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Indian skater captures audience’s hearts at Junior Grand Prix

September 6, 2019
By CHRISTIE SAUSA - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - The first thing skating fans noticed when India's Harshita Rawtani made her Junior Grand Prix debut in Lake Placid was her sheer joy of being on the ice.

"I skate to express, not to impress," she said after her free skate performance to Celine Dion's "I'm Alive." "Skating is just my passion, I love its features. I love everything about it."

Rawtani was perhaps one of the most expressive skaters in the event, and won the hearts of the audience, who clapped along during her performances and provided thunderous ovations before and after her free skate. Her short program, to Megan Trainor's "Better when I'm Dancin'" was also appropriate, given that Rawtani is also passionate about dance, practicing ballet and jazz in addition to skating.

Article Photos

Harshita Rawtani competes in the Ladies Free Skate at the Junior Grand Prix in Lake Placid on Saturday, Aug. 31.
Provided photo — Christie Sausa

Rawtani shares this love of skating with Alyssa Liu, the winner of the event in Lake Placid, who besides being able to land quadruple lutzes and triple axels with ease, exudes a skillful exuberance, even in practice.

For 13-year-old Rawtani to represent her country in the event alongside skaters like Liu and Russian skater Anastasia Tarakanova, who placed third in the event, was a tremendous accomplishment in itself. Even more of an accomplishment was that she competed in two disciplines: singles and ice dance (with partner Vansh Bhatia). She was the only competitor to compete in two disciplines at the same event.

Rawtani stood out in another way. Her costumes, sewn by her local tailor were decorated by her mother, who accompanied her to the event. Her free-skating dress, a light blue costume with gold lace overlay on the skirt, was particularly striking and unique and stood out in a sea of stunning skating costumes.

"India being a textile country, we have a lot of options, different kind of materials we can use," Rawtani's mother said.

Perhaps more than others, Rawtani used the opportunity as a valuable learning experience. She could be seen in the audience before and after her performance, studying her fellow competitors in singles and ice dance, especially her idol Anastasia Tarakanova.

"I'm going to sit and watch every skater, that's why I'm here, to learn," she said. "I was mesmerized and inspired (watching) the other skaters. I definitely took (Tarakanova's) autograph and a picture with her, it was a dream come true."

Apparently Tarakanova was just as impressed with Rawtani, sharing a post on Instagram that celebrated Rawtani's enthusiasm for skating.

Rawtani has more than enough passion for skating, but she struggles with limited ice and coaching opportunities. Living in Noida, Rawtani must travel two hours one way on weekends to skate for one hour at the iSkate-Ambience Mall in Gurugram, Haryana. The rink is smaller than the 1980 arena, where the Junior Grand Prix was held, which required further adjustment.

"My free skating was much better than the short, I tried my best, but it took me some days (to adjust). I'm not accustomed to the big rink," Rawtani said. "It was still good, but I can put in more effort."

Although it is growing, India is not known for its figure skating program, with relatively few competitive skaters and even fewer who compete internationally. Those who do compete often leave their home to train in another country with more opportunities. Many skaters train in the United States while representing other countries, to take advantage of greater ice time and coaching opportunities.

Those who choose to stay in India must be creative with their training. For example, skaters from the state of Telangana trained with a "simulation method on roller skates" while at home before competing in India's National Figure Skating Championships last October.

However, of the handful of skaters representing India, most haven't been active recently in International competition. Rawtani keeps focused though, and has been selected to compete in the Asian Open Figure Skating Trophy and International Ice Dance Development program, to be held in China and South Korea.

"(My) first goal is to have (a) proper coach who can guide me to the right path," Rawtani said. "Then (the) main priority is the rink, and further goals increase as we go up the stages."

Hopefully, with Rawtani's representation and passion for the sport, India's skating culture will evolve in a positive direction; at home in India, other aspiring skaters were no doubt watching Rawtani's performances.

"I'm happy that all of my skaters watched my performances," Rawtani said. "I will definitely go back to my practice rink, and then get adjusted to it first and keep on continuing."



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