We live in changing times. In Hollywood, dysfunctional families get television shows and in the NBA, controversy and tattoos sell sneakers. Given this state of cultural upheaval it’s nice to know, in figure skating at least, some things remain constant.
While Elvis may have left the eligible building and Sarah shocked the world in Utah, the top two spots in the pairs competition at Nationals for three seasons stayed the same. And, according to someone who should know, things did not seem likely to change this year in Dallas.
“Kyoko (Ina) and John (Zimmerman) would have definitely been tough to beat in Dallas,” said one of their biggest fans, Philip Dulebohn, who with pairs partner Tiffany Scott won the Senior Pairs division in Dallas by sweeping the first place ordinals in both the short and long programs.
Given the sometimes glacier-like speed of change at the national level, it might have seemed that another Ina and Zimmerman / Scott and Dulebohn finish would have been expected this January.
Enter Stars On Ice. Ina and Zimmerman signed with the Scott Hamilton co-founded touring company late in the summer, which up graded Scott and Dulebohn from contenders to favorites for the national pairs title. Stars On Ice also signed the Olympic co-gold medal pairs winners further helping Scott and Dulebohn’s chances of doing well in Washington D.C. in March.
“With Worlds being on the East Coast this season most people thought Ina and Zimmerman would stay in for one more year,” said 1960 Olympic Pairs medalist Ron Ludington. Scott and Dulebohn train at the University of Delaware rinks where Ludington is the director of skating. “Tiffany and Philip really got their momentum going late in the season and did a great job at Worlds.”
Scott and Dulebohn easily won the short program with their best routine of the year. They came back a couple nights later, and had a couple mistakes, but still won the competition with ease. Katie Orscher and Garrett Lucash of Connecticut, who lost twice to newcomers Jenny Don and Jonathon Hunt earlier in the season, skated well the second night to earn the silver.
“It was nice to do the short program in competition the way we’ve been doing it in practice,” Dulebohn said. “The long program was okay, it got the job done.”
Their exhibition number was performed to the title tract of the movie “Pink Panther.” It was well received by the audience and Scott look hot in her hot pink panther outfit. Dulebohn’s assessment of the routine, however, was more lukewarm warm than hot pink.
“That number needs some work,” he said. “We haven’t put in the time to make it look completely professional. But it was nice that the crowd responded to it.”
Scott and Dulebohn couldn’t get it done early last season due to an injury to Dulebohn’s left hip, which forced the pair out of the Goodwill Games and their Grand Prix assignments. They didn’t start practicing together until November. The inactivity was apparent early at Nationals when their teamwork looked out of sync doing relatively easy elements while finishing third in the short program. Scott and Dulebohn began to hit their stride a couple nights later, however, with a solid long program that vaulted them ahead of Stephanie Kalesavich and Aaron Parchem to gain the runner-up spot and an Olympic berth.
“We were under a lot more pressure last season than in Dallas,” Dulebohn said the day after he and his tiny blonde partner returned home after winning the gold medal (along with a watch, plaque and gold and diamond pin) at Nationals. “We didn’t have enough training time before Los Angeles and we had the pressure of trying to make the Olympic Team. This time around we were prepared and thought if we skated up to our ability we shouldn’t have too much of a problem being successful.”
Ironically, it was an injury in 1999 that gave the couple their first Grand Prix assignments. Scott and Dulebohn took the places of Laura Handy and Paul Binnebose at Skate America and Trophee Lalique after Binnebose suffered a life threatening injury in practice in September. Despite the short notice, Scott and Dulebohn stepped up and skated well against stiff competition, finishing sixth in both events.
“We skated very well at Skate America and Lalique,” Dulebohn said. “Maybe if we weren’t so new to the international scene the judges would have put us a little higher.”
“Ice is the same everywhere,” countered Scott, the blonde half of the team that looks like it stepped out of a J. CREW Catalogue. “We’ve been treated very well when competing in Europe in terms of the hotels, skating venues and amenities for the athletes. Skating in Paris at Lalique was awesome but probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been is Oberstdorf, Germany. It looks like a post card come to life.”
Last season the pair did end on a high note, finishing seventh at the World Championships in Japan, an improvement of a half dozen places from their Salt Lake City placing. In the process, Scott and Dulebohn passed up a trio of teams that finished ahead of them in the Olympics. The jump in placement also allows the US to send three pairs teams to the 2003 World Championships in Washington, D.C.
The seventh place finish was the best for the team in three tries. They fell to eleventh in 2001 after a strong ninth place performance the year before in Nice, France. Ina and Zimmerman also finished seventh the year before they won the bronze medal at the World Championships in Japan.
“Skating in our first Worlds was just a great experience,” Dulebohn said. “The city of Nice was beautiful but even more than that was the accomplishment of representing the US on the world stage.”
