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Published: Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Local ice dancers' Olympic dreams

They may have to wait four years, but local ice dancers Jean-Luc Baker and Joylyn Yang are on their way to becoming Olympians

  • Joylyn Yang, 13, from Mukilteo, and Jean-Luc Baker, from Edmonds, practice their program recently at the Olympic View Ice Arena in Mountlake Terrace.

    Michael O’Leary / The Herald

    Joylyn Yang, 13, from Mukilteo, and Jean-Luc Baker, from Edmonds, practice their program recently at the Olympic View Ice Arena in Mountlake Terrace.

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — With the 2010 Winter Olympics just weeks away, ice dancers Jean-Luc Baker of Edmonds and Joylyn Yang of Mukilteo are feeling the swell of excitement.

No, they will not be part of the U.S. Olympic team.

Not this year anyway.

Baker, who is a sophomore at Kamiak High School, and Yang, an eighth grader at Harbour Pointe Middle School, are still a few years away from reaching the highest levels of international skating. But they’re headed in that direction, and their journey will soon take them to Spokane for the Jan. 14-24 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

The top skaters in Spokane will be bidding for places on this year’s U.S. Olympic squad. But for Baker and Yang, who compete at the novice level, it is another step toward a future Olympic opportunity.

“My dream goal would be to go to the Olympics,” said Baker, who is 16. “I just want to go as far as I possibly can. I definitely want to represent the U.S. That would be such an honor and so much fun, to represent the U.S. internationally.”

“To represent your country, that sounds like it’d be an amazing time,” agreed the 14-year-old Yang.

Baker and Yang have both been skating about eight years, and they began skating together almost four years ago. They each started with freestyle skating, a solo sport of jumps and twirls, but were soon drawn to the beauty, elegance and soulful artistry of ice dancing.

As an ice dancer, Yang explained, “you don’t have to worry about jumping. You can put your heart into it. You kind of block out everything else, and then for me it’s all about the music and Jean-Luc. You just go and skate, and you put all the expression and emotion you have into it.”

Obviously, the connection between ice dancers is paramount. And for Baker and Yang it was immediate.

“It just seems like when I first met her and we were first on the ice together, it was just there,” Baker said. “It just happened. It seemed like we had been skating together for a year already, and it had only been five minutes.”

The duo trains six days a week, usually three hours a day, and on school days they split their daily workout into morning and afternoon sessions. The total practice time each week is often 20 hours and sometimes more.

“If I wasn’t skating, I’d be doing other sports and I’d probably be with friends a little more,” said Yang, who played soccer as a younger girl. “And I’d definitely be sleeping. But skating is so important. In the end it’s much more important than spending a few more hours with friends or going to watch one more movie.”

Because they spend so much time together, they have what is, according to Yang, a “brother-sister relationship.” Which means, yes, they sometimes have disagreements. Or what Baker calls “creative discussions.”

They compete about six times a year, and in December they placed first at the Pacific Coast Sectional Championships in Jackson Hole, Wyo., earning them a spot at the U.S. Championships.

“We put in a lot of hard work (before sectionals), and we were really happy with how we skated,” said Baker, who earned a black belt in taekwondo as a younger boy. “It’s a good spot for us going into nationals, and we’re really confident.”

The couple placed seventh at nationals a year ago, and this year “our goal was to make it to nationals again, and then once we get there our goal is to skate our best,” he said. “Anything after that is great.”

They are coached by Sharon Jones Baker and Steve Baker, Jean-Luc’s parents, and both former elite international skaters themselves. Sharon Jones Baker was an Olympic skater from Great Britain in 1988 and is a five-time British champion, while Steve Baker is a former amateur and professional world pairs team member, also originally from Great Britain.

The plan, Sharon Jones Baker explained, is for Jean-Luc and Joylyn to move from the novice level to the junior level, perhaps by next year.

“The way they’re developing, and with the connection they have, they’re showing a lot more maturity when they skate than a lot of junior teams at present,” she said.

And in the years to come, she added, the two might well emerge as one of the nation’s elite ice dance tandems.

“There’s a small batch that get there,” she said, “and I think they’re in it. They’re definitely in the top batch.”

Steve Baker agrees, saying the two have a unique chemistry when they skate.

“You can’t put your finger on it, but it’s that something special, that ‘it’ factor, and it’s that presence they have together,” he said. “You can take any boy and any girl, and put them together, and it’s just two kids doing a program. But you connect (Baker and Yang) and there’s just something there.

“It’s really hard to determine exactly what it is, but you know when you’ve got it. And it’ll get better, it’ll get stronger, and they’ll perform better because it builds with time.”

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