Article by Karen Frank
What do Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean have in common with ski racing? Aside from the fact that both are associated with the Winter Olympics, they also happen to be the reasons Christina Chitwood and Mark Hanretty first laced up skates and glided onto the ice. In 1994, Mark was inspired by Torvill and Dean’s return to Olympic competition. Two years later, Chrissy began skating as a method of cross training for ski racing. Mostly for cross training, anyway… “I also loved the dresses!” she says.
Though Mark was inspired by his ice dancing countrymen, he started out as a free skater. It was only after he was hampered by injuries that he switched disciplines to become an ice dancer. “I still wanted to skate and started to dance.” It turned out to be a happy switch for him. “Now,” he says, “I’m thankful for the injuries.”
Chrissy was a multi-tasking skater, competing in both pairs and dance, before eventually deciding to specialize in dance. “I always loved any type of dance and had done ballet since I was 5. I enjoyed many of the pair elements but preferred ice dancing.”
When both of them ended up partnerless in the fall of 2005, their respective coaches thought they might be a good match for each other. “We were brought together by our coaches, Jimmy Young from Sheffield, England, and Sandy Hess from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Jimmy and Sandy had coached together in Denver a few years back and spoke with each other about us. We began e-mailing each other in November 2005. We developed a friendship by e-mail before we met and tried out at the end of December in Scotland. After our first session skating together, we decided to become an ice dance team.”
Of course, making the decision was one thing, but working out the details took a little longer. “We decided to skate together December 31, 2005, but didn’t get to train together properly till May ’06 because of a small issue of the Atlantic Ocean in the way!” Once Chrissy moved to England, the commute became a little easier. They now alternate training in Sheffield and Colorado Springs. “We’re lucky to have coaches with such extensive knowledge and experience. What we most appreciate is the positive environment Jim creates for us in daily training.”
The positive environment helps keep them working toward their goals, even when things don’t go according to plan. “Last season, we set high goals that didn’t come to fruition for various reasons. We still believe in aiming high and intend to do so, but this year we’ll keep our goals in our training diaries and hopefully let everyone see them as they materialize!”
Having a good attitude helps as well, both in their personal outlook and their working relationship. “We are both highly motivated and optimistic people. “ Mark says of his partner, “Chrissy is just awesome.” Chrissy echoes his sentiments: “Mark is such a great friend of mine, and I couldn’t imagine a better partner.” In fact, they each say that their partner is their role model (they also admire Lang and Tchernyshev and Sinead and John Kerr).
They’ve already reached the point in their partnership when things start to click and flow together. Ice-dance.com’s interview screen asks teams what their favorite element is, but Chrissy and Mark can’t separate it into pieces like that. “When skating is really “on,” we can’t pick one thing in particular. If you really pushed us to give an answer, we’d both say lifts.”
This seamless flow of elements is reflected in the non-training aspects of their lives. Both have incorporated something of ice dance into their career goals. For Mark, it’s physically being on the ice and training that will always be part of his life. “I coach young skaters which I love to do. People fascinate me, so I see myself working with people: perhaps through my fitness knowledge, e.g., Pilates or yoga. I’d be interested in training as a life coach.” For Chrissy, it’s the performance aspect that she plans to keep in her future. “I am studying for a bachelor’s degree in performing arts.” Eventually, she plans to pursue an acting career.
Training, coaching, and college takes up most of their time these days, but when they do find some free time, Mark likes to go to the gym or watch a film, while Chrissy says, “I like to read, listen to music, dance, watch movies, and spend time with my family and friends.” In the more distant future, Mark would like to have time “to travel and experience more of the world.”
Or maybe that’s not as distant as he thinks. In a week, he and his partner will travel to Lake Placid, NY to compete at the Ice Dance Championships. And from there, maybe. . . Helsinki or Gothenburg?
To learn more about this team and keep track of their season, check out their website, http://chitwood-hanretty.ice-dance.com