The Leading Edge
There are many reasons UD has produced 25 Olympic skaters in 23 years: world-class coaching, state-of-the-art research and, of course, peerless athletes.
(page 1 of 9)
Emmanuel Savary represents the future of University of Delaware ice skating. Last year, the wiry 11-year-old with an ever-present smile, skated his way to the title of U.S. intermediate men’s champion. Legendary coach Ron Ludington, who calls his young student “E-man,” marvels at Savary’s ability to perform flawless triple jumps at such a young age.
“He’s always been high-test,” Ludington says with an amused shake of the head. “He began begging me when he was 6 or 7 to let him on the ice with the advanced skaters, but I told him he was too young and too slow and might get hurt. The very next session with the younger students, he went flying by me on the ice to prove he was capable. I got the biggest kick out of it because he’s so bloody competitive. Pretty soon I was allowing him on the ice with advanced competitors in their teens and older.”
Savary is still a boy, but he has big dreams: following in the footsteps of his hero, 2006 Olympic gold medalist Evgeny Plushenko.
Dreams like that actually do come true at UD, home to one of the most highly respected ice skating programs in the world. “We consider UD to be among our top skating facilities,” says Mitch Moyer, senior director of athlete high performance with U.S. Figure Skating. “They have a great coaching staff, great facilities and a proven track record.”
Building on the Past
It’s been just 23 years since Ludington and Jack O’Neill (now deceased) founded the Ice Skating Science Development Center at UD, but already the program has produced 32 world champions and 25 Olympians. Some 100 competitive skaters train regularly at UD. Another 200 come in throughout the year for special training sessions, among them Canadian champion Patrick Chan, the 2009 World silver medalist, a favorite to medal in Vancouver. He spent a month at UD this past summer.
The program’s dry spell this year—with no one set to take to the Olympic ice—is an anomaly for an elite program that has sent at least one skater—usually more—to every Olympics since the program began in 1987. Sure, we still have bragging rights to likely Olympian Johnny Weir, who trained at UD for many years before moving to The Pond, just across Newark, then to New York. But we’ll have to wait at least four years for another UD Olympic send-off the likes of which we saw in 2006, when the program sent five skaters to the Olympics in Turin, Italy: singles star Kimmie Meissner, with ice dance couples Maxim Stavisky and Albena Denkova of Bulgaria and Nozomi Watanabe and Akiyuki Kido of Japan.
Right now the UD program is in a building stage, with many of its best skaters still too young to skate on the senior level. “Our juniors and our novices will do very well in the future, and our junior dancers are doing well already,” Ludington says. “It’s always been the case that there are building years and high-level years.”
“We’re a little thin this year, but that happens everywhere,” says coach Barbara Roles, who, like Ludington, won a bronze medal in the 1960 Olympics. “I think we’ve got a good future after the Olympic year.”
In addition to Savary, Ludington points to skaters like JoAnn Tinker, 11, who placed seventh in the juvenile category last year. Ludington’s wife, Karen, coaches Melissa Bulanhagui, 19, who in November took home the senior ladies silver medal in Eastern Sectionals. She also coaches several ice dancers who have been performing well in international competitions, including Anastasia Cannuscio, 17, and Colin McManus, 18, and Anastasia’s sister, Isabella, 18, who dances with Ian Lorello, 19.
Page 2: Building on the Past, continues...