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Yoni ElizarovBy SCOTT TAYLOR

Yohnatan Elizarov is a rarity.
After all, it’s rare to have an Israeli-born figure skater. It’s rare that an Israeli-born figure skater lives in Manitoba and it’s rare that Manitoba has any male figure skaters at all.
It’s even rarer when one of them is good.

In fact, in mid-January, Yoni Elizarov will become one of the very few Manitoba male skaters to have ever reached Skate Canada’s National Championships.
From Jan. 13-15, in Saint John, N.B., Elizarov will be one of 18 skaters in the Novice Men’s category at the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. It’s been a long and winding road for the 15-year-old who was born in Haifa, Israel and brought up in Winnipeg, Canada, but in early December he sent a message to the nation that he could no longer be ignored.
And, along with Yoni’s parents, German and Elena Elizarov, it’s unlikely anyone could be prouder than his coach, Margo Russell. Russell explained the route Yohnatan took to the national championships.

“There is a summer series that Skate Canada facilitates,” Russell said. “He participated in that event but usually to qualify, you need to skate in two of the five events. He only skated in one so he would have qualified at Manitoba sectionals in November. So, we tried to do some other competitions. One in Barrie, Ont., and one in Weyburn, Sask., to get him some exposure. He qualified for The Challenge, which took place in Edmonton at the end of November and beginning of December. There were 25 skaters and he had to finish in the Top 18 in order to qualify for The Nationals. I was really hoping he could reach that Top 18.
“Well, he was 12th after the short program and then moved up to ninth after the long program. He had the skate of his life – to this point. Getting to ninth for a Manitoban in a competition like this is huge.”

By finishing ninth, Elizarov was obviously at the top of his game. Now he’ll get another shot at most of the 18 skaters he competed against in Edmonton and with that shot, he’ll have another chance to move up in the eyes of Canada’s top judges. People are so excited about the fact he’s simply qualified for the national championship that they have set up a Go Fund Me Page (Yoni to Nationals) to help him finance the trip.
“His jumping is his strength,” said his coach. “He’s quite a powerful skater so he has big jumps. He also tends to be pretty good under pressure – his skating, if not his mental approach.”
While it was a long road to get to the Nationals, it was also a long road to get to Winnipeg.

Yohnatan’s dad, German, is a plumber, while his mom is a senior financial reporting analyst for Great-West Life. German moved to Israel from Baku, Azerbaijan in 1991 while Elena moved to Israel from Russia in 1996. The couple emigrated to Canada in 2009 with their five-year-old son, Yoni.
“I met my husband in 2000 and we got married in 2002,” Elena explained. “We met in a restaurant where I worked as a waitress. A short time after we met, I started studying at Haifa University and graduated three years later with a B.A. in Economics and Business Administration. I worked in various companies, but my last job in Israel was an office manager in a web design company. My husband worked as a plumbing contractor.

“We lived in Haifa from the day we both moved to Israel and until we moved to Canada. We enjoyed the people, the weather, the sea and our travels abroad while living in Israel.”
But then came the summer of 2006 and the Second Lebanon War. One of the rockets fired on northern Israel, hit very close to the Elizarovs’ apartment building and it resulted in a profound change for the Elizarovs and many other Israelis. “Except for just one in our bedroom, all the windows in our apartment were broken,” Elena recalled. “A huge wooden panel was torn from its place above the unbroken window and fell on our bed where Yoni was sleeping at the time. The panel barely missed him and landed just a few inches away from him. Oddly enough, Yoni didn’t wake up even though it was a pretty loud explosion – but it was a very close call and we felt it was a miracle no one got hurt. Yoni, myself and my mother-in-law were in the apartment at that time.
“After the war ended, we decided it was time to move to another country and after some research, we decided to move to Canada. We chose Winnipeg because we had friends who had recently moved to Winnipeg and were very happy about it. So, three years later we landed in Winnipeg.”

Since arriving in Winnipeg, the Elizarovs have flourished. German got his Journeyman Red Seal Plumber license in 2010 while Elena continued her education and enrolled in the CPA (formerly the CGA) program in 2011. She received her CPA designation in 2018.
The family also grew and now Yoni has two younger brothers, Sean, 8, an aspiring soccer player and Jamie, 2 . They also have a dog, a Chocolate Lab named Lulu, who Elena believes Yoni loves more than his brothers.

Yoni’s road to the figure skating nationals also started in Winnipeg.
“I had been a figure skater in Russia,” Elena explained. “There were no rinks in Israel, but when we came to Canada, we were able to get Yoni into the CanSkate program when he was about six years old. After a year, he was asked if he was going to play hockey or go into figure skating and I said right away, ‘He is going be a figure skater.’
“Since then, he’s been the only boy for quite a few years, but still, he has really improved his skating. Most people don’t know this, but Yoni developed asthma just a year before our move to Canada. However all of his symptoms disappeared after we moved here. What a perfect climate it is here in Winnipeg.”
To their credit, the Elizarovs’ decision to enroll Yoni in all sorts of Canadian activities helped him become the skater he is today. In fact, getting him involved in dance classes certainly didn’t hurt.
“Yoni started playing tennis when he was only 3 1/2 years old,” Elena explained. “Again, it was because of me, as I also played tennis for many years. However, when we moved to Winnipeg, we felt it to be a little bit too expensive for new immigrants, so we registered him in swimming lessons, soccer, skating at CanSkate and dance with the RWB, instead.
“He was a pretty good dancer and even participated in two productions of RWB’s Nutcracker. He was also one of the kids chosen to be part of Twyla Tharp’s “The Princess and The Goblin” in 2012. We briefly considered whether he should continue to the RWB’s professional division, but he decided that he preferred skating and so gradually he dropped all other activities to concentrate fully on competitive figure skating.”

Since he made that decision, he has improved incrementally, thanks in no small way to his outstanding working relationship with Coach Russell, a veteran of 40 years of figure skating coaching – a job that started after 11 years as a skater.
“I just feel I connect with her,” Yohnatan said. “I’ve had three or four coaches and she’s the best one. Sometimes, I go out of the province to see other coaches, but I always like to come home to Margo. She knows how to calm me down when I get nervous. And when I’m feeling down at practice, she knows how to brighten my day up. She’s also very funny and makes lots of jokes.”
A Grade 10 student at J.H. Bruns Collegiate, Elizarov does “pretty well,” in school (he graduated Grade 9 with a 92 per cent average), but it’s clear his biggest focus is on his skating. At 15, he still has a long way to go, but this month, he could take a giant step in his development.
“We’ve had other skaters in the province go to the Nationals (including Deidre Russell, Margo’s daughter),” Coach Russell said. “But this is kind of special, having a male skater reach this level. Especially for a skater who stays here and trains here. There have been other skaters from Manitoba who have gone off to other provinces to train, but for a young man who trains right here in Winnipeg, it’s pretty cool for him to end up at the National Championship.”

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