Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson: Finding Success on Their Terms

Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson are the definition of skating veterans. Both have been involved with figure skating at the elite level for over 30 years, first as competitors and more recently as coaches.

Mitchell competed internationally for the United States in the early 1990s, attaining two top 5 finishes at the World Championships, as well as three medals at U.S. Nationals. Johansson, who hails from Sweden, competed in the 1988 Olympics, as well as at four World Championships. After retiring from competition, Mitchell and Johansson started coaching together at the Skating Club of Boston. There, the duo built a strong group of talented students, including Ross Miner, Emily Hughes, Christina Gao, and, more recently, Megan Wessenberg and Emmy Ma.

Despite their veteran status, however, Mitchell and Johansson are far from settled in their ways and are still seeking out new, innovative ways to help develop the sport, both from an athletic and business point of view. Three years ago, Mitchell and Johansson took a risk by leaving their longtime home at the Skating Club of Boston and moving their skating group to Cronin Skating Rink in Revere, Massachusetts (an inner suburb just north of Boston).

Peter Johansson (left) and Mark Mitchell (right) in Revere

What started as a shift of training venue has since evolved into the Mitchell Johansson Method (MJM), their own skating school. Mitchell and Johansson have created a coaching model that they call “supervised training,” which provides individual training/feedback between coach and student, but within the context of a small-group setting instead of the traditional private lesson. Mitchell and Johansson offer all aspects of training for their athletes, including off-ice workouts, dance training, and specialized jump work, as a total package (instead of skaters hiring individual specialists). Their school now also has its own associated club, the Academy at Mitchell Johansson Method.

Mitchell and Johansson are finding success with their innovative coaching approach. Their skaters won three medals at this year’s U.S. Nationals, including both the junior men’s and ladies’ crowns (won by Ryan Dunk and Gabriella Izzo). As a club, the Academy at Mitchell Johansson Method qualified eight skaters to 2019 Nationals. “We’ve had our best results in the last three years, both nationally and internationally,” Mitchell noted.

Recently, Mitchell and Johansson took some time to speak with me at their rink in Revere. The duo explained their approach to coaching, why they started their skating school, how it’s grown and developed, and their emphasis on future growth through their new club and Next Generation program. Mitchell and Johansson also talked about some of their best-known students, including Ross Miner, Megan Wessenberg, and Gabriella Izzo. Finally, the coaching duo offered their take on some current trends and developments in the sport.


Opening their own skating school

Q:  You both had eligible skating careers in the late 1980s/1990s. Then you joined forces and started coaching at the Skating Club of Boston. When did your coaching career start at the Skating Club?

Mitchell:  I moved to the Skating Club in 1987, to train. I skated there from 1987 to 1993. And then, I started coaching there in the spring of 1995. So, it was from 1995 until almost three years ago.

Q:  Then you came here, to Cronin Skating Rink in Revere. What led to the move?

Johansson:  It’s a long [story]. The Skating Club has looked to build a new building for literally 20 years. But more actively, I would say, in the last 10 years. It got busier and busier in there, because our program grew really big, and we had a lot of good kids, and that’s where a lot of coaches and skaters wanted to be. And with only one [ice] surface, it became really, really crowded. I was the director of the program, and we were asked to build the program up, so when the new building is built, we’ll just move everyone over. And we did. But for different circumstances, they got delayed and delayed. And it became really hard to train there, in an elite way, because it was a lot of people on the ice. With the delays, year after year, we just had to do something. There was really no way to stay in our situation there, because it was hard to maneuver with all the people. That’s how we started thinking of doing something on our own. And here we are.

Note: Last month, the Skating Club of Boston finally broke ground on a new three-rink facility in Norwood, MA.

Cronin Skating Rink:  Home of MJM

Q:  What drew you to Revere, and how did you select this rink?

Mitchell:  We knew Robin and Scott at FMC Ice Sports. They run this rink, and 23 other rinks in the area. [Note: Rob McBride is president of FMC Ice Sports, and Scott McCoy is senior vice president.] There were times when the Skating Club was closed, whether it was during Regionals or Boston Open, and we had no ice. Since we already knew Rob and Scott, we asked them: “Can we come over and skate for a few hours?” They were always really generous and said: “Yes, sure, come and skate.” So we were already familiar with this building. When we started thinking about going somewhere on our own, we contacted them.  Ideally, we [wanted] to be in [the] Revere rink, because it’s closest to the city and it’s new and it’s nice. They really worked with us to help make it happen.

