SOCHI, Russia – Nathan Bartholomay was all smiles and for good reason.
The Suncoast resident, along with partner Felicia Zhang, had just made their first Olympic competition a successful one, advancing out of Tuesday night’s pairs figure skating short program into Wednesday night’s free-skating program.
In the process, the pairing set a personal best score of 56.90 and finished 14th out of 20 pairings. A total of 16 duos qualify for the free-skating session.
“It was a great start to an Olympic career,’’ Bartholomay said. “We were a little scratchy on a couple things, we got tight but I’m really so happy with being able to handle the pressure.’’
Action at Iceberg Skating Palace resumes with the free-skating program on Wednesday night beginning at 7:45 p.m. (10:45 a.m. U.S. Eastern time).
“We were pretty calm,’’ Bartholomay said of the routine. “There’s a little bit of a rapid heartbeat when you get out there. It wasn’t a ‘panic,’ it was more of a ‘we want to go.’ Let’s do it, we’re ready.’’
Both train in Ellenton, where they have a big contingent of supporters. And there were plenty of Americans in the stands at Iceberg to cheer them on, including from the families of both skaters.
“It was great,’’ said Zhang, who originally hails from Plainsboro, N.J. “We couldn’t have dreamed of a better (performance). We just went out there and just gave it all we got. And I think we really enjoyed ourselves out there.’’
Bartholomay said he drew inspiration from watching the U.S. team take a bronze medal in the team figure skating over the weekend.
“What a phenomenal thing,’’ he said. “To have our teammates win a bronze medal for the United States, we’re so excited for them. In some ways, I think it makes me inspired.
“We fed off of that and kind of ran with it.’’
One of the U.S. pairings that helped win the bronze – Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir – also advanced on Tuesday night, placing ninth overall.
Bartholomay and Zhang have demonstrated good synergy in their time together and that comes from constant practice.
“Doing it everyday no matter what,’’ Bartholomay said.
“After nationals we had a few bad days,’’ Zhang said. “But we just focused on what we really wanted. We were thinking that we are Olympians and we’re here today. It definitely inspired us to keep going and train harder.’’
As expected, the Russian pair of Maxim Trankov and Tatiana Volosozhar rang up the highest score (84.17). Germany’s Robin Szolkowy and Aliona Savchenko stand second with 79.64 and Russia’s Fedor Klimov and Ksenia Stolbova are third with 75.21.
Bartholomay said he has a contingent of four family members and friends attending the Olympics.
“Everybody at home, thank you so much,’’ he said. “I get all their well-wishes and we both feel that energy from them, even though we’re here, it’s pretty amazing to feel that support.’’
Added Zhang: “My dad is here, my mom and my brother are at home. I love everybody. The support for us is unbelievable. I couldn’t ask for anything more.’’
Both reported there’s a TV “watching party’’ going on in Ellenton and, as Bartholomay put it, “we appreciate their support.’’
Bartholomay and Zhang skated to the music of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel Waltz.
According to Bartholomay, the upcoming event is their strong suit, so they’re expecting good things.
Both say they’ve enjoyed the experience so far, sharing stories, training tips and the like with athletes from other sports in the Olympic Village.
“We’ve sat down and had some meals with all different athletes,’’ Bartholomay said. “I’m pretty good friends with some of the girls on the women’s hockey team.
“I feel like when I talk to other athletes here, I feel like it’s the first time I’m competing in bobsled. They’re just so welcoming. They’re open to talk about anything and they’re all cool people.’’