Special Olympics competitors go for the gold at the Ice Arena

Amadeus Smith

James Berger, of Akron, cheers after receiving the gold medal in the unified pairs competition with his partner Kali Payne, lower left, and friend Patrick Vanscoy, of Cuyahoga Falls, placed second with partner Jessica Sample yesterday afternoon in the Ice

Credit: DKS Editors

Carving faint oval-shaped slices in the ice, Marti O’Connor demonstrated forward and backward swizzles for the crowd.

A swizzle is just one of numerous techniques used at the figure skating portion of the Special Olympics Winter Games held at the Kent State Ice Arena.

The event yesterday included competition categories such as singles in both men’s and women’s divisions, compulsory dance and unified pair skating.

Compulsory dance is a system of an official calling out particular ice dancing moves and the skaters performing that given move.

In unified pair skating, a skater with a disability is paired with a skater without a disability, said Debbie Stahlberg, a family friend to one of the competitors.

O’Connor participated in the opening competition for level one ladies.

She said she loved to perform dips and swizzles the most. She couldn’t pick just one favorite, though.

O’Connor’s fellow skater, Deb Denny, had no trouble determining what technique was her favorite. She said she loved the glide, moving across the ice from one initial push. The technique also involves holding a certain position throughout the motion.

Denny said she refers to it as the airplane because she often extends her arms in a way to resemble a plane.

O’Connor’s mother, Katie O’Connor, said the two skaters had no mistakes because of the amount of practice they had leading up to the competition. The only factor they had to worry about was being nervous.

Denny agreed.

“I just had to breathe in and out,” she said.

Irene Berger said her son, James Berger, has been competing for a while. James values competition and the freestyle skating most of all.

While many of the competitors go through an eight-week program leading up to the event, James trains all year with a personal trainer.

Irene explained that the training regiment of the competition varies from county to county, some going for several months.

If it weren’t for the skates on his feet, James looked to be ready for a dinner party and some dancing, donning a figure skating outfit that resembled a tuxedo. The attire seemed to be an important factor for James.

“He always has a new outfit every year,” Irene said.

Irene and Katie agreed that the winter games have been statewide for about 26 years.

According to specialolympics.org, figure skating was first introduced in the 1977 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

Contact enterprise reporter Amadeus Smith at [email protected].