Olivia Gran is never going to forget her first trip to Russia with Skate Canada.
The 33-hour journey from Kelowna to Chelyabinsk, however, might be something to forget.
Gran is the only Canadian entry in women’s singles at the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating event happening this week.
The 16-year-old Kelowna Skating Club athlete left home on Sunday with coach Karen Mongrain. They had layovers in Frankfurt and Moscow before finally arriving in Chelyabinsk sometime on Tuesday (roughly, the city is 12 hours ahead of Kelowna).
Thankfully, Gran was welcomed with open arms in the remote Russian city that her other coach — Karen’s husband, Jason — called “impressive.”
The rink, the food and the treatment have all been first class, he said.
“So far, they’ve been going well,” Mongrain said Wednesday night in Kelowna.
Gran has been to Europe twice before in her young career, he said, but places like France and the Netherlands don’t quite compare to the cultural differences Gran is experiencing this week in Chelyabinsk, a city Mongrain jokingly described as “half way between Moscow and Siberia.”
While the city of about 1.2 million people is remote — nestled inside the heart of western Russia near the Kazakhstan border — it’s not without its charms, he said.
The Grand Prix is being held at Traktor Chelyabinsk, a beautiful arena that is also home to a Kontinental Hockey League team.
It’s one of those trips that will be high on “life experience,” Mongrain said, and is also providing exceptional figure skating experience, too.
Russia dominates junior skating, and often sends athletes to junior-level events that can compete for medals on the senior circuit.
And as hosts of this stop on the Grand Prix tour, the Russians can enter three women in the singles event.
Finishing in the top 10 with a score that shows Gran is progressing would make the trip especially rewarding, Mongrain said. Gran is one of three KSC athletes on a Skate Canada team called NextGen and qualified for the Russian event through a combination of competitions, training camps and Skate Canada “monitoring.”
She’s also a past junior Canadian champion who finished ninth at the national senior championships in Saint John, N.B., in January.
Gran was the youngest female competitor in New Brunswick. Her result was even more impressive when you consider Gran had not that long ago dislocated her knee.
Capitalizing on her experience in Russia, staying healthy and performing when it counts could set Gran up for a breakthrough season. Mongrain said should she return to the senior nationals this season, Gran would be aiming at a top-five finish.
“That’s a pretty lofty goal, but it’s attainable,” he said.