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Lewis Gibson and Lilah Fear: Team GB ice dance duo on skating to Kiss and The Lion King at Beijing 2022 Olympic Games

With performances set to a 70s rock medley and a cherished Disney soundtrack, Team GB's Lewis Gibson and Lilah Fear are ones to watch in ice dance; they talk to Sky Sports about their bond, breaking barriers in Beijing in LGBT+ History Month, and setting an example for the next generation

Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson of Britain perform during the Ice Dance Rhythm Dance at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK Trophy competition in Tokyo, Japan, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
Image: Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson will begin their Beijing 2022 challenge by performing a rhythm dance to a medley of songs by Kiss

As a boy, Lewis Gibson would come home from playing football and dance around the living room of the family home in Prestwick.

"I'm very thankful for my dad who could just see that I loved dancing - and he does too!" On Saturday morning, the Gibsons will be glued to their TV screen, watching live coverage from Beijing as their son entertains a global audience alongside his Team GB ice dance partner Lilah Fear.

SHEFFIELD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 06: (L - R) Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson of Team Great Britain pose for a photograph during a Team GB Figure Skating Photocall at Ice Sheffield on December 06, 2021 in Sheffield, England. (Photo by George Wood/Getty Images)
Image: Fear and Gibson have risen into the upper ranks in figure skating ice dance since being paired together in 2015

Having finished seventh at last year's World Championships, they have an outside shot at what is their first Olympics - Britain's best hope in the event since Torvill and Dean bagged bronze at Lillehammer 1994 to go with their legendary 'Bolero' gold from a decade earlier. The latter dance, performed to perfection in Sarajevo, pulled in a watching audience of 24 million back home.

In January 2006, Torvill and Dean were back on the telly but this time coaching contestants in a Saturday night ITV show that brought Gibson's Billy Elliot-esque bopping to a halt, albeit briefly. The energetic 11-year-old was hooked. "When I watched Dancing on Ice' for the first time, seeing the fun that these celebrities were getting out of the challenge, I just wanted to try it myself.

"What I found endearing is that these people really came from zero. I thought, if they can do it, so can I." Dad Mark drove him 10 minutes down the west coast of Scotland to Ayr Ice Rink and let Lewis loose. "I loved it instantly. I don't remember caring too much about leaving football."

By the age of 20, he was a British Figure Skating Championships silver medalist - but ice dance was still the dream and the following year, he was paired with 16-year-old Fear at Alexandra Palace to see if they clicked. It was the start of a special bond of friendship and set them down the path towards competing at the Winter Games.

Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson of Britain perform during the gala exhibition at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK Trophy competition in Tokyo, Japan, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
Image: Firm friends on and off the ice, the duo live and train in Montreal

These were, at first, tentative steps when dancing together, even more so when they moved to Canada. "It was pretty shocking!" laughs Fear, recalling the duo's early days at the elite Ice Academy of Montreal where they train alongside reigning world champions and future stars. Coach Romain Haguenauer took a chance on them. "He invested in us early on, and was so patient - and patient is the word, because it took a lot of effort and hours..."

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Gibson guffaws at the memory. They are speaking to Sky Sports before flying out to China; the spark between best pals is evident even on Zoom. "I had zero awareness and Lilah was just a junior. There's a video of us doing this very basic exercise and it's so hopeless. Romain is pushing me around trying to guide me, I'm not doing it right, it's terrible!

"It's the understanding of skating so close to someone else - that was the biggest challenge at the beginning."

Team GB Ice Skating Team Announcement - Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games
Lewis Gibson and Lilah Fear during the Team GB Beijing Olympic Winter Games Ice Skating team announcement in Birmingham, UK. Issue date: Thursday December 16, 2021. See PA story ICE SKATING Olympics. Photo credit should read: Danny Lawson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder.
Image: Gibson and Fear's costumes for the rhythm dance to Kiss evoke the band's classic glam rock look

They agree that the rate of their acceleration has been remarkable. When they first competed together at the European Championships in 2017, they had no ranking points and had the disadvantage of skating first. Last month at the same event in Tallinn, they closed the show - "a proper pinch-me moment", says Gibson.

Polishing their two performances - rhythm and free - ahead of the Olympics was the objective and both have been labours of love for Lewis and Lilah. The dances are laced with originality and energy, "flavour" and "sass", and the Brits have become widely admired in the sport for shaking down old stereotypes while still skating close to its line of legacy.

