Photos by Robin Ritoss Photography
Three competitions, three medals.
It appears the new partnership of Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea has found instant success. Last month, the new pairs team won the bronze medal at the 2023 U.S. Championships in San Jose, California. They will compete this week at the 2023 ISU Four Continents Championships and next month at the 2022 ISU World Championships.
“To be where we are in a really short period of time, it’s very exciting,” O’Shea said.
So how did Kam, a 18-year-old who had just moved up to the senior level, find herself skating with O’Shea, the 31-year-old who has won U.S. and Four Continents titles?Read more: Kam/O’Shea Seize the Moment
Following his split with (and eventual retirement of) Tarah Kayne in December 2021, O’Shea teamed up with Chelsea Liu, who had previously skated with Brian Johnson, in spring 2021. Liu and O’Shea trained with Jenni Meno and Todd Sand in Irvine, California. The duo competed in three international events that fall. However, Liu and O’Shea suffered a devastating fall at the Warsaw Cup competition in November 2021. The injury ended their season, and ultimately, ended the partnership.
“I was unsure what the next steps were, really,” O’Shea said of the situation. “I just focused on my recovery for a while.”
Following the accident, O’Shea went to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to work on his recovery. He said it was two months before he was even cleared to be back on the ice. He returned to California to do some coaching for a bit, but then decided to go back to Colorado Springs.
“I had a lot of fun working with some amazing students there [in California], but decided that no matter what I was doing, I wanted to be back in Colorado with my family,” O’Shea said, noting that he owns a home in Colorado Springs and had always considered Colorado Springs home.
O’Shea consulted with U.S. Figure Skating to see what his options were. He had a few tryouts at the end of last season, but none of them worked out in terms of skating compatibility and wanting to be in Colorado Springs.
“Family is a priority for me, and I wanted to be around them,” he added.
Upon moving back to Colorado Springs, pairs coach Drew Meekins invited O’Shea to come and work with his younger female students who didn’t have partners. O’Shea coached three days a week, helping girls who did not have partners with lifts and throws, as well as working with the established pairs teams at the World Arena Skating Academy (WASA). One of those teams was Kam and her partner at the time, Ian Meyh.
“She was doing a great job,” O’Shea said of his future partner’s development as a pairs skater.
When O’Shea wasn’t at the rink, he focused on working in real estate with his father, Don.
“I flipped two homes,” he shared, in regard to his real estate work. “I was actually in the homes doing the remodeling myself; it was a bit fun for me.”
Although he was enjoying his life outside of skating, as O’Shea continued to skate more, he talked with Meekins about his options for competing again.
“I was still feeling like I had a lot to give to this sport and to show what I was still capable of,” O’Shea said, noting that Meekins was very supportive of his decision to return to competitive skating.
Around this same time, Kam and Meyh ended their partnership. The team had qualified for the 2022 U.S. Championships on the junior level, but withdrew after the short program. They competed seniors in two club competitions over the summer.
“The partnership I had with Ian was an amazing experience,” Kam said, noting that it was a mutual split. “I learned everything, pairs-wise, with Ian. It was hard emotionally, because [the split] was in the middle of the season, and that’s not something you can really plan normally. But we both decided that that’s what we thought was best.”
Just days after the partnership dissolved, Meekins suggested that Kam and O’Shea start skating together in order to ease the transition, but also as a possible partnership.
“We started skating a little bit and it worked very well, very quickly,” O’Shea said. “That first week, we started trying to get things rolling.”
“When we started to skate together, it was really crazy,” Kam added. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I get to skate with Danny O’Shea. This is really exciting.’”
Kam and O’Shea officially became a team in September.
“It’s a pleasure [working with Ellie],” O’Shea shared of Kam. “Ellie’s such a hard worker and has a great positive attitude on the ice.”
“He’s an amazing human being. I’m really lucky just to be able to skate with him,” Kam said of O’Shea. “His experience is like a bonus to all of that. It’s something I hope I’m able to take and learn from, and we can both build it up together.”
