Sara Davidson and Trent Wintermeier perform a throw axel at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Eastern Sectionals.
Photo courtesy of KATHY DAVIDSON
Sara Davidson and Trent Wintermeier have been skating pairs together for four years, since they were 7 and 9 years old. Pictured here they pose at their first U.S. Figure Skating competition, the Orange Blossom Open, in Oldsmar, in August 2009. They skated to “Robin Hood” and took gold.
Photo courtesy of KATHY DAVIDSON
Sara Davidson and Trent Wintermeier pose at the 2008 ISI World Championships in Denver, Colo., in their first pairs competition.
Photo courtesy of KATHY DAVIDSON
Trent Wintermeier lifts Sara Davidson in a lutz lift at the 2011 Eastern Sectionals in Aston, Pa., where they placed first.
Trent Wintermeier and Sara Davidson perform a death spiral at this season’s Liberty Summer competition.
PALM HARBOR – At ages 11 and 13 respectively, Sara Preston Davidson and Trent Wintermeier are already veterans on the ice. The pair floats together on their skates, making death spirals, lifts and jumps look effortless.
Sara of Clearwater has skated since she was nearly 4 years old, and Trent of Palm Harbor has skated since he was 6. Together, they have been a team for four years. They have seen continued success, placing at the top of local, state, regional and national competitions. Their coaches agree that if they stay on this path and continue to work hard, they have a good shot at making it to the Olympics.
But this past year truly tested their professionalism and resilience.
Success despite hardship
In the middle of the season, and only two months before sectionals, Sara broke her foot during off-ice lifts practice.
The pair’s coaches at Tampa Bay Skating Club in Oldsmar were impressed by the way they handled the situation.
“The emotional letdown for both of them, after training for many, many months with this one, singular goal in mind, and then to have this injury and then the fear of how to get it back, and ‘are we going to lose a whole year of competition?’ which is essential to their growth – that emotional letdown, I think they both handled very well,” said one of their coaches, Jim Millns.
Millns, of Odessa, is their stroking and positioning coach. He won the bronze medal in pairs ice dancing in the 1976 Olympics and won the silver medal in the 1975 World Figure Skating Championships in pairs ice dancing. He has also won numerous national and world awards in pairs ice dancing and has coached for more than 20 years.
“We as coaches have a lot of confidence in them,” Millns said. “Before this injury occurred, they were skating very well, so even though it’s a setback and we had an issue with it, what helped was knowing that if we took this slowly, things would come together. And they did very nicely.”
The previous season, Sara and Trent won the gold medal at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Eastern Section Juvenile Pairs competition in Aston, Pa., and took sixth out of 20 at the National Junior Championships. This most recent season, the pair took bronze at the summer Liberty Competition in Pennsylvania and won gold at TBSC’s Orange Blossom Open in Oldsmar in August. But when Sara broke her foot in September, she had to be completely off the ice for eight weeks, and then she was only allowed to do stroking for another two weeks. Therefore, when the pair competed at sectionals this year, they were still only allowed to do stroking – they could not do any of their more complicated elements, such as lifts and throws. However, because of their earlier successes, they were still able to advance to this year’s Junior Championships.
Sara’s doctor gave her the all-clear only two weeks before the championships, so the pair had only that amount of time to get their jumps, lifts and other elements up to par. Despite all that, they still placed eighth out of 20 competing pairs.
“To not be able to train for 10 weeks and for everyone else to be on a roll through the entire year and end up eighth in the nation out of 20 is excellent,” said Pauline Gasparini, their World and Olympic figure skating coach.
Gasparini has coached numerous figure skaters over 35 years to place in the Olympics, World Championships and National Championships. Gasparini, now of Palm Harbor, also won the bronze medal at the World Professional Championships in singles figure skating.
“The last few weeks before competition is fine tuning the miniscule things that are required for precision,” Millns said. “We didn’t have that opportunity this year, of course. But I think their passion and that they have such trust and confidence in each other (overcame the challenges.)”
Gasparini said that as hard as it was for Sara being off her foot for that long, it was also hard for Trent because he could not train as a pair.
“He had nobody to lift, he had nobody to do the tricks with, so basically it was both of them who were handicapped,” Gasparini said.
But now that Sara’s foot has healed and they have seen their competition at Junior Nationals, they know what they need to work on for next year, and they plan on coming back stronger than ever.
