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Patsis, Johnson take surprising novice dance lead

New team ahead by 2.48 points; Lewis, Bye overcome 'glitch' to sit second

Tory Patsis and Joseph Johnson have been skating together for only seven months.
Tory Patsis and Joseph Johnson have been skating together for only seven months. (Jay Adeff)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/20/2013) - The scores came up and Tory Patsis gasped.

She and partner Joseph Johnson, teamed together only last June, led by 2.48 points after two rounds of pattern dances, the Starlight Waltz and Paso Doble.

"Don't cry," the skaters' coach, Patti Gottwein, said.

"I said, 'No, I'm not crying,'" Patsis said. "But I was. It was a little bit of a surprise."

Patsis, 17, competed through the intermediate level in singles, but a love of theatre -- and a dislike of jumping -- convinced her to try ice dance last season. After her partnership ended, she moved from Chicago to Colorado Springs to try out with Johnson.

"There is something in the movement of ice dancers," Patsis said. "They're so expressive, and they look like they're having so much fun. Jumping was not for me. Finding a partner is a struggle, but when you find the right person, everything clicks."

Johnson, 18, competed at the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships twice but sat out last season because he didn't have a partner.

"This is definitely my most committed partnership," he said. "At the start, we were trying to figure things out, and after two months it really started to click. We knew it would really work.

"We're having a lot of fun so far. We definitely did not know we would be this successful."

Today at Omaha's CenturyLink Center, the team kicked off the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships with wins in both pattern dances, which demand contrasting expression. The Starlight Waltz is lilting and lyrical; the Paso Doble, bold and aggressive. Patsis and Johnson mastered both and came away with 43.73 points.

"Tory and Joe were overall consistent between balancing technical mark with component marks," said Gottwein, who with Trina Pratt coaches Patsis and Johnson at Honnen Ice Arena at Colorado College. "For their first time at nationals, they held good composure. The marks are in order with what I would expect.

"The Paso, they felt that dance better. Tory is very new to dance, and coming from that background, the Paso is more in her comfort zone."

On Monday morning, bright and early, they will tackle their tango free dance, choreographed by Pratt.

"Normally, I wouldn't give a tango to a novice team," Gottwein said. "But they have such a great connection. They really pull it off."

Chloe Lewis and Logan Bye, fourth in novice last season, sit second overall despite a fourth-place finish in the Starlight Waltz. They earned 41.25 points.

"They commanded the stage on the Paso; I liked that," said Judy Blumberg, one of the team's coaches. "I thought their feet were working better in the Paso than in the Starlight. They had a glitch in the Starlight, it happens, but I liked the way they recovered. They didn't miss a beat."

Both skaters admitted they preferred training the Paso Doble, the dance of the Spanish bullfighters.

"I love expressing that dance -- it's fun," Lewis, 12, said.

"With the Paso, I think we both tried as hard as we could to get into character," Bye, 13, said.

This season, their third together, Lewis and Bye train full time in Portland, Ore., under the day-to-day tutelage of Ikaika Young. Previously, they trained together only two weeks of the month.

"This year, Logan is going to Catlin Gabel School in Portland along with Chloe," said Blumberg, who won five U.S. ice dance titles with partner Michael Seibert. "They are both solidly entrenched in homework, but they get the time together with Ikaika and ballroom and ballet experts. They're building; it takes time."

Siblings Gigi Becker and Luca Becker, the 2012 U.S. intermediate champions, stand third overall with 40.94 points after taking second place in the Starlight Waltz and fifth in the Paso Doble.

"I think on the Starlight we had a good skate; we did what our coaches told us to do," Luca, 12, said.

The brother and sister, who hail from Bethesda, Md., train under Elena Novak, Alexei Kilakov, Ramil Sarkulov and Dmitri Ilin at the Wheaton Skating Academy, the nation's No. 1 producer of ice dance teams in the juvenile, intermediate and novice ranks.

"It's actually really, really supportive, since most people don't have teams to look up to and train with," Luca said. "Plus, we have really great coaches; they are why everyone likes to train there. I don't think we would be where we are today without them."

Sammi Wren and Alexei Shchepetov, who train in Philadelphia under Oleg Fediukov and Slava Uchitel, were fourth in both dances and stand fourth overall with 40.29 points.