Ice Network

The Inside Edge: Yankowskas gets back in the game

Former U.S. champ pairs with Great Britain's Gaman; Zuerlein gets hitched
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Despite skating together for less than a year, Caitlin Yankowskas and Hamish Gaman have established a strong on-ice connection. -courtesy of

After she and former partner John Coughlin split in 2011, Caitlin Yankowskas embarked on a long partner search that eventually took her to England. She and Hamish Gaman teamed up in May 2013 as representatives of Great Britain. They finished fifth at the Ice Challenge in Graz, Austria, and third at the British championships last fall, although Yankowskas was still recovering from an ankle injury sustained in the summer.

The two have been training at full strength since the start of this year, and in mid-February they moved to Boston to work with Bobby Martin and Carrie Wall. It was a homecoming for Yankowskas, who is from New Hampshire and trained in the Boston area through the novice level.

"After living far away from home and family for seven years, I felt it was time to move back," Yankowskas said. "Hamish supported this decision 100 percent, and we were very lucky to have such a great coaching team so close to home to train us."

Prior to the move, the pair had trained with Johnny Johns and Marina Zoueva in Canton, Mich., where they were primarily on the ice only with ice dancers. They are enjoying working alongside the other pairs in the thriving Boston program, including two-time U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir.

"Training amongst the world's elite ice dancers was such an honor, but being able to skate with other pair teams is truly motivating for us," Yankowskas said. "The Skating Club of Boston has a rich history and a fantastic figure skating program. We feel very lucky they have welcomed us to their club."

For now, Yankowskas and Gaman say they are working on developing a strong foundation for their elements as they prepare for next season.

"Our long-term goal is to be the new face of Great Britain pairs and to emulate the success Great Britain has had in years past in ice dancing and freestyle," Gaman said. 

Gaman didn't start skating until the relatively late age of 15, and he says he didn't start training full time until he was 18.

"I played sports all my life, so I found I took to skating very easily," he said.  

He started skating pairs when he was 19 and won the British junior title with Rebecca Collett; they finished 14th at the 2004 World Junior Championships. After their partnership ended, Gaman made several attempts to get back on the international circuit with different partners and finally moved into coaching and studying, until Yankowskas came along.

"After a four-year hiatus from actively skating, the opportunity of skating with Caitlin was impossible to resist," he said.

Gaman has lived in the U.S. since 2009. Outside of skating, his passion is dog training and canine behavior.

"I also enjoy a game of snooker or darts," he said. "I do miss my family and friends from England, and luckily I get to see them throughout the year. Boston has large European influences, so it has been a great city to explore since we moved."

Yankowskas is enjoying competing for Great Britain and visiting England.

"It is always lovely to go over there and visit," she said. "Hamish's family and his friends are very warm and welcoming. Being a part of NISA (Great Britain's National Ice Skating Association) is great, and I look forward to competing for them more throughout our career together.

"Last May, Hamish and I were able to go to London, and I absolutely loved the city. My absolute favorite part was going to the Royal Opera House to see the Royal Ballet. Sarah Lamb is one of my favorite prima ballerinas, and to be able to watch her perform was a dream come true! Being in England is always like a fairytale. ... I feel very blessed."

Yankowskas says her favorite things about Gaman are his commitment to skating and his sense of humor.

"Not only does he love what he does, but he is also fastidious about his work on and off the ice," she said. "His dedication to our team is motivating beyond words, and I feel so lucky to have finally met my perfect match. I have never met someone who could make me laugh as much as he can. His accent is also pretty cool -- I never get tired of listening to it!"

"I respect Caitlin's work ethic above everything; she is an amazingly gifted and accomplished skater," Gaman said. "Caitlin is such a supportive person to me and to the people around her; it has really helped us develop our rapport together."

World junior champions

Ice dancers Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker took home the gold medal from the world junior championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, last month, after finishing seventh the year before. Baker said they wanted to redeem themselves after a less-than-perfect skate en route to their U.S. junior title in January.

"There were a lot of things against us going into this competition," Baker said. "We had skated clean at the Junior Grand Prix Final, and the Russians (Anna Yanovskaia and Sergei Mozgov) beat us by 13 points. We went into it thinking last year's junior champions were also competing. ... We felt like the odds were against us, although we were going to put up a good fight."

"Everyone was saying 'This is the Russians' competition to lose,'" Hawayek added.

Last year's champions, Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, withdrew shortly before the competition, which opened the door. After Hawayek and Baker walked through it with a brilliant free dance, they couldn't contain their exultation.

"We were so happy with the skate we did; it was definitely the best performance we had all season," Baker said. "When it all goes right, the hair on the back of your neck stands up, and on your arms, and you hear the applause -- there's nothing like it."

"We knew we had put out the best competition we could have, which is more exciting than the results," Hawayek added. "To know we did everything we could do, it was all we could ask for."

Hawayek's joy was plain to see at the awards ceremony as she heard their names announced for the first time as world junior champions. Baker is still processing the win.

"It was just surreal, especially since we skated last," he said. "It hasn't really sunk in."

The team focused more on skating than sightseeing in Sofia, although they toured the city the first day they were there. As junior worlds veterans, they enjoyed sharing their experience with the first-timers on the team.

"I roomed with Nathan Chen at all my Junior Grand Prixes this year, and we get along great," Baker said. "It was nice that it was the first time for some of the younger teams, giving them some advice about what to do. Like when we landed, they didn't know what to do -- Is there a bus? Do we take a cab? -- and we could tell them how it worked."

Hawayek and Baker didn't leave anything to chance, packing extra pairs of skates and even their NormaTec recovery compression pants.

"I call the NormaTec pants 'Norm.' They take up a whole bag." Hawayek said, giggling. "In total, we had eight or nine bags. We looked like the crazy Americans, tons and tons of bags. We were basically moving into Bulgaria."

"We didn't look like world competitors; we looked like tourists," Baker said.

Hawayek and Baker are looking forward to next season, when they expect to compete as seniors for the first time.

"It's good timing, at the beginning of an Olympic cycle, to get your foot in the door," Baker said. "It gives you four years of solid experience before the Olympics. We're looking for one of the Olympic spots in 2018."

Given that Hawayek, 17, and Baker, 20, have only been skating together for two years, anything seems possible, including the 2022 Games. They've gotten right back to work, without a vacation.

"We prefer to take a couple of days here and there," Baker said. "If you take longer off, it feels horrible."

Movie star

Several French websites spotted Oscar-winning actor Jean Dujardin (The Artist) in the stands at the world championships in Japan last week. He was there supporting his friend, ice dancer Nathalie Péchalat, as she won the bronze medal with partner Fabian Bourzat.

Wedding bells

Congratulations to former U.S. and world junior dance champion Greg Zuerlein, who married Philippe Maitrot on March 28 in Maryland, outside Washington, D.C. 

Zuerlein, who won his titles with former partner Madison Chock, is now coaching in Novi, Mich., alongside Igor Shpilband. Maitrot, a former international dance judge for France, is on the ISU synchronized skating committee. The couple lives in Northville, Mich.

"Quite possibly the best day of my life!" Zuerlein posted on Facebook.

Happy April Fool's Day! Everything in this column is true as far as we know. We make no similar promises about Twitter (@SarahandDrew)

Sarah and Drew