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Evora, Ladwig commit to skate next season

U.S. pair bucks the trend and stays together

Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig have had each other's back on the ice since 2002.
Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig have had each other's back on the ice since 2002. (Getty Images)

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By Amy Rosewater, special to icenetwork.com
(05/18/2011) - In a strange way, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig are making their mark on American pairs skating by doing something few teams have done lately: stay together.

Evora and Ladwig, who have earned silver medals at the last two U.S. Figure Skating Championships and represented the United States at the Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010, decided this week to enter their 10th season together. After taking a couple of weeks off following their 11th-place finish at the World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow, Evora and Ladwig met with longtime coach Jim Peterson Monday to discuss their competitive future.

And unlike many other teams lately, they've decided to stay put -- at least for another season.

"We're going against the grain, aren't we?'' Peterson said with a laugh. "I wasn't really sure which direction they were going to go, but I can't lie, I'm very happy about their decision.''

Shortly after worlds, national champions Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin announced their split, and back in February, Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett, the 2010 national champions, ended their partnership. Denney, who relocated from Florida to Colorado, and Coughlin just announced they will compete as a new team for the 2011-12 season.

But the shake-ups and break-ups have become something of a disturbing trend. Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, the 2008 and 2009 champions, parted ways in 2010. The last U.S. pair to make the world podium was Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman, who earned a bronze in 2002.

In fact, Evora and Ladwig and the Boston-based pair of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir (who placed fifth at the 2011 nationals) are the only teams among the top five from the 2011 championships that have been together more than two seasons. Mary Beth Marley and Brubaker joined forces last season and placed fourth in their nationals debut together in Greensboro, N.C.

So that's why the announcement that Evora and Ladwig will be back where they have been for years now, training with Peterson and Lyndon Johnston at their longtime training rink in Ellenton, Fla., comes at an important time.

"I hope that we do send a message to U.S. pairs teams that longevity does matter,'' Evora said. "Look at the last Olympic champions (China's Xue Shen and Honbo Zhao). They were together for 18 years.''

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the German team that won its third world pairs title last month in Moscow, have been together since 2003. Olympic silver medalists Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China were paired together in 1993. And to those who might think Evora, at 26, and Ladwig, who just turned 31 on May 6, are too old to reach the top, consider this: Savchenko and Szolkowy are virtually the same ages. Savchenko and Evora were both born in 1984. Szolkowy was born in 1979; Ladwig was born in 1980.

"This year my decision to continue was easier than other years,'' Ladwig said. "It was pretty much a no brainer for me, and I am very fortunate that Amanda came to the decision to keep skating with me. I feel that I have been improving with my jumps and, as a 31-year-old, I want to see my potential.''

So why have Evora and Ladwig been able to stick it out when so many other pairs teams haven't?

"Mark and Amanda have a strong sense of communication,'' Peterson said. "It's never been only, 'I want to win nationals,' for them. Their medals have been icing on the cake. They're skating because they want to and because they love the sport.''

Evora said she was able to make the decision in part because her family has been so supportive of her skating career. She spent time with her family in her hometown of Sugar Land, Texas, during some of her time away from the rink. She also credited her support from Jeremy Barrett, her fiancé who has retired from competitive skating and is coaching in Coral Springs, Fla.

"They are a major reason why making my decision to keep skating was so easy,'' Evora said.

The team is wasting little time to prepare for the upcoming season. Peterson said he plans to meet with Evora and Ladwig on Saturday to discuss music choices and already has a long program in mind.

Evora and Ladwig hope their efforts this season translate into gaining ground in the standings next season. Together, they earned their first Grand Prix medal, a bronze, at the Rostelecom Cup last season in Russia. But they struggled at Four Continents, where they placed sixth.

Of the U.S. skaters who competed at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, only Rachael Flatt, ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Evora and Ladwig were on the ice again at the 2011 World Championships.

"The year after the Olympics, I'm going to be honest, is tough,'' Evora said. "The Olympic year is such a high that you have to come down. But after a lot of thinking about last season and what I want to do with my life, I realized I still wanted to skate, and I don't believe I've reached my potential yet.''