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The City Journals

County Ice Center in Murray home to dozens of potential future Olympic skaters

Mar 07, 2018 02:21PM ● By Carl Fauver

Coach Lauren Bacon’s daughter Hadley, 4, is already figure skating competitively. (Lauren Bacon)

The just-completed 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang South Korea once again rekindled Utahns’ love affair with the winter games.  This year was especially noteworthy for Utah fans because homegrown Nathan Chen was one of the Americans expected to draw international acclaim for his figure skating.

The men’s figure skating competition continued past this deadline. But the former Salt Lake resident Chen, 18, was expected to do very well, after setting a world record by becoming the first men’s figure skater to record five successful quadruple jumps in a single routine.

Years ago – at age 10 – he told a national television audience he would be competing in the 2018 games. And now that same dream is being pursued by dozens of figure skating protégés, who train at the Salt Lake County Ice Center in Murray.

“Every skater has different goals,” said their coach, Lauren Bacon. “Some of my kids just want to skate for fun but, yes, some of them are dreaming of the Olympics.”

Among those dreamers is Bacon’s own daughter, Hadley.

“She’s 4 years old and competes in the “Snowplow Sam” figure skating division, for 3 and 4 year olds,” Bacon added. “She’s already won a competition.”

Another of Bacon’s figure skating pupils is 12-year-old Aloe Merrill of Murray.

“I had a friend talk me into trying figure skating about three years ago,” Merrill said. “It’s fun – and I seem to be pretty good at it – so I’ve kept doing it.”

Like any proud mom, Gerilyn Merrill said her daughter is being modest.

“The U.S. figure skating rules require beginners to certify at eight basic levels to start off,” Gerilyn said. “These levels require kids to complete various spirals and spins. Aloe passed all of hers off in the first year, which is very unusual  It’s been fun to watch her improve.”

In addition to coaching individuals, Bacon also coaches four different synchronized figure skating teams. She says, if you’ve never heard of those, you aren’t alone. But that’s something those in the sport are trying to change.

“Synchronized skating involves teams of 16 skaters performing choreographed routines,” Bacon explained. “Sometimes the teams are all holding hands and skating as one, while other times they break into smaller groups. Supporters have been trying for years to get synchronized ice skating into the Olympics but it hasn’t happened yet.”

Among Bacon’s synchronized skaters are sisters Francesca, 12, and Meadow, 10, Kelsch.  Danielle Kelsch says her daughters practice ice skating about 40 hours a month, six days a week.

“The girls are teammates on one of the synchronized ice skating teams, while Meadow is also on a second team,” Kelsch said.  “They’ve been doing it for three years. They’ve made such a bond with the other girls on the teams. They even do their homework together at the rink.  And Lauren is a great coach, she’s given the girls such self-confidence.”

Kelsch said fifth-grader Meadow is already researching schools that feature the unusual sport.

Bacon said very few colleges and universities have NCAA-sanctioned synchronized ice skating teams. But she and her older sister Danielle found one: Miami (of Ohio) University, north of Cincinnati.

“I was always following in Danielle’s footsteps,” Bacon said. She started figure skating (while growing up here in Utah) and I followed. Then I followed her to Miami University. She was a fifth-year senior, when I came in as a freshman.”

Danielle Bacon has since moved to South Korea with her husband where she teaches synchronized skating. Lauren began doing the same at Murray’s Salt Lake County Ice Center six years ago.

“My four synchronized ice skating teams compete as the ‘Utah Silver Stars,’” she added. “They are divided up by age and skating ability.”

Although boys are welcome to participate, Bacon has only had a few male students. In addition to her synchronized skating teams, there are others here in Utah, operating out of Cottonwood Heights and Park City.

Last month the teams competed in a local event on their Murray ice. Next up is a 500-mile trip eastward.

“Our four synchronized ice skating teams will travel to Denver for a prestigious four-day competition,” Bacon said of the 46th annual Denver Invitational, sanctioned by U.S. Figure Skating. “That will draw competitors from several states. The facility has two full-size skating rinks.”

Bacon will have about 50 skaters at the event, March 15 to 18. About half of the synchronized ice skating team members will also compete in individual programs and ice dancing events as well.

More information about ice skating programs and instruction is available at the Salt Lake County Ice Center website or at (385) 468-1650.