Saturday's opener is a Kiss medley, moving from disco-rock dynamics to power-ballad balletic poise, with such confidence in the choreography that there is even a little air guitar thrown in. The black-and-silver costumes are all glam and glitz. "One of our main goals is to really connect with the audience and there's nothing like a bit of nostalgia," says Fear. The songs selected are 'I Was Made For Loving You', 'Forever', and 'Rock and Roll All Nite' - it feels like they've raided their parents' record collection and thrown on eyeliner too for good measure.

They will then return to the Capital Indoor Stadium on Monday to skate to part of the 'The Lion King' soundtrack, spinning in sync to 'Circle of Life' and conjuring magic moments to 'They Live In You'. It was the scope on offer in the storytelling that most appealed to them, emulating the movie characters Simba and Nala's spirit of adventure.

"When you listen to the lyrics, there's so much that we're able to draw upon, just growing up and who we are as people," adds Fear. "That's what really works for us, when people can relate to us on the ice." The combinations of movement and music are a process of constant refinement; their editor presented over 50 remixes before the duo hit upon the favoured final cut.

They have also looked to tweak a kink or two in the 'twizzles' which slightly dented their free dance scores at the Europeans and led to them placing fifth. "A twizzle is a move that's spinning and travelling across the ice at the same time," explains Gibson. "You have to turn one direction and then turn the opposite way straight after."

It was their only technical error in Tallinn - iron that out and optimise the rest, and it might be good enough for a medal. "There's no mountain too great," as one of those Lion King lyrics goes.

Britain's Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson perform during the Ice Dance Free Dance program of the European Figure Skating Championship 2022 on January 15, 2022 in Tallinn. (Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP via Getty Images)
Image: The duo's athleticism and innovation are hallmarks of their free dance routine to songs from Disney's The Lion King...
Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson of Britain perform during the Ice Dance Free Dance at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK Trophy competition in Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
Image: ... with a variety of lifts, spins, step sequences and twizzles

LGBT+ history, and the here and now

In recent years, Gibson has scaled his own personal 'Pride Rock' and goes into these Olympic Games as one of 36 out LGBTQ+ athletes, as recorded by the website Before the build-up to Beijing, it wasn't well known that he has a husband, Joshua, but their marriage is now mentioned on his official athlete profile after he spoke about being gay in a recent interview on Outsports editor Cyd Zeigler's Five Rings To Rule Them All podcast.

"It's not something I'd shared before," he says. "But it's not something that was a huge ordeal either.

"Understanding who I was took time and being in such an inclusive sport as this really helped. I was able to see people around me in Montreal flourishing and thought, OK, I can be me. It's not like that in every sport and walk of life so I'm very grateful."

The people watching... are they having fun, are they enjoying it? I know that we are and I am on the ice, and that's allowed me as a person to develop and find confidence.
Lewis Gibson, Team GB

Ten of the 36 out LGBTQ+ athletes in Beijing are figure skaters. France's Guillaume Cizeron, who with ice dance partner Gabriella Papadakis is favourite to win gold in Beijing, also trains at the Montreal academy, while coach Haguenauer is married to former Olympic skater Jamal Othman. These Games also feature the first non-binary athlete at a Winter Games in Timothy LeDuc.

Over time, the representation within their skate community helped Gibson to find his own authenticity. Fear recalls seeing her friend have a "breakthrough" which he carried into his sport. "He discovered who he was and grew more into himself. I could see him just thrive and these different facets of his personality came out, how he could express himself on the ice. There was a huge shift in our relationship in terms of being so open with one another."

Team GB Ice Skating Team Announcement - Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games
Lewis Gibson and Lilah Fear during the Team GB Beijing Olympic Winter Games Ice Skating team announcement in Birmingham, UK. Issue date: Thursday December 16, 2021. See PA story ICE SKATING Olympics. Photo credit should read: Danny Lawson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder.
Image: Gibson and Fear are also known for their fondness for coffee and cookies - it's even referred to on their official Olympics profiles

As aficionados of their sport, they are admirers of Adam Rippon, part of the US team that took bronze at Pyeongchang 2018, which was the first Olympics in which skaters were allowed to dance to music with lyrics. Rippon oozed sass in singles, made bold music choices like a remix of Ida Corr's electro house smash 'Let Me Think About It' and, as the first out gay American to win a Winter Games medal, knowingly referred to himself as 'America's Sweetheart'.

