When two pair teams from Florida qualified for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada, most people were stunned. How could Ellenton, Fla., a city that most people had never heard of, produce the U.S. Champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett and silver medalist Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig?
The answer is coaches Jim Peterson and Lyndon Johnston. At the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, tucked about 45 minutes away from Tampa, Peterson and Johnson focused on their teams’ training, while also instilling the belief that it could lead to Vancouver.
“One year ago I put on a screen saver that had a pin that said ‘Welcome to Vancouver’ on my computer,” Johnston said Wednesday at a press conference in Vancouver. “And knowing that was our goal, every day we strived for that. The training is really what gets you to an Olympic Games, and then when you get here, you just really execute what you’ve been doing all year long. I certainly believed and Jim [Peterson] believed that we had an opportunity to have two teams here. Looking back on a couple of weeks ago, all of those dreams did come true.”
Under the watchful eye of their coaches, Denney and Barrett started the season with a fourth place finish at the NHK Trophy, their first Grand Prix event, and followed it up with a fifth place showing at Skate Canada. Evora and Ladwig, the team always on the cusp of trips to events like the World Championships, finished seventh in China then fifth at Skate America.
But fall internationals were not where the tickets to Vancouver are booked. So Peterson and Johnston, who also coach the teams with Alison Smith, told both teams what they learned from the Grand Prix to the 2010 U.S. Championships in Spokane, Wash., where they could achieve their very realistic goal of making the U.S. Olympic team.
“I wasn’t surprised at all [that both pairs made the Olympic team] because I knew the training that had gone into the year and we used the Grand Prix as testing grounds for what needed to be improved, and we made those improvements,” Peterson said. “So I knew that our scores were going to be pretty high if they just executed the elements as planned.”
And while the two Floridan duos executed, others including the two-time U.S. Champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker and 2007 U.S. Champions Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski, stumbled, taking themselves out of the race to the Olympics.
“You can never know how the other teams are going to skate, but I knew that going into it we were going to be very close to the top just with our actual point value,” Peterson said. “I think that Mark and Amanda and Caydee and Jeremy have become extremely good performers and really capture the crowd. You also then capture the judging panel a little bit emotionally. They really made great strides to improve their component work as well.”
Both teams make their Olympic debut on Feb. 14 in the short program.
“This is like a dream come true for us,” Evora said. “Everyone else on the Team USA skating team had been to Worlds or had been to an Olympics before. We never got anything higher than fourth. So to go into Vancouver was so exciting. You learn some lessons every year. In 2009 in Cleveland, I learned that even though we got fourth to never give up. I stand here knowing that is still true and to live it.”
Now, both teams proudly wear the Team USA gear handed out to them Monday at team processing.
“I would say making the team was the hardest part,” Barrett said. “So now that we’re on the team it’s pretty easy. Going into the long program at Nationals and being in first, and knowing that you need to be in the top two to make the team was some of the most pressure we’ve had to skate against. We did extremely well, so now I think it’s a lot easier. Now we can go out there and skate and have fun.”
• Denney is one of the youngest members of the entire U.S. delegation. “Being 16, this is an absolute dream come true,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of 16-year-olds would be able to experience this, but I’m extremely blessed, and I’m very honored. There are some high school experiences I’m probably missing out on, but at least I know that when I leave the rink I have a very close group of family and friends that keep me grounded and make me who I am, so I’m very blessed for that.”
• Ladwig and his wife Janet did not name his six-month old son Holden, their first child, after the main character in Catcher and the Rye. “We were just throwing around names,” Ladwig said. “When he came out, it was very easy to tell he was Holden.”
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