On Tuesday, February 11, Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay of the United States will take to Olympic ice for the first time when they skate their pairs short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia.
Underdogs heading into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January, Zhang and Bartholomay snatched the second Olympic roster spot away from 2012 U.S. champs Caydee Denney and John Coughlin by skating the programs of their lives. With stars in their eyes, they're realizing every skater's dream.
Guided by Steady Hands
After starting their pairs careers with other partners, Zhang and Bartholomay first teamed up in May 2011 after meeting at the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club. They currently live in Ellenton, Fla., where they train with coaches Jim Peterson, Lyndon Johnston and Amanda Evora. Peterson also serves as the team's choreographer.
Zhang and Bartholomay may be Olympic rookies, but their support group has plenty of experience. Peterson coached Evora and her partner Mark Ladwig—the top U.S. duo in 2010 with a 10th place finish in Vancouver—as well as the second American pair, Caydee Denney and her previous partner, Jeremy Barrett, who finished 13th.
In Sochi, the Ellenton coaches will ice teams from three different countries. In addition to Zhang and Bartholomay, Great Britain's Stacey Kemp and David King train with Peterson, Johnston and Alison Smith. Canadians Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers are coached part-time by Johnston (per Chris Anderson of the Herald-Tribune.)
The coaches know what it takes to prepare their skaters for the biggest stage in the world. Expect Peterson and his team to keep Zhang and Bartholomay grounded and ready to deliver on their outstanding performance at nationals.
Prepping for a Personal Best
Heading into the 2014 nationals, Zhang and Bartholomay ranked 20th in the world in the 2013-14 ISU Season Bests Total Scores. Their best total of 168.42 put them behind four other U.S. rivals, but their program in Boston saw their score jump to an amazing 201.72.
They're still underdogs, which is probably right where they want to be. According to Scott Mammoser of Examiner.com, the Olympics are the first-ever competition in Europe for Zhang and Bartholomay, so their exposure to top European teams like Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy or Russia's powerhouse Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov has been somewhat limited.
Zhang and Bartholomay's fine performance in Boston doesn't move them up the world rankings. Their Olympic appearance will give them a boost after the fact, but as they head into competition, their overall ranking is No. 28, based on performances over the last three seasons.
The Olympic pairs competition will consist of a short program on Feb. 11, where each pair must complete eight required elements in a maximum time of 2:50. On Feb. 12, the duos will perform 14 elements in a free skate of about 4:30, then the scores will be added together and the medals awarded. We won't see Zhang and Bartholomay on the podium, but the pair still has plenty to show.
This season, they're skating their short program to Carousel Waltz by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Their tricks include a triple twist, a side-by-side triple-toe and a throw triple lutz.
Here's the video of their spellbinding free skate from Boston to Les Miserables. Some of their elements may not be as difficult as the world's top pairs, but you can see their strong side-by-side synchronization—such an important element of pairs skating. With their program composition the way it is, they're able to skate it clean.
As the last pair of the day, Zhang and Bartholomay harnessed the energy in the TD Garden to vault them to the performance of their lives. If they can do the same in Sochi, these two could take their skating to a whole new level.