American ice dancers Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates may not be the front runners for the 2010 Olympic Games, but they are certainly among the contenders in a wide open field in which the point differentials between top teams become less and less each season.
The dancers, just 19 and 20 respectively, have been partners for more than eight years, taking a medal at U. S. Nationals every time they have competed at every level.
They also won the 2008 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, placed second at both the 2007 and 2008 JGP (Junior Grand Prix) Finals, and won a bronze medal at the 2009 Four Continents Championships.
Yaroslava Nechaeva and Yuri Chesnichenko train the dancers, who skate in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their training is rigorous this summer but not unusually so.
“We didn’t want to change our training too much just because it was the Olympic year,” Samuelson said. “Our coaches always have us well prepared and as long as we keep improving, that’s all we need to do.”
“We have one of the most regimented schedules of anyone,” Bates added. “Skating and school and sleep.”
The dancers usually work for about four hours on ice and three hours off ice, five days a week with ballet, conditioning and off ice lift practice occupying their off ice time.
“We’re working on our lifts more than on any other elements,” Bates stated. “We’re trying to make them more challenging.”
“We’re trying to avoid the Biellmanns and donut positions to preserve Emily’s back,” he continued. “You can do something aesthetically pleasing and still conform to the positions of ice dancing.”
“Yuri spends so much time on our lifts,” Samuelson said. “He does all the creative work and then tries them out with us first.”
“Yuri picks Emily up and makes it look easy,” laughed Bates. “Then I pick her up and it’s hard.”
“We also want to make our dance spins faster and learn our new footwork,” Samuelson noted. “It’s brand new so we’re putting in hours of repetition to make it more comfortable.”
Nechaeva and Chesnichenko also choreographed the couple’s dances.
“We’ll be using American folk music for our original dance,” Bates stated. “It’s a medley of songs by the Dixie Chicks. It’s very recognizable music. Everyone knows it.”
“We wanted something fun and entertaining,” Samuelson elaborated. “We had done Russian folk for the original dance the last time it was required but we had never done American folk. It’s so fast paced that we have to go all out.”
“We’re doing the whole Western bit with the costumes including the cowboy hat,” Bates continued. “It’s got a slightly comedic look that the crowd should like a lot. There’s banjo music and the crowd can clap along.”
“Our free dance is Canto Bella Terra by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli off of her new album,” Samuelson said. “Evan is learning Italian so he looked up the lyrics and translated it.”
“It’s a very moving love story,” she continued. “It’s about two people in love and compares their love to the earth, the sea and the sky to show how much in love they are.”
“It starts very slow and then gets very fast,” Bates noted. “It’s very powerful operatic music. But we don’t have an unusual ending I’m afraid. We can’t die on the ice anymore so we’ll have to think of something memorable.”
“The two compulsory dances are the hardest we’ve ever done,” Bates noted. “We’ve had our hands full learning the Golden Waltz and the Tango Romantica. We haven’t had the luxury of competing either of them before like some of the older teams.”
“They’re both really challenging,” Samuelson explained. “The Golden Waltz is a very fast paced dance. The steps are so intricate that it’s taking us a long time to get used to switching edges. We’re doing a lot of repetitions to get as smooth as we can, at least 45 minutes every day.”
“We’ve done a lot of Latin compulsories,” she continued, “but the Tango Romantica has a lot of different steps and is a lot faster than the other tangos.”
“It’s supposed to be a romantic and sultry relationship, not angry like some of the dances,” Bates noted. “It’s hard to get the right expression when you’re concentrating on the steps and worrying about standing up. It’s a real challenge.”
“I think the compulsories will separate the good teams from the great teams this year,” Bates added. “It’s easy to have a great free dance with some crazy lifts, but you can really see the rudimentary skating steps and techniques in the compulsory dances. I guess this is the last time we’ll see them.”
Samuelson and Bates are still using their exhibition program to the Bee Gees’ You Should Be Dancing.
“We had it last year and thought we’d only use it at Nationals,” Bates said. “But then we did it at Four Continents and Worlds and some shows like Skate for Hope so we need a new one.”
The duo start off the season with Trophée Eric Bompard, the first ISU Grand Prix event and finish with Skate Canada, the last one.
“It’s nice because we get to start out amid the elegance of Paris and finish where we can drive from our rink,” Bates said. “We’ve never been to Paris so we’re really looking forward to it. The other advantage is that we have the most time between Grand Prixs to make improvements after we see the protocols from Paris.”
“Like everyone else, we want to go to the Olympics in Vancouver and make the World team again,” he added, “but we’re focusing on gaining experience at the senior level. Next season, we’ll have a lot of different teams to compete against since so many will leave after the Olympics.”
“We know that every competition will be very tough as everyone tries to peak for the Olympics,” he noted. “Then at the Olympics everyone goes crazy. But we’ll be going for 2014 so we have lots of time.”
Both skaters are sophomores at the University of Michigan, almost walking distance from their rink. Samuelson got a jump on the school year by taking a macroeconomics course this summer when she didn’t have to leave school for competitions.