An announcement this month by the U.S. Figure Skating Association has consequences in the Northwest suburbs that may lead to a direct link to the Winter Olympics.
Agnes Zawadzki, a 16-year old Des Plaines native, was the 2010 U.S. junior champion who placed fourth at nationals in January. She announced she will resume training with her original coach, who guided her through her first seven years of competitive skating: David Santee.
Santee is a two-time Olympian and seven-time world competitor who finished second in 1981 behind Scott Hamilton. He now directs the ice program at the Oakton Ice Arena in Park Ridge, along with his brother, Jimmy Santee.
In a phone interview last week, Zawadzki was quick to thank Tom Zakrajsek, who had coached her through the last three competitive seasons, including earning a silver and bronze in the 2010 and 2011 World Junior competitions, respectively.
"I'm proud of what we accomplished together," Zawadzki said, "but I am excited to make this change and am looking forward to the future."
Yet, she conceded that she had lost her drive.
"I wasn't loving (skating) and I felt I had to make a change," she said. "David is the person I can talk to. He is the one who has coached me the longest and I think he can bring back my love of the sport."
While Santee has trained many elite skaters and helped coach Olympic-level skaters as a part-time coach, Zawadzki will be the first national competitor he guides as a head coach.
"I don't think it's a stretch to say she's a prime candidate for the Olympics, coming up in 2014," Santee said. "She's that good. It's very exciting, but also a big challenge."
Zawadzki lived in Des Plaines while she trained with Santee. He first taught her in age-group lessons at the Niles Ice Arena before he started in with private lessons at Oakton.
"I realized right away that she was an athlete, that she was physically very talented," Santee said in an interview last week. "She has a natural feel for jumping and she learned very quickly how to be a very good competitor."
For the last three years, Zawadzki has trained in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center, while attending Cheyenne High School. She will continue to train there, Santee says, coming back to Park Ridge for approximately one week per month.
Santee will travel to Colorado Springs regularly to monitor her coaching, but assisting him with her day-to-day coaching will be Christy Krall, who coaches the 2011 world champion Patrick Chan of Canada.
"No one knows her better than I do," Santee said. "She's very comfortable with me. She knows how I am at competitions and just how I can help her as she goes forward.
"Sometimes," he adds, "you just feel the right chemistry and that makes a big difference."