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posted: 2/22/2010 12:01 AM

Austrian skater honed her Olympics chops at Buffalo Grove ice rink

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  • Alexander Vedenin has some advice for Austrian Olympian Miriam Ziegler, who at 15 is the youngest figure skater in the 2010 Olympics.

      Alexander Vedenin has some advice for Austrian Olympian Miriam Ziegler, who at 15 is the youngest figure skater in the 2010 Olympics.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

By Eileen O. Daday

For two weeks, 15-year-old Austrian figure skating champion Miriam Ziegler polished her Olympic routines at Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion in Buffalo Grove, before leaving last Thursday for Vancouver.

Ziegler doesn't train here regularly. Instead, she and her coach came to Buffalo Grove to take advantage of one of figure skating's reigning experts, former Russian national coach Alexander Vedenin.

For the past five years, Vedenin has worked with skaters who train in Buffalo Grove and the Edge Ice Arena in Bensenville.

Zeigler is the youngest figure skater competing in the 2010 Olympics. She takes the ice Tuesday in the ladies' short program.

Ziegler and her coach, Eva Martinek, came seeking Vedenin's expertise.

"Well, for one thing, we wanted to be on the same continent (as Vancouver), and adjust to the time difference," Martinek said.

"But we also came to get better conditioning and (Vedenin's) expertise. You can't find this anywhere else."

Vedenin, a four-time Olympian and two-time USSR champion, competed in 20 European championships and 18 world championships.

The Russian national coach from 1974-1988 and later the German national coach, he and was persuaded to come to the United States, along with three other Russian coaches, to develop a figure skating training program at a multi-rink complex near Kenosha.

The project died when some of its investors pulled out.

Vedenin stayed, however, and at Twin Rinks developed "learn to skate" lessons while coaching high-level singles skaters, and holding training seminars every month for European national coaches.

During Ziegler's last on-ice session with Vedenin, he quietly studied her, as she completed the triple Lutz and double toe loop combination that opens her free skate.

Afterward, Vedenin went out onto the ice and took her aside.

"She has strong, high jumps - really high - and can skate at a high speed and with a lot of power," Vedenin said later. "If she brings that power, she will do well.

"But her main task, what is most important, is that she do her best."

Vedenin says that at her age - Ziegler turns 16 in March, but by International Skating Union rules meets the minimum age for the games - she could potentially compete in three Olympics.

Ziegler said she will be thinking of his words as she goes out for warmups at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.

"It takes me a while to warm up, but if I start out slowly, and then 'turn on my machine' as he tells me, then I know I can do it," Ziegler says.

"I'm just there to get more experience. I know getting a medal is out of the question, so I just want to have fun.

"I've been fighting for this all season," she adds. "Now I want to enjoy it."

Ziegler and Martinek have worked together since she was 4. She grew up in the small village of Stoob, but now attends boarding school in Vienna where she trains.

Her parents will have to watch her compete on television. Her mother is a teacher and her father is a rehabilitation therapist, and they cannot afford to make the trip to Vancouver, their daughter says.

Nonetheless, her longtime coach will be at her side.

"She can be really, really strong - at her best," Martinek says. "Since she's so young, we really don't know how she's going to react to the surroundings. There's nothing else like the Olympics."

Martinek knew of Vedenin when he coached in Austria for a few years, and as head coach of the German National team.

Last summer, she brought Ziegler to Vedenin's summer training camp in Bensenville. From last year's camp, three skaters, all European, advanced to the Olympics.

Vedenin has designed a set of figure skating skills, much like the former compulsory figures.

He reinforces these at the camp and although he has changed them several times to reflect the growing difficulty in the sport, he teaches the same concepts to coaches at training seminars he leads around the world.

"The whole idea is to teach the proper technique," Vedenin says. "The skills you need to do the difficult jumps are exactly the same as the basic skills. By improving the basic skills, you improve the difficult jumps. They are all connected."

Vedenin is a certified judge and referee for International Skating Union competitions, as well as a certified technical specialist in the U.S. under its new scoring system. That draws high level skaters, who want to know about the point values of different elements, including their speed and power.

"With the Olympics going on now, it really brings into perspective the magnitude of Alexander's accomplishments in the figure skating world," said Laura Kaplan, skating director at Twin Rinks.

The suburban skaters who call Twin Rinks home felt a connection to Ziegler after sharing the ice with her the last two weeks. They surprised her with a cake and posed for photos on Wednesday before she left.

They also promised to follow her progress at the Olympics, if not on American TV, than on the next best thing: Facebook.