For American ice dancers Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, the 2007-08 season ended on as high a note as the 2006-07 season ended on a low one. Last year the dancers were a close second going into the free dance at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships when Samuelson fell and Bates accidentally stepped on her hand, severing a tendon in her hand and knocking them out of the competition entirely.
This season, the couple again led the 2008 Junior Worlds in Sofia, Bulgaria through after the original dance, but this time, they finished their free dance and won the gold medal that had eluded them the previous season.
“Last year we obviously didn’t have a good Junior Worlds,” Bates noted. We knew this was the most important competition to us and we said that throughout the season. To come here and do so well and get the gold medal was very special for us.”
“It’s the complete opposite of what happened last year,” Samuelson added. “It’s incredible to actually finish Junior Worlds and to place so well and be
rewarded for our efforts.”
“It was bad at the time but at the same time it benefited us,” Bates said, regarding the accident. “It really motivated us for this season to come back and win. Once Emily was healthy, we trained even harder.” Fortunately, surgeons were able to repair the injury to Samuelson’s hand although it left a visible scar on the top of her hand.
“I didn’t have any second thoughts about going on the ice at all,” Samuelson said. “I didn’t have any bad effects and my hand is as strong as ever. I was back on the ice about three weeks after the surgery, but it took about two months before I had full use of my hand.”
The dancers competed in senior dance at U. S. Nationals, placing fourth overall. In 2007, they won the junior dance title after finishing second in 2006. The dancers also won the novice title in 2005 after a bronze medal finish in 2004.
Samuelson and Bates competed in juniors internationally throughout the 2007-08 season, winning their two ISU Junior Grand Prixs in Lake Placid, New York and Vienna, Austria. But just like in the 2006-07 season, they failed to win the Junior Grand Prix Final, finishing second again. They had been victorious in both of their Junior Grand Prix events that season as well. “When we went to the Final, we weren’t really satisfied with our performance,” Bates said. “We gave a much stronger performance at Junior Worlds.”
Next year, they will probably complete exclusively in seniors. “We’ll see what’s best for us,” Bates said. “We want to focus on one year at a time but we need to get exposure in seniors. It’s definitely important to get ready for the Olympic year in 2010.”
“We need to work on the component mark, the speed, the power, the presentation, things that are going to set us apart on the senior level,” Bates added. “So we’re just going to go back and listen to our coaches. They’ve done a wonderful job getting us to where we are right now and we want to keep progressing.”
The couple’s folk-country original dance (OD) was a Russian folk dance using Kalinka and Russkie Napievi. “When we first heard about the OD being folk, we thought it was something new and interesting,” Samuelson said. “It’s a great choice having folk for the OD because there are so many different folk dances out there.”
“When we were competing in our first year in novice, we did a Russian folk dance for our free dance,” Bates recalled. “We did well with it in a competition in Estonia and decided to bring it back because we were comfortable portraying that kind of character.” “We bought DVD’s and watched Russian folk dancing so we could really get the feel of what we were supposed to portray on the ice,” Samuelson added.
“I think the folk is a good idea because in the past we’ve had the same,” Bates said. “Last year we had a tango and the year before that we had a Latin OD so it didn’t really give much opportunity to do something different. I think it’s good for the audience and the judges.” But both dancers enjoy skating to Latin music and even had a Latin free dance last season. They often work with a ballroom dance instructor to learn the character of these dances.
That’s one reason they were pleased by the choice of the Cha Cha Congelado at both the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final and Junior Worlds. “It’s a fast dance and there are a lot of steps and not a lot of ice to fit them in,” Bates explained. “You have to be deep, you have to be quick, and also maintain speed and be on the music. So there’s a lot of things going on.”
Samuelson actually used the same dress from last year’s free dance for the Cha Cha Congelado this season. “We just thought it fit the character of the dance of all the dresses I have,” Samuelson explained. “You spend so much money on dresses and everything, and it’s nice to re-use them.”
The couple’s free dance was Luna by Alessandra Safina. “We wanted something different from the original dance,” Samuelson stated. “Yuri (Tchesnitchenko) actually had the music for us for three or four years, but he was waiting for us to mature enough to be able to display the passion it deserves. It’s an incredible program.”
For an exhibition program, the couple used Bitter Sweet by Apocalyptica. “It’s different from our free dance,” Bates added. “I think we showed our versatility in skating to different kinds of music.”
Yuri Tchesnitchenko and Yaroslava Netchaeva, who won the silver medal at Junior Worlds in 1992, are responsible for their choreography as well as their training at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube in Michigan. The dancers work on ice for about four hours a day, six days a week. They do another two hours a day off ice.
Samuelson, who will be 18 in May, started skating when she was five, switching to dance at the age of nine. Bates, who is a year older, began at four and also started dance at nine with Tchesnitchenko and Netchaeva when they moved to the U. S. He joined forces with Samuelson in May 2000.
Off ice, both of the skaters like to ski, golf, and swim. Samuelson also likes to play tennis, while Bates plays basketball and soccer and watches other sports. He likes chatting online and playing the guitar, while she prefers hanging out with friends, shopping, reading and watching movies. Both skaters do volunteer work for their churches.
Samuelson is a senior in high school and will graduate in May. Bates is a freshman at the University of Michigan. He is taking two courses a semester.