Note: Cronin Ice Rink is an older building, but has been fully renovated in recent years.

Q:  So you moved here and started your own skating school, the Mitchell Johansson Method. Can you talk about your general approach to coaching? What makes your program distinctive?

Johansson:  Number one, I think this is a whole new approach, what we’re doing here. And I honestly think this is where it’s going to head. More and more rinks are going to have to do this, because I think there’s a lot of benefits.

Skating has changed so fast in the last 10 years, with the new judging system, and so forth. Everyone who is at an elite level, they have a jumping lesson, a spin lesson, a choreography lesson, skating or edges [class], pole harness, and off-ice. You’re talking five, six, lessons a day to cover it all. And you almost need that at the elite level to stay on top of all the details [of] the new system. This much can make a big difference, for two points, and so forth. So we saw this, and thought, “There’s got to be a way to make this better.”

We call our approach supervised training. It is not one-on-one [coaching], it’s like two or three people, or even sometimes five or six people [working with a coach]. You can do a lot of work together. We see the kids all three hours they’re on the ice. By doing that, it doesn’t cost each client [so much]. It’s a lot more affordable for the client, it’s a lot more efficient for us. Instead of standing with one person at a time, you can keep several people going. And you get just as much done. So that’s what’s different with our program here, than pretty much all other rinks.

Japan has done it for years. They haven’t done private lessons. And they’re very successful. Russia–you don’t take private lessons. You do everything in groups, or supervised. And they’re also very successful. There is some stuff that needs to be done one-on-one–choreography, or working on things. But that happens naturally. I think for us, our idea was: Make it more affordable, be more efficient, and run it like a real school. We cover everything that needs to be covered in a week, that you need to have a chance to be successful. And it’s not breaking the bank. That’s how our program here is.

Mitchell:  We charge a flat tuition, a flat monthly rate, for all of our skaters, that covers lesson time, competition fees, off-ice jump class, etc. And even our Team USA kids [i.e., international competitors]–they just pay their monthly tuition. Most Team USA kids, when they go overseas, they have to bring their coach. And you have to pay a pretty substantial fee to travel with that coach. Now, it’s included in your tuition. So it encourages people to work hard. We’ve always believed that you shouldn’t get punished with [travel coaching fees] because you get better and earn assignments to events. We feel like it’s a win/win for everyone. It’s better for us, it’s better for the families.

Q:  Have you gotten good feedback from families about the monthly tuition structure?

Johansson:  In the beginning, it was hard. We turned everything upside down, moving here. And people were very skeptical: Is this really going to work? We truly believed it was going to work. But it was a lot of people worrying: Am I going to get what I got before by having one-on-one [coaching]? We moved here in August 2016. In October at Regionals, the kids did well. We had a good Sectionals.

Mitchell:  I think for us, we’ve had our best results in the last three years. Both nationally and internationally, I’d say.

Johansson:  So now, it’s the norm. The first year, it was like, Ohhh. And there’s a couple of people who didn’t stay here because they wanted one-on-one [coaching]. They felt that they got more out of it. And that’s fine. But for 95 percent of the kids who came over with us, they’re like: “Okay, this is good.” They get so much more value. They get us, all day long. Their training is supervised all day.

Mark Mitchell with students Heidi Munger (left) and Emilia Murdock (center)

Mitchell:  We have two big boards that outline what you need to do today–that explain what we’re working on in [each] session. So everyone knows, and the coaches know. That’s a big help, just having it all organized.

Between the coaches, we all work together. It’s like: “Okay, I know one student is having trouble with his triple toe loop. Why don’t you take him for a bit, and work on triple toes with him, and I’m going to keep other students, and work on this with them.” Everyone gets that same attention when they need it. Or, I know I need to fix a part in somebody’s program. Okay, I’ll take [that student] and fix that long [program], and Peter takes care of the rest. So everybody gets their share.

Johansson:  It’s fluid. It’s not a set thing. It’s need-based. Like if you need to work on a program, you need to work on a jump, we figure it out.

Mitchell:  When we taught private lessons, we would always hear from the parents: “Oh, but she doesn’t know what to do when she’s not on lesson. She doesn’t do anything when she’s not on lesson.” Even some of the older kids. Well, there’s no more of that. Because a) it’s written down, what you need to work on that day, and b) you’re with a coach the whole time. There’s no standing by the walls, drinking water, blowing your nose, waiting for something. Everyone’s moving. They’re all happy, and they just keep moving.

