During each off season, it’s customary to look back at the teams who have moved beyond the competitive arena or those who have severed on-ice partnerships in favor of new ones. After their country’s national championships or the World Championship, skaters move on to college, retire due to lingering injury, or just enjoy the chance to be a “normal” teenager or 20-something whose every minute and every meal is not scheduled and monitored. Figure skating is an expensive sport and without unlimited purse strings, sometimes a retirement is just inevitable.
Skating with a partner adds the challenge of finding two people who are a great fit for each other, both in physical size and ability. Dedication, matching goals and personalities must also mesh. With most ice dancers finding a partner in their pre-teen or teen years, the puberty monster has its own way too, and growth spurts (up and out) can be tough — if not impossible — to ride out.
Each spring a few teams dissolve for one reason or another; frequently, this surprises no one. The 2011 ice dancing off-season, however, will be one for the record books with regard to partner changes and retirements. Many of the splits caught nearly everyone by surprise.
Even before the season had ended, the retirements had begun. Seven-time British champions Sinead & John Kerr announced in early April they would move on from the frantic competitive scene. The duo had hoped to perform in their swan song event, the 2011 World Championships, but in the aftermath of the natural disasters in scheduled-host Japan, the relocation of the Championships to Russia and the subsequent delay of more than a month proved too long of a season for the Scottish siblings. An ongoing shoulder injury to Sinead forced the team to withdraw from the event, thus ending their career with the bronze medal performances at Europeans in January. Losing the Kerrs from the eligible roster creates a void that may not be filled for some time. The fan favorites were popular, not only for their skating style, but for the innovative program themes they presented each season.
One month later, the splits began.
Another set of siblings bid adieu to their skating partnership and became the first of many break-ups to rock North American ice dance. Madison & Keiffer Hubbell, who had skated together since 2001 and won three national titles (juvenile in ’03, intermediate in ’04, and junior in ’08) and finished fourth at the 2011 U.S. National Championships, decided that the time had come for them to end their on-ice partnership. The Hubbells broke onto the junior scene in 2006, becoming the first U.S. team to win the Junior Grand Prix Final in a debut season on the circuit. In addition to winning two national medals at the senior level, they also won a silver medal at the Junior Grand Prix Final in 2009. Madison will skate with Zachary Donohue for the 2011-12 season, while Keiffer is still weighing his options on and off the ice and continuing to grow his company, Lucid Propagations.
On June 2, reigning Canadian champions Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier announced they, too, were calling it quits. Like the Hubbells, Crone & Poirier had been a team since 2001. In their career, they had won national titles at the novice, junior and senior levels and the silver medal at the 2008 World Junior Championships. The team competed at the 2010 Olympics and this past season won their first ISU Grand Prix gold (Skate Canada) as well as the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final and Four Continents Championships. Their split was announced just one month after the conclusion of the 2011 World Championships, where they finished 10th after being seventh in 2010. Poirier is currently looking for a new partner, and though initially it was believed Crone was planning to retire, that decision was short-lived as she will be conducting a partner search of her own.
Less than a week later, reigning U.S. bronze medalists Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein announced the end of their five year partnership. Chock & Zuerlein had a breakthrough season in 2008-2009, winning every competition they entered: two Junior Grand Prix events as well as the Junior Grand Prix Final, the U.S. Championships (junior), and the World Junior Championships. As seniors, they had an excellent 2010-2011 campaign with two medals on the Grand Prix circuit as well as being named to their first World Championships team, where they finished ninth. Zuerlein had decided to retire from competitive skating.
Lucie Myslivečková’s name appeared on icepartnersearch.com just two days later, signaling the end of her partnership with Matej Novak. Myslivečková & Novak represented the Czech Republic and since 2005. Though they had yet to break through on the international scene, they were a popular couple among online fans, who enjoyed their music choice and memorable programs. A disappointing performance in the short dance kept them from moving through to the free dance at the 2011 World Championships. While it is clear that Myslivečková intends to return to competition after finding a new partner, Novak has not formally announced his plans. Their names however on the Skate Canada roster, offers some hope that they may continue skating together.
Officially, on June 28, after weeks of speculation, Americans Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates announced the end of their 11-year partnership. Samuelson & Bates spent all but the last year of their career training at the Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club with coaches Yasa Netchaeva and Yuri Tchesnitchenko. Last spring, they ended their relationship with Netchaeva and Tchesnitchenko and switched training locations to Canton, Michigan, to work with Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva. The team was sidelined for the 2010-11 season, when a freak practice accident resulted in Bates’ achilles tendon being sliced, requiring surgery and an extended rehabilitation process. During their career, the team won medals at nine out of nine U.S. Championships and at every level from juvenile through senior. At the 2007 World Junior Championships, the team sat in second place heading into the free dance, but were forced to withdraw partway through after Bates sliced Samuelson’s hand during a fall that required her to have surgery while still abroad. They returned to the same event in 2008 and came away with the gold medal. Perhaps their biggest achievement was winning the bronze medal at the 2010 U.S. National Championships, a hard-fought battle, which allowed them to represent the U.S. at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver where they finished 11th.
Another team who competed at the Vancouver Olympics, Allison Reed & Otar Japaridze, has split, and Reed has listed herself on icepartnersearch.com as wishing to represent the United States. Reed, who competed under the Georgian flag with Japaridze, is the younger sister to Cathy & Chris Reed, who skate for Japan. Japaridze’s plans are unknown at this time. Reed & Japaridze competed from 2009-2011.
In addition to the American teams named above, the U.S. has also lost the partnership of 2010 Grand Prix competitors and 2010 U.S. national junior silver medalists Rachel Tibbetts & Collin Brubaker, who split earlier this spring. Brubaker is listed on icepartnersearch.com.
The junior level has not been immune to the partnership “divorces.” In June, 2011 Canadian junior silver medalists Kelly Oliveira & Jordan Hockley ended their partnership of seven years. The team finished 15th at the 2011 World Junior Championships.
More teams may yet make splits as Facebook is always hinting at things before official statements are released. As for now, we look forward to the announcements of new teams and the continued development of existing teams. Although there are some big shoes to be filled, we are confident and excited to watch their successes.
Update: Confirming what ice-dance.com learned Tuesday, the Detroit Free Press has reported Madison Chock & Evan Bates have formed a new partnership.