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Jacksonville Ice Skaters Dream of Olympic Gold

Kevin Meerschaert

As the Winter Olympics continue in Sochi, the next generation of Olympic hopefuls continue to train around the world, including here in Jacksonville.

On a Wednesday morning at the Jacksonville Ice Rink coach Amber Yandoura is running her students through their paces. They’re youngsters who mostly are new to the ice skating scene.

The ice rink and sports complex on Philips Hwy. near Emerson Rd. caters to many sports, from ice skating to kicking field goals.

Mark Scheff is the director of skating at the rink. He said the popularity of ice skating is on the rise among Jacksonville’s youth.

"Kids find out about us through birthday parties," he said. "They'll come to another kid's birthday party and say 'I want to try this' and they'll come and take a learn to skate class for eight weeks, and next thing you know they want to play hockey or they want to be a figure skater, and of course during the Olympics they look at their idols and they want to be just like that."

The Olympics is on the minds of many who are at the rink this morning.  

Sitting at a table with some other parents is Christine McConnell from Mandarin. She’s been talking with others about some of the outstanding figure skating performances that have already taken place at the Sochi Olympics.      

Her daughter nine-year-old Elise, is on the ice practicing. McConnell said her daughter is very athletic and determined to be a success.     

"She did a summer camp here and decided she was going to quit gymnastics, which she started two years ago after watching Gabby, and it's just been a regular thing ever since," she said. "She's really good. She's better than she knows."

Elise said she got into figure skating while watching the likes of  U.S. national champion Gracie Gold.

Gold is participating in the 2014 games and gave a flawless performance as the U.S. won bronze in the team event.

"Well I mostly like the hard work and having fun and it's really cool to be on the ice," she said.

Also skating around the ice is Alexander Aiken. He is another skater who got hooked on the sport by watching the Olympics in 1998. The 23-year old has been on the ice for 16 years. He practices about 20 hours a week along with helping coach some of the younger skaters.

Aiken is one of the area’s best hopes for future Olympic glory.

He said he’s shooting to be on the U.S. Olympic team for the 2018 games in Pyeongchanng, South Korea.

"When I was eight I really was intrigued by all the moves and the tricks that they were doing having no idea what they were doing." he said. "Now I watch and I really want to be out there doing it. I worked really hard to get to this point and just really want to get out in front of that big audience and world stage."

Bringing them all together are the coaches at the rink and they are some of the best around.

The coaching team is highlighted by Even and Mary Skotvold. The Skotvolds have coached some of the biggest names in U.S. figure skating history, including silver medalists Scott Wylie and Nancy Kerrigan.

Amber Yandoura is the newest coach at the Jacksonville Ice Rink. She started a month ago after spending 16 years coaching in her home state of Pennsylvania.

Yandoura said one of the toughest things to get new students to understand is that it takes time and a lot of hard work to become a great figure skater.

"They always want to fly right into jumping and spinning and you have to definitely pace yourself," she said. "You don't want to get carried away too soon and I make sure at the lower levels they are proficient so they have that basis, that foundation when they progress to the higher levels."   
The Jacksonville Ice Rink provides coaching from beginners to Olympic levels. It also provides open time when area residents can skate as well.

You can follow Kevin Meerschaert on Twitter @KMeerschaertJax.