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Rival skating pairs boast ties that bind

SPOKANE, Wash. — Forget those bios the U.S. Olympic Committee pumps out before the games. What the two U.S. pairs teams need is something like Soap Opera Digest so fans can get up to speed on who’s dating who, who’s done what, and who is plotting revenge on an archenemy soon to be revealed as a long-lost sibling.

OK, forget that last part. For the rest of it, though, you really will need a flow chart more than a list of skating elements.

National champion Jeremy Barrett skates with Caydee Denney, but has been dating Amanda Evora for about five years. That’s a few years less than Evora has been with her skating partner, Mark Ladwig, whose wife, Janet, had their first baby in September.

The two pairs skate at the same rink, the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, and all four reside on the West Coast of Florida. Denney resides in Wesley Chapel, and Barrett has a residence in Venice. Both Evora (Bradenton) and Ladwig (Parrish) call Manatee County home.

They also have the same coaching team, making them training partners yet rivals at the same time.

And people say figure skating has lost its personality.

“We’ve learned our boundaries for each other, when to be there for each other, when not to be,” Evora said of her relationship with Barrett. “I’ve always believed personal is personal, business is business and never to mix the two. That’s what I was taught when I was younger.

“It makes complete sense in my mind,” she added, “but I know it seems kind of odd to a lot of people.”

Just a bit.

“While we’re at the rink, both teams are doing their work and concentrating on themselves. Once I go home, Amanda and I just worry about other things besides skating,” Barrett said. “I think it works out pretty well that way.”

All four skaters will remain in Spokane, Wash., until after the U.S. Figure Skating Championships end this weekend. Both pairs will perform Sunday in the Smucker’s Skating Spectacular and Olympic Send-Off to close out the championships.

According to a news release from the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, they will then return to Ellenton next Tuesday and continue training until the Winter Olympics, which begin with the opening ceremonies Feb. 12 in Vancouver, British Columbia. The two-day pairs skating competition is scheduled for Feb. 14-15.

Part of what makes the intertwined personal and professional lives of these pairs so intriguing is that a good pair requires the same qualities as a good marriage — good communication skills, trust, loyalty and the commitment to stick it out through the inevitable rough patches.

And the skaters better at least like other, because they have to spend an awful lot of time together.

Some pairs do evolve into romantic partners. Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, who were third at nationals, are engaged, and that relationship can enhance the one they present on the ice. It’s a heck of a lot easier skating to “Romeo and Juliet” or “Love Story” when you don’t have to fake it.

But there’s a big risk there, Barrett said, one he has never wanted to take.

“I’ve seen a lot of partnerships end badly because they were dating and then they separated, and it was too much for them,” he said.

There’s no denying the cozy atmosphere has helped both teams, however.

Denney and Barrett only resumed skating together about 18 months ago; they had skated together briefly in the summer of 2006, until Denney and her family moved to Colorado. Yet they won their first U.S. title last weekend and have the kind of talent that could put them right up there with the best pairs teams in the world.

Evora and Ladwig aren’t quite at that level, winning the silver medal and clinching the second Olympic spot with a flawed free skate. But they improve with each performance and have some tricks that could impress the international judges. The triple twist in their free skate was beautiful, and the Cirque du Soleil folks might want to take a look at their carry lift.

“It does create a good, competitive environment,” coach Jim Peterson said. “They’re very fierce trainers. They get to the rink, and it’s business.”

It has to be. Aside from wanting no part of messy entanglements, none of the skaters can afford to be anything less than consummate professionals.

Figure skating is an expensive sport, with ice time, coaching, skates, costumes and choreography costing top skaters thousands of dollars each year. Although Denney is only 16 and still lives with her parents, Barrett, Evora and Ladwig are all in their mid- to late-20s and supporting themselves.

Evora, who is also going to college, teaches at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex and does occasional math tutoring. Until last season, when he and Denney followed up their surprise silver medal at nationals with a more-than-respectable ninth-place debut at worlds, Barrett did all kinds of odd jobs at the rink. He gave lessons. He worked at the snack bar. He even drove the Zamboni.

Barrett still does some teaching — “I love to do it” — but funding from U.S. Figure Skating now covers most of the costs for his and Denney’s training.

“I was at the rink until midnight,” Barrett said of his old schedule. “Luckily, I’ve been able to cut back on some of the work I was doing at the rink. I wanted to be able to just focus on training and be able to rest. This year’s been so demanding; it takes a lot more out of you than a normal season.”

Though Evora and Barrett don’t think their overlapping partnerships are that unusual, or even all that interesting, they agree the Olympics will be that much better because they are there together.

“Actually, my dad’s been the one telling us the whole year, ‘Oh, I think you both can make it,’” Barrett said. “It’s hard to imagine getting to this point now, but the fact we both have made it is something that’s pretty special.”