Sarah Rose and Joseph Goodpaster, who just skated two personal-best programs at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, don’t have far to look for inspiration. Most mornings, the young skaters hit the practice ice at Florida’s Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex alongside U.S. pair champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea.
So do U.S. novice champions Elli Kopmar and Jonah Barrett, and U.S. junior champions Joy Weinberg and Maximiliano Fernandez.
The eight skaters are all members of #TeamFlorida, winners of three national pair titles at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships last month in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Kayne and O’Shea are also among the group that will represent the United States this week at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Chinese Taipei.
“Everyone gets so emotional when Tarah and Danny skate their programs,” Kopmar, who at age 12 has won two U.S. titles, said. “The way they express themselves to the music and push their technique so hard, I want to do that when I grow up.”
“They lead by example,” Jim Peterson, the head coach in Ellenton, said of his top pair. “Danny shows the younger guys how important it is to have clean footwork in all of the lifts, how to keep the girl safe at all times. And Tarah never stops during a program run-through, even after a hard fall on a throw.”
It’s a group effort. Peterson coaches with Lyndon Johnston, a former Canadian pairs champion and world silver medalist, and 2010 Olympian Amanda Evora, a two-time U.S. pairs silver medalist with Mark Ladwig. Kayne, 22, and O’Shea, 25, take their roles as leaders of #TeamFlorida seriously.
“We go out there and try to work as hard as we can every single day, and encourage the younger kids to do the same,” O’Shea said. “Everyone is going to have bad days, everyone is going to have times when it’s cold and you’re tired and it’s hard to keep going. You push yourself to try to skate up to everything around you.”
Added Kayne: “With the younger teams, especially the girls, I try to be there for them, because I know how hard being a pair girl can be, and how hard injuries are. So I try to be there if they ever need someone to talk to, as sort of a mentor.”
Both Kayne and O’Shea began as singles skaters. Michigan native O’Shea, who stands 6-foot-1, won the 2008 U.S. novice title and competed as a junior man before making the switch.
“I was approached by pair coaches and U.S. Figure Skating officials saying, ‘We think you would be good as a pair skater,’” O’Shea said. “I was kind of skeptical, then my dad said, ‘If you are built like a lineman, you are going to play lineman, not wide receiver.’ So I tried it, loved it and never looked back.’”
O’Shea moved to Ellenton to train when he was 18. When O’Shea’s previous partner retired, Peterson teamed him with Kayne, then a junior singles’ skater, in April 2012.
Kayne took to pairs quickly; O’Shea remembers her landing throw triple jumps during their first practice. They placed seventh in the United States in 2013 and sixth in 2014. But after winning silver at their first major international event, the 2014 Four Continents, Kayne could no longer hide severe pain in her right hip. She underwent surgery to repair a labral tear in July 2014.
While rehabilitating at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Kayne got valuable advice from another athlete who had the same surgery.
“She would say to herself when she competed, ‘I’m better injured than anyone else is healthy,’” Kayne said. “That was probably one of the things that jump-started my own recovery process. I always kept that in mind every time I started to doubt myself. Even if it’s not true, it just gives you the backbone to go out there and give it your best shot.”
The team returned to win the U.S. bronze medal in 2015. Although they entered Saint Paul as underdogs to defending champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, they knew their consistent side-by-side jumps and throw triples, honed by simulated competitions with all of the Ellenton teams most Friday evenings, gave them a fighting chance for the title.
“You put your costumes on, you do the hair, do the makeup — everything you would for competition,” Kayne said. “All of the teams do a six-minute warm-up. Someone announces us, and our coaches pretend they are judges. We try to make it feel as much like a competition as we can, so when you get to competition it’s not as big of a deal. I think it leads to our greater consistency at competitions.”
Kayne and O’Shea skated two clean programs in Saint Paul, winning the title with a U.S. record 211.65 points. They, along with silver medalists Scimeca and Knierim, qualified for the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships in Boston, held March 28-April 3.
First, though, they will compete at Four Continents this week, squaring off against not only Scimeca and Knierim but top pairs from Canada and China, including world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada and world silver medalists Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China.
Earlier this season, Kayne and O’Shea tried a quadruple throw jump in their free skate, but Kayne fell on the move, disrupting the program. While they still train the element, it’s not part of the plan for Four Continents.
“There’s something to the saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” Peterson said. “They’ve done well with what they have, and they’re skating clean programs in practice. It’s not the time to disturb the pattern.”
“I don’t question that we’ll do a throw quad next season,” Kayne said. “Honestly, when we do train throw quad (salchow), it’s not particularly different than our throw triple. It doesn’t seem amazing or scary and to me, that marks an element that’s very doable.”
Instead, the pair will focus on improving their triple twist and death spiral, as well as the overall speed and polish of their programs.
“We’re really focused on trying to squeeze every point we can out of each element.” O’Shea said. “We do a lot of training sections (working on) the pair spin, death spiral and side-by-side spins. We kind of expect to get the highest levels, but we also have to make sure we get the grade of execution points.”
Even while preparing for Four Continents, the skaters took time to give their young training partners tips.
“Tarah just showed me how to bend my knees (in the death spiral), so my upper body is in the right position, with my head under my knee level,” Kopmar said a day before Kayne and O’Shea left for Taipei.
“They’re both so good with the younger kids, and they have such an eye for detail,” Peterson said. “There’s no doubt in my mind they could go on to be fine coaches, if that’s what they want to do.”