Love at first skate
Sara’s mom, Kathy Davidson, first took Sara skating at the Countryside Mall skating rink in Clearwater one week before Sara turned 4 years old. Immediately, she was hooked. Likewise, Trent attended a birthday party at the Countryside Mall rink at age 6 and fell in love with skating. Each of them began to separately take lessons at Countryside. But after a while, both Kathy and Trent’s mom, Holly Wintermeier, approached their coach, saying that their child would like to have a friend to skate with.
“I was referring to just someone on the ice at the same time,” Kathy said. “Well, (the Wintermeiers) had a similar situation, so the coach put the two of them together, and the first time they were ever supposed to hang out on the ice to skate, he had them hold hands and start skating around the mall rink.”
The kids fell in love with pairs skating, and in 2008, they took the gold medal at the ISI World Championships. They also competed in the ISI 50th Anniversary Competition in 2009 and took another gold medal. At that time, their coach stressed that he is not trained as a pairs coach, and if they wanted to advance as pairs skaters, they should find coaches trained in that, Kathy said. It was then that they moved to Tampa Bay Skating Club and began training with Gasparini and Millns.
“We basically took the kids’ lead,” Holly said. “They wanted to continue. They said, ‘yes, I like singles skating, but I really, really like pairs skating.’”
“They’re most comfortable when skating pairs,” Kathy added.
Holly said pairs skating is definitely a sport that you have to commit to and truly want to do it. Both moms agree that none of the pressure to succeed and compete comes from the parents.
“We’re just the vehicles and the daddies are the checkbook,” Kathy joked.
Otherwise, the parents just follow the kids’ lead, Holly said.
“I’m so proud and thrilled to see that (Sara) is so enjoying something and having success at what she loves to do, and it is great knowing that my child is receiving other things out of this, like dedication, commitment and perseverance.”
Sara attends Safety Harbor Middle School, and Trent attends Palm Harbor Middle. Both are good students in academics as well as in skating.
“They’re both great students off the ice as well, and they enjoy playing other sports,” Holly said. “It’s really important that they are well-rounded people. So I’m proud in every aspect.”
What it takes to pairs skate
In pairs skating, each skater must be strong singles skaters, but they have the added complexity of having to execute all they do together, the coaches said.
“In pairs, greater precision is required because you can’t just step when you want to,” Millns said. “You have to watch your partner to make sure you step at the same time, in the same direction, in the same way. So it’s a much higher degree of constraint and the freedom to do what you want to do when you want to do it is minimized.”
“It’s two people skating as one,” Gasparini added.
Additionally, pairs skating is different from singles because it has lifts, throws and other pairs-only elements, such as the death spiral, Gasparini said. In a death spiral, the boy is in a lunge, holding one of the girl’s hands. She is stretched out in a bridge, with her head upside down like in a backbend, and the boy spins her around in a circle around him.
“They also have spins that they have to synchronize, and it’s hard because everything has to be together – the spins and the footwork – unlike freestyle, where you’re just yourself performing the best you can,” Gasparini said.
Sara and Trent said that staying together in stroking and the other elements is by far the hardest part of pairs skating.
Trent said he especially loves the jumps, lifts and the death spiral. Sara said she especially loves the death spiral and the throws.
“She has an awesome throw. She really is one of the better ones,” Gasparini said as Sara beamed.
“And in the lifts, (Trent) gets to show off his power and strength,” Millns said.
“He shows off his manly physique,” Gasparini added.
And the throw, for the girl, is like flying Millns added. Sara spread her arms and said “Wheeeee!” with delight.
“She loves to be thrown,” Gasparini said. “And that’s essential in pairs skating because if you’re frightened of doing the throws, you won’t be successful.”
Though there are many parts of pairs skating that makes it extra challenging, the plus side, Gasparini said, is that if one is a good skater and both come together and get to the national arena, the opportunities to go farther are greater than in singles skating.
“But the down side is that for the two people, it’s like a marriage,” Gasparini said. “You have to be on one page, and these two do that very, very well, as do the two separate groups of parents. I can’t compliment them enough. They do a wonderful job. And that is the hardest part of pairs skating because it is easy to point fingers with problems, but there isn’t any of that.”
Millns agreed. Thinking back on his time skating as a pair, he said the marriage concept fits perfectly.
