In January, James Schetelich, a senior at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School competed in the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships (Junior Level) in Boston and finished in the Top 10. Naturally, he has been watching the skating competitions at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
How and why did you begin skating? Who inspired you most?
I started skating when I was five years old after watching the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. I cannot remember which specific performance inspired me to start skating, but there were several memorable ones, such as Sarah Hughes’ unexpected gold medal performance.
Describe the pressure of competing for a spot on the US national team.
Competing for one of either two or three spots to go and represent the United States at an Olympic event comes with an immense amount of pressure. Skating is such a unique sport because you are not given three strikes and three at-bats per game, you are given a 2 minute, 50 second short program and a four minute, 30 second long program where you are expected to be absolutely flawless.
It was devastating this year at Nationals to watch some of skaters with an outside shot at the Olympic team fall on their very first jump of the competition; just like that, the door closed on their Olympic dreams. This year is especially pressure-packed since the Olympics only comes once every four years, and the competition is so intense that even the U.S Men’s National champion of last year did not make the Olympic team this year.
Who are some of the most famous skaters you have met?
I’ve met skaters from all over the world including Olympic Champions Victor Petrenko and Kristi Yamaguchi. I also grew skating up with 2014 Olympic competitor Felicia Zhang.
What kind of commitment does it take to compete on an elite level?
Skating at an elite level takes a tremendous amount of commitment. The skaters you see in the Olympics are typically either home-schooled or do not go to school at all because of their dedication to skating.
I am able to leave school around 11:30 after taking all my core classes so that I can spend more quality ice time at the rink. Only the best skaters at my rink are there at this early time. I drive an hour to Monsey, New York, at least three times a week and skate for 2-3 hours before coming home. I typically skate two other days in Morristown, New Jersey, following a similar schedule.
You finished 9th in the Junior division this year? Do you have your sights set on PyeongChang, S. Korea in 2018?
I have no idea how long I will continue skating. Of course, the Olympics are inspiring me to keep pursuing my dreams in skating, but I highly value my college education as well. I am almost definitely testing to move up to the Senior level this year.
Russian teenager Julia Lipnitskaia looks so strong. Can she be beaten?
The thing about Julia is that these “perfect” skates are no surprise at all. She skates almost flawlessly basically all the time. I’ve never seen her falter. She won the women’s team event by a huge margin, and is likely to medal in Sochi. However, she has not competed against skating “royalty” Olympic champion “Queen” Yu-Na Kim, who is the holder of record-high scores as well as gorgeous technique and skating. I am extremely interested to see how both do in the singles event. If they both skate their best, I believe that Yu-Na’s polished and mature style of skating will outrank Julia’s technical ability.
What are Gracie Gold's chances of winning Gold?
Gracie will definitely need help from other skaters if she wants a shot at the gold medal. Her best will not rack up the same points as Lipnitskaia’s best or Kim’s best. However, she is definitely a contender for the bronze medal, and probably the United States’ best hope for a medal in the ladies’ event. She is an extremely strong competitor and has truly reinvented herself in the past year after moving to California to train with legendary coach Frank Carroll. If she can deliver performances in the individual event like she did in the team event, she definitely has a shot at the podium.
Ashley Wagner made the team despite finishing fourth in the nationals. Did she deserve to make the team? What are her chances of winning gold?
This is a very tricky question for me. Ashley’s track record in the past three years has been extremely strong. She is the two-time national champion and has placed as high as fourth in the world. However, she has slightly lackluster this season, especially at the national championship. I do think Ashley was the best choice even though current U.S. bronze medalist Mirai Nagasu had one of the skates of her life at nationals. Nagasu does not have as strong of a track record, although she tried to make the case that her previous Olympic experience (she competed in 2010) would help the U.S. team. Her performance at nationals was definitely inspiring to watch, and although it was devastating that she was left off the team, the U.S. Figure Skating Association ultimately made the right decision.
Any predictions on the U.S. men?
Jason Brown is such a reliable skater; he has tremendously progressed into the senior ranks and just recently claimed his U.S. silver medal after his inspired Riverdance performance. He will definitely be one to watch on the Olympic stage.
Jeremy Abbott was incredible at nationals, yet always seems to falter under international world and Olympic pressure. After the short program, Brown sits in sixth (less than a point away from the bronze) and Abbott in 15th. Jason definitely delivered and was rewarded by the judges. I’m definitely hoping for him to come away with a bronze which would be a HUGE deal for him and men’s U.S. figure skating.
US men's skater Abbott fell on an attempted quad and never in his short program during the team competition. How does a skater try to rebound from such a disappointing performance?
In the individual competition, Abbott skated his short program and fell on the same jump. However, he did recover well after and completed the rest of his program. Unfortunately, the program took him way out of contention for a medal in these games.
How good are ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White?
Meryl and Charlie are stunning. They actually received a perfect free dance score at the national championship last month. They have completely reinvented the sport of ice dancing. Typically, dance is the section of figure skating that is “left out” due to its lack of excitement even to figure skaters. However, Meryl and Charlie are the current gems of U.S. figure skating, our best chance at a gold medal, and the main reason we came away with bronze in the team event. If they win, they will be the first U.S. ice dancing team to win Olympic gold, in a sport previously dominated by eastern Soviet athletes.
What makes ice skating the marquis sport of the Winter Olympics?
Figure skating is a combination of athleticism and artistry. Performances on the ice can make audiences stand up and clap more than performances at any other sporting event. Figure skating brings audiences-quite literally- to tears. The best skaters in the world are able to take the audience on a journey through their performance. There are so many numbers and points in skating, but really, the goal of a skater is to make the audience feel something. It is truly a unique sport that is, in many ways, not respected until the Olympic Games.
Figure skating is so prominent in countries like South Korea, yet in America, it has been a little bit under the radar. Maybe the reason is because we lack a dominant American star in the singles events, like we had with Michelle Kwan. Either way, figure skating is more than just a sport. It takes intense athletic ability but it also takes passion.
Are you in touch with any of the skaters who are in Sochi?
I have talked to pair skater Felicia Zhang during these games. She’s loving every second.
Hometown: Scotch Plains, NJ
Coaches: Debbie Davis, Gail Livingston
Choreographer: Kristine Bingham Nielsen
Birth date: 07/30/1996
Club: SC of New York
Training: Monsey, N.Y.
2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships (Junior Level): 9th place
2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships (Junior Level): 12th place
2012 U.S. novice silver medalist
Favorite Jump: Triple Lutz