Watching 14-year-old Robert Hennings and 11-year-old Elise Middleton perfectly in sync during the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships makes it easy to believe the two had been partners for more than three years.
Their winning performance in intermediate pairs was phenomenal. With the exception of a few slipups, every spin, every leap, every flourish seemed to be in harmony much like the pair themselves.
"You just have to trust your partner," Hennings says. "It's teamwork, and if one person isn't into it, it's not going to work."
Pair skating is an interesting exercise in choreography, timing and trust. The boy and girl in a pair must learn to share the type of confidence that allows them to spin and throw each other across the ice.
Naturally, it's always tricky to match the right skaters with each other, but working with athletes as young as 8 or 9 years old provides extra challenges. Coaches have to worry about down the road, when adolescence could take its course and force a pair apart.
That's what happened to Michael Johnson, 16, who split with his four-year partner and best friend when she got taller and lifts became difficult.
He says it was difficult to leave her, but he was lucky enough to find a new partner in 14-year-old Caitlin Belt at the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club.
"She was a little shy at first, but we got along pretty well soon," says Johnson, who finished in second place with Belt. "When you train together so much, your partner almost has to be your best friend."
It's one of the key elements in matching the perfect pair, but far from the only one.
"A lot of ingredients go into making the cake," says Peter Oppegard, a pairs bronze medalist at the '88 Olympics and Hennings and Middleton's coach
• First place: Elise Middleton and Robert Middleton, Los Angeles Figure Skating Club (58.69)
• Second place: Caitlin Belt and Michael Johnson, University of Delaware Figure Skating Club (56.53)
• Third place: Hannah Klopstock and David Botero, Orange County FSC and Summit FSC (53.92)
• First place: Ally Weber and Dmitry Artemov, Dallas Figure Skating Club (37.89)
• Second place: Paddison Lowe and Logan Bye, Broadmoor Skating Club (37.41)
• Third place: Taylor Olsen and Remington Burghart, Salt Lake FS and Anchorage FSC (36.13)
O For more photos of Day 3 of the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships in Salt Lake City, visit http://www.sltrib.com/sports