Interview with Stellato/Bartholomay (June 2018)

When Deanna Stellato and Nate Bartholomay announced their new partnership in 2016, many in the skating world were taken by surprise. Bartholomay was a U.S. National medalist and Olympian; but at 27, his skating career was in doubt after partner Felicia Zhang retired in 2014 and a subsequent partnership did not work out. Stellato, for her part, was just returning to elite-level skating at 33, after an unheard-of 16-year absence from the sport. She also had no previous pairs experience. Yet somehow, this unlikely duo joined forces to become a pairs team.

In the two years since then, Stellato/Bartholomay have achieved significant—and surprising—success. They were bronze medalists at U.S. Nationals this January and represented the U.S. at Four Continents, placing fifth. They also went to the World Championships as alternates, where they placed 17th. Worlds was a bittersweet experience. Although the team was personally satisfied with their performance in the short program (where they received a season’s-best score), Stellato/Bartholomay were disappointed to miss the cut for the long program (they fell just one spot short). And the U.S. pairs team qualified only one spot for next year’s Worlds.

As another four-year Olympic cycle begins, Stellato/Bartholomay are looking to the future. The duo has ambitious goals for the upcoming Olympic quad, but also a clear and realistic view of where they need to improve to meet those goals. In talking to the couple, it’s clear that 16 years away did not dim Deanna Stellato’s passion and love for figure skating. Energetic, determined, and animated, Stellato is fully committed to both the process and her long-term goals in the sport. Partner Nate Bartholomay, meanwhile, provides essential experience, pairs knowledge, and a down-to-earth outlook that helps ground the pair’s training and development.

It was such a pleasure to chat with this engaging and articulate team! In our phone interview, Stellato and Bartholomay generously shared their thoughts on a wide range of topics, including their early days as a team, their success last year, their experience at 2018 Worlds, their recent trip to the second annual U.S. Figure Skating Pairs Camp, their thoughts on scoring and format changes from the ISU, and their plans for next season.

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Stellato/Bartholomay at Nationals 2018  (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America)

Start of skating careers and partnership

Q: How did each of you get into skating?

Stellato: I started skating when I was five. And I skated, honestly, because it was the closest activity to our house. You could truly walk to the rink, it was so close. So my mom put me in skating, because it was very convenient. And my brother played hockey. My brother is six years older than I am. So I was used to going to the rink. And of course, I wanted to do what he did, as every young kid does. My mom said, “Sure, you can do what he does, but we’re going to put you in figure skates.”

Bartholomay: My sister skated. Honestly, my mom really got tired of me running around the rink and being a terror. So she made me put skates on. And I wanted to play hockey, because The Mighty Ducks had just come out, and I thought I was going to be a high school hockey star. But it went in a different direction. I don’t think I was really involved with figure skating until I started competing. I did my first competition, and I was really embarrassed because I was the only boy. And it was like 14 girls. I ended up winning. My next competition was against one other little boy, and we had a great time, and the rest is history.

Q: When did you transition into pairs, Nate?

Bartholomay: I transitioned into pairs, I think, about 2003. I was an Intermediate man when I decided to start doing pairs. And then I competed the next year in Novice men. And then the next 2 years, I tried to compete Junior men. But my build, I realized, was more catered to lifting people over my head than spinning really fast in the air. So I decided to focus on pairs after that. I did both for about 4 years, and then I made the decision. It was too hard on my body, and on my training day, to keep doing both.

Q: When you first started doing pairs, did you like it?

Bartholomay: The first time I tried pairs, I hadn’t really heard a lot about it. My coach was like, “Well, why don’t you try it, and worst-case scenario, you hold hands with a girl for an hour.” I said, “I guess so, it might be fun to skate with somebody.” With one of my other coaches, I had done my first three low-level pattern dances, for testing. So that was the only time I ever skated with somebody. But yeah, I got right into it. The speed felt really good, to have two people pushing into elements. We just did little baby stuff. But I think, right away–as soon as I lifted her off the ice, I knew it was something I wanted to do. At least, in company with singles.

Q: Deanna, you’re known for having very elegant posture and carriage in your skating. Does this come naturally, or was it something your early coaches worked a lot on with you?

Stellato: I think it’s a little of both, to be completely honest. When you’re older, you have more body awareness. So some of that comes a little easier now, and comes to me very naturally. But when I was younger, judges used to tell my coach, Cindy [Watson Caprel], that I was very frantic when I skated. Arms bouncing around, and things like that. So she worked really hard with me on that. I had stroking lessons for an hour, three days a week, where that’s all that we did. So I did work very hard on that. And when I came back to skating, it even got better, just because I have more awareness of my body.

