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The Inside Edge: Evora says farewell to skating

U.S. Olympian pairs skater shares final words before retirement; famed journalist passes

Amanda Evora backstage at her last competition, the Four Continents championships.
Amanda Evora backstage at her last competition, the Four Continents championships. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(04/26/2012) - The announcement that Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig had ended their partnership left their many fans feeling mournful yet grateful for their long, exemplary career. We spoke to Evora last week about the decision to retire, her memories of the past and plans for the future.

"Stepping away from competitive skating has been one of the hardest decisions to make," Evora said. "The athlete never leaves the body for all of us, so it's one of those things where it's almost as if you don't know any other way of living. I look back with a lot of pride on my skating career."

Evora told us that she wasn't ready to commit to another full year of competitive skating; she and Ladwig made that decision each year in the spring, and this year she just didn't feel she could do it.

"I thought it was unfair of me to have those feelings and continue," she said. "You commit at the beginning of the year, you stay in for the year, and then you reevaluate."

Looking back at her 10-year career with Ladwig, Evora said the highlight of her career was their short program at the Olympics in Vancouver.

"The 2010 Olympics was magical beyond belief," she said. "One of my favorite Olympic moments was stepping on Olympic ice. I literally had my skates on 20 minutes earlier than I needed to because I was so eager to get on the ice."

Another highlight was Evora and Ladwig's first international competition, the 2003 Golden Spin of Zagreb, which they won.

"It was Mark's and my first international medal; it was the first time we ever got first in anything, and it was a special moment to stand on the podium and hear our national anthem being played."

Evora believes that part of her success with Ladwig was a result of experience.

"I hope I can send a message that pair teams need to stick together, and this is a result of staying together," she said. "It takes experience. In the U.S., the average time pair teams stay together is very short. I want to encourage staying together for other pair teams."

When Evora talks about Ladwig, she talks about respect.

"We support each other," she said. "We've always had a respectful relationship with each other. It's really hard to forget the reason you got together. You're there for a common goal; you have a mutual respect for each other. I'd be lying if I said we never fought, but communication is the key. We were always able to find a resolution at the end of the day."

Evora's immediate plan is to finish college; she only has two more courses to go before she graduates from the University of South Florida with a bachelor's degree in business administration, majoring in marketing and management. She will graduate this summer, and she isn't sure what comes next.

"It's very much up in the air," she said. "I have three part-time jobs. I'm an office manager for a company in Sarasota: Specialty Products Holding Company. I've always been an account assistant at Ellenton Ice, where I train, as well as taking a bigger role in teaching. Now that I'm not skating, I've been able to coach a little more, which is very exciting for me."

Further down the road, Evora aspires to some kind of a role with U.S. Figure Skating.

"I've applied to start trial judging to see if that's something I would like to do in the future, as well as coaching," she said. "Figure skating has been part of my life since I was 6, and I feel like I want to give back."

She may not be training to compete any more, but Evora is still an athlete and she's devoted to training. Last weekend, she participated in a 150-mile bike ride for multiple sclerosis.

"You train for so long, there's a time when you realize you're not only training for your sport, but you're training to have a better life," she said. "What greater way of having this ability than to support a cause? One of my other goals is to do a marathon one day."

Evora says she is helping to teach the pairs teams at her rink: Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay, and Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea.

"I will have respect for any pair girl!" she said. "I want to coach pair girls; I've often seen someone and thought, 'I want to mentor that girl.' But I really am finishing school. I haven't planned anything except seeing my friends and doing what I couldn't do before, like cutting my hair."

Natalia Mishkutenok

We had a short telephone chat recently with another former pairs skater, 1992 Olympic champion Natalia Mishkutenok. She has lived in Texas since 2003, after spending eight years in Colorado.

"I moved because the one rink was open, with three ice surfaces, one Olympic size," she said.

Mishkutenok has a 6-year-old daughter, Natasha, who is a skater. (She competed last weekend, the proud mother told us). In addition to her daughter, Mishkutenok is coaching a big stable of young skaters, including 2011 U.S. junior pewter medalist Steven Evans.

"When I moved here, I picked up all the little kids, and I started with him when he was 10, in learn-to-skate classes," Mishkutenok said. "I have a lot of kids that just graduated and went to college. I have little ones that just started skating with me this summer."

We wondered if the great pairs skater was coaching any up-and-coming pairs teams. She said she was, mostly younger teams.

"I have pair teams, but it's so hard to keep them together," she said. "One little boy likes doing pairs, but he does soccer and football; he has so many sports going on. Or one person gets unhappy and then that's it. We have a lot of recreational skaters and we have a lot of singles skaters, really good kids, but there aren't a lot of older kids that keep skating."

Mishkutenok told us that although she hadn't been able to watch the recent world championships, she had, of course, seen the results, which were somewhat disappointing for the Russian pairs skaters.

"For the Russian team, what I think is going on is with Olympics in Russia there's a lot of pressure, and that's why everybody messed up," she said. "I'm watching on the news [when I went to Russia], and everybody's talking about the Olympics. Now we're getting good skaters back."

Team spirit

The U.S. collegiate championships took place last weekend at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, with nine teams competing for the title. The arena was alive with a college vibe on Saturday night, full of enthusiastic, almost rowdy students supporting each other. Most of the team members would go to the boards as their teammate competed and cheer them on by the ice. They went all out to support each other, and all the athletes watched every event.

We sat with the Dartmouth team in the stands. With finals coming up, they were all hard at work, studying during the five-minute warmups and during ice makes.

Among the competitors on the ice were recent national competitors Maria Sperduto, Alex Shaughnessy and Jimmy Morgan, and Andrew Korda.

Like the recent World Team Trophy, skaters compete individually in their event and gain points for their team. Congratulations to Dartmouth, which took the overall title.

"The Dartmouth figure skating team is the best, because of our focus on the team dynamic, and the love and respect we have for one another," Sperduto said enthusiastically. "That makes us a really cohesive unit. We knew we could win, not due to the fact that we have very talented skaters, but ... that we have worked together to maximize our strengths as a team.

"When it comes down to it, the things you can accomplish with people you love, respect and admire are astounding. Skating with a team makes it possible [to skate] in college, and [it's a] fun, enjoyable and irreplaceable learning experience of a new kind."

Remembering Randy Starkman

Canadian sports journalist Randy Starkman, who covered 12 Olympics and countless figure skating events for United Press Canada and the Toronto Star, died of pneumonia on April 16; he was only 51. Our friend and colleague Lynn Rutherford knew Starkman for 15 years. She shared a few of her favorite memories.

"At one time, I covered mostly Canadian skaters, and Randy always shared information," she said. "When Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz won their world title in 2003, my new recorder conked out during a roundtable interview. He said, 'I'm not using all of this' and lent me his.

"Another time, a very talented but erratic skater came off the ice, having once again rather spectacularly failed to live up to his promise. He said something typical of him -- something like, 'Well, I'll know more for the future' -- and I just came out with, 'You're approaching your mid-20s, when does the future come?' which was not appropriate and kind of ended that mixed zone interview. It was stupid and I felt terrible, but Randy said, 'I was about to ask the same thing,' even though of course he would have been more diplomatic."

Our condolences to Starkman's friends and family.

Sarah and Drew
Follow us on Twitter @SarahandDrew