With many high profile skating partnerships coming to an end for one reason or another this year, ice dancers Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt are quietly going about their business preparing for the new season. In their sixth year as a team, Kriengkrairut, 22, and Giulietti-Schmitt, 25, are coming off their most successful U.S. Championships to date, and are beginning to realize the potential that they felt back when they first teamed up.
“When we split up with our previous partners, Logan found me on icepartnersearch.com and gave me a call,” Kriengkrairut remembered. “I was going to hang up my dance skates to attend college and was also considering the possibility of going back to freestyle to compete in the collegiate championships.
However, Kriengkrairut was ecstatic at the thought of continuing her dance career, and agreed to a tryout.
“It went so well that I ended up staying in Ann Arbor with my overnight bag of two or three days’ worth of clothes while my parents drove back home and shipped my belongings to me,” she said.
Both skaters recall being well matched physically from the start, and recognized that there was definite potential in the partnership. Beyond that, there were other commonalities between the two that made the partnership even more appealing.
“We had similar goals, aspirations, and work ethics, which have stayed true to this day,” Giulietti-Schmitt explained. “Initially, we of course had to get through the common hurdles most new partnerships go through. We needed time to mature as a couple and adapt to each other’s personalities as well as the fact that our previous partners were completely different in nature. Our approach and attitude towards skating are what really brought us together and allowed us to mesh as a team and become comfortable with one another.”
Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt have trained in Ann Arbor, Mich., with 1992 Junior Worlds silver medalists Yuri Chesnichenko and Yaroslava “Yasa” Nechaeva since the first day of their partnership.
“They usually focus on similar things and work together very well by complementing each other’s lessons,” Giulietti-Schmitt said of his coaches. “Yasa focuses more on details in choreography and technique. Yuri is usually responsible for creating new lifts, spins, and highlights. He does lifts with the girls himself off the ice first to understand the feasibility and comfort in order to direct the guys on how to do their part.”
Though Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt spend the majority of their time training with Chesnichenko and Nechaeva, they have expanded their team of experts over the years in order to sharpen and supplement their competitive skills.
“Yasa and Yuri do all of the choreography themselves, but we started working with our ballroom coach Steve McFerran on the ice as well,” Kriengkrairut shared. “He provides us with some stylistic flavor to our programs from a slightly different perspective. We’ve also been working with him off the ice in different ballroom styles for the past five years. We also work with our ballet instructor, Jamie Planko, personal trainer, Larry Veasman, and sports psychologist, Dr. Bray.”
Even with the continuity of training team and location, Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt have noticed drastic changes over the years. Originally in the shadows of former training mates Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, as well as Madison and Keiffer Hubbell, Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt are now the top team at the rink.
“It has been quite the experience for us on both ends,” Kriengkrairut said. “It was nice for us to have teams to aspire to and to have that kind of motivation. Now that we’re on the opposite side of the spectrum, it has given us a different kind of motivation. It is motivating for us to inspire the younger teams at our rink and in return, it is inspiring for us to watch them develop and improve. Furthermore, Yasa and Yuri have a very structured program that allows us to know exactly what we’ll be working on any given day. They are extremely supportive, sensitive, and understanding in all aspects—skating, school, work, et cetera. They hold regular meetings with us to communicate about our progress, goals, and other concerns. Most importantly, they keep a positive atmosphere that keeps us working hard and allows us to thrive.”
In their first season together, Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt qualified for and finished with the bronze medals at the 2007 U.S. Championships in Spokane, Wash., earning an unexpected trip to the Junior World Championships.
“We were just very excited to have the opportunity to compete together that season, having had a late start,” Kriengkrairut remembered. “We approached the season with the main focus of developing our individual skills and learning each other’s styles, hoping that we would qualify for nationals. To this day, we consider winning the bronze and qualifying for Junior Worlds a life-defining moment for us. It was shocking and exhilarating; overwhelming and enthralling. Having such quick success gave us the confidence and excitement for the years ahead of us. From such a rewarding beginning, we knew that longevity, perseverance, and consistency would be key ingredients to our future together. It may have been that season that initially propelled our desire for more, but we’ve found that every season brings something special to our career together and we always feel we have more to offer.”
