Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008

Ice Force One takes a national flight

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Thirty-year Potomac resident Jacquie Tennant, 68, was quite the figure skater in her day. But the Minnesota native thought her skating days were over when she hung up her blades in 1978.

They weren’t. Tennant spent 14 years traveling North and South America with Holiday on Ice and the Ice Follies, shows featuring such famed athletes as 1968 Olympic gold medalist Peggy Flemming and 1972 Olympic bronze medalist Janet Lynn. Wednesday, she heads to Providence, R.I., where she and her teammates with Ice Force One synchronized figure skating team will compete at the 2008 U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships.

‘‘It’s an amazing opportunity to compete at a high level,” Tennant said. ‘‘I definitely wouldn’t be skating if it wasn’t for Ice Force One. I wouldn’t want to just come to a public session and skate around in circle. This gives me a purpose. It pushes me.”

This is Tennant’s sixth year with the 10-year-old group, based out of Bethesda’s Cabin John Ice Rink. She was roped in by former member Midge Farkas at an exercise class, where Tennant’s instructor knew she was a former figure skater and that Farkas was on the skating team. Farkas moved to Utah two years ago after eight years with the team.

Ice Force One comprises 24 female skaters, ages 25-68, seven of them Montgomery County residents: Tennant, Heather Abramowitz (Rockville), Elaine Cochran (Potomac), Lynn Goldfarb (Potomac), Liz Grandonico (Kensington), Jennifer McManus (Bethesda) and Lyn Witt (Bethesda).

The team has qualified for nationals in every year since its inception. The United States Figure Skating Association divides the country into three sections — East, West and Midwest — and the top four finishers at each section championship gain entry to nationals. Ice Force One placed first at the Eastern Sectional Championships in Richmond, Va., Jan 24-26. It earned a bronze medal at last year’s national competition and hasn’t finished outside the top five in nine years.

‘‘Being around all these young people helps me feel younger,” Tenant said. ‘‘I’m as old as some of these women’s grandmothers. But I got rid of my mom jeans and got ones they approved.”

Synchronized skating, formerly known as precision skating, involves 12-20 skaters on the ice at one time, moving as a unit at high speeds. The first official team synchronized skating competition was held in Michigan in 1976. The sport requires endurance, strength, timing and agility: performances consist of quick, intricate footwork on the ice. Teams perform a routine to music. One skater’s missed mark could result in chaos.

‘‘Skating a program by yourself is a lot easier,” said Goldfarb, who joined Ice Force One this year after 11 years of individual competition. ‘‘You can be off the music a little bit and no one knows. In synchronized, everything is so exact, from the subtlety of where your hip needs to be to the formations and making connections. I’m still learning.”

Ice Force One skaters aren’t required to have a skating background like Tennant’s. They just have to be comfortable skating fast, making turns and using edges at high speeds. And they have to be receptive to coaching and learning choreography. But many of the team’s members do have skating pasts. And Ice Force One has helped them reconnect.

‘‘It’s amazing, we have all these different people from all these different walks of life,” Tennant said. ‘‘We have attorneys, architects, nurse practitioners. We’re all different except we have one thing in common: skating.”