(07/21/2008) - Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig's
new short program at Liberty last Thursday left little doubt about where they want to be in early 2010.
They skated to music from Yanni, the New Age musician whose compositions are featured in Olympic broadcasts, and wore costumes featuring the five Olympic colors: black, green, red, yellow and blue.
The outfits were designed for another short program (to Aaron Copland's "A Common Man") used during the 2004-05 season, but as the 28-year-old Ladwig said, "they suit our new program to a tee."
"The program exemplifies the Olympic spirit," the couple's primary coach and choreographer, Jim Peterson, said. "And that's where they hope to go, to the 2010 Olympics."
The last few seasons, the Florida-based Evora and Ladwig, who represent Southwest FSC and Red River Valley FSC respectively, have been just a triple jump or throw away from the U.S. world team. The popular duo, who are known for their exacting lifts and challenging programs, are always in the mix at U.S. championships. But a fifth-place finish last season, and a fourth place in 2007, left them just short their goal.
If the programs they debuted here at Liberty last week are any indication, that may change this season.
"We're getting it together," the 25-year-old Evora said. "I think the biggest thing is we're sick and tired of being a middle-of-the-pack pair. We want to be on top. We have the capability; we have to do it in the moment."
The team's clean short, set to "Santorini," had all of the difficulty, including four Level 4 elements, that typify Evora and Ladwig's routines. It also featured clean side-by-side triple Salchows.
A day later, they were equally impressive in their free skate to Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Pas de Deux," hitting the Salchows again as well three Level 4 lifts (Evora put a hand down on the landing of a throw triple Lutz, and side-by-side double Axels were downgraded). They easily won both the short program and free skating events.
"We actually did the "Pas de Deux" for an exhibition a few years ago, and it got a standing ovation, so that kind of inspired us to make it a long program," Evora said. "We both really enjoy the music. It's a love story and that's what we want to show in our skating when we perform it."
"She really flies through the second half," Ladwig added. "Breathing [properly] is my biggest goal; all of our lifts are after the two-minute, 20-second mark so we can get the 10% bonus."
The skaters play lovers in their free skate, but the two are not an off-ice couple. Evora, who hails from Texas and now lives in Bradenton, said, "We're friends, but we have our own lives outside of the rink. I think that's good."
Ladwig, originally from North Dakota and Minnesota, was married two years ago. He and his wife, Janet, an interior designer, bought a house last year not far from the team's training site at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex.
"Janet is a non-competitive recreational skater," Ladwig said. "She enjoys it; I throw her around the ice a little bit."
Teamed in June 2002, Evora and Ladwig have had some impressive results. Last fall, they won bronze at the Nebelhorn Trophy and placed fourth at Skate America. But errors on difficult elements have cost them at the U.S. championships. Unlike many U.S. pairs, however, the 5-foot-tall Evora and her 5-foot-10 inch partner have stayed together.
The difficult lifts and death spirals Evora and Ladwig showed at Liberty are nothing new for the team. What impressed judges and U.S. Figure Skating officials most was the pair's clean triple Salchows, which have troubled the skaters, particularly Evora, in the past.
"I really have to credit Alison Smith for helping Amanda with that jump," Peterson said.
Smith, a British native who coached 1976 Olympic champion John Curry, was on hand at Liberty. The team also works with former Canadian pairs' competitor Lyndon Johnson, who won the 1989 world silver medal with partner Cindy Landry and is now figure skating director at the Ellenton rink. Peterson became their primary coach this spring, when famous Canadian pair coach Kerry Leitch retired.
"We've kept along with all of the traditions Mr. Leitch had, and Mr. Peterson has capitalized on it and taken us in a slightly different direction," Ladwig said.
At Liberty, the pair looked to be in mid-season form, something they credit to their intense fitness.
"We've always been known as hard-working athletes," Evora, who reads Gary Mack and David Cassteven's Mind Gym
to help her competitive focus, said. "Now we understand the [training process] better and we've added in some recovery time."
When he created the programs in late May and early June, Peterson said he concentrated on "making all of the elements very easy to judge. We're staying out of gray areas, making the features [of the elements] clear. If we do that, the Grade of Executions (GOEs) go up much higher."
Peterson recently gained another senior team, Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett. The skaters re-formed a partnership ended two years ago when Denney and her family moved to Colorado.
"What's nice right now is we have a group of pair teams at the rink," Evora said. "Caydee and Jeremy really help to keep us motivated. We all skate about six hours a day, two pair and one single session."
Denney, who also competes in junior ladies, and Barrett competed at Liberty, placing fourth in the senior short program. Their programs were dampened a bit by Denney's wrist injury, suffered in practice early last week, but Peterson called the partnership promising.
"They skated very well here for the first time out," he said. "Unfortunately she sat down on the throw triple Lutz, but usually it's stunning. I think they're very well matched."
Evora and Ladwig, who are scheduled to compete at Cup of China this fall, are hoping their impressive showing at Liberty will help them gain a second international assignment, perhaps the Nebelhorn Trophy.
"Usually [U.S. Figure Skating] makes those [pair] assignments after the Indy Pairs Challenge in August," Evora said. "Maybe if we perform well at Indy as well, we can show are ready to skate internationally more than once."
Liberty Open senior and junior pairs wrap-up
Evora and Ladwig earned 58.36 points in the senior short program competition, including 22.60 points for program components. Their free skate notched 99.36 points, with program components of 47.83.
Brother-and-sister Canadians Kyra and Dylan Moscovitch, who train in Kitchener-Waterloo with former Canadian pair champions Kristy and Kris Wirtz, placed second in both events. They were fourth at the 2008 Canadian Figure Skating Championships.
"This is the first year we can compete on at an ISU Grand Prix event," the 23-year-old Dylan said. "We've been in limbo for five years, waiting to be age eligible. Now, we want to look like belong."
"We kind of marked Canadians as our worlds," added his 14-year-old sister. "That helped keep us motivated to get better."
The siblings' age difference meant that Dylan could not compete on the Junior Grand Prix, and his sister -- until this fall -- could not compete on the Senior Grand Prix. The Moscovitch duo, along with another Canadian pair, Rachel Kirkland and Eric Radford, will compete at Nebelhorn Trophy in September.
"The pair that places higher will get to compete at Skate Canada," Dylan said.
Marissa Castelli (Smithfield FSC) and Simon Shnapir (Colonial FSC) recovered from a disappointing eighth place in the junior pairs short to win the junior pairs free skate, executing a triple twist in competition for the first time.
"We just started working on the twist a couple of weeks ago, so it was a huge accomplishment," Shnapir said. "We've only been practicing the short a few weeks, so it didn't go as well as the free."
Castelli and Shnapir will compete at the Junior Grand Prix in Ostrava, Czech Republic this fall.