Lee Joins Slattery to Pursue Skating Dream
Chuen-Gun Lee participated in the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, representing his native South Korea with Tae-Hwa Lee, but his partner retired after the 2002 World Championships. Wanting to continue, but with no other ice dancers available in his country, Lee decided to look to the United States for a partner. He found Kate Slattery, who had previously skated with Patrick Connelly. “We were both training alone,” Slattery said, “so our coaches suggested we train together. They suggested we do a quickstep exhibition and after we did the exhibition, Chuen-Gun asked me to be his partner.”
The couple started skating together in the summer of 2002. At first they explored the possibility of competing for Korea, with Slattery accompanying Lee on a couple of trips to the country, but there was too much paperwork involved, so they decided to compete for the U.S.
They opened the 2004-2005 season by winning Skate Wilmington. Then they placed third in the senior free dance and original dance and first overall in the compulsory dances at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. “We just want to be known by people that our team exists and is progressing,” Slattery said. “We want to be noticed and be marked. We want to skate as long as we can stay healthy. I’d like to skate for at least seven more years.” The team plans to compete at the 2005 Eastern Sectional Championships and then they will be off to Gelsenkirchen, Germany to compete at the Bofrost Cup on Ice in November.
The dancers moved to the Skating Club of Wilmington to train with Irina Romanova and Igor Yaroshenko. “I knew Igor from when I was younger,” Slattery said,” so we switched from Natalia Linichuk.” They train for four to five hours a day, six days a week. Off ice, the train for about an hour and a half, five days a week, with ballet and ballroom dance classes, plus additional hours of cardio work on their own.
Romanova choreographs the couple’s programs. “I normally like to skate to whatever Irina chooses, as long as there’s a story behind it,” Slattery said. “I like dances that are dramatic and waltzes, like the Golden Waltz.” This year, the dancers are using the Holiday on Ice version of Xotica by René Dupéré for the free dance. “It’s a story about the interaction between a man and a woman at the beginning of earth and what they go through,” Romanova said. “They have a very pure relationship. She’s a very girlish girl and he’s a man’s man.”
The original dance is to Too Darn Hot from the musical Kiss Me Kate, Call Me Irresponsible by Bobby Darin, and Puttin’ on the Ritz by Judy Garland. “I liked the last part because it’s very dancy and the first part because Kate’s so hot,” Romanova noted. “I can’t say either of them is irresponsible though.” Off ice, Slattery listens to 80s and 90s pop and Britney Spears, while he listens to normal pop and hip-hop.
Both of the skaters also like to hang out with friends to relax. He enjoys cooking, painting and working on his car, as well as doing activities with his church group. She likes reading, watching movies, and writing poetry. Their main off ice activities involve competing with each other in all kinds of sports and games – tennis, ping pong, soccer, baseball, etc. “She always wins,” Lee said.
That’s probably because Slattery comes from a sports-oriented family. Her older brother and sister both played lacrosse for Princeton University, with her brother’s team winning the national championship. Slattery played lacrosse, tennis and soccer growing up, making the traveling team in soccer. She also played varsity ice hockey for her high school in her sophomore year, excelling as the team’s center. But skating is her first love. She began skating when she was five, switching to dance when she was fifteen. Although she competed in freestyle up to junior ladies, Slattery noted, “I was growing too tall and my jumps were not improving.”
Lee started skating when he was eleven. “My parents and my whole family loved skating,” he said. “We had an ice rink in our yard in the winter. My doctor said I needed to do some sports so my family wanted me to skate. When we went to skate, one of the coaches told my parents that I had talent and said I should skate. I tried to do singles for about three and a half years, but my coach said I started too late so I should try dance. I found Tae-Hwa who was two years ahead of me as a dancer. She helped me lead but she was naturally leading and it was hard to follow her. I skated with her for seven or eight years.”
“We were the first Korean skaters to go to the Olympic Games,” Lee continued. “We went to Colorado ten days before to train, then we went to see everything at the Olympics. When Tae-Hwa quit after the 2002 Worlds to go to college, I couldn’t find any support in Korea, so I came to the University of Delaware to pursue a new dream. I knew I could skate better and I wanted to get more experience so I can start a skating school in Korea and help the Special Olympics skaters.” Having completed a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Hang Yang University in Seoul, Korea, Lee is well on the way to achieving that goal. He assists with the team’s choreography and teaches a couple of sessions every day at the rink.
Slattery, 20, is a sophomore at the University of Delaware, where she lives in the dorm. She is studying art history and English. “I want to teach history at my high school, Radner High, and maybe teach skating part-time,” she noted. “I have a full load of classes, one every night of the week. I’m an ‘A’ student so I go to school to relax. I even prefer tests with written answers rather than multiple choice.”