It was romance before dance for Josh Andari and Olivia Oliver.
The young figure skaters were dating long distance – he’s from Chatham and she lives in Barrie – before deciding last year to become a couple on the ice as well.
They knew being an ice dance team could change their relationship, and it did. They’ve grown even closer, he said.
“We knew the risks of spending a lot of time together,” said Andari, 17. “We wake up at 5 a.m., we go to the ice, we train together, we go to school together, we do dryland training together, we eat dinner together, we do our homework together.
“It’s a lot of time that we spend with each other, so we knew things were definitely going to change, but I think it was pleasant … that our relationship has blossomed into this.”
Andari and Oliver train at the Mariposa School of Skating in Barrie. They’re coming off a debut season that included four competitions in Europe.
“It was very successful,” he said. “I think we met pretty much all of our goals that we had set. We had goals not only about competing. We represented a charity in Poland and we had a lot of goals about representing them and doing charity work in Poland while we were competing.”
They competed at ISU Junior Grand Prix events in Courchevel, France, and Gdansk, Poland, and at an ISU Challenger Series event in Zagreb, Croatia.
They also skated in Ostrava, Czech Republic, at the Four National Championships. Four countries – Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia – compete there and crown their own champions. Andari and Oliver were Polish silver medallists in junior dance.
Oliver, 17, was born in Warsaw but moved to Canada when she was three years old. She has dual citizenship, so she and Andari compete under the Polish flag.
“I feel very proud to represent Poland, especially with the charity work we’re doing,” said Andari, a Chatham Skating Club member. “It’s not just about representing another country, it’s why we represent that country and what we do. I feel I’m not only representing Poland, I’m representing our charity which is in Poland and is a very big help to Poland.”
Their charity, Skating for Young Heroes, is affiliated with the Coalition for Kids foundation run by Oliver’s parents. They grant the wishes of sick and terminally ill children.
Andari and Oliver visited nine kids after competing last September in Gdansk. They brought gifts – toys, laptops, phones and gaming systems – and played with the children.
“I hadn’t done anything like that before, a trip like that, and it really gave me a new outlook on life, a new respect for what these kids have to go through,” Andari said. “Watching their faces just light up and … be kids themselves because they don’t really get the chance. They’re in and out of hospitals and group homes. They need to just be kids again. It was a really great experience to share that with them.”
Andari and Oliver began dating when he spent the summer of 2018 training in Barrie with then-dance partner Alyssa Robinson.
Andari and Robinson were 2018 Ontario Winter Games silver medallists. They were ninth in novice dance at the Canadian championships in January 2019, one month before Andari moved to Barrie full-time to train. By May, he was skating with Oliver.
“It has dramatically increased our bond as a couple,” he said. “It has strengthened our relationship as a team and it creates an entirely new essence on the ice, a new chemistry because when you’re in a relationship with someone and you can show it on the ice, you’re exposing yourself.
“I feel more comfortable with her and I feel that our presentation on the ice has improved so much now that we have that bond together.”
They’re best friends, he said, but if they have a rare disagreement – on or off the ice – they have a way to work it out.
“I think being together so much has increased our level of patience with each other,” Andari said. “We know that since we’re together so much, we have to be lenient with each other. If we’re arguing about something, we both just take a breath and move on. That’s always what we do. Because we know that fighting is just not worth it. Mutual respect is very important to us.”
They’ll receive a Junior Grand Prix assignment this year, he said. They also want to reach the junior world championship.
They were working hard on next season until the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to return to Chatham. Now their individual workouts include teleconferences with coach David Islam.
“We have been training harder than ever trying to prepare for this season because we really wanted to hit the ground running,” Andari said.