When the skaters’ blades hit the ice early Sunday morning, it was all business.
With a little coaching, dozens of skaters glided gracefully across the ice at the Lutheran Health SportsCenter ice arena, spinning and twirling until they came to a stop for the next exercise.
The Fort Wayne Ice Skating Club hosted the second annual U.S. Figure Skating National Pairs Camp on Sunday, featuring 37 two-member teams and several former Olympians as instructors.
Former Olympians Bobby Martin, Todd Sand, Jim Peterson, Alena Lunin, Sergi Zaitsev, Amanda Evora and Massimo Scali, among others, attended the weekend of events.
The events began with a two-day Fort Wayne Pairs Classic Competition on Friday and Saturday and one-on-one mentoring sessions for skaters.
The two days of competitions and mentoring were designed to get the skaters on the ice and give them a chance to work through any trouble spots in their routines with some of world’s best skaters, said Nancy Ruedebusch, U.S. Figure Skating Pairs Committee Chair and National Technical Specialist.
“It’s about the whole development,” she said. “It’s such a great opportunity to work closely with a coach like this, especially so early in the season.”
Last year, the pairs camp event included several presenters, well-known coaches and choreographers, and had a good turnout for the first year, she said.
“This year we’ve almost tripled in the number of pairs we have here,” Ruedebusch said. “We have 37 and there are only about 45 or 50 sets of pair skaters like this in the country.”
For more than six hours Sunday, the students worked on technical skills, including transitions between movements, step sequences and pattern dances.
In between, skaters took short breaks for water and to lace skates again, chatting briefly with the other skaters, some from as far away as Florida California and New York City.
But it wasn’t long before it was back to practice with a focus on developing communication and coordination between partners.
In one of the groups, 2006 Olympic silver medalist Tanith Belbin and Italian ice dancer Scali worked with young skaters on their composition with their partners.
Belbin explained that students cycled through several classes throughout the day, beginning with basic skating skills, then on to pair skating and finally to transitions and choreography.
“The partnering skills are what we’re really working on now,” she said while taking a break in between classes.
“In pair skating or ice dancing, there’s such a critical part that these skills play.”
Austin Hale, 17, and his skating partner Alicia Bertsch, 12, listened as their coaches discussed topics such as unity, partnership and communication.
Hale and Bertsch received first place and won the gold medal in intermediate pairs at the 2013 U.S. Nationals.
Hale said he hoped the weekend’s events would help him and Bertsch grow closer as a team on the ice.
“Without the lifts and the spins and the really hard stuff, there’s a layer of steps in between that we are really focusing on,” he said.
Hale, who relocated to Fort Wayne to focus on his skating career has paired with Bertsch, of Ann Arbor, Mich., for about two years.
Details like always keeping one’s partner within an arm’s length and making uniform movements could be the difference between gold and silver, he added.
“There are just a ton of components that are involved,” he said.
On the rink, female skaters worked to keep shoulders up, arms in a firm stance and to lean out from their partner, trusting their male counterparts not to send them tumbling.
A few times, laughter erupted as a skater cut the corner too closely or skidded across the ice too quickly, but then it was back to work.
“We hope that by the time they leave today they will understand a little better about that connection with their partner,” Scali said.