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Stellato shines in the spotlight

Q: So in 2016, you guys teamed up as a pair. Deanna, as a lady pairs skater, there’s a huge level of trust required. Because your partner is literally flipping and throwing you through the air. How long did it take you to feel that level of trust and be okay with the high-risk elements?

Stellato: I had never even jokingly done a pairs lift when I was younger. A lot of girls, even if they were singles skaters, at some point when you’re training, a pairs boy will lift you over his head, for fun. And I had never even done that. Until I was 33. When Nate initially put me up … You have to understand, I was coming into this having a tryout with an Olympian, [and] being an utter novice at pairs. So I had a lot of trust, because he had that title, and he had been there, at the highest level possible, already. And I thought, “This guy clearly must know what he’s doing. So I’m okay with it.” The first few lifts were pretty good. I took to them very easily. They kind of felt like a spiral sequence to me, vis-a-vis the 1990s, when I skated. Then, when we did more difficult lifts, those were scarier. But it would be funny, because I’d be up there, and I’d be like, “Oh my gosh.” Nate would be holding me above his head, and he’d say: “Look, I have you. I’ve got you, you’re fine.” And I’m like, “Okay, okay.” It was conversing as he’s carrying me over his head. [Laughs]

Bartholomay: I would put her up, and she’d be like: “Whooooooaaa.” And I’d be like, “Oh my gosh, relax.” [Laughs]

Stellato: The more difficult lifts, where you go up backward–those took a little more getting used to. But I always, oddly, had a blind trust in him, from the beginning. And I think it was because he feels very solid underneath me. So I never feel like I’m being lifted by someone who’s shaky under there.

Q: Deanna, when you compare lifts and throws and twists, which pairs element was the easiest or hardest to learn?

Stellato: When you start doing throw jumps as a pairs skater, when you first learn them, the throws are pretty small. So I landed basically every throw on my first try, because I already knew how to do that jump. Because I could do all my triples. I knew when the three rotations were over, and when to check out. So I landed them all very easily. And I think that’s how I “landed” Nate, to be honest. [Laughs] Because I was able to land those [throws]. We started skating together in July, and then Nationals was in January, and we were just doing the throws that we had basically learned with. After that … I’m not silly, and I’m not stupid. I’m watching skating, and everyone who’s anyone has enormous throws. So I knew I was going to have to change them and make them bigger. We just wanted to get through the first six months together, and get through our [first] Nationals together, before changing our technique. So now, we’ve worked on them, to make them even bigger. And the bigger they are, the harder they are to land. Because you have to decelerate, and there’s no decelerating in your own jump. So it gets more difficult, the more advanced you want to be. You have to incorporate more pairs skills and less singles skating skills, on throws.

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In the air for a throw jump  (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)

Q: When you say “decelerate,” do you mean you’re decelerating in the air a little bit before you actually land?

Stellato: Yes, it’s like a parachute before you land. And that’s not comparable at all with singles skating. Some of the men decelerate on their double Axels, but it’s nowhere near the same hang time as a throw. So, it’s very different.

Q: Would you say that the throw jumps, as they’ve gotten bigger, were the most challenging pairs element to learn?

Stellato: Yes, once they got bigger. And then the triple twist. Because with the twist, there’s nothing in singles skating that I could relate that to. Learning that, completely cold, with no muscle memory at all. I had to create that muscle memory, at 33.

2017-2018 season: The quad throw

Q: So you teamed up, and you went through the process of learning those pairs elements and coming together as a team. Then last year, in your second year, you had a lot of success. You went to Skate America, you won a medal at U.S. Nationals, you went to Four Continents. Looking at the pre-Worlds part of the season, what moments or accomplishments meant the most to you?

Stellato: We tried the quad [throw quad Salchow] in every competition except for Skate America, because I had a little leg injury there. We landed the quad twice in competition. It was just, unfortunately, not in competitions that anyone saw or videoed. It was one local competition in Florida and then another summer competition. I think that’s what I’m most proud of, that I went for it every time. Because it’s one thing to be able to land that in practice, it’s another to land it in adrenaline, with someone else who also has adrenaline, and you’re trying to keep your timing very similar. My coach, Jim Peterson, says the timing for the triple [throw] is specific, the timing for the quad is finite. So you can imagine, in a competition when you’re both a little up on adrenaline, or nervous, that that timing becomes even more important. You really have to laser-focus on it.