Q:  So you don’t have sessions where skaters just practice on their own?

Mitchell:  No. One of the sessions is called Study Hall, where [we ask]: “What do you need to work on the most right now? Do you need to focus on your step sequence, spin combo, toe [jump] combinations?” So every kid has time to work on what they need, while they’re still being supervised. It teaches the kids responsibility, too, and to take charge of their own skating.

Q:  How do you work program run-throughs into the supervised training model?

Mitchell:  Fantastically! When we worked at the Skating Club, there’s a lot of kids on the ice–22, 24 kids. Everybody wants to get their music on. Not everybody would get their music on. Here, we can hold the Zamboni as long as we need to. There’s no set times to anything. You are on the ice until you get done what you need to get done. We have an iPad, and the programs just go boom-boom-boom, in order. No program goes unwatched. You never do your program without a coach watching you.

Q:  So, on some sessions per day, you do program run-throughs? And on others, you don’t?

Mitchell:  It depends on the time of the year. We can do whatever we think the kids need. There’s been times when [we say]: “Okay, it’s long-and-a-half day.” And the music goes, and then we put on the second half [of the music again]. Everybody has to do a long [program] and a half with the music. We can do that here.

Johansson:  It’s different when there’s one coaching team. At the Skating Club, or other rinks, there are several different coaches. If I was at the Skating Club, and said, “Well, I would like us to do a long and a half” … No one would accept that. They’d be like: “That’s not fair, that Peter gets to hog the CD player.” No one would allow that. But here, we can make it happen. It’s just us.

Mitchell:  Last week, the kids [asked]: “Can we do a mock competition before Colonial?” [Note: Colonial Open is an early-season club competition in the Boston area.] And we said okay. So we turned the afternoon session, the last two hours, [into that]. We do that even in the summer. Every Wednesday is a mock competition. You come in, do a twenty-minute or half-hour practice ice, like you would at competition, and get off for an hour or two. Then you do a draw. We do warm-up groups of six, just like a regular competition. These are the kinds of things that we’re able to do here now, that we couldn’t do in a regular rink.

Monday is always skating skills. The first hour is edge class. We make it work for kids coming at different periods of the day. It’s like, “Peter, you do edge class with those kids, I’m doing jumping with these ones.” So everybody gets covered. When it’s off-season–every Friday, the last session is either Interpretive, or Flashback Friday, where we watch pre-IJS skaters and copy different moves that they do. I couldn’t do Interpretive at another rink– “Okay, I’m taking over the music, and we’re going to work on this piece of music, and interpret to it.” You just can’t do that. Now, we can.

Q:  So as coaches, you’re happy in this environment?

Mitchell:  Yes. It makes it more interesting, and more fun.

Johansson:  It’s a lot easier to maneuver the training. Even if it’s last-minute. That’s the luxury we have, [in] having our own ice all day. We can decide exactly what we want to do.

Q:  Is your group the ideal size now? Or are you looking to grow?

Johansson:  There’s definitely room for more kids, if we wanted to. This is a good size. There could be a few more–that’s totally fine. That’s the business in general; there’s some years that you have more skaters than others. You manage it along the way.


A new club, a new generation

Q:  Within the last year, you’ve also started your own club here, right?

Mitchell:  The club is now [called] Academy at Mitchell Johansson Method. So we can differentiate the two.

Johansson:  All of our beginners–our little kids [who] started skating here–had no affiliation with the Skating Club [of Boston]. They needed a club to represent. And it was hard for them to be part of Mitchell Johansson Method, as a skating school, and then tell them to join the Skating Club of Boston across the river, that they don’t even know about. And it’s expensive, because there’s more to it than just a membership. It’s a private club. So we felt like we had no other option than to have a club functioning here, for at least the beginners, [so] that it could be affordable and easier and more streamlined.

Mitchell:  They were getting to the point where they all had to start taking [U.S. Figure Skating] tests. So we needed to have a test session. And with the way that Boston traffic is now, even our kids who originally did belong to the Skating Club of Boston …. It’s hard to get to the other side of the city, on a Friday night, to do an exhibition or a send-off or Ice Chips rehearsal. So yes, they belonged to the Skating Club, but they weren’t able to partake in many of the activities. They were paying a lot of money to not be able to really take advantage of what the Skating Club offers.

