The crown sits unsteadily on the heads of defending champions, Caydee Denney & Jeremy Barrett. A strong ripple of astonishment sped through the skating world in August, when they announced they had changed coaches from Jim Petersen, Lyndon Johnston & Alison Smith in Ellenton, at the Southwest Florida FSC, to the married couple, John Zimmerman & Sylvia Fontana, at the Saveology Ice Plex in Coral Springs, where the Panthers hockey team train.
Barrett explained, "I definitely feel this is the right move. People were surprised because our career had gone so far in such a short time. But we felt the change was necessary to take our skating to the next level. John and Silvia were great competitors. We felt they have a lot to offer."
Zimmerman won the US pairs title five times with two different partners. With Kyoko Ina, he gained the bronze at the 2002 world championships, which has been the only US pairs medal since 1998 (when Jeni Meno & Todd Sand won silver). Fontana, who was born on Staten Island, was five-time Italian champion and a very graceful skater who took part in the 2006 Olympics. Both are known as extremely attractive performers. Zimmerman explained, "Caydee and Jeremy are technically very sound skaters. I would say they’re on par with the top in the world. But, maybe because of their age difference, we have to work on their relationship on the ice with each other. It needs a lot more depth. Their comfort zone has to increase, they have to project. They’ve got a lot of time to get a stage presence and maturity and sheer showmanship. After, all the Olympic gold medalists were in their 30s. It’s not something which develops overnight."
Changing coaches is always a somewhat traumatic situation. Peterson admitted, "It is difficult to lose a team at such an early stage in their career. Alison, Lyndon and I are proud of guiding Caydee and Jeremy to the runner-up spot and then to the US title, and through their two Worlds and the Olympics. We wish them all the best in the future." The now 17-year-old Denney and Barrett, 26, placed 9th & 7th in Worlds and were 13th in the Vancouver Games.
They debuted this season’s programs in their first Grand Prix event, in Nagoya, Japan, where they finished fifth. At the following Skate America, they were fourth. Both programs were choreographed by David Wilson. The short is set to the Love Theme from the Cousins soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti. Their Free uses George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Zimmerman said, "We are working on giving them a more dance-y presentation, to put forward a package with more unity. Part of that is using the music more fully."
Both Denney’s parents teach roller skating in Florida. Caydee switched from rollers to ice when she was nine, briefly pairing up Barrett in 2006. After an interlude when Denney moved to Colorado Springs, she returned to Florida and again the pair tried out, this time with a more successful outcome.
Barrett is finding the spotlight, which was turned on him with a high intensity at the Olympics, has resulted in an increased popularity as a basic coach. "The kids, even the hockey players, are anxious to take my power skating sessions," he said. "I think they think somehow the Olympic magic will be passed on to them." With his confidence enhanced, he got up the nerve on Christmas Eve to propose to his long-time girlfriend, Amanda Evora, who just happens to be their greatest US rival, with her partner, Mark Ladwig. She accepted.
Evora, 26, & Ladwig, 30, have had a long career. The team, who continue to train with Jim Petersen, Lyndon Johnston & Alison Smith, have gradually crept up in standings in the US championships since their debut in seniors in 2003, when they finished 12th. They earned silver last January. Their previous best was fourth in 2007 & 2009. They finished 10th in the Olympics and ninth in their first world championship last March.
They have always been known as a very technically ambitious pair, which has brought them many a fall. Injuries have been inevitable. Evora is a particularly tough cookie. Just before she was scheduled to take the ice in last year’s nationals, her hip popped out and she had an asthma attack. "No way, was that going to stop me with an Olympic berth at stake!" she later revealed.
They made their international debut back in 2003, when they won the Golden Spin in Zagreb. They have also competed in Grand Prix events since 2005. But, with the exception of that one gold in Croatia, and a bronze in the Nebelhorn Trophy in 2007, up until this November, medals had eluded them. Their luck changed in Moscow where they placed third in the Rostelecom Grand Prix.
They are very community minded. On January 8, with nationals fast-approaching, they took time to organize a fund-raising gala with Dorothy Hamill for Sunshine from Darkness, a Sarasota organization, which raises money for mental health. Ladwig, who married in 2006, also says a defining part of his life is that he is a father of Holden, who was born in August, 2010.
Ladwig says no matter how much experience you have, you still get nervous. "The trick is how to use that nervousness so that the adrenalin works for you and not against you." He said that sometimes you don’t realize the extent of your nervousness. In one event, waiting around, he realized his hands had been clenching open and shut so aggressively they had ripped out his trouser pockets.
They started the season performing their short to The Mask of Zorro but have changed to the livelier Big Band sound, Sing, Sing, Sing in a quest to gain greater component marks. Their Free is to Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot.
