Uploaded: Thursday, September 27, 2012, 4:37 PM
Where there's Hope, there's gold-medal opportunities
|By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Hope Schroeder appears to be your typical high school student. The 17-year-old Gunn High junior is student body secretary, an athlete, a member of Green Team and Model UN and carries a weighted GPA of well over 4.0.
Schroeder, however, takes an untypical load of eight classes, three of them outside of school one of which is correspondence course in Russian from the University of North Carolina.
"I have a special schedule at Gunn," she explained. "The administration has been incredibly supportive."
Schroeder spends her afternoons at Sharks Ice in San Jose, with one of her coaches a past Olympian.
Yes, there is something different about Hope Schroeder she's one of the top ice dancers in the country.
Last weekend, Schroeder won a pair of gold medals in the Junior Division at the U.S. Figure Skating's 2012 National Solo Dance Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo. One medal came in the solo pattern dance in the prelims while the second came in the solo free dance.
"It was a VERY exciting weekend," said Schroeder.
While ice dancing is internationally recognized and an Olympic sport, solo ice dancing is a new program from U.S. Figure Skating. Schroeder is also new to the event, having previously competed in freestyle skating in her younger years before injuries directed her into ice dancing.
Now, she's ready to move into the Senior Division of the sport, whether it be in solo or partner competition.
"As for my search for a partner, it continues," she said. "While Solo Dance has filled a perfect slot of my life for the past two years, I really want to go back to partner dance. It's the way ice dance was intended. People say it takes two to tango for a reason.
"Additionally, this program is very new and only nationally recognized in the United States. Nationals is the highest I can go for Solo Dance and it happens just once a year. Most other competition is local. In partner dance, there is the possibility for frequent national competition and international circuit competition. It's also an internationally recognized Olympic sport. I miss the partnership aspect of ice dance, though it's been nice to work on my own schedule these past two years. I have complete confidence that Solo Dance will continue to develop in the future, but for now I want to find a partner and compete in partner dance."
Schroeder, who grew up on the Stanford campus, began skating at age three. She began competing at age nine. In 2007, Schroeder and her coach, Tracy Prussack, moved from the Ice Oasis rink in Redwood City to Sharks Ice in San Jose, the practice facility of the NHL's San Jose Sharks.
There, Schroeder met three-time Olympians Sergei Ponomarenko and his wife, Marina Klimova, who coach at Sharks Ice and are among the most decorated ice dancers in Olympic history. The two won bronze at the 1984 Winter Olympics, captured silver in 1988 and finally took the gold in the '92 Winter Games. They are three-time world champions, four-time European champions and in 2000 were inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
On the recommendation of Prussack, Schroeder began working with Ponomarenko on her stroking, power, and footwork. He also took over her choreography.
"When I started enduring recurring (stress fracture) injuries to my foot over the next few years, I knew I needed to reconsider the toll freestyle was taking on my body," Schroeder said.
"Having an already existing strong relationship with Sergei made it natural when I said wanted to try an ice dance lesson."
Within six months, Schroeder had found a partner, something ice dancers dream of since the talent pool of boys in the sport is exceedingly small.
"Think about ballet and how many boys there are," Schroeder said. "In other countries, skating is more popular."
Unfortunately for Schroeder, the partnership fell through within six months and Schroeder took ill. She then took a seven-month break. In the fall of 2010, Sergei and Marina called Schroeder's mom, clamoring about this new program they were sure was perfect for Schroeder Solo Ice Dance.
The event was perfect for Schroeder since it focused on artistry instead of jumps, which had led to her previous injuries.
In 2011, she finished third at the National Solo Ice Dance Championships.
"This year, the program added a new event called the Solo Free Dance," Schroeder said. "This event has required elements of ice dance like footwork, long edge and short-edge elements, and spins. The skater can choose the music. This is in contrast to the other event, pattern dance, or compulsory dance, where all skaters skate the same dance to the same music."
Schroeder signed up for both this year and competed all season to end up first in the Pacific Coast section for both events. Nationals was held again in Colorado Springs, last weekend, and attracted a much higher caliber of skaters.
"I was in very good standing to do well," she said. "But, I hadn't really won anything important."
Schroeder, nonetheless, came away with two gold medals.
She's back at school now, but still training in the afternoons despite not having a competition scheduled until February. She's also still looking for a partner, which could decide which path she takes and how long she remains in the sport.
"If I were to get a partner, I would make a lot of sacrifices and change my lifestyle," Schroeder said. That could mean moving to Michigan, where the current guru of ice dancing, Igor Shpilband, oversees America's top ice dancers. He coached two of American's three teams at the past Winter Games.
Having a chance to skate in the Olympics, of course, is a dream of Schroeder's.
"You always hope your hard work leads you to the top," she said.
If she goes without a partner, however, that dream won't come to fruition.
"That would probably shorten the time I have skating," she said. "I don't plan on having skating as a professional career. It's really for the love of it. It's not exactly a lucrative hobby, even at the top . . . I have plenty to keep me busy if I never touch skates again."
Schroeder has her eye on Stanford University, should she remain in the Bay Area, and is interested in medicine, international relations and political science.
Skating, however, will always be a part of her.
"Once you're a skater, you never walk away," she said. "You're always a skater."
Right how, Schroeder is a skater in search of a partner, hoping to be twirled around the ice toward another golden moment.
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