It's complicated, but Olympic pairs teams let the sunshine (state) in
Listen to the four pairs skaters who made the U.S. Olympic team Saturday talk about their intertwined relationships, and you think this must have been a scene cut from the hit movie "It’s Complicated."
They all train at the same rink in Ellenton, Fla., and that part seems like an even-Hollywood-wouldn’t-touch-this story: four Olympic figure skaters from Florida.
Amanda Evora and Jeremy Barrett, both 25, who skate on rival pairs, have been a romantic item for five years and now are living together.
Mark Ladwig, 29, Evora’s skating partner since 2002, has been married for 3 1/2 years to a woman with an interior design degree who is working as a bartender at a Bradenton restaurant. He and his wife, Janet, have a 4-month-old son, Holden.
"I have competed against my boyfriend, Jeremy, for many years," Evora said. "Nothing has changed. We do know when it’s boyfriend-girlfriend time and when it’s skating time."
"Weekends, I don’t call unless there is an emergency," Ladwig said. "That’s her time to be with Jeremy. She allows me to have that time too."
Evora laughed at the idea she would be subconsciously hoping for Barrett to fall to improve her team’s position.
"We’ve learned our boundaries for each other, when to be there for each other, when not to be," Evora said. "Personal is personal, and business is business. So it makes complete sense in my mind. I know it seems kind of odd to a lot of people."
Barrett’s partner, Caydee Denney, could be the odd woman out in all this, especially since she is only 16 years old. In March, the home-schooled Denney was the youngest skater in any discipline at the world championships, where she and Barrett finished ninth.
"I don’t feel like a young baby," she said.
"She’s always invited to everything we do,"Ladwig said. "Yes, she’s the youngest, but she does bring a lot of energy to everything."
Barrett feels strongly that it would not be a good idea to be romantically involved with a skating partner -- even though the great Chinese team of Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo is married.
"I’ve seen a lot of partnerships end badly because they were dating, then they separated [off ice], and it was too much for them,’’ Barrett said. "It’s better off as a business relationship."
"I am 16," Denney chimed in, drawing laughs. "I mean, there’s only so much you can do there. He’s a great buddy and all, but --"
Denney and Barrett utterly dominated the competition at the U.S. Championships in Spokane, Wash., skating two impressive, clean programs. Even if they have skated together only 18 months, their first national title was not a shock, since they were second a year ago.
"The first time I saw them [practice] together, all of us said, 'That’s a match,'" Ladwig said. "They are a very compatible team."
Native Floridians Denney and Barrett have been known as strong technically and weak artistically, not surprising given their lack of time together. Pairs chemistry needs more than the spark of athletic love at first sight.
"I feel with this competition we have definitety stepped up our [artistic] components," Barrett said. "Hopefully, we’re not just known as an [athletic] trick team anymore, and we can hold up internationally."
Few would have picked Evora and Ladwig to wind up second in their eighth nationals together. They previously had been no higher than fourth.
Ladwig, a native North Dakotan, has been getting inspiration from the inscription "Light the Fire Within" on the participation medal he got as a volunteer at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, where he stood in the Olympic Square giving directions to people.
He had the medal with him in Spokane. He also has his volunteer uniform under the bed at home.
"Maybe it’s time to break it out so the wife can wear it when we go to Vancouver," Ladwig said. "Stay warm."
Evora is the daughter of Filipinos who came to the United States in 1972. Her mother and father, a chemical engineer, were living in Bahrain as her birth approached.
The family traveled to New York for the delivery so Amanda could be a U.S. citizen. Her parents since have become citizens as well.
The pair also had to do some birth-related planning, knowing Ladwig would be occupied at home in the days after his son arrived in Sept. 13.
"We trained really hard in June, July and August, because September was an 'if' month," Ladwig said. "Then we geared back up."
For either team, making the top eight at the Olympics would be a triumph. Denney and Barrett have just the 14th best international score in the world this season. Evora and Ladwig’s best is 22nd.
The next step is a lot bigger. Just ask Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, who have slid inexorably backward since winning their first of consecutive U.S. titles in 2008. They were a dispirited fifth in Spokane, missing an Olympic berth that had seemed guaranteed to them.
"The stage we’re at right now, we’re still growing as a team, but I know in the future we’d like to be one of the top teams out there,’’ Barrett said. "We don’t get nervous against the skaters from other countries and we can hold our own against them. I feel like with a little more work we can be on a podium at worlds."
-- Philip Hersh in Spokane
Photo: Mark Ladwig and Amanda Evora, left, join training partners Jeremy Barrett and Caydee Denney on the awards program after Saturday's pairs final at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Credit: Elaine Thompson / Associated Press