Appropriately for LGBT+ History Month, being marked in the UK in February, you can stretch a line back to John Curry, who won Olympic gold for Great Britain after a beautifully balletic free skate at Innsbruck '76.

Curry was celebrated at the time with awards such as BBC Sports Personality of the Year but having been outed in the press that same year, his sexuality was the subject of mockery. He died aged just 44 from an AIDS-related heart attack. The superb 2018 documentary 'The Ice King' by James Erskine, available on Netflix UK, tells his story of talent and torment.

British figure skater John Curry is shown in action at the 1976 Winter Olympics at Innsbruck, Austria. He won a gold in the games. (AP Photo)
Image: John Curry was an Olympic, World and European champion in figure skating in 1976 and remains an icon in the sport

Gibson is proud to be joining a new generation of athlete role models. "In John Curry's era, there would have been a lot of stigma. But when I've watched back his performances, there's one thing that stands true - ultimately, he shaped our whole sport. He was so clean and so detailed. His legacy still lives today for that.

"The biggest difference now is just the awareness of LGBTQ+ athletes competing. That's going to help others and will be this snowball effect that keeps evolving."

He points to the statistic from last summer's Olympics that if 'Team LGBTQ+' were placed in the final medal table for comparison purposes, this collective would have come seventh. Over 50 of the 186 out athletes at Tokyo 2020 made podiums. "It's staggering to think about," he says.

Imagination and inspiration

Two years ago, Dancing on Ice had its first same-sex couple with Ian 'H' Watkins from Steps paired with professional dance Matt Evers. Will these changing times ever be reflected in elite ice dance?

Perhaps that's still some way off but Fear is conscious of the shifts within the sport. "There was this stereotype of a man and woman being in love, and that was what was portrayed on the ice through the stories. But there are so many kinds of love. Even with me and Lewis, we love each other dearly as friends and that's our connection.

"Why limit what you can represent on the ice? We've got these expanding music choices and doing things that are different. If you think about it from that perspective, we can grow as humans and as performers."

TALLINN, ESTONIA JANUARY 15, 2022: Great Britain's Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson perform during the free dance event at the 2022 ISU European Figure Skating Championships at the Tondiraba Ice Hall. Sergei Bobylev/TASS (Photo by Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images)
Image: Fear and Gibson have found parallels in the Lion King lyrics that relate to their own journeys

Born in the US to a Canadian family and raised in London, Fear has tri-citizenship and has developed an acute interest in identity and personality. Four years ago, she started her own podcast, 'The Lilah Jo Show' - guests have included her peers from the skate community, including Gibson, but also actors, authors, and entrepreneurs like David Alvarez (Bernardo in Steven Spielberg's adaptation of West Side Story) and wellbeing guru Liz Earle MBE.

It's her way of providing more role models. "I really try to dive into the obstacles they've overcome, what they've learned, what their desires are moving forwards, who they are as people.

"I always think of a little kid listening in their bedroom and thinking, 'oh my gosh, maybe I can do that too!' Because that impacted my whole life. It's so valuable."

Both athletes are keen to encourage parents to fuel their children's imagination of what they can achieve. Skating was in the Fear family's blood (her sister Sasha is also an international ice dancer, and their uncle played ice hockey for Canada), but Gibson found the sport through TV and a try-anything attitude. "I grew up in a non-judgemental environment with my whole family and that's what's allowed me to find who I am, ultimately.

"Now I get a huge kick out of helping younger athletes. People should get the opportunity - just because you skate in Scotland, for example, it doesn't mean you shouldn't get some form of invaluable experience."

From pulling on blades in Ayr to spinning through the air in Beijing - for a boy who just loved to boogie, it's the stuff of dreams. Gibson and Fear certainly don't take anything for granted - finding in each other the firmest of friends unlocked both skaters' potential. Whatever happens at their first Olympics, they plan to continue to Milano Cortina 2026 with a little cheekiness and a lot of creativity.

"Possibility has been the fuel to the fire that's allowed us to progress," she says. "Just realising your limitless potential is so empowering."

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