I’m really proud that we went for it every time. And every time, I learned something. Because there were a lot of competitions that I could have landed it; I just forgot to do one thing. Otherwise, I would have been on my feet in some capacity. When I got up at Four Continents, I was smiling, because I was like, “Oh, I just forgot to keep my legs really straight. I tucked my legs in the air. I could have had that one.” I felt like we learned a lot with it last season. And it’s going to help us a lot going into this season.

If you watched the Olympics … The top five, with the exception of Aliona and Bruno [Savchenko/Massot], had a quad. So it’s very clear. If you want to medal at Worlds or the Olympics, you’re going to need that. So I’m very excited that we didn’t back down all season. We never took it out; we always went for it if I was physically capable of doing so.

And it’s going to give me a leg up this season. Because again, if you want to medal at a Worlds or an Olympics, it’s pretty clear that you’re going to need a quad by the last year [of the 4-year cycle], at the Olympics.

Worlds 2018 and the state of U.S. pairs skating

Q: After Four Continents, you went to Worlds as alternates. And you skated pretty well in the short program, but you placed 17th and just missed the cut for the free skate. Can you talk about your experience at Worlds? Were you happy with your short program?

Bartholomay: As an alternate team, we found out about 48 hours before we left that we were actually going to go. It’s really different to train as if you’re going to Worlds, or to train because you might be going to Worlds. That’s a different body feeling, a different–

Stellato: –Motivation.

Bartholomay: We did the best we could, and we kept up our run-throughs. For a team that found out so short-notice … We felt we went and we did our job and we represented our country really well. Our skating order was tough, and pretty unfortunate. We skated third out of 28 very good teams.

Stellato: By our [World Standings] points–because we have no points–we were ranked 26th out of the 28 teams. When we drew third, I actually started crying. And everyone was trying to talk me off the ledge. But I told them, “Guys, I’m not stupid. They don’t give big scores in the beginning of the competition. That’s a well-known fact.” I felt like we were going into our short program trying to dig ourselves out of a ditch. Because we were so early. We skated a very nice program, we got a personal-best [score], which is amazing. But certainly, had we had gone later, we might have gotten an even higher score. It seemed like the points grew throughout the competition. And that’s normal, and that’s fine, and that’s why it was disappointing to be so early. It’s given me motivation to go back to the drawing board for this season, to be better earlier [in the season], to get those points, to be in those later warm-ups.

Bartholomay: We went out, and we don’t have a lot of points, and we skated very early. As far as the judging is concerned, it’s human nature. There’s a lot of teams, and a lot of high energy, and really impressive things that go through your mind in that 3 or 4 hours that it takes to do an event. When you see the scores, it keeps getting based off the last performance. You really have to be memorable if you’re going to skate early. We did everything correctly last year. We’re just so new. So we’re looking forward to this year, adding some points to our [World Standings] rank.

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Skating their short program at Worlds 2018

Q: Despite missing the free skate, was there a certain satisfaction just in making Worlds? Deanna, it was your first time at senior Worlds.

Stellato: Yes. I had started skating [again] in March 2016. Never, in a million years, did I think that two years later, I’d be at Worlds. So that was a very memorable thing for me. I think I posted, “Dreams come true.” I dusted off my 17-year-old boots and blades, and two years later, here I am, sitting at Worlds, very happy with how I skated.

Bartholomay: All of last year was such a roller coaster. It was disappointing, but really fulfilling at the same time–every event we did. If you look at our free skates, we haven’t had a lights-out performance yet. But, every time we go, it’s really helping us learn a lot. We’ve done our first Grand Prix, we had our first two Senior Bs in one season, so we had a full international season. We moved up our ranking at the National championships. To have that conclude with our first trip to Four Continents, and then … It’s like, “Hey, why not finish at Worlds, and have a complete full season?” It was really the icing on the cake. We’re really disappointed that we couldn’t make the free skate, because our long [program] had been going very well. The quad was really becoming consistent. So we really wanted to show that at the World Championships. But, there’s some things that we can’t control. And we felt like, at the end of that long season, we showed up when we were called upon, we did our job, and we showed that we belong at the World Championships. And we want to be the team that gets back two spots next year [for the United States].

Q: Obviously, it’s a tough situation for U.S. pairs, with the U.S. only qualifying one spot for Worlds next year. I’ve heard that, since Worlds, U.S. Figure Skating has been working closely with some of the senior pairs to ensure that everyone has resources and is ready for competition next season. Have you been receiving such support from USFSA?

