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 Black Cloud Hangs Over American Pair Skating

by George Rossano

(16 February 2018)  Once upon a time American pairs skaters won Olympic medals.  Once upon a time they won Worlds medals.  Once upon a time they were competitive for a top-five finish at World.  Once upon a time, but no more.

Here at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games the sole U.S. pair team placed fourteenth in the Short Program, fifteenth in the Free Skate and fifteenth overall.  Following a tenth-place finish at 2017 Worlds, this season has been another step backwards for U.S. pair skating.  A quote from Alexa Scimeca-Knierin at the 2018 U.S. Nationals sums it up completely:  "A black cloud hangs over American pair skating."

After the pairs' final press conference at U.S. Nationals, I asked a senior U.S. official the same question I have asked other before, for the last ten years: "When are we going to fix U.S. pairs skating?"  The answer I received this time was, "That is a multi-year project."  We all know that, so my reply was, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step."

When will U.S. Figure Skating take even that first step?

Some twenty years ago, U.S. Ice Dancing was also lost in the wilderness, though not nearly as lost as pairs is today, with at best fourth or fifth-place finishes in international competition.  At the time, European skating friends told me repeatedly, 'U.S. dancers will never win world medals until they abandon the American approach to ice dancing.' About the same time as the defection of Igor Shpilband (1990), U.S. Figure Skating made a commitment to fix dance, and it was Shpilband, as a coach a few years later, who started the U.S. on the road to bring American dancers up to international standards.  This was the beginning of the renaissance of American ice dancing that continues to this day.  Should recovery of U.S. pair skating ever begin, it will be starting in an even a deeper hole than dance faced. 

To begin to skate out of that hole, U.S. Figure Skating needs to openly acknowledge that the U.S. pairs program is fundamentally broken in all respects, and that everyone in U.S. Figure Skating shares responsibility for where they are, from skaters who often take up pairs for the wrong reasons or at the wrong time, to coaches who are not putting modern international-style pairs routines onto the ice, to officials who won't provide the tough love needed, to the technical committees who occupy their time with endless trivial, often counterproductive, rules changes, to the Board of Directors that passes these rules and has yet to show adequate leadership on this problem, to the Governing Council which ultimately approves the rules which mainly result in rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, as the ship slides relentlessly beneath the waves.

When will U.S. Figure Skating fix the American pairs program?

Copyright 2018 by George S. Rossano