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Richmond Hill figure skater competes for Israel

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Mark Gorodnitsky

For an 18-year-old, Mark Gorodnitsky sure does get around a lot. The Richmond Hill native has already been to the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovenia, Kazakhstan, Austria, Taipei, France and the United States, not to mention Israel.

That’s what being an elite figure skater will do for you.

Despite his place of birth, Gorodnitsky, who trains at the Richmond Training Centre, north of Toronto, does not compete for Canada. Instead, he’s a member of the surprisingly large Israeli figure skating team, which is making its presence felt around the world.

Mark’s sister, Maya, 16, is also a member of the Israeli team.

Just a few weeks ago, Mark competed in the European Figure Skating Championships in Graz, Austria, where he finished 17th out of 35 skaters. Fellow Israeli, Alexei Bychenko, ended the competition in 12th.

Considering that at his age, it’s the first year he’s competed in the senior men’s category, he can feel pretty good about his result.

There were no Canadian skaters entered in the men’s event at the European Championships, just lots of Russians, Italians, Czechs and other Europeans, but as an Israeli, the Euro stop was an important part of his schedule.

So how does a Canadian-born skater end up representing Israel?

As Gorodnitsky explains it, his father, Dmitry, was born in Belarus and moved to Israel. He lived there for eight years before coming to Canada, where he met Mark’s mother, who hails from Latvia.

“My dad lived in Israel. That gave me the platform that allowed me to compete for Israel,” Gorodnitsky said. “The Israeli [skating] federation contacted my parents and asked if I’d compete for them.”

At first, at around age 14 or 15, Gorodnitsky wasn’t exactly ecstatic about that prospect. But, “as I grew, I realized what a privilege it was, and what an opportunity.”

The competition for a spot on the Canadian team is tougher and though he’s confident he could make it – as a youngster, he earned a bronze medal at a national event – the path to international success is more open via the Israeli route, he said.

So far, he’s taken full advantage of the  opportunity; 2019 was a pretty good year for Gorodnitsky on the international stage.

Competing as a junior, he finished second at the Ice Mall Cup in Eilat; fifth in the International Skating Union (ISU) JGP Grand Prix de Courchevel; and seventh in the ISU JGP Croatia Cup in Zagreb.

Competing in the senior division last year, he finished seventh in the ISU CS Autumn Classic International in Oakville; fifth in the Denis Ten Memorial Challenge in Almaty, Kazahkstan; and 12th in the ISU CS Golden Spin of Zagreb.

At the European Championships in January, he registered his best ever personal scores, suggesting an upward trajectory in his performances.

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One of his Richmond Hill-based coaches, Andrei Berezintsev, believes Gorodnitsky has what it takes to excel on the international stage.

“He’s good at everything,” Berezintsev said. “He’s a good skater, a good jumper and a good spinner.”

One of Gorodnitsky’s biggest strengths is his competitiveness, Berezintsev continued. “He’s strong mentally and very determined.”

When he sets his sights on a goal, he usually attains it. “It’s very easy to count on him,” added Berezintsev, who  trained 2011 World Junior champion Andrei Rogozine.

Like most elite athletes, Gorodnitsky got an early start in the sport. His mom, who loves the sport, got him on the ice at around age four or five.

“She said I stepped on the ice and I’d start to run. But I didn’t know how to stop, so I crashed into the boards,” Gorodnitsky recalled.

It was pretty clear right from the beginning that Gorodnitsky’s abilities were special.

At around five or six, he started working with Zusev and pretty soon he was entered in various regional skating competitions.

“When I first started, I liked the jumps and the feeling of being in the air and impressing people with multiple rotations,” he said.

Last spring, Gorodnitsky graduated from Richmond Green Secondary School, where he was part of the high performance athlete program, as is his sister.

While attending school, he was able to get on the ice six times a week for about two and a half hours a time. On top of that, he did dry land training and practiced dance as well.

The short program in a figure skating events lasts up to three minutes and requires three jumps, three spins and a step sequence. The free program, which can last four minutes, requires seven jumping passes, three spins, a step sequence and a choreographic sequence.

So far, Gorodnitsky’s best and highest jump is the triple axel. He’s landed a quadruple toe loop in practice and is working on a quad sol-cow, elements necessary to vault him to the highest echelons of competitive skating.

His next major event is the Junior World Championships in March, which will be held in Tallinn, Estonia.

Representing Israel is something Gorodnitsky is quite proud of, especially considering he’s among the trail blazers for the sport.

“To be part of something that is growing is invigorating,” he said. “To compete for Israel feels like an honour to me.”

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