SOCHI, Russia – Nathan Bartholomay clearly remembers the first time he partnered with Felicia Zhang at a Delaware rink.
It was skating love at first sight.
Zhang felt the same way. Each had recently split with partners, so their hearts were open to something new.
“We actually skated at the same rink for two and a half years in Delaware,’’ Zhang recalled on Wednesday night after the twosome completed the free-skate portion of pairs skating by finishing an admirable 12th with 167.21 points (including Tuesday night’s short program).
“After nationals in 2011, we split with our partners and our coaches said, ‘let’s just keep the training going.’ They said, ‘don’t get soft.’+’’
Bartholomay takes it from there.
“I knew right from the start, I was like ‘this is something I’m not turning my back on because it was something special.’
“I tried other things, came right back and said, ‘this is working.’+’’
Added Zhang: “We knew we had something special. We knew if we kept working toward something, we could do something great.’’
And great things they did, making it all the way to Sochi, culminating in a stellar performance to the stirring music of Les Miserables at Iceberg Skating Palace.
The pairing’s coach wanted his protégés to stay even-keeled, even though they were the first ones on the ice.
“All our coach said to us as we were going out was ‘you’re home, first lesson, let’s go!’+’’ Bartholomay explained. “And then we locked into the program.’’
That strategy seemed to work. Zhang said they didn’t put too much pressure on themselves because outside expectations weren’t that high.
“We weren’t too worried about placement coming in here,’’ she said. “Because we are a fairly new team. And we know that teams (ranked) ahead of us have been to numbers of worlds and Olympics.
“So we just need that experience. We’re just really happy to be part of a great event today.’’
Knowing the whole world was watching didn’t faze them at all.
“I think we used that (perceived) pressure to our advantage,’’ Zhang said. “I thought it (the program) was pretty clean. We had a great time with it.’’
Bartholomay pointed out that his team was the only one in the 16-team finals that hadn’t been to a world championship yet. They are an alternate on the American team for the next rendition of that event.
When it was over, they basked in the glory of applause from the standing room-only crowd.
“It went great,’’ Zhang said. “We’ve been training this program since the beginning of last March. And we just hit a high point here in Sochi.’’
They performed the same program at nationals and just carried that precision through.
“We wanted to show that we’re consistent,’’ Bartholomay said.
Both said the entire time spent here was a memorable experience.
“It sounds corny but it’s everything you expect it to be,’’ Bartholomay said. “And then a hundred percent more.
“You walk into the dining hall and it’s just this huge facility of anything any athlete would ever need to eat or prepare for competition.’’
Both will head home on Sunday for a well-deserved rest.
“We haven’t had a break since a three-day weekend in November,’’ Zhang said. “It will be nice to spend a day sitting on the couch watching TV.’’
“Or maybe go to Disney World,’’ Bartholomay chimed in. “We’ve been in Florida for three years and we haven’t been there yet.’’
The event was won, as expected, by Russia’s Maxim Trankov and Tatiana Volosozhar with 236.86 points, followed by Russia’s Fedor Klimov-Ksenia Stolbova (218.68) for the silver and Germany’s Robin Szolkowy-Aliona Savchenko the bronze.
Having had such a successful performance here, can Bartholomay-Zhang allow themselves to think ahead to Korea in 2018?
“We’re going to take it one year at a time,’’ Zhang said. “Four years is a long time. But we’re definitely aiming for that.’’
Bartholomay isn’t foreign to that idea.
“It’s hard to think that far ahead when we’re still not done here. But it’s definitely a possibility. I know we’re committed to next season.’’
With that, they headed to a television studio to re-tell their story again. But it never grows old, not when you share the same love.