Bartholomay: Yes. Obviously … our pairs right now aren’t at their peak. It’s not through lack of effort, lack of trying, lack of dedication. U.S. Figure Skating is really helping us, especially in the last year, to have the funding for recovery, to push us and tell us what we need to do to keep the whole [pairs skating] program motivated, so that we can get to a place where we’re medaling at the World Championships and we’re talked about, going into the Winter Games. We just had a conversation with Ashley [Cain] and Tim [LeDuc] at pairs camp about how we want to be the change in U.S. pairs. We want to bring something different. There’s been a lot of camaraderie. The pairs [don’t] just compete against each other, but push each other to compete against the rest of the world.

Stellato: We had dinner with Alexa [Scimeca-Knierim] and Chris [Knierim] once after Worlds, before they left Colorado. And we talked about that with them, too. We’re competing against each other, yes. But we’re all in this together. Because we want three spots at the Olympics in 2022. Not just one, and not just two, why not three? Every other discipline had three [in Pyeongchang]. We could get it, too. So we talked about doing this together. We’re in this all together as a nation, to get as many spots as possible, so that everyone can have that Olympic moment. I certainly think that the top 5 at Nationals this year are all very good, very strong, teams, with amazing potential to be internationally competitive. I think for Nate and I, specifically, we just needed a little bit more time together. We still haven’t even been together for two years yet.

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The top 4 U.S. pairs at Nationals 2018  (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images North America)

Q: The situation in U.S. pairs skating could lead to finger-pointing. It’s great that it seems to be pulling people together, instead.

Bartholomay: It’s never one person’s fault. Everybody wants to go out and do their very best. It’s about coming together and finding out how you’re going to get that consistent. And if we only have one spot, we’re going to send our best team. And we’re going to have two spots next year.

Stellato: That’s where U.S. Figure Skating is starting to step in. That’s why they put this pairs camp on [U.S. Figure Skating National Pairs Camp, June 9-15, 2018]. They did this pairs camp last year for the first time, with all of Nina Mozer’s [coaching] team. And they did it again this year, and it was longer, and it was more intricate, and there were more things involved. They’re trying to not just assist the top pairs in the nation, but also the new pairs skaters at the junior and novice level, to try to get the technique started as early as possible. They’re also really stepping in to help us financially as well.

I just turned 35, and Nate just turned 29. We certainly don’t have Mom and Dad paying for this for us. We are fiscally responsible for everything. And it’s very difficult to train, and then take care of the means that it takes to be able to train. So they’ve been very helpful in assistance of that. We’ve been more vocal with them, also, which I think has been helpful. The communication has opened up. We’re expecting and hoping to be getting more [support] this year, so that Nate and I don’t have to work so much. It’s more so Nate than I. Nate works until eleven o’clock almost every single night. So there’s not proper recovery, ever, in his day.

Bartholomay: There’s just a bridge now of communication, where it’s more like, we’ll get a phone call: “Hey, everything good? What do you need?” And sometimes the answer is: “I might need some assistance in the next couple months so I can recover better for a competition,” or whatever it might be. So the bridge for that is open, and there’s actually opportunity to make those changes. So that, Number 1, we can keep our athletes at their peak, and Number 2, we don’t just show up at competitions and everybody is like, “Let’s see what happens.” Everybody who’s important knows what we’re doing and knows how it’s going and knows what they’re going to get when we get on the ice.

U.S. Figure Skating National Pairs Camp

Q: You mentioned pairs camp. What was the focus of pairs camp this year? What type of exercises or classes did you do?

Stellato: The focus is literally everything. There is not one specific focus, it is literally everything. Obviously, we worked on twist and throws and side-by-side jumps, and also spins, footwork, etc. Off the ice, we did jump classes, different lift classes, different classes to throw your body equilibrium off and then go do a jump on the floor and still land on your feet. And ballet and modern dance and working on your programs on the floor. It was 10 hours a day of intensive exercise and training. They covered things that you can’t even think of, as a spectator of the sport. Not just elements, but things way out of the box, too.

Q: Do you feel like you got a lot out of it?

Stellato: We always do. It’s a long week, and to a certain extent, you lose the ability to learn at the end of the day, because you’re so mentally exhausted. But you always take away certain things like, “That’s why our twist could be higher, if we do this,” or, “We’re going to do this drill to make our throws a little more consistent.” You learn a lot, but there are certain things that are just pearls. That you’re going to be able to [use to] make one element intensely better, because of this one thing that you learned.

