Standing beside the ice during morning practice the week before Canadians, I was stunned by the continued and dramatic improvement that I see with senior Canadian dancers Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill.

It was a busy morning for all of the teams in the Ice Dance Elite school but watching Kharis and Asher gives me a real sense of the speed, technique and maturity it takes to compete at the elite international level in which they find themselves.

It has been a long road for Kharis and Asher who have been skating together for 11 years.  They have a connection and friendship off the ice that has helped them weather some difficult times including the death of Kharis’ father in the summer of 2011.  What impresses me is their commitment to their skating and to their ‘team-ness’.

Heading into the national championships in Moncton in a week’s time, they are hungry for a spot on the podium and to make it to Worlds. Kharis explains: “We just need to focus on ourselves and not get distracted.”

For each of the skaters, career highlights are top of mind; Asher’s is when he was approached in the hotel in whcih he was staying by World Dance champion Victor Kraatz who said “That’s what I call a dance!” The compliment still makes him smile.

“I remember being at Nationals in first year pre-novice and we fell down. We had no idea about the consequences of what happened. We were just so happy to be there. I remember coming off the ice and getting a big hug from Carol.” That sense of accomplishment of making it to Nationals is clearly still with Kharis today.

Both skaters are quick to mention what a thrill it was to be the first ones backstage to tell their Ice Dance Elite team mates Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier that they had made the cut for the Olympics in 2010.

Making the cut is what Ralph and Hill are hoping for in Moncton. Here is their tango-inspired free dance:

Kharis sums up their philosophy heading into the most important competition on their calendar: “Jon (Lane – coach) says that the only thing between us and going to Worlds is ourselves. It’s up to us.”