A Minot native and her ice dance partner competed in the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championship at the beginning of January.

In only their second year together, the pair won the top prize in their division while also setting a new personal best.

For most teenage athletes competing for a national championship is unheard of, but it’s something Leah Neset and Artem Markelov set their sights on a long time ago.

The duo got a chance to live that dream earlier this month in Nashville winning the Junior Ice Dance division in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

While it wasn’t the pair’s first time on the big stage, they still had jitters before taking the ice.

“Earlier in the day I felt pretty nervous but by the time we were competing I collected myself together and felt prepared,” said Leah Neset.

“Happy about our run-through because it was one of the good run-throughs and I was satisfied about the work we did,” said Artem Markelov.

Once their program was over, a wave of relief for them. All that was left waiting for the judges’ scores.

“I guess I knew we had a chance but I wasn’t sure where they would put us so it was really exciting to find out we ended up on top,” Neset said.

Neset and Markelov performed a passionate free dance earning a new personal best of 91.53. This year was a bit of redemption for them after finishing 6th in 2021.

“I think a lot of it is just the work we’ve put into it. We’ve really focused on getting more flow and power this year,” Neset said.

​Coming together on the ice is something that has taken time for the duo. Neset was born in Minot and in 2018 relocated to Colorado for training.

After Markelov saw Neset’s ice skating profile, he reached out to her coach and the rest you can say is history.

The pair formed their partnership in March 2020 with Markelov moving from Russia to Colorado.

But as with any new partnership, it started with a few challenges.

“There was a huge difference in how the way we’re talking and the way we’re listening and after a while, it just started creating this chemistry between us and it keeps growing,” said Markelov.

From there, they were off and skating.

“I guess we looked really good together, like our body proportions match up and we get along really well and work together,” Neset said.

“Her dedication and her love for this sport and the effort she puts into this sport is really makes me want to skate with her,” said Markelov.

The pair is now getting ready for the Junior World Championships in Bulgaria in March where they were selected as first alternates.

Artem and Leah say their goal is one day to make the USA figure skating team for the Winter Olympics.

And you can catch them back here in Minot in March when they participate in the Minot Ice Show.