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Jewish Athlete of the Year Yohnatan Elizarov continues to excel as a figure skater

By BERNIE BELLAN (with past columns from Scott Taylor and Myron Love) Four years ago we introduced readers to a budding new figure skater by the name of Yohnatan Elizarov. In a column written by Scott Taylor in January 2019, about Yohnatan, who was 14 at the time, Scott explained that Yohnatan had just recently risen to local prominence in the world of figure skating.
Since then Yohnatan has continued to make his mark in what is a very competitive sport, although in 2021 he added pairs skating to his repertoire when he joined up with a partner by the name of Ava Kemp in various competitions. Since pairing with Ava, the duo has skated in a number of different competitions with consistent success.
Last September, Yohnatan and Ava made their debut on the world scene in an International Skating Union competition held in Riga, Latvia, where they finished second. That competition is one of seven events held throughout the year.
Then, in late September the duo competed in another competition – this time in Gdansk, Poland. After taking some time off in November, Yohnatan and Ava resumed practicing in preparation for the World Junior Figure Skating Championships, which were held in Calgary from February 27-March 5, Yohnatan and Ava finished sixth in the world in the pairs competition.
Considering that Elizarov is also the reigning Jewish Athlete of the Year and, with his continuing success, we thought it worthwhile to look back on his rise up the ladder of an extremely competitive sport. Not only did Scott Taylor first introduce us to Yohnatan Elizarov in 2019, Myron Love also profiled him in a column that appeared in this paper last April.
What follows is taken from both those columns:
Yohnatan Elizarov’s parents, German and Elena, were both born in what was the former Soviet Union – German in Azerbijan, and Elena in Russia.
German emigrated to Israel in 1991, while Elena moved there in 1996. As Scott Taylor wrote in his 2019 column, ‘ “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.”
The Elizarovs decided to try to move to Canada. As Elena noted at the 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.’ “
The Elizarovs arrived in Winnipeg in 2009. Since then, Yohnatan, who was five at the time of the move, has been joined by younger brothers Sean and Jamie, who were both born here.
Elena explained how Yohnatan came to be involved in figure skating: “ ‘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.’ “
As already noted, Myron Love did a follow-up story about Yohnatan last year. In it Myron noted that, in 2018, Yohnatan entered a national skating competition for the first time – and qualified to enter into Nationals competitions – “the first Manitoban to have done so in quite some time.
“To qualify for the Nationals skaters have to first excel at provincial sectional competition and then at a Skate Canada Challenge where they need to place in the top 18 in Novice/Junior/Senior level to qualify for the Nationals. Skate Canada Challenge locations usually change every year (although the competition hasn’t been held in Manitoba in recent years). Yohnatan competed in Skate Canada Challenge competitions in Montreal, Edmonton and, most recently, in Regina. In the most recent national competition, held earlier this year in Ottawa, Elizarov finished ninth out of a field of 18 in the Junior Men discipline.”
It was when Yohnatan decided to try pairs figure skating, however, that his career really began to take off.
As Myron wrote, “He says that he had been considering the idea for a while. Before connecting with Ava Kemp, Elizarov had tried partnering with another girl, but she had a different coach and trained in Virden, which made practices together rather difficult. In Ava Kemp, Elizarov has a partner who lives in the same part of the city and now shares the same coach.
“The challenge, Elena Elizarov adds, is to find the right partner in terms of relative size, location and skills level.
“ I was at first hesitant about working with another person in my space,” Yohnatan admits. “ I am more comfortable with that now.’ ”
“He notes that he and his partner balance each other emotionally as well. “ I alleviate the stress of competing by calming myself whereas Ava gets more excited,’ ” he explains. “ ‘We communicate very well.’ ”
“Yohnatan reports that he puts in about 20 hours a week in training – which includes about 15 hours of on-ice practice.
“ Upper body strength is very important in pairs for the male skater,” he says. ‘My upper body strength is now three to four times stronger than when I was skating solo.’ ”
Yohnatan graduated from Vincent Massey Collegiate in the spring of 2021 and has been taking university classes as time permits, he told me. “I’m just trying to fit classes in with my figure skating practices,” he said. He’s actually completed eight full classes so far toward what he hopes will eventually result in his getting a Bachelors degree in Computer Science at the University of Manitoba.
Right now Yohnatan is taking one class at the university, but in another few weeks he’ll be back on the ice with Ava as they resume practicing for the next season of competitions.
As for what his future in ice skating holds, Myron’s article noted that Yohnatan “would love to have the opportunity to skate with the Ice Capades or Disney On Ice – or emulate Garrett Gosselin, one of the choreographers he has worked with, and appear in a skating show on cruise ships.”
Given his success in pairs skating though, Yohnatan told Myron last year that he was “considering cutting back on his singles efforts and focusing more on pairs “ which is exactly what he has done.
At that time, he also noted that he wanted “to see where it (pairs skating) goes.” Yohnatan added that ‘I am thinking maybe I will skate for a few more years, then transition into coaching.’ ”
As Myron also observed: “Or maybe he will get that call from Stars On Ice.”
But, as the current Jewish Athlete of the Year – and with his ongoing success in figure skating, it’s hard to count Yohnatan Elizarov out as a repeat Athlete of the Year – although no doubt there will be some formidable competition from other athletes. This year’s winner will be announced at the Ken Kronson Sports Dinner, to be held June 19.

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