“You have to be a good communicator. I spent more time in more stressful, more demanding situations with my (skating) partner than I ever have had with my wife. So marriage is very easy for me. These guys are going to have the best marriages ever. It’s marriage training,” Millns said, laughing. “Because you go through every emotion.”
A perfect match
The young skaters commit to getting up early to skate each morning before school and also train each week both on and off the ice with their skating coaches. They also work with personal trainer Gary Kifer of Life Changing Fitness in Clearwater so they can gain the physical strength and flexibility to pull off their technical elements.
“We credit Gary Kifer for the strength and conditioning that enables them to perform the varied intricate and demanding elements,” Kathy said.
It takes incredible core strength for them to do many of their moves, and Trent needs a lot of upper body strength to be able to lift Sara with ease, making it look effortless. Likewise, she needs the strength to float into her moves, making difficult moves look easy to the audience.
One key in the kids’ success is how well their personalities complement each other, the coaches said. They never fight. Furthermore, they share the same passion, drive, dedication and goals. They are also good at taking setbacks in stride. Both coaches said they have seen some skaters of all ages have early success, but as soon as they don’t take gold one time, they get discouraged and stop skating.
Although there is still a long journey ahead of them, both coaches agree that Sara and Trent have a good chance of making it to the Olympics one day – the pair’s ultimate goal. They would still be too young for the next Winter Olympics in 2014, but Millns said that they would be more than eligible for the 2018 Olympics, being on track for age and ability. Sara chimed in that she also hopes to compete in the 2222 Olympics.
A lot of child pairs skaters show early success but then fizzle out. But these two show that they could have long-term success, Millns said.
“When you watch them skate, they have a lot of strength, a lot of power,” Millns said. “They have what I’d call the ‘Big Look’ on the ice. They’re at the juvenile level right now, and there are a few levels before you’re senior, which is what you see on TV. But their look is more like the senior look than it is the juvenile look, and I think that is a great indicator because should we get them to get all the other little pieces, they already have that look. … It looks like they’re going to do even better as they get older.”
Trent and Sara are fortunate that they have already gotten to compete together for four years and signs are good that the partnership can continue.
“The size is really good (in our partnership),” Trent said. “It’s not too short but not too the same.”
When the pair first began skating together, they were nearly the same height, Kathy said. Since girls typically grow faster than boys, it was expected that the partnership would eventually break up when Sara outgrew Trent.
“Only Trent is growing phenomenally and she hasn’t as much,” Kathy said. “So it’s different than what we expected, and they’re able to keep skating together and just make an even better match as they age.”
Another thing that makes them such a great match is the utter confidence they have in each other, Millns said. They trust the other to do their job and to be there for one another.
Both Sara and Trent have a passion for competition, and that is key, Gasparini said.
“They both enjoy that side of the sport, which is essential,” Gasparini said. “Because if you don’t enjoy that, if you don’t enjoy working hard, you won’t go very far.”
Not only do competitors have to perform all their elements well in practice, they have to pull it all out and make it shine in competition, Millns said. And that is where Trent and Sara do well. Kathy said it is funny how the coaches will tell the kids over and over to do certain things in practice, but sometimes the first time they’ll actually put it all together is in competition. But that shows that the coaches’ words mean something as well as showing their strength in competing.
“With two children this age, it’s such a long journey to the top, so it has to be well balanced so they don’t just get there – they stay there and they enjoy it at the end of the day. That’s the most important thing,” Gasparini said.
The past competitive season ended with the National Junior Championships, and now the pair is regrouping and working toward next season’s competitions. The overall goal is to work hard to move up in placements and work on harder elements, Gasparini said. They are still restricted in the juvenile division, and they are not allowed to do the harder tricks yet, she said. The next level up is intermediate, and that includes overhead lifts and more challenging throws. After that is novice, then juniors and then seniors. Starting in the novice level, top performers start receiving international assignments to represent Team USA against competitors from around the world, Kathy said.
“That’s when it becomes really fun,” Gasparini said. “Flying to different countries to skate.”
At the senior level, the top two or three pairs qualify for the Olympics.
Typically when people are advanced enough to these more advanced levels, the boy is between 15 and 19 years old and the girl is between 13 and 16. But it is less about age than it is about skill level.
“It’s built this way so we spend a lot of time on foundations,” Millns said. “You build that foundation because this could be a very dangerous sport without the right skills. When he starts doing overhead lifts with her, because he has a good foundation, he can be safe. There can be a rut on the ice, and people skate into you. How he reacts in those conditions will be critical to Sara’s well-being.”
