Bonacorsi and Mager hope to turn silver into gold

Lauri Bonacorsi and Travis Mager

USA's Lauri Bonacorsi and Travis Mager perform their Short Dance at the Junior Grand Prix in Brisbane, Australia.

In just their fourth season as a team, American ice dancers Lauri Bonacorsi, 18, and Travis Mager, 21, are making steady progress up the competitive ladder. The 2011 U.S. junior silver medalists are in the throws of their most successful season to date, and are looking to make a strong statement in their final year as junior skaters.

The partnership formed in the spring of 2008, bringing together the talents of skaters who lived more than 1500 miles from one another.

“I moved away from my family in St. Louis to train in Plano, Texas, in 2007,” Bonacorsi explained. “I was looking for a partner and having tryouts. About ten months later, Travis’ former partner decided to stop skating and focus on school, so we decided to have a tryout.”

Bonacorsi traveled to Maryland to see if she and Mager were a match.

“Lauri was actually the first tryout I had,” Mager said. “Even though I had a few others after our initial tryout, I knew that there was something incredibly special about her and how we skated together.”

With a commitment to form the partnership, all that was needed was time to bring Bonacorsi and Mager together to one training location.

“We thought that we matched well, and our coaches agreed,” Bonacorsi remembered. “I waited until the school year was finished, and then relocated to Maryland to skate with Travis. We started training together full time in June of 2008.

Success came quick for the duo, debuting on the national stage just seven months later and capturing the 2009 U.S. novice title in Cleveland. The following season, Bonacorsi and Mager debuted on the Junior Grand Prix circuit, earning a bronze medal in their first international as a team. They finished in sixth place in a deep junior field at the 2010 U.S. Championships.

But it was in the 2010-11 season when the youngsters started making a name for themselves. Another bronze medal on the Junior Grand Prix and a fifth place finish in a second event solidified them as strong contenders for a medal at the U.S. Championships. Ultimately, Bonacorsi and Mager came away with silver medals in those championships in Greensboro, N.C.

“We were very pleased to win the silver and make our way to Junior Worlds last season at Nationals,” Bonacorsi said. “We would have loved to have landed on the top step, but our ultimate goal was to put out two solid performances showing the improvements in our skating after only being with our coaches for eight months. It felt wonderful to have our hard work recognized with a medal.”

Bonacorsi and Mager have trained under 1980 Olympic Champions Natalya Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov in Aston, Penn., for the past two seasons, and have developed a training plan that has helped the duo to progress in their skating careers.

“Natalia does our choreography and works more on the artistic aspects of our programs and elements,” Bonacorsi explained. “Gennadi focuses more on power and the technical aspects of ice dance, including our pattern dance in the short dance. We absolutely love working with them.”

Like most teams, the duo taper down their training during the competitive season after ramping up to inspire improvement in the off-season.

“In the summer, we train five to six hours on the ice during the week,” said Bonacorsi. “We also have an off-ice regimen that includes ballet classes, cardio and strength training, acrobatics, and Pilates. During the rest of the year, we skate at least four hours a day with the same off ice routine as the summer.”

This season the silver medalists have decided to take advantage of having one more year of junior eligibility, and will once again compete for the U.S. junior title in San Jose, Calif., in January.

“Last year was a major transition time for us due to our late start on the season following our coaching change. Overall, we were pretty satisfied with our competition results, but we were most happy with the improvements in our skating skills,” Bonacorsi said. “This year, we are settled into our training situation and feel even more ready to step up to the challenge of winning a national championship.”

Mager added, “We are definitely working towards winning the junior title this year at Nationals. After finishing in second last year, we would love to improve on that result and win our second national title.”

For the short dance this season, the duo selected Chilly Cha Cha for the set pattern portion of the program and combined it with a passionate rhumba to Bésame Mucho.

“Natalia brought in a lot of different Latin music for us to listen to and after we settled on our energetic Cha Cha Cha, we wanted something that went well with it yet provided a little bit of contrast,” Mager explained. “Our rhumba is very intimate and gives us a chance to show a powerful connection between the two of us.”

Their free dance is set to Sandy and Tony Alessi’s Close to You (a vocal version of Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor), a sort of coming of age piece for the soon-to-be senior level skaters.

“We have consistently received feedback about the strength of our lyrical style and our connection and expression,” Bonacorsi offered. “The free dance is lyrical but also very powerful. It’s about people who will go to the ends of the earth for each other, and is incredibly moving and inspirational. It’s definitely a mature program that shows our range, and we hope it establishes us well as we move up to the senior ranks.”

Mager noted that he and his partner were drawn to the music immediately, and there was no question that this would be their free dance for the season.

“The first time we heard the music, we knew it was right,” he shared. “We enjoy doing lyrical programs, and we are working to improve everything about our skating so that the emotions in the program are very strong and clear.”

