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Inoue, Baldwin not going anywhere

Skaters don't mind not being the "new kids" anymore

Rena Inoue and John Baldwin will compete at the Trophee Eric Bompard in October.
Rena Inoue and John Baldwin will compete at the Trophee Eric Bompard in October. (Getty Images)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(10/23/2008) - Rena Inoue and John Baldwin are still around, and they don't plan on going anywhere for a while.

With most of the attention in U.S. pairs skating being given to new kids on the block Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, Inoue and Baldwin have been pushed to the background, a place they're not used to inhabiting.

As recently as two years ago, Inoue and Baldwin were one of the premier pairs teams in the world (three Grand Prix Series medals, fourth at the Grand Prix Final, bronze at the Four Continents Championships), and they are out to regain that status.

A busy off-season -- complete with wedding planning, commercial shooting and house building -- would seem to be a drain on their collective energy. After all, they are in their mid-30s, an age when most skaters have long since given up competing and are relegated to show skating.

But these two still have the desire to get up early every morning and run through their programs, and deal with all the aches and pains that come with competing at the top level of their sport.

Icenetwork.com caught up with Inoue and Baldwin (actually, just Baldwin) while they were in the car on the way to the rink, and asked them about their outlook for this week's Skate America, their advancing ages and their recently completed house.

ICE: You sat out the Grand Prix Series last year. Do you feel that being in a competitive setting this early in the season will benefit you in the long run?
BALDWIN: Being in a competitive setting at any point in the year is always a good place to be. The reason we took off last season is we had done the Grand Prix Series for six or seven consecutive years, and we needed a break. Our schedule got crazy. We missed it a lot, and that's why we're back this year.

ICE: You've medaled all three times you've competed at Skate America. Do you think you can keep that streak going?
BALDWIN: I looked at the other competitors, and they're pretty strong. The world champions [Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy] are in there. It's good to have the best in the world to skate against because it brings our level up.

ICE: How do you feel about the state of pairs skating in the U.S.?
BALDWIN: There are a lot of great up-and-coming teams in the United States, and there are a lot of young teams that haven't proven themselves yet. From what I saw last year, I saw a lot of potential out there. Going into the Olympics, with it being here in North America, we're going to have a strong presence, us and Canada.

ICE: Do you think people are underestimating your prospects this season because of your ages?
BALDWIN: I hope not because we have more experience than anybody. Don't ever count experience out. What I saw at this past [Olympic] Summer Games were athletes that were older that medaled and did really well. I see older athletes beating younger athletes all the time. I was watching a fight the other night. The guy who was 43 was a 5-to-1 underdog, and he beat a 26-year-old. [The fight he's referring to is middleweight Bernard Hopkins' win by unanimous decision over Kelly Pavlik on Oct. 18]. Experience counts for a lot. We've done things nobody else has done, and we're going to continue to do that.

ICE: Did you guys ever consider retirement after last season?
BALDWIN: Not last season but after the Olympics. After you achieve all your goals in sports, you ask yourself why you want to keep going. We used to think it was for the money. Skating in shows is great, but it's not the same as the feeling you get from a good performance. And we can still do it, so we're going to keep on truckin'.

ICE: How comfortable are you with this year's programs considering how busy your off-season has been?
BALDWIN: It's been tight. I'm not going to say we're at our most comfortable. In our career, we've been totally comfortable maybe only five times out of 100 times competing. Right now, getting ready is a challenge, especially with the schedule we've been keeping. On the other hand, if you get ready too early, you can push yourself into an injury. We don't have to start as early because we know each other very well.

ICE: What are some things you've learned from your coach, Phillip Mills, about skating that you didn't know before?
BALDWIN: Psychologically, we've learned a lot. He's taught us to have calmness before competition, how to focus, not to be distracted by outside activities. We just listen to him and not try to take care of everything ourselves. We put ourselves in his hands. We tell him, 'If anything goes wrong, it's your fault.'

ICE: How's the house coming?
BALDWIN: We close on the house Nov. 27. Everything that goes into that is crazy. It's not as easy to get into a house as you think. So many factors come into play. We will be out of town, in Japan, so I don't know how that's going to work.

We saw it last week. It needs flooring, landscaping. It's beautiful. We really customized it. The kitchen's my favorite thing. We've been living in a 500-square-foot house in Santa Monica for the last 10 years. This is 3,700 square feet. Having that space is a big change.

ICE: How much longer do you envision yourselves competing?
BALDWIN: Every year we re-evaluate and come up with different reasons to keep going. It looks as if we're going through the next Olympics for sure. That's the road we're going down. We seem like we're getting in better and better shape. We're not injured; we've never been injured. We can whip things together pretty quickly, and hopefully be successful at it, and handle all the other things we have to do. We want to experience all of it while we can, do it as long as we can.

When we talk to other skaters, they've asked us, 'Why are you still doing it?' Because we can.