Bartholomay: It’s very hard, and the camp was intense. And, at some point, you’re like: “I’m going to go curl up in the corner and never skate again.” [Laughs] But we use this to kick-start our summer training. We know it’s going to be harder than—well, not harder than we normally train, but longer. And with new things. So it’s like, “Yeah, this week’s going to kick our butt, but we’re going to learn stuff.”

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Robin Szolkowy and Nina Mozer

Q: What did you learn from working with Nina Mozer, Fedor Klimov, Robin Szolkowy, and other experts whom you don’t get to work with every day?

Stellato: Fedor was really cool. We did a lot of stroking exercises with him. And we actually learned a pattern dance; we learned the rhumba with him. They do that in Russia as a means of learning how to partner together more. They might do a pattern dance one day for half an hour, just to learn better partnership and body awareness. That was awesome; I had so much fun doing that dramatic choctaw they do with the rhumba. I just really enjoyed that. And I thought, “This is good for me, because I’ve only been skating next to someone for less than 2 years.”

Nina is like the head coach of a football team, where she manages everything. With her, we worked on twist, throws, death spirals. And she always had something to say. Even if you land a nice throw, she’ll say, “You could have done this even more still.” She always had something to add.

Robin is so chill and laid-back, and very fun and nice. With him, I really felt like we were working together to figure out what the issue was, or what we could do to make our twist higher. I would tell him what I felt on that [element], he would say what he thought, Nate would talk about what he felt. And then the three of us would talk about what we could do to improve that. It was very enlightening.

Kyoko Ina was there. I love working with her. I grew up watching her; so for me, I’m always like a little fangirl when I work with her. She actually did a death spiral with me, and you could see the look on Nate’s face, like, “Oh my gosh, she’s doing a death spiral with her.”

Some of the officials and callers come. And it might feel like nit-picking, but it’s not, because they just want you to be the best that you can be. Our coach, Jim Peterson, always comes. So it’s nice that we have three pairs of ears, listening to things. Every time we go, it’s so hard. But we always come out of it like, “We’re glad we came.”

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With coaches Jim Peterson and Amanda Evora

2018-19 season: Choreography

Q: Let’s shift gears and talk about your plans for this season. You recently had new programs choreographed–the short program with Anjelika Krylova, and the long program with Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. How did you choose Anjelika and Marie-France to do the programs, and what it was like working with them?

Stellato: So, I have only ever had male choreographers in my entire skating career. I used to have Phillip Mills do my singles programs, and, last year, we had Rohene Ward and Mark Pillay do our short and long. And I told Jim: “I really want female choreographers this year. Because I’ve never had that, and I think that that’s going to help me grow.” I feel like the female choreographers are going to look to me to bring out more of the program. Because they’re also female, and they’re both ice dancers, and they’ve done this before. So they’re really going to put an onus on me, to make sure that I’m doing my job. Not that I wasn’t last year. But I just felt like it would be different, coming from another powerful female who also had to do this exact same thing in her career. So I requested that.

Jim had the idea of Anjelika. He knew her from the past, they trained at the same rink for a certain period of time. And I of course watched her at the Nagano Olympics. I remember her Carmen program in Nagano, when she screamed “Hey!” at her partner before they began, when it was dead silent. So I thought her intensity would be perfect for me. We really had a wonderful time with her. And I do feel like she brought out what I needed her to bring out in me, for this particular program, for our short program.

For our long, we really wanted to have Marie-France and Patrice do it. But we didn’t know if they would take us. Because who are we, in comparison to who they teach? They basically have the World and Olympic podium. [Laughs] We actually met with Marie-France at Worlds, and she was willing to teach us, and we were so excited. She and Patrice are just extremely talented, yet utterly humble, individuals. You would never know that they’ve had the successes that they had, with how easygoing they are, and how willing they are to work with you. Of course, they’re just immensely talented. And it was so much fun to work with both of them. We’re extraordinarily happy with the product that we got. We were so excited to show Jim, and Jim of course loved it, too. We’re so pleased, and we’re very excited to show everyone our different styles this year.

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With their choreographers, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon

Q: How long were you in Montreal to create the program?

Stellato: We were there for a week. We got to see some of our friends from Team USA, so that was nice. They had a stroking class the first day, and they told us, “Feel free to do the stroking class.” I remember looking at Nate. And Nate was like: “I don’t know if I want to embarrass myself doing a stroking class with ice dancers right now, on our first day here, like the first second we’re on the ice.” So we just observed the first class, instead of partaking. [Laughs] But then the next day, we partook in a bit of the stroking class. It was very cool, and they’re so organized there, because they have so many teams. It’s very interesting how they split things up; every coach has a different job. Patrice was so cool. With the mini-lifts that we’re doing in our program, he would say: “For the guy, he needs to be here, because it will help him when the lift comes down ….” It was really interesting that he was thinking about the entirety of the lift, from when it comes up to when it gets set down, and where we need to be to seamlessly move into our next transition.

