SALT LAKE CITY -- Mark Ladwig loves lifts. The 32-year-old, still yearning for more ice time, cherishes the skill that helped him to a 10th-place finish at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
One of those moves, from his Vancouver free skate, was awarded the highest score of any element in the pairs competition in those Winter Games.
His latest lift, accomplished last spring, is his shot at attending the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
“I would love to make the Games, but it’s not the end-all be-all goal... that’s not the immediate goal,” Ladwig said at the 2012 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, held this past weekend.
His current thoughts are tracked to getting in better routine with his new partner, Lindsay Davis, who was about to walk away from pairs competition at 20 years old. Until, that is, she heard that Ladwig was looking for someone.
Ladwig’s previous partner, Amanda Evora, retired. So did Davis’. Now the new pair is figuring each other out. That path essentially started at the Salt Lake Sports Complex in an early-season event that would allow them to compete in a relatively casual atmosphere in front of a crowd.
Ladwig said he went through six tryouts before easily recognizing Davis was the right fit. Both skaters insist that age and height difference (he has nearly a foot on her) are not issues.
“I think it partners up really well,” Ladwig said. “We’re both looking for the same types of things. Amanda retired, and I totally respect that situation, and I looked at my own. I still feel like I have a lot left to give.
“In the pair field, very few had qualifications I was looking for. ... It was a really quick search. Our tryout was so stellar, right off the bat, it just was in sync.”
Evora decided to retire after a decade-long teamwork with Ladwig, a friendly North Dakotan who playfully jokes that Davis is “very unique” — but admitted he otherwise “doesn’t know many Californians.”
He’s the kind of guy who is known for a cutting sense of humor and an easygoing way. Ladwig has done a variety of moonlighting careers to keep alive his own Olympic torch, including time as a wee-hours radio jockey in his native North Dakota.
Strictly guarding his own routines and expectations, Ladwig said he is leading most of the practice routines with his new partner. There are high expectations for Davis, though Ladwig downplayed the pressure on her.
Before their breakthrough when Evora and Ladwig claimed the silver medal at nationals in 2010, they had come close-but-not-quite to the podium at the U.S. championships. The pair finished fourth in 2007, fifth in 2008 and fourth in 2009.
In 2011, Evora and Ladwig placed second again and then dropped to third in 2012. Then Evora announced her retirement and now Ladwig is embarking on a new journey.
Ladwig spent the weekend of Sept. 14-16 at the newly created U.S. International Challenge in the first official meet with his new partner. They laugh easily, though their differences in life experience are obvious.
Ladwig loves to travel for the sake of training and competing. This is basically Davis’ longest time spent away from her native southern California for the sake of competition. They needed to be in Utah to get ready for more important meets in Canada and Japan.
After the Salt Lake City meet, Ladwig — who is married and has a toddler son — would return to Florida and continue training, while Davis would return to the Los Angeles area to see family. Ladwig is already concerned about early burnout.
“I just love competing, love being on the ice,” Ladwig said.
His son, 3-year-old Holden, has become a fan of Davis already. The feelings in return are so far mutual from Davis to the new teammate who kept her career alive.
“Everybody loves Mark; I knew that,” Davis said. “He has a great reputation for treating his partners well, and this has been exactly what I expected. I was really excited to get to work with him. I think it translates onto the ice, that partnership, so it’s really nice.”
Ladwig agreed that finding a skating partner is much like finding a spouse. There is give-and-take, blending strengths and weaknesses, and, ultimately, trying to turn those mutual weaknesses into strengths.
“You’re going to get together, hammer it out,” he said.
Right now, though, the issue — to neither skater’s surprise — is getting to know each other ASAP. Ladwig loves lifts. Davis is developing that trait. He appreciates the energy and youthful positivity that comes with a valued fresh start.
With that, however, comes unstated challenges. Namely, the lines of communication need to be improved — as some seemingly innocuous situations proved in Utah.
“It’s keeping on top of communication,” Ladwig said. “You might be thinking blue, she might be thinking green. Finding that common communication is what takes the longest, but you expect that in this situation.”
Though for Ladwig, there’s more. He said he always will put more pressure on himself than he would Davis or any other partner.
“I just want to see how far I can still go,” he said.
Their performance in Salt Lake City showed there’s room for growth. Of all things, in the free skate, Ladwig and Davis omitted one lift and reduced the difficulty of another.
Still, if anyone knows how to lift himself up, it’s Ladwig.