It is an important Monday morning in the world of competitive figure skating: the 2014 U.S. Olympic team has just been announced. Yet the rinks are quiet at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, Calif., the home ice of Olympic medal hopeful Gracie Gold. The media is not gathered here, yet. There are no fans looking for autographs. That is the oddity of figure skating, which thrives during Winter Olympic coverage, but otherwise goes virtually unnoticed.
But every Olympics piques the skating dreams of young girls and boys. And with state-of-the-art facilities such as Toyota thriving in places like Los Angeles, it’s becoming more common to see youngsters building lives around the sport.
More than 500 figure skaters take private lesson at Toyota, according to Juliette Harton, director of skating here. That’s not something you’d expect in a beachy suburb of L.A., just minutes from the sand where Olympic volleyball champs Misty May Treanor and Kerri Walsh trained for their gold medals.
The main draw here is the elite list of private coaches who call the rink home. Toyota has an Olympic pedigree, with a cadre of private coaches who have produced four Olympic figure medalists to date – Michelle Kwan, Timothy Goebel, Christopher Toland and 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lycacek – plus other award-winning skaters.
Leading the team is the most recognized name and face in figure skating coaching, Frank Carroll. Carroll, whose list of champions includes Kwan, Linda Fratianne, Christopher Bowman, Tiffany Chin, Goebel and Lycacek, is the reason Gold moved to California from Chicago to prepare for the Sochi games.
Carroll is listed on the rink’s handout of private instructors, charging the most for his valuable instruction at $50 for a 20-minute lesson. But can anyone get a lesson with Carroll? “He will work with almost any level if his schedule permits,” Harton says. “He is, however, focused on the elite and competitive levels and is in high demand for those. True beginners usually start with one of our other staff or in a Learn to Skate class.”
Indeed, there are a myriad of public sessions devoted to specific skating skills. There is an axel class, a double jump class, a power class, a freestyle class, off-ice training classes including ballet and yoga stretch.
Today, around lunchtime on a week day, there are a handful of young school aged skaters training. A mother and father coach siblings, a boy and a girl. The mother reminds the daughter what the coach told her to work on: “Make your motions bigger”, she says, “Bend your back.” Two girls are land training in a workout room above the ice, the same room Gold works out in when she is here.
A young man in black, with the lunch time ice to himself, readies his music. Today, he is unknown to observers like me, but he skates with the seriousness of a future Olympian. He circles the ice and executes a perfect jump with grace and agility. Again and again he circles, repeating the jump with precision. Now he doubles the jump, then lands a made-for-television triple. Maybe in four years, I’ll be saying I saw it first.