Four-time national Figure Skating champion, Gian-Quen Isaacs, is hoping to become the first South African ice skater to qualify for the Winter Olympics since 1998.
Currently in Grade 11, Isaacs is balancing her education and sporting career. She admits that her single-parent mother has given her the ultimatum – if she wants to continue skating, she has to excel academically.
It has been nine years since Isaacs has been competing in what is deemed a “Cinderella Sport” – a term that frustrates Isaacs.
The young star believes that Figure Skating, too, is like any other sport and deserves ample recognition and support.
She believes that the sport can be improved through funding, eventually attracting more young girls to take to the ice rink.
Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Isaacs reveals how Figure Skating caught her attention at the age of seven and shares her growing list of achievements.
Gian, thank you for chatting to gsport. Please tell us about your sport and when did it all start for you?
Figure Skating is made up of Solo Skating, Synchronized Skating, Pairs, Ice Dance & Solo Ice Dance. I am a 16-year-old SA figure who competes in Solo Skating. Initially I wanted to play ice hockey after I attended a match that was advertised at a school I attended at the time.
But, due to never having skated before, it was recommended that I join a Learn to Skate program. I joined Junior Blades Skating Club. Two weeks in, the head coach told my mom that I had the ability to be a competitive Figure Skater and introduced us to my coach Megan Painczyk (former South African silver medalist and skater). I had no idea what that meant so I was nervous that year but excited at the same time.
What was it about figure skating that caught your attention?
I remember arriving early for my first private lesson and watched my coach and senior skaters training. I was awestruck yet scared as there were a few hard falls taking place due to the level of jumping taking place. Later, watching our seniors and international skaters compete, the sparkly costumes, the excitement, the precision in the performances awoke a hunger in me to want to be there doing what they do.
Do you have any interests in other sports?
Although I enjoy watching all sports, unfortunately, with our vigorous training schedule, it makes is near impossible to pursue another sport. You are always conscious of injuries occurring, causing you to stop training for as long as you are in recovery. Always worrying that should you get injured it could mess with your skating later.
When was your first competition and what was it like for you?
My first solo was at a Cape Inter Provincial Championship in 2013. I was 8 years old at the time. I arrived at the rink super early – I was the first one there and the rink was still closed.
“I was so ready and excited that when I competed, I felt like one of the senior skaters. Until I fell on a sit spin…” – South African Figure Skater, Gian-Quen Isaacs
I jumped up and rushed through the rest of my program, finishing in time. Took a bow to the judges and audience, left the ice and balled my eyes out because I fell during my program. I took it to as I wasn’t good enough. I still won the Sparrow Girls section, though.
How do you manage to balance your education and sporting career?
My mom believes in a balance. If I want to keep skating, I have to excel academically as well. Reason, I cannot excel in one and not the other. So, between training I do schoolwork, at night and over weekends. I am fortunate that the school I attend – Holy Cross High School – has been very supportive allowing me to leave school early for training, later setting up a system so that learners like myself and other athletes can do our work online.
How has your family supported you?
“I come from a single parent set-up and although times are tough, I am fortunate to have a mom, uncle, grandmother and nonbiological family who believe in my ability to succeed.” – 16-year-old Isaacs reveals her support system.
Getting selected for international competitions although exciting can be stressful due to lack of finances. I often stress that should I have a bad competition I’ve let them down because due to their sheer blood, sweat, tears and prayers I was able to attend. They keep me grounded.
We all know that Figure Skating is perceived as a “Cinderella Sport”. What is your response when you hear people mention that statement?
It frustrates me to no avail as people would much rather not attend such an incredibly beautiful sport. They tend to underestimate us, instead of making the effort to understand what we as athletes put ourselves through mentally, physically, and emotionally to be able to compete both nationally and internationally.
What are your thoughts on the state of Figure Skating in South Africa and how can it be improved?
Figure Skating in South Africa is a very close-knit diverse family. However, due to the pandemic, many skaters quit because of not being able to train and clubs not being able to open purely for safety purposes, also the uncertainty of what lies ahead with this Covid-19 situation.
In terms of improvement, the sport can only improve if it receives the same level of exposure, funding (which is difficult as companies only tend to assist major sports teams) and support as other major sporting codes in our country, instead of just the friends and family of the skaters (we do appreciate their support).
What would you say to encourage other young girls to get involved in the sport?
Figure Skating is a beautiful sport that prepares you for life.
“It teaches you time management, discipline, determination and perseverance, reminding you that even on a bad day of training or competition, get up dust yourself off and move on, to come back stronger and lessons that assist you in life as well.” – Isaacs reveals the life lessons Figure Skating teaches her.
Sportsmanship teaches you tolerance and respect towards all competitors reminding us that we are unique in our differences.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
I am a four-times National Champion, ranked number 1 for Junior Ladies. Most Artistic and Most Outstanding Performance 2016. Gold Medalist for Basic Novice A Santa Claus Cup Budapest Hungary 2017. Most Outstanding Performance at a National Championship 2018. Qualifying for my short program for Junior Worlds at Junior Grand Prix Poland 2019. Training at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club in Canada. Qualifying for Senior Ladies for Nationals 2021. Receiving Olympic Scholarship in preparation for Olympics 2022.
Who inspires you to be the best version of yourself on the ice rink?
There isn’t any one person, but a few special individuals who always encourage me to be the best version of myself than the day before.
We are heading into the Olympics. Are you eyeing participation for this year?
My sight is on Beijing 2022. God willing, and seeing where this pandemic takes us.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
As I’m in grade 11, academically – maintaining academic excellence in order to get into university and athletically – training with the hope of competing again as due to the pandemic I was unable to attend any competitions so far. So, the goal athletically would be to qualify for Junior Worlds / 4 Continents / Olympics.
What is your greatest ambition?
My greatest ambition is two-fold – to one, qualify as a Medical Doctor and two, to be a competitor and not just a participant at the Olympics and should 2022 not happen, regroup, refocus and keep an eye on the next Winter Olympics which is only possible if my coach and I can continue training in Canada at least once a year.
Photos caption: Four-times National Figure Skating champion, Gian-Quen Isaacs chats about working towards becoming the first South African ice skater to qualify for the Winter Olympics since 1998. Photos: Supplied