Johansson:   Pretty much all of them became members of our club. We never told them, “You have to.” It just made more sense for almost all of them. They now represent our club here. So that’s how that came about.

MJM student Megan Wessenberg at Skate America 2018

Q:  An advantage of having a club is being able to offer your own test sessions. Are there any disadvantages?

Mitchell:  No. For us, we’re still interim, or probationary [with U.S. Figure Skating]. It’s still new, but we wanted to make something that was really affordable for the kids to join. It’s just a club to belong to, so you can belong to U.S. Figure Skating (USFS), you can take tests, you can go to competitions, and that’s it. It’s not a grandiose club.

Johansson:  Not yet. But who knows where it will go?

Mitchell:  Affordability was a big thing. The whole program here was designed to make it more affordable for competitive kids to skate, and to get the most bang for your buck.  

Q:  You mentioned your beginner-level skaters, who are part of the Next Generation track in your MJM program. Why did you want to offer that track in Revere?

Johansson:   Every rink needs a feeder program, or feeder structure. We’ve always taught young kids. It’s not that we only took on good kids. We had to make our kids good from the beginning. Most of them were young–really young–when we started them. We just thought: Let’s try to do the Next Generation track on a smaller scale, but to teach them that this is the way it’s going to work, as you move up in the competitive program when you get older. It’s structured the same way [as the elite tracks]. They do off-ice. Everything is in small groups. It’s not private lessons–which is the whole point of doing this [system], that you can do a lot more together, and it’s not going to cost you as much, and it’s more efficient, and so forth. So Next Generation was designed to prepare them for the foundation of getting into a competitive skating program. Hopefully ours. They could go somewhere else if they wanted to, but most of them end up in our own program later.

Mitchell:  It’s our bridge program. U.S. Figure Skating has a bridge program. A lot of rinks do. But to make it competitive. The kids in Next Generation know, “Okay, I need to be able to land X, Y, and Z before I can move on [and] graduate to the regular MJM ice.” So it does create that competitiveness, I think. To see who really wants to get up there to the next level.

Johansson:  I think in America, in general, there’s a lot of people coming out of Learn to Skate, and even into bridge programs. But we lose a lot of people from that level into the competitive track. Because I think you just get lost somewhere, or you’re not really educated [that] one of the options [is] to be competitive. I think our hope was to try to get as many of these little ones to be educated and to realize, this is one track that you could follow, into the competitive program.

Mitchell:  You have to be able to land a single Axel and a double [jump] to move on to the real MJM ice. So everybody who’s in Next Generation is working toward that. Some are really beginning–you know, waltz jumps–and some are [doing] loops, flips, and Lutzes, and some are working on Axels, or double Salchow, or double toe.

Q:  I agree this is a tricky area for U.S. Figure Skating–transitioning kids from Learn to Skate toward real competition.

Johansson:  It gets very expensive, very quickly. It takes a lot of time, very quickly. And if you haven’t prepared the family–the whole family, because it involves the whole family …. You need to really explain early on that this is the progression, if you want to go this track, this is what’s going to happen. You need to take time, over and over again, to really explain how it’s going to be. I think then you have a better chance of them seeing the benefits, or wanting to do it. But financially, or timewise–getting the kid to the rink–there could be so many obstacles to making it happen. So you have to start really early to explain to the parents.

Q:  Overall, how many kids do you have training at the facility now?

Mitchell:  Almost 50. Fortunately, we have a lot of help. Our whole premise was to do it like a real school. We have all the coaches who work underneath us. We come up with the master plan, and they help us implement it. With Next Generation, we teach it sometimes, but Ross Miner and Heidi Munger do a lot of Next Generation [classes]. Emmy Ma does, too, and Megan Wessenberg, and Ryan Dunk. So, as a little kid, you get a national/international competitor teaching you.

Q:  Would you ever go back to the Skating Club of Boston, now that they’re building the new three-rink facility in Norwood?

Johansson:  Everyone is asking us. But the Skating Club hasn’t offered us anything. So at this point, we just do our thing here. And that’s fine. We have no ill feelings toward the Skating Club. We needed to do what we needed to do. And they’re moving on to their new building. If it happens, it happens. But right now, we have no offer. And we just plug along and do this.

Geographically, it’s in a very different spot than here. We’re on the north side [of Boston], and that’s on the southwest side. It’s far from our current location. That’s hard. Especially for the clients who come from this side of town. But they will have a very nice facility, that’s for sure. For us, it was a little too late.


