ELLENTON -- By the time Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea took the ice at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday, Ellenton had already positioned itself as an unlikely pairs power.
Tandems who train out of the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex already had won gold in the novice and junior pairs divisions during the week in St. Paul, Minn. Although not regarded as the favorites, Kayne and O'Shea were contenders to give the Southwest Florida Figure Skating Club a third championship.
"We were able to watch that and be around for that excitement, and then it just built," Kayne said. "I kind of thought about it like, Oh my God, it would be really cool if we won, too, and we could take home three gold medals."
The next four days became a whirlwind. Kayne and O'Shea set a record with 211.65 points to win the national championship and were promptly shuttled off to Boston. They had clinched a spot in the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships and went to TD Garden for media day ahead of the March 28-April 3 event in Massachusetts. Before that, though, the duo will have a trip to Taiwan for the 2016 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships from Feb. 16-21.
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On Thursday and Friday, Kayne and O'Shea temporarily settled back to Earth. The duo returned to Ellenton for the first time since
winning the national championship and began practicing for their two biggest events of the year. After training as partners in Florida for four years, they accomplished their first goal in Minnesota. The next two months will give them a chance to solidify themselves as Southwest Florida FSC's next great pair.
The club's success is what originally drew both to Ellenton. Kayne, a 22-year-old Fort Myers native, had always known a little about the Southwest Florida FSC (SWFFSC) as a semi-local skater. O'Shea, 24, was raised in Chicago. Florida wasn't on his radar as a skater.
During the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex barged into both skaters' minds. Both pairs teams the United States sent to Vancouver (Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett and Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig) trained in Ellenton.
"Obviously, when you come to Florida the first thought is not figure skating," said James Peterson, one of the coaches at SWFFSC.
Three pairs teams -- representing the United States, Great Britain and Canada -- with ties to the club competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
"The coaching here is pretty amazing," O'Shea said. "We train clean programs all the time and something we wanted to be able to show to people was this is really us."
Polish is the hallmark of SWFFSC's pairs teams. A typical practice week for Kayne and O'Shea consists of five days on the ice and a day of coaching younger skaters. A typical Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday begins with lifting, followed by an afternoon of skating and concluding with treatment or ballet class. Friday is simulation day.
The final day of the work week is why Ellenton's three teams at nationals -- Joy Weinberg and Maximilliano Fernandez won in junior pairs, and Eli Kopmar and Jonah Barnett won at the novice level -- skated clean programs. The teams treat every Friday like a competition day.
Instead of a protracted warm-up lasting as long as needed, the pairs limit themselves to six minutes, like during a competition. Teams skate in full makeup and costumes with a crowd lining the rink when possible. Coaches space out their skaters' programs with the breaks and beats they'd have during an actual competition. With a weekly dry run, SWFFSC skaters are more prepared for unforeseen events that may occur at a tournament.
As one of the favorites in Saint Paul -- the top two teams advance to worlds -- Kayne and O'Shea were concerned with limiting mistakes, and their mistake-free program landed them their biggest win as partners.
"The training techniques really came out," Kayne said. "Everyone had really solid skates."