater still is their triumph that as National Champions, Emma and Stuart have qualified to represent Australia and compete at the 2006 World Figure Skating Championships in Calgary, Canada; during March; following competition in the prestigious ISU Four Continents Championships, to be held in Colorado Springs, USA, in January. This championship is considered an important pre-cursor to Worlds. Last year, 1998 Olympian and Senior Ladies Champion Joanne Carter gained the highest ever result for an Australian figure skater at the Four Continents Championships; setting a new benchmark and becoming the idol of young Aussie skaters everywhere.

Emma and Stuart recently returned from competing in their first international event together: the historic Karl Schafer Memorial Championship in Vienna, Austria; which doubled as the Qualification event for the 2006 Torino Winter Olympic Games. Prior to competition, they worked intensively on choreography, presentation and program performance with another three time Winter Olympian, Cameron Medhurst.

“Without a throw triple jump we needed to shift our “jump elements” to later in our program to maximise points” says Stuart. “The ISU Judging system marks both individual elements as they’re skated in a program, as well as components, which include skating skills, transitions and choreography. Between Nationals and Vienna we looked to improve both our speed and these components to bolster our program score”, he added.

Emma, acknowledging Medhurst’s effort, added “To achieve this we worked closely with Cameron several times per week. His Olympic and show skating experience contributed to our improved performance in Vienna. Cameron helped us to focus on different facets of our skating; balancing artistry with the more technical aspects”.

The atmosphere in Vienna was tense and motivating. Being in such a high-level skating environment inspired the pair to skate the best they could to secure World Championship representation.

“Seeing the pairs in action on the first day of official practice was enough to lift our performance”, says Emma. “In the day and a half before we competed, I noticed our speed into lifts and throws improve - and this was just from being on the ice with the other teams!”, she added.

To meet changed technical requirements, a number of last minute changes were made to their short program, such as inclusion of the difficult star lift. Skating to “Mr Pinstripe Suit” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, day one of competition saw the pair deliver a solid short program, comfortably landing side-by-side double axel jumps; executing a throw double-salchow with good speed, height and flow; and a firm star lift. Overall, Emma and Stuart scored a total of 32.89 in the short program, placing them in 12th position and only 5.06 points behind closest competitors Uzbekistan; a team who have been skating together for over 5 years.

“Stephen felt we needed to master the star lift; another of the “hand-to-hip” type-lifts, which have been our nemesis from the start. Just prior to leaving for Vienna, the lift began to really work well, although it was still a challenge, as we had a few collapses until we perfected speed and timing. In Vienna, we got it right on the night and we’re very pleased with the outcome“, Stuart notes.

Competition in the pair’s event resumed with the free program on day three. Emma and Stuart, skating to various pieces including “Overture from Mask of Zorro”; had made significant changes to their free program since Nationals, increasing the difficulty of lifts and altering choreography; to include shifting the throw double loop and salchow; and jump sequence; to later in the program to maximise marks. This proved to be an astute decision; rewarded with higher marks than those received at Nationals, with a total score of 56.23. Combined with the short program results, the pair’s overall score of 89.12 secured their qualification to compete at the 2006 World Championships. With the ISU Four Continents Championships and World Championships now cemented in their event calendar for this season, the pair and their support team have set new performance goals: a total performance mark above the score of the 20th qualifying team for the 2006 Olympics.

“Emma and Stuart know they’ve got a lot of work ahead: they’re committed and have the talent and fitness to achieve their goals. Participating in pairs competition in Vienna has given them a new perspective and raised their enthusiasm leading into the Four Continents and Worlds Championships”, says Stephen.

“Australia has a long and strong history in pairs figure skating. Our couples have consistently achieved good results in international competition, so it’s exciting to see Emma and Stuart improve and progress. It won’t be easy to achieve the high quality of elements and level of execution necessary to compete with the world’s top 16 pairs; but it’s a good goal for us to aim for“, Stephen added.