In their first international event of the season, Bonacorsi and Mager traveled to Brisbane, Australia, to compete once again on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. They came away with their best finish yet—second place.

“Setting personal international bests in both phases was very exciting and helped us start off a strong international season,” Mager said of their performances in Brisbane. “The Short Dance went pretty well and overall had great energy. The Chilly Cha Cha is such a fun piece of music to skate to, and I think we had a strong performance. I also thought Lauri and I really performed our free program well, and overall it was quite exciting to skate it for the Australian audience.”

Just last week the silver medalists headed to Milan, Italy, for their second event of the Junior Grand Prix season, and faced very stiff competition. They came away with bronze medals, finishing less than one point out of second place, and putting their goal of qualifying for their first Final in jeopardy.

“It is always amazing to stand on the podium and see the American flag raised, however, we are disappointed about not winning the silver because that would have assured us a trip to the Final,” Bonacorsi admitted.

“We were surprised to see two of our lifts downgraded in the free dance—especially since they had been given fours in all of our previous competitions. Since we were less than one point out of second, just getting our normal levels would have made the difference.”

The U.S. junior silver medalists learned on Saturday that they finished in seventh place in the Junior Grand Prix standings, and have been named as first alternates to the Final later this year in Quebec City, Canada.

“It is definitely disappointing to not make the Final when we were so close in both our events,” Bonacorsi remarked. “Our ultimate goals for the season will now lie in winning nationals and medaling at Junior Worlds. We want to continue to put out strong performances this season and not only focus on results, but show we are making marked improvements and are going to be a strong senior team next season.”

Bonacorsi and Mager missed the opportunity to compete in the Final by a mere 1.78 points—to add insult to injury, this is the first season that the International Skating Union (ISU) has cut the number of qualifiers from eight in previous years to six in this season.

“It is a bit unfortunate that this is the year the ISU decided to reduce the field,” Bonacorsi said. “Not just for us, but every opportunity to compete in an international event helps strengthen the junior ranks from a global perspective.”

Though Bonacorsi hails from St. Louis, she has lived in Texas, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, in order to continue training in the sport that she loves.

“Moving has been more the rule than the exception in the past several years, and we are now literally scattered across the U.S.,” shared the high school graduate. “My mom and I are on the east coast, my dad is in the Midwest, and my brother John is on the west coast. I am so thankful to have the most supportive family ever.”

The road has been a tough one for the Bonacorsi family, and at times, lonely.

“My parents and brother have made so many sacrifices to allow me to follow my dreams, Bonacorsi explained. “When I was only 14, I convinced my parents to let me move to Texas on my own and live with a host family to train while my brother completed his senior year of high school. When he left for college in California, my mom was able to relocate with me to Maryland so I could train with Travis. Two years later, we packed up once again for our most recent move to Philadelphia. My dad could not leave his surgical practice in St. Louis, so he is holding down the home front—he has been absolutely incredible in his support since I know it’s tough for him being away from us.”

A two-time member of U.S. Figure Skating’s Scholastic Honors team, Bonacorsi completed four college courses at the University of Pennsylvania during her senior year of high school.

“I took Calculus, European History, British Literature, and International Relations,” she said.

This year, however, Bonacorsi has stepped out of the classroom, and will not be attending school for the first time in her skating career.

“After attending six different schools in seven years, and living in four states, my parents and brother urged me to take a break,” she admitted. “So I decided to defer a year to focus solely on skating.”

When she returns to school, Bonacorsi intends to major in International Relations—a choice somewhat inspired by her travels as an athlete.

“Competing internationally as a member of Team USA has revealed my passions for travel and meeting fascinating people from different backgrounds and cultures,” she explained. “I would love to have a job that allows for a lot of travel – maybe as an ambassador or diplomat.”

Mager, a native of Fulton, Md., completed two years of college at the University of Maryland before he and Bonacorsi relocated to Aston to train.

“At the end of my sophomore year, Lauri and I relocated and I decided to take a gap year. This past spring, I was accepted to the University of Pennsylvania as a transfer, but I have decided to defer admission and take a second gap year,” he shared. “I am an Art History major and I am debating going to either law school or another form of graduate school after my undergraduate career is complete.”

Mager currently lives with his grandmother in Wilmington, Del., who has lived in the same house for 40 years. The location is perfect for skating—it’s just 15 minutes away from the rink.

“My parents and sister are still back in Maryland. My sister is a senior in high school and is the goalie on the varsity soccer team.”

Mager is undecided as to what his future holds for him after skating, but he hopes to incorporate his hobbies into a career.

“I enjoy getting brunch with friends, collecting old books, and during the week I tend to watch a lot of the Food Network. I try to visit museums and galleries whenever I can,” he said. “I’d love to own a gallery or bookstore that specializes in American art, or if that doesn’t pan out, it would be fun to be a food critic.”

 

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