Star students

Q:  Let’s talk a bit about your students. You’ve had many successful skaters in your group, of whom Ross Miner is possibly the best-known. You coached Ross for 15 years, from 2003 to 2018, and saw him grow from a very young skater to a senior National medalist and Grand Prix medalist. What was it like to work with an athlete like Ross, and what did you learn from coaching him?

Johansson:  Ross was a very good student.

Mitchell:  He was the most polite, respectful student you could ever teach. By far.

15 years together:  With Ross Miner at 2018 U.S. Nationals  (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America)

Johansson:  Before Ross, we had kids who were at that level. So I think we had a little more experience at that level when Ross came around. That was helpful. Ross was also in that big change of the skating. During his last five, six, seven, years, a whirlwind happened to the sport. The quads, the new system … it just went crazy.

Mitchell:  Kids come to us a lot, and we always see something in someone. With Ross, we were like, Hmmm. Ross had all cheated jumps, and couldn’t pay attention [at first]. But we just kept working on it. It took a while, but all of a sudden, it clicked. And we were like, “Wow, this kid’s getting pretty good.” He was slowly unwinding into what he became.

Johansson:   It was a lot of hard work, on his end and our end. It was not easy, in the beginning, at all.

Mitchell:  Nothing was super-natural to him. Not choreography, not jump technique, not spins, not anything. So he had to really learn everything. It wasn’t just talent, and going on feel. And now he’s a really good coach, because he can teach everything.

Q:  Ross had a long career as a skater, competing for eight years at the senior international level. That seems to be a theme with some of your skaters, who have blossomed later in their careers. Megan Wessenberg had probably her best season last year, at age 20. What was the secret to Megan’s success last season?

Johansson:  After [2018] Nationals, a year and a half ago, Megan said: “I’ve got to take charge of my own skating somehow.” And she did. She used her off-season last year to really improve, especially [in] jumping, and trying to be more consistent. She was very diligent. And she carried it out throughout this season. She had some really good competitions [and] some not so good. But what made a big difference was that she actually used her whole year very smartly to be better-prepared when the season started. And then just built on that.

Gabriella Izzo (second from left) and Emilia Murdock (third from left) with their medals at 2019 U.S. Nationals

Q:  You also had two junior ladies on the podium at Nationals this past season, Gabriella Izzo and Emilia (Milly) Murdock. What led to their success? And what’s in store for them this year?

Mitchell:  We always look at kids like: “Let’s keep plugging along. How good can we make you?” We don’t usually think that much about results. Both girls have that drive within themselves. It’s just the norm [here]. Keep pushing yourself, so you max out your abilities, and see where it takes you. Gabby and Milly both work really hard.

And it’s nice that they all get along. It’s easy, then, to be in competition. You have two kids in the same group [at a competition], or multiple kids, and it’s like: “Okay, this is just like home.” I think the familiarity when you get to competition is nice for the kids.

Q:  Will Gabby and Milly compete as seniors or juniors this coming season?

Mitchell:  I think both kids will do senior domestically. Internationally, probably Junior Grand Prix. But we’ll see how it all plays out.

Johansson:  The ISU is meeting for the senior Grand Prix [selection this week]. U.S. Figure Skating waits to see who gets assigned from the ISU to go to the senior Grand Prix. And then, depending on [which] of the American skaters gets into the senior Grand Prix, then you go down the list [and decide] who’s senior, who’s junior. Everything starts after the ISU meeting in June. You can’t really plan when you don’t know the senior Grand Prix rosters.


Trends in the sport

Q:  Let’s talk about some larger trends in the sport. What’s your opinion of the new qualifying structure for U.S. Nationals and the elimination of the Juvenile, Intermediate, and Novice levels from Nationals?

Mitchell:  I think I’ll reserve judgment on the National Qualifying System until we see how it plays out. I think it’s a good concept.

Johansson:   You get more than one chance [to qualify for Nationals]. If you had a bad Regionals, you might miss out. But [now], if you can get the score at some of the summer competitions–that’s good. Hopefully that will work. By not having Juvenile, Intermediate, and Novice at Nationals, I think people are going to move up much quicker to juniors and seniors. Which I believe is one of their goals–that people not sit back and stay in Intermediate at age 16. But now, you’ll have a lot broader field in those two categories. So the competition will be harder, I think.

