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Following the change, the U.S. synchro community began bringing together coaches from across the country for seminars, educating them on how to punch up their team’s programs. Nicole Davies is one of the many coaches working to improve the squads she presides over by attending these seminars and coaching clinics. Davies (who, along with this reporter, co-founded the synchro-focused website Get It Called in 2010), coaches two teams in the DC Edge club in the Washington, D.C. area. Although her club does not have an elite level team, she trains skaters from a young age, focusing on improving their technical ability. She’s been involved in the sport since she was a child and has skated on two of the world’s most competitive teams.
“I like the idea that someone I coach could be in the Olympics someday,” Davies says. “The young skaters are still really driven and excited that the sport might be in the Olympics.”
While synchro won’t be in the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, there is still a chance it will appear in the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. The IOC will make the decision after the 2018 Games; thus, the synchronized skating community has just one full season left to prove that it deserves to be in the Olympics.
U.S. Figure Skating officials and the ISU are closely tracking elite teams from across the world. One or two teams from each participating country will advance to the world championships. If they’re going to help their sport make the Olympics, each will need to train harder, coach smarter and perform better this time around.
W hile the Broadmoor World Arena – a seven-thousand-seat ice rink in Colorado Springs, prepares for the April 7-8 event that will draw spectators from across the globe, in Lexington, Massachusetts, the Haydenettes are practicing more than twenty hours a week to ensure their competitiveness.
“This season, we are skating to two completely different themed programs and we really want to highlight this in the emotions we depict in our performances,” says 24-year-old team member Devin Wang.
The Haydenettes compete in Budapest.
The team practices almost every day and spend hours not only perfecting their steps, but improving their endurance. They complete several run-throughs of their programs back-to-back to build up their strength and cardio ability.
“We want to become the team that pushes the envelope of synchronized skating,” says skater Tessa Hedges, 23. “Our goal is to set ourselves apart from the competition by conquering the challenging tricks, transitions, and emotions that [our coach] has choreographed into our programs.”
Most of the girls on the team are also balancing a full course load at college or have full-time jobs. The Haydenettes have won the U.S. National Championship 24 times, and have earned five bronze medals at the World Championships. If they earn one of the two spots at the nationals in February, they will face off against teams from Finland, a land that has in the past fielded gold medalists at worlds.
“We are trying to better prepare our athletes in the pipeline,” Leslie Graham of USFS says, referring to the path skaters take in synchronized skating, starting first in the younger divisions, then working their way up to the elite levels.
“We definitely want our skaters to grow up in a pipeline so we teach them consistent skills and they are matching,” says Davies, the DC Edge coach. “There are countries where that is how they train – they start them really young and they skate together for decades.”
Over in Helsinki, Anu Oksanen isn’t taking anything for granted. In order to ensure MarigoldIce Unity makes it to worlds, she’s adding new features to her programs to make them vary from those of other elite squads. At the end of their long program, the girls of MIU lift each other up into the air by their blades in a formation that resembles a cheerleader routine. At another point in the program the girls split off into pairs and go into death drops, when one skater in the pair, holding hands with the other, drops into a low spin, almost hitting the ground.
In Canada, coach Cathy Dalton is shaping her own distinct style. The skaters on the senior team, Meraki, are of similar skill level to those of MarigoldIce Unity, but look different on the ice. They are ballerina-like, evenly prancing in and out of some of the most technically difficult steps in synchro, including rockets, counters and triple twizzles.
T he doors to the rink at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Virginia, open and eighteen girls file onto the ice, all of them in matching black dresses with long skirts. They begin their warm up. The intermediate team in the DC Edge club connects into lines, members holding each other’s shoulders, and begins a series of turns and power skating – strong strokes to fast tempo music.
As the 2016-2017 competition season progresses, the looming prospect of an Olympic Games appearance is on everyone’s minds.
“I think for the younger skaters there is still hope because they are still at an age where they could see the Olympic dream come true when they are still actively skating,” Davies said. “But it’s more about the recognition from society that we as a community want.”