Bartholomay: They had us come for a week. And we got there, and Marie-France comes out. She said: “I don’t want to start from the beginning. That can be challenging.” She’s like: “I have a vision for this part, after your throw, and let me see you try this.” And we skated out and tried what she gave us. We come back, and she’s kind of laughing.
We’re like: “Was that not good?” She goes: “Oh, no. It’s just–it’s not going to take a week.” I think they added in time for padding, in case, as a pairs team, we had trouble with the steps they gave us. I feel like next time, it would be more like a 3-day [schedule]. But obviously, being new, you don’t want to undershoot the time you’re there and leave when it’s not finished.

Q: You’re planning to keep your program music under wraps for now. But can you talk about what you‘re trying to show with the programs this year?

Bartholomay: We wanted to show a really dynamic difference from last year. As well as a difference between the two programs. Our free skate is more of a love story. And our short program is more of a love/hate, push/pull, sharp dynamic.

Stellato: A long program always has ups and downs, in terms of music. I have a very intense connection to this song, and really feel the character, for our long [program]. Jim was like: “This song is a real throwback.” I said, “Well, just like me, Jim. I’m a throwback, too.” [Laughs] And for our short, it is so different from our long, unlike last year. Because both of our programs were on the slower side last year, in terms of the music. I want the judges to see us and go, “Oh, my gosh. This team was completely different in the short program. They don’t even look like the same team.” That’s how I want it to feel. To show that we have more depth than what we showed in our past season together.

Q: If you had asked me what you could do differently this season, that’s exactly what I would have said—to show off your personality more in the programs.

Stellato: Right. Everyone was telling us that. And it was super-evident, because a lot of times [last season], we would be literally first or second in our technical mark, even with mistakes. But then we would be killed on components. So it was pretty clear that we needed to up our components heavily this year. And we needed to just skate cleaner technically, because the technicality of what we’re doing is already at a very high base. So we kept on getting told the same thing that you said … basically, just that the second mark is what was stopping us.

Bartholomay: The second mark’s really been something we’ve been working on. I think every time we compete, it does get better. But I feel like it almost makes it worse, that we’re doing throw quads and a nice big twist, because it’s like, this team’s really technical, and [it] just makes it that much more evident that we really haven’t been on the ice that much together. And that we need to pick up the pace on the component mark. So we’ve really focused on that. This year, in our training, we’ve done more sessions where it’s like: “You know what? Let’s not kill the jumps, throws, and twist today. Let’s spend a couple hours and work on the beginning of the programs. Let’s work on the connection, let’s work on getting our hips and bodies closer together on these steps and transitions.” And I think that’s going to be evident at our first couple of events this year.

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In practice this spring  (Michael Schuhmann)

Q: Your coach Jim Peterson said that pairs skating is a high-precision, very technical sport. Does the need for that kind of precision ever make it difficult to let go in your artistic expression and really interpret the music?

Stellato: I think that it can. And it probably did, a lot, last season. And I would take more of the blame for that than Nate. At Nationals, I’d still only been skating pairs for a year and a half. I was still thinking really hard about everything I was doing, skill-wise. I was really heavily thinking about the element that was coming up in 5 seconds, versus pretending I was in love with him during the choreography leading up to that element. As that year went on, last season, I got better at not visually telegraphing on my face what was about to come up. Being in the moment of the choreography. I hope that that’s clear to people who are watching this year.

2018-19 season: Technical elements, scoring changes

Q: Let’s talk about your technical elements this season. Meagan Duhamel had some advice for you in a post-Worlds show she did with The Skating Lesson. Meagan’s opinion was that you should put the side-by-side triple Lutz back in your short program, and keep it there as a way to make yourselves stand out. Do you agree, and is that something you have considered?

Stellato: So, I love Meagan. Obviously, she’s like my quad idol. I feel this odd kinship with her, even though I’ve only met her once or twice. And anything she says to me, I take very seriously. That’s how I want to preface this answer. However, with the new points [ISU Scale of Values] that they’re doing for this season, and the next four years, where they have the +5/-5, and they’ve increased the value of the grades of execution…. We could arguably do a side-by-side triple Lutz, and if I put my hand down, someone doing a side-by-side triple Salchow could actually get a higher point [total] than me. So, it’s become more of a risk vs. reward. And since we’re already doing one high-risk element, a [throw] quad, we didn’t feel as a team that it would be beneficial to also have a high-risk side-by-side jump.