Caitlin Yankowskas, now 20, traveled to Colorado Springs in 2007 from her hometown of Pelham, NH, on spec after her previous partnership with Daniyel Cohen was dissolved. Dalilah Sappenfield teamed her with John Coughlin, 25. They finished sixth twice at nationals, 2008 & 2010, and seventh in 2009. Last January in Spokane, they were second after the Short Program. Yankowskas readily admitted, "That was the biggest upset you can have - to go from the possibility of going to the Olympics to not even being on the podium."
This season their scores have been higher than any other US pair on the Grand Prix circuit. They finished fourth in Japan, and won a bronze medal, the bronze, in the Cup of China. "We were so excited. We were only 11 points behind Pang & Tong. That was pretty awesome." Qing Pang & Jian Tong are the current and 2006 world champions who won the silver Olympic medal in Vancouver, although they outskated the gold medal winners in the Free Skate portion. Coughlin said, "To be standing on the rostrum and see the US flag raised to celebrate your achievement is an incredible feeling." They will perform their Short to Astor Piazzolla’s Oblivion Tango and their Free, which was choreographed by Marina Zueva, to Ave Maria performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic.
Yankowskas’s former partner, Daniyel Cohen, 22, will also be competing in Greensboro, with Molly Aaron, 20. They are the Midwest Sectional champions and finished ninth at nationals last year, after being fifth at at Junior level the year before. They will perform their Short to Itzhak Perlman’s Schindler’s List and their Free to Ernesto Lecuona’s Malaguena. They are also trained by Sappenfield.
The wild card in the field is the new partnership of Mary Beth Marley, 15, and Rockne Brubaker, 24. With Keauna McLaughlin, Brubaker won the 2007 US and World Junior titles. In 2008 & 2009 they earned the US Senior national title. They were expected to retain the national title in 2010. However a freak fall in the Short Program left them in seventh place. They were able to climb only to fifth overall.
They won silver in the subsequent Four Continents Championship, but both were devastated at not making the Olympic team. Brubaker admitted, "I couldn’t even watch the Opening Ceremony. It just hurt to think we weren’t there." They announced their breakup of their partnership in June. McLaughlin subsequently appeared in the television show Skating with the Stars.
Now Brubaker can talk about the situation without his insides getting churned up. "Keauna and I had a very bright future ahead of us. To have that right at your fingertips and then go out the window so quickly, I was definitely discouraged."Brubaker teamed up in August with Marley, who is a good jumper. In addition to the Senior Pairs event, she has also qualified to compete in Greensboro in the Junior Ladies championship. Last year, she won silver at nationals in the Novice category.
Because making the US international championship team is a possibility, if, perhaps, a little premature, USFigureSkating arranged for the pair to go to Poland to compete in the Nesquik Cup January 6-8. A new regulation this season limits participation in the European, Four Continents or World championships to those who have posted a score above a certain minimum in an officially recognized international event. They accomplished that in Torun easily. They will skate their Short Program to music from the movie, Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Their Free is to The Addams Family soundtrack. They are training with John Nicks in Aliso Viejo, CA.
Tiffany Vise, 24, & Don Baldwin, 33, who, shortly after teaming together, placed eighth in the 2010 US championships, are carrying on a long family tradition. There has been a member of the Baldwin family at nationals for ions. Don’s older brother, John, was a Novice competitor in 1986 and won that title the following year. His father, also named John, was an alternate for the 1972 Olympics. John, Jr., now 37, won bronze last year in the US Nationals, with his pair partner, Rena Inoue, with whom he teamed up in 2001. But only two pairs were permitted to skate in the Olympics. Inoue, who had represented Japan in the 1992 & 1994 Olympics, was a cancer survivor before she teamed up with John. She subsequently became an American, and she and Baldwin became the first to ever bring off a throw triple Axel which they did in the 2006 Olympic Games.
Vise, who is the older sister of former pair skater, Brittany, has her own unique record. She was the first to accomplish a throw quad Salchow in an international event, which she did at the Paris Grand Prix with partner Derek Trent in November 2007. In the 2008 nationals they placed fourth but were eighth in 2009 and subsequently split.
Vise & Baldwin are a mirror couple. Instead of doing their side-by-side jumps in the same direction, they take-off and land on opposite feet. Don said, "It’s a big adjustment but not as hard as I thought it was going to be. It’s pretty much a timing thing and that’s with any partner, even if you are rotating in the same direction." Their Short will be to Pirates of the Caribbean; their Free music will be to the Mona Lisa Overdrive by Juno Reactor and from The Mission by Ennio Morricone. Don previously skated pairs with Jennifer Brunn.
Last year’s fourth placed Brooke Castile & Ben Okolski, who were US champions in 2007, announced their retirement in May 2010. Amanda Dobbs, who finished seventh last year, split with her partner, Joseph Jacobson, but recently said she still wishes to continue pair skating. Tracey Tanovich & Michael Chow, 11th last year, are no longer competing.
Marissa Castelli, 20, & Simon Shnapir, 23, from the SC of Boston, were tenth last year. They showed off their progress, taking fourth place in the Skate Canada Grand Prix and 6th in Skate America. Their SP is set to Money by Pink Floyd and For the Love of Money by the O’Jays. Their free will use music from the recent movie Avatar.