The following season, the duo moved up to the senior level both internationally and nationally, earning an invitation to compete at the first Grand Prix event of their careers—the Cup of Russia. At the 2008 U.S. Championships, Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt finished in ninth place, and then finished in eighth the next two seasons. During that time, the duo was earning medals in senior B competitions, but was unable to secure another Grand Prix invitation.
“Every competition is an opportunity to showcase what we work so hard for,” Giulietti-Schmitt said. “We always knew that we were right on the cusp of a breakthrough, so we approached every opportunity for internationally exposure as an excellent learning experience and as preparation for the bigger events to come.”
The breakthrough came last August in Lake Placid, NY, at the 2010 Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. In the short dance, Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt finished in second place, and nearly won the free dance with an unsteady performance.
“We approached Lake Placid as we do every year in the sense that we know there is a possibility of getting additional assignments after the competition and team evaluation,” Kriengkrairut explained. “So as always, we rigorously prepared for the competition and made sure that we were well-trained at such an early time in the season. We loved both our programs and we were confident and thrilled to debut them. We remained confident in ourselves, our training, and our coaches and approached the season with the same positive attitude and drive as we did previous seasons.”
Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt were first assigned to the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany, in September where they finished in sixth place.
“Nebelhorn has always been a great competition to attend because it gives us tremendous insight early in the season,” Kriengkrairut admitted. “Receiving feedback gave us time to go home and work out the kinks in our programs. Furthermore, it was nice to have the chance to debut the short dance internationally since it was hard to predict the expectations of the judges and technical panel.”
Shortly after, the duo learned that they were rewarded for their promising start with a host invitation to compete at Skate America in Portland in November. They ultimately finished in a strong sixth place.
“Being assigned to Skate America was a tremendous thrill for us because it finally gave us the breakthrough we needed,” Giulietti-Schmitt offered. “We approached it as a way to show people that we belonged in the top echelon of dancers. We also knew that we had nothing to lose and had already proved ourselves by being there.”
With the momentum of their strong summer/fall season, Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt headed to the 2011 U.S. Championships in Greensboro, N.C., with an outside shot at the podium. In fourth place after the short dance, they slipped to fifth overall with a disappointing fall near the end of their free dance.
“There is no denying that we were extremely disappointed after nationals and it took us some time to get over it. However, we were overwhelmed by the amount of praise we got from fans and judges about our program, regardless of the fall,” Kriengkrairut said optimistically. “The fall may have been detrimental to the final results, but it didn’t take away from what we established for ourselves during the entire season. We realized that there wasn’t much to get discouraged about because a lot went well in Greensboro.”
Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt have been hard at work preparing for the upcoming season, and are on pace to debut their new programs in Lake Placid in August.
“This season, we have two unique, fun programs,” Kriengkrairut revealed. “The short dance is Latin this year and we have chosen to use a Samba and Rumba combination. We like exploring different types of characters and music to exhibit our versatility, so our free dance this year is a blues piece. It’s quite different from last year’s and we are very excited about it.”
Giulietti-Schmitt added, “At the beginning of every season, there is always the challenge of exploring new ways to be creative. We really enjoy the process of developing new elements, so we continue to challenge ourselves with being innovative and making what seems impossible possible.”
Like most skaters, Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt are eagerly awaiting the announcement of the Grand Prix assignments later this month, and are hoping for the opportunity to compete in their first full season on the circuit. They would both enjoy any opportunity to compete internationally as the exposure is an excellent opportunity to get feedback to help them prepare for the season ahead.
“We are extremely excited to potentially be competing in the Grand Prix circuit for a full season this year,” Kriengkrairut admitted. “We felt that the highlight of last season for us was at Skate America. Competing among some of the best teams in the world has been something we’ve strived for our entire career together. We hope that this year will be an even better showing and will give us more experience for future competitions.”
Outside of their participation in the Grand Prix circuit, the team’s goals are lofty but clear.
“We want to be on the podium at nationals and to make the World team,” Kriengkrairut declared.
Off ice, Kriengkrairut spends much of her time focusing on her studies at the University of Michigan where she will be a senior this fall. The ambitious skater is a pre-med major, concentrating in Brain, Behavior, and Cognitive Sciences.
