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Blumberg passes on 'art of the edge' to Evora, Ladwig

U.S. pair silver medalists take on "Nessun Dorma"

Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig have been refining their skating with Judy Blumberg.
Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig have been refining their skating with Judy Blumberg. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(08/31/2010) - It's strong, it's powerful, and Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig think now is the time to give it a try.

The 2010 U.S. pair silver medalists will perform this season's free program to "Nessun Dorma," the aria from Puccini's Turandot that, along with Carmen, could be the toughest music in skating to personalize, simply because of the great skaters -- including Olympic champions Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao -- who have interpreted it in the past.

"I can hear the groaning now," Jim Peterson, the team's primary coach and choreographer, said. "But Amanda and Mark have the goods to carry 'Nessun Dorma' off.

"A few years ago, I would have said maybe they weren't ready for it. Now, the way they execute pair elements -- and the way the audience reacts to them - I think it will be a great, strong piece for them."

"It's a good music choice this year," Ladwig, 29, agreed. "'Nessun Dorma' is so big, and it fits with some of our bigger tricks. I set Amanda down right on the beats."

The team is adding more difficulty, including steps into the triple twist and a new lasso combination overhead. Still, Ladwig emphasizes that the main goal is to improve the quality of the elements.

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel," he said. "We're taking the stuff we do really well and adding to it and doing it better, so we can get higher grades of execution."

Peterson -- who coaches the team with Lyndon Johnston and Alison Smith at the Ice and Sports Complex in Ellenton, Fla., -- enlisted Judy Blumberg's help with improving Evora and Ladwig's basic skating skills.

In the 1980s, Blumberg and partner Michael Seibert won five U.S. ice dance titles and three world bronze medals. They were inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1996.

"I've been going down to Florida every few months, and we work on everything," Blumberg, who also worked with U.S. pair champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett last season, said. "The biggest difference they've made while we've been working together is definitely their movement. They're not just stroking around the rink; they're more aware.

"I want them to be more efficient, more seamless. They've got great energy; I'm here to help them get more power. I told them, 'you're hackers,' and I meant that in the nicest possible way. I said, 'You're great skaters, but do you realize how your blades hit the ice?' I don't want to see your shoulders [scrunch] up. I just want to see stroking."

Beautiful stroking is something, Blumberg says, that may be getting lost these days with all of the complicated technical maneuvers pairs are expected to perform.

"People used to say about me and Michael that we knew the art of the edge; that's what I want to pass on when I get out there and move across the ice with them," she said.

Another thing Blumberg is working on: helping instill a greater on-ice connection between the couple.

"Michael and I, I think, had that innately; when we looked at each another, there was a connection," she said. "These two haven't always had that."

On-ice partners since 2002, Evora and Ladwig are coming off their most successful season ever, including an impressive tenth place at the Vancouver Olympics followed by ninth place at their world championship debut. This season, they hope to build on those results.

"Even when you think you're on top of the sport, there's something else to learn," Evora, 25, said. "That's kind of how I felt after I went to the worlds and Olympics. You think you reached the pinnacle, and you find out you want to do more. There is more in me."

In Vancouver, Evora's longtime romantic relationship with Barrett hit the press in a big way, especially since the pairs competed over Valentine's Day. While the two teams shared the ice in Ellenton the last few seasons, Denney and Barrett recently moved their training site to Coral Springs, where they will be coached by John Zimmerman and his wife Silvia Fontana.

Barrett, who recently moved with Evora to a waterfront apartment near Ellenton, will return home to be with his girlfriend on weekends. Peterson doesn't think the change will be disruptive.

"The teams were always professional with each other on the ice," he said. "Amanda and Jeremy's relationship wasn't something we ever thought about or had to deal with in any way in training. Everyone just minded their own business and focused on the skating."

Ladwig, married to high school sweetheart Janet Marie Beverley, spends much of his off-ice time caring for son Holden, born in September 2009.

"He started walking this summer," Ladwig said. "Now, he's running. He is doing the Daddy waddle. He's already been out on the ice, on skates. He's not good yet, but hey, he's out there."

With Blumberg's help, the two are pushing the envelope with their step sequences, trying to rack up enough difficult rockers, Choctaws and turns to get Level 4. At Champs Camp -- held in the mile-high Colorado Springs' World Arena -- that effort left Ladwig a bit breathless.

"The best medication don't always taste pretty," he said, adding, "Getting the point of view of an ice dancer is very helpful. [Judy] helped design these [sequences] and has really helped us add more edge quality."

Far from being insulted, the skaters took Blumberg's "hacker" label as a challenge.

"Hey, I'll always take honest feedback," Ladwig said. "I'm an old dog, but I can still learn some new tricks."

"Last year, our first time at worlds, we finished ninth, which I thought was very respectable," Evora said. "I want to see the U.S. teams place higher at worlds, and if we have to take hard criticism, then that's fine. This is what we need."

More Champs Camp Bytes
Three top U.S. pair teams -- Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin; Britney Simpson and Nathan Miller; and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir -- found their programs in good shape after competing at the Indy Challenge in early August, and few changes were made.

Blumberg, an ISU technical specialist, is excited about the new short dance, a hybrid of the compulsory (now pattern) and original dance elements which for seniors assigns levels to the difficult Golden Waltz for the first time: "It makes it a lot more specific. You have to remember Golden Waltz is not such an old compulsory; it could be some of the individual judges were not well versed in it. I'm glad technical specialists are being brought into the process. A lot has been missed in the past. Now, we're really defining where the feet have to go." Skaters at Champs Camp were almost uniformly upbeat about the short dance; then again, they have little choice.