by Anne Calder | Skating Photo by Melanie Heaney; Off Ice Photos by Robin Ritoss
Olympic ice dance medals were first awarded at the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria. Thirty-six teams have won medals since that date 42 years ago. Only two sets of siblings are on the list: Isabelle & Paul Duchesnay of France (silver in 1992) and Americans Maia & Alex Shibutani (bronze in 2018).
Elliana & Ethan Peal, 11 and 14 respectively, would like to join that skating royalty. The youngsters were in skates before their first birthdays and were naturals. They quickly moved up the ranks of the Learn to Skate freestyle program at the Centennial Ice Arena in Highland Park, IL.
The Beginning of a Partnership
In 2015, the Peal siblings officially became an ice dance team, guided by their father, Rob Peal, a 15-year U.S. veteran of competitive national and international ice dance.
The next year, they were first at the Midwestern Sectional Championships in the juvenile division and qualified for the U.S. Championships. As ice dance champions at sectionals, the youngsters became the first recipients of the Garrett Swasey Award, given in honor of a former competitive skater and police officer who was shot down in the line of duty. The fact that he was a contemporary and friend of their dad’s made the award even more special to the Peal family.
The siblings placed third at the 2017 U.S. Championships in Kansas City and then moved up to the intermediate level. After another sectional win, Elliana and Ethan headed to San Jose, California, for their second U.S. Championships. Early in the week, Ethan placed eighth in the juvenile boys division.
The Peals were third after the Tango and Fourteenstep pattern dances. In the free program, they outscored the leaders by eight points with an energetic routine to Beetlejuice and were crowned 2018 intermediate champions.
IDC spoke with the Peal siblings after the medal ceremony. It turned out the top prize brought more than a title. Their parents had promised them a dog if they won.
“It would be fun to get two – one for each of us,” Elliana said, giggling.
Training in Germany
The duo moved up to novice after winning the intermediate title. Next, U.S. Figure Skating selected them to attend an Advanced Novice Ice Dance International Development Seminar. Among the world-class coaches in Oberstdorf, Germany, were Jon and Carol Lane (CAN), Juris Razgulajevs (CAN), Dr. Rostislav Sinicyn (CZE), and Maurizio Margaglio (ITA), the 2002 Olympic bronze medalist with Barbara Fusar-Poli.
“There were 30 teams invited, and we were the only U.S. team there,” Ethan said. “To be on the ice with skaters from around the world was fantastic.”
“Maurizio and I competed at the same time, which made the camp even more exciting,” Rob added.
Elliana & Ethan competed and medaled at a few events this summer in preparation for the new season in the novice division.
“We know so many of the other novice skaters are older than we are and also have more experience, but we will do our best,” Ethan said.
In addition to ice dance, both youngsters continue to skate freestyle. Ethan won a gold medal in the intermediate division at Skate Milwaukee in July.
An International Atmosphere
The 2018 U.S. Novice and Junior Challenge Skate was held in Salt Lake City in September, together with the Challenger Series U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. The platform for the domestic event was to allow the younger skaters to participate in a setting with international skaters and judges and to absorb the atmosphere that is generated by such an event.
Elliana, Ethan, and Rob arrived at their first Challenge Skate a bit jet-lagged after a hectic trip from Chicago to Utah with a very long layover in Denver, but they still did a practice session with the other novice competitors.
Afterwards, IDC met up with the family, where our first topic of conversation was the dog.
“We got just one dog,” Ethan said with a laugh. “Her name is Bella. Elliana does most of the walking.”
We then moved outdoors for some photos and more conversation about their programs and busy schedule back in Illinois.
“We’re really excited about their 2018 free dance,” explained Rob, who also choreographs their programs. “It’s very important to find music that is age-appropriate and also suits a brother-and-sister ice dance team, so we chose ”Million Dreams” and “Tightrope” from The Greatest Showman film soundtrack.”
Their daily routine begins with an early on-ice session before they each head off to public school – Ethan to high school and Elliana to middle school. They resume training in the afternoon with more on- and off-ice strength workouts before they head home. Together, the family often dissects their training sessions and tackles other skating-related projects.
“We often have our dressmaker come by in the evening for costume fittings,” Ethan noted.
Inside the SLC Sports Arena, national and international world-level skaters mingled and cheered for each other. Outside, a huge college rally was held for the Pac-Ten football clash between Washington and Utah. The excitement level ranked +10.
Elliana and Ethan shared their thoughts about watching all the skaters plus the classes offered to the athletes and their parents.
“Watching the seniors skate just now has been incredible,” Ethan said. “There are so many fantastic skaters that you just look up to and are inspired to be in the same building and skate on the same ice with; it’s just an incredible experience for us.”
“We had a dance lesson and learned a lot of new stuff, like focusing on the ice,” Elliana said.
“It was taught by dancer and choreographer, Randi Strong, who was on So You Think You Can Dance,” Ethan added. “She also toured with Meryl Davis & Charlie White in a show [Love on the Floor by Cheryl Burke from Dancing with the Stars]. It was amazing working with her.”
“We also had a seminar on sleeping. It was really helpful. There’s not too many classes in figure skating on sleep,” Ethan continued.
Elliana agreed. Peter Zapalo (USFS Director, Sports Science and Medicine) taught the class.
The novice free dance was held on Sunday, the final day of the event. The reigning U.S. intermediate champions won the gold medal with 105.15 total points.
“It’s nice to skate on the same ice with other high-level skaters,” Elliana said.
“It’s a great learning experience, especially [with] judges from around the world,” Ethan added.
The technical officials represented France, Hungary, and the United States, while the judges were from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States.
Elliana and Ethan have a younger sibling who is also a skater. Evan is 9 years old, attends elementary school, and is currently searching for a dance partner. Like his older brother and sister, he began skating when he was a year old.
On October 6, Ethan Peal was second at the Upper Great Lakes Regional Championships in intermediate men’s freestyle and qualified for the Midwestern Sectional Championships. Elliana also competed at the Upper Great Lakes Regional in freestyle, but at a non-qualifying level. Elliana and Ethan’s next test as a team will be at Midwestern Sectionals, which will take place in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, November 13-17.