Moorhead's Ladwig, partner shine during short Olympic pairs program
VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Amanda Evora pumped her fist in celebration when she nailed the landing of her throw triple loop jump, sending an early signal that she and partner Mark Ladwig of Moorhead were on a roll in the first minute of their Olympic debut performance.
The ear-to-ear smiles the pairs figure skaters wore as they wound down their short program Sunday night at the 2010 Winter Games spoke volumes about their accomplishment.
Skating to the soundtrack from the film "Love Actually" - fitting for the Valentine's Day competition - Ladwig and his partner from Texas posted a 10th-place result with a score of 57.86, more than 6 points better than their previous personal best.
"I can definitely say we've already had many Olympic moments," Evora told The Associated Press. "So whatever we can do the rest of the Olympics is icing on the cake."
Ladwig, 29, and Evora, 25, who have trained in Ellenton, Fla., since teaming up in 2002, hit every element of the eight required in the pairs short program opener.
Attired in contrasting yet complementary colors - she in neon pink and he in Olympic blue - Ladwig and Evora had the crowd on their side early as they hit their individual triple jumps followed by a solid triple twist lift.
Evora and Ladwig have always been strong in the lift and throw triple jumps department, but their downfall was the individual triples. Evora regularly failed to complete the three rotations in the air before landing, resulting in them being credited with only a double jump (1.3 points) instead of a triple (4.0 points).
"Amanda really focused this year to relearn some of the technique on jumps, and this is the first year of her entire career that her (triple) jumps actually counted," said coach Lyndon Johnston, who competed for Canada at the 1984 and '88 Olympic Games.
"That's what made the difference, and that's called perseverance," he added.
Only once before have Ladwig and Evora competed against an international field with such depth, and that was in 2005.
Their training mates, Floridians Caydee Denney, 16, and Jeremy Barrett, 25, ranked 14th with 53.26, losing valuable points when she doubled her intended triple toe-loop jump, the element that had foiled Evora in the past.
Denney and Barrett, whose off-ice partner is his on-ice rival, Evora, finished ahead of Evora and Ladwig last month in winning the U.S. national title.
Atop the leaderboard after Sunday's opener are China's Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao with 76.66 points. Three-time world champs and twice Olympic bronze medalists who happen to be husband and wife, they returned to competition after a two-year hiatus in hopes of capping their career with an Olympic gold medal.
They skated first on what happened to be Chinese New Year and, as it turned out, skated best, although they lead Germany's reigning world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy by less than 1 point.
Russia's Olympic rookies Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov are also close behind in third, as are two other Chinese couples, Qing Pang and Jian Tong and Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, in fourth and fifth.
Which of those five will end up on the podium following their final performances tonight is anyone's guess.
The judging panel was composed of arbitrators from United States, Canada, China, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, France, Great Britain and Switzerland.