In November, they were assigned to the IceChallenge in Graz, Austria, where the team rose to the top of the podium, claiming the gold medal. The following month, Kam and O’Shea competed at a Challenger Series event, the Golden Spin of Zagreb in Croatia. They brought home the silver medal there.
“I had a good feeling about things from that first week [we started skating together],” O’Shea told A Divine Sport. “The way we were skating from the beginning and the quality of the components and the skating skills and the overall performance aspects, was something that I could tell was very strong from the very beginning.
“Did we expect to go and win our first competition? Not necessarily,” O’Shea added. “But we were very comfortable going out and performing and felt that we were going to have a good experience at the very least.”
Meekins, who serves as the team’s head coach, says the partnership has been something really special to guide.
“The way that they have come together, and really become a true team in just under five months is quite amazing, and it’s due to the dedication of them both and their passion and love for the sport,” Meekins wrote in an email.
Last month, at only their third competition together, Kam and O’Shea won the bronze medal at the 2023 U.S. Championships. The event marked their first competition together in front of a U.S. crowd, and also Kam’s first senior Nationals.
“This whole season is a lot of firsts for me,” Kam said. “Skating on the ice with Alexa [Knierim] and Brandon [Frazier], that was something special. We kind of made sure that we took our time with everything and made sure to enjoy each moment.”
Kam said they also looked at Nationals as a learning experience. Although they have had exceptional results in just a few short months as a team, they know there is still room for improvement and development. Currently, Kam and O’Shea are only doing double throw jumps. They are also still working on improving the timing of the catch of their triple twist. In San Jose, their twist received a level 3 in both the short program and free skate, and Kam fell on landing of the twist in the free skate.
“It’s one of the elements that we want to continue growing on, ” O’Shea said of the triple twist. “There’s a lot of potential for it to be better than it is already. We got level 4s [on the twist] the first two competitions that we did. And when we didn’t here [at Nationals], that was a focus for the long program, and we ended up putting the energy in the wrong places a little bit.
“There’s a few things that we’re definitely going to attack when we go home,” O’Shea added. “We’ve been playing around with side-by-side triple toes, as well as some throw triples. The mentality for us for the season is to show strong skating [and] elements that we feel comfortable with and are confident in, and really lay it on thick with the performance.”
With their third-place results at Nationals, the team received one of the three U.S. pairs spots for the ISU Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs, Feb. 7-13. Kam and O’Shea have a bit of an advantage for Four Continents: The competition will take place in the World Arena, which is their home rink.
“We love the altitude,” O’Shea laughed. “The World Arena is an amazing venue and to have people from around the world be able to come to our hometown, it’s going to be an awesome experience,” he added.
Kam and O’Shea were also named to Team USA’s World Championship team. When they first found out they were named to the World team, Kam said she was a bit shocked by the news, while O’Shea gave Meekins a massive hug.
“We didn’t know what to expect, being so new, and being that we did make some mistakes out there,” O’Shea said, referring to their free skate at Nationals. “We know that we have room to grow, but we’re excited to have the support and the trust that they’re giving us to go perform at these competitions, and we’re going to go out there and prove them right.”
Worlds will take place March 20-26 in Saitama, Japan. Ellie Kam was born at the Yokota Air Base in Japan.
“I have some family there and, hopefully, they will get to come watch,” said Kam, who will be competing in her first World Championships.
Kam and O’Shea are just hoping to keep improving with every competition, and are glad to have these opportunities to develop as a team.
“If we can keep building on this competition (Nationals), Four Continents and Worlds, I think that we will definitely check this off as a successful season,” O’Shea mentioned.
“This season has been a blessing for us, but also a whirlwind,” Meekins said. “When the dust finally settles on their first season together, I think there will be a lot of room for growth and development, both technically and artistically, but also for them to find their voice and point of view on the ice together.”
Looking beyond this season, O’Shea wasn’t shy in saying that they have long-term goals, which include the next Olympics in Milan, Italy, in 2026.
“We have the ability and we have the right set of skills. The opportunity is there in front of us,” said O’Shea.