Stellato-Bartholomay-practice-jumps
Working on side-by-side jumps  (Michael Schuhmann)

Q: Right. With this new Scale of Values, you have to think more about taking technical risks. That being the case, will you stick with the side-by-side triple toe loop or triple Salchow as your solo jumps this year in the short program?

Stellato: We’ll go with triple Salchow, because it’s worth more. And triple Salchows are a very consistent jump for both of us, as well.

Q: But, as you said earlier, you are planning to stick with the throw quad Salchow in your free skate this year, even though that jump has also been downgraded in its value. What was your strategy in deciding to keep the throw quad?

Stellato: Well, it would be to land it. [Laughs] Also, just recently, at pairs camp, they went over some of the things. And they were saying, you can fall on the throw, and it’s not going to be a mandatory -5 or a mandatory -3. So, say that it was big and beautiful, and you fell on it, you could actually still get a base [value] for it, potentially. So, it’s still definitely worth the risk. Again, it’s so clear to me that that’s what you need.

Happy-throw
The joy of landing a throw in competition

It’s like…. I quit my job. I moved to a different state. I’m away from my family. I am now not making any money, and instead spending money. I am not here just to make it to the Olympics, or make it to Worlds. I want to win. I want to come home with hardware around my neck. And it’s not going to happen with a 5-triple program. You’re not going to get that with a triple twist, two side-by-side triples, and two throw triples. You need a quad. Sui/Han are going to do a quad, Tarasova/Morozov are going to do a quad, and the French team is going to do a quad. So you’re going to need that if you want to be technically competitive with the top teams. In a four-year time frame, skating has never, in the history of the sport, ever regressed. It either stays stagnant, or it progresses. So in 2022, there’s either going to be 4 teams with a quad, the way there was this past Olympics. Or there’s going to be 10 teams with a quad. So it seems to me, it’s obvious that’s what you’re going to need if you want to be competitive with the top tier. And I want to be competitive with the top tier. I didn’t come back to the sport to go to Worlds and get 10th with a clean program, because that’s all I’m going to get, because I don’t have the technical stuff. I can do the technical stuff, and I want to be in the top. And that’s what I think it’s going to take.

Q: Last year, your throw jumps were very ambitious, with the throw quad, but also a little bit inconsistent. Any changes in approach this season to get throw jumps more consistent?

Stellato: No … it was just more time for me. Again, with the triple loop throw, for instance–the first year we were doing it … As I mentioned earlier, it was very small. It was easier for me to land. I barely missed it the first six months that we competed. But then, we changed the takeoff and changed the technique, where Nate had more leverage to throw me higher. And the throw was much bigger. And that just took some time, of figuring out how to actually be a pairs girl and do throws, and not be a singles skater and do a throw. And the quad–it’s timing, too. I landed the quad so quickly and so easily last year, it was almost as if I landed it and didn’t even know how I did it. We landed it after working on it for two weeks. It was figuring it out, while doing it in the program, and it was our third element, so you’re a little tired by that element. It did progressively get better throughout the year, in terms of landing it in practice. Now, I land one every day, and it’ll be a matter of getting it consistent in the program as well. But, to be honest, when you look at quad throws, there’s only 2 other people [now] to base my comparison on, and they’re Meagan Duhamel and Vanessa James. And theirs wasn’t always terribly consistent, either. As I mentioned, a quad throw is a finite timing. So if I can get mine to a point where I’m landing it in 70 percent of the competitions, that to me is a big win. Because it’s a very difficult thing to do, with two people having [the right] timing. Last year, our percentage was really low, like maybe 10 or 20 percent, we had it landed in competition. This year, if we can get a higher percentage landed, I’d be very happy with that.

Q: In addition to the changes in jump values, there will also be other changes this season: The pairs free skate will be 30 seconds shorter, and there will be no side-by-side spin in the free skate. What are your thoughts on these changes so far?

Stellato: In general, for me, as a 1990s skater, it’s always sad when they take away time that could be given to choreography. Because that’s what I feel made skating so popular in America in the 90s, was the choreography and people falling in love with programs. And, if you take time away, there’s obviously less time to do that. So it’s sad to me, in that regard. Skating deserves to have so many fans, because it’s such a difficult thing to do. I want it to be more well-known in America. I feel like the athletes, and the fans, and the federation, all deserve it because of how difficult and expensive it is to do. So that’s a little bit sad for me.

