U.S. pairs skaters' date with destiny?

Martin Rogers
Yahoo! Sports
Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig compete in the pairs free skate during the 2010 US Figure Skating Championships

U.S. pairs skaters' date with destiny?

Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig compete in the pairs free skate during the 2010 US Figure Skating Championships

Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

Jeremy Barrett and Amanda Evora have dated for five years, but each will spend the evening of Valentine's Day in the arms of other partners on the United States pairs figure skating team. That has not stopped the romantics from wishing an Olympic-style marriage proposal to kick off the Vancouver Games' figure-skating program.

Barrett and Evora have made their home together in Bradenton, Fla., and will make their first appearance at the Winter Olympics on Feb. 14 – that love-struck date on the calendar where Cupid fires off his indiscriminate arrows.

Sparked by a comment from Barrett's mother, Laurie Andrews, that she hopes there will be "six rings instead of five" at this year's Games, an Olympic audience is desperate to see if Barrett uses his sport's biggest stage to pop the ultimate question.

Both skaters have tried to shy away from the issue of their relationship and the possibility for marriage, preferring to focus on their preparation for what they hope will be the performance of their lives. Figure skating, though, at least every four years, can bring out the romantic in us and an Olympic love story of this caliber would surely thaw the frost around the heart of even the most embittered skeptic.

While the connection the 25-year-olds share away from the rink has survived the stresses of an intense workload aimed at Vancouver Games glory and the culmination of a long-held dream, Barrett and Evora found their skating soul mates on the ice with others.

Evora will pair with longtime skating partner Mark Ladwig, who hails from Fargo, N.D., but relocated to Florida to allow his working relationship with Evora to flourish. Barrett teams up with 16-year-old Caydee Denney. Both pairs will battle to become the first American duo to medal in the event since Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard claimed bronze at Calgary in 1988.

The unusual domestic scenario has become accepted as reality for Barrett and Evora, ever since they booked their spots on the team at the U.S. Nationals in Spokane, Wash., less than four weeks ago.

Situations like this are not entirely uncommon in the figure skating world – John Baldwin and Rena Inoue, who narrowly missed out on a spot on the U.S. team for Vancouver, got engaged on the ice at the 2008 Nationals when Baldwin got down on one knee in the middle of the rink – yet Barrett admits there will be something slightly surreal about the two nights of the short and free skate program at Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum. For those two nights is where the woman who washes his shirts and whom he cooks for will morph into a deadly rival for a prize worth considerably more than possession of the television remote.

Russian and Chinese teams are expected to dominate, so it is entirely feasible that Evora and Barrett could find themselves competing for a bronze medal to take back to the mantelpiece of a certain Florida apartment.

It is in a modest community in Bradenton where Evora and Barrett live together, train together at the nearby Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, share the same coach and appear to have a blissful domestic existence. So as they're both top-class athletes, wouldn't it be easier to skate together as well?

Not so, according to coach Jim Peterson, who says pairs skating is all about chemistry and synthesis. Body shapes and types, rotation speeds and skating strengths all come into play to determine the ideal partner.

"We were not made to be together on the ice," Evora said. "But we were meant to be partners away from it and I am very happy with that."

So how must it feel to see your partner in a romantic setting with another person? After all, Evora and Ladwig will skate to the "Portuguese Love Theme" from the movie "Love Actually" for their short program, while Denney and Barrett's long program is set to the backdrop of the dramatic and emotive love story "Scheherazade."

"This is just what we do," Barrett said. "People not familiar with figure skating might find it difficult to understand, but for us it is a performance, a competition. We each have a strong skating connection with our partners, but that is totally different to what we have in our personal life."

The only jealousy that may come about would be if one team medals and the other does not. Because when it comes to skating, loyalty lies in the team and witnessing Evora and Barrett in training offers no suggestion that they are a couple.

"We have grown accustomed to the situation," Evora said. "It is actually a really special thing that we both get to go to Vancouver and chase our dreams. It is extra special for me that Jeremy will be there."

However, what could be the defining moment in the careers of both is not to be taken lightly. That means separate rooms and total concentration in the days leading up to Valentine's night.

"We have so much respect for what each other is doing, but there has to be a focus on your own performance and your own goals," Barrett said. "I know how determined she is and how wonderful she is at what she does. I don't need to worry about that. She will do herself justice. I need to focus on what I am doing with Caydee, just like she does with Mark."

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