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Bates has different view of U.S. Champs this year

Injury forces 2010 bronze medalist into spectator's role

The past year has been a roller-coaster ride for 2010 U.S. bronze medalist Evan Bates.
The past year has been a roller-coaster ride for 2010 U.S. bronze medalist Evan Bates. (Getty Images)

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By Amy Rosewater, special to icenetwork.com
(01/14/2011) - Evan Bates is about to discover what it's like to be at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships from a different perspective --- as a spectator.

It's not the seat he was hoping to have. Rather, he was planning on performing in front of the crowd in Greensboro, N.C., with his longtime partner Emily Samuelson. After all, they have been competing at nationals dating back to 2004 when the pair debuted at the championships in the novice division and captured a bronze medal.

But about three and a half months ago, plans to compete at nationals were scrapped in an instant. Bates suffered a torn Achilles tendon in his left leg during a fluke incident in practice and has yet to return to the ice. The blade from Samuelson's skate cut the tendon while they were practicing a lift for their free dance.

Although he is making steady improvement, and hopes a trip to the doctor on Tuesday will result with a permission slip to lace up his skates once again, it's been a tough time off the ice. The most time Bates ever missed from training was a month in December 2009 when he suffered a back injury. The ankle injury is expected to take about six months of recovery time. For the 21-year-old Bates, who started skating at four, it's already seemed like an eternity.

"Apparently, I'm right on schedule, maybe a little bit ahead of schedule,'' Bates said in a telephone interview from Ann Arbor, Mich., where he is taking courses in industrial psychology and media writing. "But there is still a bit of pain and tightness, and there is still some swelling.''

Following his surgery, which he underwent at the University of Michigan, Bates wore a cast and then switched to a walking boot. Nowadays, he is wearing a specially designed heel lift in his shoe so he is not walking on a 90-degree angle.

Although he hasn't been able to skate, he hasn't been far from the ice. In fact, three days a week, Bates goes to the rink in Canton, Mich., and works with a trainer. The training area overlooks the ice so he finds himself looking out watching Samuelson and other training mates practicing.

"I think it's good for my motivation,'' he said. "It makes me feel like I'm still involved.''

It is a different perspective on things to be sure. Sometimes, he's watched Samuelson practice with other skaters at the rink. Canadian Olympic gold medalist Scott Moir has skated with Samuelson while his partner, Tessa Virtue, recovered from surgery on her leg. Samuelson also paired up with Alex Shibutani when his sister, Maia, was ill.

"Emily's done that sporadically, and it's weird,'' Bates said. "I see her out there and I'm like, 'Wait a second. That's supposed to be me holding her hand.'''

Bates can rest assured that when he returns Samuelson will be waiting for him. The two have been in close contact even recently while Samuelson has been studying in Europe. Samuelson, who is an international business major at the University of Michigan, headed to Barcelona around Christmastime and plans on spending several weeks abroad.

"We've been trading emails, and it sounds like she's having the time of her life,'' Bates said. "She's traveled all over the place. I think it's good that she was able to take this opportunity to do this because normally we'd be training for nationals at this time.''

Bates said Samuelson has had a chance to skate in Europe, although it was at a public session.

"She said she had to rent skates but she was able to show her international friends some of her skating skills,'' Bates said.

Bates said he and Samuelson will travel to Greensboro to watch the free dance. They will miss the short dance because they have classes back at Michigan.

"I'm looking forward to it because I haven't seen a lot of people since we missed the Grand Prix season too,'' Bates said. "I feel completely different, like I'm totally removed from the scene. I see Charlie [White] and Meryl [Davis] and Madison [Chock] and [Greg Zuerlein] preparing for an event that I normally would be in. I want to be there, though, to support those guys. And I'm optimistic about my future, too.''

Already, he has his calendar marked for the 2012 nationals which will be held in San Jose, Calif.

The past year has been a roller-coaster ride for Bates. Almost a year ago, he and Samuelson had secured a spot for the 2010 U.S. Olympic team and they placed 11th at the Winter Games in Vancouver. They went on to finish ninth at the world championships.

The couple then decided to part from their coaches of 10 years, Yuri Chesnichenko and Yaroslava Nechaeva to work with Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoeuva. Then came Bates's injury.

Even with the disappointment, Bates has been able to look on the bright side of things, saying, "It's a lot better this year than last year.''

The injury has also allowed him to study his sport from afar. He said he watched some of the events from the Grand Prix circuit and has taken close notice of the new short dance programs.

He's also had a chance to enjoy his post-Olympic experience. Occasionally, on campus, students will recognize him as "the figure skater.'' Sometimes, students will discover he skates and will then ask him, "Oh, are you the one who won a silver medal?'' thinking he is Charlie White, who did just that in Vancouver. Most of the time, Bates is truthful, though sometimes he has his fun and says yes, he is the silver medalist.

But truth be told, he and White, along with Samuelson and Davis, did get feted at a Michigan football game against Bowling Green.

"There were 110,000 people in the stadium, and I had been going there for games since I was a little boy growing up in Ann Arbor,'' Bates said. "I felt a ton of support from the university before, but I never expected anything like that, and then the band started playing and the crowd was cheering. It was awesome. Just awesome.''

Now he hopes he can bring crowds back to their feet. And soon.