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Ellenton’s Olympic pairs skaters embark on long road to Russia

ELLENTON — For the “Ellenton Four” the journey never stops. It just changes direction.

Olympian skating pairs Mark Ladwig and Amanda Evora, along with Jeremy Barrett and Caydee Denney, are fine-tuning their routines to get ready for the Grand Prix competition in the fall.

In the back of their minds is Russia, site of the next Winter Olympics, but they all know looking too far ahead can be self-destructive.

So now, they work out almost daily at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, the facility they turned into the home of champions.

“You always want to focus on one year at a time because you will stumble if you start worrying about four years from now,” Ladwig said. “We had been riding across the top of a roller coaster, and it’s different now. We are like in a lower gear. We ratcheted it down and now we are in a creative time, looking to add more routines.”

After the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the foursome had little time to rest. They were going full speed almost through April, which made it the longest season any of them had ever experienced. They took some much needed time off the ice.

Now they are training for the Grand Prix pairs series. Ladwig and Evora will be competing in the Grands Prix in China and Russia. Barrett and Denney are scheduled for those in Japan and Portland, Ore.

“We don’t have much of a say where we go. It comes from the international committee. They pick where they want us to go and where they think we will do the best,” Barrett said. “Right now, we are working on our routines and trying to figure out what the judges are looking for. Our routines are going to be a lot harder than last year as far as the choreography.”

The recognition the skaters received from the Olympics seems to have fed their hunger. They want to be in Russia for the next Olympics, but know it’s a long journey that can’t be rushed.

“After going to the Olympics, it’s one of those things that you want it more,” Evora said. “I definitely want to improve pair skating in the United States and challenge our fellow teammates, as well as represent our country.”

Barrett and Denney earned a gold medal at the national championships last January and were 13th at the Olympics. Evora and Ladwig finished second at nationals and 10th at the Olympics.

“After the Olympics, we did some cool things, like we went to the White House to meet the president and we were all busy,” said Barrett, 26. “Things then got more mellow, which was nice because we were so busy and it was good to take a breather. But it hasn’t stopped. People still recognize us and want to watch us, which is fun.

“Right now, me and Caydee plan on skating for the next four years up until the Olympics and that most likely is it for me. Usually pairs go longer than individuals. The guy (Xue Shen) on the Chinese team that won at the Olympics was 36. As long as you stay in shape and don’t have any injuries you can go a long time.”

Evora is curious to see how her and her partner stack up against the international competitors they will face at the Grands Prix.

“If you look at the big picture, like the next Olympics in four years, it can be overwhelming. We just want to take baby steps and do it one year at a time.” she said.

The Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series begins Oct. 22 in Japan, and the one in Portland starts Nov. 11. The Cup of China is slated to kick off Nov. 5, the Cup of Russia Nov. 19.

At the conclusion of the six Grands Prix, the competitors’ points are totaled up and the top six in each discipline are invited to the Grand Prix Final on Dec. 9 in Beijing.

“There haven’t been two teams from the United States in the top 10 since 2003, so that would be a huge accomplishment and honor if we can do it,” Evora said.

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