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Ina and Zimmerman return to the ice

Enjoying skating together again in Stars on Ice

Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman.
Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman. (Getty Images)

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By Amy Rosewater, special to icenetwork.com
(03/08/2011) - WASHINGTON, D.C. - Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman have skated together for more than a decade -- four years in the competitive ranks and nearly a half a dozen more in the show circuits.

But they hadn't been skating together for the last two years. Ina left the Smucker's Stars on Ice tour in 2009 and has dabbled in some coaching in New Jersey; Zimmerman spent a year touring as a solo skater before he and his wife, Italian Olympian Silvia Fontana, started coaching skaters in south Florida.

That all changed this past weekend when Ina and Zimmerman performed in three shows with the Stars on Ice cast, in Boston, Providence and Washington, D.C. They will perform in three more shows, in Rochester, N.Y., Portland Maine, and the tour finale April 9 in Bridgeport, Conn., as replacements for Olympic champions Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who were unable to commit to a full tour schedule.

"Kyoko came down here about three, three and half weeks ago,'' Zimmerman said. "We spent three days doing a tryout here and then we went to L.A. for Stars on Ice rehearsals. I was nervous because we still didn't do a clean run through until the day before we were going to perform.

"Somehow, however, the lights go on and everything works. It's amazing how the adrenaline flows through you. The nerve-racking part for me was the group numbers. Hopefully, I kept the flow going. But the good thing is I wasn't going left when everyone else was going right.''

Certainly Ina and Zimmerman have plenty of experience to fall back on.

Ina and Zimmerman won three national pairs titles from 2000 to 2002 and placed fifth in the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. And it helped that they performed a familiar routine to the INXS song, "Pretty Vegas,'' a program they skated to on tour in the 2007-08 campaign.

"We knew we had to get some work in there but mainly for endurance,'' Ina said. "But trick for trick we were basically there. The scary part was that it came back really quickly. Really quickly.''

They didn't attempt one of their trademark moves, a lift which they call "Fly High Say Bye,'' but Zimmerman didn't rule out the possibility of trying it the next time they hit the ice.

Ina laughed when asked about trying the maneuver sometime in the next three shows.

"We dabbled with it a little bit when we were in L.A. and we worked with (two-time pairs Olympic bronze medalist) Lloyd Eisler,'' Ina said. "But right now, we just wanted to get through the first three shows before we went on to the next three shows.''

Still, the duo genuinely seemed excited to be on the ice again and impressed the crowd in the Verizon Center in Washington Sunday afternoon with its speed and power.

"We had a great time out there,'' said Ina, whose smile was beaming throughout the night. "It was nice to be welcomed back so warmly.''

Ina and Zimmerman also appeared in a handful of group numbers. In one of those routines, Zimmerman had the daunting task of having to lift Ekaterina Gordeeva, who is a good friend but a two-time Olympic champion nonetheless. When Zimmerman watched one of the shows in Anaheim, Calif., he paid close attention to when Pelletier lifted her.

"He did it like it was nothing,'' Zimmerman said. "I told myself, 'There would be no dropping or tripping.' She was great, though, and very sweet. She told me, 'You'll be all right.' ''

And he was.

Ina and Zimmerman fit in quite well in their new-old surroundings.

"To reconnect with everyone ... it was the greatest,'' Zimmerman said. "You kind of worry that they would all have new jokes. But it wasn't too bad. I just brought back the old jokes. Ben (Agosto), Mike (Weiss), Todd (Eldredge) and Kurt (Browning) are probably some of the coolest guys out there and Evan (Lysacek) was great. The ladies were fun, and took care of us, too.''

One part of the three-show swing that was especially fun for them was spending time in Weiss' Washington-area home. There, the cast members were treated to a home-cooked meal and could relax and catch up.

A lot has happened for Ina and Zimmerman since they last toured together. Ina spent the last two years in New Jersey, spending some time coaching along with her former coaches, Mary-Lynn Gelderman and Peter Burrows in Monsey, N.Y.

She also appeared with former NHL star Kelly Chase on the Canadian TV show, Battle of the Blades. They made it to the semifinal round.

"It was incredible being with all of the girls I had toured with Christine Hough and Shae-Lynn Bourne,'' Ina said. "And the hockey players were incredible to work with.''

Zimmerman has been busy coaching at the Saveology.com Iceplex, the official practice facility for the NHL's Florida Panthers, which is located in Coral Springs, Fla., north of Fort Lauderdale. He and his wife, Silvia Fontana, also have been busy with her line of sportswear called Karisma, which is manufactured in Torino, Italy.

Along with Fontana, Zimmerman had worked with Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett. Denney and Barrett recently announced the end of their partnership. They had planned on competing in the Four Continents Championships last month but Denney's blade sliced Barrett's leg in practice and the wound was so great it required 42 stitches, Zimmerman said.

"It was one of the most gruesome things I've ever seen in figure skating,'' Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman was unsure of Denney's skating future.

In the meantime, Zimmerman plans to continue coaching and is enjoying his stint with Stars on Ice.

"Somehow,'' he said, "we were able to get our stuff together and make it happen.''