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Skaters thrill biggest fans in Manatee

ELLENTON — They cheered during warmups.

They screamed with every throw landed and spin controlled.

They clapped every time their figure skating heroes, Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett, appeared on television.

They even cheered when Barrett was shown cheering for Manatee County’s other Olympic pairs duo, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig.

It was that kind of night at Suds Sports Grill, just yards from Ellenton Ice & Sports Complex, the training home for all four U.S. pairs figure skaters.

Nine-year-old Adriana Maldonado best summed up the mood of the watch party, especially after Evora and Ladwig posted a near-flawless performance and a score of 57.86, then good for second place.

“Oh my God, I feel so great,” said Maldonado, a St. Joseph Catholic School pupil who takes lessons from Evora.

About 40 people crowded around the projection screen at Suds on Sunday night to watch televised coverage of the figure skating pairs short program in Vancouver.

Many of those in attendance were rink employees or parents and members of the Southwest Florida Figure Skating Club. Several little girls in the club take lessons from Barrett, Evora or Ladwig.

Cora Brewer, 11, trains with all three. She sat with wide eyes and her hands over her mouth as the two pairs competed.

“They did amazing,” she said. “She (Evora) had trouble with one of their throws at nationals, but she nailed it. Everybody did really great.”

Evora and Ladwig, who finished second to Denney and Barrett at the U.S. nationals, had the better night Sunday. Denney and Barrett struggled with a throw triple Lutz and scored a 53.26. Both teams are well behind the Chinese duo of Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, who scored an international record 76.66, heading into tonight’s free skate. Evora and Ladwig stand 10th, four spots ahead of their Manatee counterparts.

The sports bar was decked out with American flags and pictures of the two pairs. It was likely the only establishment of its kind in America on Sunday that relegated the NBA All-Star Game to a lone television along the back wall.

Ice complex owner Marvin Kaplan said it was easily the best night in the existence of the 10-year-old ice complex.

“I was beaming; I was actually beaming,” he said. “To know they trained here — to watch them as they train — is just absolutely amazing.

“I don’t think it gets any better than this. The Olympics? If we can train Olympians here, it’s the place everybody will want to come. It’s great for the community.”

Over in a corner of the bar, Betsy Dowse, whose daughter, Abby, trains with Evora, still had tears in her eyes several minutes after Evora and Ladwig finished their performance.

“Amanda gets so emotional that I think a lot of the moms here feel like her adopted mother. Yeah, I think as you watch her skate it’s hard not to get emotional, too,” she said.

Said Abby, “I was really happy. I think they did good. I like watching their jumps.”

The crowd broke out into raucous applause at several points of both pairs’ routines. The only reserved applause came when the score for Denney and Barrett was posted.

But that didn’t dampen the mood for long.

“I’m really thrilled for both teams, that they skated as well as they did,” said Kevin Chinault, whose wife, Karen, is the figure skating club president. “I just wanted them to skate the best they could, and that’s what they did.

“They’re great kids and great skaters and just well-rounded people.”

And the night might have inspired the next generation of Ellenton-trained Olympians.

Maldonado, who bears a striking resemblance to Evora, said, “Yes, it is my dream.”

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