Caydee Denney : Skating pairs have complicated relationships

SPOKANE, Wash. — Boy meets girl. Boy picks up girl. Boy tries to not drop girl on her head.

This is the world of pairs figure skating and ice dancing, the beautiful sports where a woman and a man skate in perfect unison across the ice.

But how do these pairs hook up, how do they stay together and what is the secret to success?

Pairs skating — one of the few athletic pursuits where men and women compete as equals — turns out to have a lot of parallels to relationships in real life. Not the least of which is the potential for conflicts while in proximity to very sharp objects.

Pairs meet by accident. They are matched up by coaches or friends. They seek each other out on the Internet. Despite the success of the movie "Blades of Glory," pairs are always a male and a female, and the risk of decapitation during a skating routine is minimal.

At the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane in January, all manner of pairs were on display. The most successful was Caydee Denney, 16, and Jeremy Barrett, 25, who won the U.S. senior pairs title and will be competing in the Vancouver Olympics.

ELLENTON — As a child, Amanda Evora idolized Olympic ice skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi.

Mark Ladwig’s mother dressed him in shorts with long johns underneath to get him on the ice as a child.

And Caydee Denney’s mother made her stand in a chair — well, a makeshift podium — as a toddler and hung a medal around her neck as if she’d just won Olympic gold, just like her favorite figure skater — Tara Lipinski.

The pairs skaters reminisced about their childhood dreams at a news conference Thursday inside the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex.

After years of preparing for the chance to compete in the Winter Olympics, Evora, Ladwig, Denney and Jeremy Barrett will represent the United States as the country’s pairs squads in Vancouver.

The Games begin Feb. 12. The pairs competition is Feb. 14-15.

“We’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I want to look at it as a celebration performance,” said Evora, a Bradenton resident. “Getting to the Olympics was our goal, and we haven’t really competed against all of the athletes we are going to be up against. So the only thing we can do is skate our hearts out.”

The quartet departs from Manatee County on Monday.

Before they leave, Evora and Barrett will take part in a private dinner reception Saturday at FineCraft Custom Cabinetry Inc. in Sarasota.

The pairs earned their Olympic spots by finishing first and second at the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships last month in Spokane, Wash.

Since returning home, there’s been nonstop media attention and practices in front of hundreds of fans. But despite the hoopla, the skaters have remained focus.

“It’s been a little bit more of a challenge,” said Barrett, of Venice, who won gold in Spokane alongside Denney. “Like last week, we had 700 or 800 people coming in to watch us practice when we are used to zero. It was different, but we are still getting our job done. The goal is to go over and skate well. We want to skate like we did at nationals.”

At the Olympics, perfecting a routine is only part of the job. Superb choreography, music and costumes will also decide who lands gold.

“I think that is very important now at this level, to raise (the artistic) part of the skating,” said Denney, of Wesley Chapel. “The artistic side of it is really important, and it’s fun to play a character when I am out there.”

As for her favorite skater, Denney met Lipinski for the first time at Nationals.

“It was amazing just to talk to her and meet her. She’s a very noble person,” Denney said. “It was an honor.”

Now, Denney and the rest of the quartet have the opportunity to do what Lipinski accomplished in 1998 — win gold at the Olympics.

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