Mitchell:  My only concern … I feel like the U.S. was always so strong in singles, for the previous 40 years. And we always had Novice at Nationals in singles.

Johansson:   I personally think it would be okay to have left the Novice [level at Nationals]. Juvenile, Intermediate, you don’t need to bring them to Nationals. I think [retaining] Novice would have been good. They go there, they see Nationals, the junior and senior events, and they get better preparation for what’s coming.

Mitchell:  I agree. Kids make it to Juvenile and Intermediate [Nationals] and they’re like, “Okay, I’m done with skating, I already made Nationals, it’s fine.” And they quit. I think we might have a better chance of keeping more kids in the sport this way.

Q:  Japan and Russia both have Novice Nationals events. Do you think it’s a cost decision to cut Novice from U.S. Nationals?

Mitchell:  It could be partially cost.

Johansson:  In the last few years, they had everything in the same week [at Nationals]. So now, the “week” is eleven days long. It starts on Thursday, and then all the way to the following Sunday. If you had Juvenile kids, you got there Thursday, you were at Nationals for 11 days. And so were the officials, and so were the volunteers. The operation became so gigantic. Whether it’s cost, or time, or energy, it was hard.

Mitchell:  In reality, you’re still going to have six Novice ladies who will make it to Nationals [in the Junior division]. So you’re only missing six kids, if you think about it in those terms.

Johansson:  This is a trial, and we’ll see how it goes. This is a huge change, obviously.

Q:  What’s the reaction among the skaters in your group?

Johansson:   I think everyone is just sitting back, like: “Okay. All right.”

Mitchell:  So be it. People have always said, it’s too bad you could be so good all year and have a bad program at Regionals and you don’t make it, and you’re out. And you lose some of the good kids. I think that’s how U.S. Figure Skating looks at it. Whereas, at least you’ll still capture them to go on to Sectionals now [with the new qualifying system].  

Q:  Last season was the first with the revised IJS, including reduced jump values and the +5/-5 GOE range. Having seen the new system for a year, what are your thoughts on the changes?

Mitchell:  My gosh, it’s only been one year? [Laughs]  I think it’s better.

Johansson:  I think it’s better. Just trying 16 quads, and not succeeding at any, it doesn’t go as far any more. I remember two years ago at Worlds, the men just fell, fell, fell. You fell three times and still got a silver medal. That’s not good for the sport in general. Both Nathan [Chen] and Vincent [Zhou], they took a bit less risk at Worlds this year, but they completed more good-quality elements, and that’s what took them to the very top. So I think it’s probably good.

Like I said, it’s happening so fast, even the ISU can’t keep up and get it right. They have to adjust to make sure it works. You [now] get more of an overall better performance. The artistry and the components are more valued, not just the hard jumps. I think we’d all like to see someone do maybe one less quad, but [an] overall better program.

Q:  We continue to see controversy in how the +5/-5 GOE and PCS scores are applied.

Johansson:  It is still people judging people. You can’t get away from it. Whatever system, 6.0 or IJS, it’s still people judging people. And with that comes politics, and–

Mitchell:  –Emotion.

Johansson:  You can be in a building, and there is a performance, good or bad, but there is an emotion as you watch it. That could affect the components quite a bit. What is the chemistry in the building, as the skater skates? It can come across really great on TV, but in the building, it was dead. And then you’re not going to put 9.75 on a component, you’re going to put 8.75. Because there was not a spark. But at home, maybe, it came across that it was a spark. It’s human.

Q:  Right. Maybe it’s not possible to remove that element of subjectivity?

Johansson:  They tried, and they thought they had it waterproof. [Laughter] But it’s not waterproof. It is still the same. People inflate their own skaters that they like; it’s still the same.

Q:  Last year, you had Gabriella Izzo competing on the Junior Grand Prix, so you could see firsthand the junior Russian ladies who won so many medals on the JGP last year. What are your thoughts about the Russian ladies and their dominance? Can the U.S. ladies catch up?

Mitchell:  I personally think we certainly can catch up. I look at Gabby now, and she has a great triple flip/triple loop, which is going to be competitive. But I think in seniors, it’ll probably be better. We have to see how these young [Russians] play out. A lot of them fall by the wayside.

Johansson:  You see them for a year and a half, and then they’re gone. A lot of them. Their life span is very short. Yes, it’s impressive that they have so many, and so young, and so good. And they’re really pushing the envelope, with the quads. But they’re 12 and 13 and 14.

