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U. S . JUNIOR CHAMPIONS - PAIRS ‘FOR THE LONG HAUL’


Simpson and Blackmer turn to Belbin for senior programs by SARAH S. BRANNEN


When 2013 U.S. junior pairs champions


Britney Simpson and Matthew Blackmer had their first tryout in February 2011, their parents knew then that they were going to be something special.


mother, Denise, said.


“Both of us cried at the tryout,” Blackmer’s And while the pair may have opposite per-


sonalities — Simpson, 17, is articulate, forth- right and mature for her age, while Blackmer, 21, is ebullient, enthusiastic and funny — on the ice they complement each other with elegant lines and dramatic presentation. As they go into their first year as seniors,


Simpson and Blackmer have turned to five- time U.S. ice dance champion Tanith Belbin for choreography. Belbin choreographed both their short program to “Te Feeling Begins” and free skate to “Beethoven’s 5 Secrets” by Te Piano Guys. “We love Tanith,” Blackmer said. “She’s an eloquent speaker. She has a creative way of putting her words together, so it’s easy to draw a metaphor for something, and then it’s really easy to interpret that and incorporate it into your movement.” “It’s wonderful,” Simpson added. “I’ve never had so many connections and transitions into el- ements before. Everything just weaves together.” Blackmer is enthusiastic about the free


skate. “I love it,” he said. “It’s so emotionally


charged. We’re constantly changing holds, it has a lot of variety of shapes.” “It’s one of the best programs I’ve ever skat-


ed,” Simpson added. “It’s constantly moving which I think is really refreshing. A lot of times you see pairs just stop, chill in the middle, do some pretty stuff, and we’re not doing that. We’re not doing it the easy way.” As the pair worked with Belbin in Michigan


one day in April, they had trouble with an ele- ment. World champion ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who were on the ice training, demonstrated it for them. “And then they worked with us and showed


us how to do it,” Blackmer said. “It was awe- some.” Simpson described the new short program


as “very mature.” “It has intensity,” Blackmer said. “We think we


do intensity well. Off the ice we’re a happy, goofy couple but on the ice we portray a different image.” Hockey and pretty dresses Simpson, an only child, grew up in Gold-


en, Colo. Her parents, Sallie Simpson and Diane Blumenschein, are both special-needs education administrators. Britney stays in a townhouse in


34 JUNE/JULY 2013


Colorado Springs, where she attends high school every morning. Each night, either Sallie or Diane drives 100 miles from Golden to stay the night with her. “We couldn’t be more proud of her,” Diane


said.


Britney started skating at the age of 5. “I was on my way to a swimming lesson and I happened to see some girls in these pretty dresses, spinning and twirling, and I said, ‘Mom, I want to try that!’ And I loved it so much, I’ve kept going ever since.” “We had no idea what we were getting


ourselves into, but it’s been rewarding for Brit,” Sallie said. “We would have never thought she would get to travel and see the world, and meet all these famous skaters.” Blackmer grew up in Findlay, Ohio, the old- est of four children. He started out with hockey and followed a younger sister into figure skating when he was 12. His sister’s coach, Christy Bry- ant, had a student who wanted to try pairs and she asked Blackmer to partner with her. “He wasn’t a great hockey player, but he liked


to perform,” Blackmer’s father David said. “Once he put on figure skates, the rest was history. He took to it like a fish to water. Whatever he does, it becomes his passion. He studies and studies, prac- tices and practices, he wants to be as good as he can be. Matt is an enigma to me — he’s passionate about something to the point where it drives ev- erybody nuts. It’s so fun to watch.” When Blackmer was 13, the family moved


to Detroit so he could train with Craig Joeright. “Craig and Larisa, his partner and wife,


pretty much pushed me toward pairs,” Blackmer said. “I went with it, I loved it. I hated singles.” Simpson was initially turned off by pairs af-


ter she saw Tatiana Totmianina’s horrifying head injury at Skate America in 2004. “I said, ‘I will never do that, I will never do


pairs.’” she said. But she was training in Colora- do Springs, and she started working with pairs coach Dalilah Sappenfield, who asked her to try pairs with Larry Ibarra. “[Sappenfield] said she could tell if I could be a pairs girl in the first five minutes, if I wasn’t scared of the lifts and the throws, and I wasn’t,” Simpson said. Blackmer competed with Katie Budd for


three years and Vladyslava Rybka for one year be- fore teaming up with Simpson. She, meanwhile, had won the 2010 U.S. junior silver medal with previous partner Nathan Miller. After both of their partners quit, Blackmer flew out to Colo- rado to try out with Simpson and the chemistry was immediate. “Tey have an innate ability that can’t be


taught,” Blumenschein said. Moving up


After teaming up in 2011, Simpson and


Blackmer won their first Junior Grand Prix event and finished third at the Junior Grand Prix Final. Tey went on to win the junior silver medal at the 2012 U.S. Championships and then won the junior title in 2013. Tey finished 10th in both trips to the World Junior Championships. As they train for their first senior season,


Simpson and Blackmer have to learn a third lift. “We’re really working on triple twist; that’s another big goal that’s necessary to compete,” Blackmer said. “Other than that, we think we’re really good at emoting and connecting. Working with Tanith has opened us up to how to skate together, not just looking pretty.” “For me I’m just taking it all in and learn-


ing,” Simpson said. “Tis is much more of a tran- sition year than anything else, especially since it’s an Olympic year. We want to look senior; we just want to learn the ropes.” “Tey’re both very lyrical skaters, and we’re


trying to grow from the junior look to a more se- nior look,” Sappenfield said. “It’s a developmen- tal year for them. Tey’re learning how to consis- tently do side-by-side triple Salchows, working on a triple twist and learning how to do a third lift. All that is going to take time. At the same time, we’re trying to grow in our component mark and build on the senior feel, which they can see, training alongside their teammates that skate senior. Tey see the difference.” “When we sat down two-plus years ago, we said, ‘Tis is for the long haul,’” Blackmer said. “It’s not just for a couple of seasons to see what we can do, it’s for the long run.”


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