“I don’t have a lot of free time,” she admitted, “but when I do, I usually hide out at various coffee shops to study. Other than that, I like hanging out with friends and exploring the amazing restaurants of Ann Arbor. I like renting and watching weird indie or foreign films, baking, reading, and relaxing. I also enjoy golfing and if I had more time, I would like to start up rock-climbing.”
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Kriengkrairut has one older brother who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and went on to earn a Master’s degree in Economics from Eastern Michigan University. He relocated to Ann Arbor to support his sister in pursuit of her skating career, and works in web analytics.
Both of Kriengkrairut’s parents are physicians—her mother is pediatric neurologist and her father is a pulmonologist in Bismarck.
The multitalented Kriengkrairut has a resume chock full of extracurricular activities that would make the average person exhausted just by reading it. In addition to skating, Kriengkrairut was a member of her high school’s tennis, track, and golf teams.
“I swung my first golf club when I was five,” she said. “They tried to spark my interest in golf with a plastic golf set, which was eventually replaced with real clubs–clubs cut down to fit my height. Honestly, at such a young age, the only thing I liked about golf was the purple custom 3-wood. I stopped for a period of time, playing off and on, mostly at the driving range until I decided to join the high school team in 8th grade. I played on the team through my junior year of high school.”
Just weeks before her 16th birthday, Kriengkrairut was preparing to compete in a state-qualifying golf tournament when she began coughing up blood. The day prior to the tournament, her father and another doctor diagnosed her with pneumonia, and Kriengkrairut began receiving antibiotics through an IV tube in her wrist to prevent what appeared to be a lung abscess from worsening.
“I kept the IV tube attached to my wrist during the state-qualifying tournament the next day. I was adamant about playing in this tournament regardless of my condition, and somehow I convinced them to let me play,” Kriengkrairut recalled. “My mom walked the entire course with me, keeping her distance of course, and had a prepared first-aid kit in case I needed it. After the tournament, my mom rushed me to the hospital for some more tests.”
The concluding results came from a CT angiogram, which showed abnormal lung tissue and an anomaly artery feeding into this tissue allowing it to thrive.
“I was diagnosed with a rare congenital disease called a pulmonary sequestration,” Kriengkrairut explained. “I had surgery the next morning to have the artery and the lower lobe of my right lung removed. That was my last golf tournament, but I recovered fairly quickly. I was swinging a club again in two months, competing in freestyle and solo dance at the senior and gold levels at local competitions a few months later, and completed my senior freeskate six months after my surgery. It was a difficult and painful process to increase my lung capacity and bear through the sheer pain of moving my ribcage. My intercostal muscles, the area where my chest tube was, and the area where my scar is were all still quite sensitive up until last year, but I’ve had no major problems since the surgery.”
Giulietti-Schmitt is part of an elite group of student-athletes who have earned a college degree while competing. In December 2008, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Geology from Eastern Michigan University.
“It took me five years to finish, but I also transferred schools three separate times due to changing training locations,” he explained.” My geology degree has its roots from my extreme interest in natural sciences in high school. I was intrigued by earth science, astronomy, physics, and environmental science. Originally, I was more interested in environmental science when I first began my college studies, and that’s still a passion of mine, but environmental science slowly developed into geoscience in Texas and then strictly geology in Michigan.”
Originally form Oak Park, Ill.; Giulietti-Schmitt has not lived with his family since he was 18. His parents still live in Oak Park, and his only sister, Allegra, is a guidance counselor in Chicago.
Like many other skaters, Giulietti-Schmitt works as a skating coach to support his training.
“I started coaching when I was 15 in Oak Park, as a way to make money, but it has evolved into something that I greatly enjoy and have turned into a career for the time being,” he said. “It is convenient because I get to make my own schedule and teach lessons around my own training and have about 15 or 16 regular students. I have students who are still working on basic skills, as well as students who have passed their senior moves, novice free, and gold/international dances.”
In the rare moments that Giulietti-Schmitt is not in the rink practicing or coaching, he enjoys playing volleyball and mountain biking.