But for this upcoming year, Gasparini will focus on teaching them harder jumps, harder spins and then perfecting them, and full extensions on the lifts. Millns will work with them on performance, their look, audience reaction.
An expensive sport
Trent and Sara’s success is certainly contributed to the excellent coaching and training they receive, but a lot of it is due to their natural talent, drive, passion and commitment to work.
“One thing I would like to strongly mention is that as they’re both in school, their time skating is extremely restricted, and also with Sara having a fractured foot, so their success is absolutely outstanding,” Gasparini said. “Their colleagues that they’re skating against probably are skating five to six hours a day, having about two hours of coaching. Sara and Trent do pairs skating (together with coaching) probably two hours a week.”
Kathy said one significant challenge in getting more training time is that skating is such an expensive sport.
Gasparini said that obviously, the more ice time and lesson time a skater has, the better advantage he or she has. But it is important for the families to live within their own economics she said. There are many horror stories of families getting themselves underwater financially in order to support their child’s skating, and then the kid quitting skating and still having the financial fallout. Unfortunately, she said, sponsorship is so critical for young skaters, but it is most often the already successful senior skaters who are approached for sponsorship. It is also easier to find sponsorships up north where skating is a more popular pastime. Those skating clubs tend to be larger with more skaters and more resources, Kathy said.
“Sponsorship is something that in the past, when I coached in Delaware, there were a lot of people who got involved with teams and singles skaters and followed their journey and had a lot of fun because they can go to the competitions and watch them skate,” Gasparini said. “It’s probably as much fun for them as the athletes to be a sponsor.”
Both families are currently looking for sponsorship opportunities, since between competition fees, costumes, skates, travel expenses, coaching, ice time, personal training and other expenses can reach about $65,000 a year. Until more opportunities come through, the families do what they can and feel fortunate that the kids can be as successful as they are given the current resources available.
The families do accept donations, payable to Skating Pair and mailed to P.O. Box 1481 Safety Harbor, FL 34695, or for tax-deductible gifts, the New England Amateur Skating Foundation is a nonprofit that helps amateur competitive skaters by financially defraying some of their expenses. For information, call 688-1841.
Sara Preston Davidson and Trent Wintermeier U.S. Figure Skating sanctioned events (all in juvenile pairs)
• 2012 U.S. Figure Skating National Junior Championships in East Lansing, Mich., in December 2011 – 8th place out of 20, after two weeks of jumps, lifts, and throws following an injury.
• 2011 Orange Blossom Open in Oldsmar in August 2011 – gold medalists
• 2011 Liberty Summer Competition in Aston, Pa., in July 2011 – bronze medalists
• 2011 Sunshine State Games in Coral Springs in May 2011 – gold medalists
• 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Junior National Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah, in December, 2010 – sixth place out of 16 pairs
• 2011 Eastern Sectional Figure Skating Championships in Aston, Pa., in November 2010 – gold medalists
• 2011 Nancy Archie-Meyer Memorial Open Figure Skating Competition in Ellenton – gold medalists
• 2010 Sunshine State Games in Coral Springs – gold medalists
Pauline Gasparini, World and Olympic figure skater coach • Coached 35 years at all levels of ISI and U.S. Figure Skating
• Coached skaters to top four places in three Olympic games and eight World Championships
• Produced eight national champions and several national medal winners
• Coached at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
• Won numerous awards through the PSA, including a Ranking Level Seven, which requires the candidate to have coached in multiple Olympic and World Championships
• Won a bronze medal at the World Professional Championships in singles figure skating
Jim Millns, stroking and positioning coach
• Bronze medalist with partner Colleen O’Connor in ice dancing in the 1976 Olympics
• Before 2006, the pair was the only ice dance team in U.S. history to have won a medal at the Olympic Games in figure skating
• Silver medalist in pairs ice dancing in the 1975 World Figure Skating Championships
• First place at the 1974 U.S. Championships
• Seventh-place in the 1974 World Championships
• First place in the 1975 World Championships
• Second place at the 1975 World Championships
• First place at the 1976 U.S. Championships
• Third place at the 1976 World Championships
• Inducted into the Figure Skating Hall of Fame
• Captain of the U.S. Olympic Team
• Retired International skating judge
• Master Rated coach by the Professional Skaters Association