But on the other end, the changes in terms of more difficult lifts, and in removing the spin [from the long program] instead of the choreographic sequence, is a positive thing to me. I’m glad that they took out the side-by-side spin and not the choreo sequence, [as] in initially proposed. And the lift changes … There are some [senior] teams, even at Worlds, that are doing like a double throw [but] have a level 4 lift. So I think it was about time to make the lifts a little more difficult, so that you have to be a skilled lifter, as a man, and you have to be a strong female, as a woman, to be able to get a level 4 [lift]. Or three level 4s, let’s say, in a long program. So I think that that was a very good change.

Q: How exactly do you see the changes affecting lifts next year?

Stellato: Before, if you did a [difficult] entry and a [difficult] exit, those were each a bullet [a feature to get levels in a lift]. So that was 2 bullets toward a level 4. Now, you have to do a [difficult] entry and a [difficult] exit just to get 1 bullet. And now, two turns [rotations] on one arm have to actually be with just one point of contact. So you know how everyone would do a star position, where the girl has her hand on the guy’s shoulder and the guy has his hand on her hip? That’s no longer 2 [rotations] on one arm [a bullet feature to get levels]. It has to just be one point of contact. Those are two things that will make lifting more complicated. We had to change an entire lift because it was no longer a level 4. And the position that I’m holding [now], where we only have one point of contact, is far harder than the position I had last season.

Lift-Natls-SP
Working through rules changes in lifts  (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)

Q: Nate, how do you feel about the lift changes?

Bartholomay: I think of myself as a really strong lifter and a really capable skater when somebody’s over my head. I think it’s going to take a little bit to get used to the different positions. But I feel really confident that we won’t have any issue carrying forward. Last year, we pushed the lifts and got some +3s. And I think this year, it’s going to be the same, but we’ll be pushing the +4s to +5s.

Q: This season is going to be interesting, with all the changes. Do you feel like the skaters are going into the season thinking, “Okay, I’m not quite sure what is going to happen this year?”

Stellato: I think everyone is sort of figuring it out. And I think everyone’s expecting for this season to evolve …. Because I’m assuming that, at one competition, someone [technical caller] might not think a certain entry is difficult; in another competition, they will. So I think a lot of things are going to be figured out this season, in terms of what’s legal, and what’s considered a difficult variation, and what’s not.

Nate-face.jpg
Preparing for a season of change

Q: Last year, you started your season early and did a lot of club competitions. What are your competitive plans this season?

Bartholomay: I dealt with a little bit of knee rehabilitation, and we aren’t 100 percent. We’re getting back into the thick of things. Our only plans so far are [that] we are going to do Cranberry Open [Aug. 8-11, 2018], right before Champs Camp. And we’re just going to wait and see what comes out of the international events.

Stellato: What we get assigned.

Q: Last year, you guys did two Challenger Series events. Are you hoping for that again?

Stellato: Oh, yes. I want three Challenger Series events. I want as many as we can get. We need to get [World Standing] points. So, I’m going to take anything and everything that they give me. The point thing was made so apparent to me at Worlds. Some of the Challenger Series [events] are after the Grand Prix series. So if we get 2 [Grand Prixs] in the October/November timeframe, and then you get one more a little bit later …

Q: Is that something you’ve talked about with the federation?

Stellato: Oh, yes. I’m very verbal. [Laughs]

Q: Nate, you mentioned that you had a knee problem?

Bartholomay: Basically, my knee wasn’t tracking properly. My kneecap. So when I was doing my jumps and trying to train, it was kind of tearing the patella tendon in the front, a bit. So they had to do a saline injection and a PRP injection to create a little more space, so that that stopped happening. It really affected me, honestly, through Nationals and Four Continents and Worlds. But we were able to take some time after that and get it fixed up. And it’s not bothering me anymore. So, I’m happy to be pain-free. The fact that I was able to continue doing my jumps and keep pushing forward for the end of our season was really fortunate. And yeah, we’re just looking forward to moving on from that.

Q: Well, I’m glad it’s improved and gotten better. Best of luck for the upcoming season!

 

Note:  Special thanks to Michael Schuhmann for the pictures of Stellato/Bartholomay in practice.

Note: If you’re enjoying articles on The Divine Sport, please take a moment to “like” the site’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/adivinesport/. You can also follow me on Twitter to get updates of new posts: @ClaireCloutier on https://twitter.com.

 

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One thought on “Interview with Stellato/Bartholomay (June 2018)

  1. Pingback: Figure Skating Articles Thursday June 28, 2018 | BLAZING BLADES

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