Ward Supports Through Delight, Distress

Rohene Ward is the first person to provide support to figure skaters who make a mistake.

He’s also the first to congratulate them if they nail their routine.

It’s Ward’s competitive support that sets him apart from other skaters at the Midwestern Sectional Figure Skating Championships, which wrapped up at the Moorhead Sports Center Saturday.

“We’re all in this for the same reason,” Ward said. “Why not support one and other?”

The 21-year-old skater from Minneapolis finished sixth in the senior men’s free skate program Saturday.

Unfortunately for Ward, only the top four finishers in each division go to the United States Figure Skating Championships in January.

Although Ward will return home to the Twin Cities this week, his support for the skaters who are moving on to nationals won’t change.

It’s more than just his supportive nature that makes him cheer on his opponents; it’s the principles and respect he’s learned from figure skating.

Raised in an urban area of the Twin Cities, Ward’s introduction to figure skating came by accident.

When he was 8 years old, Ward met Gailene Norwood, who later became his first figure skating coach.

Norwood immediately noticed a connection between the young boy and skating.

“You could sense his talent right from the beginning,” said Norwood, who was in Moorhead to watch her former pupil compete.

Norwood senses were right. Ward’s jumps, spins and artistic dancing had spectators at sectionals buzzing, especially during the second mark of his free dance competition.

“It’s the way I interpret the music,” said Ward “(It’s) my flexibility and ability to have quick reaction.”

Ward’s hard-to-contain athletic ability on open ice has his current coach, Page Lipe, calling to the past 10 years in which she’s coached Ward a rollercoaster ride.

“He needs to focus (his talent) and get more confidence every time he goes out on the ice,” Lipe said.

Even though Ward’s road to nationals ended at Moorhead Saturday, Norwood still believes he can go as far as he wants.

She hopes one day he’ll go as far as the Olympics.

“Where Rohene has gone is because of his determination and dedication,” Norwood said. “He still makes me cry when he skates.”

Minnesota Figure Skater Stars on Ice, Silver Screen

Brenda Olson reached down and hugged her daughter Kirsten Olson moments after the Novice Ladies Long Program final scores were posted Friday.

After watching Kirsten skate her program to near perfection, it was disappointing for Brenda to see her daughter’s name in second place. Even though it wasn’t the way the Olsons wanted to see their Midwest Sectional Figure Skating Championships end, they were happy with the results.

“There’s so much competition here,” Brenda said. “Our goal was to be in the top four.”

Kirsten, a 13-year-old from Savage, Minn., saw her second-place finish as a great ticket to the U.S. Championships, considering the exhausting road she took to sectionals. While other figure skaters were going to camps and taking vacations over the summer, Kirsten was training in a different way.

Early this spring, Kirsten had answered an open casting call for the upcoming Disney movie “Ice Princess,” after seeing a poster at her rink in Bloomington.

Kirsten, along with more than 1,300 girls in the United States and Canada, auditioned for one of three parts.

“They were looking for smaller skaters who could do triples,” Brenda said.

Luckily for the 4-foot-9 seventh-grader, triple axels are her strongest attribute.

Kirsten caught the eyes of casting directors, who later told the Olsons that Kirsten received a part to play one of the movies’ main characters.

It meant Kirsten and Brenda would have to move to Toronto for more than four months of filming.

“It’s quite an experience there,” Kirsten said. “They told us it’s just like New York City, only cleaner.”

Even though Kirsten’s part required hours of figure skating on set, she still needed to practice her routines.

So, the Olsons hired threetime Canadian men’s figure skating champion Don Knight as a personal coach.

Knight worked with Kirsten when her demanding acting and tutoring schedule allowed it.

Some days, spare time was all Kirsten had.

Even though she was hired to work and skate up to nine hours a day, she had plenty of down time.

“There was a lot of sitting around. Joan Cusack came up to me and said, ‘(Movies are) not as glamourous as they make it out to be,’” said Kirsten, referring to the “School of Rock” actress who stars in the movie.

The lag time helped Kirsten squeeze in everything she needed.

Her mother said she saw it as a testament to all figure skaters, who learn to manage their schedules from an early age.

“It teaches them life-long skills on time management,” Brenda said.

With the movie in post-production, the Olsons are eagerly awaiting its March 2005 release.

Kirsten is excited about seeing herself on the big screen for the first time.

She plays the figure skater “Nikki,” a part that required plenty of acting for Kirsten, whose modesty is a strong contrast of her movie character.

“She’s a very competitive person,” Kirsten said, referring to her character. “It was kind of fun to act in an opposite way that I do.”

Now that she’s back to her normal life in the Twin Cities, Kirsten is preparing for the U.S. Championships in January in Portland, Ore.

“I want to get some other triples put in and have the program be as good as it can be,” Kirsten said.