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Samuelson, Gilles happy to join forces

New team plans to compete at sectionals; search is on for coach

Emily Samuelson believes she's found a good fit with new partner Todd Gilles.
Emily Samuelson believes she's found a good fit with new partner Todd Gilles. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(08/22/2011) - After nearly a summer's worth of tryouts with potential princes, Emily Samuelson has found her new partner: Todd Gilles.

The two ice dancers, who have yet to decide on a permanent training site, are practicing in Lake Placid with an eye to competing at one of this November's sectional championships in hopes of qualifying for the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, Calif.

"It's been an emotional summer, lots of ups and downs, lots of tryouts, lots of trying to decide what I wanted to do with the next stage of my life," Samuelson, 21, said.

"Some days I would wake up and ask myself, 'Do I really want to continue?' I decided I really love to skate, and I have a lot left to explore."

Samuelson, the 2010 U.S. ice dancing bronze medalist with Evan Bates, missed competing last season when Bates suffered an Achilles' tendon injury in September 2010. The couple resumed training together this spring but parted company in early June.

Bates subsequently announced his teaming with Madison Chock, the 2011 U.S. bronze medalist. Chock's former partner, Greg Zuerlein, retired from competition.

"I looked hard for a partner," said Samuelson, who is based in Michigan.

"I tried out with Collin Brubaker, Paul Poirier [of Canada] and Keiffer Hubbell and others who maybe aren't as well known. I'm lucky there were so many great male ice dancers available.

"It wasn't just me making the decisions; sometimes, the guys found other girls they wanted to skate with, and sometimes we both decided it wasn't the best fit. Considering everything, Todd is the definitely the best choice for me."

Gilles, who placed seventh at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships with the now-retired Jane Summersett, was busy coaching in Lake Placid when he got a call from Samuelson early this month.

"One of Emily's former coaches, Yuri [Chesnichenko], was here for the ice dance competition and asked me if I would be interested in trying out with Emily," Gilles, 25, said. "Of course I was, but I couldn't leave my students; I have a contract here through the end of the month. It's awesome Emily made time to come up here and work around my schedule.

"I always knew I wanted to compete again. I had considered skating again with Trina Pratt [Gilles' partner prior to Summersett] this year, but something about it didn't feel right. It just wasn't the right timing."

Samuelson packed up her car, and the two hit the ice in Lake Placid for the first time together on Aug. 9.

"My immediate thought was, 'Man, I had better get back out there!' I had a week and a half to practice before Emily arrived to brush off my rusty legs," Gilles said. "When you coach, you stand around a lot all day and get stiff."

With no coach to guide them, the skaters enlisted Gilles' girlfriend, as well as several bobsledders training in Lake Placid, to videotape their practices, including run-throughs of the Rumba compulsory (required in this season's senior short program) as well as lifts, step sequences and twizzles.

"It was kind of weird for me; usually in ice dance, the boy is the one with the options," Gilles said with a laugh. "This was kind of the reverse. There are so many good guys out there. It was funny to be in the girls' situation, saying, 'I hope she picks me.'"

Recipients of the tapes -- including family members and Samuelson's coaches, Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva -- viewed them through a private YouTube account, and the feedback from them was overwhelmingly positive.

"We work well together," Gilles said. "Our elements looked good. We did lifts and footwork segments we had done with former partners, and it was nice from the get-go."

"The videos helped us visualize a lot," Samuelson said. "Our pushes are the same, our speed matches, the twizzles worked, our lines are good.

"I'm about 5'4". Todd is 6 feet and definitely very strong. We feel it's a good height difference between us, and we have no trouble doing the lifts. Even from our first time out, they felt easy."

Samuelson and Gilles will practice on their own in Lake Placid through the end of the month. Their next step is finding a coaching situation, and then choreographing competitive programs for the 2011-12 season.

"After sitting out all last year, I didn't want to wait another year to compete, and Todd was the same way," Samuelson said. "Figuring out where we want to train is huge. Most coaches are already set with their skaters and are very busy.

"I go to school [at the University of Michigan], so in that regard it would make sense to stay in Michigan, and of course there are a lot of talented coaches here. At the same time, I'm very open. I want to devote myself to skating while I'm still young so I'm willing to take time off from school, or go to a different school."

Between them, Samuelson and Gilles have worked with many prominent U.S.-based ice dancing coaches, including Shpilband and Zoueva; Chesnichenko and Yasa Nechaeva, who coached Samuelson and Bates for many years; Pasquale Camerlengo and Angelika Krylova, coaches of Summersett and Gilles; and Patti Gottwein, who coached Pratt and Gilles.

"We respect everyone in the figure skating world and want to make our decision the right way," Samuelson said. "Ideally, we would like to try out with a few different coaching situations, find out who has the time for us and decide what works well for everyone concerned."

"There are so many good people out there, it's hard to decide," Gilles said. "I loved working with Pasquale and Angelika, and of course Emily enjoyed working with Igor and Marina, as well as Yasa and Yuri. I believe we're going to finish up the month here, and then go try out with Igor and Marina first and feel out the situation."

Once they make their move, the skaters and their coaches will be pressed to prepare and polish programs.

"We still have a couple of months until sectionals," Gilles said. "It's kind of nice that we'll be practicing under the radar, with no internationals to prepare for. We can just drill and make things perfect."

"We know we have a lot of work cut out for us, but we're both willing to give it all the extra effort it needs," Samuelson said. "I've found someone I enjoy working with, and that's the most important thing. The next step is to get squared away and settle down with coaches.

"Of course, we'd like to do well, but we also both want to be happy and enjoy every day of practice."