Pennington still hopes for elusive title
23-year-old skater working on his comeback
|The Pennington family (from left to right): Colin, Parker, Larry and Andrea. (Liz Leamy)|
By John Markon, special to icenetwork.com
(07/07/2008) - There's only one national championship missing on Parker Pennington's resume. Unhappily for Pennington, it's the wrong one. Pennington, age 23, is the first and only male skater to earn U.S. titles as a juvenile (1995), intermediate (1996), novice (1998) and junior (2001). Senior? That's the one you don't see. "There are pluses and minuses to having had some success at an early age," Pennington says. "I'm not exactly a young up-and-comer anymore. I can say all I want, but, at this point, people are going to be watching what I do a lot more than listening to what I say. "The gap in my career is that I haven't had success on the big stage. I still think I can close that gap." Toward that end, Pennington made a high-impact decision after the 2007 season, relocating in Washington, D.C.'s Virginia suburbs to work with coach Audrey Weisiger, who played the leading role in developing three-time U.S. men's titlist Michael Weiss. There were alternate avenues for Pennington. He could have made a dignified exit, turned to coaching or become a full-time college student and "hobbyist" skater, still talented enough to earn a few rounds of applause at U.S. championships without making a total commitment. "Parker probably considered all those options," says Weisiger. "I advised him against committing to a comeback unless he understood every facet of the commitment. Whatever happens on the ice, I think we're both convinced he made a good choice." Pennington's best finish as a senior at U.S. championships was sixth place in 2003. He's been trending downward since then, frequently due to injuries. He didn't exactly change the pattern in 2008 as Pennington finished 11th at U.S. championships, eliminating him from consideration for international competition and putting him on the low end (envelope C) of the training subsidies that accompany the Team USA warmups. "Parker came out too ready," said Weisiger. "In August and September, he was incredibly sharp. He's always been a super dedicated practice skater and he basically overworked himself. I think we finally have him convinced that more ice time isn't the solution to every problem." Prepping for the 2009 season, Pennington's doing more work off the ice and adding more variety to his life. He coaches at his practice rink, the Fairfax Ice Arena, at least one or two hours on a typical day and will begin taking classes at nearby George Mason University this fall. Having been a student of some of America's best-known coaches, most notably Carol Heiss Jenkins in Cleveland, Pennington's well-positioned to assist some of Weisiger's more advanced young skaters. "Parker's a huge help with just about anything," said 14-year-old Ashley Brickman. "There isn't much he doesn't know." But there's one thing Pennington knows for certain. If he can't present visible proof that he's once again a skater on the rise in 2009, he can just about forget anything beyond next season, let alone the 2010 Winter Olympics. Even prodigal talents aren't awarded unlimited opportunities. "I do have to show in '09 that I'm improving and ready for more," Pennington said. "I'm not in skating just to go to nationals and finish 10th or 11th. If I can't do better than that, there's no real point in staying in." Pennington will be unveiling a short program set to music composed by Chris Conte, another of his Virginia-based coaches. The background for his free skate will be a Rachmaninoff piano concerto -- elegant, powerful framework for what Pennington hopes will be seen as an elegant, powerful program. "There's no quad [quadruple jump] in it yet," Pennington said. "I know I'll probably need one to even think about the next Olympics." Pennington's development off the ice may be more dramatic than whatever he does in competition. Exhibits A and B are the Skate for Hope charity events he staged in Connecticut and Ohio. They raised more than $20,000 for efforts to combat muscular dystrophy, a disease that's impinged on the life of Pennington's father. "My dad fights every day to let MD limit him as little as possible," Pennington said. "With that as an example, it would be hard for me to walk away and quit short of my goal. "All the ability and potential people said that I had... I still have it. I'm just running a little low on time to bring it out."