2019 U.S. champion Alysa Liu

Mitchell:  I think U.S. Figure Skating has always been a little behind the eight-ball, with keeping up [technically]. Finally, now, they’re rewarding for trying the hard stuff. And I think that’s going to help us a lot. In the past, it was like: “No, you’re in Juvenile, and you’re under 13, you can only do a double Axel.” And it’s like: “Okay, but the Russian girls are doing triple Lutz/triple toe already, and we’re restricted.” But now the tide has changed. Having Alysa [Liu] win Nationals with two triple Axels, and she’s a 13-year-old girl, it makes it seem possible. She’s going to be on the Junior Grand Prix this year. Let’s see how she does. I would put some good money on her. I think, yes, the tides are already hopefully going to change a bit. Look at Ting Cui, she was third at Junior Worlds. I think the U.S. is coming back.

Q:  As coaches, what is it like dealing with this new era of quads and triple Axels in ladies’ skating? What is it like, introducing that to your skaters?

Mitchell:  We have a lot of help now, to learn that stuff. We have the off-ice spinner, the pole harness. We have much more technology to help these kids learn this stuff. Even the padding they have now is better! So there’s much less fear. They want to do it.  

Johansson:  It’s what’s happening. It takes one of them to do the triple Axel, or the quad. Look at Boyang Jin, when he did quad Lutz, six years ago. The next year, there was three of them. The following year, it was six of them. Now you can’t win without it. It’s just the nature of a sport–you push the boundaries. And now, without a triple/triple, it’s hard to do anything in juniors or seniors [in ladies]. And pretty soon, if you don’t have a triple Axel or quads, you’re going to have a hard time winning as well. That’s just what’s happening. Growing up, knowing you have to do it at some point, it’s a lot easier to push through that barrier than when you’re 20 years old and, all of a sudden, now you’ve got to learn a triple Axel. That’s harder, to break the barrier that way. As a little kid, I think it’s easier.

Q:  Do you have students who are working on triple Axels, quads, etc.?

Mitchell:  Yes, yes. Ryan Dunk–he’s done some really good quad loops and quad toe [loops]. Megan Wessenberg, quad toe. Milly Murdock, triple Axel. Gabby Izzo’s trying them, too. And even Indi Cha–triple Axel, or quad loop. You pick their good jump. They still have other skills to do, too. For Ryan, it’s easier for him to work on quads because he can do a triple Axel, versus the girls, who still have to work on that, or some triple/triples. But no, they’re all fine with working on it. Eager.

Q:  How about their parents?

Mitchell:  Oh, they’re very eager, too. (Laughs) Oh, yeah. Both kids and parents are ready to work on it. And coaches.

Q:  As ladies’ skating is evolving so quickly, there continue to be controversies around age limits/minimums. Are you good with current age minimums, or would you support changes?

Johansson:  Last year, at the Jump on It! camp, in Colorado, there was a big debate, trying to propose to maybe get the girls to go to 17 or 18 [age minimum for senior ladies]. Because then it wouldn’t have to happen so fast. Right now, you push these 13-, 14-year-old kids to do the Axels or the quads. And if you had a little more time before you could even enter senior-level competition, maybe you wouldn’t push so fast, and save the body. Because it’s all about injuries, obviously. Doing this harder stuff is harder on your body, for sure. And to try to prevent the–just jump, jump, jump. If you had a little bit more time, maybe the process could be slower, in a good way, to save them, to have a longer career and stay healthier. But it’s hard. I mean, everyone loves to see those little girls doing the hard stuff.  

Mitchell:  But then there’s me … and I prefer watching the more mature skaters. I love Carolina Kostner. I love Kaetlyn Osmond. Satoko Miyahara–

Johansson:  –She skates with a maturity that you can’t even compare to the 15-year-old girls.

Mitchell:  Both are exciting, I guess, in their own way. You can find the triple Axels, and quads, exciting. It is. And I do like both. But in the end, at Worlds–senior Worlds–I like watching Kaetlyn, or Carolina, or Mao Asada.

Johansson:  But as you know, it’s harder to pull that program together, with the artistry that they do, and do seven or eight triples. It’s harder, for sure. That’s why, when they do skate well, it’s awesome. But it’s hard for them to skate a clean program, compared to those little 15-year-olds.

To learn more about the Mitchell Johansson Method school, visit their web site or follow them on Twitter or Instagram.

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