Bartholomay-Zhang set to face world's best

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SOCHI, Russia – It’s been years in the making but the big day has finally arrived. Suncoast figure skaters Nathan Bartholomay, and his partner, Felicia Zhang, get to show the world they have the right stuff.

On Tuesday night (7 p.m. in Sochi, 10 a.m. U.S. Eastern time), the pair will compete in figure skating pairs short program.

The 24-year-old Bartholomay, who trains and resides in Ellenton, is hoping to be at his best when he takes to the ice with Zhang at Iceberg Skating Palace.

Competing for a medal will be a tall order.

Heavily favored is the Russian pairing of Maxim Trankov and Tatiana Volosozhar, a tandem which was setting world records in the short program as recently as last September and are reigning world champs in this event.

However, even though the Russians practically own this event – having won gold in every Olympics between 1964 and 2006 before an upset at Vancouver – they most likely will be challenged.

Among the chief threats are Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.

The Germans served notice on Russia’s top pair by prevailing at the sport’s grand prix final in Fukuoka, Japan in December.

Savchenko-Szolkowy have won four world championships, so they won’t be easily fazed.

According to press reports, the Germans, who took the bronze medal at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, have prepared a surprise for their competitors as they will debut a new program in this competition.

The Russians will skate to the music of Jesus Christ Superstar, while the Germans are expected to go with a Russian favorite (to get the crowd into it, perhaps?), Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.

The Bartholomay-Zhang pairing is coached by Jim Peterson of the U.S., along with Lyndon Johnson of Canada.

It is expected this pairing will skate to the Carousel Waltz by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Bartholomay-Zhang will compete in Group 2 along with the only other American pairing in this competition, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir.

Also in Group 2 is the pairing of Great Britain’s Stacey Kemp and David King.

Bartholomay, a member of the Southwest Florida Figure Skating Club, has been training upwards of 30 hours a week to get ready for this competition. To make expenses, he works in a martini bar in Florida and is taking courses in sports therapy.

He’s also begun coaching. “I love coaching and being able to teach this wonderful sport to young kids who want to learn,’’ he told Examiner.com last month.

During the current skating season, the Bartholomay-Zhang tandem was ranked sixth in pairs at the Cup of China and seventh in Skate America. In the Four Continents Championships, it finished with a No. 4 rank.

The twosome is currently ranked No. 28 in the world.