Magic on ice
In late 2009, NSWIS ice dancers, Danielle O’Brien and Greg Merriman missed out on selection for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games after Merriman fell ill prior to the final qualifying tournament. It was a cruel blow for the young athletes, who at 19 and 21 respectively, would have gained an invaluable amount of knowledge from their experience. However, four years on from their near miss, O’Brien and Merriman are now set to compete on ice dancing’s biggest stage at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. The pair recently navigated their way through the Nebelhorn Trophy, the event they missed in 2009, to finish sixth overall and secure a spot in Sochi, as well as feel the euphoria of seeing their hard work pay off. “For me there was an overwhelming sense of relief,” O’Brien reflected. “For the past two years our progress had put us in strong contention for the spot and to have our preparation pay off in qualification was extremely rewarding.” “Like Dani said, there was definitely a huge sense of relief. Our Free Dance performance wasn’t quite as clean as what we had prepared so we weren’t sure what to expect, which made the judging time feel like an eternity,” Merriman explained. “However, once the scores came up and I knew we had qualified, there was a great feeling of excitement and relief.” With their Olympic selection secured, O’Brien and Merriman will become the first Australian ice dancers to compete at the Olympic Games since Monica Macdonald and Rodney Clarke in 1988, and only the second Australian team in history. Macdonald was the team’s first coach, and has played a significant role in their careers as they’ve progressed through the ranks. “Monica has had a huge impact on our skating career, and her inspiration is a huge reason that we are still in the sport today. To be the second dance team to represent Australia at Olympics after Monica & Rodney is a huge honour. “It’s hard to sum up 12 years of work with Monica as our coach into any specific advice, though she has definitely shaped who we are as athletes and played an influential role in developing our training ethics,” Merriman stated. O’Brien and Merriman have come a long way since their start in the sport, and one of the key components of their success in the lead up to the 2014 Winter Olympics was relocating to Detroit, USA to make the most of their preparation for Sochi. Their first experience of training overseas was in 2010, when they visited Detroit for four weeks, before returning for a further six months ahead of the 2011 world championships. Following the world championships, where O’Brien commented that they had a “disappointing finish,” the duo decided to commit 100 per cent to their goal of representing Australia at the Games, and decided to make the move permanent. “Detroit has brought greater concentration to our training. Having relocated specifically to train, our primary focus is training with our minds set on achieving our goals,” O’Brien said. “Our coaches Pasquale Camerlengo, Angelika Krylova, Massimo Scali, Elizabeth Swallow and Natalia Deller have created a very structured training environment, and having the opportunity to train every day with a large number of internationally competitive dance teams promotes a great learning environment, which promotes improvement every day. “I definitely attribute our improvement, and as a result, success in qualifying for the Olympics, to our training opportunity in Michigan.” Aside from the obvious differences in climate and food, O’Brien and Merriman have enjoyed living and training in Detroit, and are looking forward to taking the next step in their careers by competing in Sochi. Figure skating is an often overlooked sport in the Australian landscape; however next year’s Games will provide the Australian public with an insight into one of the more interesting sports on the Olympic schedule. Australia is sending its largest ever figure skating team to Sochi, with four athletes scheduled to compete, and both O’Brien and Merriman are keen to see the sport grow on home soil. “Hopefully this will bring increased exposure to Australian figure skating. The Olympics are the only time in which figure skating receives national media attention in Australia, and hopefully this will encourage the future champions of Australia to take to the ice,” O’Brien commented. “The current generation of figure skaters in the country are making huge impressions on the international circuit, so hopefully the Olympics will shed light on the strength and potential of Australian skaters, and inspire a new generation of skaters,” Merriman added. Though until that happens, the pair will continue working to ensure they are in peak physical and mental condition come February 2014. On the mental side of things, O’Brien and Merriman have learned to channel the pressure and nervous energy of competition into positive thoughts and movements, while physically their consistent training methods and environment have allowed them to successfully navigate the fine line between success and disappointment. “Developing consistency in practice through repetition brings peace of mind to competition, and enables us to focus on exactly what we do in training, as opposed to trying to bring anything extra to the performance,” Merriman explained. “Timing is an important factor in our performance, with each other and the music, and we’ve learnt over the years that it is important to skate within the limits of our performance. Adding too much extra in competition doesn’t work, nor does holding back.” The next major event on the cards for O’Brien and Merriman prior to Sochi is the ISU Four Continents Championship in Taiwan during January. Being so close to the Games, the duo is not looking to make wholesale changes, but rather to improve the quality and delivery of their routines ahead of Sochi. When they finally arrive in Russia during February, O’Brien and Merriman will no doubt be taken aback by the spectacle that is the Olympic Games. Mixing with thousands of athletes from hundreds of nations is an experience that few people ever encounter, but they are determined to not let that overwhelm them before their competition. Four years ago, after missing out on the Vancouver Games, the duo could have lost their drive and desire to represent Australia on the biggest stage in sport. However, ironically, it’s one of the main reasons why they’ll be in Sochi.