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Israeli champion finds stability in Monsey, N.Y.

Katz hopes to build on fourth-place finish in Vienna

Israeli champion Tamar Katz and her coach, Peter Burrows, at the rink in Monsey, N.Y.
Israeli champion Tamar Katz and her coach, Peter Burrows, at the rink in Monsey, N.Y. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/17/2008) - It's been a long, roundabout path for Tamar Katz, the Israeli champion who placed fourth at the Karl Schafer Memorial in Vienna.

Born in Dallas and raised in Israel and the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the Israeli champion has logged training time in Russia, California and New Jersey. In December, she settled at the Sport-O-Rama in Monsey, N.Y., to work with veteran coach Peter Burrows.

"Until I came here in December, I never practiced the right way," the 19-year-old Katz admitted. "I would stop a lot, never do full programs. Mr. Burrows changed things right away. He got me to do run-throughs every day, full out."

Burrows, who guided Elaine Zayak to U.S. and world titles in the early 1980s and currently trains several top U.S. juniors, thinks Katz, who placed 16th at the 2008 European Championships, has yet to tap into her full potential.

"It was clear she needed someone to make her buckle down and really work," he said. "We're building up to doing three program run-throughs each day."

With improved stamina, the skater hopes her triple jumps will become more consistent.

"I've always been able to land the jumps outside the program," she explained. "The trouble is doing them to the music. I change my timing and rush too much."

Burrows concurred and then added, "When she first came to me, she asked, 'Will you change my technique?' and I said 'Yes.' When she's under pressure, she jumps too quickly."

The skater, who holds U.S. and Israeli passports, is fast becoming a true citizen of the world. Born in Dallas to Israeli parents Leora and Yirmi, she returned to her home country when she was two months old. Eight years later, Yirmi, an engineer who works with the military, moved the family to the Washington, D.C., area for his job.

Katz was a rhythmic gymnast in Israel but switched to skating at age 10. After several years, the family relocated back to Israel and settled in Metulla, home to the Canada Centre, which houses the country's only skating rinks.

"It's difficult to skate in Israel," Katz said. "The rink is on the Lebanese border. At times, things are not so good, especially in 2006 during the [Israel-Lebanon] war, when the roof [of the Canada Centre] was damaged.

"We live in the third house from the Lebanese border. There was bombing, and my parents had to evacuate the area. The rink closes often. Plus, I was getting on the ice at 9 p.m. sometimes."

Although Katz spent time training in California, it was too far from home, so she quit at age 15. A year or so later, she returned to the sport, joining Alexei Mishin's group in St. Petersburg, Russia.

"He's a great coach, but he doesn't like to give away any secrets," Katz said of the renowned mentor to Olympic champions Evgeni Plushenko and Alexei Yagudin. "He uses a lot of little exercises. I got my jumps back, but I found it hard to live there."

With the Israel Ice Skating Federation's support, in 2006 Katz moved to Wayne, N.J., to train under Galina Zmievskaya, who now coaches Johnny Weir. (Katz still lives in Wayne, where she shares a home with a Holocaust survivor who often attends her local performances.) After a year or so, she felt she needed more attention than the coach was able to give her at that time. So, she began training in Hackensack under former world ice dance medalist Galit Chait, who oversees the Israeli figure skating team, and 2002 European silver medalist Alexander Abt.

When things with Abt didn't work out, Katz remembered a tryout with Burrows and his coaching partner, Mary Lynn Gelderman, at the Sport-O-Rama in early 2008. Still searching for the ideal training spot, she returned to Monsey last December.

"Galit had worked with Mr. Burrows when she skated singles, and they have a good relationship, so I decided to give it a try," Katz remembered.

"Skaters get to a point in their careers when they need a connection with the person they're working with," Gelderman said. "They're looking for someone who can put a foot down and make them do the job."

Katz has found that at the Sport-O-Rama, where Israeli men's silver medalist Evgeni Krasnapolski also trains. The rest of the Israeli team joined them there for a training camp this summer, capped by an exhibition in honor of their country's 60th anniversary.

"I'm in a stable situation and happy," the skater said. "I just graduated from [independent study] high school, so I can concentrate fully on my skating. I hope now to bring my mental ability up to my physical ability."

Katz turned to Lea Ann Miller for her competitive programs this season. She's performing her short to the theme of Gone with the Wind and her long to Gershwin's "Concerto in F."

"It was a major change," Katz said. "Lea Ann really tried to find out who I was as a skater.

"I love my short; I really want to be Scarlett O'Hara out there. I read the book in March and fell in love with the movie. We're designing a new dress from one of the key scenes, but it won't be that famous one made from green curtains."

Katz described her free skate as "crazy and off the wall, very fast. I didn't think I could skate to it, but everything clicked. It's very jazzy. It needs a lot more work, but it could be great."

Her next event is the NRW Trophy in Dortmund, Germany, in early December. In January, it's off to Europeans, where she hopes to place in the top 10, followed by the world championships in March, where her highest finish was 22nd last season.

"I'm being more productive, making the most of every session," she said. "I feel I've taken huge steps, but it takes time to get used to new technique and stick to the plan. There's a theory that the way you skate in practice is the way you will skate in competition, and that's what I want to do."