The Inside Edge: Yankowskas changes coaches

Pairs champ moves to Canton, will train with Johnny Johns

Caitlin Yankowskas is excited to be at her new training base in Canton, Mich.
Caitlin Yankowskas is excited to be at her new training base in Canton, Mich. (courtesy of Caitlin Yankowskas)


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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to
(07/26/2011) - Caitlin Yankowskas called us from the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton, Mich., in the middle of her first day training at her new rink on Monday.

"I've moved here," she said. "I got an apartment, I'm moving into it in August. I had my first official practice day today and it felt great."

Yankowskas, one half of the reigning U.S. pairs champions, has spent the last two months exploring her options, after she and John Coughlin ended their partnership.

"After John broke up [the partnership] with me I decided to travel to Florida and check out the rink there," she told us. "I worked with John Zimmerman, and he was wonderful. Then I went to California and worked with Peter Oppegard, and he's just so wonderful too. All the coaches I worked with were so supportive and really embraced me."

Yankowskas said she had mostly skated singles in the different training venues, apart from one tryout.

"It was interesting to try out different techniques," she said. "It really made me appreciate what I do. It made me more determined to find a partner and take my skating to the next level."

Yankowskas visited the Detroit Skating Club, but said she hadn't originally given skating in Canton much thought.

"I just thought it was ice dance [there] and that's definitely not my forté!" she said, laughing. "But Johnny Johns and Adrienne Lenda called and I thought, why not? I got into the parking lot, and my gut feeling was that this was something special. I worked with them, and I loved every minute of it. They wanted me there, they supported me, they were phenomenally gifted with technique, and on top of that I'm skating with all these elite ice dancers who make skating look the way it should. It was everything I wanted at one rink. I told my parents, 'I think I've found the coaches that I want to work with.' It was kind of like love at first sight. I'm thrilled to be training here and I can't wait until I find a partner."

Yankowskas said she has a tryout next week. She also spoke with enthusiasm about the supportive environment in Canton. She said that coaches Johns, Lenda, Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband all collaborate with each other's teams, which include, of course, Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and world bronze medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani.

Although she is excited about her new home, Yankowskas said she'll miss her friends in Colorado Springs.

"It was exciting, but also sad, because I made Colorado my home for four years and to leave all my friends was hard. My offseason has been crazy, but now I'm finally settled down, and I know what I want. I just had to take a deep breath and figure out my life. I think in the end it will make me a stronger person and a better athlete. I won't quit!"

Yankowskas said she is very moved by the outpouring of fan support over the last two months.

"To know they support me like that gives me chills," she said.

Smith at Sea
Scott Smith has been floating around the Mediterranean on a cruise ship for a while; he's currently in the midst of a seven-month contract on the Mariner of the Seas. We spent a lovely hour video chatting with him recently from a seaside café in Civitavecchia, with the ocean in the background.

"It's hot!" said Smith. "It's not too, too bad here, but it's really hot in Rome. I'm having a great time."

Smith was last seen at the U.S. championships in 2009; he withdrew before the short program after injuring himself in an official practice.

"I landed a jump in practice and my back did something weird and got really tight the morning of the short," he said. "I'd been having groin pain since that summer, an overuse injury. So after nationals I went to a hip specialist and had femoral acetabular impingement surgery. I had the same surgeon as Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski and Naomi Nari Nam."

Smith knew that skating on a cruise ship required less skating than other ice shows, making it a good option while he was recovering. After his first contract last summer, he spent the fall and winter coaching Angela Wang in Salt Lake City. When the season was over, Wang moved to Colorado, and Smith decided to accept another cruise ship contract, this time in the eastern Mediterranean.

"We have a turnaround day in Civitavecchia, and then we do a couple other ports in Italy, and then we go to a couple of Greek islands, then an overnight in Istanbul, and then couple of nights in Israel, and then we start over again," he said.

During the cruise, Smith has visited Naples, Capri, Sorrento and Pompei.

"My highlight was visiting the Dead Sea," he said, laughing. "You can just float there without having to swim."

Smith is enjoying skating aboard ship, despite the small ice surface.

"The Mariner is actually really fun because there's flying," he said. "It's fun to spin the girls around while they're flying in the air with wires. The great thing is there's a whole production cast here of singers and dancers. You have a lot in common with them."

The good news is that Smith has recovered from the surgery, and he's jumping well again.

"I've gotten used to the small ice so I'm doing triple toe-triple toe. I've just started doing triple lutz again, after my surgery. I'm feeling way stronger than I did a year ago. It's fun to figure out how to do all the jumps on small ice. I'm feeling more and more like my old self again. It's a great feeling to be getting my regular body back."

With a seven-and-a-half-month contract, Smith says he has put his life in the States on hold.

"I got my teaching going [last winter] and then I stopped it again," he said. "My brother's taking care of my dog. I miss my dog! I Skype with him every once and a while. It's just nice to see him!"

Although he says he doesn't have any plans past November, Smith says he hopes to be a coach eventually.

"Obviously I would love to be a full-time coach -- that's definitely where I'm headed. I love skating and my body is holding up enough to do the shows."

Although he hasn't formally retired, Smith says he's done with competition.

"I still hear music and think, 'Oh, this would be a great competitive program! This is where I could do my triple Axel...' Then I hear that reality voice going, 'You don't really want to do that again, do you?'

"I watched nationals this year and some of those young kids did really well," Smith went on. "I was excited for Ross [Miner] this year, he did so well. It keeps it exciting. U.S. men's skating is really competitive right now, and I don't think I'd accomplish anything by competing again that I didn't already accomplish. It's so exciting for U.S. men's skating. It's too bad we can't send eight to worlds."

Stay cool,
Sarah and Drew
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