ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For perhaps the final time in their lives, Evan Lysacek, Sasha Cohen, Tanith White and Ben Agosto filed into a press conference room. Only this time it wasn’t after winning national titles or before beginning competition at the Olympic Winter Games.
Ten years after competing together at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, the group of Olympic medalists reunited and was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame Class of 2016 during a ceremony Friday night at the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota, before speaking to the media Saturday afternoon.
The inductions came six years after all four last competed.
“I think it’s rare that so many inductees are from the same generation of skating, so I feel fortunate to be part of the class of 2016,” noted Lysacek. “I myself didn’t have a ton of friends in skating. Most of them came from outside of skating, but I can honestly say that everyone at this table are very, very close friends of mine. We grew up together.”
Between 2002 and 2010, singles skaters Cohen and Lysacek, and the ice dance team of White (née Belbin) and Agosto racked up two Olympic appearances apiece, three Olympic medals, 10 world championship medals and seven Grand Prix Final medals.
Lysacek, now 31, recounted first traveling with Cohen to Sweden when they were 14 years old, and joining White and Agosto on a trip to Germany to one of their first competitions together as a team.
“It’s hard to not become extremely close with athletes who are also at a formative stage of life and travel around the globe to compete and feel the pressure,” Lysacek said. “A lot of teenagers at that age cannot relate to someone with that sort of singular focus, but we could always relate to each other and understand what the other was going through.”
In his eight years competing internationally at the senior level, Lysacek amassed more than 20 medals, highlighted by his Olympic gold medal in 2010, when he became the first U.S. man to win gold in 22 years. Among his other accolades are the 2009 world title, two world bronze medals, the 2009 Grand Prix Final title and 10 grand prix event medals. The Vancouver Olympics marked Lysacek’s final competition. After failing to return to competition, due to injuries and financial disagreements, he announced his retirement in August 2014.
He spent a year working in commercial real estate before deciding his interests lay on the brand side more than the property side.
“I had a couple good friends in the luxury fashion industry; one was Ralph Lauren and one was Vera Wang,” he said. “I went to Vera and she made me an offer. She said we’re not really looking for real estate, but we have a lot of other things you can do. She made me an offer that was interesting. One thing I learned from my whole life was to never turn an offer down – always entertain any opportunity that came my way. So I entertained it.”
In 10 months with Wang, Lysacek has been promoted twice, starting as a brand consultant and now heading the licensed products department, managing digital and social media and overseeing visual displays.
“I looked at it the same way I always looked at every opportunity I was given – this is my shot,” he said. “It didn’t matter how small or large, I always looked at it as this is my moment, I have to prove myself.”
Lysacek was inducted into the hall of fame by Frank Carroll, who coached him from 2003 through he end of his career.
Cohen was also inducted by her coach, John Nicks, who started coaching her in 1996 and remained her coach for the majority of her career.
Through her six years on the senior level, Cohen won the Olympic silver medal in 2006, three world championship medals from 2004-06, the Grand Prix Final title in 2002 and eight grand prix event medals.
“At first, I didn’t even think to ask Mr. Nicks because I didn’t think he would come,” Cohen said. “He’s retired, he spends most of his time on his boat, in the sunshine, so I thought it would be a longshot to get him to come to St. Paul in January. … I’ve shared so much of my life and my figure skating career with Mr. Nicks, and he’s always maintained the most wonderful sense of humor and perspective of where exactly skating fits in the spectrum of life. …
“It meant the world for him to be there and to know that our time together and our relationship was a special part of his coaching career as well.”
Now 31, Cohen is in her final year at Columbia University in New York, where she majors in political science. She is on track to graduate in May, three months before her wedding to hedge fund manager Tom May.
For White and Agosto, the hall of fame ceremony was much more personal. The 2006 Olympic silver medalists were inducted by White’s husband, Charlie White, the 2014 Olympic ice dance champion with Meryl Davis. White and Agosto trained alongside Davis and White for a number of years in Michigan.
“It’s a wonderful crossroads of my life to have this momentous occasion and to have my husband there celebrating it with me,” White said. “I’ve just been so fortunate that way in my entire life and career – to stand on the Olympic podium with my best friend, to be inducted into the hall of fame by my husband, to have my costumes made by my mother. Figure skating is intertwined into my life in such a loving and exquisite way.
“Obviously there are times in a skater’s career where you feel like that’s smothering, but as I’ve become older and more multifaceted myself, I’ve embraced the involvement of skating in every aspect of my life because it’s truly brought me the most joyous moments I’ve ever experienced.”
White and Agosto helped lead the charge of a U.S. ice dance revolution that still continues today. When they won an Olympic medal in 2006, they were the first U.S. ice dancers to medal at the Games in 30 years. They also medaled at the world championships four times, and racked up six Four Continents medals, three Grand Prix Final medals and 15 grand prix event medals.
“The biggest thought I had last night was just an overwhelming sense of gratitude, for being in the position that we are, for having the wonderful career we had and for the support of everyone who wanted us to be a part of this wonderful group,” Agosto commented. “Standing at the podium and giving a speech last night, I looked out at the audience and there were all my heroes – Brian Boitano, Paul Wylie, Liz Punsalan and Jerod Swallow – all those people that really made an impact on my skating career as a young skater. All of a sudden, here they are and we’re inducted into the hall of fame with them. It’s extremely special and I’m extremely grateful for it.”
Today, Agosto, 34, is the director of the ice dance program at Ice Den in Scottsdale, Arizona, while White, 31, continues to expand her broadcasting career, serving as a sideline reporter for NBC and hosting TeamUSA.org’s “Road to Rio” video series.
The U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame Class of 2016 also included coach Gustave Lussi, who was inducted posthumously.