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Naomi Nari Nam retires from competition

U.S. medalist in singles and pairs hangs up her skates

Naomi Nari Nam and Themi Leftheris peaked at the 2007 U.S. Championships.
Naomi Nari Nam and Themi Leftheris peaked at the 2007 U.S. Championships. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/10/2008) - Naomi Nari Nam, who gained fame as a 13-year-old singles skater then overcame injury to build a new career as a pairs competitor, announced her retirement Friday.

"Recently, I received some sad news from my doctors," the 23-year-old said. "After successful hip surgery last year, the new cartilage in my hip is being compressed when I skate. By continuing, I risk damaging it again. So it is with heavy heart, and the consideration for my future health, that I have decided to retire from competitive skating."

Nam and partner Themistocles Leftheris competed at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships three times. They won the bronze medal in 2007 but dropped to seventh place in 2008 after Nam lost training time recovering from her second hip surgery. Most recently, they competed at the 2008 Golden West Championships, placing second to Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent.

Leftheris, 25, hopes to continue his competitive career and plans to search for another partner.

"I feel very lucky to have shared a partnership with Themi," Nam said. "He is a talented skater and has been a wonderful partner and a loyal friend. I wish him great success in his search for a new partner and will assist in any way I can."

Nam stunned the skating world with her brilliant free skate at the 1999 U.S. Championships, winning the silver medal behind Michelle Kwan. The 4-foot-10-inch sprite touched audiences with her sparkling charisma; her superb spins were once clocked at 190 revolutions per minute.

International Skating Union age restrictions prevented the youngster from competing at the 1999 World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki. As fate would have it, she never got the chance again. Her last appearance as a singles skater at the U.S. Championships came the following year, when she placed eighth.

"When you're young, you have no idea of pressure," Nam said back in 2006. "Then I started to feel it and skating became more difficult, and unfortunately I got injured. But my love for the sport never died."

After undergoing her first hip surgery, Nam took a lengthy break from competition.

"It was difficult to train. I was on and off the ice for two years, which was very frustrating and painful, so I let it go," she said. "I went back to being a normal high school kid, but it was so boring. I felt like something was missing in my life."

In 2003, Nam returned to training at her El Segundo, Calif., rink with longtime coach John Nicks but placed fifth at the Pacific Coast Sectionals and failed to qualify for the 2004 U.S. Championships. She tried out with Leftheris in April 2005 and formed a partnership soon after under the tutelage of Peter Oppegard. Nine months later, they placed fifth at the 2006 U.S. Championships.

"I would like to thank U.S. Figure Skating for all its assistance, my former coach John Nicks, and all those that have helped me along the way," Nam said. "I would especially like to thank Peter Oppegard for all his efforts on my behalf. His dedication to me and belief in me helped motivate my successful return to figure skating. Lastly, I want to thank my biggest fans, my parents, who taught me to be the best I can be at whatever I choose to do in life.

"Skating has been a wonderful part of my life for as long as I can remember. It has afforded me opportunities for travel and a venue to perform for supportive audiences around the world. I am lucky to have fans that have always encouraged my efforts on the ice throughout the years."