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Ice Dancer Aims to Medal at National Championships This Weekend
Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Feel nervous thinking about your first class presentation of the semester? Just imagine the thump-thump of Lorraine McNamara’s heart as she steps onto the ice tonight for one of the biggest competitions of her life: the 2023 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
The University of Maryland psychology major is an ice dancer who skates with partner Anton Spiridonov, and they’re going into the event with momentum. Two weeks ago, the pair won silver at the biannual winter World University Games at Lake Placid.
“You’re not just representing your nation but also your college,” she said of the competition in Olympic winter sports. “I hope I made all the Terps proud.”
Ice dancing is one of four figure skating disciplines, joining individual men’s and women’s competitions and pairs skating. While the other three feature jumps and spins you’ve seen on TV, ice dancing focuses more on artistry and interpretation of the music; lifts where the male partner holds the female partner in creative positions while on they’re on the move; unison between the two skaters, including tandem spins; as well as skating skills that are less visible to a lay audience, like “edge quality” or how deeply a blade cuts through the ice.
“What’s so special about skating is it’s not just an athletic competition—it’s an entertainment performance. You have to balance the two,” McNamara said. “In the last few years, it’s opened up to various styles of dance, like hip-hop, contemporary, jazz and modern,” her favorite. She’s performed to hits like George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” and Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.”
McNamara was just 2 1/2 and growing up in Germantown, Maryland, when she first started skating. The youngest of six, with four brothers who all played hockey, she was a natural on the ice. Her first private coach, Elena Novak, who still coaches her today, invited her to join the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy that Novak created with her husband and fellow coach, Alexei Kiliakov. By age 5, McNamara had entered first competition with partner Quinn Carpenter.
Her work ethic is unparalleled, said choreographer Jimmie Manners, who has worked with her for the past two years. “She’s willing to trudge through the mud to have those bad days and come back the next day and crush it. That’s one of the secrets to her being so successful.”
McNamara steadily climbed the rankings, earning high enough placements to qualify for Team USA by age 12, but couldn’t officially represent her country for another year because she was too young.
Once she started competing internationally, her training intensified. In high school, she’d be on the ice by 5:45 a.m. so she could practice before classes started, and she recalls frantically finishing assignments in her parents’ back seat as they shuttled her from the rink to dance instruction to physical training. But the sacrifices paid off as she and Carpenter became two-time U.S. National Junior Champions and the 2016 Junior World Champions and competed in places as far-flung as Taiwan, Finland and Turkey.
Her biggest challenge came in 2020, when Carpenter retired from the sport. Luckily, the first potential new partner she tried out was Spiridonov, and the two have quickly found success, such as starting this season with a gold medal at the Lake Placid International Ice Dance Championships.
“I admire her maturity,” Manners said. “When you’re doing it by yourself, you’re allowed to be the star. But when you’re dancing with another human and your outcome depends on that other human, you have to be a good communicator. If you’re having a bad day, not letting it affect him. If you’re having a good day, using it to motivate him.”
While many elite athletes delay their studies, McNamara took just a year off after high school before enrolling at Maryland. “I personally do better on the ice when I have more going on off the ice,” she said. “I wanted to keep all my doors open.”
She’s pursuing her degree a couple of classes at a time, and the 23-year-old junior is about halfway to graduation. She does the bulk of her coursework on campus during the summer, her off-season, then takes one or two online classes in the fall and spring semesters, when she’s focused on training—six days a week, up to seven hours a day on the ice—and competitions around the world.
American ice dancers have medaled in the last five Olympics, and McNamara hopes to join their ranks.
“We hope to one day earn the title at the U.S. National Championships, and represent Team USA at the World Championships and at the Olympic Games,” she said.
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