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Behind the scenes of figure skating - May 8

Silvia Fontana experiences a career explosion

Silvia Fontana's career is hitting new heights.
Silvia Fontana's career is hitting new heights. (courtesy of IMG Worldwide)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(05/08/2008) - Although she's never won an Olympic or world medal, Silvia Fontana is probably one of the luckiest figure skaters in the history of the sport. Who else can say they participated in two Winter Olympic Games, both in their home countries?

"I am the most lucky person. It was so great in both countries in different ways," says Fontana, 31, who was born in the United States to Italian parents. The family returned to Italy when she was an infant, but she came back to the U.S. at the age of 17 to train with renowned coaches Carlo and Christa Fassi.

"In Salt Lake City [2002], I was at the top of my game," she recalls. "It was the Olympics I'd been dreaming about for many years and what I wanted to accomplish and trained constantly and very hard for many years to get there. In Torino [2006], it was a huge gift. In 2005, I saw the NBC advertisement for Torino and the countdown, and I said, 'I really would love to be there.' I caught fire and decided I will try. If it worked, great, if it didn't, I wouldn't have lost anything because I already had all those experiences, and no one could take them away. I followed a personal goal."

Fontana spent the three years after Salt Lake City coaching and skating whatever show offers came her way. She also devoted time to her personal life, marrying three-time U.S. pair champion John Zimmerman in August 2003. She had less than a year to train and qualify for the Italian team, but she succeeded.

Although her 22nd-place finish in Turin can't compare to her 10th-place in Salt Lake City in terms of athletic achievement, her emotional and artistic free skate catapulted her to enormous acclaim in Italy has given her a professional career that is exceeding her wildest dreams.

The producers of the Italian version of Dancing with the Stars decided to launch an Italian edition of Skating with Celebrities, and Fontana became the highest profile Italian skater to be cast. Calling on some of the pair skating skills her husband has taught her, she partnered Massimiliano Ossini and Ludovico Fremont to victory in the first two seasons.

"I had two completely different partners," she says. "It was fun with both of them, but totally different experiences. It made a little bit of a better partner for John when he has to do things with me. [Zimmerman's regular partner is Kyoko Ina, but occasionally he and Fontana perform together].

"It was also challenging, and I did have two concussions," she adds. "It's so quick when the celebrities lose balance in a lift. There is nothing you can do sometimes as a partner. Female partners don't have it easy."

In addition to celebrity status in Italy, Fontana has also been in demand all over Europe. She has skated in numerous shows in Russia and toured France with Olympic ice dance gold medalists Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat. In Germany, Fontana both choreographed and skated in a show for Volkswagen.

Fontana is currently in the middle of a two-month stint with Disney's High School Musical on Ice in the U.S., where she is playing the role of Gabriella (portrayed on screen by Vanessa Hudgens).

"It has been a while since high school, but I relate to the character because she meets the love of her life in high school. It brings me back to the first time I saw John. I was 17 when we met. I just go back in memory and remember those feelings," she notes. "The challenge of both skating and acting out the role has been exciting."

Although Fontana loves coaching, she says she'll continue to perform as long as the offers keep coming, or at least until Zimmerman's touring days with Stars on Ice are done. "While John is touring, it's easier for us to be apart if we're doing the same thing," she says. "Of course, the easiest thing would be touring together, but we haven't been able to have that yet."

After the injuries, Fontana is hesitant to return to Skating with Celebrities, but she's hoping she'll be invited to do the Italian Dancing with the Stars, on which she has already appeared as a guest judge. She's been watching Kristi Yamaguchi and applauding her efforts on the U.S. show.

"Kristi has a work ethic," Fontana says. "When I see the show, I see she probably studied her routine as she would study anything in skating. She was a great skater because of her work ethic as well as her talent. I've worked with celebrities. I know their feet hurt. They get tired. They sit down. We know how many repetitions it takes to really feel comfortable with the movement.

"I would love to do Dancing with the Stars. Then I can teach everything to John, and we can look good when we dance at weddings."