Figure Skating: From the Boards

US Pairs – here today, gone tomorrow February 25, 2011

News broke yesterday that last year’s National Pairs Champs are calling it quits. Well, at least half of the team is.

Jeremy Barrett is retiring from competitive skating. That leaves Caydee Denney to start over again.

The two paired up three years ago, forming a partnership that shocked the US pairs world — these two had something really special! Last season, they one the National title and an automatic berth on the Olympic team. Still, their raw talent didn’t completely make up for their lack of experience together, and they weren’t as successful on the international stage. But hey, what can you expect from a 2-year-old team?

This year, they changed coaches to train with former Pairs Champion, John Zimmerman and his wife Silvia Fontana. Some questioned this move, others thought it was just what they needed to take those same pairs elements that were weaker to a new level. And some things did improve. Their artistry became more mature, their lines and attention to detail much stronger. But the still struggled to keep up with the world’s best.

Then, Jeremy proposed to girlfriend and fellow skater Amanda Evora (paired with Mark Ladwig). But with the two now training hours apart, time together was limited. I began to wonder how long these two teams would last.

Well, we now have our answer.

Jeremy and Caydee missed the world team, and missed 4 Continents after a bizarre training injury that required 40+ stitches in Jeremy’s leg. At that point, it seems, the decision was made.

I can respect Jeremy’s desire to do other things. He’s been at this a while now, and I could see the strain the distance from Amanda was putting on him.

But I have to say…people criticize US pairs, complain about their lack of competitiveness internationally, and wonder why we just can’t get it together. I propose that these 2-3 year partnerships are to blame.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily justifying systems or federations that make decisions for their skaters. But pairs teams that are put together as novice skaters and stay together throughout their career are always going to have stronger pairs elements. It just makes sense. So when we put our best skaters out there (take John and Caitlin, partners since 2007) against life-long partners from China or Russia, it’s no wonder we can’t keep up.

I’m not sure what the solution is, as we certainly don’t have a system that forces skaters into a partnership for the duration of their careers. But such a system, right or wrong, does create a stronger commitment, and a stronger determination to work things out. They’re partners. Win, lose, draw. Essentially, for better or worse.

Think Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates. They’re the best US example of being a real pair, and their ice dancers. But their rise to the elite level comes through the strength of their dance elements –the things they do together. As a team. Through the good of being Olympians, and the bad of a season-ending injury.

Somewhere there has to be that extreme kind of commitment, because that is when the world will be forced to sit up and take notice.

Best wishes, of course, to Jeremy and Amanda. Love them, and hope they have a blast planning a wedding!

And good luck to Caydee as she searches for a new partner. She still has a lot to offer.

What do you think? Are long-term partnerships as important as I think they are?


6 Responses to “US Pairs – here today, gone tomorrow”

  1. wagrobanite Says:

    I do. Extremely! Although I don’t know if necessarily a good idea to look at Ice dancers for comparison because its such a different discipline. I also think that US, I don’t know, kind of ignores Pairs a little bit because of their lack of “wining’ on the world Stage in the last couple of years. We’ve had Men’s world titles, we’ve had women’s world titles, and we’ve had Ice dance world titles. We haven’t really had a winning pair since Zimmerman and Ina.

    • Yeah, Ice Dance is definitely different, but it was just more an example of the fact that, hey look, at least someone is staying together! Ha. And yes, Pairs definitely gets the short end of the stick a lot, but we can’t expect to have World Champs (or medalists even, really) with second and third year pairs. Especially not when competing with the likes of Pang/Tong or Savchenko/Szolkowy who have been working as a team for so long. “Pairs” elements can’t get strong enough in 2-3 years to compete with 8-10 years of working the same elements.

      • katrina Says:

        Totally agreed. In some ways, the trust that is SO important in these (both dance and Pairs) partnerships isn’t there, even after 3 years. I’m a ballroom dancer and I know how long it takes to trust and know how your partner movies.

      • Yes! And without that trust, how can you add technical difficulty to pairs elements? So instead, we see rather basic lifts/spins/footwork/etc. To truly be a pair takes time, as you know all too well!

  2. CarleyB Says:

    I am just catchimg up on all of your blogs which i really enjoy, Tara. A few things to say about the pairs in the US as opposed to the ice dancers, who seem to have more lomgevity (Meryl and Charlie have been a team since they were 8 and 10 years old). To be a strong pairs team, you have to be a strong singles skater first. Therefore, in this country, the pairs aren’t usually paired up as young as 8 and 10 years old. And the pattern that I usually see is that the lady is usually a good bit younger than the man. I don’t know if that is done for size matching, but sometimes that causes personality differences. I used to work at a major training center to help pay for my own daughter’s lessons, and pair teams were getting into arguments all the time. I think, perhaps, that is something that is not allowed to happen in other countries where pairs stay together longer. I think they skate under stricter rules. Good or bad?

    • I agree. It appears in other countries some of the personality things are not allowed to be a distraction. I certainly wouldn’t support a “governing body” forcing skaters to stay together no matter what, but I feel sometimes the commitment isn’t there on its own. And that may be fine, but there will just never be the same level of success without the same level of commitment. I don’t know the solution, but if US pairs teams want to be world champs some day, they’ve got to stick it out and work through personality conflicts or whatever the case is and realize that their chance at getting to the top lies in their commitment to working TOGETHER through it all.

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