The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia is just a month away, and one of the most popular events is Ice Dancing. A slew of Olympic hopefuls train at rinks in Novi, Bloomfield Hills, and Canton. On January 5, they’ll be in Boston, to compete the last qualifying event to make the Olympic team, the U.S. Figure Skating Nationals.
The sport of Ice Dancing combines art with athleticism. Coach Igor Shpilband is a former Ice Dancer for the Soviet Union, and has been coaching others for the past 24 years in Michigan.
He works out of the Novi Ice Arena. Shpilband says, “We potentially have 6 teams that can be competing at the Olympic games.”
Skaters come from around the world, to train with Shpilband. He’s well known for breeding champions. Four years ago, he was part of the coaching team that helped Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir win the gold. Isabella Tobias moved to Michigan from New York City to train with Shpilband. “Nobody will push you harder than Igor Shpilband. He makes you work harder than you think you can work. He pushes you past your limits, and I think that's really why he makes champions." Tobias is an American, but will represent Lithuania in Sochi. “Well you know of course it was a very hard sacrifice. It's been my dream since I was a little girl to skate for the United States. I love my country. I'm a very big patriot. But there are just numerous Americans who are unfortunately, just because there are no guys available to dance with, are forced to go foreign."
Among the Americans competing to make the Olympic team, is Evan Bates from Ann Arbor. The 2013 University of Michigan graduate represented the U.S. at the Olympics 4 years ago, placing 11th with then-partner Emily Samuelson. Bates now dances with Madison Chock and believes they have a great chance to make it to Sochi. He says, “When we go to competition and the pressure is on, we can rely on our muscle memory and our connection on the ice and we're very used to each other now. We spend countless hours together every day, and we love it and it's great.”
Americans Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt also train with Shpilband. They hope to make it to their first Olympic games. They say the tough competition on their home ice, is a big advantage. Logan Giulietti-Schmitt says, “We all push each other. That’s also another reason why Lynn and I wanted to come here. Because we knew there were a lot of great teams and we push each other on a daily basis and we're all trying to achieve the same goal, so we kind of have respect for each other because of that."
Shpilband is confident any of his skaters can make it to the Olympics. But they’ll have to prove it to the judges at U.S. Nationals. “Its not going to be easy for everyone, and everyone know that they have to go and put a great performance, great two performances, that’s all its going to take. Everybody knows that, and everybody have a chance."
The U.S. Figure Skating Nationals begin Sunday in Boston. Williamston’s Hannah Miller will compete in the Senior Ladies’ Division. She also has a shot at making the Olympic team, which will be named following the event.