Monday, February 07, 2000

Late-starting Shmalo warms up to ice dancing
By Tom Groeschen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Rob Shmalo was kind of old when he started figure skating. He was 12. And he only did it because he liked this cute girl.

The puppy love passed, but Shmalo became hooked on skating. Tonight, some 10 years later, the Amberley Village native begins competing in the United Skates Figure Skating Championships in Cleveland. Shmalo and partner Kimberly Navarro (Santa Rosa, Calif.) will compete in junior ice dancing, a notch below the Olympic-class senior

“I had always liked watch ing skating on TV,” Shmalo said. “And when I was 12, I had a crush on this girl who was a skater. I went to the rink so I could be around her.”

Many world-class skaters are seemingly groomed almost from the cradle, spending much of their childhood tied to a pair of skates. Shmalo's late start broke the mold, but he quickly knew this was something he could do well. His would-be girlfriend eventually got away from skating, but Shmalo kept showing up at Northland Ice Center in Evendale. He learned under coaches Linda Comberger and Ray Bode.



Comberger also coached Cincinnati native Russ Witherby, a 1992 U.S. Olympic ice dancer. She won't compare the two just yet, but said the charismatic Shmalo was always a quick study.

“Rob was phenomenal from the first time he stepped on the ice,” Comberger said. “He's gone to the nationals four times. Plus, he's tall and good-looking, which really counts in dance.”

Shmalo, a 1996 Walnut Hills High School graduate, knows he and Witherby are rarities in a town not particularly known for skating. Sure, the 1987 Worlds were here, there are two pro hockey teams, and the ex-Olympians ice shows always draw well. But Cincinnati boys tend to spin on a baseball-football-basketball-soccer axis; Shmalo himself was a soccer player before taking up skating.

In high school, Shmalo spent the customary long hours prac ticing his skating. Some wondered what he was really up to.

“None of my friends were into it, but at Walnut Hills all of them came to be supportive,” he said. “Eventually quite a few of them came to the rink to see me skate. Then for my graduation party, I rented out Northland so they could see what I did every day.”

Shmalo became a three-time national medalist while representing the Queen City Figure Skating Club. He began college at Boston University but was not happy. He transferred after one year to New York University, where he is a senior honor student.

“I'd always wanted to go to New York,” Shmalo said, speaking from his college dorm room. “There's always something going on here. I love the hectic pace.”

He and Navarro, a student at Columbia University, recently won a silver medal at the Midwest sectional championships. That put them in the nationals this week.

You won't see them on TV yet as the senior dancers get the air time (9 p.m. tape-delay Saturday night on ABC). But Shmalo (22) and Navarro (18) are both relatively young for ice dancing, where the best teams are a little older.

“That's because it takes so long to develop as a team,” Shmalo said.

To reach the Jane Torvill- and-Christopher Dean level, Shmalo and Navarro eventually will have to pass compulsory tests. You don't just fill out an entry blank for these things.

“We both realize this is our first year competing together,” Shmalo said. “We were just excited to qualify for nationals this year. I guess going to the Olympics is the goal, probably not for 2002 but maybe 2006.”

Comberger no longer coaches Shmalo directly. He and Navarro have a Russian coach, Inese Bucezica, who trains them in New York. But Comberger still works with Shmalo when he's in town.

“They may move up to seniors next year, and then we'll see,” said Comberger. “With dance, sometimes there's a waiting period where someone gets to know you. By next year, then the judges will have seen them for a full year.”

Should Shmalo fall short of the Olympics, it won't be for lack of trying. His daily schedule begins with a 5 a.m. rise, 45-minute drive to train in Monsey, N.Y., 41/2 hours of training, then a rush back to NYU's Greenwich Village campus for classes.

“There's not much free time,” he said. “I love it.”




|| Home || Profile || Journal || Articles || Results ||
|| Gallery || Fan Zone || Guest Book ||

Comments/Suggestions? Email the webmaster
Web site Designed by Brett Barden
© 2003 All Rights Reserved