Felicia Zhang, 17, & Taylor Toth, 22, are the current US Junior champions. They are trained by Jeff DiGregorio at the University of Delaware. Zhang is facing a double task. She has also qualified for the Ladies championship. While this has been done before, and used to be very common way back when, it means a very tight schedule and an incredible commitment to energy management and watching every second. Their Short is to Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune and the Free is set to music from the show Miss Saigon performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
Gretchan Donlan, 17, & Andrew Speroff, 22, who are also just up from Juniors, finished fourth in the Nebelhorn Trophy in September. They are trained by Bobby Martin, Carrie Wall & Sheryl Franks. They have adapted last year’s programs to senior requirements. The SP is Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and, for the Free, they use the Led Zeppelin version of Stairway to Heaven by the Boston Philharmonic
Lindsay Davis, 18, & Themistocles "Themi" Leftheris, 28, are a new partnership. She won the Junior Ladies national bronze medal last year. They train with Peter Oppegard. With Naomi Nari Nam, Leftheris won the 2007 national bronze medal. Last season, he and Angelyn Nguyen qualified for nationals but withdrew before the event. With Davis, he competed in their first international, in the fall in the Ice Challenge in Austria, and placed fourth. Their Short is set to Rich Man’s Frug by the New Broadway Cast. Their Free is set to Fuego Malaguena by Esteban.
The Eastern Sectional Champions are Erika Smith &Nate Bartholomay, both 21, trained by Jeff DiGregorio, Ron Ludington and Pam Gregory. Their Short is set to Andrew Hale’s Punch Drunk performed by Sade from the Punch Drunk Love soundtrack by Jon Brion. Their Free is to three pieces of music: Alexander by Vangelis, performed by Christophe Briquet; Titans’ Spirit from Remember the Titans by Trevor Rabin; and Freedom Battle by Michael W. Smith.
Chloe Katz, 24, & Joseph Lynch, 25, missed Nationals last year because she broke her ankle. They were sixth in 2009. At Eastern Sectionals this season, they were a close second. Their Short is to Jesse Cook’s Prelude. Their Free uses music from the soundtrack of Henry V performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony.
Becky Bereswill, 20, is Trevor Young’s new partner. Last year, he finished 12th with Andrea Best. Bereswill & Young, 23, earned the silver medal in the Midwestern championships. They are trained by Johnny Johns. Bereswill won the singles Junior Grand Prix Final in 2008, and placed 13th at nationals in singles at Senior level last season.
Alexa Scimeca, 19, & Ivan Dimitrov are a new pair to nationals who qualified by earning bronze in the Eastern sectionals.
Lisa Moore, 20, & Justin Gaumond, 25, who train in Fort Collins, qualified by taking bronze in the Midwest Championships. They have finished 15th in the past two US championships. Gaumond, who lives in Denver, said, "Our goal is to just skate clean programs the way we can. Since this is our third year at seniors, we have more experience now, so we should have a little more polish." Moore said, "I’m a full time student at the University of Denver so the training is quite a handful to fit it. But I love it. It’s all worth it – going to nationals. I love the experience."
Withdrawn: The silver medalists from last year’s Junior Championship, Britney Simpson, 14, & Nathan Miller, 22.
Last year’s 13th placed Kendra Moyle & Steven Pottenger have split. She is looking for a new partner.
The venue, the Greensboro Coliseum, is rather oversized for this event, accommodating over 20,000. (The entire seating for the next Olympics, Sochi 2014, including blocked out areas for television, is 12,000.) The upper level in NC will be black-curtained off reducing the seats available to 9,000. Hill Carrow, Chair of the Organizing Committee, said the practice rink will be in the Coliseum’s Special Events Center and will have free entry. Fan activities will be spread across the complex. Spectators in the Tar Heel state should watch for swaying officials. The local Surry County vineyards will be supplying the VIPs with abundant gift baskets of their products.
At the conclusion of Sunday, Jan 30’s Exhibitions, which will be televised by NBC and aired on Feb 5 2:30-4:30 Eastern, the audience will be invited to stay for the taping of an exhibition by Olympic champion, Evan Lysacek, choreographed by 1979 world pair champion Randy Gardner, for US Figure Skating’s Rise.
While Greensboro, NC, has not hosted USFS’s nationals before, the state did hold the 2011 Regionals at the Polar Ice House in Lake Forest. Five local competitors qualified through that and the subsequent Eastern sectionals in Aston, PA, for nationals: They are: at Junior level: Alexander Aiken, who trains with Paul Wylie, the 1992 Olympic silver medalist, who now lives in Charlotte and is Nationals’ Honorary Chariman; and Haley Dunn (Ladies). At Novice level, Ana Draovitch (Ladies) and pair Kay Bergdolt & Miles Addison qualified.
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