Ellenton skaters Bartholomay, Zhang close to Olympic berth

Ellenton's Zhang, Bartholomay close to Olympic berth

rdymond@bradenton.comJanuary 12, 2014 

MANATEE -- Four minutes and 20 seconds into their long program at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Nathan Bartholomay and Felicia Zhang of Ellenton picked up speed for their final lift precisely as "One Day More" from "Les Miserables" had built to its heart-thumping crescendo.

Their coach, Jim Peterson, who brought the largest team ever from Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex to a nationals competition -- 11 -- and had begrudgingly agreed to the persistence of Bartholomay and Zhang to use "Les Miserables" for their free

skate music, watched from rink side at the TD Garden in Boston on Saturday.

He said he will never forget the moment.

"The crowd was on their feet," Peterson said. "They knew what was happening. Nate and Felicia were the last senior pair to skate and were the only skaters who had totally clean performances in both short and long. No falls or mistakes. The crowd knew they may be headed for the Olympic team if they finished clean. They were screaming.

"Nate sweeps Felicia over his head and lifts her high and she has her arms free and extends them to the ceiling," Peterson said. "They are frozen there. The music is large. Felicia is smiling. There is joy in her face. Nate is radiant. The crowd can tell that Nate and Felicia believe in the 'Les Mis' story of perseverance, triumph and going against the odds."

Buoyed by their final "star' lift and a four-minute, 40-second routine with no falls or mistakes, Bartholomay and Zhang earned a silver medal in the national championships with 201.72 points.

Simon Shnapir and Marissa Castelli, who were favorites going in, did take first place ahead of the Ellenton pair.

But the silver medal favorites, former Ellenton skater and 2010 Olympian Caydee Denney and her new partner, John Coughlin, fell to third, with 201.43, after receiving the highest score in Saturday's free skate.

Only two pairs from the nationals will be picked for the 2014 U.S. Olympic team.

"There is a meeting at 11 a.m. Sunday comprised of a very large committee to determine the Olympic team," Peterson said Saturday.

"If history holds true to course, we are in good shape," Peterson added. "They have never not taken the top two finishers. I feel confident we have stated our case here. We are hoping to have an Olympic berth Sunday."

3 countries represent Ellenton?

Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers, who train part-time in Ellenton, finished third at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Ottawa on Saturday and will be going to Sochi if appointed by a committee, said Ellenton coach Lyndon Johnston , who was with the pair in Canada.

"Just like Nate and Felicia, we won't be sure until Sunday if Paige and Rudi they will be nominated for the Canadian team," Johnston said Saturday.

Stacy Kemp and David King, who represent Great Britain and train in Ellenton, have already qualified for Sochi.

Before they skated their free skate Saturday, Bartholomay and Zhang got last minute instructions from Peterson.

"I told them to keep their focus, keep the plan engaged and be frosty of emotion," Peterson said. "When I looked in their eyes, I could see they were ready. They were steely."

Their free skate included two throw jumps, two side-by-side solo jumps, three lifts, a spiral sequence and two spins, as well as other elements.

"The second throw, which is a throw triple Salchow, Felicia landed perfectly and I knew we were home free," Peterson said.

Bartholomay and Zhang said they went into the free skate with one thought in mind.

"We know how to do what we do because we do it every day in Ellenton," Bartholomay said. "We believed in the techniques and trusted ourselves to put it together when it counted."

A teddy bear named Angel

Felicia Zhang grew up in the Bronx, N.Y She started skating at age 7 when she went to a birthday party at an ice rink.

Like other athletes, Zhang has some superstitions. She must always put her right skate on first. She has also never been able to part with her teddy bear, which she got when she was 7, who is named Angel.

"Angel was back in the hotel room when Nate and I skated," Zhang said with a giggle Saturday.

Bartholomay kidded her about Angel.

"He started out white but now he's cream-colored," Bartholomay said.

Angel will definitely be on the airplane to Sochi.

But Bartholomay doesn't kid Zhang about superstitions.

"I also put my right skate on first," Bartholomay said.

Bartholomay was born in Newton, Pa., and started skating in Hamilton, N.J., when he was 8 years old.

"My grandmother sent me videos of skaters and I loved it," Bartholomay said.

Zhang and Bartholomay are well-liked in Ellenton for being unfazed by fame, said Karen Chinault, president of the Southwest Florida Figure Skating Club, to which 11 skaters belong. Zhang is a sales associate at the J. Crew store at the Ellenton Outlet Mall, and Bartholomay is a server at Gio's Fabulous Martini bar in Ellenton.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.

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