Lilah Fear (Photo: Danny Lawson/PA)


Ice dance champion is Beijing bound

Lilah Fear is taking a break from her psychology classes at McGill to compete in the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. The four-time national ice dance champion from Britain trained in Montreal (and received mentoring from Tessa Virtue) in preparation for her Olympic debut.

Story by Brenda Branswell

January 2022

Lilah Fear plans to resume her studies at McGill this summer, but first she has another pressing assignment – one that includes lifts, twizzles, and lively, lithe dance moves.

Fear, a third-year psychology major, and skating partner Lewis Gibson will make their Olympic ice dance debut next month at the Winter Games in Beijing. The four-time national ice dance champions from Great Britain finished seventh at last year’s World Figure Skating Championships in Stockholm.

With their medal hopes aimed at the 2026 Milan-Cortina Games, Fear says “in terms of this Olympics, we want to take it all in because that’s advice we’ve been given is to not let the pressure swallow us up and have our focus too narrow.”

They want to deliver two performances that they’re so satisfied with that they’ll know “we gave everything that we could and that it reflected the training that we do every day,” says Fear, who was born in Greenwich, Connecticut, grew up in London, England and spent summers in Canada, her second home. (Her mom grew up in Fernie, B.C. and her dad hails from Peterborough, Ontario.)

A love of skating runs through her family: her mother competed in figure skating, her uncle played hockey on Team Canada and her younger sister Sasha is also an elite ice dancer. Fear started skating “bright and early” as a toddler. “I’d say that love was really fostered in the U.K. because that’s where my first competition was and that’s where I discovered ice dance.”

Fear says she isn’t a natural jumper – “nor did I enjoy jumping. I prefer not to fall if I have the choice” – and has always loved the smoothness, precision and technique of ice dance. “I was always told that I had a quite soft knee bend and that lends itself more to ice dance than jumping.”

She found her first ice dance partner at 13 and teamed up with Gibson at 16. “We are both incredibly driven. We both have big goals, but we’re not scared to chase our dreams.” They also love skating and want to have fun every day in training and at each competition. “That elevates the performance and I think the results as well,” she says.

Fear and Gibson train at the Ice Academy of Montreal, a magnet for top ice dancers in the world. Fear met her childhood idols there – now retired Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. (Virtue has mentored Fear and Gibson this past season.)

Fear isn’t the only McGillian who trains at the academy. Tina Garabedian, BCom’21, and ice dance partner Simon Proulx-Sénécal will represent Armenia at the Olympic competition.

Former Canadian ice dance champions Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon (the academy’s co-founder) and Romain Haguenauer (co-founder and Fear and Gibson’s main coach at the start) are the training centre’s head coaches. Fear describes the atmosphere as unique: familial and encouraging with a competitive fire “but in a very healthy way that’s motivating.”

The exciting duo strives to entertain. In Beijing, they’ll perform their rhythm dance to KISS and free dance to The Lion King. “It was one of our strengths immediately as a team,” says Fear. “It’s really fun to entertain an arena of people.”

Oh, and if you’re wondering what twizzles are, they’re side-by-side rotations performed by dance partners as they travel across the ice. “It’s not the synchronicity that’s the hard part,” Fear says. “It’s more just the control and the balance because they’re so fast.”

At the recent British Figure Skating Championships, Fear’s sister Sasha and partner George Waddell finished second behind her and Gibson. When Sasha entered senior level last year, Fear wondered if it would cause any tension between them. But she has found it so reassuring to look across the locker room and see her sibling there. “It’s so lovely to have someone that you’re that close to in those high-pressure situations. And she’s my biggest supporter and I can say that wholeheartedly – and I’m her biggest cheerleader, too.”

Fear and Gibson spend between three and four hours a day on the ice in addition to off-ice training, which includes cardio, strength training and ballet. A lot of the things that work well on Zoom, they’ve kept doing online especially now with the Omicron variant, Fear said in mid-December. “We have to be very careful going into Beijing.” Athletes are trained to manage uncertainty, “but yeah, it is a little unsettling,” she says of the pandemic.

A self-described learner at heart, Fear started at McGill when she relocated to Montreal for training and is enjoying her time in the Psychology Department. “I’ve had some of the best courses ever. I did the course on motivation with Professor [Richard] Koestner. I felt like it applied so well to my skating,” she says. “I just feel like there’s been this great cohesion between school and skating that just makes me a better student and a better athlete.”

By her own admission, Fear likes to keep busy. Her podcast, The Lilah Jo Show, is now in its third season. A poised interviewer, she has welcomed a range of guests from a Tony Award-winning actor to former ice dancer Jayne Torvill of Torvill and Dean fame. “I love meeting new people and hearing about their stories,” says Fear who is always looking for new guests for her show.

This month, Fear and Gibson planned to compete at the European Figure Skating Championships in Estonia. Next up, Beijing. It’s safe to assume that many in the McGill community, regardless of their nationality, will be cheering for their fellow McGillians when they take to the ice.

Back to top