For Figure Skaters, Passing Final Moves Test Is One of Life’s Golden Moments

In his dream, figure skater Justin Brown is poised to fly.

He glides across the ice, arms outstretched like wings, body bent forward, balanced on one leg, as he executes a perfect spiral. It’s a move worthy of extra points on one of U.S. Figure Skating Association’s hardest skills test: Senior moves.

In Justin’s dream, he passes all his moves with flying colors. 

Passing would mean Justin becomes a U.S. Figure Skating Gold Medalist, one of the highest achievements in the ice sport, which has been growing steadily for four years in a row.

Justin’s spiral on test day.

On May 8, 2018, after years of dedication and determination — and several setbacks — Justin’s dream came true. 

He recalls the moment he learned he passed the senior test: 

“It felt like that moment when you’re dreaming and you suddenly realize you’re in a dream and you have that sense of power and serenity. That’s what it felt like,” Justin says. “It was like all that hard work finally paid off and I just felt powerful after everything that had happened.”

The years-long journey to reach this top achievement is shared by many skaters and Olympic athletes in the figure skating world. In a typical year, about 1,300 figure skaters will take the senior moves test, but only about two-thirds will pass. Called the “gold” test, it’s the final test on the moves test track.

The eight test levels are: Pre-Preliminary, Preliminary, Pre-Juvenile, Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice, Junior, and Senior. Each test becomes more challenging in terms of edge control, leg extension, power, quickness, and the specific patterns on the ice.

Justin with Coach Marianne, at right, and Coach Lyndon on test day.

Passing the final gold test is an accomplishment that culminates many years of hard work and commitment, supported by family, friends and coaches. 

“That sense of accomplishment can sustain you through many of life’s ups and downs,” says Justin’s moves coach, Marianne Tisch. “The comparable senior-level test for me was the 8th Figure Test. I also experienced a few setbacks while working on that test, and when I did finally pass it, it was the best feeling in the world!”

Justin had several misfortunes on his way to the gold. In December 2017, he was scheduled to take the test at Clearwater Ice Arena (CIA). But one of the judges called in sick the day before test day. With no one to replace the judge, Justin’s test was postponed. All the excitement and expectation was put on hold. It’d be like having your birthday moved.

The following month, Justin took the test at Florida Hospital Ice Center in Wesley Chapel. He skated well but only one of the judges passed him. If a test performance doesn’t meet at least two of the three judge’s standards, the skater is required to retry the test at a later date.

Before the next available test day, though, Justin injured his ankle on a double flip. The injury took months to heal.

“It felt like my ankle wasn’t ever going to get better,” Justin says. “So, it was a difficult waiting game and I was very impatient and probably got back on the ice too soon, honestly.”

None of the stumbling blocks deterred him, though.

“Each time Justin had a setback, he would take some time off away from the rink to mentally regroup,” Coach Marianne says. “When he came back to the ice, he was able to acknowledge his disappointment … understanding that life’s achievements are not always easy — or linear! — and then he was able to get back to work on the task at hand. This ability to reset his attitude after disappointments was what enabled him to ultimately achieve his goal.”

Justin called up that ability during his gold test, receiving high praise from all three judges:

  • “excellent extension on all spirals”
  • “very good quality of edges”
  • “very smooth and well cadenced”
  • “nice twizzles & loops”
  • “strong clean edges, nice carriage”
  • “good power; overall quickness was good”
  • “nice flow and control”

A self-directed learner, Justin, 22, became interested in skating when he joined a homeschool learn-to-skate class more than a decade ago. Soon after the Tampa Bay Skating Academy’s Countryside rink class was over, he started taking private lessons at the academy’s Oldsmar location. He was 11-years-old. 

For the first four years, he took a lesson a week and practiced about once or twice a week. He occasionally took stretches of time off the ice.

His passion to go for the gold began at 15 when his love of ice dancing took off. It was then he began climbing up the testing ladder so he could compete at the juvenile level with his first ice-dance partner. 

“I like the focus on expression in ice dancing. I like the attention to detail. And I enjoy working with a partner when it creates something I can’t create by myself,” Justin says. “I enjoy working on my own more, but there are some moments that can only be made by two people and that’s what I like about ice dancing, the way you can play off of each other.”

Over the years, Justin has had several ice dance partners and one pairs partner. He also participated in CIA’s Sunfire Synchro Team for six years. His last dance partnership was with Sara Wilson. The two competed at the novice level, placing fifth at the 2016 Eastern Sectional Figure Skating Championships in Simsbury, Connecticut.

Below is a short clip of Justin and Sara performing the Westminster Waltz at the Fort Myers competition. 

Coach Marianne, who in addition to his moves coach also coached Justin and Sara in ice dance, says what she enjoys the most about coaching Justin is his “calm demeanor, sense of humor, and innate creativity.”

“His ‘mistakes’ often held the beginnings of great breakthroughs or creative embellishments, and Justin was always willing to explore those options,” she says.

After five years devoted primarily to dance, though, Justin decided to go solo.

“We had been training so hard in ice dancing and I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to practice my solo skating and I missed it a lot. I missed jumping most of all. I missed spinning on my own and doing my own programs,” Justin says. “I wanted a break from dance. I wanted to see where I wanted to go with my single skating.”

Below is a clip of one of Justin’s solo performances to “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” by Haley Reinhart. 

Justin currently takes lessons from coaches Lyndon Johnston and Amanda Evora. He has several skating goals ahead of him.

“I would like to pass my novice free,” Justin says. “I’d like to go to regionals next year for the first time. I’ve been to sectionals a couple of times, but I want to go to regionals for once. That’s my next thing I have on my plate. Maybe start coaching younger kids, too, but for the most part, it’s just working on harder stuff, trying to work on my jumps more and work on my relationship with skating more, and meet goals that I’ve always had in mind that seem more attainable.”

He also holds on to a dream ice dance team.

“If the right partner comes along, I would love to dance again,” Justin says. “It’s just I’m not going to do it if the partnership isn’t easy. It has to be easy. There has to be balance.”

Click below for a slideshow of Justin’s skating journey.