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Ladwig searches for new beginning with Davis

2010 Olympic pairs skater not done yet, inspired to continue competing

After skating a decade with Amanda Evora, Mark Ladwig opens the next chapter of his career.
After skating a decade with Amanda Evora, Mark Ladwig opens the next chapter of his career. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(05/04/2012) - After a 10-year partnership with Amanda Evora that yielded five U.S. pairs medals, two trips to worlds and memorable performances at the 2010 Olympics, Mark Ladwig still loves to compete.

So when Evora called it a career, the 32-year-old husband and father didn't hit pause -- he set out to find a new partner. A few weeks later, he made a new match with 20-year-old Californian Lindsay Davis.

"Consistently, my skating has developed over the years, and I have Amanda to thank. Without her partnership, that would not have been possible. So I want to continue and see what level I can rise to."

For Davis, who sat out the 2011-12 season after former partner Themi Leftheris retired late last summer, Ladwig's call was an answered prayer. The 2010 U.S. junior ladies bronze medalist spent the last eight months training in Riverside, Calif., under long-time singles coach Tammy Gambill, and was itching to get back into pairs.

"Sometimes every skater needs a break to really refresh their skating and come back full force," Davis said.

"For me it was a good wake-up call to realize 'I still want to do this; I still want to go for it.' And with somebody like Mark, I think that's 100 percent possible."

Pairs skaters in their 30s are not an anomaly. Germany's world champion Robin Szolkowy is 32; Chinese greats Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao were 31 and 36, respectively, when they won 2010 Olympic gold.

But unlike them, Ladwig is starting over, a challenge he embraces.

"One of the things that struck me when Lindsay and I first discussed a tryout was the positive focus, the forward thinking," he said. "I really appreciate that. It gives a fresh spin to all of our possibilities."

Davis, who tried out with "about six" potential partners prior to Ladwig's invitation, will relocate to pursue the partnership.

"I was really holding out for somebody like Mark," she said. "He had the experience I was looking for, he's such a great skater and very easy to work with. Personally, I really wanted to train in Florida."

The new team will be coached by Lyndon Johnston at Ladwig's long-time training home, the Ice and Sports Complex in Ellenton, Fla.

Johnston, a former Canadian pairs competitor, can empathize with Ladwig. When his partner Denise Benning retired after the 1988 Olympics, he teamed with Cindy Landry. The new team won the world silver medal in 1989 and the 1990 Canadian title.

"I still had some goals; I wanted a world medal, and I started looking and Cindy came along," Johnston said. "When Mark explained how he was feeling, I could certainly relate. It is a lot of work, but the rewards were there for me."

The tryout, which took place last month, impressed both skaters and coach.

"Everything felt very comfortable and very easy to take to the next level," said Davis, who at 4'11" stands 11 inches shorter than Ladwig. "All of the basics that Mark has are very good to work off of. I think it's going to be a steady process."

"They have similar technique in quite a few things," Johnston said. "Throws are typically the toughest to change, and it was nice to see the throw [technique] Lindsay has learned is very similar. So that's a big plus."

In addition to throws, the two practiced twists, lifts and side-by-side jumps, including double Axels and several different triples.

"We did some really easy double [twists] very quickly," Ladwig said.

Evora and Ladwig were famous for creative, challenging lifts that seemed to hover endlessly over the ice. At the Olympics, one of their free skate lifts gained the event's highest score for a single element.

"We had great lifts in the past, and I'm looking forward to reinventing, with new twists and features," Ladwig said. "This is a new chapter."

Davis and Ladwig will turn to California-based choreographer Cindy Stuart, who created many of Davis' singles programs, for their short program and free skate. While in California, they plan to work with Gambill on their individual skating skills.

"I think with the experience both Lindsay and I have, Cindy can say, 'Here are some options,'" Ladwig said. "We're not asking her to start from scratch; we're asking her to sculpt us into the diamonds we hope to be. We can bring a lot of things to the table to help."

Ladwig's family, including wife Janet and 2-year-old son, Holden, has already practically adopted Davis.

"Everybody is on board," Ladwig said. "Lindsay was able to stay with us during the tryout and she won the whole family over, even Holden. He's a big fan, too; actually, probably the smallest fan.

"The whole Ellenton sports complex is wonderfully supportive. The nice thing is we'll be training with the other teams here that are under Mr. [Jim] Peterson."

Peterson, who coached Evora and Ladwig, is the primary coach of senior pairs Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay, and Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea, as well as junior and novice pairs. Peterson and Johnston also train British champions Stacey Kemp and David King in Ellenton.

"I never really skated in a huge pairs environment with either one of my previous partners [Leftheris and Alex Merritt], and I think it will be really motivating," Davis said.

Davis and Ladwig plan to compete at the Indy Pairs Challenge Aug. 3-5, where if they impress U.S. Figure Skating officials enough, they may snag an international assignment.

But their initial focus is to get to know each other, on and off the ice.

"We have to find that new balance between the things that make Lindsay comfortable competing, and then the way I'm used to competing," Ladwig said. "That's going to be the first goal even before Indy: finding the rhythm between us for competition and practice.

"I think we are both realists. If I've learned anything in 10 years of skating pairs, it's there are going to be bumps in the road. Hopefully we can grow from them and keep our focus onward and upward."