Advancing past the elite teams in their discipline comes with a price: The pair is working harder than ever. Dulebohn, who turned twenty-nine shortly after the team’s fifth place finish at Skate Canada, lifts weights five days a week and attends a ballet and a modern dance class once a week. The couple usually practices together about two-and-a-half hours a day split up into two sessions.
“Before moving to Delaware I only lifted weights sporadically in the summer,” Scott said. “Now I train five days a week with the rink’s strength coach, Jeff Schneider. I alternate upper and lower body exercises so the same muscles are not worked two days in a row. Also, I do a good deal of work on an elliptical cardio machine that gives you a great workout but is not hard on the joints.”
“Jeff has Philip changing his routine every couple of weeks. I can tell the difference when he lifts me. He feels much stronger.”
“We’d like to do more but there is only so much time,” Dulebohn explained. “My coach wants Tiffany and I to take an acting class to help us with expressing emotion and we both want to finish our degrees but with all the coaching and training we’re already running around like crazy.”
One element in their favor is training at the UD training facility with several world-class skaters such as World Dance champions Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh and Junior World champion Johnny Weir along with several national place winners including Handy, teenager Jenny Don and the superbly precocious Kim Meissner.
This year the Scott and Dulebohn had hoped to score high enough to land on the podium at their Grand Prix assignments in the US, Canada and France. While their placements were lower than they hoped (two fifths and a sixth), the pair did defeat every US team that they faced. The only ranked American couple they had not competed against prior to Nationals was the team of Inoue and Baldwin, who skated moderately well in their two grand prix assignments. Jenny Don and Jonathon Hunt, who also train at UD, skated two solid programs in Dallas but somehow only ended up in sixth place. Surprising, considering they finished a spot below Kalesavich and Parchem in the long program despite Kalesavich spending more time on the ice than a butterfly goaltender.
“Maybe the judges were telling Jonathon and Jenny they just need a little more time together,” Dulebohn said. “They skated well in Dallas and really have a bright future as a team. They’re two very intense athletes.”
“We went into the shows with the hope of placing, not worrying about the other US Teams,” he added from his condo in Wilmington, Delaware. “At least in terms of training, we were much further along at this point in the season than ever before so we definitely have a shot at moving up the ladder at the World Championships.”
The three top pairs teams at nationals will also represent the US at the Four Continent Championships in mid February in Beijing. The host team is loaded in this event, having the reigning World Champions and several other pairs talented enough to crack the top ten in Washington. Being that Scott and Dulebohn skated in a trio of Grand Prix events in addition to Nationals some thought they might opt out of Four Continents and rest up for Worlds.
“There’s six weeks between Four Continents and Worlds and after Nationals we really weren’t burned out,” he said. “We are mentally conditioned to keep training for the World Championships after Nationals so we’re still pretty fresh.”
To cut down on the travel time to China, they hope to fly to Chicago and then over the Artic Circle instead of across the Pacific Ocean. Neither has previously been to the world’s most populous country.
“I think Sale and Pelletier winning the Olympic gold medal was a big boost for North American pairs skating,” said Ludington from his office in Newark. “It sends the message that the athletic type programs done by teams like Tiffany and Philip are very competitive with the European style.”
An improvement over last season’s placement at Worlds may mean upsetting a veteran Eastern European team. Both Zagorska and Siudek of Poland and Petrova and Tikhonov of Russia could be on that short list. Both pairs have done better than the Americans at previous Worlds but may be slightly past their primes. Scott and Dulebohn did not compete against either team in their Grand Prix events.
“When I was looking for a partner I had tryouts with a couple other girls besides Tiffany,” Dulebohn said. “I could see she had potential but was by far the least experienced of the three. The biggest reason I wanted her to be my partner was I liked her as a person.”
“I really prioritize communication between my pairs partners,” said their coach, Karl Kurtz, who like Dulebohn, won the National Mens Novice Championship as a competitor.
“When I hit my plateau in singles skating it was because of psychological reasons more than anything else,” Kurtz added. “I think most teams break up because of tensions related to off-ice problems.”
“I think Tiffany and I have stayed together for almost seven years now because we always set common goals and we’ve spent quite a bit of time together off the ice, especially our first two years as a team.”
That is because Scott, who will turn twenty-six in May, relocated from Massachusetts to team up with Dulebohn. She still lists the Colonial Figure Skating Club as her home club despite training and teaching at the University of Delaware’s Rust Arena.
Since teaming up in the summer of 1996, Scott and Dulebohn have had progressively more input in designing their own routines. “We aren’t kids anymore, we want to take some of the responsibility off our coach’s shoulders,” Dulebohn explained.
“I like telling a story and being a character when I skate,” Scott said. “This season Renee Roca choreographed our long program to Les Miserables.”
The couple is standing pat with their short program from last season, Heartbreak Hotel that was choreographed by Karl Kurtz. That should be popular with the American dominated audience at Worlds.
Despite changes around them, look for the popular team of Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn to be the best in the US in DC.