Pairs legends coach hopefuls at Indy Challenge

Meno and Sand guide a new generation of U.S. pairs

Jenni Meno poses with one of her pupils, Tori Vollmer, at the Indy Challenge.
Jenni Meno poses with one of her pupils, Tori Vollmer, at the Indy Challenge. (Jo Ann Schneider Farris)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(08/08/2008) - The 2008 Indy Pairs Challenge got underway Friday with the novice pairs short program, and a familiar face urged on two of the competitors, Tori Vollmer and Zack Sidhu, who placed third in a field of eight.

"Tori is only 13, but she's done pairs for a few years, and she really looks good out there," Jenni Meno said. "Zack is 16, and he's six feet tall, strong and a good jumper."

Vollmer and Sidhu earned 29.32 points, just behind Lauren Gifford and Carson Bodnarek, with 34.73, and Cassie Andrews and Nicholas Anderson, with 32.76.

The novice free skate takes place early tomorrow morning, and Meno, who won three U.S. pair titles with husband Todd Sand, is busy as usual.

"Todd and I have been coaching for three years, and we have quite a few pairs," she said.

"We're starting a lot of kids in pairs who have never done it before, which is kind of neat. They're all enjoying it and doing a great job; they do anything we ask out there on the ice."

The 37-year-old mother of two, who competed at three Olympics, isn't the only former pairs great here. Two-time Olympic bronze medalist Lloyd Eisler and two-time U.S. champion Rocky Marval are also standing at the boards at Indy, as is 2006 Olympian Aaron Parchem, 1989 world silver medalist Lyndon Johnson and two-time U.S. Olympian Bill Fauver.

Meno is coaching solo here; Sand is busy with other students competing at this week's Silicon Valley Open back home in California. The couple works out of rinks in Aliso Viejo and Yorba Linda, training five teams from the juvenile through senior level, as well as several young singles competitors. Their own former mentor, John Nicks, lends a hand from time to time.

"All of our kids enjoy what they're doing; they'll do anything we ask out there [on the ice]," Meno said. "We're so fortunate we can still call upon Mr. Nicks for his input. It's great having him there."

Another of their pairs, Lindsay Davis and Alex Merritt, will skate in the senior event. The 16-year-old Davis, a novice-level singles skater, who began pairs just three months ago, reminds Meno of herself.

"I started as a singles skater before switching to pairs," she said. "Lindsay also takes [singles] lessons [with coach Tammy Gambill], and we encourage her to do both. Nowadays, the pairs kids really need to be strong single skaters.

"The other day her mom asked me, 'Is it okay? Can she do all this in one season?' And I said sure, because I did it myself once upon a time."

Meno and Sand, who were known for their elegant lines and smooth, lyrical skating, try to pass those qualities on to their students while adding the new technical requirements needed under the International Judging System (IJS).

"You really have to stay on top of the rules and know all of the features skaters need [to incorporate] into death spirals and lifts," Meno explained.

"Todd is a technical specialist, so he looks at all of the levels. But we really try to start everyone off with good, quality basics, so nothing is lost with all of that other stuff. We tell all of our students to skate down in their knees."

The couple has two sons -- Jack, age three-and-a-half, and Matthew, age two.

"Jack watches [our students] and keeps saying, 'I want to skate like he does!' We tell him, 'Why don't you take up T-ball?'" Meno laughed. "They're both full of energy, athletic and aggressive."

Meno and Sand retired from eligible competition after winning the world silver medal in 1998 and enjoyed high demand as professionals, touring with Stars on Ice for six seasons. These days, performing takes a back seat.

"Our priority is our sons, of course, and our students," she said. "You have to be really organized, because you want to give 100% to each lesson."

Although the family is slated to take part in Kristi Yamaguchi's "Friends and Family" show this fall, Meno admitted the couple hasn't worked on their own skating too much.

"We want to go to Kristi's show, because it's such fun seeing all our friends and their children. Last year, Jack met the Cheetah Girls there, and he's still talking about it. This year, the Jonas Brothers, who he sees on Disney Channel, are doing it, and he's already talking about going."

Sylvia Yu contributed to this article.