Manatee figure skaters make long program at Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

vmannix@bradenton.comFebruary 12, 2014 

ELLENTON

"WOOO-HOOOOO!"

Piercing cheers and exuberant applause reverberated Tuesday morning along the chilly corridors of the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex wherever there was a big screen TV.

It was showtime from Sochi, Russia, for Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, and they didn't disappoint.

The U.S. Olympic figure skaters had a rapt audience in their hometown ice arena as they performed in the figure skating pairs short program at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Their 56.90 score advanced them to Wednesday night's long program.

Young and old alike were mesmerized by images of the pair whirling across the Russian ice on the overhead flat screens.

"Fabulous. Just fabulous," said coach Kelly Paige.

"I'm shaking, I'm so nervous," said skater Yakima Persico, 16.

"I'm so proud of them," said skater Lisa Vandawalker, 11.

Zhang and Bartholomay were the seventh pair to skate around 11 a.m. Tuesday morning.

A half-hour earlier, few people were around to watch.

By the front entrance, 11-year-old Ariel Gillett and 13-year-old Dallas Ward joined Lisa Vandawalker, sitting on three high-top chairs, craning their necks as they watched the TV in anticipation.

Back by the ice arena food counter, 17-year-old Liam Thomas and 14-year-old Cirinia Gillett sat around a table with Yakima Persico waiting and watching another flat screen TV.

Gradually, though, people began to join the teens up front and in back, stopping whatever they were doing to catch Zhang and Bartholomay.

That included several women who interrupted their own practice to watch while standing in their ice skates.

It was can't-miss TV.

"The amazing thing is you watch Felicia and Nathan practice over on the south rink here and then there they are -- in Sochi and at the Olympics," said Paige, who has devoted 45 years to the sport.

Liam Thomas was struck by the same notion.

"I love watching them skate," he said. "Just to see them up there is so much cooler to say, 'Hey! I know them.' It's kind of weird, but cool at the same time."

Such wonder resonated with Tom Lindemuth, the arena's general manager.

"Seeing them come out of here is like a dream come true," he said. "2010 was unbelievable for us and to duplicate it with six more is amazing."

Lindemuth was referring to U.S. figure skating national champions and Olympians Caydee Denny and Jeremy Barrett, along with Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, who competed in the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

Their banners decorate the arena.

No doubt Zhang and Bartholomay, British Olympians Stacy Kemp and David King, as well as Canadian Olympians Paige Lawrence and Rudy Sweigers, who also train at Ellenton, will have banners up there one day, too.

Yet Tuesday was about the American pair.

Joyous shouts and clapping greeted their lifts and landings.

"At first I was really nervous, but after the lift I said, 'They're going to get it!'" Dallas Ward said.

"I just imagined them having all this excitement built up and putting that excitement on the ice," Cirinia Gillett said. "I'm so happy for them."

So was Ladwig, who coaches at the ice arena.

"An excellent Olympic debut," the former Olympian said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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